Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Still Gullible, After All These Years

File this one under the category of I can't believe I didn't know better. Apparently, the scam du jour in Petersburg is to make the rounds of the local businesses, telling the proprietors a sob story of the teller's recent release from incarceration out of state. Of the recent, lonely, dusty bus trip down as far south as he could afford, to The Burg to make a new start. Stop me if you've heard this one.

A young fellow came by the other day and gave me his version. It was actually the second recently incarcerated story I'd heard, which should have sounded some warning bells. But he was clean cut, neat, well-spoken, normal looking. He introduced himself with a handshake, came in and looked around for a minute, then left without buying anything or making any demands. I took him at face value, thinking that Petersburg, with its double the state's unemployment rate, was one heck of a place to pick to make a new start, but whatever. I wished him well, and he went on his way. A couple of weeks later, right after I opened that morning, he was back. He was trying to get on his feet and, cue the foot shuffling embarrassment, he hated to have to ask, but he had just gotten a job and a car, and lo and behold, he knew he shouldn't have parked it there, but, golly gee it was an honest mistake. It was towed. And he was short a very specific $17 to get it out of hock. He was exceptionally polite and earnest. He was deferential and respectful and willing to work for the money. He was also full of shit. I put him to work weed-eating in the mass of weeds that is my parking lot. Five minutes later, the weed whacker was conveniently out of string. I couldn't leave the store to go get more, so I told him he'd have to come back the next day. But he had to get his car out of impound today, he whined, or it was going to cost him an extra $25, which he, of course, wouldn't have. So I gave him $20, took and verified his phone number and told him to come back the next day to finish up. See it coming? It's like a horror movie. Groan now, and brace for gratuitous predictability. Of course, he didn't show up the next day, and he was unreachable by phone. I finally got ahold of him yesterday and told him I was bringing the weed whacker in today and expected him to come do his job. He showed up today, but because it had sprinkled a few drops and was threatening to rain more, begged off until tomorrow.

I had told this story earlier this week to my friend who is a fellow business owner here in Petersburg. Interestingly, she had already made the young man's acquaintance. He had insinuated himself into her business by asking to use the bathroom a couple of times, telling his prison story in the process. Today, she called me with a crazy happenstance. Mike came by and told her his car was towed again last night! He needed $18 from my friend to get it out of hock! Can you believe the coincidence? I can't. Especially since I've been in this downtown every day for over a year and have yet to see anything resembling parking violation enforcement.

So, shame on me. I've been all over the world and half of Georgia, and I still can't tell when I'm being had. But these kinds of incidents always lead me to wonder--is it better to be cynical and undupeable? Or is it better to trust and believe the best about our fellow humans, in spite of repeated incidents of evidence to the contrary? I have a theory called the Theory of Universal Justice. It states very simply that people DO get what they deserve, whether good or bad. We may not get to see it, but it happens every day. We don't get to be in charge of that, so we might as well not get our drawers in a wad about it.


Misty said...

If that theory is true, then your good deed done with good intentions will mean good things for you, whereas your lying ex-con/conman will not be so lucky. I'm of the mindset -- and I'm sure we both take some of this from our father -- that if there's someone I can help, I want to do it. Sometimes I'll be taken advantage of, and I am not going to hand over my SSN or bank account info by any means, but my willingness to do the good deed means more to me than whether the guy uses my money for getting his car back or buying some booze and cigarettes. That part's his problem.

Kristy said...

I agree. I decided a while ago that I don't want to be the kind of person who thinks everyone has an ulterior motive, and it takes a conscious effort sometimes not to be. I just wish I could find a happy medium, maybe learn to be a LITTLE more skeptical. For me, it's like an impulse. I hear that someone needs help, and I automatically start thinking, "How can I.../What can I do?" Even though I know that right now, they can probably afford their own $17 (or whatever the case may be) better than I can.