Besides those who are fast asleep and susceptible to becoming a rat's playground, tipsy straphangers are among the most vulnerable to theft on the subway. A special type of criminal the NYPD calls the "lush worker" knows when you've had enough to drink for them to cut away at your clothing and steal the $3 in your wallet plus those Groupons you printed out. The good news is that lush workers tend to be old, and there's only 109 of them left in the city.
"It's a lost art," Lieutenant Kevin Callaghan, a 20-year-veteran of the NYPD tells the Times. "It's all old-school guys who cut the pocket. They die off. It's like the TV repairman." Indeed, pickpockets in general seem to be fading from the city's landscape, replaced by folks who just grab whatever shiny Apple product an unsuspecting rider happens to be brandishing. There are so few of them that the NYPD can offer their exact number, and a distinct profile: "All but two are men, and overwhelmingly middle-aged or older, some born in 1947, 1943, 1938" and in one case 1931.
Transit Officer James Rudolph explains that first, the lush workers will "nudge [the victim] and see how incoherent they really are." If they're drunk enough, out comes the razor blade to free the wallet from their back pockets. "It's unbelievable they don't cut a person's leg wide open. They're like surgeons with a razor blade, for God's sake."
Victimized by a lush worker in Paris' Metro (we weren't even lush!) we can attest that their skills are formidable: we never felt a thing. And though the craft is dying, the old ones aren't giving it up. A 48-year-old suspect arrested for allegedly cutting the trousers of a 23-year-old victim at 3:40 a.m. in the Brooklyn Bridge station had 37 previous arrests, and was found with three razor blades on him. They're artisans! Look for 3rd Ward to offer a "lush working" seminar next fall.