People who study sales and marketing, which should be a crime in itself, say that one of the most effective techniques is the placing of goods at the point of purchase. By the time you get to the till, you have had plenty of time to scope out the Fuck al-Qaeda keyrings, penis-shaped lighters and other senseless gizmos on the counter.
“Damn, I got to get me one of them things,” you say to yourself. This is known as an “impulse purchase”. Later, when you get home and show it off, it becomes known as “the stupidest thing you ever bought ”.
There is a certain breed of varmint that operates on the same principle. He will be walking along minding his own business, with absolutely no intention of committing a crime, when in front of him he sees an old lady with a gammy leg and a handbag over her shoulder. What the hell, he thinks. He snatches it and takes off down the road at an insouciant saunter.
Here are some other examples of impulse crime.
This has become a popular weekend sport among schoolchildren and the less mature adult. The rules are simple. Find a fist-sized rock or piece of concrete. Next, make your way to the nearest freeway. Stand beneath a flyover so that oncoming motorists are unable to see you. Sooner or later you will spot a car driving in the lane nearest to you. Two seconds before it reaches you, throw your projectile at a height you imagine the windshield to be. Some people say this sport does not require skill, but they are wrong. Timing is everything. Nine times out of ten, the professionals manage to land their projectile square in the face of the driver. The amateurs either miss altogether or hit the passenger.
As the driver of the car, the rules state that you are entitled to chase your opponent either on foot or in your car. This is assuming that your face is still where you last saw it. The thrower will do his best to get back to the township or squatter camp from whence he has come. This is where the game gets exciting. Driving at night down unlit roads half the width of your car poses challenges of its own, and a certain amount of collateral damage is unavoidable. It is likely that at some point an angry lynch mob will begin chasing you. Don’t let them distract you. Once you have cornered your opponent, take the electric bread knife from your cubbyhole, sit on him and cut off his hands. This means that he is banned from the sport for life and you are the winner. The mob will probably want to award you some kind of prize.
You are waiting for the traffic lights to turn green. Your crocodile skin handbag is lying open on the front seat with your purse sticking out of the top. Your window is wound down and you are shrieking at the top of your voice on your shiny new phone. This is like going to the zoo and trying to pat a lion through the bars, then being outraged when it takes your arm off at the elbow. If I had to be crossing the road, not even I could resist snatching your phone. And I am one of the honest ones. More or less. That’s just the grab part. If your window is wound up, you will get to experience the smash component of this impulse crime. Winding up your window to prevent theft is like taking a shower to prevent Aids.
In similar vein, an ordinarily law-abiding person might be walking through the centre of town when a diamond necklace will catch his eye in the window of a jewellery store. This, in turn, triggers the recollection that it is his wedding anniversary. But all the shops are shut. So, rather than risk disappointing his wife and having rumpy-pumpy privileges withdrawn, he tosses a brick through the window and takes the necklace. The jeweller is happy because he hasn’t been able to move that piece in months and he had it insured for more than it was worth; the glass company is happy because they have another window to replace; the police are happy because it’s a call-out in which they are unlikely to get torn apart in a hail of gunfire; the wife gets the necklace, the husband gets fellatio and everyone lives happily ever after. This is one of the few opportunistic crimes in which everyone stands to gain.
Shoplifting costs the South African economy millions every year. This is good news to those of us who have to stop ourselves from collapsing in supermarket aisles and weeping at the sheer impossibility of choosing between so many different brands. There is way too much on the shelves and the more stuff that gets stolen, the easier it is for me to do my shopping. The old USSR would have been heaven for me.
A few years back, two women walked out of a Parow grocery store with four 1kg packets of rice, two 1kg packets of sugar, two boxes of meat sauce powder, two bottles of cooking oil, a packet of batteries and two 500g blocks of margarine stuffed down their underwear. If it wasn’t for the lamb chops that started melting and slipped down their thighs, they would have got away with it.
I once walked out of a shop with a chocolate bar down my pants. My mother made me take it back, apologise to the shopkeeper and offer to make it up to him by sweeping his floor. I was so mortified that I never stole again. Well, not when my mother was around, anyway. And when she is no longer of this earth, I expect that I will steal something really big, like a bus or a train, just to unload a lifetime of repressed kleptomania.
This forms part of the training programme for development athletes hoping to go to the next Olympics. If your snatcher is a sprinter, don’t bother trying to chase him. Shouting “Good luck!” after him would be considered supportive. If the lad is hoping to be a long-distance track athlete, go after him. Set the pace. The pressure will be an incentive for him to put in that extra effort. Just think – you could take some of the credit if he brought home the gold. The gold medal, not your gold card. He already has that.