My Desire to Shoplift Comes from Privilege

02.26.14

I know that white privilege exists in the US and that I’m it’s beneficiary. Denying that fact would be absurd. It’s unlikely that I’ll change it much in my lifetime and I’m never sure if I’m a fool for not taking advantage of it more or a jerk for not declining the nice things I get.

It’s good to be me, though admittedly it would be easier to be a man. White men in America have it easy (though some of that is assumption since I’ve never been a man). Maybe one day I’ll have the opportunity to go undercover and see how the world treats me as a him instead of a her.

I want to know what I can steal. I fantasize about it every time I go to a store. I don’t want to actually take anything from anyone but I want to experience the act of theft because it’s an activity where I can say with absolute certainly I’d excel.

I don’t think I could walk into a bank with a machine gun and a ski mask and get away with anything but I am pretty sure that just about every department store in the nation would let me walk out of there with something, maybe a lipstick, maybe a coat. I know I could get it. Much like mothers all over America I shop for four people. This means that I know everyone’s shirt and waist sizes. I go to the mall load up on 15 shirts for Mr G and return 12 of them. I pick up 8 pair of pants for Alexander and 6 go back. I used to shop for Jane but now I just buy myself things that I know she’ll steal from me and hand her a credit card to fill in the blanks. Sales people are very kind to me when I walk in the store empty handed. When I’m clutching three tattered bags and looking like I’m about to make a return they avoid eye contact.

Returns are easy when you’re me. My mom actually has some stories about returns I made when I was kid but that’s neither here nor there. My friend Erik calls me an empowered consumer. I like to think of myself a good shopper. I’ve never asked for a return, I’ve just explained that I’ll be returning things and every so often it dawns on me how insanely easy it would be to steal from department stores.

Just this last winter someone gave Mr. G a wallet. It’s a beautiful Bottega Veneta wallet with the traditional woven leather in a deep rich brown. He brought it home in it’s box where there was a little gift receipt to accompany it should he wish to return it to Barneys. Barneys is one of the many stores Mr G despises walking into and he was clearly uninformed as to the pricepoint of men’s accessories there when he tossed the box and gift receipt in the trash and handed the wallet to our 12 year son as a gift.

[Insert shrieking sounds here]

I was unable to rescue the the packaging from the trash and, foaming at the mouth, demanded that Mr. G accompany me to Barneys to exchange said wallet (shortly you’ll see what a disastrous move that was) so that he could see what a complete and utter pain in the ass time suck it is to be constantly returning and exchanging things you don’t want to own. We packed up the kids and headed to Barneys during the Christmas season. In fact I’m pretty sure we took Junior too because I remember feeling badly about having him walking so close to the restaurant just off the elevator.

During the holidays men’s accessories is a crowded section. Wallets, keychains, bowties and silky underthings (for him!) fly off the shelves. So we waited a moment and a very harassed looking middle aged man just stared at me as I handed him the wallet that came complete with a Barneys New York price tag, a hefty one for such a small bit of leather, and nothing more. There was a sigh and some eye rolling but Mr. G couldn’t possibly have seen it as he was standing slightly behind me and to the right engrossed in work emails on his iPhone.

The sales clerk asked me if I’d bought it myself and I replied that I hadn’t. I explained that it was a gift to my husband and that he’d thrown out all the packaging but we promised that no one had used it. The clerk asked a manager what to do and ultimately they decided that only a few of those had been purchased in the last few weeks so they read off names of purchasers until Mr G said, “Yes, that’s the one.”

You see, he didn’t know who exactly bought it for him. It was a group gift of some sort and he thought he’d recognize a name. I marveled that everyone just nodded, printed up some things and handed us a store credit. My husband, my kids, my dog and I could have easily stolen that wallet and then returned it weeks later. There was nothing about this that would have been terribly complicated because we’re a family that appears to be solidly upper middle class, white and not thieves.

Clearly we were not mistaken for bankers.

Even if we had stolen the wallet Barneys would have come out ahead. We walked past a blazer Mr. G just had to own and it was a couple thousand dollars more than the wallet, which I now see as a gateway drug. We should’a just given it to the kid and left well enough alone.

Every week I’ll walk out of a store like Target, Barnes and Noble or even the grocery store and hear beeping as though a tag’s been left on one of my items. I’ll give them a patdown if I’ve bought clothing but if I haven’t I’ll just wave and leave. Security never stops me and most often they wave back. Sometimes they look at me confused as though perhaps they ought to do something but, really, who has the gall to stop the middle aged white lady with the poodle and the Benz? 

I go to jewelry stores, clothing stores and department stores where small pocketable items are left in front of me as clerks march off to help other people, answer phones or to oversee teens. Every time I have an event like this I want to go find the store manager and say, “Listen, I’m pretty sure I can rob you blind. Can you let me do a little experiment because I’m dying to steal from you but I don’t actually want to steal. I just want to get outside your doors and then hand everything back. I want to show everyone how dumb they are for watching the 14 year olds and ignoring the 40’s.”

I know it would work. I know I’d get away with theft and I think it might be really fun. It would also be sad, tragic even, which is probably why I’ve never had the temerity to ask. I already had to rescue my adolescent neighbor from grocery checkers who assumed that he’s a thief because of the color of his skin. I know I get away with things because white ladies who stay at home to watch their kids aren’t thought to be bad people. It’s like spy vs. spy. White is good and black is bad. I guess brown is less bad? I don’t know.

I do know this. I’d make an excellent professional shoplifter if you ever want me to come visit your store and fake steal while your employees watch. Maybe this is a real job? Like a secret shopper, there’s a secret shoplifter? I think about it all the time and I know that your employees don’t so it’ll probably go well (for me anyhow).

 

 

 

BlogHer 2011 Observations

08.7.11

BlogHer 11 started with giggles and ended in uncontrollable laughter. I’d been promised a Nissan Murano for the drive to San Diego, unfortunately someone crashed the car a few days before the event and it just wouldn’t be out of the body shop in time.

The folks at Nissan were very apologetic, but hey, these things happen. They explained to me that there was one car left from the fleet, a Frontier. I said I’d take it, and then I googled Nissan Frontier.

OMG a pick’em up truck. A BIG ASS PICK UP TRUCK.

We drove this exact same nissan Frontier 2011 to BlogHer in San Diego

So I called my friend Carley who was driving down with me and I explained to her that we would be having a different experience. Since Carley has historically been open to my stupid ideas I felt fairly certain she’d be open to this. We had an absolute blast driving the Frontier down.

I will preemptively answer a few questions you might have about two women driving a Nissan Frontier:

  • Yes, it gets a lot of attention
  • No, I cannot park it very well
  • Yes, when we dropped it off with the valet we then made the valet take our suitcases and stuff them in the cab for safety
  • Yes, the kids think I’m the coolest mom in town
  • No, we didn’t go off-roading (but I’ve still got 24 hours)
  • Yes, the visibility is awesome
  • No, there were no problems getting in and out in a skirt and heels
  • 90 MPH is too fast to drive on a lightly curved highway interchange, though we broke no laws and absolutely were driving safely with the flow of traffic

Back to BlogHer. As I’d expected, no one cared what anyone wore. No one was judgy except me. I got one look at my friend Carly’s handbag and decided that I absolutely HAD to have one. (see not all judgement is bad). I grabbed Cassie and my pick up truck and the concierge gave us directions to Barney’s in Fashion Valley.

Except there was no Barneys, it was a Barney’s Co-Op which definitely wouldn’t have the amazing Proenza Schouler bag that I still must own. So Cassie and I hit up Neimans and I found a great dress and a pair of crisp white bermuda shorts that were on sale. Because of the sale prices Mr G now owes me $423, it’s called wife math.

Later that evening I had an amazing dinner in a sea of blones. Cassie, Kathy, Claire and I headed to Nobu and proceeded to eat and drink and chat for two hours. It was one of those dinners that you want to never end. I couldn’t get enough of their stories, the travel, the career building, the rapid ascents, the love stories. I wanted to drink in their successes and force them all to blog endlessly so that I can read about it more. I hunger for moments like these, smart women sharing knowledge. I don’t get enough of it.

I attended one session. It was good.

I met with brand representatives from a dozen or companies, some of whom I’ve worked with, some of whom I will never work with but I will play matchmaker with a friend. They were all anxious to work with bloggers, and they will have varying degrees of success if they don’t get in their own way.

I had a stumbly dinner with Cathy and Laurie and I’m hoping that someone can explain to me why shoes that fit me six months ago are now so big that I walk right out of them. My feet are not shrinking.

I changed hotel rooms. If you ever have to stay at the Marriott Marquis in Downtown San Diego do not under any circumstances accept a room with city views. Trains go by every half hour or so all night long, and just as you’re about to drift off to sleep a train whistle will wake you up. The first night was somewhere beyond miserable. The second night we faced the harbor, it was much better.

Bloggers are smart. Don’t let their cutesy icons fool you, these women are building meaningful businesses.

There are a few new startups that I fell in love with. Follow @PopSalad on twitter, it’s evolving into something fun. Parents, you’ll want to watch for Vikido. It’s good stuff. Tom was there from Cmp.ly, if you aren’t using cmp.ly you’re working too damn hard.

I hate to be negative, because 98% of BlogHer was fabulous. I have just one PR agency that I can’t work with. Over the years I’ve had nothing but terrible pitches from them followed by 2-3 follow up emails that were less like follow ups and more like nagging. They aren’t a small shop, they’re just a shop I’m not a match with. This shop recently hired a fellow blogger as part of their team. When I met up with the blogger we chatted and she told me all about the work she was up to with the agency and all the perks of blogging.

I was confused because the blogger/publicist had provided me with access to the client company yet she was telling me about how her blog got 1,000 hits a day from her interviews with executives and creatives from that same company. Then she went on to tell me that she loved working with _____ as a blogger because of the perks and she was already a fan. So I smiled and walked away.

I love when publicists blog. There are too many great PR blogs to mention. I love when bloggers find jobs within public relations firms. What I saw at BlogHer (and again, it’s just this one shop that I saw it with) is that the best access will go to the bloggers who work there. I am staying far far away.

I was sad to see so many women smoking. I won’t sermonize, but it made me sad.

The phrase I most often heard was, “I’m not just a blogger.” They would go on to talk about their other talents and social media influence. I felt badly for these ladies too, because there’s nothing wrong with being a blogger. I’m just a blogger.