Don't Let their Tactics Throw you off Balance
by Rhiannon Nachbaur of Award-Winning Fiddleheads Violin Studio
It's Spring Break and the flowers are in bloom, but there's no flowered scent to the rancid air in the red light district. A matted cat scurries away from a dumpster as I pass, making my way across the littered sidewalk to a dirty little shop with a twitching neon sign, "Pawn Here."
As I approach the cracked glass counter I sense other customers' eyes on me. I don't look like I belong here in designer boots with my sweet little 5-year-old son at my side. My son points timidly at a large rusty knife with a skull engraved in the side and I'm suddenly guilty that I've dragged him into such a seedy place.
"I hear you have a violin," I say to the rugged, hunched man behind the counter. I say it in a sweet, treble tone that make me further stand out in a "I'm just a girlie girl with too much money who knows nothing about violins" sort of way.
Truth be known, I am a violinist and a violin shop owner. I'm not an expert in advanced violin authenticity, but I know a good violin when I see one and I also know when to run away screaming when it's junk. I'm here with hopes that the violin in question is worth repairing and restringing so it may be sold cheap to a student on a budget, making me a little bit of cash as well for the trouble.
My hopes are not high that this will happen, but every so often there is something worth picking up. I don't volunteer this information as past experiences have proven this always unreasonably jacks up the price about 400%. I'm not here to gouge the guy, but I don't want to be gouged myself.
I never talk people down; it's not my way of doing business. I will pay if I like the asking price, if not I just walk away. With these guys I act like I know nothing and I can usually get it at an appropriate price.I will have to dance the dance to keep this transaction fair.
The man behind the corner clears his throat loudly and eyes me suspiciously. I blink twice and smile, pink lipgloss shimmering in his clouded eyes. He glares again, slowly turns then limps to a back room, shouting over his shoulder something about how he has to go to the "special room" where rare instruments are kept.
This is pawn shop Tactic #1: Talk up the merchandise and add unrealistic mystique.
He returns with what looks like a miniature coffin covered in dust. It's an old black wooden violin case. Predating plastic and styrofoam, these were the sorry excuses for cases that caused more harm to instruments than not since they had no padding and the weak metal latches that held them together would spontaneously unhinge, causing many a fiddle to fall to death during transport.
"This is a fine antique case, made in 1883," says the shopkeeper. A man to my left approaches and says breathily, "those things are worth $500! They are very rare!" I keep my neutral gaze and say, "Oh yeah."
First off, I have about 4 such cases stored under my bed since I can't get rid of the things. Secondly, I had seen this "customer" helping move stock as I passed the shop a few days earlier. He was another employee who poses as customer to add "unbiased" credibility to the lies the shopekeeper spins.
My son coughs and looks around, bored out of his mind. I maintain my blank expression. I'm starting to think the violin inside this casket is a dead end.
The shopkeeper opens the case and my suspicions are confirmed.
It is absolutely horrible. A cheap, Chinese made Corelli or Bestler or Lark fiddle from the early 1980's. I've seen so many to know what they are upon first glance. It has the usual ugly starburst orange and yellow plastic finish, which has cracked due to heat exposure. The pegs are made from cheap, splintered rosewood. The chinrest and tailpiece are the cheapest shiny black plastic, with a sticky mystery stain covering the cup of the chinrest.
As if this kind violin wasn't wretched enough in playable shape, the junk before me had been crushed and nastily glued back together. Sort of. The neck was askew and the top was coming undone at one side. I can safely say this was the most deplorable violin I have ever seen, and I've seen a lot of rotten junk in my time.
I forcefully hold in judgement like a bulimic keeps from getting sick with company present. The shopkeeper inhales, about to launch into his spiel, using pawn shop Tactic #2.
Tactic #2: Let the lies begin.
"This here violin is a master instrument," he says in a hushed tone. At this I am compelled to say something or I'll burst. "It's a Chinese Strad-copy violin from the 1980's, most-likely a Sky Lark," I interrupt quickly.
Uh oh, the jig is up. He knows I'm no dupe.
But wait, he tries pawn shop Tactic #3: Lie some more.
"No, M'am," he simpers. "This is a real Stradivarius. It's been in an attic for a long time, an undiscovered treasure." His face has obviously rehearsed the honest, pleading expression. His knack for lying is, in a sick way, admirable.
This is beginning to annoy me, but I want to see how big of a hole he'll dig for himself. I look at him as if wanting to be enlightened.
He takes the bait and goes for tactic #4: Lie, but make it a real whopper.
"This violin was made by one of Stradivarius' students," he lies.
I almost laugh out loud at this, considering "Stradivari," not "Stradivarius" was the maker of Stradivarius violins and all of his instruments have been accounted for. And really, what kind of idiot thinks the most recently discovered Strad is for sale at a lousy pawn shop?
My son is shuffling his feet, but not complaining out loud. I wish he'd throw a tantrum so I'd have an excuse to leave quickly. Instead I maintain my composure and casually thank the man for his time before I turn and leave. He keeps his cool as my son and I walk out without another glance back, though to him I'm "the one that got away."
We danced the delicate dance of buyer and seller, player and swindler, and thankfully no one's toes were stepped on. He will go on to swindle another and may do well in the end. I am confident that people are good and I don't take it personally when they go bad.
As we drive away, my son asks why I didn't buy the nice violin. The poor dear would buy an ice cube in Alaska. Thus I begin to teach him another lesson in life's tricky dance moves, keeping your balance while still enjoying the music.