Why you should care
The streets are, apparently, crawling with trouser crime.
The J train is usually fairly empty toward my stop. It’s that close to the end of the line. It’s also the middle of the night. There are four other passengers in the subway car. They’re all sideways.
Nope, I’m sideways.
I must have knocked out hard. I’m lying on my arms and ribs. My legs stick out over the edge of the bench, bending the wrong way at my knees. I remember one time I’d nodded off and fallen out of a subway seat. That time, I was awakened by the sound of my phone smashing to pieces on the floor after it slipped from my hand. That time, a young couple had chuckled kindly at me. This time no one pays me any mind. This time I hadn’t fallen out of the chair either; I’d been tucked in to it.
I rise, furiously batting sleep out of my eyes. I hear the PA announcement when it’s halfway done. The conductor calls the next station — it was the one after mine. This is my stop. Lucky break! Last month I’d fallen asleep on a different line and woke up toward its end too, overlooking Rockaway Beach.
I spring up as the doors start closing, and get my foot between them before it’s too late.
A cool draft up my rear — I twist, glance behind me and see less pants than I should. The right backside hangs open, pocket filleted, plaid boxers exposed through a tattered opening. Everyone else is staring at it now too, staring at me. My state doesn’t concern them; I’m prolonging their journey home.
Well, what kind of sober idiot lets someone cut their pants off on a train?
Sean Blair’s father
That was my wallet pocket.
Was it? My dad has a practice of keeping his in his front pocket. It’s tighter, he’d told me, more in your eyesight and harder for thieves to get at. Wise dad.
I’m frantically, futilely patting myself. I duck and crane my neck, checking under and over and around the seat I’d been on.
I’m still holding the door. My wallet’s gone and my pants are cut open, but I really don’t want to miss my stop. The other passengers glare. They too yearn to reach their destinations.
Do I need glasses? I peer at the black floor, foolishly wishing I could squint a billfold into focus. It’s gone. The conductor yells over the loudspeakers for whoever’s delaying the train to get on or off. A man in the car grumbles and screw-faces me.
Couldn’t have watched me so closely earlier, eh? — like when someone pushed me over and cut through my pants and walked away with my stuff. I submit to my loss and step onto the platform. The J rolls off, its clattering along the elevated tracks fades and leaves me to my thoughts.
Neurosis kicks in. Someone has my credit-debit cards, my license with my address on it. I consider the nefarious things one can do with such info: Steal my identity, frame me, come to my home. I speculate on the phone about it to a girl I’d met only recently. She tells me matter-of-factly, “They’re gonna take your cash and throw out the rest. No criminal masterminds are picking pockets on the J at 2 a.m.” True, I can be taken by much less than a mastermind.
I’d had about $40. I hope no bigger loss stems from this petit larceny.
I err on the side of paranoia. The next morning I get a new bank card and head to the nearest precinct.
“So what happened, you were drinking too much?”
The desk officer puts his hands out, palms up, proclaims congenially, “No shame in it.”
“I wasn’t drinking.” Incredulous stares. “All I need is something on your letterhead that I can send to Equifax.”
An hour later, I’m informed I have to go to the transit bureau. Ah, yes, only transit can handle a case that happens on the train. They won’t handle anything elsewhere. I once hailed two transit cops to help with a woman whose husband was beating her just down the block from a station, but they refused and told me to call 911. Such is the frustrating maze of any city agency.
I’m in the back of a squad car. I explain the whole thing over again to the officers driving me from the precinct.
“That’s why you gotta be careful,” one says. “You be drinking? — Just take a cab. Even that is dangerous if you alone and sauced. Even for a man.”
“I wasn’t drinking.” Alcohol has never put me to sleep in any case.
“What was you doing?” she asks tenderly.
“Sleeping.” I don’t sound sarcastic because I’m not trying to be. I might sound embarrassed.
They leave me at a transit district with a friendly old detective.
He types me a report, intermittently glances at me over his reading glasses. “These guys, they go around the trains on weekends, you know. They look for people who been partying.” I hadn’t been, really. “People who’ve had too much and they pass out, like you…”
“I didn’t have any.”
“It’s OK,” he laughs.
I crack an exhausted smile, “Really.”
“Well, they nudge you a little bit,” he demonstrates, “and if you don’t wake up they’ll push you over. Then you still don’t wake up, like you?”
I sigh, “Yeah?”
“And cut your jeans open with a razor blade.”
“Good thing I didn’t wake up maybe.”
He shrugs, prints me the report for the credit bureaus. Listed next to the type of crime it reads “LUSH WORKER” — someone who works the lushes, robs the drunks.
Later I marvel to my father, “No one would just believe I fell asleep. Each cop I talked to kept asking if I was plastered.”
“Well, what kind of sober idiot lets someone cut their pants off on a train?”