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Con Artist Kid

Here’s a story I wrote last month. It was originally published on my tumblr, and was one of the very few posts there that was more then a few scant paragraphs of my own writing. I tried to convert to tumblr as an arena for long posts combined with quick fun reposts of cool creative things I find online, but tumblr’s quite demanding, and I found it too easy to churn out short posts than the long ones about my personal projects that I tend to post on WordPress.

Therefore I’m back on my WordPress blog, though I’m changing it up: now WordPress is solely for longform blog posts, while I’ll constrain my fun snippets to my tumblr account. Also, I’ve got a few new projects that I’ll be discussing on WordPress. There’s a link to them and to my Tumblr at the top of the page.

And now the story, complete with the original caveat I posted on tumblr.

I’m normally not a fan of writing about my own life, since it’s not normally entertaining enough. This is almost an exception to both normalities… but I still embellished the thing, so it isn’t quite.

“Ahh, so close! Shoot shoot shoot!” was what brought the kid to my attention. I had been daydreaming, as usual, but he was loud enough that everyone waiting in line must have heard him.

“I just need one more dollar!” he said, in a voice that was a bit too loud. The voice was too flat, as well, missing the proper emotion. My time in a speech and debate league had taught me that voice well: it was the dulcet, theatrical tone of a bad actor.

Two packages of batteries lay on the counter in front of him. The kid continued shouting, “Sooo close. Aw, Man!” I was disbelieving for a moment, but his sidelong glance at his captive audience convinced me: he was gunning for a free dollar.

He managed to lock eyes with me, even though I slide them away a half-second later, instinctually and causally looking past him. I was a pro at avoiding eye contact. The trick is to not dart your eyes away, but move them gently.

“So do you want to get just one, then?” the cashier, a middle-aged woman with a creased, heavy face that probably deserved better than a bright red Sheetz uniform, asked.

“But I need two! Otherwise my smoke detector won’t work!”

A smoke detector.. was that a lie or the truth? The kid had an oversized body and an undersized chin, but he looked about twelve. Maybe a dim-witted fourteen. I often judge people’s ages by their apparent intelligence. It’s the only half-decent indicator, in my opinion, and even that isn’t saying much. As far as lies went, it was a good one, and I doubted he could come up with that quality. I decided he was probably telling the truth.

He keened a bit more, glancing around a bit more. The cashier waited. No one else noticed. Finally, I had to step in.

“You know, there’s better ways to do that,” I said to him. “If you ask someone straight out, they’re more likely to feel pressured into giving it to you. It’s just a dollar, so odds are, they care less about losing the money than they care about looking selfish by refusing to offer it.”

The kid kept his mouth shut, staring at me with an expression eighty percent confused, twenty percent guilty. The cashier couldn’t decide between affronted or amused.

“Try, “Excuse me, sir, but I can’t afford to buy the batteries I need for my smoke alarm. Can you give me just one dollar?’” I said, assuming a dignified, honest tone for the question, then slipping back into my casual one. “People respond better to the straightforward approach. Keep practicing, though. That’s all it takes, really.”

The kid was just working himself up for a retort when he saw my hand emerge from my pocket. I plunked down three quarters. I never use my spare change, anyway.

I left him to pay the final twenty-five cents. After all, the guy needed to learn a lesson of some sort.

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