My friend teacher and screenwriter Howard Rodman hosted a talk with magician, historian, raconteur, actor and author Ricky Jay as part of the "Vision" series at USC the other night, and as to be expected from that colorful chronicler of the art of the con, Jay closed the evening with a great anecdote that I wanted to share with you here.
(It's a bit "blue" in the tradition of these kind of apocryphal stories, so forewarned!)
A guy walks into a bank.
On Monday promptly at noon he brings $25,000 to open an account. The following day at the same time he brings another $40,000 to deposit. The next day, the same. Tellers take notice, and when he comes back in on Thursday with another large cash deposit, word goes up to the president of the bank, who makes a point to be there to meet the well-dressed man when he shows up at 12:00 p.m. sharp on Friday to make his largest cash deposit yet.
The president introduces himself to the well-heeled customer and asks after the source of his steady stream of greenbacks. The man shamelessly declares himself to be a "proposition" bettor, a type of gambler who will bet on just about anything, like which cube of sugar a fly will alight on first, or which rain drop will make it to the window sill ahead of the other.
The president is surprised, and finds it incredible when the man boasts that he never loses a wager. Sure enough, the gambler soon makes a proposition to the banker guaranteed to put lie to the old truism "you can't cheat an honest man".
The bet is simple.
He wagers the president $50,000 that when he comes back on Monday at noon the man's balls will be square, not round. Knowing a sure thing when he hears it, however squeamish it makes him, this respected man of finance agrees. The gambler spends the weekend as gamblers do, on his boat, enjoying the fruits of his sin; while the banker retreats to his quiet rectitude, taking extra care of his health regimen, perhaps even abstaining from marital intimacy as a further precaution, as if that was even necessary.
Sure enough, Monday at noon sharp finds the gambler back at the bank, this time ushered into the president's private office, but he does not come alone. A smallish man with a moustache and an air of wealth and class himself, has accompanied the gambler to bear witness to the denouement of the proposition.
Confidant of his success and increased wealth the banker drops his trousers without hesitation or conversation, and then, encouraged by the gambler, his boxers as well. The man slowly reaches out his hand to confirm the shape that will decide the wager, but doesn't get very far when he is interrupted by the sudden sharp sound of his guest, who has passed out and collapsed to the floor next to him.
"What is going on?" the bank president asks, hastily pulling up his pants, as the gambler hands him his $50,000 winnings.
"I think the shock was just too much for him", the fraudster exclaims, "you see, I bet the man $100,000 that if he came to this financial institution with me today, I would have the bank president's balls in my hands before we left."
A sharp-eyed student of the swindle and of human nature, Ricky Jay knows the deeper truth that they are usually one and the same thing!