Opinion | Master Deceivers

Stroudsburg Herald

By Robert Provitera

Photo by BasL

My wife met a lovely lady at the store, and they talked about family, faith, compassion, and home additions. We accepted an invitation to her house for coffee and a chance to meet her husband. He buzzed us in through the large gates that surrounded his empire. He told me he had a successful career in the construction business and was semi-retired, but that he missed work and was often fighting depression and loneliness.

Often during those first weeks, he would call me in need of a friend and ask if I would come over. In his backyard, there was a lookout area with a couple of Adirondack chairs at the top of a massive series of well-connected multi-tiered decks. The overwhelming construct of new timbre that artfully meandered up above his diminished house stood tall with a high sense of pride. No piece of pure backyard remained uncovered.

Our conversations mainly consisted of pleads for prayer and comfort but would always wrap up with an inquiry about our plans for a home addition for my parents. He looked at me with sincerity, proclaiming his desire to help a thoughtful son like me. His helpful tone was as natural as the smell of newly honed pinewood. His humble and complimentary word choices would stick out over the top of his stories about people who had mistreated him in business, his woeful dealings, and some of the legal battles still plaguing him. I became more empathetic as he shared his troubles.

His requests for fellowship in my presence quickly increased. My wife became concerned about the frequency of visits and his persistence.

One day he asked me to take a ride with him. He had a good friend in the construction business that would undoubtedly assist in building a place for my parents. His connection would get started with just twenty-five thousand dollars. We went to the job site and got in the truck with this gentleman, who took us to see some of his recent constructs. This huge man had a small number of things to say while our host did most of the talking.

I was mulling over the likelihood, readiness, and urgency surrounding this twenty-five thousand dollars when I got an unexpected phone call.

“Hello Is this Rob? I don’t know if you remember me, but you drove around with us in my truck a short while ago, and I need to talk to you in person. Would it be Ok if I stopped by?”

The certainty in this big quiet man's voice prompted me to accommodate him right away.

My wife and I sat at the kitchen table with him that day and would have been swept off our feet had we not been seated.

We discovered that the man who was befriending us was not a close associate but rather someone who was trying to acquire twenty-five thousand dollars from where ever he could find it. Lawyers were owed money, and I was not the first to hear that number thrown around so frequently. I learned that the antagonists, who mistreated my woeful friend, were victims of his dubious con games. These new stories involved the same characters but painted a different picture than squared up with those I had listened to for weeks. This sequel began to excavate and uncover the true meanings and causes behind the laments I had sympathized with. Our heroes and victims seemed to swap places. The depth of deception was beyond the boundaries of my imagination. This gentle giant dialed his cell phone and called one of the leading men whose name was thrown around frequently in previous weeks. He gave an earful of information about a man who had stolen enough lumber from a job site to build the Tower of Babel. A grifter who played on people's sympathies for money and personal gain.

This emotional craftsman and storyteller I had been feeling sorry for had just moved on to another project, me.

Although I was being wielded in the hands of a master deceiver, he became the tool that built in me a new sense of awareness. Things are often not what they seem. I had learned how easy it is to mistake lies for truths when our emotions are employed. Pride and self-gain are the heavy equipment that can steamroll anybody and anything in its path, especially when our heartstrings are deceptively pulled. It is wise to look beyond the excavation of our feelings and more closely and patiently into the details and misalignments of the finishing work before settling in. Sometimes, even angels are not who and what we expect. They may arrive in a truck without warning or wings, delivering heavy truths softly and assuredly at just the right moment.

I am grateful for the timely arrival of an angel in the body of a gentle giant.

Excessive honing of the emotions, craftily finished with praise, now has me reaching for the caution tape before buying into a grifters Tower of Babel.

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