BULL STREET - The art of the Con

Father Gold

As an example of this credibility issue, comedian Lenny Bruce who is now deceased was not always successful. He spent a lot of time not knowing where his next meal was going to come from. Whenever that happened he would dress up like a priest in a cassock and while holding his head erect he would approach people for alms in the name of the Church’s local orphanage. He once said that he made more money from that act than any other act he ever performed.

When I was in high school in Chicago, one of my friends always had a lot of money and for all I knew he had never worked a day in his life. Moreover, Don was always puttering around in the school workshop creating exotic looking crafts such as cups, vases and the like, they always had glistening stones lining their sides. Don received very high marks in his art class for the artifacts that he had created and everyone in school believed that he would go on to become a famous potter or sculptor.  However, one thing that was uniquely present in all of Don’s works was the fact that there was always some religious symbol, a cross or something that looked like a Star of David present on his works. While this was nice, it did not explain where Donald was making all of his money.

There was another character who hung out with us on occasion as well. He was older, fatter and dumber than the rest of us. We would pay “RayMe” to get us coffee and do other non-intellectual type errands. He was a nice sort but seemed to be living on the fringes of our crowd and was only getting the leavings. However, Don and RayMe were becoming more distant from the rest of us and we certainly noticed it. This was not a large neighborhood that we lived in so everyone knew a little about everyone else’s business. We would see RayMe arrive a Don’s apartment and soon come out loaded with elegant looking packages, as many as he could carry and he would then take them to the local post office. We never knew what happened next. RayMe soon needed a cart to carry the load and eventually Don bought him an old car. On his way back from the post office, RayMe would purchase wrapping paper and other paraphernalia from the local stationary store. This was indeed becoming a substantial local mystery. Worst yet, RayMe now wanted to paid real money for the errands that he would still occasionally perform for us.

However, one day RayMe, who we were certain wouldn’t hurt a fly or do anything dishonest was arrested by several squads of police, maybe only 100 feet away from where we standing. This was an astonishing experience for our quiet neighborhood and RayMe had been what we believed to be a model citizen. The policemen were most unkind to him, locking his fat hands behind him and then putting on the cuffs and stuffing into the back seat of a patrol car. I think I even saw one of the cops take a swing a him. All the while, poor RayMe seemed to be in “Wonderland with Alice” he just didn’t seem to know what was going on. He was taken to the local police station and we didn’t see him again for some time. Finally, an article appeared in the local newspaper that RayMe had personally created unauthorized branches of several major religions and was offering religious artifacts and prayers to their believers in exchange for substantial donations to the church which seemed to be located at a local post office box.  Moreover, it turned out that the guy that we used to hang out with on a daily basis had assumed the alias of “Father Gold” and the paper further said that he had been fleecing the flock for serious money..

We all knew that RayMe wasn’t smart enough to fleece anyone and that he had obviously been set up to take a fall by our good friend Don. Don had apparently placed ads in national magazines and newspapers, offering not only valuable antiquities that the Church was making an offer of archival facility material because of space contractions in their holy facilities. Believers could purchase these most hallowed works for little more than an expensive song, and if their offering was substantive enough Father Gold would arrange for them to receive telephonic penance; a really worthwhile package.  It certainly seemed like a great two for one artifact sale. In those days, the papers and magazines would carry any kind of advertising that anyone desired to place. However, when the story came out, they all said that it seemed like what Father Gold wasn’t offering  anything  either better or worse than anyone else was doing at the time. We are going back a ways, but then there was never really an FDA and the snake oil salesmen were now using national advertising to move their products. 

Eventually, Father Gold was released from jail when the source of his merchandise could not be determined. In the meantime, Don had left town and was not seen again for year, or at least until the statute of limitations had expired.  But in reality, when push came to shove, Don didn’t really get an enormous amount of money relative to the time he putting in creating his phony artifacts and the talent with which he created them was probably well worth the money that the suckers were paying. However, Don had found out that if you have a higher authority that is willing to vouch for your shenanigans, no matter how outlandish, some people could always be conned into making a purchase.



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