Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Strange, wild night in the neighborhood.

As we walked out of my favorite, hole-in-the-wall, local beanery--Matt's Ranchero--a few nights ago, we were "bum-rushed" by a very sophisticated con man.

He looked well-to-do. Attired in a brown leather jacket, his hair perfectly slicked back, he approached in a hurry. He told us that his car had been struck by a hit-and-run driver as he backed out of the parking lot. His wife, driving their other car, had left before seeing the accident. He explained that his car was now leaking oil and he was afraid to drive it far without adding a quart or two.

He was so smooth and agitated just enough to be really convincing.

He had a couple of requests. He needed a "few bucks" for oil--his wife had left him without any money in his wallet. He also needed a ride to the local parts store where he could purchase the oil.

As we searched our wallets to help with his request, he grew nervous and a bit more agitated, as if he were in a hurry. He asked for my business card so that he could repay the $20 bill that Brenda handed him with the "at least $30" he would mail us.

As we were discussing my giving him a ride to the parts store (I was now growing a bit more than suspicious of his story), a van flew up to where we were standing and a young man dressed in waiter's garb jumped out and started yelling at the man.

"You scammed me and now you are working on these people!," he yelled. "You stole $30 from me and now you are out after other folks. We aren't going to let you get away with it any more!"

At that point another irate waiter arrived and the three of us "apprehended" the man and got him to sit down on the curb.

The police were called.

The man gave our money back.

As we continued to talk to the man, while waiting on the police, the first waiter continued to challenge the man, "I have a wife and three kids and I am in seminary and last week I gave you $30 and you are a con!"

The man began to plead for forgiveness and release.

When the police arrived, we left. The officer began to talk to the con man and the waiters. I expect that there was nothing much the police officer could do.

The con man was really about the best I've ever seen.

During the entire ordeal that followed the interruption of his hustle, the man seemed most concerned about his leather jacket. It had been pulled off of him as one of the waiters prevented him from leaving the scene. I imagine that the jacket was an invaluable tool in his game. It made him look so successful and "legit."

My feelings since this experience have been conflicted. I find myself feeling sorry for the guy with the game. What does it take to get to such a place in life? On the other hand, I was very angry with the deception and the fact that people like this contribute to persistent and unfair stereotypes of the homeless poor.

I also had to face the fact that the guy's con worked largely because he didn't appear to need anything! Had he looked more like he was living on the street, we likely would have responded differently and his story would have been much different.

Then, there were the two, young hard-working waiters who were justifiably upset with the guy who had worked them for a donation earlier in the week in the same parking lot.

Strange experience. Just when I thought I'd heard them all, I find out there is still a lot to learn about and with people.


Anonymous said...

Yesterday I got what looked like a personal air-mail letter on the outside. Inside was a typewritten letter written in a foreign language from Russia. The translation was on the opposite side. It was from a young man pleading for a Bible. Underneath was suggested amounts I could send to provide Bibles. I tend to think this was a scam because the letter was made to look so personal on the envelope.

Brady said...

The best scam is the one I haven't realized was a scam yet. Sometimes they are just that good, and you get stung without ever knowing it.

My son and I keep up on your work and read your posts regularly. Praise God for your work and passion. We are thankful for you and your co-workers.

RC said...

Larry you need to go to and read about the Church of God in Christ that gave a house free and clear to a Katrina "victim." The couple ended up flipping the house for $88,000 and left town heading back to New Orleans. The church was crushed. In my own personal life the con artist have done more to turn me toward cynicism. I find it to be the case that so many people who really need help are too proud to ask for it. I ask got often to help me to not to view everyone as a potential con artist, but it is so hard at times. Larry, how do you keep your compassion?

Larry James said...

Thanks for these posts. I know we have all had experiences like this. As to how "I keep my compassion," that is something I consider a gift from the community. I have the decided advantage of being in a community where most of the people around me and my world are "poor." They keep me honest and their hearts keep me inspired and going. So many good folks who are simply working hard at crafting better lives.

RC said...

Sometimes I think people must think I am drunk when I don't proof my post. The word "got" should be "God."

JD said...

The Katrina rip-off is particularly crushing to me. After everything so many people have done... what a rip. Well... we said from the beginning of the recovery that we would have to feed the greedy to get to the needy. We didn't have the time or resources to do backgrounds on everyone. We figured that God would deal with the theives. Hopefully by leading them to himself. Otherwise...well...