Originally posted on mrchair, 6/2/2008.
A couple of weekends ago, around midnight, everyone was going home from the bar and I didn’t feel like it yet. You know, those moods where you have to stay out in public and can’t quite withdraw into your little bunker quite yet. So I walked around the neighborhood and watched folks carouse Capitol Hill on a late Friday night.
I slid into the most obscure bar I could find for a nightcap, which in retrospect I’m 90 percent sure was a gay bar. I sat at the bar next to an unattended drink, and its owner soon returned. He was one of those guys who looks about 10 years older than he probably is, and was missing his top-front four teeth.
A couple of minutes later, he started talking to me, and told me a couple of jokes about Jesus. I don’t know what it is about lonely drunks and jokes about Jesus, but this is not the first time this has happened to me. So I told him a couple of jokes back, and we were getting along just great. He asked me what I do for a living and I explained it. He asked if I ever wanted to run for office, and I told him there’s no chance.
“What about you?” I asked him, referring to his line of work.
“Oh, no no no. I could never run for office. Too many skeletons in my closet.”
“Oh, yeah, gotcha. Um, what do you do for a living?”
“Well, it’s complicated,” and he shifted around a little, hesitant. “Have you ever had someone pull up to you in a van, and open the door and try to sell you speakers? Like really cheap because he needs to get rid of them in a hurry?”
“Yeah, I have actually. Once in Tucson, Arizona” I said, truthfully.
“That’s what I do.”
“You sell speakers? Out of vans?”
“Yep. A van. My van.”
“Dude, don’t take this the wrong way, but I thought people who sold speakers out of vans had, um, stolen them. Do you … steal speakers?”
“No, no. That’s the idea, though. We want you to think that, so you’ll buy em,” he said. “But they’re not stolen.”
“Wait, so you’re telling me you sell legitimate speakers to people out of a van, but try to make them think they’re stolen so they’ll buy them, like in a hurry or like they think they’re getting some amazing deal?”
“Yep. See the guy you talked to probably told you that it was like a $2,000 speaker system that he’d unload for 300 bucks. But truth is that it’s more likely a $100 set of speakers he’s marking up. But you think you’re getting this smoking deal.”
“Holy shit, are you serious?” I had never heard of anything like this. “So you sell things totally legally, under the pretense that you’re a thief.”
“It’s completely legal. I am not a thief. I do not break any laws. I’m not exactly honest, but they get exactly what they pay for,” he said, getting a little defensive.
“So where do the speakers come from?”
“I don’t know. China or something. I get them from my boss.”
“And how long have you been doing this?” I asked, now completely captivated.
My jaw dropped.
“22 years? This is like your career?”
“Do you like it?”
“Well, it’s starting to wear on me. I mean I’m basically a con man. I gotta say, I’m getting so tired of lying to so many people. I mean I’m not a bad person, but I lie to people all the time, for my job. I lie to people for a living.”
He was getting a little emotional.
“And I really feel like I can do better than this, you know? Like I have this idea. You know how we’re having all of these energy problems, and global warming and oil is running out? Well I have this idea, that the Earth is basically a huge magnet. And you can make electricity by running a wire through a magnetic field, generating a current. So why can’t we hang a giant copper wire through the atmosphere and run it through the earth’s field and make electricity?”
“I have to admit,” I said, “that’s a really interesting idea.”
“I mean there’s a lot of kinks to work out, like how you would make sure the wire wouldn’t hit planes and shit like that. But you see what I mean, I have these ideas in my head.”
We talked a while more, I tried to lighten things up a bit. We shook hands and parted ways. And it was pouring rain outside. Huge drops. I got soaked on the walk home.