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Thieves

This was written in June 1971.

He paraded before the mirror in stolen jewels and titles. You hated him for smiling, wished to slap the insipid vanity from his face, wanted God to outdo you in indignation. He was so pleased with himself, thought himself a hero, recounted each alibi and lie to himself every time his conscience made him trip on his ermine.

My hands knotted in a consuming rage. Why did he not be honest with himself? Usurpation is a more polite term than stealing – a nice term for a thief.

Only, thieves do not fool themselves; the stereotyped robbers in black masks know themselves for what they are. I’ll never understand those righteous who wish hell for the theft of an umbrella and yet praise the ingeniousness of the embezzler who made away with millions. In the minds of Everyman, the punishment does not suit the crime. To steal a raincoat is vulgar, shows a lack of breeding. True. But to steal furs, jewels, large sums of money, offices, documents of importance, art works, is the action of a rather high-minded, perhaps culture-loving opportunist. To steal a raincoat is an inconvenience to the victim, the loss of another $25 for a new one. He is perturbed and angry, but not ruined. And the thief has caused the annoyance of one person. Perhaps the thief had a use for the coat. Perhaps he was spiteful. If he was spiteful, there will be a time when the memory of the theft will embarrass him, a petty action, an inconsiderate act, a lark and a joke. Perhaps this is the breeding ground for your thief with good taste. Ridiculous, he’ll not be changed at all.

The big-time thief is granted many names – status names for his crime. At best, he is an adventurer, a political machinist, a hard-nosed realist, a zany master of crafts. At worst, he is an extortionist, an embezzler, a usurper – a thief, a terrible name for a high-class person.

The sardonic snicker is that this person is not your average Poor Joe. In most cases, he already has everything he wants – power, money, prestige. He steals for more power, more money, more prestige. Of course, if he is discovered, or if his conscience gets the best of him, he will be punished, perhaps destroyed, as Everyman, old softie, cheers his nerve. Stupid Everyman, consumed with jealousy and awe, so moral, but so injudicious that he suits the crime with the class, and yet the high-class robber is far more harmful to him, depriving him of a choice art piece from his public museum, his tax money, ill-used, and his just government. Another example: laws, as well as morals, are only made for the lower classes.

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