Gaming The System

When I was in fifth grade, I was invited to my first Halloween party. It was held down the street from my house, at the home of a friend of mine.

There were about ten to fifteen of us at the party, equally divided between girls and boys. We all wore costumes.

About half way through the party, we were all asked to get into a circle. The lights were then turned out, and fake body parts began to be passed around, while scary Halloween music played in the background.

The first body parts were veins, which actually were cold, wet spaghetti noodles.

Next, came an eyeball, which was a large grape, covered in some kind of oil.

I can remember the eyeball being handed to me. As I received it from the kid sitting next to me, he said, in a Count Dracula accent, “Thisss – is an eyeball.” I then turned and handed it to the girl sitting next to me. I too tried to say it in a spooky voice, “Here’sss a real eyeball.”

Suddenly, the girl to whom I had given the eyeball, started screaming and crying. Immediately the lights were turned on, and one of the parents rushed over, and asked the girl what was wrong.

“Roger’s trying to scare me,” she sobbed. “He said it was a REAL eyeball.”

The parent looked at me and said, “Roger, this is just make believe. Go on over to the other side of the room.”

I protested, “I know that. She’s a stupid cry baby.”

“Roger,” the parent said, “apologize, or you’ll have to go home.”

“Great,” I said, “I’ll go home,” and walked out.

By the time I reached my house, the parent had called my mother and told her what had happened. My mother was waiting for me on the front porch.

“What happened, Roger?” my mother asked.

“I handed a slippery grape to this girl and told her it was an eyeball, and she started crying, and I was sent home.”

“Why don’t you go on back? All the kids want you to come back,” my mother suggested.

“Nope, I don’t want to ever see that stupid little cry baby again.”

Ten Years or So Later

In the early to mid 1960’s, the annual Miss International Beauty Pageant was taking place in my hometown of Long Beach, California.

One morning, I opened the local newspaper, and read where a young woman, posing as a contestant from the Latin American country of Costa Mesa, had entered the contest.

Eventually, someone realized that Costa Mesa wasn’t a Latin American country. The young woman was asked to leave the pageant, but not before she had gone through several of the major activities.*

The young woman had pulled off a “sting,” at least for awhile. In the article, the fake contestant was complimented for her resourcefulness. She had created her own banner, and her own clothing line.

I read on and found out, to my great surprise, the young woman was the cry baby, to whom I had given the fake eyeball years earlier at the Halloween party.

It cracked me up.

The cry baby had grown into a clever and attractive master of deception. I don’t know about you, but to me the Miss International Beauty Pageant is big stuff. You have to have a lot of chutzpah to crash that party. She did it, and almost pulled it off.

She became an overnight celebrity in our community.

From that day on, I felt like I had been in elite company with that little girl, now grown and turned faux beauty contestant celebrity.

Different Eyes

However, looking back on it with today’s eyes, I see it with a bit more caution.

I admire what the young woman tried to pull off at the pageant. Not only do you have to be audacious to try something like that, but you also have to be very bright.

Audacity and intelligence, now those are qualities I respect. But, they are qualities to which you also have to be alert.

Let’s face it, she gamed the system. In such instances, how far should one’s admiration go before it turns to rejection?

Yes, she pulled one over on the system, at least on the beauty pageant’s system, that couldn’t readily distinguish between Costa Rica and Costa Mesa. I bet it fooled you too, at first. Back then, I was fooled for a time. I actually had to think about it. Costa Mesa, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, it all sounded the same to me. (Funny thing was, Costa Mesa was a beach community that was close to where I lived in Long Beach.)

As I think about it now, I like how she played on words.

When you get fooled like that, it wakes you up mentally. You become more aware of subtle differences. That’s all to the good, as far as I am concerned.

On the other hand, if you have ever been personally fooled by clever deception, you realize the potential exists to be damaged.

For example, once, years ago, I invested in a company, only to find out later that the management took that money, and bought another company, and put it in their own name. Another investor and I were left without the money and without a company. It took us months to sort things out, and bring some justice to the situation.

Lesson Learned?

I still admire intelligent people who are capable of pulling off clever acts, but, if anything, I’ve also learned not to be too admiring, and, above all else, to be alert to the possibility of subtle deception.

By the way, do you think that little girl was really scared that badly at the Halloween party? Or, do you think she may have wanted to put a scare into me by her dramatic reaction?