it’s a steal

I have a problem.

I like to steal glass and ceramic wares from restaurants. I couldn’t even bring myself steal a pack of gum with my cousin when I was a kid, and here I am sneaking crockery in my bag.

My biggest weakness is for bar glasses — especially cocktail-style. I have been known to take other things, like a ridiculously tiny vintage-looking plate for which I can’t ever imagine myself having a need. Yet I don’t even need to use them. I just like to think about them. And therein, my friends, lies my downfall. I’m a sucker for things that make me think of other times and other lives. Illicit tokens of nostalgia, if you will.

Far and away my most nostalgic piece of dishware is a mug. It formerly lived a life of hard, greasy service at Chuck and Jane’s restaurant in Port Austin, Michigan.

This is not a very pretty mug, by any means. It’s comprised mostly of local business advertisements, which in itself gets the memories churning. How many times have I driven past billboards for the realty company? My aunt has worked for the short rail insurance agency for years. She’s married to a guy whose cousin owns the painting business. And on the mug’s backside there’s an ad for a motel that sits on a small bluff just above Lake Huron. My Nana used to do some laundry for them after her girls began leaving home. One time, during a summer visit somewhere in the vicinity of 1990, she took me to the motel’s pool and I spent an afternoon playing in the water while she read on the concrete patio. Nobody bothered to come out and yell at us.

This mug is not just any illicit token of nostalgia. It’s a token of my nostalgia. This is my family, my youth; distilled into one simple, functional object.

Both my mother and my dad’s sister waitressed at Chuck and Jane’s, back in the late ’70’s. Even now I remember it as it was when I was a kid: Ripped vinyl chairs, grainy black and white pictures of Turnip Rock and other local landmarks hanging crooked on the walls, that pungent mixture of grease and cigarettes wafting through the air.

The restaurant has changed owners and been renovated since then. And I don’t remember what the name is now, but it hasn’t been called Chuck and Jane’s in maybe 10 or 15 years. So imagine my surprise when I went there a few years ago to eat breakfast with my parents and saw that the same old Chuck and Jane’s mugs, gloriously chipped and stained, were still in service. It was all I could do to refrain from shoving all of the dishes at our table into my handbag. I was delivered a serious frown from my dad for my actions, but I must say… this petty crime was entirely worth it.

I sip my coffee from it every morning. And I’m not sorry at all.

14 Responses to “it’s a steal”

  1. I love drinking out of stolen glassware at friends’ apartments. It just feels cool, and what you wrote here about how it taps into nostalgia in a powerful way is so true. The stupidly huge double pint glass my old roommate stole from a local bar was “my” glass when we lived together. But my “can’t bring myself to steal” conscience extends to restaurants, so I rely on people like you! Don’t grow a conscience.

  2. Oh man. I do this too. It’s the whole reason I carry big purses. And I always leave a extra huge tip to cover the glassware. I’m sure I’ll hate this when we own our brewpub, but I think I’ll just be uniquely prepared for it! …and I’ll sneak those glasses out too.

  3. I do this too, though I prefer little Kilner jars of olives and sugar from chi-chi cafes and bars. My best one was a cup and saucer from the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. I had to down a cup of boiling water to be able to slip it into my bag and then made myself look horribly suspicious by fleeing the building but it made it home.

  4. I totally do this too.. I’m realizing it’s much more common (not that it makes it any better) than I thought it was 😉

  5. Jeez. I’m trying to decide if I’m just the squarest square from Squareville or what. Because whenever I want something from a restaurant, I always ask the wait person and they’ll either let me have it or wrap up a clean one and add a fee to the bill.

    That one time when I was six and my mom made me return the “dolly slippers” (they weren’t) that I stole from the hardware store must have really left a mark.

    • I’ve asked before, too, and offered to buy. I’ve often gotten 1) blank, confused stares or 2) refusal. In the case of refusal, I didn’t take anything. Just taking is sometimes a lot easier.

      I’m a very naughty person in this way. I know it costs the restaurant, but I am somehow able to just tell myself “oh, they won’t even miss it, they must break them all the time anyway.”

  6. A few years ago, my favorite college bar introduced glasses with their logo on them. I have more than half a dozen friends who have swiped glasses since. I don’t know how they can afford to keep replenishing at the rate they seem to be losing.

  7. What a sweet story and you’re a vandal! A common criminal! A petty thief! I love it. I have stolen many a ridiculous thing in my day and I have gotten busted almost. every. single. time.

  8. I’ve worked at Belgian beer cafes her in Sydney and both places have costs built in specifically because people nick the glasses. I’ve also been at tables where girls had their bags packed by their boyfriends *with* the glasses. I think some places now make you pay a glass deposit to try and offset the costs or at least partially prevent the pinching.

    You wouldn’t believe how often it happens.

    And that mug is awesome.

  9. I love this. While out to eat, one of my dad’s signature moves was to shove something from our table into my mom’s purse. One time he put a maple syrup container in there. Let’s just say she wasn’t happy about that. Another time he put 4 steak knives up the sleeve of his shirt – they all fell out as we walked (ran) out of the restaurant.

    he passed away in October. Each time I go out to eat, I take a little something for him.

  10. That mug is so awesome! I read this post at work when you wrote it and made a mental note to comment, which I obviously failed to do then, so here I am now. I had a total glassware kleptomania phase during my year abroad (as so many Americans do) — the only nabbing I’ve done stateside is of dishes from waffle house (two hashbrown plates, a coffee mug and a grits bowl. I still need another bowl so I can let my kitty eat out of matching WaHo dishware).

    Anyway, I have a delightful collection of beer glasses from Germany, Ireland and Scotland. One of my friends got caught trying to lift a Mass mug from the Hofbrauhaus in Munich, and I, right behind him with two in my purse, used that diversion to get out undetected. Muha! Most of the time in Germany there was a deposit built into the cost, which made me feel less bad, and while I stole the mug I had a Oktoberfest, it broke in transit back from Germany (karma?) and I eventually bought the replacement. Most of my contraband glassware is still at my parents’ house, which is a real shame because it’s totally awesome.

  11. I wish I had mugs from my childhood! Oh man, I need to go back in time and recommend a young me to start stealing. I did have one treasured ‘boot cup’ which was a cowboy boot and me and my old roommates would fight over who got to drink out of it. I wonder who has it now, I hope it has a good home.

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