In an earlier post about the Kavanaugh debacle, I introduced a poll with this:
Memory I: As a junior, I engineered an elaborate prank to steal a sofa from two classmates and friends who had swiped a sofa from two other students in their dorm. It almost worked, too: the pay-off was going to be when they visited our suite and saw their sofa there. The plan fell apart, and the original owners even got their sofa back.
Question: Should this episode, which technically involved attempted theft, disqualify me for some positions as an adult and professional?
The polls results:
Several commenters have admitted that their votes were tongue in cheek, so I don’t believe for a minute that there were really 13% of voters who believe that the episode when I was 20 should bar me from being an ethicist, a lawyer, or a SCOTUS judge, and needed to be investigated by the FBI. Just in case, however, I feel I should tell the whole, sordid story about what came to be called “The Great Sofa Caper,” and which is a tale told and retold at every reunion of my room mates.
It was the end of winter, and spring cleaning of sorts at the Harvard dorms. I lived in a suite at Lowell House with five other juniors, and was visiting friends and fellow classmates “Oscar” and “Felix” across the campus in the high rise dorms, Leverett Towers. “Oscar” was a theater friend who looked like a dissipated cross between Omar Shariff and Teddy Roosevelt; “Felix” looked like a pint-size Rodney Dangerfield. Shortly after I entered their abode, Felix said, “Hey, what do you think about the new sofa we swiped?” Indeed, prominently displayed in the main room was what appeared to be a very new, very nice, fully upholstered sofa.
“You swiped it?” I said, and Felix laughed. “No, I was just kidding. Some upperclassmen were changing rooms, and this was left out in the hall for anyone to take. Nice, eh?”
“You swiped it! That’s brand new! Nobody would throw that out. Come on!” I said. Indeed, furniture and other junk was often being left out for communal expropriating in such moves, but this seemed like wilful, contrived ignorance by my friends to me. Nonetheless, Felix and Oscar swore that they would never steal anything, and that the brand new sofa was abandoned property.
I went back to Lowell House deep in thought and ethics conflict, wondering what the right thing to do was. I couldn’t report my friends for what was, even if it was theft in the real world, pretty standard college silliness. Still, I felt this was excessive. Then I hit on my plan. It would be both a good practical joke and a lesson for Felix and Oscar. Continue reading