Tuesday, October 26, 2010


No, not me.  Not in this post anyway.

During my pawnbroker days,  I used to regular have to dash the hopes of people who were victims of  the   classic white van speaker scam.

First,  some background.    In the case of the white van speaker scam, a van would pull up to someone in a parking lot and spin a story about how the driver was a delivery man who had just come from (insert local club here) and had a few professional DJ speakers "left over". Since "he couldn't take them back to the warehouse", he would offer to them to sell at deep discount, as though they were unordered pizzas coming out of the delivery person's salary.  The driver would prove that the speakers had a retail value of $1500.00 with some slickly produced (or, photocopied on colored paper. People still fell for it  I guess paper = OFFICIAL!) paperwork or ads.   For some percentage of men (No sexism intended, it was seemingly always men who fell for this gimmick),  this would seal the deal and they'd leave as proud owners of some professional DJ Speakers.

Some of these guys might actually hook the speakers up, and realize that they sounded terrible. Others might have their spouse or parents tell them they had no room for big clunky speakers.  Others still would have the idea of a quick cash-in,  looking to turn their hundred dollar investment into big payday.  Regardless of their motivations, the conversation would always go the same way when the purchaser of the speakers would come into the pawn shop.

It opened with  something like...
"Hey.  How much do you give for brand new items?"
I'd reply with "About a third to half of the retail price"
 "What? Really! Do you take professional speakers?" with barely restrained jubilation as visions of $500 to $750  dancing in his head.  I should note that the words "professional speakers " are an immediate red flag that the conversation will be taking an ugly turn when said speakers actually come through the door. Still, since sometimes, the customer actually had decent speakers i was obliged to answer

"OK! Let me go out and get them!"  as they would practically float out to the car, imagining their new side business as a DJ Equipment middleman leading to a swim in their own version of Scrooge McDuck's treasure vault.

I would wait at the counter with the nervous  anticipation of what was to follow, and follow it did, nearly every time.  The person would lug the box of speakers up to the counter.  I'd look at them, and deadpan "We can give you $50 for those.".  If I were living a sitcom, this would part where the record needle scratch effect would screech.

"What? WHAT? You said I could get at least a third of what they cost!  They're worth almost two-thousand dollars!" would begin  their argument.

A weak shrug and  "I'm sorry, but they're not.  They go for around $100.00 to $125.00." was all I could offer in return.  Things were about to escalate quickly.


With that, my pity would evaporate, and I could drop the bomb guilt-free.

I'd raise an eyebrow and calmly say "You didn't buy these from a guy in a white van, did you?"  and watch the blood drain from our prospective electronic wholesaler's face, his shoulders sagging as the realization hit.  He'd been ripped off. After that,  some of them take the $50.00 and some would decide to keep the speakers.  Either way, they would sort of slink out of the store defeated and embarrassed, but maybe a  little wiser.

All of these operations work best when the person buying doesn't really think it through.  Even reasonably intelligent people have their brains shut down by the promise of a quick cash in. Lest we think that I'm just some smug prick picking on the shortcomings of others, I fully admit that I'm an idiot, too.

When I was seventeen or eighteen,  my  father, brother and I went on a bus trip to NYC for a Knicks-Bulls game.  We were walking on Canal St. when a man approached us with a Macy's bag containing what appeared to be a brand-new, in the box, still in the plastic!,  JVC compact-VHS camcorder.  He offered to sell it for $150. This being the early 90's, that sounded like a great deal to my brother and I, and I was sold almost instantly. My father, the shrewd negotiator of the trio, haggled with this street entrepreneur and settled on $100.00.   He quickly agreed, took the cash, and vanished.   As we were walking back to the bus,  the warm glow of getting something for nothing wore off of my father, who decided to open the box and see what we'd gotten.  Rather than a shiny new, likely hot, camcorder, the box was filled with shredded newspapers, a 5 lb dumbbell weight, plastic bags, and, as a final insult, a used condom.

Needless to say, it put a damper on an otherwise enjoyable  Knicks' win over the Bulls, but at least I learned that the things that seem too good to be true, usually are.  We kept the weight to serve as a reminder of that, as though I would ever forget the condom.


Kara Macharelli October 26, 2010 at 8:06 AM  

Why didn't I get your writing ability?

Marianne October 26, 2010 at 9:53 AM  

Pawn shop days = good times!

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