I was being compulsive. Again. I’ve told you I’m a clean freak, right? Well, I am, and today it was about my car. I’d just gotten it washed after my trip to San Francisco (more on that later), and now, next door at Chevron, I was wiping dirt off of the engine under the hood.*
As I was working, I suddenly became aware of a car right behind me.
“Excuse me. Miss?”
I turned around to see a large Hispanic man leaning out of an old tan Buick. He was wearing a long-sleeved shirt despite the warm weather and a thick black mustache over pale lips. A dark-haired woman sat in the passenger seat beside him.
“I’m sorry to trouble you, but my wife and I are from San Jose. We got a call late last night telling us that my father was ill. He died about 45 minutes ago. We left in a rush without any of our belongings, and now we just need a little money for gas to get home.”
I hesitated; this was a scam if ever I’d heard one. The man looked as upset about his “father’s death” as a man reading the morning paper over coffee, and yet . . .
My voice came unwillingly. “Why should I believe your story?”
The man blinked as though he hadn’t expected the question. “Because I’m telling it to you.” And then he added, “If you’ll help us and give me your bank information, I’ll pay you back as soon as we get home.”
That was about the least convincing thing he could have said. Any shred of sympathy I might have had suddenly dissipated. What did this guy think I was—an idiot?
“I’m sorry, but I don’t have any cash.”
“I’m sorry,” I repeated, not used to the hardness of my own voice, “but I can’t help you. You’re going to have to ask someone else.” And I turned around and finished wiping off my engine and closed the hood. As I drove away, I saw the man’s wife approaching another driver. I shook my head.
The incident got me to thinking, though. Whether it’s a scammer or awith a sign, why do such encounters leave me feeling so unsettled? Why do I feel guilty if I choose not to give, even though I myself don’t have any money and know I did the right thing?
And, also . . . What pushes people to lie, beg, cheat, and steal? Is it always desperation (which is about the only thing that could push me to do such a thing), or is it . . . sometimes . . . something else?
*It drives me crazy not to be able to wash my car myself, but, alas, a hose and large slab of cement are hard to come by in an.