Life on the streets makes you hard
September 27th, 1998
I pulled up in front of the building. This black guy in a beret and an open shirt leaned toward the car and asked if he could borrow a gas can.
I had none and said so.
He asked if he could ask me something.
He fumbled with a cellular phone and began a rambling story about his car stuck on the bridge.
I could smell this one coming.
I remember once in San Francisco there was a guy that hit on my father for a weird exact amount, something like 12.00. He had a cast on his leg. He said his family was stranded in the car, he was out of money, the machine wouldn’t take his card (which he brandished as proof).
Dad, small town, gave him a twenty and the man gimped off with thanks and God bless you. Dad took a cab to a hotel across town where he was speaking.
Coming out of the hotel a few hours later, there was the same guy hitting on him with the same story.
Dad said, “You son of a bitch! You don’t even recognize me, do you?”
The man suddenly did and ran down the street, cast and all.
One time I drove my car from Arizona to San Francisco,. I parked near the library and went to a deli to grab a sandwich. When I came back, the sidewalk was littered in glass. I was sure my windows had been smashed in.
I looked. They all were whole. A mystery, because the broken glass wasn’t there when I left the car. A guy appeared out of nowhere, a broom and dustpan in his hand. He started sweeping up the glass he turned to me and said “Yo, man, look what almost happen to your car! Man, outta town guy like you are, you gotta be careful. How about I watch your car so nothin’ bad happens to it?”
He was trying to be menacing, but I busted out laughing imagining this guy hauling around a sackful of broken glass and a little broom looking for out-of-state plates. It was a great little scam and I’m sure did pretty well with it.
So, this guy today, I cut him off: “Sorry, man. Not interested.”
It’s become my standard reply to the street hustle. The longer and more involved the story, the more likely it’s a scam.
He was shocked, offended. He said just wanted to know if the guy at the gas station was fucking with him when he wouldn’t let him put gas into an orange juice container. He didn’t want anything from me. He just wanted to know.
So we talked about container laws and the reasons for them, ending with a rather vivid description of some lawn-mowing jackass setting himself afire with a glass jar of gas.
This guy continued apologizing to me. He was wearing lots of gold medallion and a big gold wristwatch. He had scars on his stomach that looked like he’d been shot twice and cut open on an E.R gurney. I didn’t ask him about them.
I just said, “Look, man. I live in the city. I don’t believe anybody because of all the hustles. I act like this to defend myself from scams. It’s not at all what I’m like.”
Maybe he had figured that out early in our conversation.