New York Scamma
My freshman year of college brought a lot of change into my life. New emotions, experiences, the whole nine yards they tend to preach about in high school. But, it’s college in New York and I’m a writing major (I couldn’t even pick something normal), so naturally I’m inclined to believe my stories are completely original and important enough to talk about.
My friend and I found this used bookstore down Washington on the way to Prospect Park. The owner was nice, her prices were cheap, and it was a local business. You know, the thing you’re supposed to support. She gave me a sprig from one of her plants, included instructions on how to plant and cultivate it in a book, pressed so I could wait some time before planting it. She grew marijuana in the back, on the patio outside the store. It was supposed to be a secret, but I can’t remember why or how we found out about it.
We went back a few more times, and began to befriend this woman. Patricia was her name, but we wound up referring to her as “New York Grandma”. She was in her late fifties or early sixties, wore bright colors, and kept herself very neat. She didn’t have a smartphone, she had a landline for the shop and a flip phone, and she didn’t keep any of the store’s records digital—they were all scratched down in thin pencil on sun-worn pale lined pages. Someone was in and out of the shop to help her every now and again, but I can’t remember his name now, or even what he looked like.
One of our visits, Patricia told us about a market happening just outside the Brooklyn Museum, and informed us that she would be there to sell her books. During the course of the conversation, she asked if we were doing anything the day of the market, and if we wanted to help her sell. At that time, she said she’d give us fifty percent of whatever we sold, and said that if we wanted to bring other friends to help, we could, and she’d pay us as a collective.
Of course, we agreed. It was a Saturday morning, what else would we do?
We wrangled up two other friends, making four of us in total, to go down to Prospect Heights and sell books for the morning. It was earlier than we were used to getting up, and we were running a touch late to get there. We still helped her move everything to the location and get set up. The weather was all over the place that morning, as I would learn to be typical of New York; it started off gray and cold, a slight drizzle threatening to dampen the books, but became bright and hot by noon.
I remember we were proud of the work we’d done over the course of the morning. None of us had sold books before, but we’d been able to make a few connections with people and sell a decent amount for Patricia. She was happy with us and our work, too. It was around one that we were beginning to discuss leaving to get lunch, if it was alright with her.
Of course it was alright with her. She thanked us for our help, and said she’d be packing up to leave soon, so she would pay us our fifteen percent now.
Fifteen? That wasn’t the number we agreed upon. When we confronted her about this, she laughed it off. I remember the words so vividly—“Oh, if I could pay you fifty percent I would. I have to make a profit, though, darlings, so I would never tell you that I could pay fifty. When did you hear that, anyway?”
There was something that boiled under my skin. We knew she said fifty when she first told us about the market, how could she just abruptly decide to change it on us? We hadn’t signed anything so she was at liberty to do whatever she wanted, I guess, but it burned at the time.
She even gave us an extra five dollars, for a grand total of (roughly) thirty dollars, as a thank you for our hard work. It was honestly more insulting than if she’d just paid us and let us go.
We were grumbling the entire way back to campus. We sat ourselves down at Mike’s, back when it was open until 3:30, and that was when everything came loose. The “I can’t believe it”s and the “this is so fucked”s and the “did we just get gaslit by some random lady”s over orange juice and pancakes.
One thing did come out of the morning though—Patricia had a new name: Scamma.
Art by Sarah Durkin