Literary Art

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"Jason Hayes, or The Pickpocket"

Nick Guarino

Jason Hayes
Or The Pickpocket

I can’t honestly say what was lost
Whether it was hope or meaning
Whose absence has found me hollow: exhausted.

What is lost is, no time to lament the cost
Grimace, an’ smirk,
See the spectacle, an’ enjoy the viewing
I can’t honestly say what was lost.

“You want to know about me? Ok. Um, I don’t really have a five year plan or anything like that. But I do have a dream job. A noble profession; not at all like the reputation they get from the liberal media. I want to work for Black Water U.S.A. Now I know what you’re thinking but I’m sure they’re predominantly good citizens: God fearing, family oriented, with a… Milgram sense of morality and that’s at least average. Right? That’s pretty good for mercenaries and you can’t argue that they provide society a service. Only, truth be told, that’s not at all why I want to join. I want to go to be a nuisance. God; what could be more fun than that? You get to see the world, just screwing around, without all the formality and boring stuff that goes with the real army; and the real plus—the real icing—you get a gun so you don’t have to think how to get people to listen. I’ve applied several times but so far no luck. They’re surprisingly selective. Well, fingers crossed…
“I have a hobby! It’s pretty unique, as far as I know.
“I hate the term ‘pickpocket.’ I’m not a criminal. Though it’s probably the closest thing to what I do. Criminals steal things. I’ve never stole anything in my life, honest. I’ve never even been in trouble. I play a game. Now, this game requires similar skills to pick-pocketing, but actually, come to think of it, it’s the exact opposite. I’m what you might call a reverse pickpocket. What I do is I take my wallet and I place it in some stranger’s pocket.
“Believe me when I tell you this is no easy task. It takes years of practice, incredible concentration, a steady hand, and most importantly of all, on top of everything else, you must concentrate on not concentrating (it’s very Zen)—you can’t look like you’re concentrating or you’re toast. Your body language or your facial expressions can betray you. It is vital that you learn to control them.
“Ok, that’s part of it but that’s not the game; not really. This is what separates me from your common criminal; at this point a pickpocket is done but this is really where my game begins.
“Now it’s no good just letting them go home with your stuff. So now that they got it, you need to confront them with this information somehow. You could simply tap them on the shoulder and tell them ‘I think that you have my wallet.’ But what’s the fun in that? (Although I have done that to a handful of old ladies, just to see their astonishment and to roll my eyes as they say, ‘I have no idea how this happened.’) The real fun is in going to an authority figure, a bouncer or a cop, or if they’re smaller than you just punching them in the face in front of their girlfriend.
“You know this whole time that I’ve been describing this little habit, I’ve been trying to remember how long I’ve been doing it an’ I truthfully can’t tell you. As long as I can remember, I mean, as a boy, I used to break my favorite toys and cry to my mom that my brother did it. I guess I’ve been working on my act from then on. And to be honest after 25 years sometimes it gets pretty boring and I wonder why I am still doing this. It becomes like a compulsion. But, oh God, sometimes it’s so good it just completely restores your faith. You feel giddy for a solid week. There’s nothing like it. The last time was like that. And to be honest that’s probably the only reason why I’m telling you about this hobby of mine in the first place. Sorry if I sound overly sappy—it’s all I could think about for days now.
“I was at a club. A trendy place, with tricky lighting that made the place glow a neon rainbow and at the same time just barely illuminated all the tricky people in their tricky outfits. I spotted some guy, grinning, with an Appletini and a firecracker redhead. I carefully slipped my ragged wallet into his white linen pocket. None of the bobbing faces noticed. A man alone is far less interesting than techno or pheromones. No one noticed. I slid away, keeping tabs on him out of the corner of my eye.
“It is vital to allow for this time in between the placement and the reveal, absolutely vital. The whole goal is to be as shocking as possible. In order to pull this off you must give them sufficient time to forget that they ever stood next to you. If you do it well it’ll be the last time they ever forget.
“Based on my previous description you probably think that I chose him because in some way I disapprove of his lifestyle. The truth is that he just had an accessible pocket Although I did go to that club because self-important people fall more dramatically, which doesn’t make me a Marxist; I just like a good show.
“As I was saying when the time was right I let out a ‘Goddamnit’ and walked across the room towards Mr. Appletini. I contorted my face to look as mean as possible. I took every step with great resolve. Everyone noticed, not the least of which was Mr. Appletini: he stared at me wide-eyed wondering if I was really coming for him. I grew closer. My chest heaved, his froze. There was no hesitation (except from him). I grabbed him by the shirt. I pulled him into my fist. I caught him on the chin. His head whipped back. He staggered back. He tripped over a leg behind him. I glared at him sprawled out on the floor. Every other eye was on me. I soaked it up for an instant but only an instant. I only had 30 to 40 seconds before the bouncers came and I had to win over the crowd before then. That firecracker redhead dropped just half a hesitation later; like a marionette might if the puppeteer had a heart attack, she fell to console her lover. Her hands belonged to his cheek, but her eyes, her eyes where my mine and they burned. You should have seen it. The crowd grew restless. Some of the burlier guys with girls to impress inched forward. I dropped my voice an octave: ‘That’s what you get you fucking crook.’ The change in the crowd was thick. I was no longer a lunatic to be feared, I was a ticket to a show.
“All of us, no matter how non-confrontational we claim to be, love a good drama. God knows I do. I love the theater. I think that’s why I do it, it’s like going to a good Marlowe play, no it’s like living in a play he wrote just for you. If you don’t know him you should. Why there’s not Marlowe in the park, I’ll never know.
‘Thinke not that I am frighted with thy words,
My father’s murdered through thy treacherie,
And thou shalt die, and on his mournful hearse,
Thy hatefull and accursed head shall lie,
To witnesse to the world, that by thy meanes,
His kingly body was too soone interred.’

“Beautiful. Um…where was I? Sorry for all the tangents. I’m not a very good story teller. Anyway, um, I had just called the guy a crook, right? Right, good, on we go.
“The crowd delighted in this explanation but the two on the floor looked just as stunned as ever.
“‘I’ve never met you before in my life’ said Mr. Appletini, more as a plead to the mob than as a dialogue with me. (By the way, he was wearing that appletini.) The bouncers were now only about 10 to 15 seconds away: time for the reveal.
“‘That’s true but you still have my wallet in your pocket,’ I said.
“‘That’s ridiculous,’ sparked the firecracker.
“So I said, ‘Oh, really honey, then why don’t you take a look?’ (It is essential that you don’t ever grab the wallet yourself otherwise they think it’s some sleight-of-hand trick.) She grabbed. She found. She slapped. Laughter. By the time the bouncer showed up I had won. The situation took care of itself: the bouncers escorted the man out to the sound of great applause. I wanted so badly to take a bow. But instead I just smirked and listened to the pops and cracks of the firecracker.
“‘What the hell is wrong with you?’… ‘You don’t need the money’… ‘What, am I not enough thrill for you?’… ‘Don’t give me that, I found it in your pocket.’ What a sizzling beauty.”
Jason stared off, nostalgic, then recomposed himself, came back to the office he was in and rejoined his audience. “Is there anything else you’d like to know?” he said.
Jason was content as he looked across the indiscriminate steel desk at the befuddled man scratching the hair on his head. Now this man had only a horseshoe of hair, so normally he treated it like gold but his befuddlement demanded he scratch something.
“And how does this qualify you to work here at Orange Julius?” said the man at the other end of the desk. As he spoke his befuddlement became airborne and Jason caught it, his eyebrows furrowed, and he looked up at the corner of the wall and the ceiling. “Well I hadn’t thought of it. I guess it proves I’m honest.”
The man at the other end of the desk let just the faintest smirk come across his face; and his gut that was 40% Orange Julius jiggled just slightly. He was a serious man, he had a respected mall refreshment business to manage, he didn’t have time for anything so fantastic as Jason. He stood up, shook Jason’s hand from a safe distance and told him that they’d let him know.

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