May 7, 2007
Arlington Texas – Spring 2003
Its obvious he's running a scam. No one I've heard of sells brand new laptops for one hundred and sixty dollars. The fat black man sweating in the sun is laughable. But how far will he go with this? How stupid does he think I am?
“Where did you get it?” I ask.
"Best Buy" he says. "I work there." His racket is signing laptops as ‘lost items’ after each delivery, then selling to college students. But I'm not a college student. I live in a van. I have no money. He doesn't know that. And he also doesn't know I don't have a hundred and sixty dollars. Or that I've got nothing better to do but waste his time – all day.
I smile. “Let's see it.”
It's off campus he explains – across town. I tell him I have a van parked nearby, and we walk there. I open the door for him. He gets in. I get in. "Now, where is it?"
He directs me to drive to a medical office building several blocks away, where I park and he says, "I'll be right back." He gets out of the van and runs to the side of the building – out of view. And I wait – in the heat – for five minutes. He comes back holding a Best Buy flier. The kind you get from the Sunday paper. And he points to the advertisement. It’s a picture of a laptop. “This is the one I’m sellin!”
“Yeah so uhh... where is it?”
“In my apartment.”
“Then why are we in front of this doctor’s office?” This is dodgy. I can't place the reasons why he ran behind a doctor's office or why he's holding a Best Buy flyer, so I ask for an explanation. But he doesn’t answer me. Instead he says, “Come on man... You want the laptop or not? Let’s go!”
Of course. It seemed so simple. Continuing my act, I put the key in the ignition. Then something happens. Unplanned by both of us, but helping me waste more of his time. The van refuses to start.
My hustler friend curses – wiping sweat from his brow with a paper towel. We both get out, pop the hood, and peer at the guts of something that make no sense to either of us. Wires. Pipes. Alternators. Carburetors. We try fumbling with the battery – acting like we know what we're doing, yet have no idea. After fifteen minutes, we give up. The hustler wipes more sweat off his face. The van isn't going anywhere. Looks like the end. I'm disappointed. I didn't have a chance to get scammed. We never made it to 'the apartment'. We didn't get to have a final showdown.
“Hey! That's my parking spot!” There’s a man shouting. I turn to see him – dressed in scrubs – jumping out of a truck and approaching us. "What's going on?" He asks. "Van won't start." I tell him.
"Let me try." I hand the man the keys. He gets in, and we watch as he pounds on the gas with one foot while turning the key in the ignition. I’m not sure how this worked, or if there was a process to it – something I don’t understand, but the van starts. The engine is running. I thank the man, he hands over the keys, and the hustler and I continue this story.
As we drive away, the hustler says, “That was my friend! Good thing he helped us out.”
I start laughing. “That was your friend huh?”
“Yeah. My good friend. We go way back.”
“What’s his name?” I ask.
“So...” I say, “Where’s the apartment?”
“Just go this way.” He points.
“I have to admit something.” I tell him.
“I don’t really have a hundred and sixty dollars.”
He looks me up and down, as if he’s seen me for the first time. Then shakes his head.
“Shit...” He says. “How much you got then?”
“Fifty dollars.” I say. “That’s all I have.”
This is the point where any reasonable person – actually selling a laptop would ask me to pull over. Call the deal off. But I knew this was fake. The scammer – in all his greed – will go for fifty dollars. He won’t be happy about it, but he’ll go for it.
“We still have a deal?” I ask.
He shakes his head in disappointment. “You sure that’s all you got?”
“Yeah. I’m sure.”
“Shit...” He says. “We have a deal, but only ‘cause you’re givin’ me this ride...”
That’s his justification. I give him a ride to the apartment – he knocks a hundred and ten dollars off the price.
Then I see an Albertsons on the left side of the road. “I think they have an ATM.” I say “I could try getting more money.”
“Yeah, do that!”
So I pull over and park. We get out of the van, and start walking into the store. I don’t know what I’m going to do at the ATM. I don’t even have a bank account. I’m just wasting more time. It’s funny. He’s following me wherever I go. Into the store. Up to the ATM. And he watches me.
“Uh... I don’t have my card.”
“I just remembered. I lost my card. I don’t have it.” I tell him.
“Man are you playin’ with me?”
“What do you mean? I thought we had a deal! Fifty dollars right?”
As we walk away from the ATM, he looks angry. He wipes the paper towel across his face. We walk out of the store, and we get back into the van to drive away.
Soon, he points to a random apartment complex and asks me to park there. I park. We get out of the van.
And he asks again, “So... you SURE all you got is fifty?”
“Oh wait...” I tell him. “Here are some quarters.” I give him a couple of quarters. He gives me a sarcastic laugh.
“That makes fifty dollars and fifty cents.”
“Ok, well let me see the fifty dollars.” He says.
“Let me see the laptop.”
“Look man... You don’t know how it works.” He says. “My cousin is in that apartment up there.” He points. “He wants ME to have the money in MY hand as I’m walkin’ in the door.”
“Why don’t we both go into the apartment at the same time?” I ask – knowing there is no apartment. No cousin. No laptop. And last of all. No fifty dollars.
“Look, you want the laptop or not?”
My best guess at this point, was that we wanted me to hand him the money, then he would turn the nearest corner and run away. Beyond arguing with him, I didn’t see where else I could go with this. I couldn’t waste any more time.
“No...” I say, “Fuck the laptop. I changed my mind.”
I get back in the van and start to close the door. But the hustler holds it open. “You should at least pay me for my time.”
“I did. You got fifty cents.”
“How you goin’ to do me like that man!?”
Another man – unrelated – is seen walking down a sidewalk.
“See that man?” He points. “That’s my cousin!” I look at the man. He looks at us. He doesn’t stop. He walks past us, then into the apartment’s laundry room.
I jerk the door from the hustler. Close it. Then lock it.
He shouts, “You’re stupid! I’m a good person. You’re stupid for not trusting me!”
I start the van. I roll down the window. And I say, “And you’re stupid for thinking that scam was going to work.”
As I drive away he shouts.
“You misjudged me!”
“You’re a stupid asshole!”
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