sexta-feira, 22 de fevereiro de 2013

The Coveter’s Dilemma By DAVID COLMAN

The Coveter’s Dilemma

                                                  Robert Caplin for The New York Times
WANTS The author Rachel Shteir and the 1950s-style lime-green wallet, she bought at Pier 1 Imports.

THIS may surprise you (or not, given the mercury’s recent leaps), but in the United States, the weather disasters that take the biggest toll on human life are not hurricanes, tornadoes, floods or blizzards. They are heat waves: slow, steady and quiet, wreaking havoc under the cover of a cheery blue sky.
Crime, too, has its own version of this insidious villain: shoplifting. As Rachel Shteir points out in her new book, “The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting” (Penguin), this overlooked vice is, compared to headline-grabbers like armed robbery, as invisible as it is insidious.
One reason for its slippery status, and one reason Ms. Shteir finds the subject fascinating, is that no one quite knows where to file it. One current view of shoplifters, Ms. Shteir said, is that they have an impulse-control problem. To stores, they are criminals. But shoplifters often feel driven by a belief that they’ve somehow been wronged or deprived in life.
Such rationalizations being less than rational, it makes a murky sense that shoplifters often steal things they don’t need and never use. “It’s not as simple as, ‘I grew up shoeless as a child, so now I’m going to steal shoes,’ ” Ms. Shteir said. “In my observations, a lot of shoplifting seemed like it was an effort to transform into something else. Women shoplift cosmetics, men shoplift power tools. It seems to relate to some idealized view of yourself.
“That’s not a fashionable viewpoint,” she added. “In those circles, people are quick to dismiss the connections between people and objects. But come on: you can’t walk through the main floor of Bergdorf without feeling that those objects have power.”
Struck by the obscure links between shoplifters and what they steal, Ms. Shteir has thought about what qualities make something strike her own fancy. Her earliest covetous memory was the green silk blouses her mother used to wear.
“I’ve had friends who were beautiful dressers, and I’ve always coveted their clothes,” she said, musing. “But I always covet everything they’re wearing. I just want to transplant the whole thing onto my body. It’s like I want to be reimagined, reborn, re-something. Or if I go into someone’s kitchen and they have all those super-shiny copper pots, that’s another thing I covet.”
Within both examples, she said, is a seed of transformation. “When I think about coveting, it is essentially about being some other person besides myself.”
This truth was brought home recently when she had lunch with one of her stylish friends, a set and costume designer.
“She took out her wallet after lunch, and I was captivated by it, this turquoise and silver thing,” she said. “I loved the clamshell closure, the silver lining. It had a certain ’50s kitsch to it that I liked. It was aggressively not trying to be middlebrow.”
She did not disguise her feelings. “I was very vocal,” she said, laughing. “I think I said: ‘I love your wallet! Where did you get it?’ Something insane like that.”
The answer surprised her: Pier 1 Imports. A couple of days later, she visited a Pier 1 in Chicago, where she lives, and found the wallets, not only in turquoise but also in lime green and hot pink. On inspection, the mysterious soft material managed to emulate both brocade and python. The icing on the cake? The price was $4.
She bought the green one and left the store on a cloud. Long frustrated at never finding the right-size wallet that wasn’t hugely expensive, she felt exhilarated at having beaten the designer-accessory system.
It was not to last. “It was a pretty brisk fallout,” she said dryly. “I don’t really like it. I want a different one. I think about this a lot when I am in a handbag department. The main problem is that everything always looks so respectable. I’m having trouble finding a wallet that symbolizes what I aspire to.”
While part of her annoyance is practical (the wallet doesn’t hold checks, she said, and its contents fall out easily), the real issue is a deeper one. Some desires are best left in the heart. “It’s when the potential becomes reality,” she said. “That’s the problem.”
The only real solution, of course, would be to be able to divide all the lovely stuff in the world into two categories. Then you want what you want, and just buy what you love.
Good luck with that.
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