Over the last few weeks, packages have been plucked off porches in the Heights. Houstonia contributor Mai Pham had her purse stolen in broad daylight at a Chinatown shopping center. A woman issued a warning after getting robbed in a parking lot of the Buffalo Speedway H-E-B, and inside the Target in Meyerland, I had my wallet stolen out of my purse in the Christmas section.
I was lucky. I realized what was happening fast enough to actually get my wallet back. A good thing since I foolishly had $400 in cash inside.
I’d made myself the easiest target in that Target. First of all, I was blissed out, high off the comatose effects of a 90-minute deep tissue massage and the essential oil fumes that accompany such a splurge. I’d planned to get lights for my tree, but went about it quite lazily.
I always do the same thing at Target. I have my routine. I make a bee line to the snack bar for a $1 bag of popcorn. I get a cart, and put my purse in front—in this case, my purse was a loose floppy bag with no zipper, big mistake if say, there happens to be a predatory wallet thief in your general vicinity.
I moseyed around the store, perusing the overpriced seasonal décor being hocked by that married couple who fix up houses on HGTV and go to an anti-LGBT church. I wasn’t shopping so much as staring into an empty vortex of longing and loneliness while leaving behind a trail of spilled popcorn. Unlike my reckless youth, I’d learned to overcome the ubiquitous manic Target spending spree, in which you arrive for a toothbrush and leave with $125 of woodland creature-themed home décor items.
In the Christmas section, I got my lights and took a gander at the ornaments. I was hunched over, examining a box of bulbs and wondering how llamas have suddenly become the pack leader of all Christmas animal merchandise when a cart bumped into mine.
“Excuse me,” a woman said. “I’m looking at this too. I’ll move my cart if you move yours.”
I pulled my cart back, and continued to check out the ornaments. The woman pulled out two boxes herself and struck up a conversation.
“These the things for the thing?” she said.
“They’re ornaments,” I said. “For a tree.” I nodded toward the fake trees beyond us, a manufactured forest of them, glistening from a raised platform.
“Cuz I’m trying to get me some. I need some. I’m thinking like real big. Probably this big,” she said. "Or is that too big?" She seemed very confused about ornaments and trees and Christmas. She put her boxes on my cart like she was a best friend. It made me uncomfortable and it was distracting—she didn't even know the word ornament, for heaven's sake—and she bombarded me with questions and small talk.
“Okay, well thank you,” she said after an awkward 20 or so seconds, carrying her ornaments toward her cart and leaving.
I noticed my bag was open then. I immediately reached in and realized my wallet was gone. My heart pounded, that feeling of electricity you get when you know you've messed up bad, real bad, and some primordial shock absorber kicks in. I rounded the corner and found the woman fleeing toward the toy section.
I'll save you the details of what she screamed at me after I asked if she took my wallet. She flung her purse into my cart, and then an unpurchased Merona brand wallet. She plucked a cell phone from her bosom, where, from the looks of it, she had stashed other things, though nothing as bulky as my wallet. A Target employee on a walkie talkie had moved in closer to us, asking if I lost my wallet. Another employee, no more than 17, asked if I'd left it in the car. If I was sure I didn't drop it.
But I just stood there, telling them that she stole it and I wasn't moving until I had it back. A third employee arrived then and asked what my wallet looked like.
"Blue with a pink cat on it," I said. I am what I am.
He immediately found my wallet buried in a poster display next to the woman, and asked me to make sure everything was in it. Everything was.
"Okay," he said. "Y'all can separate now. This is over. Please move away from each other."
And they let the woman return to shopping for new people to rob. The employee did ask me to show him where I thought my wallet had been stolen, so I did. He said his colleague with the radio had heard the woman throw something when I approached her about stealing my wallet, and alerted him. Then he said, "Okay, well I hope you'll keep shopping." Instead I booked it out of there, leaving my cart, the popcorn, and everything right there in the Christmas aisle.
“It could just be that they weren’t trained in dealing with that,” a representative of Target’s corporate office told me when I called about the incident. "But you could have told an asset manager who could do something." Well, I did on the way out and his response was immediate: "There's nothing we can do." I’d been told later by a friend that they have a “no chase” policy, meaning they won’t chase somebody who is caught shoplifting or robbing someone in their stores, as it’s a liability and they could get sued, as is the case in a pending lawsuit in Lubbock wherein the thief was tackled by Target employees and is suing for a cool $10 million. When I contacted Target's media operations to find out what their actual policy is, I didn't get a call back.
A representative did manage to go online and find my Houstonia email though.
“We are incredibly busy at this time of year,” she wrote. “So we are going to decline participation in this story."
I wish I could've declined participation in this story too.