The mind is ductile, very much so: but images, ductilely received into it, need a certain time to harden and bake in their impressions, otherwise such a casualty as I speak of will in an instant obliterate them, as though they had never been. We are but clay, sir, potter’s clay, as the good book says, clay, feeble, and too-yielding clay.–Melville
WHEN THIS WORLD CATCHES FIRE
BOOK THREE: SAVAGE NOXTOWN
CHAPTER TEN: PART SIXTY-FOUR: KINGDOM COME
“There’s a little bit of the confidence man in everybody,” said Count Victor Justin. “Every man has within him a moiety of devilment mixed in with a large dollop of larceny. The exception to this rule is either a sage or a saint or a damn fool. Or the world’s greatest liar. A truly honest man is one in a thousand. Take it from one who knows what he’s talking about. It all starts very early, this natural tendency. The crumb-crusher who wails and blubbers for a sugar-tit–ain’t he running a short con on his Mammy? And when he gets into the jam jar and says it wasn’t him, when the evidence to the contrary is smeared all over his face–ain’t that a baldfaced and a brazen lie? And how about the schoolboy who hasn’t done his homework? Doesn’t he nearly always spin some wild and implausible tale? Or when the office drone calls in sick from a king-sized hangover–or maybe so’s he can attend a baseball game–ain’t that a swindle? Or when he comes in to work and drags his heels because he just don’t feel like cooperatin’? Ain’t that some kind of grifting? A hobo who would pull that cute stunt in the jungle would be called a bummer, and worse. Or how about when the cake-eating Dandy of a husband begs off on Wifey’s opera night on account of some unspecified dyspepsia, when all he’s really doing is cadging for to play some hands of Eucre with The Boys down at The Club? Or how about the drunk in the tavern, whining for you to buy him a drink? He’ll wheedle and moan, and agree with anything you say, just so long as you keep feeding him his favorite brand of pop-skull at regular intervals. Or let’s consider this example: the old man who pretends to be as deef as a stone when he hears any palaver that ain’t to his liking, but will chime right in–when the conversation’s agreeable to his sensibilities!
”Of course, all that is for when you’re older, and settled some. When you’re just starting out,maybe you think the world is your oyster. You can headdue east or sky-
west or anywheres in between, and it don’t make no never mind–just so long as there’s lots of plump and willing skirts.
So what if you have to knock over a few banks on your way to the pleasure domes of Xanadu or the Opium Joints of Shanghai Alley?”
What you don’t realize though, is that the way of the Yegg is as follows–all roads lead to Crime Street….which is a dead end. One that takes you to Salt River…The Big House…and the Hot Seat.
That’s why developing a grifter sense early on can come in handy. Why run a risk of getting tackled in the midst of a snatch or jobbed in the middle of a cute little caper when you can use the short con to separate the sucker from his ooftish, and use smooth-talk to worm your way out of a beef? It’s very easy to put people off their guard. Usually, praising them for a quality that they wish they had, but don’t, will do the trick right smartly. Telling the tongue-tied oaf that he declaims wonderfully will earn you his eternal gratitude. Unless he thinks you’re making mock of him–but only one in twenty are slick enough to smoke you out–no, make that one in every fifty. Most people assume that when you praise them, you’re saying what you mean. Conversely, you can criticize anybody, just so long as you wear a smile and tell them you’re only chaffing ’em. These, of course, are simple stunts that any googling sprat can master. People tend to trust you if you look ‘dignified’. Don’t ask me why, but for most people, glimming a backwards collar means they’ll take you for being as honest as the day is long. There’s also a certain harsh tone that you might use with a recalcitrant dog or a small boy which practically demands obedience. I have found that the carny is the best school for teaching these little tricks. But any smart Yellof should be able to dope them out on their own.
“You can always smell out the brazen greenhorn on the lot of the Carny. He simply doesn’t get it. He don’t get it because he ain’t with it and for it. To him, it’s all just another day, another dollar. He doesn’t have that keen awareness of a way of life that people in the grifting trades tend to have. He hasn’t been wised up, and can’t nobody do it for him, because there’s no percentage in wising up a sucker–none.
“Most professional men, they’re so buried in their specialties that the rest of the time they’re like sleepwalkers. Doctors are the easiest folks to swindle–mostly because they’re so smart it never occurs to them that someone would try to put one over on them. Newspaper reporters have a tough exterior, and act as if they’ve seen it all, and they usually have, and yet they’re suckers for a get-rich-quick scheme if you know just how to appeal to their vanity and their sense of greed.Bankers are tough men to swindle–they tend to be highly skeptical in money matters–but it can be done, if the situation is auspicious.
“Jack Tars are some of the easiest marks.
They tend to be a bit slow on the uptake. They’re good at swabbing decks and trying knots, but they ain’t any too bright otherwise, with rare exceptions. When they get to shore, they like to go on a drunken revel. And whenever they’re in their cups, money drops from off’n their fingers. They’ll hand out huge, impossible tips. Keep that in mind, Yobs, next time you’re low on ooftish. It’s easy to roll a Gob. Hell, if you cozy up to them nice and snug, then they’ll practically hand over their shekels for the asking. Trapped aboard a floating coffin for nine-tenths of the year, it’s small wonder that sailors go wild when they reach good old terra firma. They’ll go after any female, or she-male too, for that matter. It’s like the old song says:
Maybe she didn’t get my letter,
Or maybe she found someone better,
Maybe I don’t want to be bitter,
So…maybe I might as well forget her,
For one is as good as the other,
They’re all the same–except for mother,
So maybe…I’ll find another.
BEANY AND CECIL
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