A Lesson in Theft

“Well, I’m excited…we should try it…” Jen says as she spins around from our kitchen sink.

“Yeah, why not, let’s try it……..” I respond.

Like many parents, Jen and I look for ways to break the monotony of our weekends. With a 6 year old on the spectrum, our leisure time options are limited.  Vaughn doesn’t enjoy the movies, rarely likes playgrounds, and resists any excursions to the beach. The sand, the wind, the sunblock: these elements constitute a full frontal assault to his sensory processing.  He is entirely content to remain home all weekend.  On the other side, Jen and I get restless quickly, and we have degenerated into trying any new local restaurant in our town.  Vaughn is receptive to this – not only does he have a generous appetite, but enjoys making up Yelp reviews in the middle of our dining experience. This is an immense source of humor for Jen and me, until we have to hush him because his restaurant ratings are so loud that other patrons can overhear him.

Our destination of choice today is a rather unremarkable one – an ordinary pizza joint called Neo’s.  Jen and I occasionally see it when we drive about in town, and lapse into the familiar “you know, we should really check that place out one day”.  Today is the one day, and although our town has many pizza places, this one is new - generating a mild buzz of excitement in the Carroll household.

“Let’s go early. I like to eat early…..” Vaughn chimes in.

“Sounds good to me. How about 4:30?”

“Okkayyyyyyyy” Vaughn says not looking up from his tablet.

This is another new phenomena I have acclimated too. Eating early at restaurants. Although I always explain to Jen that we should go early because Vaughn would never wait in a line for a table, not even for 5 minutes, the truth is that I don’t like to wait in line. Or rather, I don’t like to wait in line with him. If this happens, Vaughn will clutch my hand and repeat ‘how much longer is it going to be?” every 30 seconds. Needless to say, it sours the pre-dining experience. “Besides”, I say jokingly to Jen, “this will get us ready for when we are senior citizens”.  We’ll eat early so I can avoid driving at night.”  My wry attempt at humor is lost on her.

The ride down to Neo’s is less than 10 minutes long. As we enter the vestibule, Jen and I have the same initial reaction. Wow – this really is a pizza joint. The interior is the common basic you find at all pizza joints. Booths line both sets of walls and the table tops are grey formica, easy to clean and smelling of disinfectant. We seat ourselves and grab the menus that are tucked behind the napkin holder.  Our choices come easily. There is an appealing meat lovers’ pizza, topped with pepperoni, meatballs, and sausage.   As if the description wasn’t attractive enough, there is a photo of it in the menu along with a text bubble stating “our house specialty! - with a happy face emoji next to it”. Vaughn adds a side order of fries to our order. This is a required element of any restaurant dining for us.

As we eat our meal, I lock eyes with Jen and we silently understand what each other is thinking.  This whole experience is very meh - we will likely never come back. It’s interesting to hear experts state that communication is the number one quality of a marriage.  In instances like this, there is no need for communication; we instinctively know what the other is thinking.

Our meal winds down and Vaughn has started his Yelp review.

“For food, four stars.  Service – four stars. The food came quickly but the waitress could have been friendlier.

“Vaughn, keep your voice down……please”. I implore.

“For atmosphere, I didn’t really like it. There’s a funny smell in here. Three stars”

“Vaughn, please…”

Before Vaughn is able to give his rating for price, our attention is diverted to a table near the front of the restaurant. A mother and her two adult children are about to leave. The waitress hurries over and says “oh, don’t you want to bring home your leftovers?”

“We’re fine” the mother says tersely. Her children exit quickly and she is right behind them, hunching her shoulders and looking down.

Vaughn is about to continue his in-the-moment Yelp rating when we hear a noticeable “Goddammit..” come from the waitress. He continues talking so it is hard to hear anything more. The waitress is talking animatedly to another waitress, her hands moving wildly as she speaks. Though we cannot make out any words, there is clearly anger in the tone.  Jen and I are able to discern what happened. They left without paying -- the classic dine and dash.

“I can’t believe it” Jen says leaning in “ Who does that? I mean really…..who does that?”

“I know”

“And a mom with grown kids? You’ve got to be kidding me…”

“What?” Vaughn interrupts, “What just happened?”

“Nothing” I say, trying to end the conversation.

“What happened with those people?”

“They left without paying.” Jen tells him.

“Why? Why would they do that?

“They’re bad people” I tell him “God doesn’t like that.”

“Was it an accident?”

“I don’t think so.”

“So it was intentional?”

“Right”

“Vaughn” Jen interjects, “when people do things like that, it’s never right. It’s actually a crime.”

“Will they go to jail?

“I don’t think so. They’re already gone. But when people do bad things, it’s never right. Even though they didn’t get caught today, the universe has a way of balancing things out”.

“Huh?”

“For example” Jen settles in for the lesson “even though they didn’t get caught today, something may happen to make amends for it.”

“Like what?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe they’ll get a flat tire on their way home”

“Oh yeah…………” Vaughn’s eyes widen “or maybe their house will burn down”.

Jen and I freeze and look at one another, our eyes locking. We are deep in the moment where we are looking at each other and saying the same thing with our eyes -- “don’t burst out laughing. Don’t burst out laughing. Don’t burst out laughing.”

“Well, not exactly” I say, trying to recover the conversation, “that may be a little extreme.”

“But it could happen, right?”

“It could happen” I say, enunciating the word “could” with a rising level of inflection, “but probably not”.

As we pile into the car, Vaughn shouts from the back seat “Will we ever come back?”

“Probably not”, Jen responds.

“Is it because of those people, the bad people?”

“Oh no………I think that place was very medium. I would only give it three stars”, Jen says spinning her head around to the back seat.

“Yeah, definitely only three stars at best….”

What a valuable lesson I learned. When we do bad things, the universe will make things right. When you commit a small crime, you may get away with it.  But you may get a flat tire on the way home, or your house will burn down.

© 2019 by Paul Carroll