Can you find Tommy in this photo?
(Hint: he's wearing patriotic colors!)
However last Friday while visiting Venice Beach, California, wearing (or might as well have been wearing) a big sign that read "Gullable Tourist, Easy Pickin's", was the .5 time I gave.
Though at the time I didn't know I was giving a handout, and a generous one at that; I thought I was making a legitimate purchase from a street vendor.
Because even though I don't generally give street handouts, I have been known to buy things from street vendors. In fact I've bought all kinds of things from street vendors. (I even once bought 2 turtles from a little Chinese lady who stopped me on a street in Queens, New York, to show me the tiny turtles she had hidden under a table on the sidewalk. I couldn't resist. As I recall, getting those turtles back to Ohio turned into quite an adventure).
Anyway, Tom, Tommy and I had just stepped onto the Strand at Venice Beach when they were on us like a swarm of locusts: friendly young dudes with handfuls of CD's peddling their wares.
The guy who managed to shoo away the competition around me held in his hand, along with his CD's, a CD player and a pair of head phones which he proferred me, prevailing upon me to listen to his music.
"Just listen to this, it's my music, you gonna like it, I know you gonna like it, just listen!"
At first I wasn't interested, but the guy was so enthusiastic, he was liquid persuasion, and actually, I was intrigued: Was this hip-seeming young African-American guy really making music that would appeal to a middle-aged (all right, late middle-aged) white lady?
Skeptical but curious, I put on the headphones and listened.
And - Jimminy Christmas! - he was right! I did like it!
The music was a gospelly kind of rhythm and blues with a good beat. Made me want to snap my fingers and move my feet.
"You're right," I admitted, "I do like it. Did you record this?"
"Yes," he replied, "it's mine." Then he handed me one of the CD's. "Here, if you like it, you take it. If you want to give me something for it, just give whatever you want."
Well, I did like it. And I was feeling kindly towards this young musician who was just trying to get his work heard. I figured if I bought a good CD at a store I'd pay at least $10 for it, so that's what I gave him.
"Bless you," he said after graciously thanking me.
At that moment I saw Tommy up ahead of me handing back a pair of earphones to another of the CD vendors then pulling a five-dollar bill out of his wallet and handing it over for a CD.
When we met up I commented that he, too, had found a good CD.
"Nah," said Tommy, "it was pretty bad."
"Then why did you buy it?" I asked.
Turns out Tommy's about a 6 or 7 on the handout scale. He just wanted to give the guy something and the smallest bill he had was a five so he decided to just let the guy have it.
Which is why Tommy didn't actually get scammed. He knew what he'd paid for.
I, on the other hand, spent the rest of the afternoon in a state of happy anticipation, looking forward to listening to this CD by a nice young unknown artist and thinking about how if he ever got his break and made it big I'd be in possession of one of his early originals.
I went on and on about it to Jen (Maria's friend from college who was vsiting with Maria and Justin the same time as we were) when we met her for a lunch at a little out-door sashimi (raw fish) place on the Strand called Poke-Poke. (Tommy, Jen, and I loved our sashimi dish, called a "Poke Bowl": chunks of raw albacore mixed with brown rice, carrots, kale, seaweed, and avocado in a yummy sauce. Tom thought it was ghastly. He thought the fish was going to be cooked!).
Until we were driving back to Maria's and I popped my new disc into the CD player and heard not the sweet snappy tones I'd heard from the headphones but some truly awful rap. And I don't mean awful as in offensive content - heck, the quality was so bad I couldn't even make out what the content was!
Which begs many questions: Who made the awful rap CD? Who made the nice R&B CD? Why didn't the dude just sell me the CD that had the nice music on it? Did he have one demo CD with all kinds of music on it from which he picked a track for a potential customer to listen to based on how he sized up the customer? Why did he go to the trouble of baiting and switching me? If he was going to scam me, why didn't he just sell me a blank CD?
I guess there are some questions we'll never know the answer to.