Last weekend a well-dressed middle-aged man approached me in a parking lot at a local market in Newport Beach and introduced himself. The encounter was very odd, but I immediately felt sorry for him. He was apologetic and said he was a widower and had been driven from Santa Barbara to be honored for his work as a doctor; unfortunately, he had left his wallet at home and needed gas money. I was incredulous —did he have a credit card; did his driver have money? He apologized again and began to tell me how much money he earned, which seemed credible given how well he spoke and the car he indicated he had arrived in and which later I saw him return to.

I believed him and gave him $40, with my name and address so that he could return the money. He even offered to send me $100, but I told him to just send me the $40 I lent him and to be true to his word; I was counting on him; I didn’t have $40 to spare. His last words to me were that I would be surprised how quickly he would return the money.

You can probably guess the end of the story. It’s one week later, and, of course, the money was not returned. He didn’t know that I was a single woman preparing for retirement. He didn’t know that I had decided not to buy a chuck roast minutes earlier because the price had seemed slightly higher than last week. He didn’t know that I am now putting all of my paycheck into retirement and living off of investments for the next eight years to maximize my retirement or what this change will cost me.

I had wanted to believe him despite the oddity of the circumstances. I had even praised him for his courage in approaching a stranger and said that I understood how difficult it had to have been for him. Now, I’m another sucker, and the world is a little bit less kind. Every person who takes advantage of another diminishes the goodness of humanity and makes it less likely that we will help one another in the future.

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