Friday, June 24, 2016

The Odds are 50/50

From the moment Alan walked into the trading post I could tell we had a character on our hands. There were three other groups of people wandering the floor of the store with which Miss Priscilla and I were having intermittent conversations. There was a threesome from Taos; dad, mom and a teenage daughter; a small group of visiting missionaries who were in town doing service in Montezuma Creek at Saint Christopher's mission; and a leather-clad biker touring the Southwest on his Fat Tail Harley Deuce. While Steve was tied-up in his office doing accounting, Priscilla and I were busy mining the browsers for information and getting to know them better. When Alan entered it was as if he were walking onto a stage.

Alan is a short man, maybe 5' 6", but his positive attitude and forthright approach made him seem larger than life. He is 70-something years of age, has white hair and a mustache with aged blond highlights. He wore khaki tourist shorts over an army green polo shirt with a Chisholm's Trail Gun Leather emblem printed on it. He also sported funky patchwork loafers with socks matching his shorts. Alan wasn't stylin', but he was clean and well pressed. Entering the trading post, he effortlessly merged into traffic and began asking questions: "What's that? Who made it? What's it made of?" No matter who was talking, Alan's questions overrode everyone else. He was not rude, just extremely curious and appealingly engaging.

In our display cases are conversation starters such as antique cobalt glass bottles, pea knives, steel traps and rusted-out pistols. It was the pistols that caught Alan's attention, and he knew exactly what they were. "That one is an Italian reproduction of the Colt Navy model 1851, 36 caliber black powder pistol. A percussion revolver with a 7 1/2 inch barrel made in the 1970’s, $179, new, in the box. Since I bought it as such, I knew its history and was impressed with his knowledge. He probed, "How much is it?" "It's not for sale,” I told Alan, mentioning it was worth far more as a display piece than I could get for it. Alan was undeterred, and kept pressing me to put a value on the relic. "Not for sale," I persisted. To allow time with our other guests and get him off the subject, I sent him on a short quest, "Go take a look at the Army model in the other case. You might appreciate that as well."

 Italian reproduction of the Colt Navy model 1851 

As Alan went in search of the other pistol, I refocused on the folks from Taos. The man was dressed much like Alan, in a polo shirt, khaki shorts and flip-flops. He was much younger, taller and thinner, approximately 6'4". His wife and daughter were similarly tall. The entire family was soft spoken and seemed fascinated with our cocky guest. As I spoke with them, getting to know the threesome better, Alan found the antique pistol. It too was an Italian reproduction that had been artificially aged. It had fallen on hard times, i.e., been lost in the dirt for decades. The guy I purchased the gun from remembered his father buying it in the late 70s and promptly losing it. When it was rediscovered, the pistol had spent nearly 30 years out, in the weather, and it looked the part. It was rusted-out, deeply pitted and locked-up.

You could not have fired that beast if your life depended on it; the cylinder and trigger were jammed as was the loading ram. The original grips were gone and had been replaced by a pair that were roughed-out of stained pine. The pistol was only good for a doorstop, a head knocker or in a Native American jewelry display. "What will you take for this?" Alan queried. "Not for sale," I reiterated, "It's a conversation piece, and worth more for that purpose than the few bucks I might get for it. Look how it has interested you." "Don't be like that," Alan admonished, "I create antique leather holsters and would love to make one for this piece. It would look fabulous in my showcase." "Exactly!" I said. "That's why it's not for sale."

By now, everyone in the store was paying close attention to our exaggerated conversation. The folks from Taos, the missionaries and the biker were all interested to see how this scene would play-out. Weirdly enough, Alan was getting a little tense. Being told "no" was not something he understood. Although he did not seem the type to ask for or need emotional support, he called his wife in from the porch to show her the pistol and seek advice. She was unimpressed and informed her husband, "He said it's not for sale, let's go" and walked out the door. Not Alan though, he had made the decision to press on regardless of the consequences. He reached into his back pocket and laid out $150 in cash. "Not impressed," I assured him. In $20 increments Alan began to stack the cash. The onlookers leaned-in closer and Priscilla added her two cents, "Tell him no Barry, tell him no." Before long Alan had emptied his wallet, except for 5 one-dollar bills. "Get the singles," said the man from Taos. Alan threw the ones onto the pile as well. The amount on the table was now $300. "Nope!" I said, "Not interested."

Alan's face fell. "That's way more than it's worth, and all of the cash I have," he said, "Please sell me the pistol." Priscilla said again, "No, don't do it!" Alan looked puppy-eyed and said again, "Please." The crowd closed in and I looked into their eyes to determine what they were thinking. Half were shaking their head in the affirmative and the others were dissenting. "All right," I told Alan, "here's the deal. We will flip a coin, if I win you will put the gun back in the case and walk away. Alternatively, if you win I will take your money and you can have the metal art." "Deal!" said Alan, "Who flips the coin?" "I will," said the tall guy from Taos. He tossed the quarter into the air and Alan called, "heads." As the coin landed on the Navajo rug spread out in front of the Kokopelli doors, Alan rushed in to see the results. It was too far for me to know if it was heads or tails and Mr. Taos reached for his glasses to see more clearly. With that hesitation Alan reached in, grabbed-up the quarter and yelled, "Heads, it was heads!"

Alan threw the quarter on the counter, pushed the stack of bills in my direction, grabbed up the pistol and headed out. "I think it was tails," said our flipper. By that time Alan was out the door and halfway across the parking lot. Everyone in the store gave their opinion, and they seemed equally divided; half saw heads and half saw tails. As the crowd dispersed, I pocketed the cash, smiled at Priscilla and said, "That was fun."

Steve was standing near his office shaking his head, "First you sell our wooden Indian and now you gamble away our pistol. Selling things that are, 'Not for Sale' has become a habit." "No worries," I said, "It's about the experience, not who wins or loses. You have to admit that guy was quick on the draw. I had a great time, and I only gave $20 for that old doorstop anyway. I should be able to buy a dozen more with the profit. Well, at least two." At that Priscilla cautioned, "You better hope Laurie doesn't hear about your gambling habit." "Yeah," I admitted, "that could cause a misfire."

With warm regards from Barry Simpson and the team:
Steve, Priscilla and Danny.

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