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Thursday, August 2, 2012

But She Had a Letter from a Church!; or Who Do I Make the Check Out To?


We were sitting in the backyard, Willie, Jon, Mary and I.

And we were pretty happy.

Happy laughing, happy talking, happy drunk.  And why not?  It was summer, after all, the summer of 2005.

There had been people in the backyard all day, one of those spontaneous, joyous days when coupons are suddenly worth double, the car stops making that annoying “tick-tick-tick” sound, and friends drop by unannounced.

Mary is describing the time that Jon used a front-end loader to ensure that his neighbor had enough snow in his front yard – an escapade that filled said yard to the top of the fence – when a woman opens the gate and walks into the backyard.

“Excuse me? Ma’am?”

I turn to see a small woman rapidly approaching.  Perhaps five feet two, her hair has seen too many sloppily applied box dyes, her skin too many days in the sun. The word “wizened” comes to mind.

“Ma’am?” she says.  “Are you a Christian woman?”

Mary leans forward, grins at her.  “She sure is!  Have a seat, why don’t ya!”

If the woman had been wearing a hat, she’d be clutching it now, perhaps in a wringing motion at the chest.  “Oh, no, ma’am.  I couldn’t intrude.”

The thought she that she both could and has intruded enters my brain. 

I crack open another beer and we stare at each other.  I give in rather quickly.  “What is it that you want?”

“Well, you see, ma’am…” and here she pulls an envelope from her back pocket and hands it to me.  I pull a letter from the envelope.  It has been folded and refolded many times, the creases worn shallow and weak.  “To Whom It May Concern”…

I look up.  “What is this?”  I say.

“Just read it, please, ma’am.”

It is a letter on the letterhead of one of the churches just a block away.  It endorses the bearer as having cancer, as requiring medications that neither she nor her seven children can afford.  It declares that she is a good citizen of Minneapolis, that she has skills as a tile and bricklayer.

And that she needs $42.45.

“Forty-two forty-five,” I say thoughtfully.  “That’s pretty specific.”

“Yes, ma’am.  I’m not a beggar, ma’am.  I’ve worked all my life, and when I’m in good health, I do a really fine job of laying tile.  But I’ve got cancer, and I’ve got seven children, and it’s all I can do to keep a roof over our heads let alone afford my medicine.  The $42.45 is what I need a week to keep up with my meds.  ”

Mary looks at me. 

“Without my medication,” the woman goes on, “I’ll die, and who will look after my children?”

I look back at Mary.  I jerk my head toward the alley.

“Excuse us for a moment,” I say, and Mary and I take a walk behind the garage.

“What do you think?”

“I think it could be a scam.”

“A pretty specific scam.”

“True.”

“And she has a letter from the church.”

“True.”

I look back toward the house.  “And she certainly looks sick.”

“Also true.”

“So what do you think?”

Mary shrugs.  “I think I’m flat-busted and that you’re not and that no one wants to see seven mother-less kids.”

I walk back to the umbrella-ed table, to my friends and my beer and my checkbook.   I write a check to “CASH” (“I no longer have a bank account, ma’am”).

“Thank you, ma’am”, she says, walking backwards.  “Thank you so much!”

She disappears around the front of the house.

Whereupon we go back to our beers.

And over the course of the next couple weeks, that check begins to weigh on me.  I was scammed, wasn’t I?  Was I?  Did a person really come into my backyard for the purposes of taking my money?

I call the church on the letterhead. 

“Oh, no,” says a gentle, slightly amused voice on the other end of the line.  “Those in need are always welcome to come to us and we’ll help where we can, but we would never hand someone a letter that was basically a license to beg.”



Think of it as a tax on the drunk and gullible.  I have.  

49 comments:

Symdaddy said...

Oh Pearl! You are such a mug!

However, having said that, I too have been a victim of a similar scam.

Or would have been if there were no such things as mobile phones (that's cell phone to you).

I called straight away the local hospice (that was on the letterhead). They were on speed dial as I occasionally have business there. Before I could even start speaking to the person on the other end, the elderly gentleman claiming to need money for medication was scampering down the road like an Olympic athlete.

Pearl said...

Ah, Sym. If we live, we learn. I still shake my head at being bilked out of that money...

joeh said...

Been had myself several times.


cranky

Simply Suthern said...

Ya know you was scammed. Most of us have at times but ya know what? Doesnt matter what she does with it, you gave from your heart so its a good thing.

lime said...

when we lived in trinidad our house was at the end of a nearly half mile road. no other access to our house except by that road. we regularly had people walk down that road in the heat of the day to come rattle our gate and present us with letters documenting their inability to work and could we spare them some money. really??? you just walked half a mile in the noonday sun to prove you are too ill to work at ANY job? even a desk job? fascinating.

we also had folks come to our house and ask to be given some form of work to do in return for a bit of payment. we always found something for them to do and paid them decently for such.

Shelly said...

I think it's better to err on the side of kindness than turning someone away who really needs it. That $42.50 will come back to you, some way, some how.

Jenny Woolf said...

But I always think that those who have to live like this deserve pity. Maybe ten bucks worth of pity not 42.50 though. Sigh. Depressing lives some folks have. You'll get your reward in heaven Though!

Pearl said...

joeh, well there's "had" and there's "had". :-)

Simply, yeah. I still laugh about it.

lime, exactly. If they're willing to work, I have work for them. Hand-outs, though? I take issue!

Shelly, honestly, now that I think of it, it HAS. It's funny -- if you've helped others, it seems to come back to you when you need it yourself. I have only to reflect on the last few months (moving out, being broke) to see that the world in, indeed, round...

Jenny, I agree. Sometimes, I look at the people holding signs, and I think, that could be me. How far away am I from begging, if only for something to eat?

L-Kat said...

I'm always in the flat-broke category, so I have no money to be scammed even if I had the heart to help! :)

Pearl said...

L-Kat, well, that has all changed for me, although I will drop a buck for a good street musician!

Stephen Hayes said...

A scam for sure, but I think I'd have written out a check also.

Pearl said...

Stephen, it's distressingly easy to write that check, too, when you're half in the bag. :-)

vanilla said...

But your "good heart" is still intact, if your bank account is not.

savannah said...

bless your heart, sugar! ;~D xoxoxox

jenny_o said...

More like a tax on the kind-hearted :)

mybabyjohn/Delores said...

Your heart was in the right place Pearl...when you reach those Pearlie (get it) gates, St Peter will have a cheque waiting for you...with interest.

Pat Tillett said...

I don't have a lot of money, but I'm more than willing to give some to people who need it. I may be an easy mark, but I'd rather error on that side, than never helping anybody at all, because I'm worried about getting scammed.
You may have been taken advantage of, but you still gain good karma points for the thought and effort.

NotesFromAbroad said...

Whatever she needed the money for, hopefully you helped anyway.
If it was to get drunk or buy drugs, then she is the loser and you still earned your good deed for the day for being generous and kind.

I never ever give anyone money anymore.

I gave some fresh scones right from the bakery bag to a beggar lady in the park and when I looked back, she was feeding them to the pigeons.

Laraine Eddington said...

My last time being scammed was a sweet round little Mexican woman on a bike that either wanted to be taken home (30 miles through traffic) or bus money. I gladly gave the bus money, but when she showed up again with the say story I volunteered to take her home and she declined. :)

Leenie said...

But it's still good to know there are people like you in this world with a kind heart and a willingness to give---even if it is a scam. She probably DID need the money.

Geo. said...

$42.25? I agree, you were probably scammed. I have 14 kids and an arrow thru my head and I only ask half that.

Pearl said...

vanilla, that's sweet. :-)

savannah, thank you!

jenny-o, I think I like your take on it better than mine.

Delores, He can use it to offset my various idiocies!

Pat, it was the thought (as inebriated as it might have been) that counted...

Abroad, yes. Even if what she did was party with it, I'm thinking there were other things going on that would lead her to her little con game. Anyway, she can't come back to me with the same story!

Laraine, I had a similar situation here a couple years ago. She "just wanted to go home" so I gave her bus fare. I missed my own bus and then had to stand around for 20 minutes, and in that time, I watched her asked at least a dozen other people for "bus fare". I think she made another six bucks while I stood there...

Leenie, Minneapolis is a kind-hearted city, I think, and the summer months in particular have us seeing an influx of beggars. The majority, of course, go South for the winter... :-)

Pearl said...

Geo., :-) Very funny!!

Buttons said...

Well Pearl I must say I probably would have gave her $50 so she could by her seven kids a loaf of bread or something. Yes there is a sucker born every minute and I guess you are a smarter one than I:) B

Pearl said...

Buttons, :-) I love the idea that I was $4.55 smarter!

esbboston said...

I wonder if you made a sound recording of a tick if it would happen to make any noises that sounded like the word "car" ? I would even be open to other language for the word 'car', such as Italian, Chinese, or even the language of the lowly tick. And by lowly I mean volume. Just get cha a veRy big amplifier.

esbboston said...

I would get the letterhead of a local cancer treatment center, and go around asking for a certain amount of money. I would go with the complete truth, though, and ask people to help you get back your $45.42.

Lisa Golden said...

I'm not surprised that you would be so kind. And I'm remembering this. When I drink, don't have my checkbook with me.

Ms Sparrow said...

It just shows that you have a good heart, and that scuzzy woman did not!

sage said...

Okay, I had to laugh at where this was heading, BUT it shows a good heart and in the end that's what's important.

Ian Lidster said...

But, how were you to know? She was from a church and maybe you thought if you didn't help her you would go to hell. It happens. And you know, the specific and precise amount in all, rather than rounding it out to a flat $50. Anyway, you likely paid for her next bad dye job.

Bodacious Boomer said...

I've always thought that it was a really bad idea to lie about such things. Fate has a way of biting people in the ass eventually. At least that's what I tell myself when I find that I've been scammed.

R. Jacob said...

you have the ability to bring out a deeply hidden smile at the moment

kt said...

After two years of blogging I am about to call it quits. Most of the stuff I have posted this year was written before my dad died. I can't seem to come up with new stories. If I do I will start up again.

Now that I am no longer need to care for him I have had to find a way to cycle myself back into the life outside of these walls. I have gradually dipped my toes into that world and find that I am too busy to write. But, more importantly, I find that I am too busy to continue a relationship with all of you bloggers out there. I hate not commenting regularly!

Although it was you guys that literally got me through these last two years it seems so rude of me to not get around to reading and encouraging you, like you did me. I hope to remedy that soon. When school starts I plan to get pack to substituting, and with that, back to a regular schedule of some sort. That schedule will include a time to re-enter the blogging sphere to keep up with my many mentor's antics.

I am sending this to each of you as I want to thank you for your friendship and kindness.
Karen

Gigi said...

You have a big and beautiful heart. One that was scammed, to be sure, but still that heart remains the same. As you give, you shall receive.

Teresa Evangeline said...

Somehow, you can't be mad at someone who comes up with the idea for such a good begging gig. She gets an A+ for ingenuity. In addition to the tax on the drunk and gullible (and who hasn't paid That tax?) you can think of it as funny stuff for your book. This stuff is priceless. I love Mary's response.

Indigo Roth said...

Hey Pearl! I'm hopelessly trusting. No, I am not gullible. Trusting. But man, I'd have been suckered too. Sorry, I meant "generous". Roth x

HermanTurnip said...

I guess I have a hardened heart, because I would never give money to somebody like that.

But then again, there's this bum on the corner that used to beg for money from cars stopped at the stop light. I never thought about giving this guy a dime until one day I actually witnessed somebody waving the guy over to give him some money, and that bum hobbled over like a broken toy, wobbling in all directions and in obvious pain. I could tell there was no scam there. The next day I hooked him up with $10 and received an honest and heart-felt "Thank you very much, sir!"

Some people you just gotta help...

84829942-3a88-11e0-83da-000bcdcb5194 said...

BOYCOTT AMERICAN WOMEN
Why American men should boycott American women

http://boycottamericanwomen.blogspot.com/

I am an American man, and I have decided to boycott American women. In a nutshell, American women are the most likely to cheat on you, to divorce you, to get fat, to steal half of your money in the divorce courts, don't know how to cook or clean, don't want to have children, etc. Therefore, what intelligent man would want to get involved with American women?

American women are generally immature, selfish, extremely arrogant and self-centered, mentally unstable, irresponsible, and highly unchaste. The behavior of most American women is utterly disgusting, to say the least.

This blog is my attempt to explain why I feel American women are inferior to foreign women (non-American women), and why American men should boycott American women, and date/marry only foreign (non-American) women.

Tens of millions of American men have had their lives completely destroyed by American women through the following crimes:

1. False rape accusations (it has been proven that up to 80 percent of rape accusations are FALSE)

2. False domestic violence (DV) charges (same as above)

3. Financial destruction of men in divorce courts through alimony and support payments (women get up to 95 percent of their ex-husband's income and savings, as well as the house, car, etc)

4. Emotional destruction of men by ex-wives who have stolen their children from them and forbidden the fathers from having custody or contact with their own children

5. Divorced dads who commit suicide as a result

Not one single American woman has EVER condemned their fellow American women for committing these crimes against men. Silence means consent. Therefore, American women support and enjoy destroying men's lives and causing men to commit suicide. Apparently, American women think it is okay to be a criminal, just as long as you are a woman. Therefore, is it any surprise that a huge percent of American men no longer want anything to do with American women, other than using them for easy sex and then throwing them away?

A few more reasons to stay away from American women?

-25 percent of American women take psychiatric drugs for mental illnesses.
-25 percent of women under the age of 30 have at least one STD.
-85 percent of divorces in America are INITIATED by women, thus women are responsible for the vast majority of divorces.
-70 percent of criminals in America were raised by single mothers, thus feminism is responsible for most crime in America.
-The majority of child molestation, child abuse, and child murder in America is done by WOMEN.

Over 50 percent of American women are single, without a boyfriend or husband; so the fact is most American men no longer want to marry American women. Let these worthless American women grow old living alone with their 10 cats.

BOYCOTT AMERICAN WOMEN!

Pat said...

Which ever way you look at it,
it was a pretty horrid thing to do.
We all get taken for a ride at times but we have to go on believing the best of people.

River said...

You and Mary discussed the probability of a scam and then you wrote the cheque anyway? Tsk Tsk.
$42.45 was probably the total cost of her hair dyes and cigarettes.
I also drop coins in the hats of good street musicians. Just last week the busker in the Mall was so good with his saxophone, I dropped in $4 instead of my usual $1.

Tempo said...

Excuse me madam, but I've got three daughters and a powerful coffee addiction that I just cant quit....

Austan said...

Aw. But the story was worth the bucks and yes, the world is round. Think of it as a karmic insurance premium. :)

Linda O'Connell said...

I've been accosted on a parking lot by an impaired person who hands me a business card stating, I AM DEAF, please make a donation

I shake my head, sorry. She turns and walks on. Then guilt kicks my booty and I shout, "Wait, come back, here's a dollar."
And she does. Church letter head, business cards...all the same scam.

see you there! said...

This was a fun read. I will go back through your archives to see what else you have to say. Thanks for stopping by my blog - it is always great to meet new people.

Darla

Amy said...

When I first moved to Las Vegas, I was so easily suckered in. Then when I started to see the same people working the same corners, I got hip to it real quickly and stopped carrying cash. That way I wasn't lying when I'd tell them, "Sorry, I don't have any cash on me". The lady with the jammie pants and two small kids, begging for change in the Walmart parking lot? Yeah, that's her career. Sad that people use their kids to scam. I think it is human nature to want to help, and no good deed goes unpunished!

Daisy said...

Well, I guess it's better to be scammed for under 50 bucks than to risk not helping someone in distress. NO! You CAN NOT have my address! And I usually accompany someone with such a requst to the store and pay direct to the supplier.

Paula Wooters said...

I suppose you could have let her tile your bathroom floor first...

Susan in the Boonies said...

I always WRESTLE with this issue. We're not rolling in the green stuff ourselves, but I bet we have a lot more to share than she does.

You're a good hearted woman, Pearl.