Four things I learned from having three brothers.

Part two of four: Our kind of thieves.

Clem Onojeghuo | Unsplash

Written while listening to The ArchAndroid by Janelle Monáe.

The thing about my next brother down from me is that he does not lull you into a false sense of security. You’ll never hear this from me, but the first impression of him is, “Man, that kid sharpened all his edges this morning. That just sounds time consuming. He looks like he walked out of a Perry Ellis ad. How did he get through the membrane from the Photographic World into the real one?”

I’ll just call him Sharp, since I haven’t got his permission to mention him.

That’s the thing, though, about Sharp. He’s definitely got this core of him that’s all what he is, something that’s the foundation of him. But what he seemed to figure out is that there is a value in the strategic application of design when it comes to the presentation of the self. There is a value in refinement and intent, without forgetting what’s true and interior about you, but without going so far as to present an unfiltered example of your whole self to the world. It’s not dishonesty or disguise, but it is an exercise in selection. All visual aspects of Sharp are true, but not everything true about him is visible at the same time.

What I’m trying to say is that sudden instinct to check that your wallet is still there when he’s left — you know that feeling? — yeah, perfectly normal.

Because what I just described is a con man. As I understand that discipline, confidence men — hucksters, grifters, walnuts (that’s in the new slang) — operate by offering just enough honesty to invite their marks — shills, dachshunds (too many Hs in that word), whatever — to construct their own reality where this person is trustworthy.

That’s not an accident. Some of our favorite examples for behavior in public are things like Ocean’s Eleven and Hustle and White Collar. Because, see, the reason that confidence men got called that is because they are, in fact, confident. They inspire confidence, and they are themselves confident. And they’re confident because they figured out how to appraise themselves and ask two questions.

First, they asked, “What do I look like I’m trying to say?”

When they’ve answered that question, they ask, “Okay, now what do I want to look like I’m trying to say?”

Which appeals to us. It certainly appeals to me, and it seems to appeal to him, because it’s a hard old world out there. It’s a big world and a scary one, and it’s entirely filled with people who seem, from their skeptical sneers, not to think so much of you. The which impression you can’t help but indulge, because they rarely, if ever, do you the courtesy of providing subtitles for their impressions of you.

So if we want to feel like we’re projecting the appearance of the person that we want to appear to be, then we need to practice a little self-reflection, because none of you jokers are telling us how to do it.

Con men do this, so we learn from them.

Don’t let me turn you off of Sharp, though. The hucksters that we most admire tend to have a pretense of being the kind of person who more or less believes that they’re accomplishing victim-less crimes, a thing which we in the real world know does not exist.

The thing about Sharp is that, even though he takes a great deal of his lessons in personal interaction from grifters, he takes the concept of the victim-less crime to it’s most logical conclusion by committing no crime at all. All of his cons — and he does pull them — stop short of that part where the question of who’s the real victim comes into play. Instead he’ll emphasize the whole “confidence trickster” portion of the whole huckster business.

He doesn’t lull you into a false sense of security.

He lulls you into a real sense of security.

But a real sense of security that’s got like a lemon-twist of suspicion behind it, so that you know you’re still alive.

A conversation with him will lull you into a sense of confidence, as if you too can look sharp in that suit. Then, after it, you may sometimes come away tempted to check and make sure you still have your wallet. Rest assured that you still do, and if he did take it, he put it back again, unchanged except maybe the note that he slipped in to inform you that you just lost the game.

He’s my kind of thief.

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