My older son may be becoming a grifter. Not a professional one, at least not yet. But I can see the little sparks here and there of a man who can con.
Growing up in New Jersey the 80s, I spent just about every weekend during my high school years hanging out in Greenwich Village in New York City. Back then, there were no Starbucks or Gaps; it was all thrift stores (Antique Boutique) and record shops (Tower Records) and t-shirt/poster/jewelry shops (Poster-mat).
And, on every other corner, there were three-card monte games going on. Three-card monte is basically a game where you have to pick the odd card out of three overturned cards, like say, the ace from two queens. This game is an open con game where there are at least six or seven people working together to scam some tourists out of their money. Not going to get too technical since there are now videos on Youtube that can explain this better, but there’s some card manipulation with a hand movement that switches cards. With practice, anyone can do it.
(Since this was before the internet, it took me a few years and a trip to Canada to find someone to teach me how to deal three-card monte.)
I also learned some card magic to see how card manipulations work, how they can be used to cheat, what to look out for, how to use the art of misdirection to get people to see things or pick things that they, under normal circumstances, wouldn’t.
Of course we’ve taught our sons that stealing is bad, and the lying is not a good thing either, but I show them these things so that they know what to expect and not become a mark. It wasn’t until I was in my late teens/early twenties before I started to learn some of these tricks. I don’t want the same thing to happen to my sons. I know of people who have lost hundreds of dollars in a weekend playing those three-card monte games on the street.
Why do I bring this up? Turns out, my older son has a knack, if you will, for the art of the grift.
I taught him a card trick where the presenter can manipulate their target’s answers to questions to force a chosen card, and then finally pick that card out of the deck, which is in a pocket. It’s a little tricky to learn at first, knowing how to force the right answers to the questions, but once learned, it’s really easy to do.
The day after I taught him the trick, he told me he did it to some of his classmates. I was a little shocked and asked if he had actually brought a deck of cards with him to school, because that would be a no-no. He said no, that he didn’t use a deck of cards. How did you do it then? I asked.
“I just told a friend the card I was going to have picked then did the trick on another friend,” he replied.
“So you did the trick? Without cards?”
“You changed the game to fit your environment? Essentially.”
“Yep. And I only did it twice. I know I wasn’t supposed to do it more than once but they wouldn’t figure it out so I thought it was okay. Everyone was amazed.”
Not going to lie…on the one hand I was proud that he was able to perform the trick only being taught the it the night before. And I was also impressed that he was able to modify it to meet his needs to perform it. On the other hand, this scares me a little because he is going to realize how easy it is to manipulate people and that could lead to some problems.
I’m always trying to teach him to be on the up and up, to be honest, fair, respectful of others, not take advantage of anyone or any situation. I know that I will probably not have anything to worry about. He’s probably already forgotten about the trick.
I just want him to know it’s not about the hustle.
It’s about not being hustled.
This article was originally published at The Watertower Online on Medium on 11.February.2019.