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To Catch a Thief

By Mink Stole | Posted 5/9/2001

A girl I know has shoplifted twice from the store where I work. The other salespeople know it and let it slide because the thief, an otherwise charming and loyal customer, has been diagnosed with some mysterious disease and they feel sorry for her. But I'm the manager of the place and I'm held accountable for shrinkage. Do I confront her? Warn the salespeople when I see her coming? What?

In a Quandary

Dear Quandary:

Your co-workers may genuinely feel sorry for this customer, but if she's that charming they're probably so happy to see her come in that, even without the illness, they'd let her walk out with half the store's inventory under her coat. And who can blame them? Unless retail has changed a whole lot since I worked in it, they're on their feet for hours, working for pitiful money and no benefits, and being polite to people who treat shopkeepers as a subspecies just barely bright enough to be ordered around.

What you should do depends on a lot of things. If this gal's pattern is to spend $200 and steal stuff worth $5, let it go. But if the numbers are reversed, or if you care about your job or your boss or want to make a career of retail, you'll have to take your management position more seriously. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of confrontation, so you'll want to try that first. Since everyone likes this customer so much, it shouldn't be too hard to have someone with her the whole time she's in the store, just chatting and being helpful but giving her no chance to steal. If you're certain that she's got something stashed and it's too expensive to write off, invite her into your office (if you have one) or a discreet corner and ask her to give it back. Tell her you hate to do this because you really like her, and she's been such a good customer, and of course you're not calling the cops, yadda yadda, but you're responsible for anything she takes and your job is on the line. Hopefully she'll give it up gracefully; in any event, she'll be too mortified to ever steal from your store again.

I'm 15 years old and a sophomore in high school. I've known for a long time that I'm gay, but it wasn't until this school year that I felt comfortable enough to confide in three of my friends. Then one of them told a lot of her other close friends, which is mostly OK because I made friends with some of them. But the other night at a party, the brother of one of my new friends began making cruel homophobic jokes and I knew he'd been told too. I'm not ashamed of being gay, and I try not to pay attention to closed-minded people who would try to humiliate me, but it hurts me that my friends would tell everybody what I told them in confidence. I know plenty of things about them and I've never blabbed! I really need advice on what to do.

Hurt Friend

Dear Friend:

As hard as it is some days to face getting older, you couldn't give me a big enough bag of money to go through the hell of being a teenager again. Some people will try to tell you these are the best years of your life, but listen to me--it gets better.

Try not to be too upset with your friends. With all the new hormones your bodies are pumping you're all naturally thinking about sex a lot, and with you being probably the only homosexual they know (or know they know), you have a sort of special status. They're not trying to hurt you, they're just curious, and they can't help talking about it. I know you didn't sign up for the job of "gay-teen role model," but by not accepting some ignorant bully's attempts at persecution, you're showing a lot more maturity than a lot of people your age. Of course, if anyone threatens you with physical harm, you need to report it immediately to an adult you trust.

I wouldn't blame you a bit if you decided to get back at your friends by spilling all the dirt you've got on them, but that could make them stop telling you stuff and you might miss that. Instead, I'd remember that they're not as good at keeping secrets as you are and be very careful not to tell them anything you'd hate anyone else to know. Eventually either they'll learn to value and respect your confidence or you'll find other friends who do. Then, when you become famous and the world is clamoring for your memoirs, you can decide if any of your friends' little secrets are really juicy enough to write about.

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Pick and Choose (4/12/2006)
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