In Rome, creativity comes in many forms. As you walk the cobbled streets, artists will offer to sketch you. Poets will celebrate your greatness with spontaneous verse—in Latin, if you like. While skilled, these deft improvisers are but amateurs compared to Rome’s most inventive performer: the scammer. I met my favorite as we were leaving the Circus Maximus one sunny afternoon.
A middle-aged man in a gray sedan pulled up to the curb and asked me, in English, for directions to Vatican City. He wondered if I would mind speaking slowly, as he was from France. I told him, slowly, how to get there.
“Merci,” he said. “Where you from?”
His accent was Italian, not French, and he certainly didn’t have any trouble speaking or understanding English.
“USA,” I said. “Pennsylvania.”
“Oh! My wife’s from Philadelphia!”
I registered what I thought to be an appropriate amount of small-world wonder.
“She’s a model, and we live in Paris. You’ve been to Paris?”
“Sure. But I prefer Saint-Tropez,” I said.
“Ah, the Cote d’Azur! C’est Magnifique!”
He noticed my mother standing off to the side, photographing the Circus. “Your mother? I thought so. Well, because her son has been so kind to me, she’s in luck. You’ve heard of Pierre Cardin?”
“Well, I’m a representative for Cardin. I’m here in Rome on business. Look at these samples.”
He grabbed some clothes from the back seat and asked me how tall Mother was. I told him about 5’ 4” and he showed me a pink skirt suit.
“This is perfect,” he said. “Take it.”
“It’s a leftover sample.”
“Go ahead. It’s an authentic Pierre Cardin. She’ll love it.”
I pictured mother walking around Erie, Pennsylvania in a pink suit and almost laughed in his face.
“Okay,” I said. “If you’re sure you don’t need it.”
“It’s yours. But could I ask one tiny thing?”
“I’m very low on gas. Would you help me out with a little gas money?”
“It’s just that I don’t have quite enough to get to the Vatican.”
I wondered how many pink suits he’d be peddling to the pope.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “All I have is a fifty.”
“Fifty should be enough.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“Please, sir, don’t insult me. I did give you an authentic Pierre Cardin.”
“No, you didn’t,” I said, and dropped the abomination back in his car.
“You insult me, sir!”
I walked away and he lingered at the curb, trying in vain to call me back.
“What was that all about?” said Mother.
“You just missed out on an authentic Pierre Cardin.”
Dan Morey is a freelance writer in Pennsylvania. He’s worked as a book critic, nightlife columnist, travel correspondent and outdoor journalist. His writing has appeared in Hobart, Harpur Palate, McSweeney's Quarterly, decomP and elsewhere. He was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize.