Sunday, October 03, 2004

Theft and Extortion

Have you ever seen someone steal newspapers out of a newspaper machine? Meaning - they pay for one paper and take several? Or all of them?

This is just so depressing. So tragic. So annoying. The newspaper machine may just be society's last honor-system-based business transaction. You put in some change, you take a paper. Do you really want to see the day when newspaper merchants are forced to come up with some thief-proof machine that dispenses indivdual newspapers?

All over our society, we adopt a paranoid, defensive stance - evidence of the lowest common denominator. Inside the locker room of my members-only gym (home of the man ass) I'm expected to put a lock on my locker. (And for good reason - my dad recently had the credit cards stolen out of his wallet in his gym) This implies, doesn't it, that we're dealing with thieves who have gym memberships. That the guy next to you could be a thief. That you, conceivably, could be a thief. When I take a towel at the gym, I have to leave my membership card with the towel guy. So I can't steal the towel. Every day we go through this transaction - I hand him the card, he hands me the towel. The unspoken message: "Aha, towel thief! I have your card. Let's see you try to steal this one!"

I don't blame the gym for doing this. They've probably had towels stolen in the past. But the thief did more than just steal a towel, he eroded the trust level to the point where me and the towel guy have to go through this daily ritual. That's the legacy of the theft.

The other day I was playing poker at Binions, center of the poker universe. A fine card room. I had noticed my chair was a little wobbly, but it didn't bother me so I ignored it. About an hour into my session, I stood up to stretch. When I sat back down, the chair collapsed under me like it was oragami. I tumbled over backwards, sending two drinks flying as I flailed my arms, and ended up laying comically splayed on the floor. Not my finest moment.

Within seconds, three poker room personnel were at my side, helping me up and asking me if I was okay. I was fine. A little embarassed, maybe. But unhurt. Someone snapped his fingers and a new chair was brought over. A guard came jogging to the scene, followed by the security manager. Did I want to go to the emergency room? No. Was I sure? Yes. Would I mind signing a statement declaring what happened? Sure, I guess. An engineer arrived, and he and the manager started examining the busted chair to see why it had broke. The manager called surveillance to flag the tape. The guard presented me with a form to sign. My driver's license was taken away to be photocopied.

As I started writing the statement, other players came up to me to offer some quick advice. I heard things like "Son, if I were you I wouldn't sign shit." "If you want to talk a lawyer, you might be looking at anything from 5 to 50 grand." "You heard about that one woman at the Orleans? She slipped in the bathroom, now she's got a room for life."

I brushed these guys off, finished writing the form (which had questions along the line of who did I blame for the accident, how much personal property was damaged, etc) and eventually life went back to normal.

The whole incident was kinda funny, but also kind of sad. The casino was clearly terrified of little accidents like this. They had a whole procedure ready for someone falling out of his chair. The other players were like jackals - licking their chops, wishing it them that had the good luck to be in the busted chair. Some bystanders were wondering aloud if I should at least be offered a dinner. I had to explain patiently to many of them that I wasn't interested in seeking legal redress. Because, simply, I wasn't hurt. To sue them would be nothing but extortion. To ask for favors would just be greedy.

I don't know. Wouldn't it be nice if people weren't presumed to be thieves? Wouldn't it be nice if people didn't just presume I'd be eager to extort money from a business simply because I fell out of a chair? Let's leave those newspaper machines alone people. Those little boxy machines are the only things left in society that don't assume you're a greedy, thieving worm. Have some respect.

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