Stealing ketchup: Rationalizing the wrongs we do

Stealing ketchup: Rationalizing the wrongs we do February 17, 2020

So, it’s finally time to come clean.

I worked at a restaurant once as a teenager. It was the Nugget, on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. It was a small casino with a few 21 tables, a row of slots, and lots of bleary-eyed people pulling nickel slot machines.

The back of the casino had a small restaurant where we served $2.99 stacks of pancakes and a $7.99 prime rib. It was my first real job as I bussed tables, poured water and made it easy for the waitresses to chat up the “high rollers” for big tips.

Tahoe Nugget
Courtesy, Western Nevada Historical Society, with permission

The boss — a man shorter than I with a wax mustache — was overdressed for this little joint. But he was in charge and I thought he was particularly rough on me, often telling me in front of the waitresses I was trying to impress that I wasn’t cleaning the seats in the booths. He was probably right. But he regularly insulted me. He embarrassed me.

He tried to get me to respect him by showing me he was the boss. As a 16-year old, I knew the way things were supposed to work, but I had hoped for a better experience. I worked hard but was learning along the way. At every step of the way, I felt alienated and embossed. Unfortunately, there was no buffer.

A “reasonable” theft

I have to admit I was very good at being a bad teenager. I was a pretty good kid, but I didn’t like the feeling this boss gave me. So I got back at him. One night, on my way out of the locker room, I snatched a brand-new bottle of ketchup and stuck it in my coat pocket. That’s right, a bottle of Heinz ketchup. Obviously, all logic had departed my young mind.  I felt totally justified and vindicated. “That’ll teach him!” I thought.

No doubt the boss was badly shaken when the ketchup inventory didn’t match up that night.To compound things, I couldn’t just throw the ketchup away. I was too thrifty for that. I put the bottle of ketchup in the refrigerator at home and then had to explain to my astute mother how it just “showed up.”


It’s interesting how we justify what we do. In fact, we can justify just about anything. We steal, we cheat, we lie and always have an excuse ready.

That incongruity has me looking at my motives, my justifications. And they just don’t always line up with what’s right and true.

The book of Proverbs has a simple sentence that has me thinking.

“Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, But the LORD weighs the hearts.”

How about you?

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