Shame, shame. You know my name.

There’s nothing quite so pitiful as a dried-up dead spider with its legs in a bunch. I found one in my post today, between a Pizza Hut flyer and a bank statement. It was tiny. I doubt it got to live long, at all.

What do you call it when you use genuine ill health to get out of doing something you could do, but don’t fancy doing? Is that still malingering, or has it its own word?

I used to be a brazen thief. Between 1987 and 1996, I stole thousands of books from libraries across Britain and Canada, mostly school libraries. I read them and hid them around the house, and I never returned them.

I didn’t discriminate, when it came to what I’d snatch. I’d take anything that caught my eye. I took mysteries. I took a calculus book. I took St. Bede’s Church School’s entire Geoffrey Trease collection. I put those on my parents’ roof, and the rain washed the pages out. It papered the front walk with them. I nearly got caught.

By the time my parents found out what I’d done, I was seventeen and living in Texas. Mother threatened to fly down and shout at me. Apparently, she’d decided to clean out the basement, which was where I’d been keeping my stash. She was too embarrassed to return it, so she threw it away.

I’m still not sure why I did that. It wasn’t for the thrill, because there wasn’t any. Books are easy to steal. I’d slip them in my binder and walk out with them. Nobody challenged me. No-one looked my way. It was like they didn’t know there was a thief, but they must’ve done. I took so many books.

Maybe it was revenge. I started stealing in, oh…well, I’d have been eight years old, about to turn nine, which would’ve put me in fifth grade. In fourth grade, I was accused of stealing a watch. I didn’t, but I couldn’t prove it, and I was branded a thief. For the rest of that year, and indeed, all through primary school, every time I had something good, kids would run to the teacher and say I took it off them. The teacher would make me “return” it. I lost my jacket that way. I lost my glitter pen. I lost my Benji toy, my keychain, my hairpin with the peacock feathers. And for everything I lost, Mother gave me hell.

It probably wasn’t revenge. It was probably pettiness. I was a forgetful kid. I always returned my library books late. I had to pay for them out of my lunch money, which I liked to spend on sweets, which I ate while I read my library books. I probably started stealing to avoid the fines. I’m sure I told myself I’d sneak the books back in when I was done with them. I’m sure I even meant to. But I never did.

That’s not the worst thing I’ve done. My worst sin, let’s see—well, this one time, I caught a liver parasite, but I thought it was cancer. (Thanks, WebMD!) I figured I was dying, so I tried to get back with my ex. I didn’t want to die alone. The minute I found out it was just, y’know, parasitic cysts leaking pathogens into my organs, I dropped him like a hot rock. Never spoke to him again. (He didn’t go for it, anyway. I have this skin-crawling suspicion he saw right through me. God, I hope he didn’t. I’d be mortified….)

Anyway, what a berk—I stole books from kids. I stole a lot of bad ones and stupid ones, but I stole good ones too. I stole a lot of Evelyn Waugh, Charles Dickens, Isaac Asimov. I stole out-of-print books, outdated texts and early editions. I made a special trip to St. Catharines to steal “The Satanic Verses.” (I had to lift that from a shop. I had to ask for it, take it to the reading room, then zip out while the clerk was busy. They thought that book was dangerous, back then. Like you’d be buying it, and someone might shoot you. They kept it under the counter, off the shelves, and you got a funny look when you asked for it. It felt like buying drugs, like hey, man, you got any, uh…you got Salman Rushdie back there?)

I stole so many books.

I had book kleptomania.

So far, I’ve written twelve novels suitable for children, and many more decidedly not. I wonder how long I’d have to live, to replace every book I took out of circulation with one of my own….

Back to that dead spider, though…the way their legs dry up and curl in…. It’s like they were clutching at life, but it slipped through their…their…what do you call those hairy bits at the ends of their feet? Claws? Pokerets?

Ah, fuck spiders.

8 thoughts on “Shame, shame. You know my name.

  1. And that’s why you write like a 60 year old Oxford don*. Because you stole and read all those books and there’s no going back and un-absorbing all those words. It’s your karmic punishment**. 😝

    *Where the critics go wrong is that some odd people (like me) love precisely that Oxford don style. And the world is quite full of odd people, so really, it’s not as bad as far as karma*** goes.

    **If you know what your karmic punishment is, then you can forget about it and stop blaming yourself, in a “the universe took care of it” sort of way.

    *** I don’t really believe in, or necessarily always like the concept of karma (if you’re being a good person just to avoid the world rebounding back on you, are you really good?… It also implies that everyone DESERVES everything that happens to them, and that is, mildly put, a problematic worldview), but sometimes it’s convenient (see above).

    And cong🐀s on getting that job.

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    1. Ha! Well, I do tend to be the author of my own misfortunes, nine times out of ten. While I’m not a believer in karma or in getting what one deserves, I do believe in cause and effect: make an irresponsible decision; run a high risk of deleterious consequences. Really, I’m glad I read all those books, though I wish I hadn’t stolen them. It used to be my favourite thing, coming home at night and curling up in bed with a book and a box of Turkish Delight. (No wonder my teeth broke so easily!)

      I don’t know what I’d have done with all those nights, if I hadn’t had books to read. I wasn’t allowed out after six on a schoolnight. There was no TV. I hadn’t learnt to draw yet. Not having a book, under those circumstances, would’ve been the most desolate feeling.

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      1. Was it because it got dark after six most of the year? Because that’s a pretty strict curfew. I think I was allowed out as late as nine or ten in the evening. Staying late at friends’ places was an issue, and I got shouted at fairly regularly, but nothing was enforced.

        Reading was the perfect way to pretend you’re actually doing something in class if you could hide the book behind your notes. And we didn’t have TV either (oddly, I still perceive the world before computers and internet as somehow more “correct” and everything after as more “weird”… Very old person/luddite thing).

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        1. No. My parents were just strict. I wasn’t allowed out after dinner on schoolnights till I was fourteen or so. Unless I stayed for dinner at a friend’s house. Then, I could stay till eight, if I had no homework. I used to leave school at lunch and go to Niagara Falls, so I could have a social life. Come to think of it, that may have been why my curfew was so strict. I was always in trouble for skipping class.

          We had these desks in school where you slid your books underneath, and the rack made a perfect bookrest, for reading during class. You just had to stuff your book in quickly, if a teacher approached.

          I like having TV and the Internet, because I always felt cut off in the evenings, before I had that. The minute I found out about BBS services, in the early 90s, maybe the late 80s, I was all over that shit.

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          1. In our case, the desk was just a plain table, but if you sat far back enough, and raised your hand once in a while to answer a question, there were teachers who didn’t pay too much attention to what you were actually doing (or just turned a blind eye as long as you weren’t actively disruptive). Come to think of it, it was a surprisingly lenient childhood (but that’s apparent only now, looking back).

            I like having the TV and Internet too. In fact, it’s probably abnormal how disconnected everyone had been from each other before the web. It was both a more naive, and probably more secretly dangerous world. I’ve just realized that for me, at least, the switch from “no internet” to “internet” fell pretty much on 9/11 and the worsening of political climate that accompanied it. That probably is the real reason for my feelings.

            I envy you a bit the opportunity to be there when it all slowly began and witness the early stages of the internet, when it was still very much DIY and by most accounts much friendlier and grassroots than today. Like being part of a secret club. I caught it precisely as that era was ending and all those tiny old websites and forums were being slowly consigned to oblivion (when your life is boring, just use grand terms to make it seem more exciting (it did feel like an end of an era though)).

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            1. Yeah…the Internet was far less convenient in the early days, but in a lot of ways, it was more fun. There was something exciting about BBSing. It wasn’t so immediate, but it was a rare chance to be anonymous, to take on a new persona. We all take that for granted now. We can do it any time. But in my tween years, that kind of scenario went from sci-fi to reality, and it was brilliant. 9/11 was still way in the future, then. We were just coming out of the IRA era, terrorism-wise.

              I had a lot of fun with it, anyhow. I joined a BBS called “Weird Sex Stories” and pretended to be a middle-aged professor who did all sorts of dirty things with students, faculty, and assorted university personnel. I’d never so much as kissed anyone. I liked trying to have the most shocking story, and I liked how willing everyone was to suspend their disbelief. It was probably the first time I got to be cool.

              By the time the forums you’re thinking of were popular, the BBS scene was pretty much dead. The Internet sort of flooded in 1993, with the AOL browser coming online, and that was the beginning of what we have today. Forums peaked in the early 2000s. Now, it’s all social media, which is a shame.

              My old blog, even, had quite a community around it. Nobody really comments on the new one. They just like, for the most part. That’s a very social media thing. There weren’t likes on blogs, before.

              I’m liking this blogging throwback to the old Internet, though. I’m going to keep doing it. I think a lot of people are backing away from social media now. Writing something here, I can be reasonably sure the people who read it are the people who want to read it, as they have to come looking. On Facebook, the people I want to talk to might miss what I say, thanks to some algorithm, and the people who do seee it might be virtual strangers. I don’t like that so much. I prefer the idea of gathering actual friends, rather than an audience.

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              1. You still get that with creepypastas to a degree, the willing (and heroic) suspension of disbelief on the audience’s part. As for internet erotica… I think we went through a quiet and unremarked sexual revolution that’s actually more significant than the one in the sixties (because we talk about consent now rather than just “whee! sex…!”) . I remember you mentioning the middle aged professor sex stories a long time ago… Didn’t you almost implicate your father as the author (and possible protagonist)? If you become a famous writer, it’ll be a good “inspirational literary debut” story (“So, how did you get started? Where the themes of hedonism and encroaching age prevalent in your fiction since the beginning?” “Now that you mention it…”).🙃

                I’ve noticed that I’m the only person commenting for now, let’s hope I break the “blog bystander effect”. It’s funny how you get involved in someone else’s life through a chance reading of disparate posts, there’s no clear point of transition but suddenly you find yourself looking forward to the next bit of update about weird neighbours, bird drama, and even such unprepossessing things as the ladder (your blogposts about it may be the only good thing that the ladder spawned). I’m glad I got involved.

                Likes are probably a good thing though, all in all, because people often have nothing to say yet still want to show their involvement.

                On Facebook, I have around a hundred people marked as “see first”, so I’m guaranteed to read their posts (and also adblock and incognito mode on to mitigate as much as possible whatever sinister data gathering might go on in the background). That’s probably the main problem with it for a user, it’s a platform you have to actively fight against to make work (like clearing a path in a jungle with a machete).

                I’ve been recently encountering several suggestions for creating a “Geneva convention” of sorts for internet privacy/level of corporate meddling. It’ll probably never happen, but it’s nice to know that the thought is out there.

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                1. I did, yes. Because my ISP was showing, and it was the university’s dialup, and I described myself as an English professor. (Oddly, now that you mention it, almost all my weird sex stories included enthusiastic consent. Very enthusiastic. I must’ve been ahead of my time…ha, ha! A lot of the stories didn’t, or were outright rape stories, but I cultivated this friendly, gentle, kinky personality on there, where I’d describe this guy doing just about anything, but never with anyone who wasn’t into it.)

                  I think people might be spoiled by how easy it is to comment on social media. You sign up once, and you can comment on anybody’s content. On blogs, I guess you have to sign up just to talk to one person. Or can you use your WordPress account on every WordPress blog? Who knows, eh? Well, I’m sure when I say something interesting, people might chime in.

                  I wish they WOULD do something about all the data harvesting that goes on. The ads are just relentless, these days. And so insulting, half the time. Don’t try to sell me Depends every time I say I’m old, Internet. That’s just rude.

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