Pilfering a copy of The Wall Street Journal wouldn’t seem like a crime of passion, but that’s exactly the way this misdemeanor unfolded in the eyes of one particularly rabid reader on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles.
It all happened when I innocently sauntered into a 1950s-style Laundromat nestled in the corner of aWest Hollywoodstrip mall – only to be aggressively tapped on the shoulder by a troubled patron who questioned where I picked up the Saturday edition in my right hand.
“I’m a subscriber,” was the only possible reply that came to mind.
“That’s interesting,” he said with a hint of suspicion in his voice, “because I left my copy of The Journal briefly unattended on top of one of the garbage cans, along with a folder that contained some important documents, and now they’re gone.”
Then he added: “Your paper is slightly yellowed from the sun like mine was.”
Of all the times I really needed my subscriber info emblazoned across the label that comfortably sits just to the Northwest of American journalism’s famous nameplate, go figure that it wouldn’t happen on the day I stood accused of stealing a prized back issue. All it said was “Not For Resale. Sample Replacement.”
How coincidental. What are the odds of finding more than one reader of this exclusive newspaper in, of all places, a seedy Laundromat? Toss in two front pages that were faded by the sun and it gets downright scary. Who knew I’d be walking into a real-life episode of The Twilight Zone probably mere miles away from where the classic TV show was originally penned or at least produced.
“Here, you can read my copy while I’m tied up on a cell phone call I’m about to make and then we can always share it afterward,” I immediately offered without missing a beat, realizing readers of The WSJ must stick together in times like these.
His reaction could only be described as tentatively appreciative. So it shouldn’t have come as any surprise when 30 minutes later this tall and lean gentleman with a clean-cut visage rudely interrupted my call to say the following: “You know something, I thought about what you said and think you took my paper.”
Flabbergasted, I politely asked the party on the other line to hold while I deal with a pressing matter. “How dare you excuse me of stealing your paper when I’ve done nothing of the sort!” I crowed, throwing in a few deleted expletives along the way. This, of course, came as quite a shock considering the good deed I had performed earlier.
So while I angrily snatched back from his hands my copy of the paper, he threatened to callL.A.’s finest and then quizzed me to see if I was a subscriber or thief. “How much does the paper cost a year?” he asked. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember the exact figure, which fed his suspicion. Blame it on automatic bill paying. But I did at least correctly describe all four sections of the paper. Beginner’s luck is probably what he muttered under his breath.
About 20 minutes later, two L.A.P.D. officers pulled up in a squad car to investigate the mysterious caper. We each patiently told our side of the story. He was asked whether his copy of the paper contained personal information or the same resale warning as mine. He couldn’t recall, admitting that on occasion the label would feature the latter. With absolutely nothing to hide, I invited the male and female cop back to the guesthouse I rent around the corner from the Laundromat so that they could see a back issue with my name and address on it and verify that I do, indeed, subscribe.
The final step was bringing one of these issues to the beleaguered reader who, they later told me upon returning the paper, apologized for fingering the wrong man. “Sorry officers,” I said upon their departure. “I realize you have more important things to do.” They both smiled broadly and rolled their eyes, almost in unison, as they drove off into theL.A.sunset.
Several people have asked me whether this really happened. It did indeed. Just remember that truth sometimes is stranger than fiction.