31 January 2013

Shell game

I found myself making an unexpected trip to my homeland earlier this month. One night I was with friends heading southbound on the Orange Line. We got to State Street, I think, when reality started to break down.

A crowd of people got on the train. One was a teenage or early twenty-something dude with a magnetized board. On that board were three silver cups, turned upside-down, which he was swiftly shuffling around. A modern shell game! And he wasn't by himself. A good portion of the crowd he got on with was obviously associated with him. Another guy was trying to guess which cup the coin was under. A couple of girls were offering advice and egging him on. The whole thing was bizarre: it was as though a whole scene, en media res, was transported onto this subway car and unfolded as though it was scripted.

The guy won of course. Money changed hands. The girls cheered. You couldn't imagine a more obvious shill situation. The con pitched his game, "put in a hundred, win two." Comments from the girls on how it was such easy money.

One hundred dollars. People carry that much cash?

Some guy did step up. I'm not sure he was shill number two of the original party or if he was honest to god falling prey this ridiculous game. No one on the train was saying anything. Myself, I was giddy with incredulousness and just trying to hold it in until our stop.

Think about it. This is not 1920s Coney Island. This is not a Very Special Episode of an early-90s teen drama. That's where shell games belong. This is Boston, 2013. This shit doesn't happen.

This had to be performance art. Some improv group poking at the moral fiber of unsuspecting subway riders. Someone was supposed to call them on being such a mindbogglingly obvious con operation. Everyone would get a nice laugh and we'd all feel better about our humanity by association.

But once we got off that train--upon which I, in low, but frenetic tones, announced that that couldn't have been real--I found myself quite clearly alone in that belief.

But I'm right, right?


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