A Sticky Wicket

Would you behave yourself better if you knew that when you didn’t you’d be found out and there’d be no mistaking that it was you who perpetrated the “crime”?  That someone could actually finger you in the misdeed?  If the crime had your face all over it?

Just about 30 years ago when I was so very sick with colitis-that-was-really-Crohn’s, I was also very poor.  I had some big bills that had materialized as the result of the fact that I would buy stereo equipment and televisions when I got depressed.  Oh, and there were hospital and doctor bills.  And rent and food.  Maybe you’ve had your share?

It was the last day of the month, and I had to go across the street to the bank to check my bank balance to see if my rent check would clear.  On occasion it, ummmm, didn’t.  (It was my landlady’s fault though – the money was always in the bank when I wrote the check.  She should have cashed it right away, right?  You’re with me on that one, right?)

Anyway, when I got to the bank machine, it looked like this:

Would You Like To Make Another Transaction?

Would You Like To Make Another Transaction?

The previous customer, whom I didn’t see, had left their card behind.  Their pin number was still registered with the machine.  All I had to do was press “Yes” and I could have made another transaction.  Helped myself to some bonus bucks.

Now I am basically an honest person.  I have in my lifetime told a few lies – OK, so some were whoppers.  But I don’t do that anymore.

And when I was a kid I did steal a troll doll.  I still don’t know how I didn’t get caught – I stuck it under my shirt and was the only pregnant 8-year-old in the store.  I haven’t stolen a troll since.  I haven’t been pregnant either, but that’s a different story.

I will not, however, fess up to having maimed or murdered anyone, unless you count doing so with my razor-sharp wit.  Still, I am not perfect.

Anyway, when I saw that screen in the bank, when I actually knew that my rent check was likely to bounce, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to buy food, well, I was tempted.  I stood and stared at it for the longest time.  I felt my heart race.  I felt sweat on the back of my neck.  I heard that damn devil on my left shoulder talking to me.

What's a poor girl like me to do?

What’s a poor girl like me to do?

I reached towards the buttons and pressed:

Return Card

And I walked into the bank and handed the person’s ATM card to the nearest teller.

Of course it was the right thing to do.  And, frankly, I was especially proud of myself because I really was broke.  I could have used a windfall at that moment.

It would have been great!

It would have been great!

Of course, had I succumbed to temptation, I would have gotten an altogether different card.

The way my luck was goin' anyway.

The way my luck was goin’ anyway.

That was when they were just starting to put cameras at ATMs, and the branch I was at had one. I didn’t know that, though.  So I felt honest, sanctimonious and lucky all at the same time.  And when you’re broke and sick, well, honest, sanctimonious and lucky are as good as life gets.

I don’t think stealing money is something that people (even me) should be able to get away with.  But there are many lesser crimes that, well, maybe aren’t so bad.  That maybe, we should let slide.  That perhaps, the faces of the perpetrators of these lesser crimes are ones we don’t really need to see.

One of the little crimes that drives me crazy is people who throw chewed chewing gum on the ground.  It’s unsanitary.  It’s sticky.  Worst of all, it’s gonna end up on my shoe.

I don’t want to know whose mouth that wad came from.  Because it would be hard to not slap them for being so gross.  And Mom taught me not to hit.

But now, thanks to modern DNA technology, we can now see the faces of the culprits who transformed that gum from a dry, powdery stick into a piece of ABC gum, spit it out and let me step on it.  (For those of you without siblings, that’s ‘Already Been Chewed’ gum.)


Yes, courtesy of the New York Times, I have this minty morsel to share with you:

While staring at the wall of her therapist’s office, the artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg noticed a strand of hair stuck in a hanging print. Walking home, she noticed that the subways and sidewalks were littered with genetic material on things like chewing gum and cigarette butts, some still moist with saliva. Curious about what she could learn, Ms. Dewey-Hagborg began to extract and sequence DNA from these discarded materials. Then — and here it gets a little eerie — she began to make computer models of their owners’ faces, using genetic clues to print 3-D masks that she concedes “might look more like a possible cousin than a spitting image.” Hanging these portraits along with the original samples, she says, is “a provocation designed to spur a cultural dialogue about genetic surveillance.”

Ewwww.  Click on the links, it gets ewwww-ier.  Here’s one perp:

Now this is just speculation on my part, but perhaps picking up wet ABC gum and cigarette butts is what Ms. Dewey-Hagborg should be talking to her therapist about.  Personally, I would make it a priority.

I was tempted to skip posting about this, but then I try not to give in to temptation.

These are all Google images. Except the last one.  That’s the artist’s rendition from her website, Stranger Visions.


Filed under Childhood Traumas, Conspicuous consumption, Criminal Activity, Family, Humor, Law, Mental Health, Stupidity, Technology

83 responses to “A Sticky Wicket

  1. Your first paragraph is exactly what all of these behaviors are about: Do we do the right thing, even when nobody is around to notice? Do we do the wrong thing when it’s more convenient, and we know we’ll get away with it? Great post, Elyse. I bet the person who left that ATM card in the machine is grateful.


    • Isn’t it funny that now, when there is so much surveillance — cameras, people with cell and video phones, that I think people are less likely to do the right thing than if Mrs. Miller down the road was watching you.

      For the record, I’m glad I can look back on that ATM experience the way I can.


  2. Wait, wait, wait…..you’re not perfect? That throws my whole belief system out the window…


    • I am so imperfect, in fact, that I didn’t see this comment. Nor did I address it in a sufficiently snarky manner.

      I am just crushing that belief system of yours …


  3. You should have instantly been rewarded by the Universe for returning that ATM card and not withdrawing wild sums of money.

    I saw that article in the Times about the DNA, I’m not sure I buy that she was able to extract info that would tell her what these folks might look like. I mean, legitimate labs can only do so much with DNA to find criminals, and she’s getting this complete a profile? Nice idea, but I’m not buying it.


    • The Universe, sadly, didn’t agree and my life continued as usual. Sigh.

      I personally, would prefer it if she were a fraud and had totally made the whole thing up. Because picking up wet ABC gum is just beyond the pale, know what I mean?


  4. Good for you for doing the right thing with the ATM. The glow of self-satsfaction should keep you warmer than a furnace full of fuel.
    The DNA thing is…creepy. But I have to give her props for coming up with the idea; it’s original, for damn sure.


    • And in a Washington summer, there’s nothin like some extra heat. (Seriously I know I did the right thing. I’d still be kicking myself otherwise. Or that troll doll would be!


  5. Paprika,

    Strangely I can’t find your comment on the post. Maybe you are in spam and maybe I will be joining you there momentarily!

    Sadly I happen to know that the gum had to be wet or else the DNA dries. So it needs to be we’re ABC gum.

    I’m pretty sure the story does not improve from here.

    Sent from my iPad


  6. I would love to know the inner dialogue that went on in her head the first time she saw that moist wad of gum, bent down and grabbed it. Did she have a plan for it when she picked it up or did she collect those wads at home for a while before coming up with a use for it?


  7. Kudos and ewwww…

    I have a pet peeve, here in the Ozarks people think that biodegradable trash is OK to toss out a car window. Banana peels, apple cores, french fries – I have seen it over and over. I toss these things into a compost pile in the woods where no one has to trod over them. I don’t care if it will compost, I don’t want to encounter your banana peel on the sidewalk.


    • I really think they ought to restart anti-littering campaigns — educate people (again) on what is proper and what isn’t. (I’m sure that will pass Congress immediately!).

      We used to have a terrible problem along the riverbanks here where people would litter all the time. Signs were placed in several languages and the problem has practically disappeared. Some of it is overcoming cultural habits, which is very do-able.

      But the gum? Ewwww.


  8. winsomebella

    I agree. At least one session with the therapist is in order. But then again, art is art :-).


  9. Honest and Elyse are like hand and glove! Meanwhile, I wonder if extracting DNA from gum perps is worth the time and effort.


  10. Way to go returning the card! I’ve been in a few similar situations like when clerks give me too much change back; I’ve never kept it, having always thought it’s bad juju to do so (not to mention just plain wrong).

    The dna-from-gum-face-prints creeped me out and especially when I saw the last guy! Egad!



    • Yes, and at the time when this happened my karma was really bad. Perhaps doing the right thing helped!

      I agree that that face, and the idea of creating it from, um ABC gum is really creepy!


  11. You can rarely go wrong when you follow the Golden Rule. You did–good for you. And you had to steal the troll to learn how bad stealing felt.

    As for the DNA story…I guess good for her for being so observant and skilled to catch a criminal with his own slime. But, really?


    • I agree about following the golden rule — but I really didn’t feel bad about the troll until years later — then I gave it away. I thought of it as an example of “adults are sooooooo stupid.”

      The DNA of spit. Yuck!


  12. Good move returning the card.. I would be the same way … the temptation would be there, but, I don’t think I could bring myself to do it. We were at the grocery store about a year or so ago, and I watched money fall out of a woman’s purse. The aisle was empty, and, as I walked to pick it up, to tell her she dropped it, I saw it was two $100 bills. Again.. there was some temptation, but, I called out to her, and gave her the dropped money. But, in those few seconds of temptation, I had made a list of what I was going to spend it on. 🙂

    As for the creepy DNA collector lady … I’m thinking there’s a lawsuit. Yes, per law, DNA can be collected off discarded items without warrant, but to then make images and post them on the internet … I think privacy would win out on that part…


    • Yes, I never thought that I had done anything but the right thing there. Temptation is soooooo hard sometimes, though. Because I find I’m always tempted when things aren’t going well. And of course, if I succumb then things go from bad to worse!

      I hadn’t thought of the lawsuit aspect. Her website says that the masks resemble the perps, though. They aren’t exact images. So maybe they aren’t close enough.


  13. Forget the DNA focus for a moment; I want to confess. Many years ago (I was 23), I found a gold American Express card on the street outside a well-known brothel. I took it into my restaurant where I worked, & the other two (naughty) waiters dared me to try & use it. So I did. I rang an international flower-delivery company, & tried to send my Mum (who lived in France) a big bunch of flowers. Right at the end of the transaction, the operator said she had to check the card was valid… I panicked & slammed the phone down. Three days later Mum rang me, gushing about her gorgeous flowers… 🙂 I feel no guilt! Gabrielle in Oz


    • So you, a woman, took advantage of a credit card found outside of a brothel, left there no doubt by someone who frequented said brothel to take advantage of women.

      Two Hail Marys would more than cover this one, in my book. Men who frequent brothels deserve, at a bare minimum, to send flowers to strange women. To make up for, ummm, you know. The strange things they do with other women.


  14. That’s exactly how I expect a gum thrower to look. Exactly.


  15. Maybe I am just weird, but I think this whole gum thing is SO COOL. The thought of being able to trace where people have been is frightening, but also pretty fascinating. I wonder how much the computer portraits look like the actual people.


    • The article I read said that the images are very similar — but not exact. Cousins, perhaps (although I don’t look anything like any of my cousins).

      It is cool, I think, scientifically. It is creepy, though, on the Big Brother level. And on the scraping up gum off the sidewalk and analyzing it way, too.


  16. I’m with Twindaddy – does this lady REALLY have nothing better to do? I mean, c’mon, couldn’t she volunteer with the missing persons task force or something? Something a little less – well, okay, I’ll go with it – EWW?!?
    Well done on your honesty, by the by. I don’t do it, ’cause the few times I did, I got nailed. Just by the parents, but when you bat zero as a kid, it kind of puts a huge barrier up there for attempts at an older age.
    Now, “corporate excess inventory reassignment and offsite storage”, that’s a whole ‘nother topic. And the source of some … interesting …. stories. 😀


  17. I just think it’s amazing the artist has been able to do that just with gum. It’s slightly bladerunnerish!


  18. You are a special human being, karma always makes its way around the corner and this is why you continue to have a light shine on you with wonderful things!

    As to the Heather and her new ‘obsession’, I don’t know personally while a bit unsanitary it is somewhat interesting.


    • Being able to re-create someone’s face from their DNA is cool — it’s these two sources that I find yucky.

      Wait a minute, though, Val. You think my luck would be different if I’d taken some bucks out of that account? Hmmmmm, because as my Dad would say, “If I didn’t have bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.”


  19. Yet another layer of anonymity gone.
    Can’t wait to start getting fines in the mail every time I discard a cigarette.
    (Though if I finish one near a trash can I do dispose of it properly.)


    • Everybody knows everybody else’s business, that’s for sure. But I think this is particularly weird. Ewwwwwww is my entire commentary on someone who would pick up the stuff and investigate.


  20. lucewriter

    Great post, Elyse. It’s sort of a two-fer. You had me with the suspense int he bank story, and then the gum bit is hilarious. I won’t be able to get the image of the gum criminal face reconstructions out of my head.


  21. Wow. This just seems like a lot of effort for not much gain…


  22. I’m sure we all have our moments when we’re tempted. Good for you for not giving in. I once stole a tootsie roll from the five and dime (yes, we had one when I was a kid!) and I felt so guilty I told my dad. He made me march right back into the store and hand the clerk the penny. I was humiliated. And never was tempted to steal anything every again.


    • Your Dad was a good dad. I don’t know how I explained the troll. But we always had a house full of kids so I probably said it was someone else’s. But seriously, how could they NOT have caught me. It was a GIANT troll. And I was a size 6x until high school.


  23. OK, am I the only one who went to the web site to see if my own face was there???? I don’t spit out my gum, and I don’t smoke, but I bet I’ve left behind a hair or two…..And sometimes I toss my apple cores into the woods.


  24. U did the right thing returning that card. Of course u know that, I have returned a few of them and every time mine was misplaced, mine was returned to me. I even left mine in the driveway. I don’t know why I’d do sucha thing. I guess, unconsciously, I get to meet folk I wouldn’t normally meet.


  25. bigsheepcommunications

    You’re a good girl, Elyse, and I know for a fact that you only slaughter people in your blog when it’s justified.


  26. I second Kate’s ewwwwwww! I try not to think about all the DNA matter around us – especially when I get ready to go on vacation and have to stay in hotels. It’s like when you start thinking about all the microscopic bugs that live on and in the human body. Heebie-jeebs all around.


  27. Speaking of creepy…that first face looks a lot like “Dexter” in a creepy DNA kind of way. All that is missing is the blood spatter.


    • I don’t know Dexter — slash movie? I don’t watch scary movies because they are, ummm, scary.


      • Dexter is a series on HBO/Showcase (depending on what country you are in). It is about to go into its 8th and final season. By day Dexter is a crime scene blood spatter expert. By night he is a serial killer who lives by a “code” his father taught him, to only kill serial killers who have evaded the law.


  28. Great post. First, I would, just like you, return the card. Because it was the right thing to do and if the situation was reversed, I would not know what to do if someone stole money from me like that.

    But, the main point of me commenting is I have an even ickier DNA thing to tell you about.

    My neighborhood has a dog waste problem. So this summer they are instituting a Poo Prints system. All of our dogs will be tested and waste not picked up will be tested and the proper violator will be charged.

    As someone who always picks up after their dogs, and is tired of the endless letters about dog waste, let alone ruining countless pairs of shoes by stepping in waste not picked up, I am all for it!!


    • I’m with you on the dog poo criminals. I have a dog and when we are somewhere it matters (not in the woods, that is), we clean up. We changed our child’s diapers too. People get used to it!


      • A few years ago I used to dog poo on my front lawn several times a week. I spent some time fuming at whatever neighbor it was, until I finally caught the perpetrator in the act — it was a skunk.


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