“Herman Melville’s “The Confidence Man”:
It’s all set on a merchant ship (Melville loves his boats) and in one part two middle class men see a wretched looking black man who is both crippled and lame dancing to get people to throw coins at him so he can catch them in his mouth. One of the middle class men throws a coin and the cripple catches it in his mouth. The middle class men walk off and have a long conversation about the importance of confidence in fellow men and voice their paranoia that the cripple wasn’t actually crippled and had scammed them out of the coin.
I realized the significance of this at a Mexican bakery in Brooklyn with my father once. I realized that the girl behind the counter had misheard my order and undercharged me. I mentioned to my father that this had happened and he said “It makes it taste better, doesn’t it. That feeling you got one over on somebody. That’s the beauty of America,” and then ate several sugar donuts.
(Guest post by Daniel Levine. His first book can be purchased here.)