It was a nice little French cafe in Washington, D.C., chic and sophisticated. Why, look — it's an intellectual reading a book. You thought he might be hired by the management to give the place that Parisian feel. The fellow — bearded, of course — was staring intently at the pages as though some bold new concept blared from the words with brash confidence: Man is born free, yet everywhere he is in chain restaurants.
The cafe was a chain, as it turns out — something we learned from our French foreign exchange student, who had accompanied us to the nation's capital. It would be like a Minnesotan going to France and finding people excited about a restaurant called Perquins, "Where le syrup, she is of the twin berries, no? And the coffee is, how you say, sans le bottom?"
Anyway. We had a perfectly nice time, although I didn't get to ask the Intellectual what he was reading. He had left with the air of a man who needed to start a revolution.
Probably because he'd picked my wife's purse.
Because it was a French cafe, you might think the man would have wanted to steal a loaf of bread for his daughter, Les Mis style. No. He went straight to Target and charged $800. The card was declined, because Visa's computers do not believe that you suddenly appear on the other side of the country and buy a television set.
Did the clerk call security because this man was using a woman's card to buy a TV? You'd like to think so. You'd like to think a posse of the store's cashiers hustled him to a small red room and shackled him to the table. A monobrow brute with a badge that said "Target Police" stood in the corner, arms crossed. A smaller man entered the room; he was well-dressed, civilized. He opened a dossier.
"Ah, Jean-Froug LeChien. We have quite a file, as you can see. Security cameras; internet logs; Interpol reports. How nice of you to swim into our net."
"I'm not saying anything until I get a lawyer."
"An advocat? It is to laugh, my friend. No, there are no lawyers here. There is only justice. Brutus? Fetch the catheter from the fridge."
Of course that didn't happen. That will never happen to this crook. No one is interested in making him account for his crime. It's too much work.
We went back to the restaurant to tell them what happened, because you feel the need to involve everyone in your suddenly fascinating drama. Here's how that went, more or less:
"Bonjour," we started. "We were robbed in your charming French cafe. Yes, of course, French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhom famously said that property is theft, but this was theft of property on your property. Measure your next words carefully; a two-star Yelp review hangs in the balance."
"Oh, we're so sorry. Can we take down your name? We will discard the paper after you leave, but it might give you a temporary sense of satisfaction."
Wife spells name carefully and asks if they have security cameras.
"Why, yes. We will study them, and call you. We will pass the images along to the police. The police will send out the 1st Tactical Fraud Cavalry, which rides golden unicorns."
Then there will be justice, right?
"Yes, unless it's a movie and the thief is played by Ryan Gosling. Then he will be a sympathetic character, a rebel, living outside the law with a charismatic girlfriend who defies society's expectations, and they're looking for one last score. Then everyone will be rooting for him, and his victims will be portrayed as clueless, affluent parasites who deserve what's coming to them."
He did sort of look like Ryan Gosling, we confess.
"Then I'm sorry for you."
Of course, no one called. My wife needed a card for the rest of her business trip, so I gave her one of mine. She used it all over town. No one noticed she is not named James. I used a secondary card that had a PIN I forgot, so it got declined hither and yon, and I felt like the thief.
Moral to the story? Three of them. One: We should have an app on our phone that not only disables a card, but also causes immediate loss of bowel control if used. Two: without a card in a foreign city, you're reduced to pocket change, so carry cash.
Three: Don't carry cash. My wife had some, but the S.O.B. stole that, too.