Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Canned Combat, Feb 10, 2010: The Hustle

Onyx was unchallenged yesterday and wrote about being the dupe: duped by hustle. In the spirit of survival of the fittest, today's topic is 'The Hustle.' Have you Hustled anyone? I'll tell you a story to get you in the mood:

Years ago, I used to play about a dozen games of chess a day. I was probably the worst of the best players in SF, because the only places I would lose a pick-up game were 5th and Powell (home to the street-hustler) and the Mechanic's Library (home to the grandmaster). In the days before I had a profession, I worked temp-jobs. Well, one day, I needed a tie for the job and I didn't have one and didn't have the cash to get one. I had 5 bux and that usually bought a cheap tie at the dry-cleaning shops along market, but I guess I hadn't been there for a while, because it was $8. So I walked to 5th and Powell, watched the players, saw a drunk Russian and decided he was my mark. I waited for him to finish his half-pint of morning vodka (7:25am or so) and challenged him. He laughed at this nothingmaster with a cheap white shirt and plastic shoes. Aha! But this nothingmaster took his bux playing 'The Elephant' (pawn wall variant--very tricky because of the tempos involved) on his Sicilian and before his buddies could complain (5th and Powell's denizens are more like Hep C B-side gangsters than hold a gat sideways and pop a bitch gangsters, knowwatimsayin?) I ran across the street, got my tie, and headed over to the Moscone Center for some delicious, $25/hr (in 1999 $) temp money.

It's my favorite ploy: be so ridiculous that my foe doesn't take me seriously until it's too late.

What's your favorite hustle?

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  1. london, late 1970s ... i wandered into a job at a hotel in earl's court. three yugoslav brothers -- and one sister -- owned four hotels in the neighborhood. they put me on the front desk at one of them -- earl's court square. this is the story of a double-pronged hustle i ran there for a year.

    they were charging five quid -- about ten bucks -- a night for a single room, eight for a double, ten for a double with bath. (guests in the cheaper rooms used bathrooms down the hall.) they didn't know their rates were below market. i did, because i had shopped around the neighborhood before i'd checked in.

    in violation of tourist board rules, they didn't post their prices. the tourist board sent us about half our guests each day from a kiosk in victoria station. those guests came knowing the rates. the others -- anyone wandering in off the street -- were fair game.

    so the first time i checked in a tourist -- young dutch guy -- the yugoslav brother-in-law who ran the hotel saw me size him up and charge him eight quid instead of five, and decided i was perfect for the job. 'get as much money as you can,' he told me. so i did, every day, for every fair-game guest, without going over a limit that would piss people off.

    (only got busted once. a french guy would bring his mistresses for weekend trysts. the first time he called he booked over the phone. shot in the dark: i told him fifteen pounds instead of ten for a room with bath. he came back five times. sixth time i wasn't at the front desk when he checked in and the girl filling in for me charged him the off-season rate of nine quid. you should've seen the look he gave me the next day. i told her she had to explain that the off-season rate had kicked in otherwise he might cut my throat if he saw me in the hall again.)

    i probably made two or three thousand quid for the yugoslavs by overcharging that way that year. so fair's fair: here's prong two of my london hotel hustle:

    the brother-in-law had me keep two sets of books - one for him and his in-laws and one for the tax man. i'd enter the real info into the tax books in light pencil, then we'd fill it in together in pen. once we set up that system, i checked and confirmed: there was no way for him to keep track of the real money -- the cash was flowing faster than we were changing the pencil numbers to pen numbers. so i could pocket about 10 percent of a day's take when there was a lot of cash on hand -- for example, when a few guests had paid a week in advance. (days with lower cash flow i had to cool it, and handed over all or most of the currency.) my pay was room and board plus 20 pounds a week -- i probably added fifty or sixty pounds a week to that unprincely sum.

    i will say: it was a waste of a year. i tried to do some writing there, but couldn't. i did read a lot, though. chandler. patricia highsmith. fitzgerald's 'beautiful and the damned' and 'this side of paradise.' and a spectacular bilingual edition of season in hell -- memorizing the french pages helped me learn the language. but i got to live in london, meet some uh, interesting people and have some interesting experiences. there was the night i brokered a dispute between some unruly guests -- including a tranny hooker -- and the police who came to arrest them. ('oh not you again,' the bobby said when he saw the tranny hooker.) but this wasn't that story. this was the story of my double-hustle year in london.

  2. postscript: karma -- about a hundred pounds of the money i'd boosted from management got stolen from my room -- le voleur volee, the french say. and when i left london, i took the boat across the channel and arrived in honfleur -- where i was going to spend the summer -- the night before the tour de france was passing through. not a hotel room to be had. walking out of the last hotel on my way to find a bus stop shelter to sleep in, the desk clerk ran after me. 'stay at the spare room at my place' he said. ok, i told him, not asking the price. he charged me 10 pounds -- 100 francs. for perspective on that overcharge: later the next day, i rented my own room for the summer -- 350 francs per month. the hustler hustled.