'I've just been released from state prison, and I don't want to hurt anyone."
If you guessed it's from an old Clint Eastwood movie, congratulations -- you are an innocent tourist. The rest of us recognize this as the cry of the aggressive subway panhandler -- all except lame duck Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who thinks such low-level crimes are a relic of the past.
I was on the No. 1 train about a year ago when I heard those familiar lines: "I don't want to hurt anyone, I don't want to steal . . . "
A male rider cut him off. "Get off the train!" he demanded. "Stop intimidating people and get off the train NOW!"
Wow, who was this guy? Batman? The hulking panhandler immediately recognized our hero as a plainclothes cop and vamoosed.
Despite encountering more subway harassers lately and a reported increase in homeless subway panhandling, I haven't seen a single panhandler tossed from the train this year. Have you?
City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. has a theory as to why. "Police are much more hesitant to be proactive and approach people who may be committing low-level crimes because of the anti-NYPD sentiment that's been growing in political circles," he told the New York Post. Maybe. Whatever the reason, the recent chill in the air isn't solely because winter is approaching. I was riding the No. 1 train this weekend when a man who looked vaguely familiar entered the car. He told of his terminally ill wife and a hungry baby at home.
Say no more. Good-hearted riders started taking out their wallets and purses, including an elderly woman beside me. I recognized the man -- I saw him years ago telling the same exact story.
As he approached, I said, "I'm glad your wife's still alive after all these years, and healthy enough to have another infant." The man's eyes flashed fury, as the woman snapped her purse shut. I could see him calculating: Should he smile and say thanks, or strangle me and blow his cover?
Luckily, he chose the former and moved to the next car. There are multitudes of homeless people in this city who need help. These are not the people harassing you on the subway.
Despite the mayor's denial, subway panhandling is still very much with us. What say you, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio?
Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at newyorkgritty.net.