Criminals with literary style

In a Village Voice micro-mini interview, Luc Sante says he’s seeking more storytelling swindlers for his current project. “We need more articulate criminals, ones with a sense of literary style,” he says. My thought: just go to Penn Station on a holiday weekend, looking like a tourist. Hang a camera around your neck and walk slowly and crane your head a lot. Twelve people will materialize from the shadows and ask you for money to “get back to Boston.”

I should know. My first year here I gave those twelve people $5 each.

I used to be so nice. When I was in college, I’d sit down at Denny’s* to study, and if I didn’t have a friend with me some sleazeball would ask to sit down at my table. Did I say “no”? Did I express any reservations? Of course not. I smiled and moved my books and said, “okay, sure.” Never mind that the man might be bleeding from a knife wound.

He’d sit down across from me and ask for money or tell me his life story. One man broke down in tears and smoked half my pack of Reds. On at least three occasions a man — a different one each time — sat down and announced that he’d just gotten out of prison.

Sometimes my boyfriend would come looking for me at 3 a.m. and find me sitting there, not studying, jacked up on coffee and cigarettes, talking to a stranger and afraid to leave lest the man follow me into the parking lot and stab me.

Nowadays I’m mean. If somebody asks to sit at my table, I don’t look up from my book. “Go ahead,” I say, “but I’m reading.”

*Please understand that I am old enough that my college days partly predated the Denny’s racial discrimination brouhaha, and that at a certain time of night in Gainesville, Florida, it was Denny’s or it was Waffle House. Have you ever been to Waffle House? That’s all I’m saying.


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