Monday, December 8, 2014

No Mug Shot, Just Mug Shame

Although I rarely remember it’s there, when you walk into one grocery store in my neighborhood, the first thing you might notice is the Shoplifters Wall of Shame. Floor managers take a picture of every thief they catch, print out a black-and-white copy of that picture, and hang it above a towering stack of red shopping baskets. In each photo, the shoplifters hold up the item(s) they tried making off with. Many of them smile pretty for the camera.

“How could someone do that? I’ve never stolen anything,” I’ve thought, shaking my head (at least not from anywhere that had a cash register). I mean, dammit, one time I was the only visitor at a tiny museum in England, where nobody manned the front desk that sold postcards for the equivalent of twenty-five cents. I took a postcard, leaving behind that twenty-five-cent equivalent, along with a note detailing how honorable I had been.

It’s so easy to forget that I actually have stolen something (from a place with a cash register). It’s so easy to block that night out. Ten years ago. A beer mug from a local beer garden. I was blindingly drunk when I stuffed it into my oversized handbag, after the guy I was out with not only suggested but encouraged it, as a way to avenge the epic fight I’d gotten into with a bartender who accused me of underpaying him when I hadn’t. I found that mug in the back of a cabinet earlier this year and now keep it at the edge of my desk, as a writing-utensils holder, as a reminder. In 2015, I’m giving it back. That’s my New Year’s Resolution. That way it’s simply something I’ve borrowed, like an overdue library book.

Meanwhile, I recently went to the grocery store, picked up a red basket, and happened to glance at the Shoplifters Wall of Shame for the first time in months. The first photo I saw was of the security guard I blogged about a couple of months ago, holding up the same bottle of wine he once tried handing over to me in my office. 


  1. Keep the mug! The fines would be too high at this point anyway. If you feel bad, mail them a few bucks anonymously.

    I used to steal stuff when I was a teenager. LOTS of stuff. Thank God no one ever put my photo on a wall!

  2. Many of them smile pretty for the camera? Dear Lord, the human race is worse off than I thought. Yeah, keep the mug.

    You were blindingly drunk?

  3. One of my all-time favorite movies is the romantic comedy "You've Got Mail" with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. I love it partly because it is the quintessential "life in New York" movie (the big, bad Fox Books--read Barnes and Noble-- is driving the little West Side book store out of business) and partly because the individual scenes are often so charming. One great scene takes place in Zabar's. Meg Ryan gets to the head of the line (finally) but has only a credit card. It turns out this is a cash only line. She argues with the cashier, who stands firm, "Cash only." Suddenly Tom Hanks appears, offering to pay for the groceries (Meg refuses him.) So he works his charm on the cashier, who finally allows Meg to use the credit card. Whenever I see this scene, I think, no wonder stores have trouble with shoplifting, if an unreasonable policy is enforced so rigidly.