Peanut Butter Conspiracy (Jimmy Buffett/shoplifting)

I’m pretty sure I got my first Jimmy Buffett album after getting back from my first two-year stint in Europe, but it fits that part of my songobiography because this was the first song of his I learned, and I learned it as a souvenir of my brief life of crime. That period began during the week or so I lived under a bridge in Carcassonne with a Guyanan guy named Rohan and an English guy named Martin. (Yes, Rohan and Martin. I later lived in Morocco next to an American named Byron and and Englishman named Shelly.) CarcassonneThey had dragged an old mattress under the bridge, and we all slept there and pooled our resources.

It was the fall of 1978, and they were waiting for the vendange (grape harvest) to begin. In those days, the vendange was still done completely by hand and swarms of young folks would descend on the South of France from all over Northern Europe to do the picking. The problem was that a lot of them arrived early in hopes of finding a good job, and then were stuck for a couple of weeks before the work started.

Rohan’s solution was to go out every night and search through people’s garbage. He was careful to select items that were still wrapped or otherwise seemed safe and sanitary, and it was surprising how much he found. (To be fair, he also accumulated full bottles of wine by pouring together the dregs from discarded bottles, which was pretty foul, but we were young and strong.)

Martin, meanwhile, shoplifted. I’d probably taken occasional candy bars from stores before, but he was serious and professional — the biggest difference being that I was terrified of getting caught, while he didn’t mind getting caught if the result was nothing worse than a night in jail. Back in England he’d done time in borstal (reform school) — which he assured us had been good for him — but in France he usually just got an angry lecture, which he considered irrelevant.

So Martin would head off to the stores, and I went with him because he had no idea what to steal — laughing-cow-cheeseI mean, he was in France and could steal the most wonderful cheeses on earth, but was taking La Vache Qui Rit because the package was familiar. I didn’t actually steal at that point — I was busking and contributed loaves of fresh bread, which were too big to steal and didn’t get thrown away. But I studied his technique, which was to fill up the crotch of his jeans — as described in Buffett’s lyric — a particularly good spot because, even if someone noted the bulge and thought it looked suspicious, they might be embarrassed to mention it.

To make a long story short, I went on to pillage the supermarkets of Paris — never small groceries, only the Monoprix and Uniprix, which could obviously afford it — and dined on steaks for a while. And then, hitchhiking through Denmark, I stopped at a supermarket, shoved a nice lump of cheese down my pants, walked out, and was promptly accosted by a polite employee, who said, “We believe you have an item you have not paid for.” I admitted that to be the case, and he said, “Please go back and pay for it.” Buffett LP

So I did, and that’s the last time I ever shoplifted — the moral being that bougie wannabe hoboes are hopeless lightweights… and to make it worse they celebrate their crimes with Jimmy Buffett songs.