Thursday, 9 October 2008


From the ABC's "7.30 Report", October 8, 2008 ...

KERRY O'BRIEN: And yet the local wisdom that has emerged from America's credit crunch, its sub-prime crisis is that our problems, whatever they are, are nothing like theirs. That the sub-prime crisis has been a very dramatic collapse in the housing market.

PROFESSOR STEVEN KEEN: Incredibly dramatic. And the reason was, the sub-prime was about lending to money to people who had a record of not repaying it and claiming it could make money out of doing it.

Which was a classic American scam and its now falling apart, of course it's not just in the hands of the poor Americans, but in the hands of the scam merchants as well.

So, that's something that is peculiarly American. But at the same time here our debt levels here are in fact slightly higher than those in America.

In 1940, David W. Maurer, a Professor of Linguistics, wrote a book entitled "The Big Con", a non-fiction study of the con-men, grifters and swindlers who thrived throughout the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century. Those who may be familiar with the George Roy Hill film "The Sting" may be surprised to know that the "big con" pulled by Redford and Newman on Robert Shaw's character was, in fact, a real scam, and Maurer takes the reader through the details of how this scam, among many others, was set up, the marks baited, hooked, reeled in and relieved of their cash. It took a hell of a lot of work and, while the people who pulled these cons may not have been the affable rogues as portrayed by Redford and Newman in the flick, they weren't exactly murderous sociopaths either. They enjoyed and took pride in their work and their talents and, reading the book, one can't help but feel admiration for their extraordinary inventiveness, imagination and ability to pick out the gullible, greedy little freaks, wallets stuffed with wads of cash, who would've happily stabbed their own grandmothers for a chance to make a few wads more.

These marks deserved to lose every damn nickel they'd ever flipped. In this, one finds oneself rooting for the swindlers. Colour? They had it in spades - handles like Limehouse Chappie, the Seldom Seen Kid, Devil's Island Eddie and Ocean-Liner Al among others. And Maurer, as a linguist, hauls out the lingo of the times and lays it down - stories of ropers, shills, sharpies, the cackle-bladder, the rag, the shut-out, the wire, and the pigeon drop among others. If this stuff weren't actually for real, you'd swear it was a Runyonesque fiction with additional dialogue from Raymond Chandler, delivered in the voices of Jimmy Cagney and Eddie G. Robinson.

The book's in reprint, and you could do worse for a way of spending some cash than grab a copy and give it the once-over.

But times change, and the nature of the con and the con-men changed with them. Roles reversed.

Government’s legitimised them, politicians curried their favours and their company, journalists lauded their so-called achievements, all and sundry drooling over them like hyperactive puppies upon hearing the rattle of a leash and the word “walkies”.

And so, the louche, lizard-eyed low-life’s of the legit shell-games that played out every day on the so-called “free market” found themselves highly in demand. And the colourful turns of phrase that used to mark the swindles of olden times faded like cheap flock wallpaper only to be replaced with an entirely new shill’s song –


Roll up! Roll up! It’s money for jam, folks! … Bring your own crackers!

The crackers came in droves …

And waiting for them, there was
Dickie “Fastbucks” Fuld.

Fastbucks surveyed the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of his homeland’s teeming shore, the homeless and tempest-tossed, the poor, the downtrodden, and somewhere, somewhere deep inside the sucking sinkhole of shit that had always served his sewer soul so well in the past, so faithfully, he clasped his hands with what he thought may have been … pleasure? and the atrophied muscles of his sallow face involuntarily jerked themselves into a crack of something that he dimly remembered as a smile … a rictus grin would do, hell, who’s fussy?

Fastbucks gathered his crew and the order went out …

“Boys … It’s time for The Big Con. Get to work.”

Damn, these guys were good. Fat Fannie and Freddie the Freak hauled in marks like minnows and Fastbucks tied it all up - the rag, the wire, and then, the Shut-Out, Shut-Down.

They’d pulled it off. The Big Con.

Meanwhile, having realised they’d all been played for the lamest of the lames,
the marks blew their brains out in their cars.

1 comment:

Jack Dorf said...

a rictus grin would do, hell, who’s fussy?

I saw him crack that smile. He looked like death admiring the freshly sharpened blade of his scythe.