Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Record Day For The Pigeon Drop

In 2006 I was walking down Quai Voltaire one afternoon with my friend Betsy.  We were, as was usually the case, hooting an laughing, and we were, for some reason in kind of a hurry.  So we weren’t paying much attention the what was going on around us.

What was going on around us was that we suddenly had a small but rotund, brown, vaguely Eastern European looking and clothed woman right there between us.  She all of a sudden there and was equally, but fluidly, suddenly bending down to the pavement at our feet and picking something up.  She immediately showed us what it was, which was an apparently gold ring.  It looked like a man’s yellow gold wedding band.

She said something to us, in French, but I don’t remember now what it was.  It must have been pretty basic because whatever it was I understood it.  The gist of it was she wanted us to take the the ring.  For whatever reason I didn’t want to take the ring, and, probably, because I was the one that sort of understood what the woman was saying, Betsy was taking her cues from me.

I had never seen anything like this in my, by then, many visits to Paris, and I am not usually one to leap to conclusions particularly quickly, and the woman, I realized later, in the face of subsequent experiences, had done a masterful job of setting up the premise.  Her physical presentation from the very beginning of being somehow in our midst and “finding” the ring had been totally believable.

I was so taken in that when she said something and looked more closely at the ring, said something else and then presented me with a view of the ring’s inside layer where “14k” was etched, I said “vous avez bon chance, Madame”.  But she didn’t want any of the bon chance; she wanted us to take the ring. 

At that point I began to have a vague but non specific suspicion.

I said and did something that got her on her way away from us.  As she left, we stayed where we were.  When she was maybe fifty or sixty feet away we started walking again – walking behind her, but in the same direction.

Then it came to me, although I really thought that I was being more funny than realistic, but what I said was based on similarities to a scam that I had once seen documented on 60 Minutes.

As we started off, substantially behind the woman, I said to Betsy, “we’ve just had the ol’ pigeon drop scam tried on us”.  Not surprisingly she said “what is the ol’ pigeon drop scam”.

Before I could answer, the woman had turned and was coming back toward us at a fairly rapid, if deliberate, pace.  “Just watch” I said.

For a really good description of the pigeon drop go to:


So she was back.  And she said that the good luck was ours.  She said that she had no use for such a ring but she could use some money for food.  She said that since she had found the ring at our feet it was really ours anyway, and we should take it, only could she have some euros just as a sort of finders fee?

It took real persistence to get rid of her and that god damned ring.

Contemplating the event later, I assumed that the woman must make her living as a professional pigeon dropper.  I also assumed that the experience, for me, would be a once in a lifetime one.

So I was utterly amazed when a month later, when Mysti and I were in Paris and were walking down Quai Voltaire, the same woman suddenly appeared between us – and you know the rest of the story.

But wait; there is more.

Since 2006 I have had the same gambit attempted on me at least once, and occasionally several times per trip.  It has even been tried a few times by the same woman.  But she has now been joined by quite a fleet of wannabes.  I call them wannabes because they range in skill – compared to the woman of my first encounter – from not very good to ludicrous. As a manner of dealing with them, I adopted, long ago, a pigeon drop demeanor.  When one of them begins the shtick I just keep doing what I am doing and ignore them completely.  It amuses me to hear their yelps of dismay at being treated as invisible apparitions. 

The disadvantage to one as curious as I am about things that occur around me of not going along with the game is that I don’t know how they play out the end game.  But I am comfortable with the belief that I am probably not smart enough to outwit them if I let them get me in even the softest grasp of their clutches, so I remain ignorant of whatever the final outcome is.

This trip has been a bonanza for the pigeon drop.  When I started today I didn’t have an official count, but I had been approached about ten or twelve times in 40 days.

By day’s end the count was off the charts.  I had seven contacts in three and a half hours.  One of them was so bad that I broke my rules of engagement and said to him in loud American English “if I was as bad at this as you are I’d look for a job”. He said “sorry; sorry”.  The last one, I just looked at and laughed uproariously as I walked down the Quai toward the gold guys on Pont Alexandre.

In addition to the multiple encounters that I have had, I have, occasionally, passed by a victim who has been ensnared at least to the point of talking to the pigeon dropper.  Today I was walking up on three people who were standing at the left bank terminus of Pont Alexandre III.  One was a tall middle aged woman standing so her profile was presented to me.  I noticed that presentation because the expression of that profile was a look of major disquieted dismay.  I couldn’t help noticing and wondering what might be the reason for her ill ease.  The second person of the three was a rather tall brown man whom I might have taken for a flasher due to the overcoat in which he was encased.  He had one arm on the shoulder of the third person, a man, and the tall brown man was telling that third man something that I wasn’t able to hear or to grasp.  And that third man who had that second man’s arm around his shoulder was about the same height as the brown man and he was saying something that I couldn’t make out either.

But the woman spoke, in English, and it all came clear.  “Why don’t you just give him back the ring?” she said.

Apparently part of the end game is to get the ring into the hands of the mark.

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