The Street Swindle


25 September 2006





Sure, I have seen it happen on TV shows and in movies and you silently say to yourself, “How could that guy be that stupid to fall for that trick, scam, swindle?” Well, it is different than in the movies or TV when it actually happens to you or at least it was, when it happened to me.


Since my son moved to New York City to go to school some years ago, I have visited NY many times and I should have known better but…..


I think it was on my second trip there that one morning, my son, my wife and I all went out for breakfast at a local dinner and being the quickest to finish the meal, with the last bite down the hatch, I headed outside for a cigarette.


On the sidewalk of Manhattan, taking in all the sounds and smells and the concrete and the people and yet, not seeing any of it as suddenly I heard, “Excuse me, could you help me?” I turned and met a mid-twenties, well dressed, black man staring right at me. “Sorry,” I said, “What did you say?”


“I was getting into my car and my keys dropped down the storm drain and I don’t have the money for a taxi to get home and pick up my other set. Could you help me with maybe $20? If you give me your address I promise to bring you the money or mail it to you.”


Now this guy was no hobo or homeless person and he was educated and spoke well and was respectful and could have been in any line of work and hey, sure, I had my doubts but then again, why not help?


So out comes my wallet and I pull a twenty dollar bill out and hand it to him and begin to put my wallet back into my rear pants pocket when he says, “Oh, your address?” and so I pull my wallet back out of my pants and pull out a business card and then he says, “I am sorry but I really need $20 and you gave me a ten.” “What?” I think to myself, I was sure I had given him a twenty but there in his hand was a ten and so back into my wallet I go although I was pretty sure by now that this was a scam, swindle, con job.


Now with a twenty in his hand and my business card and most likely another of my twenties in his pocket, he thanked me and headed on down the street. Now I have no evidence to support it but I suspect he knew as he walked away, I knew, he had just “taken me to the cleaners” and that was the sum total of the transaction.


Of course I felt stupid but on the other hand, if there was a chance he was legitimate, then I had really helped him and that is all I can ever do: try.


Of course I never received any money in the mail from him. After the mix up on the 20, with me being sure I had given him a twenty to begin with, I really never expected to hear from him. I had been had.


Now in the grand scheme of things, this whole event is really not all that significant but like most things that happen to me or others or just happen at all, it makes we wonder.


I wonder who he really was? Did he really drop his keys down some storm drain, I really did get the ten and twenty mixed up and he just forgot to send me the money? Was he really a street con man? Was he a full time street hustler or only a college student earning some extra dollars? Was he a regular “Joe” just scamming for the fun of it or to practice his real job of talking people out of their money over the phone or in some department store? As he was educated, spoke well and was dressed well, why not a regular job? Where does one go to learn the art of street hustle? Is there some school in NYC where you are trained how to pick pockets and talk people on the street out of their money? Did he have a pimp like I understand many prostitutes have who take care of them or provide clothes, protection, whatever, in return for taking a share of the daily “take”? How much could he make in a week, a month, a year? In my case, I gave him; I am pretty sure, $40 and let’s say that he gets 2 people a day, minimum, to give him $40 or $80 a day, 5 days a week for $400 a week. That comes out to $20,000 or so a year, which really would not keep a person in “high cotton” in NYC. So this was a part time gig or he worked it hard and made more than $80 a day or worked more than 5 days a week. Does a street hustler, hustle, for all his life? What sort of career movement does one have in that profession? Does he have favorite spots he works or does he just move around the city as he feels like it? On and on I could go about this guy who took me but you understand some of my wonders about him.


Then there is the wonder of: “why me?” Here I am standing on the sidewalk, smoking a cigarette and I don’t dress like some rich person and didn’t think I looked like some hick or tourist but there must have been some reason he decided on asking me for the money. Oh, I know, he probably asks dozens of people in any one day as what I think he does, street hustle, is surely a numbers game with perhaps only a hit or 2 all day long but still, he has to pick targets, marks, based on something. What is it? Could he have some predator instinct about him that senses that I always want to help, if I can? Or was it that I just looked dumb, stupid, naďve? Was I too wrapped up in trying to sense out the city that I became isolated in my own little world and he could feel this or see this in my body language or movements? Perhaps I did not stand like a native; smoke a cigarette like a native; dress like a native? There must have been something.


And I wonder why I always feel so compelled to want to help? Oh, I will never change and so from time to time, I am sure I have given money to a homeless person who used it to buy wine or beer instead of food or “bettering” him or herself somehow but that does not stop me from wanting to help, share, but I do wonder where this attitude, desire, came from? Does it come out of all my Christian education as a child? Many people get Christian education but they would never give a homeless person a dime and surely they would not fall for the old “car keys down the storm drain” trick. But me, I will and do.


As I said, in the grand scheme of things, the whole street swindle is not of much consequence but still, one of those things in life that you wonder about afterwards.


Oh yeah, do ants sleep?


For more Ron Stultz writings, click here.