‘You can’t trust nobody’

My late Italian father-in-law, who came to the United States in the 1950s and learned to speak English by watching Martin and Lewis movies, had a frequently quoted saying in the family. It goes like this:

“You can’t trust nobody.”

Often the man we called “Papa Joe” made this observation during the holiday season, a time when he used to sell Christmas trees to make a few extra dollars. He sold firs and pines from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve in Brooklyn, Long Island and finally in the coastal community of Swansboro, North Carolina where we first met, I became a son-in-law and a weekend and occasional weeknight volunteer on the tree lot directly beside his house.

It wasn’t really a holiday-related message, just one repeated over the many hours we waited for customers to arrive or for customers to make their selections. There’s a lot of down time on a family Christmas tree lot. But it could be a holiday message. People looking for a quick buck are on the prowl during the Christmas season like no other time of year. They know people are buying gifts. They are aware many might be carrying extra cash. They know full well that folks are at their peak time for giving to a non-profit.

Let’s call these parasites what they are: Crooks — another word my father-in-law liked to use. I would add that these people are also assholes. That’s a word I like to use. It’s a generational thing.

So the words “you can’t trust nobody,” play on a non-stop loop in my head throughout December. Never was this message more clear than on Monday when I saw a story online by my former newspaper, the Burlington Times-News (thetimesnews.com). They published a story about someone who on Friday stole the Salvation Army kettle from its site at Lowes Foods on University Drive in Burlington. Not exactly a new low, but damned competitive.

A person described as a white man, around 5 feet 8 inches tall with brown hair and wearing a Salvation Army apron approached the bell ringer at Lowes Foods. Things were a little out of whack at the time because of the wintry weather. People are crazed in North Carolina when a little sleet or snow is falling and grocery stores are ground zero for crazy, crowded and just plain weird. Now we can throw treachery in the mix. The man who approached the bell ringer said he was there early to pick up the kettle for the day because of the weather. Since he was wearing Salvation Army garb the bell ringer had no reason not to hand over the kettle, which contained several hundred dollars according to the Times-News report.

“You can’t trust nobody.”

The story reminded me that on Saturday as weather conditions were improving, a young man rang our doorbell during the early afternoon. Snow was still swirling but nothing was sticking and the roads  — and my driveway were completely clear, a little wet (not slushy at all) but clear. He said he was de-icing driveways for people in the neighborhood. From what I could tell this was wholly unnecessary work. He never really identified himself, and added that all proceeds from his labors would go toward the Salvation Army.

Hmmmm. Something about his story just didn’t seem to add up. My spouse messaged a friend with the Burlington Police Department who had an officer drive through our neighborhood to see what was up. They encountered the young man — who appeared to be in his mid-20s, white and about 5 feet 9 inches tall. The man told the officer that he was affiliated with Elon and that the proceeds from his work would be going to Toys for Tots. He produced an ID and went on his way.

Hmmmm, again.

Look, I want to think the best of people but I also know from experience that trust can be misplaced. If things seem funky when someone approaches anytime — but particularly this time of year — feel free to just say ‘no.” Please continue to support non-profits, but it might be best to do so directly.

Because, well, like Papa Joe always says …


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