Here’s a parable about someone who fools the “chumps,” who lies for power and profit. (It’s also Country Bumpkin and City Slicker, or Crime Doesn’t Pay.)
Exhibit B (thanks to Amy King):
I’ve been thinking about WISE GUYS of late. But first, a story.
My friend in graduate school, Sal, once told me, “My father grew up poor, so he had a very loose attitude toward property. If it was unattached, it became his. So I grew up thinking that was OK, that ‘everybody does it’ — sugar packets, office supplies. Nothing big, but it was an attitude. Then when somebody broke into my car and stole all the Christmas presents I had stashed in the trunk, I thought, ‘Somebody is trying to tell me something.’ Now, I don’t swipe anything. I buy my own paper clips and it won’t break me. You know I’m a dog-lover. If your puppy is stealing a sock or a cookie, you make eye contact and say, ‘Is that yours?’ and he’ll drop it. Why aren’t we that smart?”
WISE GUYS sounds as if written in 1890, but it was composed by Bonnie Windsor, about whom I know very little except that she collaborated with Tom Glazer on RUGGED BUT RIGHT c. 1952. Our song was recorded and performed by Julia Lee, Turk Murphy, Pat Yankee, and John Gill. (In his essay on Julia Lee, Bill Millar refers to its “anti-mobster” theme, but Windsor is describing behavior not limited to the Mafia.)
The message of WISE GUYS is plain: cheating people is shameful and stupid, because you will be punished. (Also, Windsor suggests that the people you are trying to fool are smarter than you, hence Bumpkin and Slicker.)
It’s performed here by Scott Anthony, banjo and vocal; Bob Schulz, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Jim Maihack, tuba; Mike Daugherty, drums, at the Sacramento Music Festival, May 26, 2014:
Any resemblance to real-life characters is, of course, unintentional.
May your happiness increase!