Friday night. Music was exploding inside Vinnie as she zipped through the traffic at dangerous speeds to bring me back to home from work. All bills are paid ahead of time, car has been serviced and insured last week , groceries are well stocked, hair are short enough; in short, the weekend ahead had nothing better to do other than watch me switching between the bed and the bean bag . As the song goes, I had no deeds to do, no promises to keep. I really was feeling groovy, a drink was in order.
I parked the car and walked towards the “Happy Wine Shop” nearby to get a quarter of whisky. I had a 500 note along with a few 10’s. Something within me told me that the shop-keeper might try to cheat: he’ll pretend that I gave him a 100 rupee note instead of 500. So I memorized the number on the 500 note as an alibi. The romantic in me imagined that it would be pretty neat when I’ll grandly challenge him to check the 500 notes in his stack for the number I memorized and once vindicated, fellow customers would clap for me with admiration.
The thing costs 130; I gave the 500 note, he asked me for a change of 30 which I gave him and naturally expected 4 hundred rupee notes in return. He began packing the small box and gave it to me in a bag. I took it and then walked back without taking the 4 hundreds. I forgot!! Forgot to ask for the change, forgot the whole 500 vs 100 analysis done just minutes ago. I still remember the number on the 500 note, but when it mattered I forgot the reason why I memorized it. The next morning when I looked into my wallet, I realized my mistake. Going back to the shop was futile; still went there. Someone who sells liquor can’ be expected to be so honest; God knows how many men he has to bribe and how many weird characters he has to deal with in a day’s work.
The shop-keeper tried his luck and he succeeded against a fully prepared customer. He must be doing this many a times; sometimes he would win, the other times he’ll sheepishly return the change feigning oversight. Not much risk involved there. That’s one of the many safe long term strategies that people use quite often. Then there are other tricks too, some brilliant some naive, successful to varying extents.
Most of the professions allow the cunning ones opportunities to cheat/trick/take unfair advantages. A few of them might not even be illegitimate; rules & law can get you only so far. I recall being taken for a ride by the folks at petrol-pump, house-maid, shop-keepers, bank, land-lord, restaurants, cab-drivers, sales-persons, two professional con-men and some more. My story would be an antithesis of the movie “Catch me if you can”. I see a lot of smart ones around me fallen to similar stuff at the hands of apparently less educated and intelligent ones. The reason I think it is possible for a worker at petrol-pump to cheat an IITian with a degree in Economics from LSE is that he has a method. I have caught him when the same trick was being played the third time and when I shared this with my friends, most of them admitted being duped similarly and now are thankful for pointing it out.
I’ll be starting a series “Tricks of Trades” devoted to these incidents. Would take up examples from the list mentioned above and try to analyze the strategies that the subjects involved use. All these posts shall be under the label “Tricks of Trades”. The analysis would be around the forces that help these subjects take the advantage. I’ll try to see what is the economics involved, what kind of statistics favor the modus operandi and what are the psychological factors that are used. Also would think on the lines of risks involved, repeatability, longevity and long term pay-offs of the strategies from the trickster’s point of view.
I’ll follow it up with the way I felt and reacted after realizing the truth of the situation and what could be done to prevent/detect/minimize losses in such cases. Even the best prepared would loose sometimes. As the example above shows, I had already sensed what was to come, taken the precaution and yet when the time came my mind chose to reflect on other things in life and the preparations went in vain. The excuse given in such cases is that we are only human after all.