05 December 2009


It has been a while since I have subjected you to a long entry. We are about to remedy that. I very much need to engage in some talk therapy here today—more precisely, some “write therapy.” I have a personal problem, and his name is Fortino.

This photo above, ladies and gentlemen, is of the most skillful, the most artful con man that I have ever encountered. The nature of his scam does not comprise his skill and his art. His skill and art are comprised of his ability to locate and recognize one who is vulnerable, for whatever reasons, to his simple scam. Currently, I am the vulnerable one.

The streets of urban México are full of hustlers on the make in the very broad sense of the phrase. I have had no trouble with this to date. I have had no trouble saying no to those Indian woman in beautiful costumes selling dolls made of corn husks or whatever. I solved the problem of the old beggar women by adopting two who are always in the same location and ignoring the rest. I have had no trouble saying no to every sort of advance in the street until now.

A week ago I was standing by my truck in the street. The truck was admittedly filthy, covered with a thick patina of dust. Fortino walked up with his bucket and his rags and proposed to wash and wax the truck. In the street. His method is that he begs buckets of water from whomever nearby or dips buckets of water out of a fountain or miraculously secures buckets of water from wherever and washes the vehicle in its parking spot at the curb.

One has to make an appointment for this at a certain designated location and time because first, one must go purchase materiales for Fortina to use, soap of some sort, ArmorAll®, and car wax. Fortino has no materiales other than his bucket and his rags. This is similar to the situation when one hires a Mexican workman in the street. One has to furnish one's own tools for him to work with. A Mexican workman from the street never has his own tools. Never.

In retrospect here is where the whole situation started to get out of control for me. I was not able to negotiate a price for this wash and wax job with Fortino in advance. It is not that I did not try. I tried. And I failed. For some reason and nonetheless, I found myself driving off in the truck to purchase soap, ArmorAll®, and wax, with the intention of meeting Fortino in the designated street at the designated time a couple of hours later so that he could wash and wax the thing. Without having successfully negotiated a price in advance, mind you. I guess my thought was, “How much can a goddamned wash and wax in the street cost in México? It cannot be that much.” As things have turned out though, it would probably not have made a whit of difference anyway.

I know that I am using up a grand amount of words telling this story. For some reason I am taking a perverse pleasure in it akin to picking the scab over an old wound. So I do not care.

Fortino made that first appointment last Saturday and admittedly worked long and hard on the truck. It was a wonderful job. The truck sparkled. I asked Fortino how much. First, I had to listen to him hold forth on how difficult the job had been and how long it had taken. Then with nary a twitch, with nary a blink of an eye, he told me what I owed him, a figure that rocked me back.

Let me pause here. I am not going to give you or anyone else precise figures regarding the amount of money that I have given this son-of-a-bitch. First, as matters have evolved, I am not exactly sure myself how much I have given him. Second, if I were to quote you even a round number, I would die of shame. The amount of money that I have given Fortino is a secret that I will take to my grave with me.

After that first wash-and-wax job and after I had caught my breath, I handed over a bill that covered the cost and then some. I had to ask for my change. Fortino seemed perfectly agreeable about the necessity of giving me my change, but it never happened. He made use of some mental legerdemain, some psychological sleight-of-hand, involving distractions and invented complications, that caused me to lose track of the fact that I had not received my change. I never did receive my change.

Having completely lost consciousness of the fact that I had not received my change, I agreed to an appointment for the next Saturday so that Fortino could give the truck another wash-and-wax job. You see, as I understood it, if I did not let the truck get so dirty--if I had it washed more regularly--then Fortino would have an easier time of it. And if Fortino were to have an easier time of it, the job would then cost less. That made sense to me. Does not that make sense to you? It made sense to me anyway. Of course I did not ask how much less. Such questions seldom seem to occur to me when I am dealing with Fortino, and when they do occur to me and I ask them, I never quite get an answer.

Consider this. For thirty-six years I have been a trial lawyer. Just because I do not have shit now, does not mean that I did not make money. I touched a lot of money. It just seemed to kind of pass through my hands to women, to creditors, to this and that. I earned this money in part by successfully making people answer questions in court that they did not want to answer. I obviously have some skill at this. Otherwise, I would not have made all that money, would I?

Moreover, as a result of that profession, I have encountered more than my fair share of highly skilled con men. Hell, I have represented some really, really cool con men. I understand well what is involved in the profession. I do. Honest.

The only two questions of Fortino to which I ever get an answer are (1) how much money I need to pay over currently and (2) how much more money he needs for other things. Regarding (2). . . .

Fortino unexpectedly showed up outside the tennis courts on Tuesday not Saturday. Hans does not let any strange people come into the tennis courts. Apparently, when he was lax about this in the past, some Mexican wandered into the tennis courts and laid hands in an offensive way on an American woman awaiting a tennis court. So I understand that. In any event, Hans informed me that Fortino was at the gate asking for me.

I went out and spoke with Fortino. Here is where things really start to get murky. I admit that it may have something to do with my imperfect Spanish. But anyway as I understood it, there had been a flood in Tabasco and children in Tabasco were weeping. I could not make out the rest of the details. I did not understand, for example, what connection Fortino had with either the now flooded Tabasco or the weeping children in Tabasco. I did clearly understand that immediate action was required. The immediate action required was my paying Fortino an advance on the next wash-and-wax job so that Fortino could help the weeping children in flooded Tabasco.

Okay. Let me be absolutely honest here. The immediate action required of me last Tuesday was to pay Fortino an advance on the next two wash-and-wax jobs. All I can tell you is that it was a beautiful appeal to my faith in the face of the fact that Tabasco has not been flooded since before the Conquest. And only God knows how long before the Conquest it was that Tabasco was last flooded. Now, there may be weeping children in Tabasco, but those children are not weeping because of a flood. It was akin to the faith that religion asks of us in the face of facts clearly in contradiction to the premises of the faith requested

And how can one possibly turn down an appeal for help in a non-existent but heart rending situation such as that? Just because sad events have not occurred in reality does not make them any less poignant, does it? I mean, we ourselves weep in the theater, do we not? And do we not sometimes weep when reading a novel? The thought of those children who were not weeping in Tabasco because of a flood that had not occurred broke my heart.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Fortino showed up right on time this morning at the gate to the tennis courts to wash and wax the truck in the street outside. Why would he not? I am probably the fattest pigeon that he has tied into for a while.

One always passes the time of day a bit with Mexicans before doing any business. So first, I inquired after the children in Tabasco who are not weeping because of the flood that had not occurred there. As I understood it, they are in a bit better shape but not much.

I love speaking Spanish with Fortino. He is enormously patient. Enormously patient. On the spur of the moment I am capable of coming up with a construction in Spanish that renders a sentence absurd and utterly senseless. For example, I might say “My goodness, the sun also will certainly be textured last month!” When I say something like this, Fortino invariably puts his hand on my shoulder and nods in grave agreement as if I had said something truly profound like, “I think; therefore, I am” or “You must lose yourself in order to find yourself.” Ya gotta love that.

We then discussed the change he owes me from last Saturday. I must say this for Fortino. He is an honest man. He adamantly agreed that he owes me change from last Saturday. But that was as far as that went.

That brought us to the wash-and-wax job at hand. I was under the impression that I had paid for two wash-and-wax jobs in advance and that this would be one of those. What I had not taken into account, simply because I did not know it, was that apparently some old woman somewhere has had her electricity shut off for non-payment of her electrical bill. Moreover, this old woman somewhere, because of some unspecified health condition, is in mortal danger if she continues without electrical service. This problem could be solved today with another advance on two more wash-and-wax jobs to be completed later down the road.

I lost my patience for only a moment. I told Fortino that he was a pirate, una pirata--a agreeable pirate, una pirata agradable--but a pirate nonetheless. The son-of-a-bitch hung his head. I am not kidding you about this. The son-of-a-bitch hung his head, and his eyes started to wet up. He started to weep just like those children who are not weeping in Tabasco because of that flood that did not occur there. We then resolved the matter quickly. I am up four wash-and-wax jobs now.

Fortino then promptly requested an additional 200 pesos for something else, but I said no to that. You would have been so proud of me.

No, actually, I am up only three wash-and-wax jobs now because I did get a wash-and-wax job this morning and some old lady somewhere is getting her electrical service turned back on this afternoon. Or at least it is nice to think so. I brought Fortino a couple of cups of coffee out there in the street to drink while he washed the truck. I needed to make amends for that pirate remark.

You will recall that you and I agreed that future wash-and-wax jobs ought logically to cost less if I have the job done more often and Fortino has an easier time of it as a result. I know that Fortino embraces this concept because it was he who suggested it. However, I am in a situation now where I am never paying for the current wash-and-wax job when Fortino has indeed had an easy time of it. I am paying for future wash-and-wax jobs. I think the idea is that the future condition of the truck is so uncertain that Fortino must ask the full boat for these future wash-and-wax jobs. He has no choice even though he would dearly love to charge me some lesser amount for his easy time of it currently. I can understand that. You can understand that, can't you?

I do not know what the fuck to do about all this. The bastard is bleeding me to death with my own cooperation. Obviously, I am completely vulnerable to this guy. I have considered offering to pay him not to wash and wax the truck and stay away from me. It seems logical that I should be able to get a discount if he does have to wash and wax the truck. However, I am concerned that for some reason unknown to me at this time it may be more expensive to pay him for not washing and waxing the truck and staying away from me than it will be to continue to pay him advances on future wash-and-wax jobs. It is confusing.

I do know this though. I like that bastard a lot. I look forward to seeing him again so that we can speak Spanish and I can get further news concerning the old lady and the children and perhaps learn of some new tragedy somewhere.

Fortino was finishing today's job waxing the hood. For some reason he was very proud of the hood. He asked me to go get the camera again and take a couple of pictures of him working over the hood. Of course, I said yes. I needed to take back his empty coffee cup anyway.


Allyson said...

I, too, know and love Fortino, the greatest con man in all of Mexico. He constantly pesters me for money and cokes on the street when I pass him. I solved all this by saying " Yo soy no El Banco" or, I am not the bank. He seemed to understand my stance and was in total agreement.
Since that conversation he merely says "hola" now.
So far so good, for now.
Steve, I am glad you are his sponsor. You are a good man indeed!

Allyson said...

Oh, by the way, I am not Allyson, but Steve O, her Popi.

Four Dinners said...

Absolute class old bean!!!! This guy should be a politician of the first rank! He is verging on genius!!!!!

Anonymous said...

From way up here in Toronto, it looks to me like you enjoy being conned by Fortino, and already you rue the day you will spoil that relationship by shutting off the flow of money.