My son and I were hoofing north through SoHo, basking in the too-hot-but-we’re-not-complaining sunshine in this belated spring, when a guy in dreadlocks swiftly derailed me.
“Mama! Mama!” he said, sidling up beside me and sliding a CD into my hands with a smile. “Do you like reggae? This is reggae.”
Then, in quick, excited, liquid tones that didn’t allow for much in the way of interruption, he explained that:
A) He had just recorded this CD!
B) It was a beautiful CD!
C) Since I like reggae, he really wanted me to have it!
D) But if I wanted, I could choose to pay him for it! Any amount!
E) He’s from Jamaica, Mama!
F) Yes, he’s from Jamaica, Mama!
G) Specifically, Kingston! Had I ever been there?
H) But I should go! Kingston is beautiful! Reggae is beautiful!
I) His friend over here, he made a CD, too, a rap mix-tape!
J) I could have that, too! Yes, Mama!
K) If I gave him $20, he and his friend could split it down the middle, $10 each!
L) But I shouldn’t worry about those smaller bills I was fumbling with!
M) Really, Mama, no need to hand him ANYTHING but that $20! Just look at that $20! That $20 is perfect!
N) Have a wonderful day, Mama! Thank you!
And Mama walked away laughing, two CDs heavier and twenty bucks lighter. God bless you!, I shouted back at the guy.
“Mom,” my actual son said, stuffing the CDs into my backpack, “he played you like a violin. He played you like staccato. You were so played.” He continued in this gently joking instrumental vein a while longer.
I know I know, I said. But I knew I was being played, I enjoyed the way he played me, I was in on it. So that makes it okay. It was masterful. He was brilliant. He was charming. What a salesman. I was wholly aware and entertained.
“But he played you.”
Yeah. But in a way, we were sharing a moment together, I said. For that moment we weren’t strangers.
“Like a violin.”
Later, on the train home to Albany, I pulled the CDs out of the backpack and took a closer look at them.
Stripped along the bottom of one was this subtitle: SUCKAS NEVA PLAY ME.
All I could do was laugh.