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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bouncer Contemplates a Life of Thievery at Cotter's Corner

Posted By on Wed, Mar 9, 2011 at 3:00 PM

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Once we were all assembled, it didn't take long for the conversation to switch to a subject that has always fascinated me: shoplifting. An old friend of mine was a chronic thief, so much so that she was in danger of being deported for it. I would marvel at the things she would bring home: designer bags, expensive French facial cleanser, and bags of clothes. She would steal from anyone, and had no thievery "code" -- such as, for instance, that you should not steal from small businesses, only big ones that could absorb the loss. She even stole a suitcase from the airport once; I thought this was especially bad. It is traumatic to lose your luggage, and I could not believe she showed such callous abandon towards someone else's things. She is no longer my friend.

That said, there have been many times that I have been faced with a wall of fancy cheese at various high-end grocery stores and felt the urge to pocket a $10 Stilton or a Comté. What holds me back is not the moral issue, but the abject fear of getting caught. But I realized that there is an entire underclass of people who regularly steal like this. It's a cinch. Stores rely on our honesty to make money, because it is easier than shit to rip them off.

"Target is my favorite place to take stuff from," said one of my friends, whom I will call Tara. I was shocked to hear this: Surely a giant retailer like Target has everything magnetized, tagged, and otherwise booby-trapped. Also, it seems like if you were caught there, you would indeed be prosecuted to "the fullest extent of the law," as the signs say.

"You can't be greedy," Tara said, adding that when she swipes stuff from Target, she also fills her cart with things she actually pays for: "You have to actually need the item, too. You must never, ever steal just to steal." I could see what she meant. It could get addictive, once you realized how easy it was. But the more risks you take, the closer you are to getting caught. You should steal a $25 bottle of Bumble and Bumble conditioner only if you actually need conditioner. This also helps with another subtlety of stealing: your facial expression. If you are taking something you actually need, you look less guilty.

All this talk of stealing reminded me of the philosophical idea of the social contract, which explains how society remains civilized. We agree not to steal everything that isn't nailed down, and retailers in turn make money and hire us at a salary, so we can feed our families and not have to steal. If you break the social contract and get caught, you get penalized by society. The punishment is the part I am not interested in. Also, I know the feelings of anxiety and shame I would have if I tried to shoplift would far outweigh any euphoria I might have in getting away with it. It's not for me.

... continue reading this week's Bouncer column.

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Katy St. Clair

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