Barry Smith: Irrelativity
Aspen, CO, Colorado
BROOKLYN, N.Y. – I am so excited when the subway emerges from its tunnel and begins racing across the Brooklyn Bridge. The florescent-tinged subway car is suddenly flooded with golden sunlight, a stunning city view presents itself in the previously black windows, and the whole thing is just the excuse I need to go over and kick that guy really, really hard in the ankle.
But I have to make it look like an accident. This is crucial. I have to appear to be a tourist who doesn’t know any better. “Oh, what … y’all don’t kick each other really hard in the ankles here in New York? Well, that’s weird.”
Having lived in Aspen for 20 years, I know a bit about how to look like a tourist. You just have to be sincerely enthusiastic about things the locals are too cool to notice. So I jump up and peer out the window at the New York skyline, a look of tourist elation on my face. Then I cross to the other side of the train for a different view, and as I do, … I kick the guy really, really hard in the ankle.
See, I have to wake him up somehow, but I can’t do so in the traditional manner because a rather scary-looking dude is trying to pickpocket him – and has been for the past half hour. The guy, the victim in training, is sound asleep. Snoring. The thief is hovering over him and has his sights set on the computer bag, which is wedged between Sleeping Beauty and the armrest. Every minute or so, he’ll reach down and give it a tug, and the sleeper will snort and change positions, sometimes pulling the bag back into place but clearly still sound asleep. This has been going on for a while now.
Christina and I are watching this whole pocket picking unfold and are working hard to size up the situation to figure out the best course of action. We’re tourists – no need to pretend – on a subway bound for Brooklyn, are totally out of our element and aren’t completely clear on the rules of this particular jungle. I desperately want to help out, but I get a strong feeling that this thief isn’t going to take kindly to me interrupting him while he’s at the “office.” Sure, I’d feel good about lending a hand, but that might not make up for the inconvenience of having just been stabbed.
But I can’t just do nothing. If this dude were to wake up, then everything would be OK. And that’s why I “accidentally” kick him. Perfect solution. He wakes up due to my inept tourist bumbling, and I don’t have to share a subway car with a thwarted, angry thief who would, after wiping off his knife, certainly turn his attention to my luggage.
I’ve got luggage with me, for God’s sake! On the subway!
But my plan doesn’t work. I turn from my window-gazing to find the sleeper still asleep. Only now he has his legs tucked in.
Sorry, dude, I tried. Now I just have to return to my seat and watch the rest of this predator-prey relationship reach its inevitable and uncomfortable conclusion. I want to do the right thing, but I also want to make good choices. How much responsibility do I have for someone who isn’t taking responsibility for themselves? Should I put myself and my family at risk over whatever this guy has in his bag that he’s not even willing to look after? If only I could just go up and tell that thief to take a hike without it ending in an ambulance ride. People don’t actually say, “Take a hike,” in real life, do they? See what I mean? As much as I’d like to fancy myself a bit of a Charlie Bronson, I’m clearly much more of a Charlie Brown.
We get to our stop, the last stop on the line. Doors open. The thief goes for his final big move, wresting the guy’s bag from under his sleeping arm, not about to go home empty handed. As we’re walking past, my wife stops, pauses and then turns and yells, “Hey, you need to wake up! Somebody’s stealing your stuff!” The thief looks directly at me, visibly shocked that his actions have been spoken aloud, and then disappears up the stairs.
The sleeping guy has – surprise – slept through the whole thing. I give him a shake.
“Dude, you can’t fall asleep on the subway like that. Somebody was trying to rip you off.” I reach down and give his computer bag a slight tug to demonstrate.
“I know, I know,” he replies.
Then he curls back up and closes his eyes.
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