For the second time in five years, someone tried the “You broke my glasses” hustle on me yesterday. This time, I was emotionally prepared, although it still really pissed me off.
This can’t be unique to New York City, but in case it is, and/or for those who are just joining us, here’s how you do it:
- Dress like you’re pitiful and you don’t have much to lose; alternatively, puff yourself up to look bigger and more menacing than you actually are. Your choice.
- Find a pair of broken eyeglasses. (Alternative: find a pair of unbroken eyeglasses, then step on them.)
- Stand on 20th Street near a busy sidewalk — busy enough that you can pretend to have been jostled, but not so busy that you will actually be jostled.
- Scope out your quarry — ideally a man (because they’re more likely to be willing to pay you to go away) in a hurry, of apparent means, ideally someone distracted, preferably a rube (which makes me wonder why I was chosen, but let’s not dwell on that). Bonus points for choosing someone who is smaller than you, weaker than you, or has vague interethnic or interclass unease around you. With practice, you’ll learn how to watch your prey and respond to his signals to get the most money out of each rube you roll.
- As your quarry approaches, hold the pair of glasses in your hand. Pretend to be wiping or adjusting them, then at the last second, bump him on the shoulder and toss the glasses in his path.
- When he steps on (or near) them, cry out in horror. Say, “You broke my glasses!” Demand and collect payment, and be on your way. (Don’t forget the glasses — you’ll need them to try this again over on 7th Avenue in a few minutes.)
Now, this is obviously, patently, clearly a hustle. I know this not just because my common sense tells me so, but because it’s happened to me before on the streets of New York, back in 2005 right after I arrived. (That time, I’m pretty sure I could have been pegged as a rube from 2 blocks away.) I can’t remember the details, other than that (1) I really felt intense emotional/social pressure to pay up; (2) I don’t think I paid up; and (3) I felt angry, frustrated, and a little dirty after the experience — I had a very strong sense that I was being rolled, but I couldn’t prove it. Robert Cialdini could probably explain where the social pressure to pay comes from (and some of it certainly comes from the New Yorker’s determination not to “make a scene”). But it doesn’t really matter; obviously the scam works, or it wouldn’t keep happening.
It didn’t work on me this time, though. At all. I was really pissed, and showed it. (It wasn’t a great day. I’d left the house without an umbrella, and was in the process of being drenched by cold sideways rain for the third time in six hours.) I picked up the glasses I’d “broken,” looked him in the eye, and handed them to him. “Hey,” he exclaimed, his timing all off, “you broke my glasses!” I think what I said was “Dude, this is a hustle. Do you think I just got off the boat?” before I turned around and resumed walking in the direction I’d been heading. He came after me, halfheartedly, for about 50 yards, calling “Hey! Hey!, then moved on to try it again somewhere else.
What is wrong with people?