During a ride around the island of Oahu in Hawaii we happened on the art of living on your wits ... otherwise known as haggling. Every so often as we drove around we came across several roadside stalls set up, always two or three together. They were selling all kinds of souvenirs, mostly kitsch and "cute".
We finally stopped at one group and after a short and tentative haggle I bought Helen a green "jade" necklace. It was knocked down a token amount, from ten dollars to eight. Helen immediately put it around her neck.
We browsed around the few stalls, looking but not really wanting to spend any more money. Last in the group was a slick young Syrian selling out of the back of his chrome-plated two-ton Chevy. He wore a jaunty Stetson and had no chin. He was eager to sell. Over eager.
"How much did you pay for that?" the Syrian asked Helen, looking at her necklace.
"I'm not telling you," she said, but he nagged and wheedled until he finally pestered it out of her.
"You were had!" he said. "Come here tomorrow and I'll have a dozen or more of those for two dollars each."
It was a grave tactical error. No one likes to be put in the wrong, and Helen loves to think she has a bargain. But the poor chinless Arab didn't know when to stop. He plunged on down the road to destruction.
"They're not real jade, either," he insisted. "Do you know where the best jade comes from?"
We didn't, but we could have guessed ... it would have to be Syria. Helen didn't like being told we had paid too much to buy fakes. She was decidedly irritated. But the Syrian was well into his sales pitch by now.
He pulled out a large string of jade beads marked at fifty dollars. "These are real Syrian jade," he said. "You can tell by the deeper color and those small flecks inside. They show it's the genuine natural stone. These are worth fifty dollars" ... here his voice became softer and more intimate ... "but I'm selling up all my goods here. I have been away from my country too long. I want to go back to Syria to see my family. There's a girl I left behind. I want to marry her." You could almost hear the violins sobbing in the background. "I'll sell them to you for ... forty dollars."
Helen looked at him. "I'll give you ten dollars," she said.
"No, no, they're worth far more than that," he protested. He followed Helen around as she looked at his chipped conch shells and junk jewelry laid out on a board. Occasionally she fingered the necklace offered to her, looked tempted, then said, "Ten dollars."
His price started to fall. 35 dollars ... 30 ... 28 ... 25 dollars.
Helen wandered over to the car. We all got in. Helen opened her door to get in as well. The Syrian saw his sale disappearing.
"All right," the Syrian said. "I'll make it 20 dollars."
"I'll give you ten for it," Helen offered.
"No, no, no, no, no. That's ridiculous."
Helen said nothing.
"Fifteen dollars, that's the lowest I can go."
Helen got in the car, shut the door ... and rolled the window down. He saw she was determined.
"All right," he said, "you can have it for ten."
Helen smiled sweetly up at him. "If you're selling it for ten, it can't be real jade, can it?" She knew exactly what his goods were worth.
Up went the window. Off went the car. We left him pacing angrily up and down amongst his pile of cheap trinkets and chipped conch shells.