Thoughts by Richard Bleil
As my nephew was approaching the age where he was just learning how to read a clock, I was living in New York City. I wanted to get him a watch to encourage him and headed downtown. I happened on a man who was selling Gucci watches from a briefcase in the street. I haggled with him and managed to get the price down to $8 for two Gucci watches.
Do you suppose they were actually Gucci watches? I certainly hope you realize that they were not real. When I sent them to my sister, I told her not to believe that they are legitimate. But was I ripped off?
I managed to get two watches (one for each of my nephews) for $4 each. I knew they were forgeries, but even if they didn’t last, they would help them learn to read time. I didn’t pay for forgeries, I paid for cheap watches that would encourage them as long as they last.
You cannot be ripped off if you walk into the situation with your eyes open.
Also in New York City, there was a homeless person every day and on every block between my apartment and my office, regardless of the weather. Two blocks from my apartment, in the same location, was a woman that was there every day. I know she was homeless even though there are many con artists that made six figures a year being homeless. These people were on the subway where it was warm and free of weather and wouldn’t be out if the weather was bad. She was always there.
One day, it was bitterly cold, well below zero. I was a post-doc, meaning I was doing research for an adviser and barely paid enough to survive, but I did have an apartment. She was bundled up in a blanket on the corner as I passed, so I stopped to chat with her. “Do you have gloves?” I asked. “No,” she said. Under her blanket, I could tell that she was taking gloves off of her hands. She pulled her hands out from under the blanket and showed me her bare hands.
But I knew. So, I gave her my gloves.
This might seem odd to some of my readers. If I knew it was a con, if I knew she had gloves, why would I give her mine? There is some practicality here. These were very nice ski gloves. Maybe they were better than what she had. Maybe not. But she wanted them. Whatever she needed them for, I was okay with. Maybe she planned to sell or trade them, perhaps for food, or maybe even liquor or drugs. Some might be rather upset to think that she used my charity for something like drugs or alcohol, but who am I to judge? I do not know her path. I know that if I were living in the streets, I might want a way to escape reality. Whatever her needs were, I hope that I helped her out, but I was not ripped off.
I knew I was being conned. Not only did I help her materially, but maybe I also helped protect her pride. Begging is a difficult thing. You can take this from me; it was not long ago that I found myself begging my friends for money for food, and a place to stay so I didn’t have to live in the streets. I found myself in this situation for several years and was blessed to have multiple friends step up to take care of me. Without these friends, I may not even be alive today to be writing this post, but I can also tell you that begging for help, as I did, is a very difficult thing to do, and very damaging to my pride.
Today, I have a man who comes around periodically (or at least did; a falling out with his family may have resulted in his leaving the neighborhood) asking if he can help out. He would offer to shovel my snow or do small tasks around the house. I could shovel myself, and yet I let him do it. This gave him a little bit of money while protecting his pride. And I’ll be honest, it’s win-win since I could stay warm. Recently, he came around to ask if he could borrow some money until payday. Well, no, I don’t lend money, but I also didn’t want to make a beggar out of him. I found something for him to do and gave him the money. I’m sure he’s smart enough to know what I was doing, but I’m glad I could help him out.