Confessions of an Amateur Con Artist


If you don't tell 'em I'm crazy, I won't tell 'em you're a con artist

I’m a con artist in that I’m an actor. I make people believe something is real when they know perfectly well it isn’t. 

~John Lithgow

My mom once said something to me as a child which hit me in a very strange way. “Sweetie,” she said with a sigh, “it’s a good thing you have a conscience, or you’d be a whole lot of trouble.” I never knew what she meant until much later in life. Like Pinocchio, or the cherry-tree George Washington kids learn about in school, I was incapable of telling lies for the longest time. It went against my Aspie nature and, well, my personal code. Even when I did try to lie, it was so pathetically inept that my cookie-stealing or chore-avoiding became all the more obvious.

But people, like the times, change over the years. Through a series of (un)fortunate events, I grew to rely on deception as not just a way to get things I otherwise couldn’t get, but as a survival mechanism. I became that rare Aspie who could lie and lie with ease. I’m not going to say I became as good as, say, Frank Abagnale or your average Beltway politician, but I was pretty damn good. There was one major difference between me and the rest of the confidence men and women, though.

I never used my cons for personal gain, or at the expense of someone else. I still had my mysterious personal code of honor.

Yes, there actually *are* snake oil salesmen

For me, conning was a way to explore a hidden side of my quiet, unassuming personality. Like the great actors, it allowed me to become a lion tamer or an ambassador’s daughter or the last descendant of some noble family. The sky was the limit. I’m not sure when I started doing it. It just seemed natural, when I traveled, to playfully assume the identity of someone completely fictional. I wasn’t trying to swindle some poor lady out of her life savings or relieve an elderly gent of his gold fraternity ring. Nor was I going door-to-door collecting for a bogus charity that was actually my fund for a trip to Cancun. It was, in some way, on a deeper level. Because no one ever seemed to accept me at face value, or find my natural personality more interesting than plain oatmeal, this was my way of taking the grand stage. (For those of you wondering why I never went into acting? I don’t have the looks and I find improv much more interesting than scripts.)

One of the great tropes in literature and pop culture is the con man (or woman) with a softer side. From Robin Hood to Kokopelli to The Music Man, to more modern incarnations like Lost‘s Sawyer and The A-Team’s Faceman, it’s always refreshing to see a con artist give back a little bit. Those that don’t usually wind up as the sociopathic villains of movies and TV shows.

I got this 'vette by honest means. Honestly...

I fall into neither one category or the other. I’ve been running my “cons” for about 14 years now and I keep coming up with different ones. Most people, I’ve found, are easy to convince. They’ll believe the act if you do. I’ve impersonated everyone from a stunt horseback rider to the daughter of a South African farmer, and never has my veracity, or my dodgy accent, been questioned. And again, I stress that I’m not doing any of this for ill-gotten gain. I do it because it’s a hell of a lot more fun than knitting or playing golf. And yeah, maybe I’m making up for all those lost years of drama classes gone awry or being passed over for the lead role in a play. Conning is acting on steroids. If you slip up, you either get busted or you have to fix the slip pronto. There’s a reason, you see, why most entertainers and politicians are con artists at heart. I am neither. My cons are strictly amateur and not for profit.

Maybe someday I’ll get to live out my fantasies of, say, helping the feds find a dangerous gang leader by infiltrating his group, or exacting a revenge con against a rich miser slum lord by feeding him a taste of his own medicine. That’s the kind of stuff Hollywood loves, and the kind of stuff which sustains my rich fantasy life during a long, boring day at work.

Until then I’ll keep refining my craft, maybe adding more glibness and a few more dodgy stage accents to the mix. Because, in these uncertain times, it’s always helpful to know how to run a good con.

Just in case. Relax.

Turns out my mom was right. It’s a good thing I was born with a strange code of honor, or I’d have wound with my picture in the post office lobby by now. I’m an actress at heart, so I guess that makes me a con artist at heart too.

 

I do consider card games fair territory...you are warned

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~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on August 22, 2011.

One Response to “Confessions of an Amateur Con Artist”

  1. Most people, I’ve found, are easy to convince. They’ll believe the act if you do – I got inspired after I read this

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