Do you remember saying goodbye to me before I left for my trip to Paris? You kissed the top of my head and said, “Be safe. Don’t do anything stupid.”
“Of course,” I promised as I got into the taxi headed for the airport.
Russ, honey… now don’t be mad but…
I kinda did something just a little bit stupid.
It was the fourth day of the trip. Toni and I were taking a leisurely stroll along the Seine, stopping to browse the wares of the various vendors. I felt so blessed to be there. The day was bright and it felt like only good things could happen – as though the sun was shining rays of luck down on us rather than the same old boring rays of light. Mere moments after I mentioned to Toni how much I loved you, we happened upon a group of six or seven elderly gentlemen gathered around a man crouching on the sidewalk. At first I thought he was a magician. He was shuffling three small boxes on a red square of carpet at his knees. He was asking those huddled around to guess where he had hidden a white marble. Of course, I realized almost at once that he wasn’t a magician at all, he was a scammer… taking the money of those poor elderly gents as they chose the wrong box again and again. It was a shell game.
I felt sorry for them in a way. It was apparent that their tired old eyes simply couldn’t keep up with this man’s flying fingers. But the crouching guy was smart… he let them guess correctly every once in a while to build up their hope and keep them coming back for more.
The thing is, honey, I knew where that white marble was every single time. It was almost frustrating, watching one man leaning on his cane guess wrong time after time. In exasperation, I pointed to the center box…
“It’s in the middle one,” I whispered to Toni. “I don’t see what’s so difficult about this.”
The swindler must have overheard me because he popped out of position and strode right to me. He pressed a 10 euro note into my hand and drew me to the middle of the circle. Before I knew it, I was crouching down too, scrutinizing the boxes, considering his insistent offer of double or nothing.
I decided to go for it. I felt like somebody needed to put this guy in his place. I reached into my wallet and pulled out ten euros to match his own. Suddenly there was a lot of angry hand-waving from the man and discontented mumbling from the grandpas behind me. The man disgustedly snatched the original bill out of my hand and snapped it in front of my face.
Oh. It wasn’t a ten. It was a fifty.
I stood up to go. “No, no. Merci, but there’s no way I’m betting you 50 euro.” I tried to back away but stumbled over a metal walker precariously supporting a man who must have been in his late eighties. I tried to apologize for my clumsiness. In response he reached into the frayed pocket of his wrinkled cranberry sweater and pulled out a fifty euro note.
Honey, two things flashed through my mind as he gently offered me his crumpled money.
- I totally couldn’t take this old man’s cash. He was disabled for heaven’s sake. He needed that money to keep the wheels on his walker oiled and ready to roll. And what if, by some fluke, the stupid white marble eluded me?
- That would NEVER happen, because I knew where the marble was, like six times in a row.
I knew I had to take the bet. I knew it with a certainty that in hindsight seems somewhat misguided but I felt like I had the potential to be a hero… to stand up to this rip-off artist and his hustling ways… to give the elderly men surrounding me some measure of justice or hope for a better, albeit limited, future or something like that. And I would get a good story out of it to boot.
I pulled out fifty euros to the cheers of the frail old men behind me. Toni later told me it was just a general murmur of approval, but at the time, I heard cheers. A man wearing a jaunty hat congratulated me with a hardy pat on my shoulder. I resumed my squatting position and concentrated as the scammer man arranged and rearranged his three little boxes in an arrogant attempt to confuse me. His movements slowed and he lifted his hands. Palms up, he invited me to choose. I pointed to the box on the left, confident and somewhat self-satisfied. He flipped the box over and there was only red carpet. The white marble was not there.
He was a magician!
I jumped up and shrieked!
And that’s when I learned that I can do magic too. With that single high-pitched yelp, I had managed to clear the entire sidewalk of every human soul except Toni and myself. The con-man scooped up his carpet, shushed me with a furious finger to his lips and took off down the walkway. The man with the cane – he disappeared. The walker guy in his cranberry sweater – vanished. The entire entourage (each of whom I now understand had their own unique role to play in this shakedown) had scattered.
My 50 euros? Poof.
I looked at Toni.
“Only you,” she said, shaking her head.
I couldn’t think of a clever response because the part of my brain in charge of self-preservation immediately started a mental list of reasons why you shouldn’t be mad at me even though I had just blatantly ignored one of only two simple requests you had made of me.
So, honey. I would like to humbly submit to you, in writing…
The Top 3 Reasons
Why You Shouldn’t Be Mad at Me for
Doing Something Stupid in Paris
Reason #1: What’s really important is that everybody is safe and that nobody got hurt.
Reason #2: In the end, it was a bargain. Yes, 50 euros is roughly $66.27. The whole experience was about ninety seconds long and both Toni and I learned a valuable lesson. So, if you give that lesson a monetary value of let’s say, $40, and divide it by two (for Toni and me) and subtract 30 seconds…the whole thing only cost about $12.50.
Reason #3: I promise never to do it again.
Russell, if it helps, I want you to know, I really enjoyed the whole experience. For that minute and a half, I was having the time of my life. Now, I must admit, for a couple hours after, I was acutely aware that you might not be as understanding as you usually are about this kind of thing. So, I’ve created a list of the trinkets and treats that I didn’t buy on the trip to try to make up for the money that I lost.
Sorry, honey. I actually bought everything I wanted exactly when I wanted it. I didn’t curb my spending at all. I couldn’t help it. For some reason, I wasn’t able to look at my run-in with this racket as a bad thing. It was a just a lesson learned. Another one of my “little moments” in a foreign place. Another entertaining story to add to my cherished collection.
I hope you are not mad. I almost didn’t tell you. But who doesn’t love a story with a surprise ending?
For those of you who have been wondering where I’ve been lately, I’ve been here: Journey Soulo. My good friend, Toni Takeno, and I have started a business that supports and encourages people who dream of traveling the world. We’ve got blog posts and videos, an online travel course designed to build courage and confidence, and we’re hosting a trip to Paris in May 2014. So, I’ve been a bit distracted. But I’m back!