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Bad Example

Sometimes being an example for your kids comes from showing them what not to do. While I acknowledge that being a parent is difficult many life experiences I had that shaped me as an adult came from instances where my folks did or said something that I have grown to realize were wrong. Be that immoral, illegal or unethical I was usually forced to bite my tongue at the time but now see the error of their ways. I make no claims to being perfect but hope that I've at least done a better job leading by example.

My father said on many occasions that "it isn't illegal if you don't get caught". That sounded odd as a child, questionable as a teenager and like incrementing evidence as an adult. There were lots of examples where this played out in relation to my fathers business but the one I observed most consistently occurred at a popular wholesale company.

He was the owner operator of a coffee and vending machine company at the time. As such he purchased a lot of candy, soda pop, Styrofoam cups, snacks, napkins, paper towels, etc. If you can imagine it in a break room somewhere chances are he dealt in it. While we would deal with large scale specialty warehouses from time to time he preferred the neighborhood wholesale company probably because he had a knack for getting free items.

As he spent a great deal of time and money and was a rather personable fellow he quickly became friends with many of the employees. As a business owner he was allowed to checkout at the customer service counter "so as to not hold up the line at the registers" and would typically roll up with multiple flatbed dollies. Upon arrival he wouldn't set anything up on the counter right away and would instead shoot the breeze and ask about their family, the price fluctuation of some item or some benign tidbit from the news.

This could go on for quite sometime and would not stop until another customer appeared in line for the counter. He'd then say something like "oh, sorry I am holding you up" and would rapidly place items on the counter. A few would be strategically placed so that they either were blocked from view or so that it looked like they may have already been scanned and some never made it off the cart. As the employee now felt the need to quickly wrap up the transaction to prevent a line from forming they would more or less scan what he placed in front of them. He would then promptly return them to the carts a few at a time in such away it was difficult to keep tabs on the status of each item.

Occasionally he would find a more detail oriented and less easily frazzled teller and this would either lead to him suddenly remembering he had forgotten something (and departing the line) or him realizing in the moment he didn't need a few of the items abandoning them there. It took me a while to piece it together but I realized that we would purposely swing by the front of the store from time to time as we shopped collecting a few more items before returning until he finally decided it was time to check out. He was looking to see what cashier(s) were available and how busy they were looking for the best opportunity.

You may be reading this and saying to yourself, sure but they check the receipt when you leave the store. Well in the 90s in our part of town this was not consistent and they spend a few seconds scanning those receipts when they do. There was no realistic way they'd spot something in the pile of goods we were hauling. Especially (again) when there are a lot of people behind us. Nobody wants the Karen's trying to get home to make dinner yelling at them so they'd give it the obligatory look before waving him on by. And if somehow after all of that they did find something was missing he could very convincingly say, "oh I didn't realize with all this stuff" and they'd chuckle, ring up that one tem and he'd be back on his merry way.

The first few times I realized we were leaving with items we didn't pay for I pointed it out to him. He told me, "It's their job to ring it up son, not my job to point everything out." That always sounded suspect but I never had the courage to fight my dad on it. He had a way of getting punchy with people that argued with him. Odd, how in my life I've never had a membership to Costco, Sam's Club or the likes.


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