I didn’t react in the traditional way to having something stolen from me: I did not feel “violated.” Although I certainly was, and the clear fact that I had been targeted as a plump “mark” will have me feeling so at some future point.
But for now, I have only a guarded awe for the way in which my pocket was picked on a cold, early night beneath the Arc de Triomphe in The City of Light.
The facts of the case are simple and mundane. There was the evening crowd of tourists jamming the Champs-Elysee to gawk at the street vendors and the garish neon of the illuminating holiday season. At the Etoile metro station was a Gordian Knot of those tourists jammed at the turnstiles leading to the trains. A pick-pocket’s erotic dream is what I should have been thinking.
I consider myself a savvy traveler when it comes to petty street thievery. I’ve read all the guidebooks, seen all the Dickens’ movies. I believe everyone I pass on a Paris street is a thief. (In the case of souvenir shopkeepers, I may be right.) I don’t carry a wallet. I keep my cash in a flat, non protruding mesh pouch in my front pockets, although judging by the immediate switch to English by French waiters greeting me, I assume I dress brassily like an American.
Nevertheless. I keep close counsel with my valuables as I amble about Gay Paree.
But there I was, forgetting a basic rule of thumb: Tight crowds of tourists are made to order for experienced pickpockets, for which I trust at least, mine was a seasoned professional.
I reached with my right hand to insert the metro ticket into the turnstile, leaving the right side of my torso unprotected for that brief moment. It was then that I felt a slithering along the right side of my pants leg. I thought at first it might be the peg of the turnstile, but then realized it couldn’t have been. On the other side of the turnstile, I reached in my right front pocket and my money pouch was gone. A little baggy filled with Tums was still safely there, but all my Euros now belonged to the Paris bureau of the King of the Gypsies.
But here’s why I’m not yet feeling violated: I was “done” by a pro, and I think a young one at that. The hand was in and out of my pocket with the speed and glide of a true reptile. The hand found the pouch with the money, but left the one with the Tums alone. (Okay, I think here he may have gotten merely lucky.)
But here’s where I think the genius lies: With no bulge in my back pocket, a reach to the front was rational. At the moment my right arm and hand were occupied with inserting and removing the metro ticket instead of available to guard my person. For this one moment, my right side pocket was unprotected and exposed. Et Voila, as the French say.
I failed to observe one of the cardinal don’ts of international travel: get caught up in a crowd of entangled arm and legs. But I have to tip my hat to the precision of my street urchin for him to see his mark and seize his moment with the élan and sureness of what is, I’m sure, a lifelong commitment to the purloin arts.
I may have even glimpsed my little evil genius. As I glanced back at the turnstile, I saw a young boy turning back into the gaggle, positioned exactly where someone who had just stuck his hands in my pants might have been.
I had no proof. I wished him well, though, and also that when he turned his night receipts over to the King of the Gypsies, the King might use the proceeds to acquire a painful STD.