Your Hip, Hapless Child


From Edward Gorey’s “The Hapless Child”

There’s a knock on the door and my son answers it. An adorable three-year-old girl is there with her dad, who asks my son if his mom or dad is home. My son calls me by my name, which he does when he’s nervous.

“There’s someone here to see you, Marty,” he says.

It’s missionaries, I think. I always talk to missionaries because they can at least put me down as a “maybe” and get more mission-kibble. But I’m wrong.

I appear in the doorway and the man asks me if that is my Chevy parked out front. Yes, it’s mine. He tells me he can remove the dings right now, on the curb, with his own tools, for $275. I’m not thinking straight, so I say, “The headlight is messed up, too” (I got grazed by a city garbage truck and used the cash for more pressing matters). The man leaves his daughter with us to go check. While he’s gone, she says:

“Please hire my dad. We just need a place to stay tonight. Please.” She says it like she’s on a Disney show.

The man returns and tells us that a body shop would charge me a thousand bucks but he can now do the whole thing for just two hundred. That’s like a 27 percent discount in just a few minutes, with no haggling on top of the extra work!

Meanwhile the daughter’s statement just hangs in the air.

“Yeah,” the guy is saying, “I’m on my day off and I cruise the neighborhood to see if there’s work I can do on cars.”

The girl has noticed there’s a dog leash hanging just inside the door.

“Do you have a dog?” she says. “Ours is in the car with us. Please let us do the work! We need a place to stay tonight.”

The man quietly shushes his daughter. My kids are standing just inside the door and I can feel a wave of uneasiness coming from them.

I don’t have $275, or $200, and if I did I wouldn’t pay someone to knock out the dings in my car. The dings (along with my poverty and general wretchedness) are what keeps me from getting a big head. The guy senses this.

“How about a hundred and fifty? I can do it right now, and if you’re not satisfied, you don’t have to pay me.”

“Oh, please!” the daughter says.

I don’t have any cash and I’m not about to ask him if he’s got a swipey thing for his phone or if he takes PayPal. It’s amazing how cornered one feels when presented with well-scrubbed, non-sullen children.

Nevertheless, there’s not going to be a sale today. I ask for his name and number, which he reluctantly gives me, and tell him I’ll call him next week. He and his daughter leave under a cloud. I face my kids, who are confused.

“I’m not sure what I should have done, other than what I did,” I say, “but I don’t feel good about it.”

Later the internet tells me that this was most likely a scam, that there is some epoxy involved that masks the lack of work done, and that the narrative involves waiting a day for it to dry, at which point the dude might be long gone. There’s television reports of this sort of thing happening in the neighborhood and people being conned out of hundreds of dollars.

My girlfriend called them a scamily.

Still, I wonder how this family adventure was sold to that smart little girl. Sometimes my family has adventures, too, when there’s no internet, or the dog needs medical attention, or we can’t afford a vacation. To my knowledge I’ve never enlisted the kids in a scheme to go scam the neighbors. But I also wonder how bad it would have to get for me to consider it. And what service would I offer? Maybe I could have my daughter sell matchsticks.

I’m also wondering how much of the girl’s story is true. Just because the choreography was so exquisite — she waited until her father was gone to plant the idea of needing somewhere to stay for the night — might not make it a lie.

Things have been tough for us lately and I don’t know where to put this incident to gain perspective on it.

It would be weird if he were playing a long con and he had not only been the Glendale garbage truck driver who hit me but also that the girl posing as his daughter was actually mine. Had I gone through with the car dent scam and learned I’d been bamboozled, perhaps the girl would have got on the phone and told me that something had happened when I represented Cameroon in the 2014 FIFA World Cup and now it was payback time. Or maybe it was Donald and Ivanka Trump, in human form, come to walk unnoticed among the common people. I don’t know.

I’m happy I didn’t get guilted into giving that guy cash because I need it. It was them or us. More than that, though, I wish that I’d had the cash to give him and that he had done an excellent job, and that his family and dog had gotten to stay a whole week somewhere.

1 comment

  1. “I’m not sure what I should have done, other than what I did,” I say, “but I don’t feel good about it.”

    No better summary of the human condition.

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