A Sucker Born Every Minute

by teresalaynebennett

Rome Piazza della Repubblica, Fountain of the Naiads, Nymph of the Oceans

The scene of the crime: the Fountain of the Naiads, Piazza della Repubblica, Rome

Warning: this is another Hubby story (related with his permission, BTW) but different. This time, I throw myself under the bus, as well. As I’ve said previously, “I don’t make this stuff up; I just report it.” I couldn’t possibly make this stuff up, even if I thought and thought for weeks and weeks. And this one, dear reader, will top every other Hubby story I’ve ever told you and the ones about myself that I have not told you. Pay attention: you’re about to be astonished.

On a 2017 trip to Rome, I left Hubby at the Piazza della Repubblica Fountain of the Naiade Nymphs (which caused quite a stir when it was installed in 1901). It’s situated in the middle of a huge roundabout, and he was perched on the side of the fountain’s perimeter, dangerously near the inner lane’s traffic. I left him painting the Nymph of the Oceans while I took off to check out shops under classy colonnades and the ruined Baths of Diocletian, all of which surround the fountain and roundabout. 

Now I can see how you might think that he could be left to paint and not get into too much trouble but P.T. Barnum was right, so you, my friend, would be wrong. While I was off learning fascinating details about Diocletian’s pile, a car stopped right beside Hubby. Did I mention this was a huge roundabout? It’s goofy to stop in the middle of traffic in a large roundabout, especially in Rome – unless, of course, there’s something to be gained.

Out jumps a guy who says to Hubby, “You look familiar.” Now, is that not the OLDEST line in the book? Hubby, who’d been deep into his painting, thought to himself that this guy did look an awful lot like a Croatian friend we visited a few years ago and asked, “Have you ever lived in Croatia?” And guess what? He had! Next: “Do you know ______ [our Croatian friend’s name]?” AND HE DID! Now I ask you, what are the odds?

Well! By now the guy considered Hubby his new BFF. What do you do for BFFs? You give them deals, of course. From there, the whole conversation disintegrated into the classic scam, except this hustler had tweaked the well-known-to-everyone-but-Hubby “Salesman in Distress” schtick. You see, bless his little heart, he’d just finished exhibiting at a high-end fashion show and needed to offload some of the high-fashion jackets he’d shown . . . to get euros . . . to buy gas . . . to get himself . . . back to his little wifey . . . in Milan. AND HUBBY BELIEVED IT. (Let me repeat. I do not make this stuff up. I just report it.)

When this bozo offered to sell him three, probably stolen, “leather” jackets in unknown sizes for only €50, right away Hubby recognized this was a deal from his new BFF he could not possibly pass up. Hubby had been busy as a fine artist, and this guy was efficiently busy being another kind of artist – a scam artist. It took only five minutes for the scam artist to take €50 off the distracted fine artist.

Deep into his painting, Hubby wasn’t paying attention to where he was: Rome. Ever since the first century, when Roman poet Tibullus invented that syrupy marketing tag line, The Eternal City, romantics have called it by that name. We 21st-century cynics more accurately call it The City of Pickpockets and Scam Artists.

When I came back from my sightseeing, Hubby came bounding toward me with a large white shopping bag AND that smiley, cheesy look that I know so well. It was his I’ve-just done-something-stupid-but-I’ll-do-my-best-to-convince-you-otherwise look that I knew from 50 years of experience I would not find the least bit amusing. Sure enough, I didn’t. I could NOT believe what I was hearing. I still can’t. I sat on the edge of that fountain trout-mouthed for a good ten minutes staring at this man’s head and thinking, how is it possible to get a complete lobotomy in only an hour and fifteen minutes? (That seemed to be the only logical conclusion at the time.)

I had my nose out of joint for almost an hour, until Hubby gently reminded me that when I get taken, it’s always for more money. A LOT more money. (I don’t mess about with a piddly little €50 ($62 USD).

Hubby turns the tables
with pay-attention lessons
from my past.

He recalled the time a friend of his asked to practice her spiel for selling Rainbow vacuum cleaners (the several-hundred-dollars kind) on me. He reminded me that after listening to her “practice” spiel, I said I’d take one. It’s only fair to mention that at the time, we had a rule: we were not to buy anything over $100 without consulting each other. Oops.

Warming up to his topic, he dredged up a later episode. A friend at church had a daughter working her way through college who needed to practice her spiel to sell Cutco knives. Same old story. After she finished, I said I’d take a set. A few hundred dollars later, I’d conveniently ignored our rule, and we were the proud owners of the finest kitchen knifery money could buy. Oops. Again. As lame justification, I would like to point out that we’re still using all of them 20 years later – and probably will till they roll us into the Alzheimer’s Unit. Yes, they’re that good. For what they cost, they very well should be.

Hubby’s coup de grâce was yet to come, and I very much deserved it because by this point, I should’ve been old enough to know better. He reminded me of a much more recent foray in which my lust for a brand new Prius that we might win led us down the primrose path into a “seminar” by a vacation package company. And just for us, just that day, we could have their very valuable services for a real steal – half off, which was WAY, WAY, WAY more hundreds than even the Rainbow. I talked myself into believing this was just what we needed to plan economical, international trips and then used Eve’s apple trick on a skeptical Hubby. Not till long after we’d signed on the dotted line did I discover they have no bargains on vacation deals we would want.

Having been reminded of these embarrassing low points in my marketing prowess and will power, I got my nose back into joint and we went on, €50 poorer but more educated and astutely aware that we were in the City of Pickpockets and Scam Artists. On the way back to our hotel, Hubby said no four times to street hawkers. FOUR. He passed up selfie sticks, carved wooden plates from Syria, fake Rolex watches, and African thread bracelets.

The pay-attention points of this story? Oh, my. So many and so little time. Here you go.

Our Sucker-Born-Every-Minute,
Pay-Attention Points

(in no particular order)

  • A sucker is born every minute, but not all of them stay suckers. Some of us do, though. Though my math’s always dodgy, my calculations say Hubby has a few thousand dollars to blow through before he catches up to my unenviable Sucker Status.
  • Educate yourself thoroughly before your next trip. If we’d read not just Rick Steves’ Italy and Rome books, but also his web page (below) on this subject Hubby, even as distracted as he was, would’ve begun laughing at the first words from the “salesman’s” mouth. 
red box with white text from Rick Steves'

Oh, man, Rick Steves and Troops, you’re spot on, as usual.

  

  • Never make impulsive buying decisions. Never. Never. NEVER! That’s a pay-attention point we both need to work on until we die, as we seem to be slow learners.
  • All education costs something. You pay to take classes in anything you can name: for college degrees, continuing education classes in your profession, classes in your new hobby, classes on how to sweat at the gym. And, yes, you “pay” when you take a Sucker Class like ours.
  • When something sounds too good to be true, IT IS. This is an ancient bit of advice – and one I regularly harp on – which doesn’t make it any less difficult for me to grasp, as you’ve just read.
  • When you do something stupid, just own up and get it over with. Trying to paint it as something smart will only annoy your significant other. (Trust me on this one.) Laugh at your foibles and encourage others to laugh, as well, but DO NOT try to justify them.
red box with white text:

Hubby’s take on that old “laughs last” maxim – and he should know.

© 2018, Teresa Bennett