In Paris, that hand in your pocket may not be your own.
Like everyone else who has been to or even heard of Paris, I am thoroughly aware that the city is teeming with pickpockets. Nonetheless, I always find it shocking to actually see one in action. One of the times I found myself thus shocked remains particularly memorable. I had gone to meet a friend of a friend, a woman from Los Angeles who was in Paris just for the day. I was supposed to show her around Montmartre. For the sake of the story, I’ll say her name was Linda (I’ll say just about anything for the sake of a story).
We met at Anvers Métro, where Linda promptly informed me that she had just been pickpocketed and had lost her wallet. In addition to her cash and credit cards, which was bad enough, it contained a receipt bearing the code for opening a self-service baggage-check locker at Gare de Lyon, which in turn contained her suitcases, which in turn contained jewelry that she traveled with for her business and that represented a non-negligible percentage of her net worth. We decided to head straight for the station to find out whether or not she would be going home with nothing but the clothes on her back and in a lower income tax bracket.
Not that I’m blaming the victim, but Linda was carrying a big, wide handbag slung over her shoulder that had no zipper, clasp or closure of any kind at the top. Pickpockets love that design. Combined with the wide-eyed “I have obviously never seen this before” facial expression that characterizes every first-time visitor to every city on earth, it emanates a signal, like a GPS instruction for miscreants: “Shove right hand into green shoulder bag in 5 meters.”
For reasons I don’t now remember, we arrived at Gare de Lyon in the RER suburban trains section, where you have to put your Métro ticket back through another turnstile to exit. I went first and turned around to see if Linda had gotten through all right. She hadn’t: she was stalled in front of what for her was an unfamiliar mechanism, looking for the ticket slot. The exit was crowded, but the next guy in line didn’t seem to be at all bothered by the delay. He was standing calmly right behind her with a patient, placid look on his face. And his arm buried up to the elbow in her handbag. As though she had anything left worth pilfering, I started yelling and pointing, “Linda! That guy has his hand in your bag! Right now! That guy right there!” etc., etc.
She hadn’t noticed a thing — or lost a thing, since one of his esteemed colleagues had beat him to the withdraw, so to speak — and as we rode up the escalator I filled her in on what had happened. Conveniently, I had a great visual aid for my explanation because the cutpurse himself was two steps behind us. “That’s the guy!” I kept saying, pointing at him from less than 3 feet away. “Him! Right here behind us!” Meanwhile, the Stealth Glommer, who hadn’t technically committed a crime, at least not in the past couple of minutes, elaborately ignored me.
We ended up finding Linda’s luggage undisturbed, but here’s the thing: having observed him in action, I came to admire old Furtive Fingers. He took his vocation very seriously. He was dressed and groomed in a way that could only be described as nondescript, presumably to make it harder for people to notice him before a piece of work or recognize him afterward. And throughout the entire time I was practically screaming about him within what was clearly earshot, he maintained an unruffled, expressionless air, casually staring off into space as though to say, “I’m nobody, going nowhere, doing nothing, just minding my ooooooooown business…”
He was so slick, so smooth, so impeccably professional, he must have practiced in front of a mirror. I imagine he made a decent living if he put in a good dishonest day’s work Monday through Friday. I starting wondering what his life was like, and decided that he probably commuted to his job every day from a nice house in an upscale suburb. And went home to the wife and kids every night just like anyone else:
“Honey, I’m home!”
“How was work today, dear?”
“Terrible! An empty wallet, a fake Rolex and a big, wide open handbag with nothing in it but keys and Kleenex. What’s for dinner?”
“Oh good — my favorite.”
“I knew that’s what you’d pick.”
“Let me just change into something describable.”
“Speaking of clothes, your tailor called today. Your new suits are almost finished, but he wants you to come in tomorrow to choose the pockets.”
“Could you come with me? I’m terrible at that kind of thing.”
“Sure. Now hurry up and change. We have to eat early — the kids’ school musical is tonight.”
“What are they doing?”
“Oliver. Rob has the lead and Nick is in the chorus.”
“Oh no — I hate that play. It gives felons a bad name.”
© 2011 Paris Update
An album of David Jaggard’s comic compositions is now available for streaming on Spotify and Apple Music, for purchase (whole or track by track) on iTunes and Amazon, and on every other music downloading service in the known universe, under the title “Totally Unrelated.”
Note to readers: David Jaggard’s e-book Quorum of One: Satire 1998-2011 is available from Amazon as well as iTunes, iBookstore, Nook, Reader Store, Kobo, Copia and many other distributors.