A Feel Good Christmas Story About Getting Screwed- Twice!
Fa la-la-Ia Ia, la-la la-la, ‘Tis the season for— Con Artists.
“Excuse me, I’m so sorry to bother you, but I’m picking my kids up from the babysitter, I've lost my wallet and I’m short eight dollars for my cab fare. This is embarrassing, but would you mind lending me the money?” a woman who looked like she’d just stepped out of The Bay catalogue asked.
I was walking home through Osborne Village after Christmas shopping, perhaps a little too caught up in the convivial spirit of the season. My inclination was to say no, but then I thought I don’t want to live in a world where people don't help each other out. And it’s Christmas! I gave her ten bucks.
“Now that I have enough for the cab fare, would you mind lending me bus fare so I can get back home?”
What! Now you want more money? I may be generous and all swept up in the season, but Jesus, I’m not a complete idiot.
“Why don’t I walk you back to your cab, make sure you have enough to cover it?” I suggested, without giving her any more money. As we walked to a nearby apartment block I was transported back to the Christmas when I was eight years old.
I had saved my allowance for months so that I could buy real Christmas presents for my family, rather than wrapping up the usual macaroni-and-feather shit that I'd made at school. My parents gave me some time to wander the mall to find the perfect gifts. (It was the 80’s and eight year olds were apparently allowed to roam around in the mall by themselves.)
When I finished, I sat on a bench, set my presents down beside me and waited for my parents, just as I was told to do. But the Laura Secord store lured me into her chocolate embrace. In the few minutes my presents were left unattended, they vanished, along with the joy that an eight-year-old girl would have had seeing her family open her real Christmas presents for the first time. (I hope the motherfucker who stole my stuff choked on the keychain I bought my dad and cut his face open on the #1 Mom coffee mug I got my mom.)
As I walked back to the apartment block with this woman, (I’ll call her Connie), I felt as though I was walking back to that bench in the mall. There were no presents and there would be no bloody cab waiting. It isn’t about the $10 or the keychain and the coffee mug; it’s about the feeling of being exploited when your intentions are so good, so endearing.
“The cab must have got tired of waiting for me,” Connie said.
Then she wouldn’t need my money, right? I asked several times, probably too politely, for my ten bucks back, but Connie refused, insisting that she would eventually need to pay the cab company. ( But it’s my fucking money and I want it back! )
“Your kids are at the babysitter’s in this building, then?”
“Yeah. So, thanks.” She disappeared into the building. I waited to see if she would emerge with her children. I knew I'd been screwed out of my money, but a part of me still wanted to believe in the spirit of generosity—like a kid who starts to question the logistics of Santa, but still desperately clings to the myth.
An elderly woman pulled up in her giant car and asked me who the woman was in the entrance of her building; she had seen us together.
“I don’t know her. But I gave her $10,” I said.
“You gave her money and you don’t even know her? Why the hell would you do that?” She threw her car into park.
“This building was robbed last week!”
Connie was hammering security buttons as we approached her. The elderly woman questioned her like a seasoned pro. The babysitter was conveniently unlisted; the numbers Connie punched were repeatedly rejected with loud buzzes.
"How old is your babysitter?” the elderly woman demanded.
“This is a 55-plus building. Give this lady her $10 back or I’m calling the police.”
Connie promptly handed me my $10. The elderly woman promptly kicked Connie out of her building and toungue-lashed me for handing money to strangers. The elderly are usually the victims of scams, yet this senior was my Blue-Haired Hero.
I walked home with $10 in my hand, a little disheartened. Incidents like these make people less likely to help others.
I stopped at my coffee shop, bought myself a latte and then dropped the remaining money into the cup of a busker I've gotten to know over the years. He was really happy. I don’t believe in Santa, but I still believe in the spirit of giving.
(A less-sweary version of this post was published in The Globe and Mail.)