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Randy's Ramblings: Grifter takes advantage of people's generosity

I'd rather report the news than be a part of it.

Nevertheless, the line got blurred for me on Wednesday of last week.

After the morning staff meeting to semi-plan this week's Star-Observer, I stopped by the Walmart store to pick up a few items from the shopping list on our refrigerator door.

I was studying a can of honey roasted mixed nuts (not on the list) when a voice said, "Excuse me."

I looked up and saw a young man, a little over six feet tall, dressed in a dated Jimmy John's uniform - or at least the cap and jacket.

He said he'd never done this sort of thing, but he didn't know what else to do. He had run out of gas and needed to get to work. A gas station wouldn't lend him a can to use for refueling without a $20 deposit, and he didn't have the money...

I stopped him short. I had heard this story before.

The previous Saturday morning I was up north in Wood Tick Woods cutting brush when my sweetheart called and related how she had just given $20 to a young man desperate to get to work.

She was in the Walgreens store on Carmichael Road when she was approached at around 10:30 a.m., about the same time that I was.

The grifter got farther into his tale with my wife. He'd be fired if he didn't get to work on time, he said, adding that he couldn't get a hold of his dad by phone. My tender-hearted wife thought he was on the verge of tears.

She's a practicing Christian. She told me later that she thought about Jesus' instructions in Luke 6:30-34: "Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you ... And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full."

Still, she seemed a little uncomfortable about giving the young man the money.

I told her she had done the right thing. She didn't have to apologize for being generous, I said. I'd be more disappointed if she had turned a cold shoulder to the kid.

I was picturing a worried high-schooler, not the big galoot looking down on me in the aisle of the Walmart store.

For the record, he was not an employee of the Hudson Jimmy John's - or, most likely, of any sandwich shop. At the end of the episode, and after a visit to the Hudson Police Department, I stopped by Jimmy John's to let the manager know there was a scam artist misrepresenting the business.

The manager assured me that he didn't have any employees matching the description of the scammer. And the black slacks, shirts and caps (with a red JJ logo) worn by the crew didn't match the older dark blue outfit of the con man. We're not sure it was actual Jimmy John's attire.

"You did this to me wife!" I remember telling the hustler in an agitated voice.

"You (explective)!" I added, either in my mind or audibly. I was pretty angry and unchristian at this point, and not thinking real clearly.

The surprised swindler grew silent and started walking for the front doors. I followed, demanding his name, like he was going to tell me.

When I reached the checkouts, I remembered that I had merchandize in my hands and realized that I couldn't follow the hustler out the door or I'd be the one on the wrong side of the law.

By now, I was creating a scene, telling the cashiers that the guy I was tailing was a con artist. I pulled out my cell phone and considered calling 911, but it occurred to me that the police probably had more important things to investigate. Besides, I wasn't sure the law had been violated. The fellow gave me a line of BS and asked for money, which I didn't provide. So where's the crime in that?

In hindsight, I could have handled the situation a lot better. I wish I had listened sympathetically to the young man's lies, while sliding my phone out of my pocket and quickly taking his mug shot. It would have made nice artwork for the story on the incident that appeared on the Star-Observer's website,

The Hudson police also could have used the photo to identify the fellow. Maybe a reader would have let us know who he is.

The recent events in Boston demonstrated how useful images in the media can be in bringing people to justice.

I don't mean to diminish the horror of the Boston bombings by mentioning them here. There obviously is no comparison in the magnitude of the loss.

If there is a parallel, it's that people doing good things were victimized in both cases. People involved in a healthy, wholesome activity in Boston lost limbs, or their lives.

It can be demoralizing. It fosters cynicism, suspicion and revenge.

Sunday morning at First Baptist Church, Pastor Jim Winter read from the Apostle Paul's letter to the Romans for instruction on what the Christian response should be to events like those in Boston or the explosion of the fertilizer plant in West, Texas.

"Hate what is evil; cling to what is good," Paul says in Chapter 12, beginning with verse 9. "Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

"Bless those who persecute you; bless and not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

"Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge ... do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

It was a message I needed to hear.

It doesn't mean that we should be gullible, or that lawbreakers should go unpunished, Pastor Winter said, but we shouldn't be overcome by evil.

I've read of random acts of kindness being committed in the wake of Boston Marathon tragedy. What an appropriate response. That's overcoming evil with good.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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