So last weekend I'm in Marshalls in New York, killing time by attempting to try on clothes while the wife shops for accessories that'll sit in the closet unworn for six months till she sells them for 10 cents on the dollar at a garage sale. I say attempting because Marshalls, like many current department-store chains, uses a variety of security measures that massively complicate the process of getting the clothes off the rounders and onto your person. Shopped for leather jackets lately? You know why I'm asking. Almost universally now, "better outerwear" is affixed to the display by means of a sheathed metal cable that makes it impossible to actually (a) put the damn thing on, unless you also want to wear the cable, and (b) walk to the nearest mirror to see how you look, unless you want to drag the entire display along with you. Of course, you do have another option, and it's the one the store is trying to enforce upon you: You can go find a teenage sales associate, and once she finishes filling in a colleague on all the juicy details of last night's drunken hook-up, she'll come assist you—"assisting you" consisting in this case of watching you like a hawk to make sure you're not wadding the bulky garment up into a tiny ball and stashing it in your mouth.
Marshalls also uses ink tags, which—the store ominously warns shoppers—will burst and spill their contents all over your thieving sociopathic hands, should you try to remove them before paying. (Some of the tags were clipped right over the buttons/zippers, so that you literally could not open the garment in order to try it on.) This is the next step forward after those old-style security tags, the ones that leave subtle but permanent holes in whatever you buy, and set off those shrill alarms and that oh-so-polite automated announcement telling you to return to the register in order to be arrested and fingerprinted.
All of this takes place under the watchful eye of the ubiquitous security cameras, which aren't even discreetly concealed in vents or light fixtures anymore; they're right there in plain sight now, bulging conspicuously down from the ceilings. One assumes that this too is by design: We've got our eye on you, fella. Then finally, as you're about to leave the store, there's the burly security guard, eyeing you skeptically and unsmiling in a way that suggests that the instant before you're off store property, he's going to intercept you and demand to see your receipts. Which, again, is precisely the intended message.
As you can tell by now, I don't get out shopping very often, but I'm astonished that anyone puts up with this. Just astonished. I can tell you, there is no freakin' way on God's green earth that I would regularly patronize a store that treated its customers like that. By the time I was done at Marshalls, I wondered why they didn't just put up signs like so:
TO OUR VALUED CUSTOMERS: WE KNOW YOU'RE REALLY A BUNCH OF LARCENOUS BASTARDS WHO ARE OUT TO RIP US OFF IN EVERY CONCEIVABLE WAY, SO WE'VE PLANTED LITTLE TRAPS HERE AND THERE TO TRIP YOU UP. HAPPY SHOPPING!
NO MORE SHOPPING AT YOUR STORE TILL YOU STOP ACTING AS IF WE ALL JUST GOT OUT OF RIKERS ISLAND.Drive the suckers into insolvency!
Then again, they'll just go to Washington for a bailout.
* It's relevant, but also an allusion to a memoir by one-time radical Abbie Hoffman.