Ian was about six years old when it all began. Living with his divorced mother and two sisters, Ian saw his father usually once a week. His dad would plan some elaborate, big event, and was ALWAYS late. Regardless of previously scheduled festivities, a date with Dad inevitably wound up with a meal at some greasy spoon diner that served breakfast 24-hours-a-day. Whether they saw half a movie (because of his dad’s late arrival) or went to some other locale (missing most of the action of course), the family would never fail to go out to eat afterwards.
One day, while out at a diner with his father and his little sister, Ian noticed something odd. Somebody had finished eating and left the restaurant. In their wake they’d dropped $5 on the table! Ian nearly couldn’t believe it. Who would forget their money like that? Now, what young Ian wanted most in the world was a collection of Star Wars action figures. But things between his disjointed parents were complicated and it seemed there was never enough money to go around. His mom didn’t have a lot of it and she and his dad were constantly arguing over finances. If only there was a way to get some of his own cash. That would be the ticket! So, Ian picked up the $5 and put it in his pocket.
All of the sudden, a whole new world opened up to Ian—one in which he was rich! Whenever he, his dad, and his little sister would go out to eat money just appeared. It seemed like there was something really, really wrong with the restaurants they frequented. All these strange adults who ate there kept leaving their money behind. Sometimes, Ian’s dad would even do it! Ian would get up to go to the bathroom, come back to the table, and Dad would say it was time to go. Wouldn’t you know it, there’d be five or six bucks left just lying there! Without even thinking about it, Ian started collecting the money from the tables at each restaurant outing. He’d linger behind his pops as they walked out of the joint, grabbing fistfuls of dollars along the way. Nobody ever noticed a thing. His little sister was too young to realize what was happening, his dad wasn’t paying attention, and the haggard wait staff had too much going on to be watching a young boy as he sauntered out the door.
Ian amassed a small fortune. Well, ok, a small fortune for a little kid who ate at greasy spoon diners. During the week he’d bug and bug his big sister until she’d walk him across the busy street where they lived to go to the store and buy treasures. At first she complained that he didn’t have any money. Ian just smiled and said “Oh, yes I do!” And he did.
“Whenever he, his dad, and his little sister would go out to eat money just appeared. It seemed like there was something really, really wrong with the restaurants they frequented. All these strange adults who ate there kept leaving their money behind.”
The first purchase he made was a Star Wars Snow Trooper. The figure had just come out after The Empire Strikes Back and Ian couldn’t believe his extraordinary luck in buying it. He was so excited! After that, he bought more action figures, Matchbox cars, bubble gum…it was never ending. His older sister was mad because she thought his dad was plying him with extra money as some sort of divorced-dad-bribe. But being that she was six years older and sort of bored with family life and she and their father didn’t have a great relationship, she rarely went on their outings so she didn’t know the real source of the cash. Ian’s mom was also upset. She thought his dad was giving him all these gifts on their outings, never once realizing that the “presents” were showing up mid-week and Ian’s dad only took them out on the weekends. His mom would hassle his dad about how he bought all these toys while always being behind on child support. However, one of the nice things about divorce is you no longer had to listen when your ex-spouse yells and nags. So Ian’s father just ignored her. And, since his mom didn’t take the kids out to eat, she never saw Ian in action. Ian’s little sister tried it herself once or twice, but she was so small that really the only money she’d ever spot was on the ground—where it was truly fair game. She mostly got pieces of bubble gum out of the situation, after Ian would select that gum purchase of the week.
This went on and on for about three years - Ian eating out with his dad and returning with a pocket full of cash. Nobody ever noticed a thing. Ian truly did not realize that he was stealing. He honestly had no idea that he was doing something wrong. So on and on it went until the day Ian said something to his dad. “Isn’t it funny that people leave money on the tables?” Ian mused out loud during one outing when he was about nine. His father was confused and asked him what he meant. Ian got up and showed him where somebody had left cash on a table. Then, he put it in his pocket. His dad just looked at him. Then, he laughed. “That’s a tip!” he said. A what? Ian had no idea what he was talking about. His father explained that a tip is money a person leaves for their server after they’ve eaten as sort of a way to thank them. The wind was knocked out of Ian’s sails. “Oh,“ he thought as his dad’s words sank in. “Oops …” He had been stealing other people’s money for three years.
Not only did his stint as a thief provide probably around $3,000 over the course of time, it also taught Ian Coburn a lot of valuable information about people and the way we tend to assume things without actually observing anything. This knowledge helped Ian author, “God is a Woman,” a book about dating advice and hilarious dating misadventures (http://www.iancoburn.com/). The money, sadly, is long gone.
Thank you Ian, for sharing your Story with us.
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