Aron’s Boys Beat the Con

The Con

There are moments in life that allow men to weep without society branding them as weak. The death of your mother, father, spouse or beloved pet are the most common. However, there are scenes in certain films that fall into the same category: Shane, Field of Dreams, Great Expectations, Rudy all have moments that all faux and real tough guys in bars admit to crying over.

My brothers and I gave Dad his teary eyed moment in real time.

I spotted the small crowd of businessmen on their way to Grand Central and camera touting tourists oohing and ahhing. Curious, I went to see what had attracted the crowd and there it was – a three card monte hustle right on Lexington Ave. only feet from our Hotel! This was the first time I saw the con really being run on the street.

These guys were using a table made of a cardboard box. Smart, I thought. If you have to run from the police, you don’t have to leave something valuable behind. Cardboard boxes were all over the streets of Manhattan . I immediately spotted the thrower and a shill acting as the puller,. I couldn’t see the second shill. I wondered if they had a special permit to run their action on this spot or if they simply weren’t afraid of the NYPD. People in business suits, holding $20 bills waited for their turn to get taken. Watching the thrower and his shill work the mark who was throwing around $10 and $20 bills, I was struck by their skills.

The shill goaded him and the crowd urged the mark to try again.

The mark believed he could win because he was emotionally tied to the hustle and so desperately wanted to beat the thrower that he couldn’t walk away. I, however, could see what the mark could not – the tricks the thrower was using and I knew where the money card was every time. I reached into my pocket and found a few crumpled dollar bills. With not enough money to get into the game, I moved back a few feet.

“What are you doing?” Scot walked over, I pointed to the monte game and his eyes lit up.

I grabbed him by his forearm and shushed him. We both stood there, waiting for each throw, muttering right, center, left, left, center, right.

“How much is he down?” Scot asked.

“Over $200 since I’ve been watching.”

“Has the thrower started bending the corners yet?”

“Nope,” I said. “I don’t know if he’s that good.”

I thought we were far enough away that we couldn’t screw up the hustle but, in our enthusiasm, we were speaking a bit too loudly. Some of the suits on the edge of the game started yelling out where the card was after hearing Scot and I say it first. We were 15 and 13 respectively and didn’t realize that we were hurting the action simply by stage whispering from the rear.

In my head, I could hear the Old Man screaming “Don’t ruin his game!”

Then I imagined my father walking up to this con, stashing his Kruegerrand pinky ring in his pocket, tucking his ΒΌ” square linked gold chain in his shirt and making sure the shills didn’t see his gold cufflinks. Aron’s accent, a cross between a Jewish grandfather and a vampire, with exaggerated V’s for W’s, suddenly got extremely thick. Looking and sounding like this stupid foreign tourist/businessman, Dad would hustle the hustlers.

After a few more minutes, Mother walked up with pudgy 10 year old Joel, wearing his thick glasses. She crossed her arms and dropped the left side of her mouth. Mother was not impressed.

Joel pushed his way in between Scot and me to get a better look at the thrower. “The middle one!” He said loudly. “Mom, it’s the right side this time!”

Aron Zola’s 10 year old son had just told him where it was.

The second shill, dressed like the suits in the crowd, walked up to the four of us and handed Scot, Joel and me each a worn $20.

I remember him snarling “Lady, get your brats out of here, they’re ruining my game.” However, Mother recalled that he was polite but firm and said “Lady, get your kids out of here, they’re blowing my game.”

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