The Pigeon Poop Pickpocket Ploy as perpetrated in Barcelona is devious. We discover the original Pigeon Poop Perp, who pretends to offer goodness. In response, naturally, his victims trust.
The leisurely ploy is perpetrated by the “clean-you-off-clean-you-out” good samaritan impostor. Bob and I met many of his victims before we finally found him—or rather, he found us.
We’d been staking out a suspicious trio at Temple de la Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi’s spectacular cathedral and Barcelona’s number one tourist attraction. It was a long amble back to La Rambla. We zigzagged south and west block by block, with no particular pattern. It was a pleasant route we invented, strolling past fabulous architecture, under lush green trees, while a cool wind blew and pigeons cooed.
At the corner of Consell de Cent and Girona we saw a beautifully ornate pastry shop facade which reminded us of one in Palma de Mallorca. We decided we’d peek in, see if they served coffee. We were still debating and postulating about the pickpocket team at La Sagrada Familia as we crossed the street in front of the pasticeria.
How the pigeon poop pickpocket ploy works
As I stepped up onto the curb I felt a slight wetness on the back of my knee below the hem of my skirt, as if I had splashed in a puddle. Not impossible, since it had rained recently. The rain had actually been the day before, but I just sort of knew it had rained, in the back of my mind, without really thinking about it.
Reflex made me glance into the street for the source puddle but in that same instant I knew there was no puddle. I asked Bob to look at my back but I knew what it was. I was horrified and exalted simultaneously. We were about to meet a charlatan, a gentleman thief with a fiction, an ersatz Samaritan and the most elusive of pickpockets.
Bob confirmed my disgusted suspicion: I had thick blobs of brown yuck on the back of my clothes, and so did Bob.
In that instant of offended confusion, while we admired each other’s backsides and laughed and grimaced, before we could organize our thoughts in that tenth of a minute, a man in shorts swept up to us, map in hand, sunglassed and baseball capped.
“Iy, look,” he pointed out. We swung around. “Bird, bird.”
Where did he come from? Out of the blue, it seemed. Still, we knew who he was. We knew what he was.
“Come, I help,” he offered with compassion and authority, ushering us into the pastry shop we’d been headed for. He already had a neat pack of Kleenex tissues in one hand, a small bottle of Evian in the other. He was more prepared than we had expected. Bob put his video in record.
Employees didn’t seem surprised in the pastry shop. They observed our intrusion with the vague interest of ranch hands regarding mating dogs. The man-in-shorts pressed a tissue into Bob’s hand and turned me around by the arm.
“You clean,” he said to Bob politely but insistently, indicating my back. He didn’t want to appear unseemly. You clean her and I’ll clean you—out. That was the idea. We’d heard the story many times from victims. While the husband cleans the wife, the man-in-shorts cleans the husband. Rather, he pretends to clean the husband. What he cleans is the pockets. And disappears before you know it.
Neither of us were good researchers this time: I didn’t cooperate fully, out of repulsion. And Bob was too busy filming to do his part. He was supposed to clean me off. But every time the impostor coached Bob in his role, Bob just said okay, fussed with his new camera, and failed to come to the aid of his wife. How could he videotape the scam if he were a participant? But how could the game continue without all the players?
Our man-in-shorts got frustrated and tried to slip away. We managed to waylay him though, outside the shop. We tried to get him to talk to us, to show us his squirt contraption, to tell us where he’s from. He was insistent about no video, no camera, but he didn’t rush off too obviously. He backed away slowly, trying not to look suspicious. Finally, he broke into a little trot and dashed into the handy metro stairway. Was its proximity coincidental? We think not.
Questions about the pigeon poop pickpocket ploy and M.O.
Barcelona police, it turned out, had been looking for the man-in-shorts for years. They knew his M.O., his territory, and that he was Peruvian. And they knew he always wore shorts. That was it. They now had his scam and his face on video.
We walked back toward La Rambla looking over our shoulders, hyper-observant. Bob and I disagree on the participation of the pastry shop people. I say they were in on it. I say the man-in-shorts buys his bread there and always leaves a hefty tip. I say they were awfully quick to bring out a roll of paper towels and laundry detergent when the man-in-shorts left. I say everyone’s a suspect. Bob says it’s impossible, they couldn’t be in on it. It just happened to be the corner where opportunity struck for the man-in-shorts. He couldn’t do his thing on only one corner in all the city.
J. S. Brody, an advertising executive in New York City, was a victim of the man-in-shorts. He remembers being astonished at the amount of bird droppings on his backside and his mother’s. “What do you have here, eagles?” he’d asked. The pigeon poop pickpocket ploy had taken place several blocks away from the pasticeria. For the clean-up operation, the pigeon-poop practitioner had drawn them into the lobby of an apartment house. So much for my theory on location.
Exactly ten years later—to the week!—Bob and I were strolling in the same neighborhood when we were squirted once again. We were astonished to see recognize the very same pigeon poop pickpocket. Read about our reunion with the pigeon poop pickpocket.
Adapted from Travel Advisory: How to Avoid Thefts, Cons, and Street Scams
Chapter Seven: Scams—By the Devious Strategist