A lot of comedians write about real life, drawing on everyday occurrences for their shtick. In this crazy world you don’t have to make stuff up because truth is always stranger than fiction so there's always a long string of things to poke fun at! Working in retail can be an eye opening experience and if I was hitting the stage every Friday for open mike I'd be drawing on most of the stuff I've learned through the customers I can't afford to keep.
Now 99.99999 percent of the people who enter my shop are absolutely top notch and they are what keep me going.....it's that wee percent that provide the fodder for rants and stories. We all like to hear nice things about nice people, but it's those titillating, juicy tidbits of the not so nice that get the reaction and the laughs. Now don't worry, if you come into the shop after having a bad day and are a bit on the rude side, you won't end up in any stories. We are all entitled to a bit of woe and as humans we forgive one another the little transgressions and move on. It's the outrageous stuff, the unforgivable things like shoplifting that make the headlines.
Whether the person in question reads this blog is of no consequence to me; if only they would! We share a bond she and I, we both know the truth. I'll bet she won't be telling anyone, "hey Christine wrote a story about me". When I finally stick her to the wall and she's arrested, then I might drop her name so take head lady, this blog is a warning to you to smarten up before it's too late. Please....stay away and leave me alone, I don't want to to deal with this!!!! If she doesn't read it, maybe someone else will and mention it in passing and then my troubles will be over because she will never darken my doorstep again. I'm reminded of that murder movie, "I Saw What You Did" accept in this scenario no one dies. I'm trying to let this woman know that I know what she did...truthfully it infuriates me that she thinks she's pulled the wool over my eyes when stuffing it into her purse!
I take offense at people who steal. I've worked my fingers to the bone my whole life, I've never expected handouts or feel I'm owed anything so I don't get why people take what doesn't belong to them and justify it. Some say it's a sickness and these people can't help themselves but that's a cop-out. They know they're doing something morally wrong and there's plenty of help out there for the asking...and morals aside, it's illegal to shoplift, it comes with stiff penalties, it's not worth it!!! There is light at the end of the tunnel, it's a behaviour that can be changed, if you do nothing to help yourself, that makes you culpable. And besides, if you believe you can't help yourself, stay the heck out of shops, don't put yourself in a position to do these things. Don't give me excuses, there are none, it's black and white...get help!
So a customer comes into the shop last week that I haven’t seen for awhile but is well known as a thief. On immediate alert, I slipped my son a note to watch her closely. She only ever comes into the store with other people, usually the hooking group she belongs too but this time there was a non hooking friend in tow. In the past the MO is to separate herself from the crowd while the others have distracted me with catching up on news and the business of hooking, so she wanders off and starts filling up the handbag and the one pocket. I say "one pocket", because the other one in her overly baggy coat is reserved for the wallet to pay for the items she legitimately takes from the store. The wallet is in the pocket because opening her purse would expose the contraband. That point alone proves her intent to steal before entering the store or the wallet would be in the purse where it belongs!
In the past, she went about the business of stealing as if it was the most natural thing in the world to do...I'll just pick up a few things..... And, let me tell you, this thief has techniques choreographed to a science. She has one move I refer to as the Squat, Snatch & Stuff. She walks up to the basket of ends on the floor and in one fluid motion she squats slightly, snatches a handful and as she stands back up she makes a half turn while stuffing the wool into her pocket. Cool as a refrigerated cucumber! I read once that the best thieves don’t look around to see if they’re being watched…that actually triggers attention. You have to be a cool cookie to steal without knowing if the coast is clear or else confident in your craft. I know little about stealing and maybe there's a thrill in there somewhere but I do believe they think they're smarter than the average storekeeper. Well, this chick is not the average bear!
Another trick she's pulled in the past is to take the little bags of wool ends I sell, open it up and grab more bits from the baskets and fill it to capacity. She would bring it so stuffed full to the cash counter I worried it would explode and take out an eye. I know how much wool I put in those bags, so after that I started stapling them shut and quite enjoyed watching her dismay as she came back and realized that source had dried up. I'm sure she thinks I’m about as sharp as a bladeless knife and too dim to notice her shenanigans and I think that injures my dignity more than the loss hurts my pocket book.
So after all this history she comes in last week, said she hadn’t hooked for a bit and had a good peruse through the shop before heading to the basket of ends on the floor. Shane and I are on her like butter on toast, he’s busy straightening the wool in the racks in front of her and I’m behind wrapping a parcel doing a Marty Feldman, with one eye on her and one eye on my work. Our sandwich surveillance left little opportunity to pull off her famous move so she was forced to spend money if she wanted to haul wool out of the store.
Now this is where the amusement part comes in…or at least I think it's hilarious. Words come out of her mouth that struck me so bizarre I almost burst out laughing. One look at my son and the incredulous look on his face told me the irony of her words hadn't been lost on him either.
So she says in all seriousness......“If I buy all of these, do I get a discount?”
I’m usually not good at quick retorts; I only come up with clever responses after the fact, but I replied ever so sweetly, “Do you mean you want to buy the entire basket full of wool?”
She didn’t know quite what to make of that but maybe thought I was joking and we went up to the counter and I made up the slip for 15 pieces of wool at $2.00 each plus tax. She looked at the slip and said “Oh” at the lack of discount, paid with cash from her "pocket" and was off, mumbling something to her friend about wool being expensive and how she needed all of those pieces for some flower she was hooking.
A discount? Was she friggin serious? Can you see the irony of this? After all the wool she’d stolen from my shop she had the gall to ask me for a discount? Discounts are for honest people and friends, neither of which you are missy. When I told my quick witted hubby what happened he said, “You should have told her that she already got the five fingered discount in the past”. Now I wouldn’t have said that and embarrassed her in front of her friend although it would have been the perfect thing to say. But, I know she has all the rights; that I can’t accuse her after the fact or without physical evidence and that of course is long gone, hooked into various projects over the years.
This woman was well known at rug school among the vendors. Back in the day when several shops attended some of us shared our klepto list. Things were always taken from the shops and we would tally up our losses at the end of the week and compare notes. This women did the vendor circuit as an outside visitor and would come into the warm building wearing a Colombo style baggy coat with large pockets and get to work filling them up. That’s where I was introduced to the SSS (Squat, Snatch and Stuff). It was so swift I had to see it the second time to actually believe my eyes. Wish I could do a video to show you the smoothness of her action. If I wasn’t so incensed it would have been a performance to be admired, like a magician’s sleight of hand. Now you see it, now you don’t!
So you ask, “Why didn’t you ever report her Christine?” Well, that’s not as easy as one would think. First of all you have to approach the culprit out on the street, once they’ve taken the stolen merchandise outside the store. Then you have to deal with them physically, what if they decide to hit the pavement running or jump in their car and speed away, or god forbid hit you with that purse full of wool? What are you supposed to do? Chase down a 70 year old woman and detain them until the RCMP arrive? What a spectacle that would be. What if they burst out crying and singing the woe song, telling you all their problems and why they steal....that's another kind of spectacle I can live without. I'm not a cold-hearted bastard but crocodile tears would slide off my back so to the casual observer I would look like a brute!
This particular woman always came in with five to eight members of her hooking group and used them as a shield to cover their actions. What do you think would happen if I accused her of stealing? One of their friends, someone they’ve known for years? Unless I could get her to dump out the purse and pocket contents on the sidewalk I would come off looking badly. I'm sure she's got an "out" planned in case she's apprehended. I couldn't think of all the scenarios that might happen, all I know is that it would be my word against hers and I could become an instant pariah in the rug hooking community. I could be boycotted by that entire group and possibly the entire province as word spread like a gasoline accelerant brush fire that Christine accused an innocent hooker of stealing from her shop. Honestly, who's word would you take as gospel if your group came into the shop and I said one of you had stolen goods and that person adamantly denied it and refused to show what was in her purse because I'd insulted her and she wouldn't dignify it with a response. Yup...I'd have to close my doors for good.
Then of course there’s the old, “Oh my, did I put that in there? Or “How did that get in my purse? I’ve been so forgetful lately, my my….so sorry, let me pay for that.” I’ve had that one pulled on me a few times before. And who looks bad there? How dare I accuse a poor, dear older woman who didn’t realize that she was putting wool in her purse? What a meanie that Christine is. How can you argue that one without coming off as the jackass in the room? Older ladies have the senility card that they can whip out and use in a pinch. Hell, I've been using it lately myself, saying I'm having a senior moment to cover the embarrassment of forgetting something. So the hands are tied on that one. No way to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt if their actions were intentional or not...but you know.....
I've spent a great deal of time analyzing this and because I think in terms of what can happen next, I’ve deduced, in the past, that it was better to leave well enough alone and eat the loss, but I don’t plan to be as accommodating when it happens the next time. I’ve resigned to the fact that I’m going to have to act on principle but know it will be an ugly experience and undoubtedly leave a sick feeling in my gut. I don't like controversy at all, never have, but something has changed that takes the fear out of it the outcome. I now have a spade in the hole....this blog. When I confront a thief and it all goes amuck I have a forum to present my side of the story. Before I've never had a voice but now I have the means to defend myself.
There is another funny little part to this story. This same woman was always trolling the shops at rug school. School shops are busy and I'm usually at the cash ringing up sales so have no time to keep an eye peeled so I can only image what she's put in that purse that I missed. The big ole purse that comes through the door hollow, sides sunken and concave and then leaves bulging at the seams like an inflated balloon.
On this one particular day, it was a few minutes to noon and I was getting ready to close up to head to the cafeteria when she came in. I always tried to get lunch before the crowds hit, eat quickly so I could get right back in case people wanted to shop. I told the woman I needed to lock up. She said to me as sweet as sugar, “I’ll watch your store for you Christine.” I said, "thanks but I can't do that". Again she insisted that I go for lunch and let her watch the store. I firmly said no, and gave her another couple of minutes to look although I was anxious to leave.
I couldn't believe my eyes! Given the bums rush, she actually squeezed in a little pilfer by pulling the Squat, Snatch and Stuff before she left, telling me she would come back after lunch. Oh joy for that! If I’d let her alone in the shop she would have looked like the Michelin Man, padded with wool insulation, barely able to fit through the shop door! So life has it's humour or at least that's my way of dealing with it. When handed lemons, make lemonade. Turn these experiences into stories to laugh at. It's always best to make light of the matter to release the tension, or else hold it all in and go a bit nutty from the absurdity of it all........personally, I think I'm a comedian at heart and missed my calling!
“Enter, stranger, but take heed
Of what awaits the sin of greed,
For those who take, but do not earn,
Must pay most dearly in their turn.
So if you seek beneath our floors
A treasure that was never yours,
Thief, you have been warned, beware
Of finding more than treasure there.”
J. K. Rowling