Bring Back the Stocks

Shame FTW
• January 31, 2014 9:59 am


I'm rarely angered by a piece of journalism. Amused often, bemused sometimes, annoyed frequently. But actual, visceral anger is pretty unusual and tends to come at odd times.

But this Jessica Sidman piece in the Washington City Paper about people who steal from restaurants really got the blood boiling. When I say steal from restaurants I don't mean duck out on the tab: I mean, they literally steal stuff from restaurants. Glasses, silverware, anything that's not screwed down to the wall, toilet paper. Toilet paper! The disgusting one-ply sandpaper that restaurants use is stolen by people.

Here are the opening, and most infuriating, paragraphs:

Peter Ogburn’s life of crime began with a copper mug stuffed down his pants. The radio producer was drinking a Moscow mule at the bar at Senart’s Oyster and Chop House not long after its 2011 opening when the impulse struck him: He’d always wanted one of the shiny cups but had no idea where to find them. So he unbuttoned his pants. And he took one.

"If you are a restaurateur and you see somebody walking out of the restaurant with a giant bulge in the front of their pants," Ogburn says, "they’re either having a really good date, or they’re robbing you."

Since then, Ogburn has accumulated three more mismatched mugs, taken from D.C.’s Boxcar Tavern and other bars in Las Vegas and Charleston, S.C. He regularly busts them out to make Moscow mules for friends. He admits he has a tinge of guilt about it, but he still ranks the thefts low on the scale of bad etiquette and crime. "People that are bad tippers and people that walk out on a bill are the most deplorable people," Ogburn says. His justification is simple: "I always overtip bartenders, so karmatically, I think it’s all kind of worked out."

Mother of god. There's so much going on here. First is the simple brazenness of it: not just admitting to the crime but casually disclosing where it took place and how amusing he finds the whole situation. Then there is the initial justification: "He'd always wanted one of the shiny cups but had no idea where to find them." Well, Mr. Ogburn, let me f—king Google that for you. There are literally dozens of places online that you can purchase them from. You could even get a set with your initials on them!

Then Ogburn says "Eh, not really a big deal, because I'm a damn fine tipper." So because Ogburn thinks he tips employees of restaurants generously he is entitled to steal from the restauranteurs who employ said bartenders? Is that really his justification here? Perhaps he has seen the cost of said cups and decided he doesn't want to shell out the bucks, so he figures the guy providing him his booze for the evening has the obligation to pay for it?

The way I see it, Ogburn is doing this for one of three reasons.

The first possibility is that he's literally the dumbest man on the planet and cannot figure out how to use Google in order to find a place to purchase the items he wants to steal. I find this to be unlikely given his proficiency with Twitter and the fact that he has worked as a producer for Bill Press for some time.

The second possibility is that he's too poor to afford one of those fine bronze mugs he so adores. I find this to be equally unlikely since he brags about stealing goods from Senart's Oyster Bar and Chophouse, a restaurant Yelp puts in the "Spendy" range (between $31 and $60 per person).

The final possibility, and the one that seems most likely, is that Ogburn has the impulse control of a three year old. He knows what he's doing is wrong, he's smart enough to figure out where to purchase the mugs he covets, and he earns enough money to be able to afford them should he want to purchase them—but he doesn't care to wait. Don't care how, I want it now, he probably thinks to himself. If he even thinks about it more than just muttering "MINE" as he grabs it and stuffs it down his pants.

What society needs is a way to make the Ogburns of the world think twice before acting like a spoiled, petulant child. Imprisonment and lawsuits probably aren't the answer (though I sincerely hope Senart's presents his smug face with a bill for the stolen goods the next time he saunters in); the cost  to society outweighs the cost of the mugs. You know what would be a far better option? Bringing back the stocks and shaming those who get caught brazenly stealing and then bragging about it later.

Shame is a powerful tool. And I imagine if Mr. Ogburn had to spend a Saturday afternoon locked up in Dupont Circle as the local villagers tossed lettuce and rotten tomatoes at his head he'd think twice before sticking a copper mug down his pants again.


Featured Photo Credit: Feggy Art via Compfight cc