They showed up one day, right before the holidays. Two young kids decked out in Christmas garb, but shabby. They weren't really kids, they were at that in-between age of 17 and 20, she looking the part of the 17 year old. They set up a table outside Trader Joe’s, on the parking lot curbside, so that people leaving and crossing the street would have to walk right into them.

They had an interesting pitch. On their table were pre-wrapped gifts. You could either buy a gift, or in lieu of purchasing the gift, just make a donation. This was posed in such a way as to make the person actually thinking of "buying" the gift rather than just making a donation seem like a greedy pig for taking something that could generate more income. This was because the gifts were wrapped in red, white and blue paper, making them appear to be patriotic. They also had for purchase an assortment of tarnished flag pins, for the bargain price of one dollar.

For the shoppers this was not, in their eyes, anything other than fund-raising for some sort of Veterans' program. They passed through maybe once every two weeks, tossed a few bucks, and went on with their shopping. As the weeks progressed, this portal to my office, something I passed through everyday, became something decidedly different.

After the winter holidays were over, they set up a new table, this time in front of Vons. When they had their shop in front of Trader Joe’s, I had little contact with them, just a kind of curiosity about what these two were up to. Now, their table was directly at the crosswalk I used daily to access my building, and contact was inevitable.

The table had changed. In place of the patriotic tchotchkes and pre-wrapped gifts, there were pamphlets about flea-control products and cards for an animal emergency facility in East County. Also, a jar for donations to help pay for the surgery of a cat. And a new money-making prop, a four day-old kitten.

So, I stop and get the back story. The boy-man is a charming type, he taking on the role of the guy in charge, while the girl was more of a supporting player, shy and although I am not sure if it was an act or not, somewhat dumb, not in the sense of stupid, but just not in the least bit sophisticated and also somewhat eager to please. They show me photos of the mother cat, she now at the afore-mentioned animal facility, having undergone surgery. Expensive surgery, which they are unable to pay for. The kitten was the only survivor of a litter that had died inside the mother, her being unable for some reason to deliver them. The pictures showed her stitches. The baby kitten could not nurse due to the pain medication so they were bottle feeding it. The mother’s survival was still up in the air.

They seemed really earnest, and the girl would hold the kitten and feed it while the boy would do most of the talking, her sometimes looking up and pulling back the curtain of hair shielding her face, and she would smile at me. We chatted about cats and they told me the mother cat belonged to them. Something triggered in my head, this is not right, but I gave them five dollars and wished them luck.

Days go by. I can look out the window of our office everyday and watch the flow of people and their interaction with the two and the kitten. People are opening wallets left and right, tens and twenties flowing into the jar, and I watch the boy tell the story, while the people nod their heads and wear the pained expressions of someone being told a really sad story. I am becoming fascinated by these two, wondering what their story was, where were they from, where did they live? We all were. We watched them everyday, speculating and making up stories about them, envisioning a kind of romantic but harsh life of two young people trying to make a go of it in a seedy manner.

One day, our assistant was looking out the window, and she notices something. “Oh, my god, I think she is pregnant.” We all get up from our seats and gather at the window. Normally garbed in a large sweatshirt she had taken it off for an unseasonably warm afternoon. Sure enough, it was confirmed. One of my co-workers murmured “I gave them twenty dollars yesterday”. Another, “I gave them five”.

We had noticed sometimes the presence of an older woman in a mini-van come by and check on the two. She would confer with them, their three heads bowed together in some sort of conspiracy. Some days the van would be parked out there for hours, her whereabouts unknown. Other days, she would stay only for a few minutes. One day, she was there with them when I made my daily crossing. I chatted with her, my curiosity about this woman becoming a little obsessive. She alluded to the fact that she was one of their mothers, but I saw no resemblance. She confirmed that the mother cat was theirs, and said they worked for the animal facility as volunteers. Later that day, the boy and girl came into my office, saying the woman told them they needed to properly thank the nice lady that spoke to them everyday and seemed a bit of a champion for their cause. My co-workers are weirded-out by this, as was I. Until then, they had never gone to the office. They took one of my cards on their way out.

By now, Vons is getting upset by this whole thing, as the formally generous and concerned people who doled out donations are not seeing them leave and are complaining to management. I suppose they wanted to see some progress, in the form of them leaving. I asked the boy how the mother cat was doing. “She’s doing much better”. This relieved me, because I wanted to believe that somehow this would all make sense.

We see from the window animal control talking to them, the boy convincing the woman that the kitten is well taken care of, as he confirmed this all with me later when upon leaving I asked him what they wanted. But people are getting mean now, telling them they need to take the kitten to a shelter. Generosity was turning to torches and pitchforks. I tell them I will take the kitten but I realize now there was no way they were parting with what was a very profitable enterprise.

Then, there was a new enterprise. The earthquake in Haiti had struck, bringing terrible devastation to the people. And a new table went up. It had a donation jar for the victims of the quake, with some posters and a fake Red Cross-type sign. The white van woman had helped them set it up as we watched from the windows. And some people gave them money. We saw a police car in the parking lot, then two. That afternoon, I saw the Vons manager talking to them and then they were gone. I waited for days for them to come back. I needed to know about them, they did not say good-bye. Who was the lady in the van?

Weeks went by, and the memory of the two did not fade, but took on a dreamy quality, as I hoped the two would somehow be legitimate and knowing better. I had taken a card for the animal hospital when they were pimping the kitten, not for any particular reason, and had placed it my desk drawer. I took the card out of my drawer and called the number. I told them about the two volunteers that had been raising money for a cat’s surgery. They confirmed that a cat had been dropped off and had to have emergency surgery due to complications from it giving birth to its litter. None of the kittens survived, that they knew of. And she said they had no volunteers affiliated with them raising donations for the cat.

One day, they show up at the office with an animal carrier. The said they wanted to show me how well the kitten was doing. I asked about the mother, and they said they could not get her out of the animal hospital unless they paid an adoption fee of $60.00, and would I pay it? I told them that I thought they had said she was their cat. The boy is getting mad at me for challenging his story, and he said his wife was pregnant and they could not afford to get the cat out. I asked him where he lived. He said Point Loma with a question mark at the end. I knew he was bullsht and I knew she was really pregnant and I have never felt such an icky feeling as I did right then about what was morally right and wrong and I asked them to please leave and leave the kitten. I knew I was being grifted, but a part of me still wanted to help the girl, because I could tell she was going along with this, less a party to than a victim of. As they left with the cat, the boy said “fck this sht” and I never saw them again.

More like this:

Comments

David Dodd May 30, 2010 @ 11:42 a.m.

Of course, you smelled a rat all along. Awesome story, very well told. The lady in the van is the thing, isn't it? Well done, Ms. Grant.

0

MsGrant May 30, 2010 @ 11:54 a.m.

Thanks, RFG!! And yes, when the lady in the van showed up, the game changed.

0

nan shartel May 30, 2010 @ 1 p.m.

interesting story Grantie

now let me tell u a story

when Bobby and i moved back to San Diego in 2005 we would see a 40 some vet ...according to his sign standing at the end of the Los Coches Rd turn off panhandling for funds to rent a room for the nite

he was skinny and raggedy looking and his sign said he'd work for money but we didn't need any help...he was quiet..never said much but i gave him $20

later when we'd stopped at any fast food place we'd buy him a meal too..it became a habit

once after we gave him a meal and a fiver he thanked me and i said it was a privilege to be of some small help to him

this went on for about 10 months with a meal every 3 or 4 days an a fiver or tenner handed over...i never asked him his story

i knew he might be drinking the money up

then he disappear for about 4 weeks

one Saturday he was back..wearing nice clothing...a white shirt and tie...when we stopped he handed me a bouquet of flowers and said

"thank you for seeing me thru a bad time...i have a job now and am becoming self sufficient"

i hugged him thru my window...wished him well and never saw him again

0

nan shartel May 30, 2010 @ 1:02 p.m.

it would be interesting to know what that couples story really was..the one that had nothing to do with a cat

0

MsGrant May 30, 2010 @ 1:15 p.m.

Holy crap. That is a beautiful story and the way we should all conduct ourselves. At the risk of becoming a stalker, I am considering having you canonized.

0

MsGrant May 30, 2010 @ 1:23 p.m.

Oh, you have no idea to this day how much I wish I'd been able to hold my tongue and sit them down and talk to them. Just goes to show you how emotions can override rational thought. Obviously I still think about them, and I still look for them when I shop in other areas, looking for a table full of junk, and quite possibly, a baby rather than a kitten.

0

CuddleFish May 30, 2010 @ 1:25 p.m.

What a racket. I must say, MsG, these stories frustrate me. If you run these types off, they just set up shop somewhere else. You never know if, like nan's example, they are just really going through a hard time, or if this is their style of life, and if it is, if they are being forced to do it, to share their money with someone else. What is the back story? What can be done to get them out of this type of "work?"

What a world.

0

nan shartel May 30, 2010 @ 1:34 p.m.

believe it or not Grantie...the charitable weren't fleeced..but unfortunately from what u say the couple were used by a demon witch in a white van

shame on her!!!!

i bet very little of what they made landed in their own pocket...and a baby on the way 2

each one who gave were pure of heart...doing the work we as children of the Universe are supposed to do

and as Karma says..."what comes around goes around"...and as the bible say's "ten thousand fold"

Namaste

0

MsGrant May 30, 2010 @ 1:38 p.m.

Sometimes I wonder if the baby was a pillow, like in the movie "The Cooler". But I know it wasn't and the mixed emotions were really the difficult thing to reconcile. Exploitation really freaks me out when the currency is alive.

0

nan shartel May 30, 2010 @ 1:46 p.m.

ditto to Cuddles and agreed to Grantie

0

David Dodd May 30, 2010 @ 1:58 p.m.

"Sometimes I wonder if the baby was a pillow, like in the movie 'The Cooler'."

Oh, no. That baby, unfortunately, is their next kitten, grifters have no shame. I wish I was wrong about that. You wouldn't believe the crap I've seen down here. How about people who intentionally carve big giant festering wounds in their limbs and beg for money from un-knowing tourists for money for treatment in a country that offers free medical care? It's a very effed-up World sometimes.

And nan, that's a great story.

0

Robert Johnston May 30, 2010 @ 2:56 p.m.

When I worked at Target of Escondido, we had to deal with these sort of folks all the time. Candy-sellers, paid-petition-pushers, "Scambos" (not my term, btw, one of our security officers came up with that term) of every idea and concept...they all were there, especially around the holidays.

I certainly got an earful from our guests about these folks. Unfortunately, all I could do was pass it up the chain-of-command to my supervisor. However, two of our "Leader Of The Day" staff (management personnel who serve as Store Team Leader (Store Manager)for that shift) were very proactive about dealing with them.

It was made pefectly clear that any activities outside the store exit/entrance had to be cleared first with the Store Team Leader. Then, their "area of influence" was restricted to the Exit area. Plus, is the guests still complained, they had to leave, immediately. Violation of these policies resulted in the Escondido Police Department being called, a tresspass order (banning the person-or-group from store property) issued--or the police taking the offenders to jail on a tresspassing charge (only used when all else failed).

Shoppers come to a store to shop, not be hit on for cash contributions or petition signatures. The stores know that these "busker-hucksters" drive down business and profits by driving away paying customers. They may be tolerated, but they certainly are not welcome!

And as for that couple--"grifters" is not too strong a description of such folks. They prey on your sympathy to get to your wallet...no if's, and's or but's about it. One time, outside of a Home Depot back in 1986, my Dad and I were getting a lock for my storage unit. Some dude was sitting outside with a "VIETNAM VETERAN-PLEASE HELP!" sign attached to an ammo can (for donations.

That bozo made the mistake of asking my Dad for a contribution. My dad swung around, lowered his glasses, and in his most "low-volume but very pi**** off Command Master Chief's voice" told him that he was a Vietnam Veteran (my dad did two tours in 'Nam with the U.S. Navy as a Hospital Corpsman. The first with the First Marine Division, the second with CB-58 (Seabees)). That shut the dude up right quick.

They may play on your heartstrings, but it's not your sympathy they want (for the most part)--it's your do-ray-mi (as in your ready cash)! If you smell Limburger coming from these folks, then trust your gut and do not bother! And tell the store management about them. If they get enough complaints--the "busker-huskers" have to pack up and hit the highway.

--LPR

0

MsGrant May 30, 2010 @ 3:42 p.m.

Yes, it was really a strange phenomenon. Not sure how many of you are familiar with "The Point". We have not had s here for years. Forever. You had to go to Sports Arena to shop. Rosecrans was just fast food and banks. A military catering strip. None the less, this place is full of monied. And then came Liberty. Can you hear the angels sing as the clouds part? But Point Loma never had a real "beggar's" area, unlike Ocean Beach, which offered training classes in begging. So, along comes these two, who I swear were the first in Liberty Station, and along with it a class of folks uneducated in the art of negotiating the grift. They gave, and gave, and gave. And then it sunk in. Realizing they were being fed, they turned on their giftees like the a**holes that they really are. It was fun to watch.

0

nan shartel May 30, 2010 @ 3:45 p.m.

~~St Nan...i like it~~

hahahahahahahahahahahha

0

MsGrant May 30, 2010 @ 6:13 p.m.

Thanks, Anti. Today is a day of reflect for weirdos.

0

MsGrant May 30, 2010 @ 6:37 p.m.

I did not mean that in the way it sounds. What I meant was that we have all encountered weird people and sometimes we have to process them. That's all.

0

antigeekess May 30, 2010 @ 7:21 p.m.

WTH? I'm NOT a weirdo?

identity crisis

;)

0

David Dodd May 30, 2010 @ 7:29 p.m.

I'M the weirdo, y'all. No crisis here ;)

0

MsGrant May 31, 2010 @ 8:49 a.m.

Sorry, I forgot that to us weirdo is the highest compliment. I take back my apology, fellow weird ones.

0

MsGrant May 31, 2010 @ 3:16 p.m.

AG, THAT is beyond words. His bodysuit rocks!!

0

MsGrant May 31, 2010 @ 5:15 p.m.

You look great in your Danskin!!! Who remembers Danskin?!!? I had the long-sleeve black scoop-necked one for tap lessons paired with pink tights with a seam down the back.

0

CuddleFish May 31, 2010 @ 5:36 p.m.

Okay, that is seriously wierd, AG.

nan, you look mahvelous! xxx

My daughter did her whole dancing class life, jazz, tap, ballet, in Danskin!

0

Sign in to comment

Join our
newsletter list

Enter to win $25 at Broken Yolk Cafe

Each newsletter subscription
means another chance to win!

Close