But I am glad to see that someone else is nostalgic for the days of three-card monte. Why oh why did we ever banish it from the streets of New York City?
As far as I'm concerned, it was a victimless crime. Who honestly thought they were going to beat a street hustler at three-card monte? Maybe once the rubes learn their lesson about acting smart, it'll stay learnt, before they provide their bank information to a putative Nigerian prince.
Did you really think it was just a coincidence that the rise of Nigerian prince scams came shortly after three-card montéistes were chased off the streets? It's like getting inoculated against a virus.
Además, for those of us who weren't stupid enough to play, it was terrific free entertainment.
The last time I got a great close-up look at a set of three-card monte was with my friend Dan, in Vegas. We went to see what all the drunken frat boys were crowding around and practically wept with nostalgia. A drunken frat boy was wavering — his friends were trying to talk him out of putting his money down. "I only have $17," he said. The montéiste assured him that in the absence of twenties, or, it was implied, any other bettors, $17 was a perfectly acceptable bet. (ETA: After I'd written out the major plot points of this minor anecdote, which I have been telling for well over ten years, I gchatted Dan to confirm some details. "We tried to talk him out of it," he gchatted. "And he wouldn't listen." I did not —do not — recall trying to talk him out of it.)
His friends didn't find this intervention helpful, even as the montéiste palmed the $17. "Whose side are you on, anyway?" one said. (ETA: I had always considered it a sign of frat boy entitlement, the idea that we should automatically be on the mark's side, but the revelation that we had originally been trying to talk the kid out of betting puts this part of the story in a much more sensical light.) Dan said — cheerfully, honestly — "We're on the side of the spectacle."
That was when the montéiste saw a cop or something and vanished. I have a strong visual memory of him perfunctorily flipping over the cards to show that the mark had indeed lost his $17 fairly, but now, who knows? I clearly can't trust my own brain to tell me the whole truth. (Dan: "Also, I'd be surprised if that kid was old enough to be a real frat guy.")
My whole adult life, I've been telling the story of how I talked a frat boy into betting on three-card monte and when challenged, said, "I'm on the side of the spectacle." Turns out none of that is true. Am fact-checking all anecdotes from now on.
This print --> shells.
Punny dress title --> Shell Game.
Shell Game --> three-card monte.
Three-card monte --> three-card monte anecdote that is more or less kind of what happened, but who really knows? The mind is a monkey riding on a tiger.
Did you come here expecting to learn something about Shell Game?
It has fabric-covered buttons. Happy?
All photos by Claire Loeb!