Just another day – or so I thought. I stepped out of the cold, dark Abercrombie and Fitch flagship store into the bright, hot sidewalk on 5th avenue. I looked around for some shade to stand under – nothing in sight on this side of the street and I wasn’t going to bother crossing the road just to smoke a cigarette. So I leaned against the glass and lit up a stick. Under the blazing sun, I smoked my cigarette and observed people walking by, going about their daily lives.
I was about to finish my death stick when all of a sudden I saw a CD in a clear plastic sleeve thrust in front of my face, accompanied by an announcement from a stranger, “hey man, this is my CD, check out my music, I’m giving it to you for free.”
I looked towards the voice and saw a jacked black man standing by my side. He was a young-looking dude, maybe about twenty-ish in a fitting white singlet, muscles showing on his arms and chest. His pants were saggy, boxers showing, headphones hanging around his neck. He fit the stereotypical appearance of a rapper. But just to make sure, I asked, “is this rap music?”
“Yeah man, hip hop,” he replied.
“Oh cool, thanks!” I said as I took the disc from him. As soon as I took the disc from him, three more guys showed up. Similarly dressed, also with CDs in their hands. They all made sure I got one each.
“Thank you,” I said to the other guys.
“Yeah, uh – I’m going to need donations. I’m shooting a music video with MTV and all, and I’m collecting money.”
“Oh. How much do you need?”
“A dollar, that’s all.”
“A dollar? Sure, I can spare that.” I know struggling musicians don’t make much money, and giving them a dollar wouldn’t hurt, so I opened my backpack to get my wallet out.
“Where are you from?”
“Oh, I love Malaysia man, I hope to perform in your country one day!”
I laughed as I continued digging through my backpack.
“Hey, you don’t gotta be afraid of black people man,” said one of them – noticing I was struggling to find my wallet (not on purpose – it was hard to dig through my bag with a cigarette in one hand).
“Naw, I’m not,” I responded.
“Here, let me put that out for you,”
I gave him the almost burnt out cigarette which he gladly finished and threw on the ground.
When I found my wallet and opened it, he must have noticed the hundred-dollar bill in my wallet because he said “hey, give me that – I’ll give you change for a hundred”.
“Why would I need change for a hundred when I can give you one?”
“Nah man, here’s ninety, just give me the hundred,” he said as he put ninety dollars in front of me. I took the ninety and gave him a hundred. I thought he was going to give me nine more dollars – instead he took the bill and strode away quickly.
Fuck, I just lost ten bucks. Oh well, at least I have some new rap music to listen to.
I noticed that the other three guys were still hanging around. I decided to put my wallet away when one of the remaining three dudes said, “hey, you gotta pay me for the music too.”
“But I already paid him,” I replied, confused.
“No, that’s him – we’re different.”
Alarm bells went off in my head (extremely late, I know).
“I’m sorry dude, I already paid him.”
“Yeah, but we’re different, you gotta pay me man.”
“Yeah, you gotta pay us man,” the other one chimed in.
“Pay me man.”
“PAY ME, MAN.”
What was a smiling face a minute ago had turned into a menacing glare. He leaned in closer towards me and snarled, “PAY ME, MAN.”
I kid you not when I said he was showing his teeth.
People like you are why people are afraid of people like you.
I took a breath and I assessed the situation I had gotten myself in. Let me tell you, being surrounded by three buff men who looked like they would shank you in a heartbeat isn’t a very pleasant experience. Especially when you’ve been mugged before, the possible outcomes never seem very positive.
I didn’t want to be mugged and lose my wallet (which had my passport inside) or lose my whole bag, so trying to run seemed out of the question (I was surrounded and they could have easily snatched my belongings from me if I tried to escape). I didn’t want to get punched in the face or shot and have my shit stolen (it’s like option one, with the bonus of getting beaten/killed. Also, they probably wouldn’t have shot me but hey – people have been shot over lesser disputes before), so I didn’t dare to yell or cause a scene.
In the end, I did what I considered the safest option, and parted with my cash. Dude two took fifty from me and returned ten, dude three took thirty from me and returned ten, and the last guy just took ten. (I don’t get why they insist on giving me change – why not just take the fucking hundred-dollar bill and be done with it. In fact, I think I would have felt better if I had been robbed instead of hustled like a chump. At least I wouldn’t have to feel like a fool).
Finally, they left me and went on their merry way, while I stood there flabbergasted and replaying in my head the last few minutes of what had just took place. When the sinking feeling in my stomach finally went away, I realized how stupid I was. I had been scammed. Hustled. Whatever you want to call it. I was a an idiot. Stupid. No other way to put it, really.
How a 30-turning-31-year-old man can be this naive even surprises me. I honestly thought I was helping a fellow musician out. I’ve made plenty of stupid decisions in my life and I think this one probably ranks quite high up there – mostly because 80 dollars is not insignificant when converted to ringgit.
Is this life’s way of making me pay for all the music I’ve illegally downloaded over the years? All that money could have went to hardworking artists who deserved it. Now I get to pay for music I didn’t even want in the first place. Or is life telling me to not ever trust strangers again?
Oh well. It’s too late to do anything about it. It was an expensive lesson, but a lesson nevertheless. I learnt to never accept shit from strangers on the street. I mean, what did I do to deserve the free shit in the first place? Exactly.
I hope those guys get caught scamming and never go anywhere in life. Or they blow up and become the next Kanye/Jay-Z/Wu-Tang Clan and I have in my possession one of their debut CDs (one of them autographed too! he signed it on the spot while I was looking for my wallet) which I can auction off for a few thousand bucks.
Any suggestions to what I should do with the CDs? I don’t want to pirate their music since that would be helping them spread it (they definitely don’t deserve the promotion).
You know what would be hilarious? I put the CD into my computer and it tries to infect my machine with some malware.
Welcome to New York.