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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.