Regress and the Rabbit

The First Essential Scary Truth

After a recent showing of Iron Man, one of the women who sat in my row started to scream hysterically when she found her wallet missing. Management called the police in and we were detained for a few minutes for their report. Not that I saw anything. I was too busy trying to get into my dates totally inappropriate mini-skirt.

“Did you leave your bag on the ground?” The cop asked.

“It was hanging on my left knee.” The victim replied.

The cop shook his head disapprovingly and continued writing. When the cop asked me if I had seen anything, I looked over at my date and her transparent, but stunningly effective, attempt to get my attention. I demurred.

“How come nobody saw anything?” The victimized woman asked aloud.

Old New York is making a comeback. Panhandler’s are in your face six hours a day, a friend of mine was mugged in a gentrified neighborhood and I even saw a three card monte game the other day right at 44th and Broadway.

My long dormant street sense has come back in force. I’ve been looking over my shoulder more, not walking close to walls at night. I am certainly not looking anyone in the eye anymore.

Regress, there’s no stopping it.

The people who came to New York during the Dot Com and building boom of the late ’90’s came to a city that had been scrubbed clean by the Giuliani administration during its ‘War on Quality of Life Crimes.’ These days, your average New Yorker is not the street smart individual celebrated by the Hollywood of old.

The problem is the hustler’s in this town aren’t that good anymore. They’ve been out of the game for so long, their skills are rusty. They are willing to take unnecessary chances like crawling around one of the screening rooms that pass for movie theaters these days. They haven’t thought about what might happen if they were caught.

“We arrest them; they pay a fine and get out.” A cop friend of mine told me. “They might lose a day or two of hustling but they’re back at it soon enough.”

It was then I realized that, once again, the Old Man was right about something: the Rabbit was the greatest hustler the world had ever known.

The late Bernie “the Rabbit” Steinberg was a man who’s angles had angles. Short and balding, the Rabbit looked like a cross between Einstein at his least scholarly and Woody Allen at his most nebbishy. He used to pick up prostitutes from the McNichols and Woodward Ave. stroll and after they had completed their business, he got the hooker to take a personal check. When she took it to the bank, the check would promptly bounce.

The Rabbit ran the movie house hustle at least once a week. Granted the movie theaters were much larger then so it must have been easier to crawl around and look in women’s purses but getting caught happened on occasion. Bernie, however, wasn’t about to lose a moment of hustling to jail time. If he was caught, he carried a doctor’s note that said he was a pervert and couldn’t help looking up women’s dresses and skirts. (A gambit I am sure would still work in these utterly naive and grossly politically correct times.) Yes, the Rabbit had to return the cash or wallet he stole but the police let him go on his way.

Needless to say, Mother never let him in the house.

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