Yesterday I was on Broadway just below Houston shopping. I’d gone to Duane Reade to get some razor blades and aspirin before shooting over to Whole Foods on Houston Street. On my way to the store I saw a young black kid working the crowd, thrusting CDs at people urging them to listen to his Rap. People ignored him and kept walking.
When I came out of Duane Reade, a middle-aged white man absentmindedly took one of the CDs the kid was aggressively thrusting at people and kept walking.
“Wait! Wait mister, don’t you want me to sign it for you?” the kid rapidly spit this at the man’s back as he followed close behind. The man stopped and turned to talk to the kid, and I knew what would happen next, I’ve seen it before, so I kept walking to Houston Street and my appointed errands.
What happens next, in case you are a tourist or have been living under a rock like the people in those Gieco commercials, is that the kid will sign the “Free” CD and then ask the person for $10. If you refuse they get very aggressive, and they usually work in groups that will surround you until you turn over the cash or a cop comes by.
So if anyone ever offers you a free CD or anything else free for that matter on a New York City sidewalk, just keep on walking.
Don’t stop for a Three-Card Monte game either.
About 20 years ago I was working at a shoe store on East 55th Street, and at that time I had no bank account and a barely valid ID. I would take my paycheck down the block to the check-cashing store on 3rd Avenue to cash it every Friday.
One day as I came out of the store a middle-aged black man approached me and asked for my help.
“Please, mister, can you help me make a phone call? I will give you $5.”
Now that sounded good, $5 for dialing a number for someone. He handed me a piece of wrinkled paper with a number scribbled on it, and it had the name of some motel in the Bronx written above it. I went to the pay phone on the corner, took the quarter the man offered me and dialed. I heard “We’re sorry, but the number you dialed is no longer in service.”
I have to explain that the man told me he was from Africa, and he had a heavy accent.
“Sorry, mister, the number doesn’t work.”
“Oh my god! What am I going to do?” He wailed with a pained expression on his face.
“All of my money and things are there!” Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a thick roll of bills. There was a $100 bill on top.
“Mister, if you come with me to the Bronx to get my money, I will give you $500,” he said as he waved that wad in my face.
I was bringing home less than $300 a week at the time, and the sight of that money made my mouth water, but I knew it was not right. The thick roll of bills is bait for the greedy.
“Find another sucker, pal,” I said as I turned away. I started to walk back to the shoe store but stopped after a few steps. He hadn’t given me the five for making the phone call. I turned to look for him, but he was already gone forever.