So I went to Walmart to buy my father an electric toothbrush, at my mother’s request. Not having ever applied the concept of electricity to anything near my mouth, I was green about the price of the oral appliance—though it was sheer inexcusable ignorance that I believed the sign that said $5.98.
When I got to the check-out counter the cashier rang me up for $17.95 plus tax. I asked her to check again that she had not accidentally charged me for two, because the sign I recalled under the item I was purchasing listed $5.98, not $17.95. She obligingly voided the $17.95 plus tax and took my word for the lesser price. I was surprised at how easy that was.
I was not yet back to my car when satisfaction turned to self-doubt and I decided to return and make sure I had been correct. For some reason, I left the toothbrush in the car and brought only the receipt with me. I walked directly to the hygiene section of the store and learned that I had mistakenly consulted the price below the item rather than above it—which did indeed say $17.95.
I took the receipt and a sample toothbrush with me to the service desk and paid the difference—and then absentmindedly walked out with the toothbrush. While driving home I spotted the two mouth cleaners on the front seat, turned around, and stealthily returned one of them to its place in the dental care aisle. That’s three trips into Walmart for one toothbrush.
I write this only to admit that on the way out the door the second time, I fleetingly thought of Abbie Hoffman’s 1970 hippie classic Steal This Book and the mantra of my generation that “it’s OK to steal from big corporations because they are so rich”—mental hiccups from the past.
Bourgeois morality of the kind that decent non-Christian citizens have may or may not have been enough to make me go back in Walmart and make things right with the Walton family. My guess is that as times in America get harder, the lesser moralities will tend to fail us, and only genuine fear of the Lord will be enough to keep a man honest.