“THIEF! Thief! Stop him! Stop that buggy-burglar!” an irate man screamed, his neck veins bulging. He pointed a shaking index finger in the direction of a disheveled fellow pushing an overloaded shopping cart out of the parking lot. “Stop him! That’s mine!”
This incident occurred in front of Sundowners Market on Balsam Street. The rains predicted by the weatherman had gone north toward Waco and Dallas, missing drought-stricken Austin altogether, so that shoppers who had stayed indoors that morning were out in droves by afternoon. Near closing time on Christmas Eve, people were hurrying to get a last minute gift or else find a missing recipe item.
Unable to move fast, the man pushing the shopping cart kept darting side to side to prevent a top-heavy load from toppling. Two full duffel bags filled the basket as well as loose items stacked so high the precariously balanced burden rose above the head of the man who was pushing it.
“Come back here, larcenist!” the victim wailed. “Sorry mugger! The second the innocent turns his back a shoplifting scoundrel robs him. Stop him! Make that robber come back here!”
The man pushing the basket was too busy keeping his items balanced to bother about the outcries as he trudged past the stares from those around him in the crowded parking lot.
“You’ll get yours now, lousy stealer!” The hollering man boarded a battery-powered shopping scooter belonging to the store. He barely fit on the scooter because of his massive size and his stomach blocked the handlebars from moving so that the scooter could not turn but only go straight ahead. Judging by the bulging tires and slow speed, the shopping cart was far beyond it’s weight capacity. “Stop that sneaky behind-the-back buggy-snatcher! Block him!”
No one did. Other than observe the fellow pushing the overloaded cart, people appeared hesitant to intervene for fear they might be accused of persecuting the underprivileged. Most looked back and forth from the accuser to the man pushing the cart unable to decide which one was in the right seemingly. Both men wore what looked like hand-me-downs that didn’t fit, or come close to it, and were unshaven with uncombed fly-away hair full of sticks and grass.
“Why don’t somebody stop that crook? Hey you, criminal,” the man yelled, turning his attention from the onlookers to the one with the shopping cart. “Lousy cart-moochin’ scoundrel, halt I said! Come back here with what belongs to me!”
At that moment the guy pushing the cart made a grave mistake and looked over one shoulder as part of his load toppled. A gust of wind off the near-miss thunderhead blew several items—a shirt or two, some loose boxer shorts and different colored socks—into the street. In hurrying to gather the items up, the older man caught his foot on a raised portion of the curbing and stumbled down on one knee.
“Now I got ya!” his enraged pursuer hollered. “You’re mine now!” He stopped the scooter and dismounted with great difficulty. Pausing to catch his breath after the exertion, he waddled after the man still busily gathering articles of clothing here and there and grabbed him by the back of his T-shirt. Stronger than he looked, he jerked the cart thief out of the street onto the sidewalk. “Come back here, I said. What’a you think you’re doing with my cart?”
“Tak… Why you sorry no good for nothing cross-eyed bandit. You’re not taking my basket anywhere. Give it back this instant.”
“No way,” he answered with a scowl that expressed surprised outrage. “It’s mine now.”
“It not yours neither. It’s mine, you worthless scrounging cur. Give it back.”
“But I need it.”
“You need nothing but a fair-to-midland head-skinning, you crooked mugger. What’s the meaning of this? I had that cart full and you threw everything on the ground like it was trash. Who you think you are? You’re no more important than anyone else.That buggy was my property, mind you! Not yours!”
“Here now, you think I can carry all this stuff like I got the arms of a octopus? How you expect me to tote all this?”
“I don’t care how you carry it, poacher. Load it on Joseph and Mary’s donkey for all I care. Now get your junk out and give back what you taken. Pilfer someone else. This buggy’s mine title-clear, you kleptomaniac looter.”
“Junk? Did I hear right–you call this priceless haul junk? Why, I hit the jackpot at that Donation Bin yonder. Two duffel bags full and some stuff with the price tags still on them. An old boy must’a died and his kids got shed of some pretty nice duds, let me tell you. Most are next-to-new and some pairs of shoes don’t even look worn, plus a mighty handsome overcoat that’ll come in handy come winter. Now how’m I to carry all this to my tent six blocks from here?”
“Not my problem, crooked cart-scrounger. Why’d you take all that for in the first place if you can’t carry it? Now clear out them rags cause that’s my cart.”
“Not now it ain’t. Possession is nine-tenth’s of the law.”
“Not for long it ain’t,” the accuser cried, grabbing a duffel bag with surprising quickness for a man of such girth.
“Help! Help!” the older gentleman wailed, lying atop the cart. “Let go, bully! The tyrant’s manhandling me, help!”
“All right, all right,” the heavier man panted, running out of breath again. “I’ll settle this once’t and for all. Security is watching us and I’m waving him over and have you arrested.” He threw an arm back and forth overhead. “Over here! Help! Come quick.”
“What’s going on here?” the tall uniformed officer called. He was much younger than the quarreling men. “Here, enough of this.” He got between the squabblers. “Stop this! What’s going on here?”
“Officer, I want this man put in jail with his feet in the stocks. He stole my shopping cart. I caught him in the act red-handed.”
“Stole nothing, Your Honor,” The older man complained, still spread-eagle on the shopping cart. “I have my rights. These carts is public property, ain’t that right? After all, they’re all over the place on most every street corner. Why, I’ve seen whole communes of them built in a circle with canvass or whatever on top. I’m no more stealing than sitting on a park bench or dozing under a shade tree. Anyone can use them anytime they like.”
“Ain’t that the stupidest thing you ever heard,” the overweight man snorted at the policeman. “Don’t listen at him, officer, He ain’t got brains enough to form part of a thought. He stole it pure and simple. The man’s a thief. He’s nothing but a lowdown, penny-ante embezzler who takes other’s rightful property. Put him under lock and key in a super-max joint.”
“You say, he stole this cart from you,” the officer inquired of the accuser.
“Of course he did, I just told you so. Took my personal belongings that I’ve had no end of trouble gathering and tossed them on the ground with no more care than a teenager pitches his lunch sack out a car window. He stole my cart pure and simple and I want him hauled off this’here street in handcuffs and leg irons if you got ’em.”
“This is your cart, you say?” the officer repeated as if making certain..
“How many times you gonna ask that? Certainly it is. Haven’t you been listening? I told you already, this buggy is mine. I own the basket and nobody else does.”
“How long have you had it?”
“Longer than him for dang sure,” he pointed at the older man still lying atop the buggy. “Why can’t I get my point over to no-one? Am I not talking clear enough? Has my vocal chords gone puny or are you hard of hearing? It’s my basket. Mine!”
“When did you buy the basket?” the officer asked, his voice as calm as his demeanor.
“Buy? What’a you mean ’buy’? Who buys? Are these pockets of mine bulging with cash? is my name JP Morgan?”
“Personally, I don’t care what your name is, but what I’m asking is when did you purchase the cart? Have you a sales slip?”
“Come now, officer, be serious. What would I want with a great big four-wheel contraption like this? You think I run a grocery chain? Only a dolt would pay good money for a high-dollar transport like this, but I was using it before this pickpocket came by and took it away. He’s a jailbird if I ever saw one. Lock him up in chains!”
“Yes-yes, but I have to establish original ownership first. What I want to know is how you came to own the grocery cart. If you didn’t buy it, was the thing given to you on a loan or in a Last Will and Testament? How did you gain possession of the cart?”
“What’s’at matter? It’s mine, I tell you! Ain’t nothing else necessary to know! I had it, been having it, intend on keep having it, and this good-for-naught scamp took it away from me.”
“Okay-okay,” the policeman sighed. “Let me get this straight. I think I’m beginning to understand. You stole the cart first before he stole it from you, so who stole the thing originally? And who is the owner?”
“Talk about harebrained palaver!” the accuser gasped. “I found the buggy first, that’s all there is to the matter. And this deadbeat no-use panhandler took it illegal as illegal as can be.”
“Then how’d you come by the buggy, is what I’m after?”
“It was abandoned in one of those discarded cart racks out in front of the grocery store where they offer free buggies, so I took it.”
“They’re not free either. They cost the store from two-fifty to three hundred bucks each. Why don’t you just admit you stole it. You won’t get in trouble as the D.A. in this town won’t prosecute anyone.”
“I ain’t no thief—not like this sorry outfit of a cart-snatcher,” he said, pointing at the man still draped over his belongings in the cart. “I’m merely usin’ it temporary to keep my stuff in.”
“How long ago has that been?”
“How long ‘a while’?”
“Three-four months, maybe more, but it’s borrowed, like I said.”
“So you both are thieves. The only thing that’s got you so upset,” the officer said to the angry man, “is he stole from you.”
“Here, you ain’t allowed to call us thieves. You can get kicked off the force for that. We’re victims. It’s our right to take anything we want because we’re oppressed outcasts. We’ve a right to take whatever strikes our fancy.”
“Then why are you upset at him if you both have a right to take whatever you want whenever you like?”
“On account’a I’m more a victim than him. That makes me most oppressed.”
“I’m confused,” the officer admitted. “Who are your oppressors then?”
“Really?” The uniformed man frowned with a slight tilt of his head. “You mean the billionaire mom and pop who own this market? Or the incognito billionaires who sack groceries for a living and depend on the store for employment? I think maybe it’s the other way around. I think you two scroungers are the real oppressors, not the honest folks who work hard to eke out a respectable living?”