Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

*Matchbox Cars*

Napa Valley, California, USA

July 20, 2020

This essay, Matchbox Cars, is the companion piece to a trilogy of Incidents:
  1. Authentic Truth: The Coca Cola Animals  Incident, And More
  2. Seeking Approval: The Watermelon Basket  Incident, And More
  3. Impact: The #1  Incident, And More
in that order.

It is also the seventh in the octology Truth:
  1. Used By The Truth
  2. Not Truth / Truth
  3. Moment Of Truth
  4. Nobody's Doing It To You Except Yourself: A Study In Truth
  5. Tell Me The Truth
  6. Authentic Truth: The Coca Cola Animals  Incident, And More
  7. Matchbox Cars
  8. On Telling The Truth
in that order.

I am indebted to Donovan Copley who inspired this conversation.

Collage courtesy
I'd be hard-pressed to cite a more valuable process: list everyone you've lied to, cheated on, been inappropriate with, wronged, hurt, left incomplete, been out of integrity with etc. I made that list with about two hundred people on it, contacted everyone on it, 'fessed up to what I'd done, apologized, made whole and good. Some people on it had died. I made good with them anyway. The process took a year. When I was sure I was done, I looked at that list one more time, asking "Have I left anyone out?". After a moment, I said aloud "Oh my God: Mr Teale!".

Grand Theft Auto

They were well organized heists. Our gang went into Mr Teale's toy store - which was named (appropriately enough) "Teale's". One of us (moi) carried a grocery bag filled with balled newspaper pages (to make it look as if we'd been shopping - the paper made the bag look full). Two of the others walked around, admiring the store, talking animatedly between themselves. The fourth distracted Mr Teale at the counter by asking him streams of questions, while I went up to a display stand (it was out of Mr Teale's line of sight) which showcased the latest "Matchbox" cars in their boxes, took them out of the boxes, hid the cars in my bag under the newspaper, then replaced the boxes on the display stand. I only targeted models I hadn't already stolen. Then we left, waving our "Goodbye!"s to a none-the-wiser Mr Teale. We called our gang "The DEK"  ie the Dead End Kids. We were all of eight and nine years old.

Uncouth Sleuth

Then thirty years blew by in a flash, fast-forwarding my life, and I was sure my list was complete - until the day when I said out loud "Oh my God: Mr Teale!", and I immediately knew I had to track him down and make him whole. Google Earth  was my prime sleuthing app. I actually walked down the street (virtually, anyway) where Teale's used to be ... and there it was!  - still there, still standing thirty years later. I could hardly believe it! Another google or two retrieved the phone number. I waited until the international time was right (Teale's' time zone was nine hours ahead of mine) and I called. A woman's voice answered cheerily "Teale's!". I cleared my throat, nervous. "May I speak with Mr Teale please?" I said. There was a pause, then "Who is this?" she asked. "I'm an old friend of Mr Teale. I'm calling from California.". There was another pause. "I'm sorry" she said, "Mr Teale died about twenty eight years ago. Is there something I can help you with?". My heart sank.

Taking a deep breath, I told her about our gang of four, and the grand theft auto heists. I told her I intended to repay Mr Teale with interest for the Matchbox cars I stole. There was another pause ... then "Who are  you?" she asked. "I'm Laurence" I said, "and I stole ..." ... "Yes I know" she interrupted, "you already told me that. But who are  you? Nobody  calls back thirty years later  to pay for toys they shoplifted thirty years ago. Nobody!".

Compensation, Redemption, Completion

I told her I had calculated the purchase price I owed in today's dollars, adding on sales tax, interest, and an adjustment for inflation. It was a tidy sum, especial given that the international currency exchange would increase it tenfold by the time she received it. "Laurence, I can't accept this" she said, "Mr Teale is dead, and while I'm the new Teale's owner, you didn't steal from me.". "But I did steal from the business you bought" I pressed, "so I'm going to send you a check, which you can deposit, rip up, or donate to your favorite charity.". She was silent, then she asked again "Who are  you, hey? Who are  you?".

When our conversation was over, I immediately mailed her a check. Three weeks later, my bank manager told me the check had cleared, having been deposited into a foreign bank account. Finally my list was complete. I had made every one of the about two hundred people I'd lied to, cheated on, been inappropriate with, wronged, hurt, left incomplete, been out of integrity with etc, whole and complete. At about the same time, I noticed a certain cacophony in my head, a cacophony I'd expected to be hearing for the rest of my life, had gone dead quiet. "Well, who woulda thunk?"  I mused.

I love Matchbox cars. To this day. That's why I stole them in the first place. It was wrong to steal them. It was not  OK - even though I loved them. Yet my cleaning up that I stole them, was worth a thousandfold more than even the love they elicit from me. And while I cleared my debt to Mr Teale (albeit postmortem), my real debt is to the makers of Matchbox cars: if those tiny, perfect cars they manufacture hadn't been so attractive to a young gangster like me in the first place, I would never have had the marvelously freeing experience (which crossed international boundaries, I might add) they afforded me, of getting complete with my own thievery.

* This essay, Matchbox Cars, was originally titled Dinky Toys.

In recalling the essay's originating incidents which occurred 62 years ago, I mis-remembered the cars I stole as Dinky toys.

Later, tightening up the language jogged my memory: they were Matchbox cars not Dinky toys, so I re-titled the essay accordingly.

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