You turn down a street and find a crowd loosely gathered around a fast talking man in sneakers and a black leather jacket. He’s crouching with sleeves rolled up. “Fifty bucks, everyone’s welcome.”
On a tatty piece of cardboard are three cups and a squishy red ball. You’ve seen it before. A fifty dollar note is tented on the cardboard as a lure. There is no high entertainment value to see, just a quick bet to make a few bucks and you’ll go back to the office. You stand back at first, because that’s what everybody does. Watch as the man taps the cups and squeeze the ball. Inch closer pushing into a flea on your left and a cowboy on your right. You watch closely as the man weaves the cups and catch a glimpse of the ball underneath as it passes. You restrain any knowledge and relax your face. You’ve got this. The flea doubles his money. The cowboy guessed wrong. Another turn. This time the flea loses but the cowboy wins. Both times you see which cup the ball is under.
You can’t lose. Slap some cash down and back yourself – you’re no slouch, you have street smarts.
“Gotta be going folks,” the man declares. “This flea and cowboy are taking my money.”
“Go on,” you say holding up the cash, surprising yourself. Behind you hear…squeaky nose? A bike horn? You haven’t seen a flea bet before, so the sight of cigar-smoking-Stetson-wearing clown doesn’t raise an eyebrow.
“You clown, want some action?”
The man looks nervous. You lean in. The flea doesn’t move for you, but the cowboy does.
“Watch the ball,” the man says and quickly places it under a cup. You guess right. The man has your money on the cardboard.
“Double up so I can feed my kids tonight,” he says.
The clown squeezes his nose and blows his horn. His lips are moving but you can’t hear him.
“Sure,” you say. The money looks good on the cardboard. Double, even better.
You guess wrong.
“Again,” you declare. Must have been a glitch in your software. You blinked. That stupid clown, or the smoke caught in your eye.
Again, the clown squeezes his nose and blows his horn.
You turn around. “Can you stop that?” The clown looks unhappy, he stares at the man behind you and starts waving his hands frantically. His lips move and still you hear nothing. He doesn’t see you.
You throw the last of your money down. You lose. The man quickly bundles up his belongings and leaves.
You turn and face the clown. “Both the flea and cowboy won. I too would have if you didn’t distract me.”
“The flea didn’t know he was playing and you are the cowboy. I wasn’t distracting you, my job is to distract the bull.”
Also published on Medium.