THIS IS ONE OF 20 RANDOM LITTLE STORIES I’M POSTING IN ADVANCE OF MY 20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY IN NEW YORK CITY, WHICH WILL HIT IN THE FALL OF 2013. CLICK HERE FOR MORE BACKGROUND, AND FEEL FREE TO SHARE YOUR OWN STORIES IN THE COMMENTS – RANDOMER THE BETTER!
“Hey, can I talk to you for a minute?”
The man seemed to appear out of nowhere. He cut a slight figure in slim jeans, a collared shirt, and brown loafers. His energy was twitchy, his weight shifting from one foot to the other so that he almost seemed to dance above the pavement. He didn’t move towards me but put up both hands defensively. “Don’t worry; I’m gay. It’s not like that.”
I hesitated but kept my distance. It was already dark on Fifth Avenue and both sides of the street were deserted. I was a sophomore in college walking home to my dorm. Though my demeanor had grown a protective exoskeleton in the two years I had lived in New York, I still felt vulnerable from time to time. I started to utter an excuse and he talked right over it, pinning me to the spot with his words. He explained that he was a wardrobe supervisor for a feature film, and that he had to get a rack of costumes – very expensive costumes – uptown to the next location where they were shooting. He had to get a cab because things were already behind schedule but his wallet had been stolen, so he had no money and the shoot would be ruined – he would be ruined – if these costumes didn’t make it uptown.
“So I’m wondering if you’d be kind enough to lend me $20. I can pay you back; I’ll give you my card, you can write your address on it and I’ll send you the money. I’m good for it; I hate having to ask like this but I don’t have a choice.”
The man was well-dressed and tanned. He was older but well-preserved – maybe 50? He was clearly used to nice things, but I did not for a minute believe his story. I was more stunned than anything, amazed that he had spun this elaborate tale just to get $20 out of me. It was obviously rehearsed but he sold it well; I could see it working on a person less skeptical than the one I had become. Though short on details (where exactly were these “costumes” and what would he have done if I asked to see them?) his tale had a whiff of truth, and I imagined that at one time he probably had been involved with the film industry. Maybe he had been a costume assistant who was felled by mental illness or wrecked by a romantic entanglement with a designer he idolized, sending him reeling into a downward spiral that eventually led here, to running this scam on Fifth Avenue. Admittedly it was a pretty cushy backdrop for a hustle, but one that worked for his particular narrative.
I snapped out of free-associating his biography long enough to stammer something along the lines of “Sorry I don’t have any money”. I added a “Sorry, good luck” when he started to ask whether we could go to an ATM because “I’m really desperate here.” He delivered that last line with such conviction. I really was sorry. I believed he was desperate, though not for the reasons he gave. For a moment I wished I was more naïve, or at least rich enough – kind enough? – to overlook his obvious trickery.
Once he saw I was serious, the man seemed disappointed. He played the appropriate reaction and let his shoulders slump, sighing. I had probably seemed like a sympathetic mark. I started walking away, and quickly just in case. After a block I looked back – just in case – and saw that he had magically regained his dancer’s energy. His feet were animated again. I heard “I’m gay. It’s not like that.” He had already launched into his shpiel with someone else.