Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Legend: At her request, a young man calls a stranger "Mom" at the checkout counter and is rewarded for his kindness by being stuck with her grocery bill.
In the grocery store version, a young person looking only to do a good deed (albeit a painless one) gets stuck with a huge food bill. Each of the grocery store versions always mentions that the patsy has only a few items on the belt, and we're left to imagine what a shock it must have been for such a careful and clearly underfinanced shopper to get hit with this charge. Similarly, our hitchhiker above is not only presumably poor (he's thumbing a ride, remember, not driving his own car), but the story makes a point that the place they stop at is a "rather expensive roadside diner." The ante of the tale is upped as we realize that money means even more to the person being taken advantage of than it does to us. This bit of subtlety drives home the victim's predicament in a much more telling fashion.
Older versions of this legend lack the "poor shafted stranger" feature and simply present a humorous tale demonstrating a clever way of getting something for nothing:
[Braude, 1965]Though in each of these stories the cost to the victim is purely monetary (and in one instance he gets out of paying by convincing the diner's owner that he'd been conned), the cautionary message of the tale runs deeper than that. Place your trust in the wrong stranger, and it might not be your wallet you'll lose — it could be your life!
A gentleman went into a Paris babershop with a small boy one day and explained that since he had an appointment in the neighborhood he would like his own hair cut first. This accomplished, he handed the small boy up into a chair, urged patience upon him, and departed. When the boy's haircut was finished, the gentleman had not returned, and the barber transferred the boy to an ordinary chair. A half hour passed.
"Don't worry," said the barber reassuringly. "I'm sure your father will be back soon."
The boy looked startled. "He isn't my father," he said. "He just came up to me in the street and said, 'Come along, let's both get a haircut.'"
Barbara "patsy (de)cline(d)
Sightings: The "wave at the cashier" trick was used in the 1994 film
Last updated: 27 December 2004
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