Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Our Med-Con Con Adventure, Part 3

The Museum of Natural History was kind of neat, but mostly wasted on us. (Though I confess that the Hope Diamond was pretty impressive.) It's a place definitely geared for a school field-trip sort of crowd and there were plenty of those on hand that day. In fact, we quickly grew tired of that crowd and all the others and decided to get out.

After escaping the museum, we had a sit down on the stone benches that surround the front of the place for a rest. Considering there'd been massive snow storms in both WV and the D.C. area only a couple of days before, the weather certainly had taken a turn for the better and we had gorgeous sunny skies and 50 plus degree temperatures of the sort that made our heavy coats less than ideal. There were several other people around us on the benches, but moments after sitting down we were approached by a not-at-all-shabbily dressed woman with loads of bling who quickly pinged on our We're-Being-Conned-O-Meter. While I've owned such a meter for much of my life, I only really figured out how to turn it on around 15 years ago during a trip to New Orleans with my buddy Joe. Since then, it's almost always on with the volume set to klaxon, warning me not to talk to strangers in cities. Even if I'd left my meter back home with my Gold-coated New Balances, though, this con-woman was so completely out of her depth when it came to playing the particular con she was attempting that it wouldn't have mattered.

It started innocently enough, with the woman, let's call her Connie, asking us if we were familiar with the area. We explained that we were not. Secure in the knowledge that we were not locals (and, therefore not likely used to people trying to con them) Connie then dropped all pretense of asking for directions and shifted into primary con-mode. And she did this so with such a suddenness that she couldn't have been more obvious about it if she'd adopted a Montgomery Burns voice and muttered, "Ehhhxcellent... now my true ruse can begin," while rubbing her talons together.

Then, displaying some of the worst acting I've encountered in the wild--I mean, she couldn't have done a less-convincing portrayal if she were reading from an index card--Connie explained to us that she had been visiting the museum with her elderly grandparents, but had gotten separated from them in the crowd and now could not find them and they were lost. Then, before our sympathies had a chance to get too revved up, Connie adopted a tone meant to assure us that the grandparents being lost part wasn't the part of her story we needed to be concerned about, for she had already contacted the police, who were even then searching for them. No, no, her real concern was her diabetes, which had been acting up on her that morning. And, unfortunately, her "diabetes medicine" (her words) was locked away in her grandparents' car which she couldn't get into, because her grandparents had the keys and they were, as she had previously indicated, missing. She then explained that because her diabetes medicine was locked in the car, she needed to get something to eat soon or she was afraid she would fall out.

Okay. I imagine this con might have worked on your average tourist, y'know, if she'd been even the least bit convincing. Unfortunately, Connie had chosen to pull this particular con in the midst of a veritable invasion of the National Mall by medical professionals. Sure, she happened to pick us, but the place was crawling with doctors in plain clothes trying to escape the conference with their families, and dozens and dozens of white-coated interns. Her odds, therefore, of landing a mark that didn't know precisely what the symptoms of diabetic acidosis look like, not to mention that she clearly wasn't suffering from them, weren't all that great.

Perhaps sensing our skepticism, Connie assured us that she wasn't asking for any money--just, if we could help her out a little, (and by "help her out a little" I inferred she meant give her money). I turned to my wife, waiting to see how long it would take her to start pointing out the flaws in this woman's performance; the wife, after all, has a finely-tuned We're-Being-Conned-O-Meter of her own, which doesn't even have an off button and is equipped with concert stack-speakers and a subwoofer. She has gained this expertise at bullshit-detection because of the practice she gets by having to deal with people trying to con narcotics prescriptions out of her multiple times a day. At work, she's very good at spotting such cons and even better at dealing with those who cross her. And when she's on vacation--even if it's kind of a working vacation--she does NOT want to put up with any bullshit.

I thought the wife might start Connie off with a patient history, just to try and draw her out of any comfort zone of lies she might have and make her dance a bit. Instead, though, the wife simply held up both hands, palms out and waved them in a slow circular motion--the international sign-language for "We've had all the horseshit we need, here; go sell it somewhere else."

Connie saw this and instantly became furious. Very loudly she called my wife a "stuck up bitch" and accused her of having no human decency. She cursed at us a bit more just to drive the point home. Then, with the eyes of the surrounding people telling her she'd burned all her conning opportunities in the immediate vicinity, Connie climbed the remaining museum steps and went inside, showing no weakness of limb nor confusion of manner usually associated with people about to go into a diabetic coma.

While the incident didn't dampen our afternoon, it certainly made it a little soggy. What really burned us, though, was that she'd singled us out from dozens of other people sitting around in front of the museum. What was it about us that attracted her attention? Do we scream Easy Mark, or do we just look like nice, gullible people?

The incident stayed with us, and for the rest of the day we kept coming up with Snappy Answers to Stupid Con Women that would have been far more satisfying to have said. I was all for offering her an impromptu acting class and perhaps a quick lesson on faking symptoms. (After all, I used to regularly earn money as a fake patient for medical students to diagnose back in Tri-Metro.) I think our favorite comeback, however, was to just say, "Well, we've got a couple of pieces of Dentyne and a lint roller. You're welcome to them."

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