Used to be, the best things for a junky to shoplift were cigarettes and razor blades, both of which could be taken to the nearest bar and disposed of for quick cash. Meat stolen from a supermarket ran a close third.
That tradition is far from dead. A year ago, I was sitting in a quiet little tavern when a cadaverous man came in off the street and offered to sell a five-pound bag of frozen shrimp to anyone who would give him $10. The bartender threw him out before I could get the money out of my pocket.
Now, various news sources are saying that Tide, an iconic American laundry detergent, is becoming a target for thieves. Police say the thieves are selling the shoplifted detergent and using the money to buy drugs. This is probably true, since everyone who is stealing anything is using the money to buy drugs.
I have a history with Tide. My mother has used it all her life, and I used it until I got married. My wife prefers another brand.
But Tide, like Campbell's soup, Heinz Ketchup, Miracle Whip and a host of other brands, was kind of a symbol to my parents.
They were Depression kids, and once they'd crawled out of that hungry hell into white collar security, they did not buy "off brand" or "store brand" items.
I'm like that, too. I don't go to those stores where you have to bag your own groceries. I don't pump my own gas. I eat SpaghettiOs, not store brand "spaghetti rings."
And it's not like anyone cares what I do or what I buy. No one is looking at me in the grocery store and thinking: "Look at the rich guy. He's buying real Ritz Crackers."
Tide has become steal-able because it's getting more expensive. That's no knock on the Tide people, either. It's their business — they can charge what they want.
But I worry about the brand names, and I see the spread of the store brands as one more wearisome indication that the middle class and the steady-as-a-rock working class are in trouble.
There have always been products and services aimed at the poor, and there will always be products for the rich because the rich have money.
But I don't want to live in a world that produces Dom Perignon and store brand spaghetti rings and nothing in between. I know what that world is like because I've read about that world. That world is called "1835," or "1546," or any other year when rich people drank precious wine while watching half-naked peasants fight over half-rotten potatoes.
I want to live in an America where guys with stable jobs can buy products that are advertised by cartoon characters, on television, during prime time.
That's my country. Marlboro cigarettes. Budweiser beer. Twinkies. The standardized, mass-produced, dependably mediocre name brand products sold to clowns like me who spend their lives writing checks to the electric company and trying not to slip into poverty.
And I'm watching that country vanish, gone like a shoplifted box of Tide sold to put more junk into somebody's arm.
And that's what happened. The rich guys shoplifted the whole country to stick more of that green money dope into their arms.
And you and I, we're buying the store brand and lucky to have it since the layoffs, since the pay cut, since the unpaid furlough, since some caviar-breathed bond trader tied off his arm and shot our pension fund money into his collapsing veins.
I hate the stinkin', cheap-ass, dirty, dollar-store country we're becoming. I hate every self-serve inch of it.
To find out more about Marc Munroe Dion and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.