Can you see that? You probably know what it is, even if it's difficult to see. That's a security tag. You can find them in random packs of baseball cards. They're about the worst kind of "hit" ever created.
One of these was in a pack of Heritage that I bought last week. It caused the security alarm to go off as I exited Target.
I hate that, because even though I don't bother to stop and turn around after the bell goes off, and no security guard comes running after me, and everyone seems to know that those things ring for random, innocuous reasons, I still feel like someone, somewhere thinks I'm getting away with something, like I'm shoplifting, like I'm a common criminal.
Security devices are familiar instruments used by department stores in loss prevention, and employees are forever removing them from clothes, etc. But I don't know why they're still in baseball card packs. The majority of baseball card packs cost between $2 and $6. Are we attaching security tags to candy, toothpaste, lipstick, pencils? They're just as costly as a baseball card pack.
The fact that they show up in relatively inexpensive baseball card packs leads me down a path of reasons that I don't want to travel:
1. People still believe that retail packs of cards are valuable
2. Topps and other companies are still experiencing significant "loss" in the baseball card aisles and taking measures to counter that.
3. I'm involved in a hobby filled with hoods.
I don't like that because I'm not a "hood". Not once -- not since I was 9 anyway -- have I felt the desire to walk off with a pack of baseball cards. I work hard -- way, way, way too hard -- in order to buy a stupid $4 pack of Heritage to shoplift it, or to have that blasted beeper go off even after I spent my cash.
But perhaps this is still a problem for Topps, I don't know.
When I go to the card aisle, 98.9 percent of the time, I'm the only one there. I'm sure part of the reason is because I'm usually there during "off hours" -- lunch time, overnight hours -- I'm not there when people traditionally do their shopping.
But, still, the card aisle can't possibly be a hot-bed of activity, teeming with so many people that cards are disappearing constantly, can it?
But look at all the measures that are in place to battle us hoodlum card collectors. There are the security tags, there is the fact that the card aisle is near the front of the store, by the registers, where most of the employees are; there are almost always carts full of stuff blocking the card aisle so you must weave in and out of aisles to get to the cards that you want. I still don't know what the jammed cart is supposed to deter -- a quick getaway?
And then there is my sweet, helpful Walmart. The sports section of the card aisle has grown smaller and smaller so that baseball cards now take up about an eighth of the entire aisle devoted to trading cards and their ilk.
But guess what is directly over the baseball card portion -- the whole three tiny rows?
It's not that sign exactly, but the message is the same. "Be on guard, card stealer, we're watching YOU."
It's hung right over the hanging baseball card racks. When I move to take a pack from the rack, I hit the sign with my hand. It is so close and so near what I'm trying to buy that I can't help but feel it's directed at me.
I don't like feeling like that when all I'm doing is buying picture cards.
I know that there are pack searchers -- if people still care about relics, that is -- but, again, is it that much of a problem in comparison to other store items?
Here is a list of the most shoplifted items at stores according to a survey by the National Retail Federation in 2012:
Cigarettes, energy drinks, high-end liquor, baby formula, pain relievers, weight-loss pills, allergy medicine, diabetic testing strips, electric toothbrushes, lotions and creams, pregnancy tests, jeans, designer clothing, handbags, cellphones, digital cameras, digital recorders, laptops, GPS devices, LCD televisions, high-end vacuums, Kitchen-Aid mixers.
Nothing in that list resembles a baseball card to me.
But I'm willing to bet that some of those things don't feature a security tag.
Perhaps my problem is affiliating myself with the ne'er-do-wells in Walmart and Target. But you know my thoughts with a lot of hobby shops. It's as if they think there's going to be a crime at all times. That's why cards are under glass and way up high behind the register.
I just want to say to them -- and to the folks at Target and Walmart, too -- that I'm just a guy who likes baseball cards. I like them so much that I will pay money for them. And I'll give you the money and be on my way. No funny business. I'll even come back and do the whole thing again.
Maybe I'm a rare breed. I'd like to think I'm not, but with all the alarms and angry watchdog signs going off in my face, I'm wondering if I am.
It's enough to make me want to buy all my cards online.