CONtagious Part 2

Part 1:

So, when we last left off, our hero was being asked for $32 to help out a stranger in need.

Like I said, I didn’t believe his story. A few things didn’t feel right, and I really, really didn’t want to be talking to him anymore. My options flashed through my mind.

I could hop in my car and mow him over. Okay, that was kind of a joke, but I considered how fast I could get the gas pump out of my car, hop in the driver’s seat, and speed off. He respected my personal space, but if he moved fast and saw the adrenaline rush in my eyes, he could stop me. I didn’t know what he was really after — an easy $32 con or a nice stabbing. This option was out.

I could tell him the truth, that I didn’t have any cash on me, and a lie, that I didn’t have a debit card to use at an ATM. Apologize and try to weasel out of the conversation that way. This was probably the best option, but I foresaw more twists and turns. Maybe he would throw some other excuse out that I couldn’t field, like his cat was pregnant with kittens in the car, and next thing I knew, I would be busing tables at the nearby Denny’s to get tips to pay the poor guy off.

Final option, I go into the gas station ATM under the watchful eye of the teller, just pay the guy an even $40 Please-Don’t-Stab-Me fee, and be on my way. This is the option I went with, and by far, it is one of the stupidest.

I calmly put the pump in its cradle, screwed in my gas cap, and walked with him to the ATM. I always take my keys out of the ignition when I fill up at gas stations because I’m afraid someone will steal my car, and now I was thankful of this overly cautious habit.

We walked together to the ATM only to realize it was behind inside the locked gas station mini mart. The teller shook her head at us, eyeing the New Yorker weirdo. We walked back to my car, and I was about ready to tell him “Whelp…time to hit the old dusty trail,” when he asked if there were any other ATMs in the area. I weakly looked around and shrugged. He pointed at the 24-hour Denny’s, which had one inside. He was being tenacious. I sighed and said to myself, “$40 to not stab you isn’t so bad. You drive over, come back, hand it through the window, no problem! He can’t do anything if you just slide the money out! Yeah! I’m like a detective!”

He kept shaking his head, chuckling, and making light of his problem. He kept offering his jacket as collateral. He kept saying he would pay me back $100 the next day. He just had to get home. In the back of my mind, looking down the empty streets, I worried about the off chance that his story was true, and I really was the only one who could help him.

I sighed a few more times and agreed to go to the Denny’s, about a 10-second drive down the road. THEN he walked over to my passenger’s side door. And, as I am prone to do in awkwardly ridiculous situations…I burst out laughing.

“Ho, no, you’re not!” I laughed.
“Oh, I thought I would just come –”
I laughed some more.
“No way. I’ll get it and bring it back.” He wasn’t buying it.

I eyed my 0-gauge knitting needle on my console, about half the diameter of a screwdriver and tapered to a point. They laughed at me for knitting in traffic, but who’s laughing and not getting raped now?! ME!
“You promise you’ll be back?”
“Okay, thanks a lot then. Do you want my coat?”
No, I did not want his fucking coat. Jeez.

I hopped in the car and sped towards Denny’s. On the way, I called Melissa and explained the whole story in 10 seconds. I walked into the Denny’s and saw his silhouette waiting back at the gas station.

Luckily, Melissa is more overly cautious and paranoid than I am, and she told me to get the hell out of there faster than the speed of a knitting-needle stab.

“But…what if my description of events is wrong? What if he really just is a poor guy stuck in a bad situation?”

Melissa, who, might I remind readers, routinely calls ME up to ask if I think she’s left the oven on, immediately dismissed any thought that this was a normal guy, and told me to get back in the car and speed off. Which I did, in the opposite direction, even though I lived in the direction where I would have to pass him again.

When I got home, I woke Justin up and told him the story, and he didn’t seem too worried until I realized I had left my gas receipt at the pump. In California, we have to verify that the credit card isn’t stolen by inputting our zip code into the machine, and I worried that it also printed our address on the receipt.

We found a few others and realized this wasn’t the case. I guess it would be kind of silly to ask you to input a zip code as a security device, then print it for the world to see and steal, but I was shaken up. Ooh, what if he really WAS a nice guy who was stranded, but now I pissed him off, and he’s gonna come find me? Or what if he is much more evil than just a $32 con man, and would patrol every street in LA until he found a car like mine with Pennsylvania plates? (Then kill me)

After a few days of playing this scene over and over in my head, I realized what had felt wrong to me. First, the company is DreamWorks SKG, not SKG DreamWorks. Second, come on, a guy who is willing to pay me back $100 for a $32 loan doesn’t have a cell, or someone to call collect to help him out? Third, why would a person just have a zillion business cards of tow companies on them?

It scared me, too, how close I had come to something really bad. The gas station ATM could have been open, and when we got there, he could have demanded I wipe out my checking account. He could have tried harder to get into my car. I understand why I was an easy mark. Out-of-state plates, young, female alone late at night. He probably saw those plates and faked an accent to try to establish an east coast connection with me.

A few days later, I learned that was true. Justin and I were in Costco, and I saw him. I had spent the last few days jittery and terrified I would run into him again, and what happens but my every fear and paranoia was CONFIRMED. Only he didn’t see me. He had another mark with him. I didn’t know what story he had used to get into Costco, but he didn’t have any accent at all, and he was actually trying to talk with some guy about the Italian language over the free samples.

And what did our fearless leader do at this point? Stab him right there with the knitting needle she now carried on her person everywhere? No, our fearless leader burst into tears and hid behind a 50 pound bag of rice in the next aisle. Fearless leader’s boyfriend rolled his eyes but kept watch at the end of the aisle until the con man passed. (I really think it was just an excuse for fearless leader’s boyfriend to compare spice prices without the fearless leader nagging that it’s a fucking gallon of Rosemary. You’re not going to find a better deal! There is no spice conspiracy!)

Clearly I choose my conspiracies.

Anyway, I haven’t seen him again, and I haven’t really talked about it much because it was kind of a scary ordeal. And, yeah, there was a chance that he reads this website and would see that I talked about him and would then come and kill me. Yes, this is the kind of paranoia I have to live with every day.
It’s a gift…and a curse.
So, in conclusion, if any stranger ever tries to talk to you, stab them immediately in the eye with your knitting needle.

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