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Useless shoes

Three people broke into a shoe shop in Huancayo, Peru, last month and made off with 200 sneakers — but sadly for them, the shoes were all right-footed only.

The shoes were worth $13,400, though how they plan to convert right-footed shoes into cash is unknown.

I understand this predicament all too well because I committed a similar crime when I was younger.

In 1990, when I was 19 years old, my friend, Bengi and I were driving home in the dead of night after a party. We were passing through North Attleboro, Massachusetts, about a mile or two from our home, when we noticed a small display table sitting outside a shoe store, piled high with shoes.

The shopkeeper had failed to bring the display into the shop for the night.

Being young, stupid, and very poor, Bengi and I planned a heist that was far more detailed than was necessary. Entrance and escape routes were discussed. A step-by-step plan was put into place. We even briefly discussed the possibility that this might be some kind of sting operation, and that perhaps the police were lurking in some dark corner, waiting for us to strike.

Eventually, we set our plan into motion. We pulled up to the store, and while Bengi remained behind the wheel of his Dodge Charger, I leaped out, threw open the hatchback, and began tossing shoes into the back. Once the table was clear of footwear, I realized it, too, was also available for the taking, so I grabbed it and began jamming it into the car. It was rectangular, about four feet long and a foot or two wide, so it wasn’t an easy fit.

After a minute, everything was secure. I slammed the hatchback closed, leaped back into the passenger seat, and we were off.

Later, when we examined the spoils of our caper, we discovered two things:

We had stolen children’s shoes, which made sense. The name of the store was Kids Shoes. Sadly, this had not occurred to us during the robbery.

They were also all left-footed shoes.

Recognizing the difficulty in finding one-legged, left-footed children to whom we might sell these shoes, we tossed them into a cupboard under the staircase and forgot about them. The table, however, replaced the baby-changing table that held our ancient television.

A real upgrade, both in terms of appearance and eye level.

While cleaning out that cupboard a year later, we found that bag of shoes. Emboldened by a year of surviving on little money and even less heat, we decided to return the shoes. We wrote a note, informing the shoe store employees of our regrets and asking if they might offer us a sign of forgiveness. Then we signed the note:

Matty and Bengi

We drove back to the store and dropped the bag of shoes at the front door with the note attached.

Three days later, we returned to see if we had received a sign of some kind of forgiveness, and remarkably, we had:

In the shop window was a piece of paper featuring a hand-drawn smiley face. The eyebrows consisted of two words:

Matty and Bengi

We had been forgiven.

We kept the table, of course. It was too good to return, and when Bengi and I went our separate ways – Bengi to Connecticut for a new job while I was trapped in Massachusetts, awaiting trial for a crime I did not commit, about to become homeless – we divided our communal belongings.

Having an actual home, he took the table.

For years, until his children were grown, that table sat beneath the coat hooks in his mudroom. His children would put their shoes on that table every day when they came home from school.

Once again, the table held kids’ shoes.

Unless I’m wrong, that table is sitting in Bengi’s garage today. For a while, it held our DJ equipment, but since the equipment is currently being stored in my garage, I’m not sure what that table is doing today, 33 years after our theft.

I’ll have to check.

So yes, I feel empathy for those Peruvian thieves.

Sometimes you don’t realize what you’ve got until it’s too late.

For me and Bengi, we found ourselves with a pile of left-footed shoes, but more importantly, an unforgettable, joyous time of our lives filled with friendship, freedom, and fun in a home we affectionately called The Heavy Metal Playhouse.