Category Archives: Crime

The one where A Brit Out Of Water becomes a criminal

Having been brought up on a TV diet that included regular feedings of ‘Cagney & Lacey’, I have to say that I was pretty nervous on my first trip to New York City. Not because there was a possibility of being forced to spend an evening in the company of Tyne Daly and her long-suffering Harvey, you understand. But for this sheltered youth who had spent most of his formative years in a small town in North Wales, it seemed that the streets of New York were paved with people whose sole mission was to relieve me of my cash. Or my life.

To be fair, New York wasn’t exactly a sleepy little village fifteen years ago. Giuliani had only taken control of the city the year before, and the area around Times Square was still a den of pornographic iniquity. Not that that was necessarily a bad thing for a hormone-heavy youngster, obviously. But while crime rates were beginning to fall across the country, New York still had plenty of hoodlums and gangsters to call its own.

As it was, the only criminal I came across was me, convincing a barman to serve me a beer or three despite the fact that I was only 20. Nonetheless, my perception of New York as a city where crime never sleeps lived on for many a year.

After last night’s commute home, I wonder if that feeling will ever truly go away.

Stepping onto a train at West 4th Street, a tall woman pushed me out of the way as she narrowly avoided the train’s closing door. No crime there, obviously – barging people around is practically a legal requirement in this city, after all. But it did mean that I least noticed her, particularly as she quickly gave me an evil stare as if to question how I had dared to get in the way of her aggressive shoulder charge a few seconds earlier.

The good thing about the New York subway is that if you happen to find yourself in the same carriage as someone slightly irritating, it’s a fair bet that they’ll be getting off in a few minutes. Not this woman though. In fact, she stayed on board for a full thirty minutes, finally getting off at the same stop as me. Still, there are plenty of trains coming through that particular station, and as I stood waiting for my connecting train, I thought no more of her.

Until she stepped through the same door onto the same train as me a few minutes later, that is. And then got off the train at the same station as me about six stops later. And turned the same direction as me once she reached street level. And proceeded right exactly like I did at the first junction. And crossed the road in the same direction as me across the nearest avenue.

Given that I was following her this whole time, I suddenly became convinced that she was going to think that I was stalking her. After all, I had effectively followed her all the way from Manhattan, following her merciless bashing of me in her attempt to get on a train. Now she could easily be thinking that I was tracking her down to exact my revenge as soon as my opportunity came.

Unfortunately for me, my ‘target’ then proceeded to walk directly down the street that leads past my house. Despite being frozen to my core, my paranoid New York crime-aware self kicked in, and I forced myself to take a long detour just to prove to everyone around me that I was no criminal. I almost felt like taking out a loudspeaker and broadcasting “I am not following this woman” in order to clear up any confusion.

Just to be on the safe side though, if anyone sees Sharon Gless in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn over the next few days, do me a favour and drop me an email. They’ll never take me alive, I tell you.

There’s honour among thieves

As a great philosopher once wrote, “we had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun.” Well to be honest, it was the Belgian songwriter Jacques Brel, but he sounds like a philosopher so that’s close enough for me. My suspicion – based admittedly on one trip to Antwerp nearly ten years ago – is that the Belgians know precious little about the sun, but being a Brit I’m probably in no position to argue.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, seasons. Seasons are one of those long-abandoned concepts that used to mean something, but have now been consigned to the dustbintrashcan of life, like Spangles, Cremola Foam and John Leslie. Or, if you’re an American, maybe Marathon bars, Shelley Long and ‘the respect of the rest of the world’. Although thankfully at least one of those appears to be making a long overdue comeback.

In terms of food though, seasons sadly seem to have vanished. As a kid, I used to eagerly look forward to the first strawberries of the year, or to the coming of tiny little Jersey Royal potatoes that tasted directly of the earth that they had come so recently from (thinking about it, it have been that taste principle that prevented me from ever eating the rhubarb that grew over the septic tank in the garden of my Little Chef Cousins). Everything had a time of year, and there was nothing you could do but await its arrival with the legendary patience of an 11 year old.

These days, there’s nothing you can’t find all year round, from tomatoes to asparagus. And to be honest, the world is probably a worse place because of it. The Special One and I are trying to do our own little bit to right the world back on its axis by trying to be locavores who only eat things grown within a certain distance of your home. Given that we live in New York and eat the occasional banana, tomato and avocado, we’ve pegged local as roughly “within 3000 miles” for the purpose of our experiment. After all, we’d have no friends left if we only cooked butternut squash and beetroot for five months of every year.

With California having ruined the concept of the plant world’s season, the United States has co-opted the word ‘season’ for many other things that Brits never seem to use. In Britain, the only non-climate related use of the word season is essentially a reference to the eleven and a half month cycle in which footballsoccer is played. In America, you’re never short of seasons, from the collective noun for a series of TV shows to the period of time when the Oscars, Golden Globes and Grammys take place (‘awards season’, obviously). Although in sports, it’s less about the season and all about the post-season (if you’re a Liverpool fan reading this, the post-season is the point during the year at which you look back and realise you haven’t won the league again).

Walking into the subway the other day, I noticed an LCD sign urging me to keep my jewellery safe. Having quickly taken off all my bling and stashed it in my bag, I read on. Apparently this time of year is “chain snatching season” and people need to be more aware of the risk of having your necklace snatched from around your neck while travelling on the subway system.

Criminals are clearly so much more civilised in America. To provide the best possible service to victims everywhere, they have obviously created a season system in which particular consumer products are targeted at specific times of the year. You always know where you are that way. It’s my guess that chain snatching season ends in a few weeks, to be replaced by the umbrella grabbing season. And by the time the sun is out, we’ll all be able to sit back and bask in the joy of plain old honest-to-goodness purse stealing season.

I can only hope that criminals who don’t stick to the season system are thrown out of the Thieves Union. After all, nobody wants their iPod targeted when portable music device nicking season has just finished, and the briefcase purloining season has just begun, do they?