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big back 40

My neighbors moved away a few months back. When they moved, they hired a few guys they found on Craig’s List to pack up all their stuff and take it half-way across the country. They had a lot of stuff, and it was a ridiculously inexpensive quote for all the work. Still, as far as we know, the move went off without a hitch.

Since the move took several days, we wound up getting to know the movers. Two months ago, one of them showed up out of the blue at our door with a far-fetched story about having forgotten his wallet that morning down in Jamestown, and now he was here in Buffalo with no money, an empty gas tank, and a big truck full of stuff to move. He asked if I could lend him $40, saying he would leave the title to a trailer with me as collateral. He said he’d be back that night with the cash. Against my better judgement, I lent him the money.

After about a week, it started to sink in that I’d been swindled. I started cursing him, and telling friends my story. Some said I should put up a notice on Craig’s List, warning people of these guys. Others said I should go get the trailer, or put a lien on it.

Then, out of nowhere last week, three of my neighbors called saying that this guy was looking for me. He’d been by the house several times to repay me but I wasn’t home and he’d lost my phone number. Later that night, he came by with the cash, apologizing profusely. He said it was a lifesaver, what I’d done by lending him the money. I gave him the title to the trailer, and now consider the chapter closed.

But was I wrong to get so angry? Some friends say “no.” Even though everything worked out, I’m not so sure I’ll be apt to do the same thing again. What would you do?

The Practical Cogitator says: If your question had ended with the man’s proposition, and you’d simply asked us whether you ought to have lent the guy the $40, I’d have said no way. That “I’m out of gas and need to get to [insert name of near-but-far town here]” is one of the most tried and true grifts in Buffalo. The title to the trailer would have seemed to me no more than new and admirable twist to the con.

But you went ahead and lent the guy the money. And so I’ll offer you a pat line to which I often resort when conundrums like this arise: One should never resist nor question a generous impulse. Something told you to lend this guy the $40, and so you did the right thing in opening your wallet. Whatever small voice urged you to do so was justified in the end, right? So you should be pleased with your judgment

But you felt stiffed when he seemingly disappeared, and got angry, and that’s where your question arises. Well, first of all, you should never have expected the money back. An act of generosity is its own reward, and the reward begins and ends with the act itself. If you expect more gratification from it than that, then it is not merely generous and you are setting the stage for bitterness and resentment to upstage your generosity.

Second, why didn’t you get contact information for the guy? Why didn’t you try to pursue the payback, if you believed it was forthcoming? I think that would have been a prerequisite to trying to file a lien, which probably would have been unsuccessful anyway.

All of this, in any case, gets filed under lessons learned. Don’t let the fact that you were led into anger make you shy of generous gestures in the future. But in the future, figure out what you need from such a transaction to ensure your generosity is not spoiled by anger again.

The Movie Goer says: One should never lend money. One should consider it a gift and be pleasantly surprised when one is gifted back. Why so much anxiety over $40?

The Photographic Memory says: I wouldn’t say it was “wrong” to get angry. You got angry. It’s your feeling. But since the guy was, for the most part, a stranger, I probably wouldn’t have expected it back in the first place. You have to consider something like that as doing something nice for someone. If you go into it like that from the start, then you won’t get angry when he doesn’t pay you back. The fact that he DID pay you back is great! Just try to look at it as a renewal of your faith in mankind. Maybe you won’t do the same thing again....but you just might.

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