In this blog, and in it’s spinoff, A Curious Confluence: The Story of Adrianna, a Paris street con game has played a major role.
That game has an American name.
That name is pigeon drop.
But there is another con – I have always assumed that it is a con – that I have been seeing for many years longer than the pigeon drop.
I have never engaged it.
I trained myself early to ignore people who look as if they are from some vaguely Eastern European heritage and are approaching me with vigor asking “do you speak English?”
It’s just like ignoring the dropped gold ring of the pigeon drop.
I am expert at a placid walk-by-without-seeing-what-they-want-or-what-they-are-doing sort of demeanor when the “dropper” is standing there with the gold ring in his or her outstretched palm.
I know the purpose and generally the rules of the pigeon drop.
But I have had no idea of what nefarious purpose must be involved in vaguely Eastern European looking people – mostly young women – coming up, sometimes asking “do you speak English?” sometimes not, and presenting a tablet with a bunch of places to sign, and waving a pen in signature-signing sorts of pantomime.
When that phenomenon occurs it is necessary to navigate through a flock of them. It’s not just one or two. It is maybe ten or twenty. A person bounces from one to another to another to get through the flock.
They all wave pens.
They seem to inhabit mostly the Tuileries and Pont des Arts, but they can suddenly appear as a flash mob, almost anywhere.
I am not opposed to signing petitions that accomplish some form of the advancement of self government.
I have signed a lot of petitions at my 98118 ZIP (most diverse ZIP in the US) Safeway.
Those petition hawkers (remember – 98118) are therefore generally not white; I have no aversion to being a part of a diverse – including vaguely Eastern European looking sorts – population. And, if members of my population, albeit totally different from me, have something to say that ought to be said and with which I agree and want to support, I am a signer.
So I have always felt a twinge of desire to help these young people – mostly young women – out with whatever action they have been trying to get passed by – somebody, or some agency - with their tablets of signatures.
But I haven’t ever been able to figure out how an un-vetted American signature was going to do them any good.
That and the vaguely con-scented nature of their actions have always kept me from ever signing anything.
I have remained on the sidelines ignoring them.
What it is that they are really doing, nevertheless, has been a lurking question for years in my relationship with this place that I love.
It has remained un-answered.
My landlord dropped by.
I have meant to ask him for years what this signing thing is and have always forgotten to do so.
Finally tonight I remembered.
He said it is a Roma con – I have no idea whether the asserted ethnicity of the con is valid; I am only reporting what I heard - in which, once you start to sign, the rest of the flock converges on you and someone in the bunch picks your pocket.
I am glad that I have resisted the desire to help them with their petitions.
I think, however, that I have a sort of residual sympathy for the Roma.
I see families of them sleeping in the few phone booths that still exist here.
A prominent one of that sort is on Boulevard Richard Lenoir.
The Roma seem to have a monopoly on those properties. Everywhere – in those few places where phone booths still exist – I see them occupied by Roma.
It is amazing how many can be piled in that little booth.
If they pushed it over on its side they would have much more floor space. Not much headroom, though.
But it must be pretty securely mounted to the pavement.
The phone company probably thought it would be a font of money for a century.
Too bad technology intervened.
The hand set is always dangling.
I guess the residents don’t want any incoming calls.
But that isn’t all that I see when I see those phone booths.
I see also the look of fiery desperation that hovers like a cloud around those families.
I wish I could help.
But there are so many.
Just not enough to let them pick my pocket.
But it’s a pretty inventive scam.
Not as much fun as the pigeon drop though.