September 4, 2011

Oldest Tricks in the Book


(Authorís Note: Hereís a story to pass the time while I continue mopping up. Who wouldíve though such a pissy-assed commie of a hurricane could flood the Bunker? And yet it happened. On a related note, if thereís one thing the recent earthquake and hurricane have proven beyond question, itís that New Yorkers are the biggest damn sissies on the planet.)


Maybe the NYPD has simply taken a break from cooking their crime stats, but it seems random, violent crime is once again becoming a popular recreational activity here in the city. After a fellow I know was violently mugged in Brooklyn for the second time in a month, it occurred to me that he was one of the very few people I know here whoíd ever been robbed and beaten on a New York street (a distinction he could live without). Iím amazed, given some of the places Iíve gone in less than peak condition, that Iíve never been mugged here. All those nights I passed out on the train, no one even bothered to lift my wallet. Maybe they could sense I didnít have anything worth taking, or maybe I just got lucky.

††††††††††† Iíve been verbally threatened any number of times, and certainly found myself in the middle of scenes in which some kind of crazy violence seemed inevitable, but they passed on by unfulfilled.

††††††††††† While Iíve been lucky in New York, Iíve been slightly less lucky elsewhere. In the end Iíve only been robbed twice, and the incidents bore two strange similarities. Both took place in 1987, and though I was living in Minneapolis at the time, both took place while I was visiting Chicago. Apart from that, they couldnít have been more different.

††††††††††† The first was an act of brazen stupidity on both sides of the transaction. I was walking to the old Greyhound station in the heart of the Loop. Before stepping inside I stopped to have a smoke. You could smoke on buses in those more civilized days, but it was a cool, rainy late winter evening, and I wasnít particularly looking forward to the ten-hour trip in front of me.

††††††††††† As I stood there watching the cars in the street and the few straggling pedestrians pass, I was approached by a small, husky man with yellowed, watery eyes and the kind of deeply-lined face you get after serious long-term addiction. In quick, hushed tones, he asked if I wanted to buy a couple of joints for the trip.

††††††††††† Now, I was never much of a pot smokeródid plenty else, but never latched on to potóbut still nodded at him, more out of curiosity than anything else. As he started to lead me down the street I had the sinking feeling I was about to die, yet I followed along anyway. At least it would be an interesting way to go, which is how I tended to look at things back then.

††††††††††† He stopped some two blocks away from the bus station and stepped down a short flight of deeply shadowed stairs leading to the entrance of a bar. He paused outside the door.

††††††††††† ďGimme twenty bucks,Ē he said, and like a fool I did. ďTwenty for three. Now you wait in the bar aní Iíll be right back.Ē I was dumb, but not that dumb.

††††††††††† ďOh, now hold onóď I began.

††††††††††† ďAll right, here,Ē he said, extracting a tight foil packet from his pocket and thrusting it into my hand. ďThis guarantees Iíll be back.Ē

††††††††††† I looked at it, saw it was cocaineóor something that appeared to be cocaineóand nodded again. I guess I am that dumb. He disappeared up the steps, and I went into the bar, ordered a beer, and took a seat at a table by the door. I still had an hour until the bus left.

††††††††††† What the hell was I doing there? I didnít even like pot. When that beer was finished, I had another, then another after that. It was soon obviousóI think it was obvious from the moment he approached meóthat Iíd been scammed. But I hadnít been shot or beaten, it was only twenty bucks, and I still had the foil packet in my pocket. Annoyed at my own stupidity, I left the bar and headed back to the station. The rain was still falling lightly.

††††††††††† Once back in Minneapolis, I discovered that what heíd left with me as collateral really was cocaine. The fucking idiot. Heís the one who was ripped off that night. I started to feel better about the whole thing.

††††††††††† The results werenít quite as satisfying a few months later. My future ex-wife and I had flown out to San Francisco for a few days. She was trying to choose between three grad schools, and we wanted to get a sense of where we might be moving.

††††††††††† San Francisco was nice, I suppose, though I cracked my skull open on a street sign and we kept getting lost while driving. We flew back in to OíHare (she lived in Chicago at the time) still unclear as to what we were going to do.

††††††††††† In Chicago, unlike New York, itís fairly easy to catch public transportation at the airport thatíll take you back into the city, neat as can be. Weíd only been waiting on the platform for a few minutes when a train pulled in.

††††††††††† After the flight, we were tired, scratchy, feeling a little oily. We just wanted to get back to her place so we could clean up and sleep.

††††††††††† When the wide train doors slid open, I stepped aboard only to find my path blocked by a group of youths who appeared to be on their way out. None of them had any luggage, but maybe theyíd sent it on ahead. I didnít realize they were neíer do-wells and hooligans at the time. I was too bleary. I was just curious as to why they were standing perfectly still all around me, blocking my path, when the doors were open and there was plenty of room to step around me and leave. It was very odd. I was also curious as to why one of them had dropped to his knees in front of me, and was now lightly shaking the cuffs of my trousers. That, too, I found an odd custom. Iíd lived in Chicago for a couple of years and had never been aware of this as any kind of accepted greeting. Who knows, though? Maybe it was new. You never knew what kind of wacky business the kids would come up with.

††††††††††† Then they were gone. They never made a sound. Odd as it was, I thought little of it until I sat down a second later and noticed the lump in my front pocket was strangely missing.

††††††††††† ďAw, shit,Ē I said.

††††††††††† Yeah, it was the oldest trick in the book, the simplest of diversionary tactics, and Iíd fallen for it. So again after being ripped off, I was the one who felt like an idiot.

††††††††††† Comparatively, though, I suppose I got off easy again. Apart from the pain in the ass of replacing all the cards and the ID and the wallet itself, I hadnít really lost much. For the one and only time in my life, I was actually traveling with travelerís checks. What kind of low-rent half-wit uses travelerís checks anymore? Well, lucky for me that night, I was, and I actually received a refund.

††††††††††† So I guess Iíve been lucky in general that way. The two scams didnít cause much damage apart from some stained pride. And Iíve never been ripped off again, at least not in any obvious way. Maybe Iíve learned a little something. Thatís doubtful. More likely, penny ante thieves are probably just hesitant to scam a blind guy.


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