I wonder if crooks sit around being nostalgic about the good ole days, back when you could rob a house or a bank with a gun and an attitude or get payoffs in white envelopes at the local pub, run numbers for everyone in the neighborhood, commit a little fraud there, a bit of blackmail here and drive around in a big car with two muscle boys named Zack and Boris.
These days, ubiquitous surveillance makes all that an iffy proposition. And 90 percent of what you used to steal is just not worth stealing any more. Who needs a TV or any other electronic gadgets when you can have them for the price of a meal at a so-so restaurant? Cars are about the last big item worth stealing, but they come with so much security you need four years of college just to crack one open. These days, every criminal needs to be a specialist. You can't even use a god-given talent for blarney to con people because legit salesmen cornered that market. Every hustle once the proud property of fast talkers has now gone legit in any and every business. Young guys at the computer store who don't shave yet can out-con the best of them with talk about gadgets that didn't even exist the day before yesterday. Phone companies and credit card businesses run scams that would make even the best old street hustler seem a rank amateur. Pickpocketing in a crowded place still has some cache, but few people carry cash anymore, and it's hard to steal passwords from a person. The clever criminals these days follow the technology, of course. The Internet is where the pickings are, and anyone with a good grasp of hackery can make a good living at it, but that leaves the old-timers in the cold.
Crime hasn't always been such a young person's game, but then everything is these days, legit or not. The young have a real lock on the world and they are using their advantage like they were trained as Manchurian candidates. For a look at how the young are trained to cut throats, take a look at their teacher, Donald Trump. And don't even talk to me about pimping: casinos and congressmen run all the whores. About the only old-fashioned criminal endeavors left are drug dealing and muscle. Drug dealing is somewhat imperiled, too, by the big drug companies, where all the real honchos operate, but there is still room for the nickel-and-dime street guy here and there (if he has a cell phone). The only thing that hasn't and won't go out of style is muscle, but there is big competition out there for the meanest muscle, because legit outfits like Blackwater are intent on getting all the merciless muscle off the street and onto the payroll.
The old criminals sit around playing cards these days and watching themselves being romanticized in TV shows. The real crooks buy the commercials for those shows.
Andrei Codrescu's latest book is New Orleans, Mon Amour: Twenty Years of Writing From the City (Algonquin Books).