Somebody has got to do something about crime in the streets. Every day it seems as though there are more criminals running loose out there, and the quality of their work is pathetic.
I base this statement on a crime experience I had recently in the streets of New York City while visiting Calvin Trillin, who lives in New York and divides his time pretty much equally between being a well-known writer and trying to park his car. This experience, which I am not making up, occurred as we were returning to Calvin's house at about 1 a.m. after an evening of business-related, non-personal, tax-deductible literary research.
Just as we reached his door, a criminal appeared from out of the darkness and attempted to rob us. Up to that point, I have no criticism of the criminal's technique. He had done an excellent job of victim selection: In terms of physical courage, Calvin and I were probably the two biggest weenies abroad in Manhattan at that hour. A competent criminal, armed with any plausible weapon, including a set of nail clippers, could have had us immediately begging for mercy and handing over our wallets and promising to raise additional cash first thing in the morning by applying for second mortgages.
But this criminal had a terrible plan of action. He had both hands in his jacket pockets, and he was thrusting the jacket material out toward us, the way the bad guy's jacket sticks out on TV when he has a gun in his pocket and he doesn't want everybody to see it. Clearly Calvin and I were supposed to think that the criminal had two guns pointing at us.
Here's what the criminal said: "I'll blow both of your heads off."
Later on, in our detailed post-crime critique, Calvin and I found numerous flaws in this approach. For one thing, if the criminal really had two guns, why on earth would he hide them? As Calvin pointed out: "You would definitely want to show your guns to a couple of schlubs like us."
Also, two guns was definitely overkill. According to my calculations, two guns figures out to one gun per hand, which raises the question: How was the criminal planning to take our wallets? Was he going to ask us to hold one of his guns for him? Was he going to have us stick the wallets in his mouth? If so, he would have had trouble giving us our post-robbery instructions, such as "Don't try following me!" or "Don't try anything funny!"
Criminal (with his hands in his pockets and our wallets in his mouth): Donghh ghry angyghing ghunny!
Criminal (getting angry): Donghh ghry angyghing ghunny!
Calvin: I think he's saying, "Don't I have a big tummy."
Me (hastily): No! You're very svelte! Really! Sir!
But the criminal's silliest move, in my opinion, was threatening to blow both of our heads off. That would be an absurd waste of bullets. A much more efficient way to gain our cooperation would have been to simply blow Calvin's head off. I would then have cooperatively handed over Calvin's wallet.
So it was a very poorly planned robbery. I would like to say that Calvin and I, even as we were staring down the menacing barrels of the criminal's jacket pockets, instantly detected all the flaws with our computerlike brains. But frankly, due to the amount of literary research we had done that evening, our brains were not ** so much in computer mode as in Hubble Space Telescope mode, if you get my drift.
Nevertheless I'm very proud of how we handled the situation. Actually, it was Calvin who took charge. You never really know what kind of gumption a man has, what kind of spine, what kind of plain old-fashioned "guts," until you see how he handles himself when the chips are down and all the marbles are on the line. Calvin looked at the criminal, and he looked at me, and then, drawing on some inner reserve of strength and courage, he pressed the intercom button and said, "Alice, let us in."
Alice is Calvin's wife. She buzzed the door lock, and we opened the door and went inside, leaving the criminal out there with his jacket pockets still pointing at us. He never did blow our heads off, although the next morning I wished that he had.
Anyway, it was a pretty sorry performance, and if he is in any way representative of the criminals out there today, this is yet another area where the United States is heading down the tubes. I hope that the criminal, if he is reading this, has enough self-respect to learn from the criticisms I've outlined here and get his act together. Although in all fairness I should warn him that Calvin and I have given our performance some thought, and if this criminal ever tries to rob us again, he might be in for a little surprise. Because next time we're going to take strong, decisive action. Next time, we're going to have Alice come out and give him a piece of her mind. *