A personal diary keeping people abreast of what I am working on writing-wise.

Monday, January 19, 2009


In crime fiction, the seasoned con man always tells the new kid that the simplest cons are the best. They are the most plausible, and you don't trip yourself up with unnecessary details. The person believes you, sometimes even against his better judgment, because the story is believable.

I've only ever succumbed to a street con once. It was in the mid-90s, and I was at San Diego Comic Con with Dark Horse (that's "Con" with a capital C). A group of us got hit with the gas can routine. The guy was allegedly Canadian, had been stranded, couldn't understand how mean Americans were because no one would help him, and totally sucked us in. I think he benefited from some kind of groupthink, because he got cash off all of us, and when notes were compared throughout the night, it turned out that he had probably made a couple of hundred bucks off of comics pros in one evening. No one wanted to be the one to say now while others were watching.

At least then I wasn't alone.

Some people know I pick up shifts at Floating World Comics here in Portland. Today I was working when a guy came in looking for help. White guy, beard, stocking cap--he looked like every dude in Portland. He was clean and polite, but exasperated. He locked his keys in his car, and he had a locksmith there to unlock the vehicle for him, but he was $20 shy. His wallet was in his glovebox, it had the money, but the darn locksmith would not open it without the cash. He was caught in a catch-22. He offered me his expensive watch, said he would be back for it, it was given to him by his ex-fiancee and it was all he had of her, it meant a lot.

I caved. I took the watch and gave him money out of my own pocket--which I told him was out of my own pocket because I did not want to get in trouble with the store if he screwed me. Which to me says some part of me knew I was getting screwed. In fact, I really don't think I believed him, I just felt sorry for him, putting myself in his shoes. What if it was true and everyone was so hardened that they could not help a guy in trouble, and what if that guy in trouble was me? I didn't want to say yes so much as I didn't want to say every cynical thing that went with saying no.

I've been dissecting the lie in my head for a little bit now, and I'm noticing the great, simple details. No wallet means no ID to give me. Some other guy is screwing him in a way that seems unreasonable, so now he's a victim and I'm thinking someone else is the jerk. Then there is the unnecessary detail of the fiancee, which was given as the watch was coming off, totally as if it just popped out, the messiness and irrelevance making it seem authentic.

A good con is a good con because it's all so believable.

Here is the funny thing, though. That watch? It's a Fossil FS3282. It's basically a $100 watch. It's running fine, though again, had I paid attention, I'd have noted it's about 40 minutes behind--which I just noticed now and makes me convinced even more that this dude is not coming back. That's a pretty expensive trade for $20.

Unless, of course, he's got a trunk of them.

And $20 is a pretty cheap way to buy away all my trust and make me even less likely to help someone who really needs it.

As it stands, I'm leaving the watch at the store until next time I'm here, just on the off chance something happened (because somehwere in me I am still a chump), and if it hasn't been picked up by then, I'm walking it to a pawn shop to see if I can get my $20 back. Unless someone who hates me for normally thinking I'm so smart wants to buy it and keep it as a trophy for how stupid I really am...?

Yeahhhh...wanna buy a watch?

Current Soundtrack Should Be: Elbow, "The Fix;" Nick Cave, "People Just Ain't No Good;" and of course, the Smiths, "Never Had No One Ever."


robert said...

I figure it's my best defense against the ridicule suffered for paying money to see Twilight.

Chynna Clugston said...

That watch burns my fingers, man.

David said...

I'm a little obsessed with stories about grifters. And that's a nice scam he's got there. I've heard of that one before. He probably could ask for more, and find a cheaper watch to use.

You basically paid $20 for a watch and a story.