Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Swindled?

On about the second night after I arrived here in San Cristóbal, I met a 27-year-old man, whom I will call D. (I don’t want to give out his name yet because I might be wrong as to his intentions, and I don’t want to accidentally slander him.) I first met him at the wine bar I’ve written about in the previous post. He was friendly and well-spoken, dressed in a gray sweater vest over a short-sleeve striped olive shirt, and wearing baggy cargo-type gray shorts and flip-flops. (The same outfit he’d be wearing every day for the next week, for reasons explained below.) He’s about 5-foot-7, with dark, medium-length hair and a typical traveler-type overgrown short shaggy beard. I can’t remember what we talked about that first night, probably innocuous small talk about where we’re both from, where we’re going, jobs back home, etc.—the normal topics of conversation when one meets a person while traveling. In his case, he claimed he was Lebanese-born, now living in Manhattan with a job at Morgan Stanley as an MIT-trained mathematician. He said he was on a long trip through the south of Mexico and through Central and South America, ultimately due to end up in Buenos Aires in approximately a month. Soon, over the course of the conversation, he said he had Asberger’s disorder, and he demonstrated the lack of affect during that and subsequent conversations which I associate with autism (or sociopathy, as we shall see later). D. constantly bragged about his sexual conquests, which I found a little disconcerting, but this behavior is none too uncommon for many men, so I paid little attention to it, and I chalked up his lack of discretion as just a manifestation of his Asperger’s. He did have a way of insinuating himself into the confidence of many people, including me, and I would witness this many times in the next few days. His fluency in languages—among them Arabic, French, Spanish, and Japanese—certainly allowed him to talk to and gain the trust of many people. (The picture is sheet music that he made while we were listening to a cello concert; he claims to be able to transcribe music as he hears it. Can anybody read music and tell me if it looks kosher?)

Later on during that first night, D. told me that that his luggage had been stolen. He was waiting for American Express to ship another card out to him, and in lieu of payment his hotel was hanging on to his passport as guarantee of payment. I took pity on him and paid for the drinks that night, and he said he’d pay me back the next day, when his card was certain to come. I even slipped him a 50-peso note on the way out so that he could eat the next day.

We met the next night, and he said his card still hadn’t arrived, that it was held up at the Oaxaca DHL distribution hub—and you know, the Mexican notion of mañana, mañana was working against him. At no time did he ask for money, and believing him, I always offered to buy drinks. This continued for a couple of days, with me always paying for drinks—no more than $5 worth, except one night when we went to a club and ordered a bottle of tequila for $50. (Oh, sweet hangover the next day, that was a mistake!) And I’d slip him a 20- or 50-peso note for food at the end of the night.

Throughout these nights a brief outline of D.’s moral character started to emerge, and I wasn’t too impressed by it. He bragged about cuckolding a man, than going out to lunch with him and his girlfriend, whom D. had slept with earlier that day. He told me about a lecture his boss once gave him about the business he was in, about profiting off of other people’s losses, and laughed about his boss’s concern that he worked merely for the sake of greed (which he had no problem with). And one night he was trying his best to seduce a married woman in front of her toddler child. He had no conception of moral responsibility to others. Frankly, I was getting sick of being around him. But how could I not meet him every night, when that night (which never came) was the night that he would pay me back? (Besides, he appealed to my own sense of greed by saying that he had so many frequent-flyer miles racked up that he’d give me a round-trip ticket from Guatemala to Venezuela. When he first offered it, I shrugged it off as too good to be true. But he was so incessant with his offer, I finally said I’d take him up on it. I’ll let the reader guess as to whether that panned out or not.)

The last night I saw D., he said that he was flying to the DHL hub in Oaxaca to pick up his Amex card himself. He promised that he’d meet me the next night to pay me back, and then asked me, for the first time, for some money. I loaned him 220 pesos, shook his hand, and offered him luck. Perhaps my doubt was showing through, because he insisted that luck had nothing to do with it: He’d have his Amex card by early the next morning.

Needless to say, I never saw him again.

Several things that should have alerted me but I was too oblivious to:

  • Why was his Amex card stolen, but not his passport?

  • He needed his passport to board a plane to Oaxaca, yet he said he his hotel was holding it in lieu of payment. How did he get on the plane?

  • Why did his e-mail address use the googlemail.com domain, when google uses gmail.com?

  • Why did he give me a telephone number with an 847 area code, which is for the Chicago area, when he purportedly lives in New York City?

  • If he was such a big spender with a platinum Amex card, why didn’t American Express try a little harder to get it to him in a timely manner?

  • Why couldn’t he simply get money wired from his work, if he was such a money earner like he said?

  • And if I am wrong with my suspicions, why hasn’t he e-mailed me to apologize?


All in all, I am out about $70 to $75, which is a pretty small sum to have been conned out of. In fact, that’s what makes it so perplexing: Why all the trouble of lying to me and inventing all these stories for such a meager sum? Perhaps it’s that being a con man is like any other sort of addiction, and the payoff is in the con, not the amount swindled. Maybe my simply believing his story was enough to give him the rush he was after. That, together with his in-retrospect sexual-addiction behavior, paint a picture of a man living on impulse alone, with little regard for the people he interacts with. Whether it’s due to Asperger’s or because he is simply a self-absorbed sociopath, it’s a sad life that I saw a glimpse of, and I wonder how it will all wind up in the end. Probably none too prettily. I am glad that I’m through with my association with him.

Unfortunately, people like him (and there are a lot of really sketchy characters in places where travelers congregate) make it hard for others who are on the road. People do get all their possessions stolen at times. And people do depend on the kindness of strangers. But they will not be able to depend on me anymore. Thanks to people like D., I won’t trust them anymore.

Update: Hours after writing this post, while I was (of course) back in the wine bar trying to ease the pain of being swindled, a burly enraged Israeli man ran up to Carlo the proprietor, looking for D. (Darius, I can can tell you now that his criminality has been corroborated). This man was staying at the same hostel as Darius, and was now missing some articles of clothing. It seems that in addition to my 200 pesos, Darius took this man's shoes and fleece jacket! We talked briefly, commiserating together, and laughed it off. He did say, though, that he's putting the word out over the Internet (as I guess I have too).

9 comments:

Ulli said...

What a 'weirdow'...asshole! you met a really bad person: every single sentence he said must have been a lie, that's just so ridiculous.
travellers do get all their money stolen at times..I remember Paris,
and then you really need help!

Anonymous said...

Matt,
Listen to your inner Reagan
"Trust, but verify"

Anonymous said...

It seems like it is real music although the time signature is missing and notes are somewhat difficult to see a consistant beat.(time signature appears at the beginning of a piece of music, right after the clef symbol and key signature) Has anyone tried to play it??
Penny

mgrace said...

I met a Mexican woman who who is married to an Arkansan and all of her friends think he is an idiot.
Plus ca change, baby.

Anonymous said...

Mi Amigo, Yo tengo mucho dinero y muchos de pista. I would like you to have all of it. You are such a kind and forgiving person non grata. And a fine writer to boot. 50 dolla bottle o tequila?! Yo dingo breath! Pack yur bags and get outta town, pronto! Guatemala esta llamando su nombre. Didn't yous learn nuthin from Terry Lennox?! Well anyhows dis here blog esta mucho entertainisimo.

Anonymous said...

I'm quite sure that the transcribed music is the theme to The Third Man.

They say it's a cold world said...

Hello
My name is Ignatius J. Riley Nkrumah Obote and I am writing to you with an important business proposition. My client, George W. "Baby Doc" Mengistu disappeared almost two years ago in the jungles of Borneo, while attempting to circumnavigate the globe by unicycle. I am the executor of his estate, in control of his vast wealth, estimated at two hundred thousand trillions of Zimbabwe dollars. I want to enlist your help spiriting this money out of the country from which I am writing to you. I don't know what I will do without your help, you are my last hope. Thank you please respond at your earliest convenience as I am hungry for breakfast.
Fool me once, shame on you. It sounds to me as if you got off lightly, but even if they fool you twice remember that here in the Hook we have always got your back.

llewellyn said...

Bummer! But small pesos to pay for an entertaining story back here in the Hook...

Rick said...

Nice work piecing all those clues together in a timely fashion, Mr. Marlowe!

Next time I'll be sure to hire Spade & Archer ....