Saturday, April 18, 2009

Who's In Charge Here?

I enjoy stories like the following:

Bogus waiter tricks customers at 2 NJ restaurants
The Associated Press
HOBOKEN, N.J. - Police say a man posing as a waiter collected $186 in cash from diners at two restaurants in New Jersey and walked out with the money in his pocket.
Diners described the bogus waiter as a spikey-haired 20-something wearing a dark blue or black button-down shirt, yellow tie and khaki pants.
Police say he approached two women dining at Hobson's Choice in Hoboken, N.J. around 7:20 p.m. on Thursday. He asked if they needed anything else before paying. They said no and handed him $90 in cash.
About two hours later he approached three women dining at Margherita's Pizza and Cafe. He asked if they were ready to pay, took $96 and never returned with their change.

I'm tempted to wonder how often this has occurred in college classrooms. Presumably, the "perp" would have to linger in a hall full of crowded classrooms, wait for one room full of students to appear to lack an instructor, and then seize the day. He would also need an escape strategy should he choose a classroom blessed with the chronically late instructor. (In grad school, I remember one professor arrived thirty minutes late for every meeting but routinely kept us past the end of class. To this day, I am unsure if he even knew the exact hours class was to meet.) Most college students do not pay their tuition directly to the instructor on a per diem basis, and despite the increase in part-time faculty and raises that do not keep pace with the cost of living, very few instructors are using a tip jar or open guitar cases in their classrooms. I thought of this idea many years ago, deemed it too risky for the classroom but told it to my father, and he did have success with a tip jar at work. Of course, that was white collar, computer work, and I imagine many of the employees there had change to spare.

I'm thinking the fake instructor could shake the students down for something but not necessarily thick wads of American dollars. In the first place, the students are there, in college, so they have already proven to be gullible when receiving a sales pitch or marketing material. They've listened to a full chorus of K--12 teachers telling them college is the way to go; they've digested the brochures full of grassy green multicultural scenery (if a campus only has one black student and one square yard of grass, guaranteed the PR guy will find a way to photograph him smiling on the green) and high starting salaries for all manner of professions with a decided lack of fine print showing how many lawyers, programmers, and copywriters now work on temporary contracts. The regular professor has been selling them "a bill of goods" (thanks, Tennessee) all semester long about his own take on his own discipline and its relation to the world with perhaps some stock picks or NFL winners thrown in along the way. And the students in the room are still showing up.

It seems evident that the determined confidence man would be able to get something out of the classroom... cash? laptops? cellphones? conversions to Christ? or merely a phone number or two from friendly coeds? When this fake waiter guy gets caught, we'll have to interview him on how he'd execute his con on a college classroom.

For more soft con, I recommend David Mamet's House of Games. I've shown this movie to teach sales strategies as part of my Business Communications curriculum. As a final note, consider all of the "real" employees with real titles who must work their way around the "whole truth and nothing but" to earn their living. I'm thinking of stockbrokers, real-estate agents, and sales and leasing professionals dealing in all manner of goods. Perhaps this wannabe waiter fellow is a laid off broker of stocks or homes? Of course, it is more likely he is a poor college kid trying to pay for school.

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