The Grapefruit Thief

1.

I steal grapefruits. There, I said it. I am not proud of this confession, but I understand that we all must compromise our integrity from time to time depending on the circumstances we find ourselves in. Survival demands martyrdom from us all and I want it to be known- I steal grapefruits only because I must survive. I was raised within the narrow-minded confines of a strict Judaic morality. My father and mother were not strict practicing Jews but Jewish ontology infected their every waking hour. They saw poor people as failures, non-Jews as a threat and criminals as a shame to their families. With the Ten Commandments and Moses’s face ingrained into my brain before the age of ten I was destined to grow into a young thief. It was not only my way of rebelling against the orthodoxy that had threatened to ruin me but also it was my own private fall from grace. I am a firm believer in a passage from the Talmud that states: “We are like olives, it is only when we are crushed that we bring forth what is best in us.” When I am finished with this confession I will forever abstain from stealing anything, let alone grapefruits. I will begin the process of resurrecting myself into a man whom I can take pride in and trust that when I walk past a grapefruit tree I will not be tempted into stealing the fruit.

2.

It is no secret to my wife, friends, cat and family that I struggle. I have inherited the wrath of the melancholic Jew like a tattoo that is requiring a great deal of effort to remove. Thousands of years of suffering and exile have all collected upon my shoulders causing me to slouch. At least it feels that way. Not only do I struggle with many neurotic issues such as low self-confidence and fear of sickness and death- but I also struggle economically. No matter how hard I try I cannot seem to save a buck. It is as if money is as allergic to me as I am of it. I know that for the time being, I am a writer of little consequence and like Henry James said, “I have not made enough money from my writings to buy myself a lawnmower.” One of the greatest transgressions in the Jewish community is to be middle aged, poor and without a front lawn. My failure to live up to certain Jewish expectations has caused me to be pushed into the dark corners of numerous therapists’ offices. Despite my ostracization from the Jewish community- I continue to try, believing that one day I will hold my published book up to all of their stupefied faces and show them the great literature I hope I can create.

My wife and I recently moved into a two-bedroom rental home in the country, which is a gathering ground for all kinds of pests. We have a grand collection of loitering cockroaches, speedy mice and conformist ants. It’s difficult for me to habituate myself to the torments of living with insectual infestation. I grew up in a divine country club where the only stray creatures in my home were the daily abundance of maids and the nightly dinnertime cooks. I am not a violent man, but since I quit drinking and smoking a month ago I spend much of my early evenings lost in a homicidal rage. I drown ants, flatten cockroaches and chase the mice that I am yet to catch. A few months ago I lost my job as a high school teacher and have had nothing but the open space of too much time on my hands. My wife seems to think that my eccentric behavior is caused by all this free time in which I am driving myself mad. I count holes in the ceiling, talk to plants, alphabetize my books, try and steal light from the sun and wage genocide on pests. I read a few books, occasionally I write- but stealing grapefruits seemed like the perfect way to pass the time.

3.

Climbing grapefruit trees is arduous and a bit unsettling for someone as tall as myself. I am over six feet six inches and getting onto a ladder with an already ingrained fear of heights requires an Aikido like mental manipulation. Before heading out to steal grapefruits not only do I have to do several breathing exercises to calm my nerves- but I also do a ten-minute meditation so I can shut down my inner voice that tries to convince me that I am going to die or get caught. I will sit in my car, take slow deep breaths with the windows down (I read that those who suffer from neurotic dispositions have a lack of oxygen in their bodies) and gradually start to relax. I recite a positive mantra quietly in my tilted brain, tell myself that everything is going to be all right and then look up into the sky and command that heavens forgive me.

I purchased a stable ladder that I can fold up into the trunk of my car, a large black bucket (in which to store the grapefruits on my back without putting to much strain on my spine) and a safety rope to assure my safe descent incase I fall. I am equipped. I also wear thick gloves to protect my fragile skin from the virile ants and spiders that live in the grapefruit trees and are hard to see at night. I always go out after midnight to gather my fruit, so as to avoid the humiliation that would ensue from getting caught by an orchard owner during the day. I am a well-educated man who would never recover from having my picture on the front page of the local newspaper under a headline that read “Once Popular High School Teacher Now Caught Stealing Grapefruits.” I take the greatest precautions to guarantee that I am invisible when foraging in the grapefruit orchards at night.

4.

Prior to meeting my wife I was a full-fledged kleptomaniac. My rebellion against my parents and the entire Jewish community was in full force. I waged war against Mosses by stealing everyday. Every stolen good that I slipped into my pocket or under my arm was a deep scratch upon the Ten Commandments. I had fallen under the spell of William Burroughs and Jean Genet who became compatriots in my life of crime. I saw myself as a fellow literary outlaw (even though I never sat down to write) and I was determined to live my life as if it was a great work of undiscovered art. I made sure I only stole from large corporations taking from them the large profits that they made off of “all of us.” Being a thief was not only an act of rebellion but also a grand gesture of reciprocity for all the exploitation and manipulation that these corporations waged against average people. A thief with a philosophy is a dangerous force of nature. A Jewish thief with a philosophy is even more dangerous.

I was never apprehended for all my crimes because I was a well-dressed handsome young man. I had one foot in the door of the thieves’ hall of fame when I met my wife. She did not at all condone what she called “my criminal ways.” She condemned all of my “foolish actions of childhood angst,” and helped me to realize that I was only acting in self-sabotaging ways. “Self confidence would slowly come to me if I promised to change my ways,” she told me. I just needed to find a good paying job, buy the things I felt like I needed to steal and then I could enjoy the feeling of earning what I owned.  Since I could not deny the feeling of guilt and shame that followed me around from day to day- I renounced my life of crime and became a high school teacher.

5.

Now that the recession has become my own personal depression- stealing grapefruits seemed like the practical thing to do. I never would of thought that I would return to a life of crime but when I moved to the country (from the city) I was amazed by the large number of grapefruit orchards around town. I would wake early in the morning and go for long walks during which I would contemplate what I was going to do with my life. Being almost forty years of age, depressed and out of a job is what I believe caused me to pick my first grapefruit off of the tree. That morning I had deviated from my typical walking path and found my way into the middle of bustling grapefruit grove. You must believe me when I tell you that my intention was never to steal a grapefruit. You see, I have this terrible habit of thinking too much and as I walked around that day I was stuck in a cloud of foreboding that has hovered over me for a large part of my life. I felt the pangs of hunger in my gut and the emptiness in my wallet. I looked into the sky and asked “why?” and saw dozens of ripened grapefruits hanging from a tree. It was as if these grapefruits were the answer.

6.

My wife and I eat grapefruits for breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner. Even though my wife does not condone the fact that I am stealing- she also is out of a job and is feeling the economic pinch. Desperation can make exceptions for us all. It does not hurt that my wife is impressed by my creative ability to turn the simple grapefruit into a culinary delight. Desperation can also make geniuses out of us all. For breakfast we stick to fresh squeezed grapefruit juice and nothing else. Because I am so terribly hungry in the morning I usually consume about three pints of juice, which has helped my bowls. For lunch I contrive various dishes using the avocados, onions, tomatoes, potatoes and lettuce (that I also steal on my way back from the grapefruit orchards). I make grapefruit ceviche, grapefruit salads, grapefruit sandwiches and I even make a wonderful grapefruit risotto that I call The Hemingway (named after Ernest Hemingway who was a lover of grapefruits). Dinner is not always so easy to put together since lately my wife has burned out on grapefruits by dinner time. She becomes agitated and forlorn, says things like “I got pulp coming out of my finger tips” and often leaves me to eat grapefruits on my own.

I myself have begun to have an opposite reaction to eating grapefruits. The moment I stick a grapefruit into my mouth I hear what sounds like faulty plumbing. My gut begins to churn and gurgle and then sprays a particular acidic sauce up my esophagus that seems to be saying, “keep away.” This makes it challenging at times to eat grapefruit- but I have found a way to pacify my gut. When I add garlic, onions or even avocado to the grapefruit my stomach think its is something else and only gets revenge later when it discovers the grapefruit.

I have tried to convince my wife that not only is continuing to eat grapefruits going to help us through this recession but it gives me something to do. She shakes her head and looks at me with defeat because she knows what I am not willing to admit- that we are both sick and tired of eating grapefruit. Just last night my wife finally confessed to me that despite our economic condition she is embarrassed that I have had to stoop so low just to eat.

7.

Despite the fact that being a high school teacher is not a career in which one is going to make a fortune it is a job that allows me to feel like I am not a thief. The last few months my self-esteem has evaporated like the morning fog. Not only have I been resentful about loosing my job but the embarrassment that I have brought to my parents and the larger Jewish community as a result of my failure to make something of myself has caused me to withdraw deeper into myself. Sometimes I bring a sleeping bag into my head and curl up in there and remain asleep most of the day. Without my alcohol or cigarettes to medicate my despondency I have had to face my own journey into night alone. When I was younger being a writer seemed to hold all the promises of fortune, fame and immortality. Now writing feels like a pulled muscle in my neck, a nagging mother, a celebration of my human bondage.

Being a grapefruit thief was not entirely bad for me. It allowed me to spend valuable time alone and to recommune with nature and dreams. I will never forget the hours that I spent idle in my car staring out the front window into the large wide-open world that sat just beyond. I would often find myself stuck in a dream, where I would imagine what my life would be like had I never become a thief. I saw myself with a family and as a proud member of the Jewish community. I saw my parent’s proud smile as they looked at me in the eyes in awe over my ability to master the art of creating a beautiful front lawn. My wife stood there radiantly shimmering in the moonlight, grateful that she had met the successful man that I had become. No recession could keep me down and I was prolifically writing all the way through my abundant life. I saw all of this and more as I looked out into the grapefruit orchard where I would later go and steal my food. I often wondered if any of my dreams would ever come true. Now that I am finished with my confession, I can firmly state that I am done stealing for the rest of my life. I am ready to begin bringing forth what is best in me….. now that I am crushed.

The Counterfeiter

I know a man who wears fake clothes.  Well, the clothes are not fake because the cheap material is real, but the labels that the clothes hide behind are as a fake as the plastic flowers that sit on my desk. For almost a year I have been meeting this man for lunch and I had always been very impressed by his nice clothes. He often appeared to just walk right out from the pages of a fashion magazine. A few times when I glanced at the label on his clothes, sunglasses or hand bang I was surprised to see such exclusive names such as Dolce and Gabbana, Versace and Prada. “What is this man who works as a Waiter doing wearing such expensive clothes?” I always wondered. I never asked him this question, because as it turns out, I did not have to.

Not to long ago, one afternoon in the middle of our lunch together- this man confessed to me that he was a fake (for the sake of maintaining this man’s privacy I hope readers will not mind me referring to him as this man. I think we are all entitled to our privacy no matter how much the things we do and say deserve a wider audience). When we first met for lunch that day, I noticed that he was not looking good at all. His black shirt was not tucked in and his gray suit jacket was wrinkled. The hair on his head seemed to be out of line and the bruised bags under his eyes collected the water from the previous days rain. “I am a fake….I want you to know this,” he said in a serious tone while putting the noodles from the chicken soup into his mouth. “Everything on me….is completely….fake….it is time I come clean.”

I was surprised by his confession but not entirely clueless. I had read an article a few weeks before about how people who make certain choices that hide the truth can often feel like fakes. The article went on to describe the detrimental psychological repercussions of knowing that you are fake and explained how easy it was for a person to fool others but how impossible it is to fool yourself. After I read this article I did not think about it again until the afternoon that this man sat in front of me eating chicken noodle soup and confessing to me his fraud.

“Prada, Armani, Zegna, Gucci, John Varvatos, Dolce and Gabbana, Versace….I dream these names….I hang pictures of the clothes on my wall….spend hours loitering in the finest department stores…..I try the clothes on and weep….they look so good on me….they feel like a million dollars….but I cannot afford them….the fact that I cannot afford the man I want to be kills me…. keeps me up at night….I spend hours wondering up ways to steal the clothes….ways to make quick cash and buy them….but these are all just dreams….so I travel into the tenderloin….go to a little shop that sells the next best thing….all this stuff is fake…. my $65 Armani suit….these fucking $10 Prada glasses….my $18.99 Versace shoes….and the fucking $1.00 special Gucci socks…. all of it is fucking fake….I can not take it anymore!”

Now I had the answer to my question and it all made sense. As this forty year-old Waiter dressed in fake designer clothes sat in front of me with tears running down his face and noodles coming out of the side of his mouth all I could do was think about myself. I thought about my own preoccupation with clothes. I had always liked to dress nice and I remembered that as a child I often dreamed about growing into a man who wore fine suits everyday. As I got older this dream seemed to fade away and I became content wearing t-shirts and jeans. Sometimes I shop at Banana Republic because I like how the clothes fit me, but if I do not have the money to go clothes shopping I will happily go many years without even buying a pair of socks. I had never thought that deep down it could be a source of repressed sadness for me that midway through my life I am not able to afford any sort of designer clothes. I have done a good job convincing myself that I do not need these things- but as this man sat in front of me confessing his counterfeiting ways, I could help but see a part of myself in him.

“I have the entire world fooled,” he lamented on. “Everyone wonders how I can afford such expensive clothes….on a Waiters salary….they think I come from a wealthy family….am independently wealthy…. this makes me feel like less of a victim or failure….it gives me a sense of power and pride….knowing that other people think I can afford the most expensive labels around….but I know….I know….that these clothes are fake….even though others might be impressed….I cannot make myself believe….that these clothes are real!!!!no matter how hard I try to convince myself….I shiver every time I pass by a department store window with an Armani or John Varvatos display….or when I notice a person who is wearing the real thing….I feel like a complete….such a complete looser.”

He was talking so loud that some eyes in the restaurant looked over our way. My eyes also looked around the restaurant and wondered how many of these nicely dressed people were wearing fake things? How many of them look good on the outside but are feeling fake and uncomfortable on the inside? Even though this man sitting in front of me has tears running down his face- how many of these people have tears running down their souls? I tried to offer some advice, to be of help to this man but I found that I had little to say that could repair his soul. “It is okay Randall….you do not have to give me advice….I just needed to tell the truth to someone….this is all the help I need.”

A month passed before I saw this man again. I thought about him almost everyday and since his confession I had not been able to stop noticing other people wearing designer labels and wondering how many of them were fake. We met for lunch at our regular place but this time something was different. This man was dressed in “normal” clothes. A plain t-shirt, jeans and converse shoes. I was surprised. “I just got rid of them all….every fake label I owned….ended up in the trash,” he told me with a confidence within his words that I had not heard before. “It is much easier just being me….no matter how much I wish…. I was someone else,” he said. I could relate and told him that I understood. “Knowing that I was a fake….a counterfeit….ate away at my soul….even though now I know….I may not look as good….or successful….or stylish….I feel like I have been set free.” I felt glad for this man even though when he crossed his legs I noticed a Gucci symbol on his green socks. He had found a happy ending for himself and seemed to come to terms with who he really was. We had a nice lunch that afternoon and as we were leaving he put on a pair of sunglasses that I noticed had a Versace label on the side of them. “Hey, what is with the glasses?” I asked him, knowing full well that they were a fake. “These my friend….are the real thing,” he replied with what looked like a sinister smile and we walked out into the light of day.

The Shaking Man

Two years ago today I began this blog with nothing but a dream of being a Writer and a lot of reluctance. My wife actually talked me into starting this blog since I was only writing in notebooks which no one else could read. I decided “what the hell, I’ll give it a try.” I had no preconceptions about what it could be other than a place for me to write and maybe have the honor of receiving a few readers. Tonight I have been reading over some of my earlier entries and decided that I would like to re-post one of the very first pieces of writing I put up on this blog. It is about a young man, whom I have lost contact with over the years. I do not know if he exists any longer, but here is a valuable part of his story and mine….

I met a young man the other day who suffered from a very strange pathology. I am not sure that I had ever seen a thing like it before. He told me that he had been suffering for many years and had finally reached a point in his life where he was turning his pain into hope. Still, I felt like he had a long way to go. While I was talking with him I was able to see his malady first hand.

For no apparent reason he begins shaking. It could be a word, a thought or a particular kind of food that instigates the shaking. The fits can be from mild to severe, thankfully the one I noticed was mild. He refers to these shaking episodes as “redundant twitches”, meaning an electrical twitch that repeats itself over and over. He told me that these episodes could take place at any time, without a moments warning- so he has become agoraphobic.

I was invited over to his studio apartment to talk about a possible job as a ghost writer for a book that he wants to write. The premise for his book would be upon the ability of thought to create reality. I was a bit skeptical about this since I had always considered reality to be something that happens to someone. We live in-between chaos, subject to its every whim, with little power to influence this, I told him.

This is not true, we create reality by the way in which we think about it, he told me. For example, If I have negative thoughts about my body..these negative thoughts will translate into negative sensations in my body. This negative feeling in my body will cause me to experience my reality in an unpleasant way. Energy follows thought. I don’t know, I told him, but I am a good enough writer to write upon any subject- even if I do not believe what I am writing about. He offered me a cigarette.

In the corner of the room was a meditation alter. I asked him how often he meditated. He told me that he was a practitioner of Zazen meditation, which he did every morning for one hour at 5 a.m. I asked him if he was a Zen Buddhist to which he replied, I do not know.

After about an hour into our conversation, I noticed that he was beginning to shake. Excuse me he said but I feel an episode coming on. His hole body began to twitch and rattle. I was a bit frightened because to me it seemed as if he was going to have a seizure. His teeth began to shiver like a man caught in a cold snow storm. The….only…..thing……that…….seems…..to……calm…..me……down……is…….wine…..and…..heat, he said as if he had a stutter. I went into his small make-shift kitchen and poured him a glass of red wine. When I returned back into the front room he was gone. The front door was still open but there was no sign of him. I waited for awhile for his return, but he never returned.

I did not hear from him for a few days. I did not know what to think. When I did finally receive a phone call from him I found myself being a bit angry for what he had put me through. He apologized profusely and told me that he had panicked. He had gotten up to turn on the heater and felt a terrifying sensation in his body. His heart was racing and he thought he was going to die. All he could do was panic and run. He ran to the hospital a few blocks away where he waited for desperate help for hours until they told him they could not help him since he was without insurance.

I forgave him the moment I heard the sincere apology in the tone of his voice. I asked him if there was any medication that he could take for these strange episodes to which he replied….the purpose of my life is to learn how to live with my discomforts so I can discover something deeper about myself. Medication would only blind me to the true cause…I would rather suffer than live like a sedated victim. I understood this.

Would you still be interested in ghost writing my book? he asked. I told him for the right price I would be willing to do anything. Why don’t you come over this evening and we will discuss your fee, he said. I will be there at seven, I replied.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States

I have decided to run for President of the United States. Sure this may come as a surprise to some you, but I am serious. The idea came to me while I was driving home last week from a job interview that did not go so well. I was thinking about the current condition of the United States and how to re-build it from the ashes. Then a voice came into my head that said, “what this country needs is the most unlikely of political figures to wage a grass-roots campaign and rise up as a representative of the people to become President… and if anyone could be this person- it would be you.” Even though I was arrested for shop lifting when I was fifteen, cited for civil disobedience when I was twenty-one, caught having an affair when I was twenty-five and have not ever had a steady job or made much money in my life- I still think I would have a chance. I am tall, moderately handsome, articulate, creative, honest, well-read, open-minded and I have a very unique vision of what the United States can become. “You are right,” I said to the voice in my head, “it would be me, but I would have to get over my fear of flying first.”

I would run for the Presidential term beginning in 2016, at which time I will be forty-four years of age (a good age to be President I think). By waiting to run for the 2016 Presidential elections, I can wait it out a bit and see if the world really is going to end in the year 2012. If there is an apocalypse on the horizon- I do not want to waste my time studying, campaigning and raising money for a Presidential position that will no longer exist. So for now I am just getting the word out, materializing my vision, working with a therapist on resolving my fear of flying and getting in better physical condition so that when the time comes for me to run I will be ready.

I told my wife about my decision to run for the Presidency and the first thing she said to me was, “I think that is a terrible idea.”  When I asked her why, she simply said, “I do not like that idea at all.” I opened a bottle of French organic wine that I had bought for the occasion, and tried to explain to her my vision for a future America. She was not terribly interested. I told her the story about when I was sixteen and working with a Psychiatrist (who had me on all kinds of medications) twice a week. One day the Psychiatrist asked me what I really wanted to do with my life when I grew up. When I looked him in the eye and said that I wanted to become President of the United States, I saw tears of pride roll down his cheeks. “I knew that was what you were going to say,” he replied. My wife was still not buying my Presidential aspirations.

After finishing two bottles of French wine together I found out the real reason why my wife was unhappy with my decision to run for the Presidential office. She has no desire to be a first lady. I tried to tell her all the wonderful things she could do as a first lady- start inner city art programs, educate Americans on the difference between good art and bad art, make the showing of Fellini and Bunuel films mandatory in high schools and start video art programs in universities across the country. “You could help wake Americans from their money and status obsessed slumber and educate them in ways that would make them cultural citizens of the world!” I said to my wife but she was not interested. The only response I got from her was, “I am not going to be a first lady, never.”

This is a slight set back since I have no intention of divorcing my wife. Maybe I could have a stand in first lady or no first lady at all? Whatever the case maybe, I am determined to find a resolve to this issue. I cannot ignore the voice that I hear every night in my head, which says over and over “ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.” I see myself dressed in a finely tailored suit, hair back in a ponytail, walking into a room where numerous people are giving me a standing ovation. I wave, shake their hands and for the first time in my life feel like I have finally made it. After the long uphill climb, the years of suffering and disappointment, the anxiety, the economic struggles and indecision- I have finally found my place on top of the mountain. How can a man give up on a dream like this?

I already have twelve guaranteed votes and by the end of the week I know I will have twenty. People already believe in me and if I can continue to gather twenty votes a week for the next few years I will have a considerable backing. Even though I am currently unemployed, am having a terrible time finding a job and may not have enough money to pay rent next month- these twelve people who have already given me their votes are keeping me moving forward every day. I will stand on street corners, go back to school and get a master’s degree in Psychology or History, fly in airplanes, stop sleeping in until eleven every morning and do what ever it takes to make myself a dedicated servant of the people. It is for them (and the voice in my head) that I am determined to win the office of President of the United States in 2016.

One of my very popular x-high school students (I quit teaching high school last year) has already promised to be my Campaign Manager and I have another x-high school student whom I might be able to convince to run with me for the office of Vice-President. She is African-American, a woman (well at the moment she is seventeen but by 2016 she will be a woman) and very intelligent. These three attributes- black, female and smart always get the votes in America. So, I am confident with her on my side and with the grass-roots team we will be able to assemble, that I will have a good chance of becoming the first Jewish American President of the United States in 2016 (as long as there is not an apocalypse in 2012). Now, I just got to work on convincing the wife.