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“So your wallet is in your pocket?”
December 31, 2012 7:12 AM   Subscribe

Apollo Robbins is a spectacular pickpocket whose work extends to neuroscience, the military and magic.
posted by xowie (27 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
My business is basically a business of false assumptions — I create assumptions that look like reality and take advantage of those.

So he's an economist, as well?
posted by chavenet at 7:17 AM on December 31, 2012 [13 favorites]


What he does is really nifty, but it is magic (as discussed in the last link), suited for the stage, not the street, as it involves a lot of touching of someone. His findings on misdirection (in the third link) are fascinating, but I would think if he did that to someone on the street, they would have their hands on him, or would be chasing him down, in short order. Really interesting, though, thanks for the post.
posted by oneironaut at 7:28 AM on December 31, 2012


“Come on,” Jillette said. “Steal something from me.”

Again, Robbins begged off, but he offered to do a trick instead. He instructed Jillette to place a ring that he was wearing on a piece of paper and trace its outline with a pen. By now, a small crowd had gathered. Jillette removed his ring, put it down on the paper, unclipped a pen from his shirt, and leaned forward, preparing to draw. After a moment, he froze and looked up. His face was pale.

“Fuck. You,” he said, and slumped into a chair.

Robbins held up a thin, cylindrical object: the cartridge from Jillette’s pen.
Loved the New Yorker story. Thanks for posting this!
posted by zarq at 7:58 AM on December 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, that was a really interesting article.... wait a minute, where's my wallet gone?!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:43 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I got this cartoon with it; seemed appropriate
posted by TedW at 8:53 AM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


I used to wait tables with a guy who did up-close sleight-of hand as a hobby. He was good. If the place wasn't crowded and the table was amenable to it, he'd do card tricks and such as an accompaniment to the dessert course. Presenting the head of the table with his own pen plucked from his coat pocket when it came time to sign the check was always a big hit.

When our off days coincided, we hung out together, watching baseball and drinking beer. I begged him to teach me the rudiments of picking pockets. Pestered him, really. He'd demur, or teach me simple card tricks you can learn in any magic book. One day I insisted he show me the basics of the "lift".

In response, he handed me my wallet, my lighter, and my keys.

"There's your first lesson."

Sadly, things went south for him shortly after that. He's in prison on several burglary charges now. I don't know why he chose to break into houses when he could've just gone to the mall and made twice the money with half the risk picking pockets. Oh well.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:13 AM on December 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


Fascinating read, thanks for posting.
posted by arcticseal at 9:13 AM on December 31, 2012


Wow... what a great read on a lazy day off. I always wonder, though -- even if you're just working on this stuff for fun, how do you get good?
posted by ph00dz at 9:14 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


His findings on misdirection (in the third link) are fascinating, but I would think if he did that to someone on the street, they would have their hands on him, or would be chasing him down, in short order.

In the fourth link, that's pretty much what Apollo is saying in a complicated way. A magician can manipulate your attention with commands and touches, a street thief has to watch where your attention is and take advantage of it or change the outside conditions to improve his chances of stealing something. There's a reason pickpockets love crowds.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:18 AM on December 31, 2012


[...] it involves a lot of touching of someone [...] but I would think if he did that to someone on the street [...]

The classic "spill mustard on someone and insist on cleaning it off" is usually a two man job (one mustard spiller/cleaner, one thief) but it looks like this guy could do it as a one man gig no problem.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:42 AM on December 31, 2012


Magicians are con men. They will lie about their method and get you to believe in events that didn't actually transpire. I believe pretty much nothing described in this piece. I don't doubt that Apollo is a masterful pickpocket who has a great grasp of inattentional blindness, but quite a few of the stories seem frankly impossible, and that is probably because they are. That opener, where Apollo steals Penn's ink cartridge, was almost surely co-orchestrated with Apollo and Penn if it ever even happened at all. I am curious how much the New Yorker lets their famous fact-checking slide when reporting on magicians.
posted by painquale at 10:58 AM on December 31, 2012 [6 favorites]


That opener, where Apollo steals Penn's ink cartridge, was almost surely co-orchestrated with Apollo and Penn if it ever even happened at all.

That didn't seem even remotely unlikely to me, considering that he pulls almost the exact same thing on Tyson in the video.

In his shoes I would have lifted something from Penn the minute I met him and been desperate for a chance to set up a cool reveal.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:17 AM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


(although I don't disagree about him lying as suits him. The idea that he's spending pre-show time just scouting the audience as opposed to pre-lifting anything and everything seems silly to me.)
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:26 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Once in Ireland, in the early '90s, I saw two teenage girls on a block, separated by dozens of yards. The one looking down the connecting street at the corner said, "Here's one," and suddenly began acting "normal" - she didn't realize I could see them.

I figured them for pro beggars, and walked on. It was only later that I wondered what advantage there was to two beggars acting in concert. Now I know - they weren't beggars. If they'd been older, they might have known better than to use plain English signalling.
BitterOldPunk: I don't know why he chose to break into houses when he could've just gone to the mall and made twice the money with half the risk picking pockets.
I suspect you grossly overestimate the income of street performers - even in malls. Can't imagine a mall hiring a "professional pickpocket", either - making customers wonder about their money's safety is a terrible promotion.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:26 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also: I always though the cockney pickpocket Newkirk in Hogan's Heroes was completely farcical. Turns out, not completely...
posted by IAmBroom at 11:31 AM on December 31, 2012


IAmBroom: I, er, wasn't actually thinking of him using his skills to entertain...
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:03 PM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you've seen "The Two Live Crew Job" episode of Leverage, the one with Griffin Dunne and Wil Wheaton, you've seen Apollo at work -- he played Parker's opposite number. He also consulted for the show.
posted by rewil at 12:40 PM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's a reason pickpockets love crowds.

And working in groups, but the solo work also seems to be based on pretty simple principles of misdirection; using psychological and physical tactics. Loved what Gary Scott said in the first link:
“... I see a guy walking down the street with his wife and I want to beat her purse, I’ll walk up to him and say, ‘Hey, Coach, how you doing?,’ and I’ll reach across his wife to shake his hand. She gonna look straight into his face and be, like, ‘When were you a coach?’ And he gonna be looking back and forth between her and me, saying, ‘What coach?’ That’s when my hand goes into her purse, and I beat her.”
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:40 PM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


As the writer of the story, I swear that everything that I assert Apollo did, he did--at least the stuff that I actually saw. I did not see the theft of Penn Jillette's pen cartridge with my own eyes, but I did see him replicate it with other people. It's one of the more seemingly impossible things that he does but not, according to him, one of the more technically demanding.

Anyway, seeing Apollo do his thing in person is way more amazing than reading my description of it.
posted by adgnyc at 1:40 AM on January 1, 2013 [20 favorites]


It's a wonderful article--I see YouTube videos of him doing his thing, but I want them in slow-motion from the moment he approaches someone. As someone who does a bit of sleight of hand magic, it makes me want to try it out on my friends...though getting caught might be awkward...especially if my buddy did hae a hole in his pocket. (Of course, it seems his victims are wholly cognizant of his intentions at least some of the time--surely Jillete would have had his guard up prior to making the challenge.)
posted by whatgorilla at 2:00 AM on January 1, 2013


Watching the coin on the shoulder routine with the benefit of rewinding it, you can see a lot. It's still great--I love watching him remove watches, show the camera, then put them on (using his voice, eyes, hands, etc., to focus the women's attention away from whatever he's doing.
posted by whatgorilla at 2:08 AM on January 1, 2013


"A similar sort of underworld academy, the School of the Seven Bells, is rumored to exist somewhere in Colombia: the final exam tests the ability to noiselessly remove items from the pockets of a jacket rigged with bells."
posted by doctornemo at 7:54 AM on January 1, 2013


I loved that article, not just for the descriptions of the amazing tricks he does, but also because I'd never previously thought of pickpockets and other criminals making their livings by speaking at law enforcement conventions.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:36 AM on January 1, 2013


That's some Damn Fine Writing, Adam.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:50 AM on January 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


So I've just remembered watching, many years ago, a great film about a pickpocketing gang. I definitely recall a scene were a novice pickpocket is tested with a jacket with bells on it. A bit of googling suggests it might be Harry In Your Pocket. I'll have to track it down and check it out to see if it's the one I remember.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:15 AM on January 1, 2013


I just read this in the print edition. The opener with the stolen pen (Penn) cartridge was awesome, and I had to read it out to my wife, who was dumbfounded as well. I'm bummed to see it was already posted because I was going to set up a post for tomorrow. Great story!
posted by OmieWise at 3:32 PM on January 1, 2013


whatgorilla: Watching the coin on the shoulder routine with the benefit of rewinding it, you can see a lot.
whatgorilla seems to have linked from a mobile phone, and the original link wouldn't work on my desktop. Use this link instead.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:15 AM on January 2, 2013


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