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The International Writers Magazine: Self Help

Singing For My Supper - The Greatest Self Help Book Ever Written
Phillip E. Hardy
Con men come in all shapes and sizes, from the street hustler offering 3-card Monte to the high flying investment guru masking a pyramid scheme. If the Bernie Madoff scandal proved anything, it was that anyone, in any social class can be swindled. Moreover, most people will be cheated by someone during the course of their lives.


I have never been easily impressed by the hard sell of a pushy salesman or the fast talking eloquence of a flimflam man. I will admit that in my twenties, I was hustled twice for the combined sum of ninety five dollars. On both occasions, I was outsmarted by my own greed and the mythical promise of getting something for nothing. This is akin to the blind desire that drove the Knights Templar to search for the Holy Grail and Ponce De Leon to seek out the Fountain of Youth.     
    The first time I was lured into a classic con while standing in an alley behind the store where I worked. The archetype shady character replete with long coat jumped out of his car, looked around and said, “Hey brother, you want to buy an Omega watch for twenty dollars?”
    I shrugged my shoulders and answered, “I don’t know.”
    The con man rolled his eyes, “Brother, this is a fifteen hundred dollar watch and I’ll let you have it for twenty dollars.”
    “How come you’re selling it so cheap man? Where did you get it?” I quickly asked.
    “Ah brother, I think you know where I got this.” The back alley peddler grinned as if he was embarrassed by my apparent lack of street savvy.
    This is where it became an epic struggle for the cartoon angel and devil sitting opposite on my shoulders.

Tiny angel
Phil, you know you shouldn’t receive stolen goods.
Little devil
Man, don’t listen to her, she doesn’t need a watch, angels can’t tell time.
Tiny angel
If you buy that watch, you’ll be sorry.
Little devil
What are you going to be sorry about, getting a great deal?”

The miniature Satan moved a little closer to my ear and began to whisper. “Listen, what do you care if the watch is hot, it’s a good deal.” He enunciated slowly “a-fifteen-hundred dollar watch for twenty bucks; what are you waiting for?”
    That was all the convincing I needed, so I handed over the Andy Jackson and quickly grasped for my new bargain, luxury time piece. The trench coat guy beat a hasty path to his sedan and took off. I couldn’t believe how smart I was and gazed in awe at my gorgeous Omega.
    A few days later, I was at my brother-in-law’s house for dinner. His father Don was a watchmaker, so I asked him to have a look at my new merchandise to render his expert opinion. He took an eye loop out of his vest pocket and examined my watch for about twenty seconds.
    “How about it, did I get a good deal?”
    Don handed me back my watch. “How much did you pay for that thing?”
    “Twenty Dollars”, I proudly responded.
    It’s not an Omega but you got a good twenty dollar watch”, he answered with a pleasant Texas twang. “By the way”, he added “For future reference, Omega is spelled O-m-e-g-a, not O-m-a-g-a.”

The Television Set

    About two years after the watch incident, I was working at Duncan Grinding as an estimator when a nervous young man popped his head into my office and said, “Hey, I got some great color televisions for sale in the parking lot.”
    I hardly looked up from reading my blue print, “Not interested.”
    As quickly as I had refused the guy’s not so tempting offer, my boss Donny came over and asked the stranger what he needed.
    “Got some great deals on new RCA Color sets”, the man quickly answered.
    As Donny began to leave my office I looked up and advised, “Don’t do it; you’re not going get something for nothing.”
    A few minutes later Donny returned to the office carrying his new television. “Hey you got a scissors so I can open this box?” he asked.
    “No but I got this knife,” I answered handing him my multi-functional Swiss Army contraption.
    When Donny opened the container, his face turned red with anger when he saw an ancient black and white television.
    I walked over to examine the contents of the box and started to snicker. “How much did you pay for it?”
    Donny snorted back, “A hundred and fifty dollars.”
    “I saw one just like it at Goodwill last week only it was a hundred and thirty dollars cheaper.” I shook my head and walked out to the coffee machine.

Taken With the Speed of Mercury

    At the ripe, old age of twenty-nine, one would think that I would be impervious to any nefarious character selling me a line of horse manure. Oh contraire Mon fraire. Like a wide mouth bass at a lakeside fishing hole, I took another con man’s bait with reckless abandon.
    I was speaking to a coworker in the inspection department when another trench coat wearing dude came in offering me a chance to purchase some rare coins. Having been a practitioner of the numismatic arts, I figured there was no way I could be swindled.
    As the miscreant flipped through the plastic sleeves his coin collection, something caught my eye. It was a 1916 Mercury Dime from the Denver mint; a coin that I wanted very badly as a boy but could never afford. Figuring the guy had just stolen these items from someone living nearby, I was certain he wouldn’t know the value of this rare piece of coinage.
    As I pondered whether or not to purchase Miss Liberty, the little cartoon devil landed on my right shoulder and his nemesis appeared on my left.          

Little Devil
Dude, what are you waiting for? Buy the coin; you want it don’t you?
Little Angel
What are you doing?”

The celestial pixie poked my ear with her wing.

Little Angel
You don’t buy stolen goods. 
Little Devil
Screw her, she’s full of crap. This clown is obviously a dope addict and desperate. Buy it, if you don’t somebody else will.
Little Angel
Don’t listen to that little red delinquent. If this poor man is a drug addict, you don’t want to contribute to his habit do you?

The angel’s face looked so sweet I had to look away. I looked over at the little devil and shrugged my shoulders.
Little Devil
Oh my God dude, do I need to buy you a Tampon?

The mini Satan stuck his hand down his throat and pretended to gag.

Little Devil
Ask the guy what he’ll take for the dime

The pint-sized satanic gent was really starting to make sense to me. So I asked the crook what he wanted for the coin.
“I need money so I’ll let you have it for seventy five dollars. That’s a good deal for that Liberty dime.”

Just the fact that the Merchant of Compton knew the coin was worth something should have offered me a clue something was amiss.   
As fast as Mercury, I peeled off the cash and bought the object of my desire. When I returned home I pulled Miss Liberty out of the cardboard holder that encased her beautiful face and discovered she was a harlot.

The mint mark for the Mercury dime is on the rear of the coin; as opposed the Roosevelt dime where the mark is on its face. The guy who sold me Miss Liberty had neatly glued a 1916 dime minted in Philadelphia to another imposter coin with a Denver mint mark. He had cleverly stapled it inside the coin protector where the thickness would be hard to detect. As the great showman P.T. Barnum once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” 

Summit Center

    Lauren Carter was one of the most beautiful babes I had ever seen. Even after knowing her for nine years, my desire to foul her like a hippo’s watering hole had remained undiminished. Since I had ample action going on, I didn’t exactly sit around pining after her; but if I had nailed her, it might have felt like I had reached the summit at Mount Everest.
    It was a warm summer evening in 1985 when I got a surprise phone call from lovely Lauren. Although we had hung out as friends on occasion, I had always initiated activities. She was between boyfriends, so I was intrigued when she asked me to do something for her.
    “Phil, out of all my friends, I think you will appreciate this the most”, she said confidently.
    “Really, what are we talking about?”
    “I’ve been attending meetings at a place called Summit Center,” Lauren answered. “It’s a group where you learn philosophies to remove obstacles in your life”, she added.
    I feigned interest in what she was telling me. “That sounds great.”
    “I’m going on Thursday night and I wanted to see if you were up for being my guest.”
    She could have invited me to a Klan rally and I still would have gone. “Sure Lauren, I’d love to check it out.”
    Summit Center was located in a spanking new industrial complex located near a cluster of townhomes in Culver City. Dressed in tight black jeans, leather cowboy boots and French cut tee shirt with black and purple stripes that displayed my biceps, I met Lauren in the parking lot. To me, my look was rock and roll but in retrospect, I probably looked like a bent Parisian sailor on leave.
    Summit Center worked their program much like a business conference or motivational speaking engagement. They conducted a welcome session in a banquet size room where audience members got up and offered testimonials about attending weekend retreats for exploring relationships and other touchy feely topics. I was surrounded by guys in blue blazers and women bright summer dresses.  
    After the half hour introduction, the crowd was directed to various breakout sessions. I smiled at a few people but at this point, I had no idea what Summit Center was about. I went into a smaller conference room where a speaker named Bob began to address the group. He was also wearing a blue blazer. 
    Bob was a tall, good look man in his thirties, who began to share how he had been a lonely ship on the stormy sea of life; that was until he arrived at Summit Center. He informed the interested listeners that by attending a series of weekend workshops hosted by the center, he was able to clear his head of impediments to a more fulfilling existence. Everyone in the room was lapping up his drivel; everyone except me.
    Having recently taken college courses in philosophy, psychology and sociology, I decided to test drive Bob’s metal on why his outfit was the fountain of wisdom and illumination.
    “Hey Bob”, I said over enunciating his name. “When you talk about balance in life aren’t you just recycling Aristotle and his Golden Mean theory? As I recall from Philosophy 101, the Greeks believed that a man should be a good balance of mental and physical health without emphasizing one over the other.” 
    “Well Phil,” Bob said reading my name tag. “Summit Center has developed our program with new strategies that lead to a path to becoming more enlightened.”
    “But Bob, what qualifies you to enlighten me? Do you and your colleagues hold degrees in psychology, philosophy or social work?”
    “No Phil, our counselors are not chosen for the degrees that they hold as we have developed methodologies that don’t require conventional academic training.”
    But Bob, I’ve been sitting here for over an hour listening to you guys offer platitudes and I still don’t know what it is you do. If I’m going to pay someone to help me, I’d like to know what it is I’m getting for my dough.”
    Bob’s eyes narrowed. “Phil, why do you dress the way you do? Are you trying to draw attention to yourself?”
    “What if I am Bob? Maybe I’m not a blue blazer kind of guy.” A few people in the room giggled.
    “Phil, it seems to me you want attention; and when you dress the way you do, it sends a message to people. In other words, people judge you based on your extreme clothes rather that you as a person. Your message to strangers is that you are unapproachable and a tough guy.”
    “Bravo Bob”, I answered and began to applaud. “You sure have my number; maybe I should become a blue blazer wearing automaton like you and your Summit Center girlfriends.
    Upon completing Bob’s breakout session, I was escorted into a room with three other prospects. There, we were directed to talk to a personal counselor who acted in the capacity of closer. Requiring no further pitch, she immediately asked us if we were ready to register for the next seminar. The three other candidates immediately signed on the dotted line.
    “Well, what about you?” the lady counselor asked as she pushed the seminar contract in front of me.
    “How much is this training going to cost me?” I politely inquired.
    “It’s five hundred and seventy five dollars for the weekend; and that doesn’t include meals. Well what do you think?” 
“I think I’m going to sleep on it for a few days.”
“The other people in the room didn’t seem to have any hesitation paying that money for removing obstacles in their lives”, she paused and leaned forward in her chair. “You must be indecisive.”

If she was trying to get me on board for the ride, that wasn’t the way to do it. “Maybe the other people are sheep and I’m the fly in the ointment.”
“You’re very defensive, Phil. That’s why you, more than anyone in the room needs our help.”
“I think we’re done here.” I stood up, bowed like a smartass and began to walk out of the office.
The closer looked at me incredulously. “Where are you going?”
I spun around to give my answer, “I’m leaving. I guess that makes me the most decisive person in the building.”

On the way out, I met Lauren and walked her out to her car. She was apparently briefed on my gruff behavior by one of her Summit counselors and gave me the silent treatment. “You’re pissed off at me aren’t you?”
    “Just disappointed”, she answered sharply.
    “You and hundreds of others honey,” I replied.

These are extracts from my upcoming book called Singing For My Supper, The Greatest Self Help Book Ever Written by Phillip E. Hardy. Email Phil if interested to purchase this book.

© Phillip E. Hardy October 2010

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