Not in the sense that Austin Kleon talks about.
No, this is a story from long ago about stealing for my art — and getting arrested.
Specifically, I was arrested for shoplifting 8mm movie film prepaid processing mailers to get my short rolls of recaptured reality developed for viewing.
My art at that time consisted of short, mostly silly, films. Along the way, I’d figured out how to turn these simple film stories into substitutes for academic papers during high school — garnering top grades, I might add.
But 8mm film had severe limitations: no sound recording whatsoever, so we revived the days of silent movies, or sloppily synched up music or dubbed dialog (never a good idea). My personal favorite was to pair up one of my dad’s Spike Jones records with a cartoon reel. But I digress.
Home 8mm cameras also used 50′ film rolls, which lasted just about 3 minutes, so you learned to plan things out and shoot short scenes.
But the worst part was the waiting (as Tom Petty would acknowledge later). After you shot a roll or two of film, you had to get it developed before you could show it on a projector.
Meanwhile, you had no way of knowing if it had “come out.” The exposure could be off (no direct viewfinder), the focus could be wrong (no autofocus back then), the camera angle could be tilted or shaky — none of this would be known until you saw the developed movie.
Moreover, most photo shops could not develop movie film on their premises, sending it away to Kodak labs instead. Like most people making home movies at the time, I just used prepaid processing mailers that Kodak sold in retail stores. It was a simple system: mail in 1 roll of film per mailer and a week or so later, you’d get your movie back in the mail.
I had no money to speak of, so to make my little movies in high school, I would visit the local Target store to shoplift a reel or two of film, along with the necessary mailers. I did’t do this a lot, but I did do it repeatedly throughout high school, when the store was within walking distance of our house.
The first spring after I headed off to college, I was visiting my parents back in Houston and wanted to grab a couple of film mailers.
As per my usual modus operandi, I casually strolled through several departments before drifting over to the film section and stuffing the mailers down my pants. I wandered around a bit more before starting to leave.
The store detective approached me as soon as I stepped out of the front doors. “Sir, you have some unpaid merchandise on you. Please follow me back inside.”
If I thought he’d be lenient for my compliance, I was dead wrong. He only spoke to me briefly before calling the local police to arrest me. The grand total of the items I attempted to steal was $4.75. The cop smiled as he said, “You’re lucky — that qualifies as petty theft. Another 25¢ worth and you’d be looking at higher charge.”
I called a friend to come bail me out, not wanting my parents to hear about this. As I was being released, the police explained that this money ($30) would be returned when I came back for trial. Or if I didn’t return for trial, it would be forfeit to pay the fine, which was, coincidentally, the same exact amount of money.
I did not return for trial.
I realized later that of course I had forgotten that my scruffy first-year beard had made me much more conspicuous when I had returned that spring to the scene of my prior crimes. I must’ve stuck out like a sore thumb strolling the suburban Target, stuffing film developers down my pants.
That spelled the end of my short-lived shoplifting days.