Sep

20

Tar Baby Slab City, from Bo Keely

September 20, 2017 |

 There are many short and long cons of master manipulators, who willingly teach them by bragging anecdotally on the road around hobo jungle campfires, and inside the pens. They live to scheme and deceive, and even as they relate former cons they may be setting you up as a mark. It must be kept solidly in mind that they get up in the morning thinking them, practice all day, and sleep dreaming them, like I used to chess. I've read every classic book on confidence games, and yet been taken many times in Slab City, with the single absorbing lesson that I will be taken again because I choose to play for this price of admission.

The Slab special is piggybacking short cons that become part of a developing sophisticated long con that locally is called getting 'Slabbed'. One of many examples is the simple theft of a white truck. It was dramatized in broad daylight by a hulking brute who pinned down a fair damsel while his comrade hotwired and skid rubber. Actually, it was not a simple theft but quite a ball of yarn.

A Slab man bought a white truck on the cheap, and used the title as collateral for a drug debt that he did not pay. The receiver of the debt handed the title for holding to a neutral third party for fear it would be strong armed from him, and passed the car in trade for a camp to a mechanic. The mechanic spent two weeks getting the vehicle in running order, and when the original man of title heard this he ripped the ignition key from the mechanic's neck, and returned the next day to pin down his wife while the mechanic was gone. A comrade drove the vehicle to their nearby camp and defended it by force. No one dared go to the police because no party had a driver's licenses. The guy who had pinned down and stolen the vehicle incurred a drug debt to the person holding the title for safety, and the latter saw fit, when the debt went unpaid, to take the title for himself. Then he sold it back to the brute who had pinned down the girl. Essentially the brute had gotten his truck repaired for the price of a probably false drug debt.

The situation was so muddled and Slabbered in short cons that only a champion grafter could unravel and spin it into a long con to his advantage.

With one of the few running vehicles in Slab City, I picked up the mechanic hitching to the local market for a tall Steel Reserve beer. He had been a Georgia sailboat skipper, before his boat sank in the Keys, after sailing along the east coast for three years subsisting on air for boat fuel and dine-and-dash for himself. The Atlantic seaboard offers many fine restaurants, at which he always selected the best and dressed nicely when he walked in penniless. He ate-and-skated at about 1500 without getting caught, marking little notches on the starboard side of the rail until the boat must have listed.

His usual technique was to walk in, have a couple of drinks at the bar, summon the best table, go outside for a cigarette break, order an expensive meal, go out for a cigarette, order a meal to go, go out for a cigarette, order dessert, and during the last cigarette break beat the meal check to his sailboat.

His hedge was a legal technicality that failing to pay a restaurant bill when it is due is not a crime, but rather a contract debt, so the dine-and-dash became a civil rather than criminal breach the single time he was detained. Then, he told the owner he had forgotten his wallet, and offered to wash dishes until the debt was clean. He started, and slipped out the back door for another cigarette break, and to the boat.

The sailor turned mechanic in Slab City was a master of the sort and long con, who claimed his wife was as adroit when she came up with this scheme to recover the cost of their white truck from the State of California. She set the trap by having reoccurring flashbacks during which she 'blacked out' screaming 'Get off me you brute!' every other night at about sunset for two weeks, until the neighbors called the police who responded each time. There was a sufficient paper trail now to spring the trap. She went to a psychiatrist who declared her crazy, and got her on SSI relief that more than compensated the truck, and would provide an income for life. They left Slab City for the east coast, presumably to buy another sailboat.

The brute who had pinned her down, drove by before they left, and congratulated her on frightening the crap out of him with her wild blackouts, and not reporting him, and wished them a fair tailwind.

The key characters in this Slab City long con are clearly identified as:

•    The Mark - The intended victim which is always the state.

•    The Grifter - A practitioner of confidence tricks, the brute.

•    The Roper - The person who identifies the mark, the drug dealer.

•    The Inside Man - The member in charge, who executes the con, the mechanic.

•    The Shill - An accomplice to the inside man, the girl.

The brain of Slab City is a Gordian Knot that is an intractable problem solved easily by finding a loophole or thinking creatively. Hence, 'cutting the Gordian Knot' and moving on. The problem is the body of citizens is a Tar Baby. In one of Uncle Remus's Br'er tales, Br'er Fox constructs a doll out of a lump of tar and dresses it with some clothes. When Br'er Rabbit comes along, offended by what he perceives as the Tar Baby's lack of manners, he pinches it and, in doing so, becomes stuck. The more Br'er Rabbit punches and kicks the Tar Baby in rage, the more stuck he gets. Br'er Fox ponders how to dispose of him. The helpless but cunning Br'er Rabbit pleads, 'Do anything you want with me, but please, Br'er Fox, don't fling me in dat briar patch!' prompting the sadistic Br'er Fox to do exactly that. As rabbits are at home in briar patches, however, the resourceful Br'er Rabbit escapes.

If you get caught in a sticky situation in Tar Baby Slab City, and think you can walk away without getting black, be prepared to use your wits with some cons of your own.


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1 Comment so far

  1. Curious on September 27, 2017 11:46 pm

    Slab City sounds disastrous. The sociological detritus of hybridized embedded state pseudo capitalism and perverted communitarianism. Are these stories proto-anarchism or PK Dick dystopianism? Please opine…

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