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The Newspaper Thief

Is it time to call 911 and get out the torches and pitchforks? Because I am outraged at this latest sign of social degradation and desperate thievery in our little town of Redway! What can be done?

Do you ever go to the newspaper dispensers outside Ray’s to get The Independent on a Tuesday or Wednesday and find that they’re already gone? Hey Garberville. What’s Going On with that? Uncool.

I drove into the parking lot yesterday and saw a guy go up to the Indie box, take out a big pile of papers and stash them in his bag, probably about fifty, which Ray Oakes, octogenarian paperboy, columnist about all things Los Angeles music in the ‘50’s, and pulse-taker of the community with his Question Man segments, had put in earlier in the day.

What to do? Take his picture, another of his license plate, and then follow him home to get a photo of him unloading the purloined papers at his nearby house like a good Garberville citizen and bored busybody? Publicly shame him for his lack of ethics? 

I mean, it’s one thing to steal a bottle of flavored water at Ray’s, that doesn’t hurt anyone except Ray’s bottom line, but using the Indie for fire starter seems like book burning to me.

The guy needs to be brought down! Hard! Found guilty in the court of pubic opinion and tossed on the scrap heap of alleged violations of our codes of conduct, right? Or I could interview him, ask him why he feels he has the right to deprive us news-starved denizens of another two thousand word story about the demise of the weed business, and other compelling news. 

No, he’s a hothead and would get upset at me, me, just the messenger in this sordid tale of malfeasance. Then we’d be shouting at each other on Redwood Drive and someone might report me for disturbing Garberville’s fragile peace, another example of G-ville’s southward plunge, and I’d get thrown in the stocks — ridiculed on the HeyGarb Facebook page. 

Why do I care? It’s just some very thin newspapers, maybe he hands them out to cold people to make warming and cooking fires? Maybe he’s actually an unsung civic hero, a humanitarian?

Well, I care because I wrote a story telling how the Indie started, it’s supposed to be published in next week’s edition commemorating the 25th anniversary of its birth, and I don’t want him taking next week’s papers also. It’s a good story and everyone should have the opportunity to read it. (I have a bunch of old Independents and other papers awaiting recycling—I’m thinking of trading him a pile of those in exchange for not taking any of next week’s issues.)

His car was parked next to mine with the window cracked open half an inch and he had gone into Ray’s. I slid a copy of the story through the opening and it landed face up on the front seat. 

Hmm, I wonder if he’ll get the message: we’re on to you dude!

* * *

Later I was driving home, saw him walking along the road a mile from his house, had an idea, stopped at Ray’s parking lot, took out a notebook, and wrote a message: “Please don’t take the Independents next week. You wouldn’t want your picture, name, and license plate on the local crime and gossip Facebook page, right?” (Of course I would never actually do that.)

I went over to his house, slipped the unsigned note under his windshield wiper, and drove home thinking, Really? I was feeling a little giddy, sneaky, stupid, and wondering what is wrong with me, but also felt pretty calm as a righteous vigilante. I figured he’d be upset but he deserved it, right?

About an hour later he called me and said, “Did you put that note on my car window?”

“Uh, Yes,” I said. Uh oh. 

“I want to straighten something out about the papers,” he said in a clear, full-throated voice, not sounding guilty or upset at all. “I take some out of there and replenish the supply at places like Chautauqua, I even put one in each shopping cart. Ray Oakes and Joe at the paper are okay with it, you can ask at Chautauqua if you don’t believe me.”

“I believe you,” I said.

“I’m on the same side here,” he said. “I don’t like it that people are taking piles of them from the racks either so I get some to spread around before they’re gone.”

“Yeah, things are usually not what they seem,” I said, sheepishly, surprised the guy wasn’t ripping me a new one. 

“That’s true” he said and mentioned that he was eighty years old.

“Wow, eighty,” I said. “I was only concerned because my story about starting the Independent is coming out next week and I didn’t want them burned up or something.”

So what’s the lesson here?

MYOB and easy on the BOLO’s.


  1. Bruce McEwen December 30, 2022

    Andy Caffrey does that all the time. Same with the free magazine from Arcata, he takes the whole stack.

  2. Fred Gardner January 2, 2023

    Back in the ’70s when an SF weekly –probably the Bay Guardian– ran an article critical of sheriff Richard Hongisto, that supposed liberal was caught one night emptying their boxes.

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