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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Greatest Con of All

In this year of presidential politics I’ve been thinking a lot about cons lately – more specifically, what is the greatest con of all.
I love the movie, The Sting, but as entertaining as it is, Paul Newman and Robert Redford taking Robert Shaw for a few hundred thousand isn’t all that earth shaking. It was clearly not the greatest con of all. Even upping the ante with George Clooney and Brad Pitt taking Andy Garcia, Al Pacino, and that freaky French guy for hundreds of millions ends up paltry when distributed across the planet’s population of 7.2 billion.
I mean, what is that – a nickel a piece?
More pernicious, (or it would be if I knew what that meant,) are the movie tickets sold to feature films that featured actors like Steve Guttenberg, Diane Keaton, Chuck Norris, and Chris Rock – actors that clearly couldn’t act to save their lives.
But even that, in spite of all the hours and money wasted in sticky-floored movie theaters, and graffiti-covered Red Box kiosks, is still small potatoes to the greatest con of all.
I was six. For some reason of inscrutable cosmic karma I ended up with an ENTIRE PACKAGE of Oreo cookies. Thinking back, that was the highest, most blissful moment of my life. Many’s the time I’ve wished I could have been cryogenically frozen, my package of hard chocolate-flavored disks enclosing sugared hydrogenated animal fat grasped firmly in my tiny greedy fingers. Perhaps I could have been thawed once a millennium for enough time to lick one cookie cream-free, only to once again be popsiclized.
I could have been the frozen Buddha of sensory contentment.
But it wasn’t to be.
Instead I remained in the standard time continuum, and just as atoms or electrons (I get those guys mixed up,) eventually collide with other atoms or electrons, I eventually came into contact with… another six-year-old.
“Gimme some,” my greedy contemporary demanded.
“No,” I replied.
“C’mon!” said the six-year-old.
(C’mon is among the most common phrases used for cajolery (?) in the English language, but in spite of it’s trillions of applications has never once convinced a person to do anything they didn’t already want to do. I didn’t want to share my Oreos.)

“Why should I?”
And here it comes, the greatest and most pernicious (I think) con in the history of humankind. It is great not because it has ever emptied a casino vault or cheated a mobster, but because it has been used successfully millions, billions, maybe even trillions of times.
“I’ll be your best friend!”
Into my naive six-year-old mind flashed images of earning a life-long friend at the cost of a few empty, and possibly carcinogenic calories. This hungry fellow would laugh at my jokes, help me stand against bullies, let me copy off his paper in arithmetic, and when we got really old (like twenty-five,) would loan me all his power tools.
It was a tempting trade.
“How many you want?”
“How about three?”
“You’ll still be my best friend?”
“Forever and ever?”
My hand shook slightly as I extended the cellophane reliquary of sacred snackery to my new best friend.
I don’t have to tell you how that ended. My guess is that everyone reading this post has either fallen for this con, or practiced it, or both during their childhood. By the end of the hour, two important things in my life had changed - I was out of Oreos, and my best friend was gone.
Was I foolish? I was young. I was innocent. My brain was partially gelatinized by cream filling.
(Of course that doesn’t explain how I fell for the same con regularly over the next fifty years.)

“I’ll be your best friend” is the simplest, the easiest; most ubiquitous of cons. It may also create the most heartache. In spite of feeding my life-long, heart disease inducing obsession, the Nirvana of Oreo satiation never returned.
My one consolation is the look on my ersatz best friend’s face months later when he returned from a painful afternoon in the dentist chair.

Ah, Best Friends!  What a great concept!  Maybe little Eddie got that on his TV show 43 years ago.
Here's Brandon Cruz (Eddie,) today.
   Sigh, it's all a con.