Muggers took my Wall Street Journal

A read of the paper would suggest easier and less risky ways to steal, reflects Ian Williams

It had been years since any armed mugging in my part of Manhattan. That must be why local mugging skills are as attenuated as I discovered. After all, people lose their job habits and aptitudes if kept from practicing them for too long.

Such were my thoughts, albeit a little fuzzily focused, when I regained consciousness flat on my back in the wet, squinting up into the muzzle of a pistol that a young chap was pointing waveringly between my eyes while demanding: ‘Yo man! Gimme the money!’

Moments before I had been striding briskly down 155th Street, next to the old Trinity graveyard, whose signs claim it to be a ‘working cemetery’, a description that has always seemed quasioxymoronic to me. (No longer toiling there was Ed Koch, the mayor under whom New York reached its zenith of muggings, and who was recently entombed at Trinity.) Then these two knaves had jumped me from behind and conked me on the head with the pistol they were now waving in my face.

My primary emotion was indignation. ‘Yo!’? Whatever happened to ‘Excuse me’? Not to mention ‘Stand and deliver’ and similar formulations. You do not knock someone out from behind and then seek their co-operation in handing over valuables. Even when non-concussed I can never find which pocket I put my wallet in.

And so, wallowing on the ground thrashing like an upended turtle as I tried to get up, I started yelling, ‘Help! Police! Help!’ I was pleased to discover that even without proper use of my arms and legs, my diaphragm was in full working order. Instead of frisking me, the perp was too scared to get within grabbing distance, so he snatched my attaché case and ran off with his accomplice.

I did a quick inventory of my possessions. Mont Blanc fountain pen: check. New BlackBerry: check. Raymond Weil wristwatch: check. Wallet, with cash for once as well as the plastic credit cards on which I usually rely: check. Key fob, including the transponder for the car parked, ironically, 20 yards from where the incompetents pounced: check.

Missing was the case which held the Wall Street Journal and a copy of the New Scientist. The police later retrieved the discarded New Scientist, but the perps had walked with the WSJ. I could

police later retrieved the discarded New Scientist, but the perps had walked with the WSJ. I could not help thinking there was some sort of parable here. The miscreants had discarded real science for the WSJ’s dismal version of it.

My agent was quite taken with the idea of Harlem muggers making off with the WSJ, and pitched the story to an editor there – but maybe they suspected I had not taken the appropriate blood oath to Murdoch and Mammon. The word came that it would indeed be publishable, but only if I rewrote it as a hymn of praise for the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy, which a week later a judge ruled unconstitutional.

I was unconvinced by the rhetoric from the police chief. If his policy was so successful, where had the pistol I felt and saw come from? In reality, crime tends to follow economic cycles more closely than police policy posturing.

On the bright side, if they had read the paper, my muggers might have realized that risking a life sentence for armed robbery is a mug’s game. The stories of SEC ‘agreed’ settlements might have persuaded them that there were easier – and much less risky – ways to loot the citizenry.

Having said that, if they had read on to the op-ed pages they might well have felt philosophically justified in mugging people on sound Randian principles, and in resisting any government attempts to interfere in the free market by regulating the practice.

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