April 13, 2009

Operation Roast Duck Scores its First Success

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Merchants in Chinatown have been harassed for selling 'illegal' goods for as long as I can remember. When I first moved to Manhattan, I recall watching an exposé on the local 6 o'clock news about pet turtles that carry salmonella. It's against the law to sell them in NYC, and the crack Action News team managed, with their concealed camera, to film several of them swimming blissfully in a bowl, along with a 'for sale' sign and a price tag. An egregious offense, clearly suitable for 5 minutes of air time on a slow news day. They soon returned with their van and lights and the reporter, so they could pose the tough questions, but ended up merely chasing a 90 year old Chinese lady through the store and out the back door. The camera captured everything, except they failed to capture the woman, who escaped into the alleyways, so familiar to her from her many decades living there. On this day justice for innocent turtles and their non-handwashing prospective 5 year old owners would have to wait.

A few years ago, Mayor Bloomberg, Crown Prince of Capitalism, announced a crackdown on 'trademark infringement,' to protect the great institutions of retail, like Prada and Gucci, who need all the help they can get. While this crackdown had little effect on the roving band of West African men who set up shop on street corners, since, by design, they can bundle their goods back into a sack wrapped from the blanket on which they are displayed, the fixed retail stores of Canal Street experienced this new policing effort as a direct challenge to their business model. Change was in the air.

What happened is that they moved their counterfeit goods from the street displays and relocated them to the rear of the stores. That way the police couldn't readily spot them. Unfortunately, neither could their customers. And so, out of necessity, discreet runners were dispatched into street to mill about the sidewalk crowds. Any woman of shopping age would be approached, and stealthily, out of nowhere, an Asian woman would whisper into her ear 'Fendi bag. Fendi bag. Good price. Come in.' As quickly as she had appeared, she would blend silently back into the crowd.
It was a good plan and lasted a long time, but now, sadly, it seems that the mayor's hounds have caught the criminals in the slobbering jaws of Capitalist Justice. Whole rows of storefronts are locked-down. Lest the message be lost on anyone- anyone who reads English, that is- large fluorescent orange stickers proclaim the shameful charges 'CLOSED FOR TRADEMARK COUNTERFEITING.'

For me, the final irony is this: which factory in China where they make hand bags would be most readily-equipped to manufacture counterfeit Fendi bags? Answer: the ones that make 'real' Fendi bags, of course. And so once again, reality is the snake that swallows itself.