The Bad Criminal

Wanted: Charlie BrownPart of the everyday fun of being neurotic and obsessive is the comfort that comes with doing a wallet check. This is typically a two-second pat on the wallet that confirms its presence and ensures that someone has not relieved you of its burdensome weight.

As I sit on the metro on the second leg of my daily commute (walk to metro, metro to tram, tram to work), I perform the first of ten to twelve daily wallet checks. When its absence is confirmed, my sweat glands signal a Code Red

The Code Red is downgraded to Code Black for one reason – I realize that it has not been stolen. I recall leaving it in my other pants, along with all my cash and my transport card. I use Code Black for when I must ride public transport without a ticket or transport card. To be caught without a ticket means a 1000Kč fine, which is about fifty dollars. The ticket inspectors, who we shall identify collectively as Honza, are a notoriously malevolent and mean-spirited group of subhuman. Honza sits on the bottom rung of the public servant hierarchy and he is ruthless and ornery, like an old man who’s just accidentally gotten a hysterectomy.

Honza’s appearance on transport is random, and usually means a fifteen-second interruption of my reading as I show my transport card. But today, his presence will mean far more. To be fair, though, the main problem is not Honza the ticket inspector, the problem is me. Hundreds of people ride public transport without tickets every day. It is that I can’t do it. And it’s not because of any moral superiority.

You see, I am a very bad criminal.

I have no ability to hide my guilt. I sweat, pace and keep my head on a swivel so active that I threaten a severe neck sprain. One can read guilt on my face as though it was written there in magic marker. I panic with disappointing ease and any time I do something bad, I get caught.

So, as I get onto the tram for the twenty-minute ride to work, I visit a world of crime that makes me terribly uncomfortable. I stand and fidget on the back of the tram not able to concentrate on my book. I analyze each man who gets on the tram, searching for the dull eyes and Paleolithic dome that most Honzas fashion.

The man who gets on the tram is wearing a faded blue jacket and trousers that were last washed during the Velvet Revolution. His haircut screams infomercial hair trimmer and his face is a calendar of gin blossoms and worry lines. His large build and beer gut are evident of the wasted potential of a high school athlete, and long-gone glory days that surely get related to colleagues at the pub. It is clear that this all has resulted in a pleasure at the expense of others’ misfortune.

In other words, a perfect Honza.

The man’s eyes find me and shine for just one brief moment. I wait for him to make his move. When in fact he does root around in his pants pocket for something, I am sure he is taking out his manhood-enhancing badge. The tram is nearing a stop and I decide that I am going to make a break for it, even though it’s three stops early. I get to the door and stare at Honza as he digs something out of his pocket. The door to the tram opens and I hop out, just as I see Honza removing a ticket from his pants and validate it in one of the machines.

“Oh well, it’s a nice day for a walk,” I say as I walk the rest of the way to work through the persistent rain. Besides, adrenalin is now pumping through my body as though I’d been skydiving. The rain keeps up till I get to my office.

The walk was nice, but I will probably borrow the 28Kč for the tram ride home.


  1. #1 by KTZ on January 23, 2012 - 3:10 pm

    Hahaha! I know this!
    I love this post! It made me laugh so hard and made my Monday better!
    Well done, Dame!

  2. #2 by H.L. on January 23, 2012 - 4:37 pm

    It’s actually only 800 crowns. And I never have a ticket. Tell me, if you are that neurotic, how do you survive in Prague? I’ve had numerous “discussions” with those Honzas, some of them ending in them threatening me with the police, one ended in my mother telling the ticket guy that “God loves you even though you are an asshole for fining us”, and another one included being touched in a weird way while being held up by one of them. Fun times!

  3. #3 by Andy on January 23, 2012 - 5:37 pm

    D, thanks for the much-needed laugh. the mental images this particular post conjured were just what I needed on a rainy Monday; I can almost smell the “spends most of his time in the dingiest, stale-kitchen-grease-filled hospoda” aroma wafting from his jacket…

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