Item 39 | What the Deuce?! -- Fearless Cultural Mania
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One day at a job I used to have, the conversation turned to music. Several of us were teasing a co-worker (hereafter referred to as "the dupe") for buying tickets to an upcoming Styx reunion tour (!?!). A few minutes later I found myself defending 70s SuperSwedes ABBA. I even claimed that I intended to buy their 4-CD retrospective boxed set.

My co-workers refused to believe I meant it (they've all seen the types of CDs I listen to at work), and the dupe bet me five bucks I wouldn't do it. I warned her that I never gamble, that I bet only on sure things. Several others backed me up, having learned the hard way. But the dupe wouldn't listen, and we shook hands. I did not reveal -- that is, except to every employee except the dupe -- that I'd already ordered the CDs. I love ABBA, and the $60 set was marked down to a mere $20. No way to pass that up.

Every day for a couple of weeks the dupe reminded me of our bet, still thinking I was kidding about being an ABBA fan and that I would try to weasel out of paying off. (Somehow she missed the irony of a Styx fan considering anything uncool. Besides, is anyone touring around recreating Styx shows (as Bjorn Again recreates ABBA shows)? Has anyone released a collection of Styx remakes (as Erasure did of ABBA songs)? Did Styx ever manufacture their own brand of soap bars? Did Styx ever have a run of 18 straight top ten U.S. hits? Elvis did; the Beatles did; the Rolling Stones did. Oh yes, and, so did ABBA.

That last fact I learned from the book that accompanied the ABBA boxed set, which had arrived in my mailbox the following morning.

So, first thing Friday a.m., I grabbed a witness and headed over to the dupe's desk to present her with an invoice for five dollars, in the form of four cheerful Swedish faces on the cover of a certain CD set. The look on her face . . . oh, boy. But she instantly refused to pay off. "I know you're just going to return them to the store," she said, still believing my ABBA fandom was faked. She demanded to see a receipt and was dismayed to see I had it with me (I had, of course, anticipated that she would ask for it). She tried to dismiss it all with a joke. "I can't believe you paid $6.12 for shipping & handing!" she said. "Actually, I didn't," I said. "I paid only a dollar-twelve--you picked up the rest. Thanks!"

"I want to see a cancelled check!" she demanded.

"My bank doesn't return them. Besides, I haven't paid the bill yet."

"Then you haven't bought the CDs."

"Well I can't return them, you know -- I opened the box. Anyway, I don't have my checkbook with me."

"I won't pay, because you haven't bought them."

"Okay, come to Circle K with me and watch me buy a money order, then."

"I'm not paying. You had already bought these before we made the bet."

"No...I had already ordered them, but, as you insisted only moments ago, I haven't bought them yet."

"You cheated and I'm not paying!"

Now, I loathe sore losers almost as much as I loathe people who loathe ABBA, and here were the two evils combined into one person. I formulated a humiliation plan, disguised as an attempt to let her win her money back. "Here's what I'm gonna do," I said. "I'll bet you double-or-nothing that I have a Charles Manson double-CD set in my briefcase right now." Which I did -- but I knew she wouldn't bet. For some reason, people never take you up on a nice-guy offer after you swindle them.

(As I've detailed elsewhere, I like to bet people that the town of Snowflake, Arizona was named after two guys, Mr. Snow and Mr. Flake -- which it was, in fact, but no one ever believes it. After winning the bet, I always offer to bet that my home town, Show Low, Arizona, was named after two guys, Mr. Show and Mr. Low -- which it wasn't, but no one's ever taken the offer.)

Part two of the plan was to enlist the help of another co-worker (hereafter referred to as "the accomplice"), a friend of the dupe's who was marginally on the outs with her at the time. I told her the Snowflake story and asked her to repeat it to the dupe in order to convince her of my magnanimous intentions. Then I went to my desk and locked my briefcase -- because if I were the accomplice, before I got the dupe to make the bet, I'd have stolen the Manson CD out of the briefcase. But instead of using the Snowflake story the accomplice went straight to the dupe's desk and straight to the point: "I was at Doc's desk when he was looking through the CDs in his briefcase, and there wasn't any Charles Manson CD in there. He's just trying to smooth things over and help you win your money back."

I escalated the situation another notch by calling the dupe and pressing a headphone speaker to the phone and playing "Take A Chance On Me." She didn't seem to get it, but apparently she got it subliminally, because the next time I passed by her desk, she said "I want to make that bet."

"What bet?" I asked.
"About the Manson CDs."
"Well...that was before. There's gotta be a time limit."
(Always make a mark beg to be swindled.)
"You didn't make any conditions!"
"Oh, you can make conditions, but I can't?"

We shook hands (I, naturally, with a great show of reluctance).

The dupe practically dragged me over to my desk, which was in another part of the building. On the way, I bolstered her confidence by pretending to look for loopholes:

"Can it be a CD that mentions Charles Manson?"
"Can be any CD whose cover contains the letters M-a-n-s-o-n?"

We arrived at my desk and I peered into my briefcase secretively. I held up CDs one by one, saying "Hmm...could THIS be it?" "How about this?" Her grin, widening with each CD, disappeared when I pulled out a CD displaying the scowling face of Charles Manson. " mean THIS?"
Manson's scowl was nothing compared to the scowl that darkened the face of the dupe. Without a word, she turned and headed toward the desk of the accomplice, with me following.

The accomplice claimed (as we had planned) to have been duped by me as well. The dupe's anger against the accomplice quickly rebounded back to me."You cheated...again!" she shrieked. I explained how the best cons are all based on the dupe's belief that he is the one doing the duping. "You just learned how to be a mark. That's a good lesson, even at double the price."

"I'm from Wisconsin!" she answered. That may seem like a non sequitur to you. Maybe you've never have been to Wisconsin, known anyone from Wisconsin, or read Wisconsin Death Trip. Agent Hesby, in the next cubicle over, turned around and remarked, "You need to eat more meat. You'll be less gullible." (Hesby is the annual stager of The Meat Show, a huge party for carnivores, which happened to be taking place later that night.) The dupe told us she was a vegetarian. "There's your problem," said Agent Hesby.

The dupe still refused to pay. Instead, she went to yet another co-worker for conspiratorial help. Her opening line to him was "You're a devious guy, aren't you?" Well, he was a devious guy, but she should have known that, being a devious guy, he would naturally be a co-conspirator of mine, and report the entire conversation back to me. She never managed to mount a payback scheme.

Then again, she never paid off the bet, either. But sometimes just teaching a lesson is payment enough.