We stopped at Conway to eat. Interestingly, I had an interaction with a homeless man wrapped in a large, dirty blanket. He spoke with such a soft voice that I could barely hear him. I gave him $5. He reminded me so much of Omar from “The Wire.” As I waited for my wife to go to the restroom again, I watched the cashier take the bill from the young man and hold it aloft with the very tips of her fingers of her left hand. She didn’t realize that she was also making a very disgusted face as she did so. I’m not judging her. The young man didn’t either. He was laser-focused on getting something to eat. Whatever else was going on, his hunger was real.
After departing Conway, my wife and I had another conversation about being careful around people. Being a hypocrite, I ignored my advice several times already. I used to joke that someone beating me up might accidentally render me better looking.
I don’t worry about getting killed by a stranger, either. It’s obvious to everyone that pepperoni and Mexican food will be my assassins.
As my wife and I arrived at the hotel, we heard a car horn beep a few times. I didn’t see anyone. My wife thought it might have been directed toward us. In general, I ignore all horns until I have reason to believe they’re directed at me, such as the case when the hood of another car suddenly comes through my windshield. This behavior will serve me well, provided I survive to an older age.
On the third trip back to the car, I heard someone shouting. “Hey, you from Arkansas?” I heard a deep male voice shout but couldn’t discern from where it emanated.
I heard it again. As I walked toward the exterior of the hotel, a large man exited his car. Jokingly, I said, “Yes, can you tell by how dumb I sound?” He responded by saying he was from Arkansas, too, and proud of it. He couldn’t be a hog fan. It seemed odd. We were both in Arkansas.
The man had tears running down the right side of his face. He held out his right hand. In it, his driver’s license. My alarm bells rang like they might at a fancy wedding. He began to weave a tale about where he was from, his brother, a pastor, and his mom in a hospice home somewhere in what seemed to be at least two different places.
It’s important to note that in general, I’m a softie. There is an element of danger in these encounters. There are unicorns – cases in which the person truly needs a hand. Honestly, almost all of them are scams.
I gave no sign that I was aware of the long con unfolding in front of me.
As he talked, I already imagined his turn at the podium as he accepted his Oscar for Best Actor. He made Jennifer Love Hewitt look like an amateur as he spun his verbal gold to me.
I love a great scam if it’s creative and intricate. I consider it to be performance art.
He proceeded to tell me about his mom in hospice. He turned and said, “____, give me that envelope.” I didn’t catch his wife’s name. Until he said her name, I didn’t realize anyone was seated in the front passenger seat, despite it being fully light outside. I didn’t need to see proof of anything. His license had blown up the facade of his performance for me. I would have been a fool to cut his act short, however.
Nevertheless, his wife made an angry face and fished an envelope out of the console. The man reached inside the car to retrieve it. He opened it and then pulled out a letter that had seen much use. Across the top, it read “Hospice” something. He then mentioned his daughter in the car. I didn’t see her. His speech then went up three gears, and he recapped his initial spiel and fluffed it up with an additional fifty details. It was impeccable. It’s the best such rehearsed plea I’ve heard.
I got out my wallet and handed him a $20 bill. On a whim, I stepped toward him, very close, and reached out to him with my left hand. As his hand came up, I crossed my right hand over to shake his hand and gave him the bill. It’s difficult to describe, but the veneer of desperation he had on his face disappeared for a split second. I was watching his wife from the corner of my left eye. As I stepped toward her purported husband, her head swiveled rapidly toward me; her disinterest vanished as she seemed to go on high alert. In her defense, with my head freshly-cut, I do look like a skinhead weirdo. The reactions of them both convinced me they thought their scam was successful.
“I just wanted food, sir,” he said, even as the bill expertly vanished into his right front pocket.
I shook his hand and nodded. “Good luck on wherever you’re going and whatever you’re doing,” I told him. “I mean that.”
Before I even got back to my car, I looked back. Their vehicle was already disappearing around the backside of the hotel parking lot.
I don’t know how they’ll find him to let him know about his Oscar nomination.
P.S. I hope his mom stops violating the laws of physics by being in multiple places simultaneously. Had it not been dangerous to bring up, I would have gladly critiqued his story for him so that he could adjust from the errors I caught and improve his act. Practice makes perfect.