T.J. Maxx and the Opposite of Shoplifting

Posted on
Feb 21, 2017

My favorite person in the world at my favorite store, holding up a shirt I tried to get him to buy.

The thing about having the phrase “petty theft” in the title of my book (AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER NOW) is that everyone assumes – perhaps fairly – that I am driven by compulsive thievery. This is inaccurate. In reality, my thieving is calculated and vengeful, to be meted out upon deserving parties in the name of justice and also passive-aggression.

What’s that, you ask? Could I simply just confront the establishments/houses of worship/state departments that I feel have wronged me and tell them why I’m upset? Well, sure, I suppose I could, but that takes a lot of self-awareness and personal growth and frankly shoving a couple packs of Post-Its in my bag is way easier.

My thievery is usually applied in a very limited scope, and much less often than I’d like because usually Rand thwarts me (“You are not taking that. Put that down. No.” GAH. Why did I marry him? Stupid true love.)

My criteria for revenge stealing are very specific:

  • I usually only take from larger entities and not individuals.
  • Said entities have to really, really piss me off.
  • They’ve also ignored previous opportunities to make amends.
  • I will not take anything of significant monetary or emotional value (E.g., I will take a plastic mixing bowl from an AirBnB that refused to refund us even though the unit had a sewage problem. I will not take their microwave because it is heavy and I already have a microwave.)
  • No shoplifting. That shit is not okay.

This last point often confuses people. The nuances between stealing a virtually useless item from a rental house and taking a sweater from Nordstrom are lost on them because they aren’t creatively moralistic. Shoplifting is just stealing – it doesn’t serve to mete out some karma against someone who’s pissed me off. In college I went shopping with a girl I was friends with, and I later found out that she’d spent the day stealing clothes and jewelry, using me as her cover.

When I confronted her about it, she said, “Well, how else could I get that stuff? I can’t afford it.”

I was so livid that I said nothing for 8 years while silently resenting her, and when she finally stopped being friends with me, I was pretty okay with it.

And with all of that preamble, I need to tell you how I accidentally shoplifted something from one of my favorite stores in the entire world: T.J. Maxx, where prices are fun, and fun is the max (this is their actual tagline. It makes no sense. It doesn’t need to make sense. That’s how good their deals are). And how I had to sneak it back into the store.

I am not an avid shopper, at least not in the traditional “exchange money for goods like a normal person” sort of way. I go out “shopping” often, which usually means I’ll roam around downtown Seattle for three or four hours, and return with absolutely nothing save for a few blog post ideas. Shopping becomes a weird meditative state wherein I hash out fights with people I haven’t seen in decades (see shoplifting friend from college, above) but never actually buy a damn thing, which is why all my underwear looks like the evidence from a devastating flood at a granny panty factory.

A few weeks ago, though, I went uncharacteristically nuts while at T.J. Maxx, purchasing a shirt and a mug and some snacks and other strange items which can only coexist together here, at my favorite discount store (no, I was not paid for this post. I do not NEED to be paid for this post. At T.J. Maxx you can buy peanut butter filled pretzels and a giant ceramic pineapple and socks made from bamboo for under $15. This is the American dream. This is why my grandmother fled the gulags. WHY DO OTHER STORES EVEN EXIST?)

I paid, left the store, and went home. I showed Rand my spoils (his response: “Holy crap, you actually bought something?”) and then checked my receipt.

They’d forgotten to charge me for a pair of designer jeans.

Now, some of you are calling bullshit on this already, and to those people I kindly say, “Fuck you.” I realize how improbable all of this sounds, but I AM VERY BAD AT SHOPPING. I once found poop in a Ross dressing room and I was so freaked out I bought a pair of jeans that were four sizes too big for me (yes, I bought jeans from a store in which I found poop. In my defense, the poop was not on the jeans).

No, I didn’t check the receipt right away, as I’d already tallied the damage in my head. No, I didn’t realize I was being charged the wrong amount, because the card machine at my local store doesn’t actually show your total – it just tells you to swipe your card. I suppose the young woman checking me out should have made it more clear to me, but we were shooting the shit and honestly, I wasn’t really paying attention. Neither was she, evidently.

The sensor from the jeans had been carefully removed and they were folded at the bottom of the shopping bag. She’d just forgot to ring them up.

I considered simply calling the store and explaining the error, but a friend of mine who worked retail told me that I might get the cashier in trouble (and sure enough, her name was on the receipt, so it was easy to trace to her). Plus, who would believe me?

“Hi, you accidentally gave me these for free, but I grew up Catholic and the guilt will consume me unless I give you money.”

I contemplated donating the amount of the jeans to a non-profit, but someone else reminded me that while my conscience would be clear, the store would still take a loss. I couldn’t do that to T.J. Maxx. This store had given me so much, including a little plastic container for an onion that looks just like an onion (Is this in case I forget that there’s an onion inside? This seems unlikely. The container is transparent. IT IS JUST WHIMSY.)

So I decided that I somehow needed to pay for these jeans. And I figured the only way to do that was to sneak them back into the store like some zany reverse-shoplifter. A few days later, I rolled them up, put them into my purse, and walked back into the store.

Oddly, this was one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve done in a while. I kept imaging one of the managers stopping me and asking to see what was inside my bag. Fast-forward to me frantically try to explain what had happened while I sat in handcuffs in a tiny cell at the back of the store (note: I don’t know how crime works).

I calmed down once I realized that it’s not a crime to bring an unpaid item back into a store. So long as I didn’t leave, I was fine. But if I chickened out and left I’d be DOUBLE-SHOPLIFTING and if you do that I’m pretty sure you end up in DOUBLE-HELL. (Note: I don’t actually believe in such a place but it is definitely in Florida.)

Also, take note: this is what privilege looks like. Walking in and out of a store with unpaid merchandise, and having no one question you.

So now I had a dilemma: how to get these jeans out of my bag to pay for them?

I grabbed a few decoy items to try on, including a pair of jeans that were similar to the ones in my bag. I went into the dressing room, pulled my jeans out, left the other pair in the stall, and waited a reasonable amount of time before walking out.

I headed to the cashier, who was bewildered as to why the jeans didn’t have a sensor (me: “Oh, huh, weird.”), but nevertheless rung me up.

And with that, it was DONE. I’d successfully un-stolen an accidentally shoplifted item.

There’s not a lot of moral high ground that you can claim when your book (which is available for pre-order now, wink-wink) has “petty theft” in the subtitle. So you’ll have to forgive me if I’m up here on my high horse, waving my moralistic flag more emphatically than usual. Look as it flutters in the wind. Upon closer inspection, you’ll see it’s not a flag at all. It’s a pair of jeans. The T.J. Maxx price tag is still attached.

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