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May 24, 2013 - Rants    2 Comments

Credit Card Theft — RANT!

Someone got a hold of my debit card number.  I’m not quite sure how, but this diabolical small-time criminal has been trying to nickle and dime the living shit out of my account, and I’ve been catching them at every turn.  I’m a relentless activity checker.

But here’s the thing.  I can’t be upset with criminals for doing what they do.  For whatever reason, they’re despicable miscreants whose lives took a wrong turn and instead of applying their creativity toward being productive members of society, they would prefer to steal from hardworking tax-payers.  I can’t stop them; I can only protect against them.  Which is why I use reputable banking institutions.   Or at least that’s what I thought I was using.

Although fraud alerts are mildly irritating and occasionally inconvenient, I felt somewhat protected and happy to know that someone is looking out for my financial well-being.

When I traveled to Miami earlier this year and all of my cards were declined at CVS, including my ATM card (despite the fact that I input my actual PIN number), I was slightly annoyed.

Okay, if I’m being honest, I was HIGHLY annoyed and told the customer service agent who was from another country that leaving their customers high and dry with absolutely no resources is not only irresponsible, it’s dangerous.  When she suggested that I inform them when I decided to travel, I retorted that my financial institution works for ME — not the other way around — and I shouldn’t have to report my whereabouts to a bank, especially not when my charges are authentic, and can be verified with a quick phone call.

At the end, I conceded, and have made a point of telling the bank when I’m planning to be in another city so that I won’t get declined while trying to buy mundane things, like water and q-tips (or important things, like rounds of cocktails).  I decided to cooperate for my alleged safety.

With all of the concessions that I’ve made to help the bank help me, I’m shocked and amazed at what this moronic card-stealing mofo has been able to accomplish with my card.

While doing my daily perusal of charges, I noticed a strange charge from  I’ve never ordered anything from there — especially not anything that costs $77.81.  A few lines later, I saw a reversal of that same charge, so I assumed that it was a mistake that had been rectified.

That was probably a good assumption until I received a UPS notice that I had missed a package.

Now . . . if you know me, you will know that I’m a chronic shopper with a penchant for online shopping. Especially late at night.  While sipping a glass of wine.  Yep, no earthly good can come of it.  That said, it’s not uncommon that packages arrive and I can’t truly recall what I’ve purchased and when.

Because I missed the package, I had to go to the UPS distribution center.  If you’ve never been there, consider yourself lucky.  It’s a hell-hole.  Trust me . . . you’d rather have a pap smear.  Even if you’re a man.  Nobody is happy to be there, which counts doubly for the workers who unenthusiastically search for your packages, wearing brown polyester, in a warehouse the size of a small country, moving slower than a corpse in the beaming sun.  If ever there was a place that needed a DJ and a full bar, it’s the UPS distribution center.

I waited 1/2 hour for the package (while listening to the woman next to me on her cell phone, having a loud conversation about how she busted her man cheating).  The only saving grace was my hope that the package could have contained a cute dress.  Maybe even two!  Nope.  It was a huge jug of berry-flavored protein powder from  WTF?  Berry?  (I would have been less upset had it been chocolate.)

So, not only does the card thief have terrible taste in supplements, but he somehow had his booty sent to my address.

I called to straighten it out, and the good people at promptly removed the charge and sent a return label for the berry delight.

A few days later, I noticed another erroneous charge.  This time from  Really?  So not only does this idjit mainline protein powder, but he’s buffing up to improve his appearance so that when he trolls religious dating sites, he’ll be attractive enough to either fleece some unsuspecting zealot, or get some good God-fearing ass.  Either way . . . not on my dime!  I called the good Christian minglers who reversed the charge and deactivated the account — although I couldn’t coerce them to give me the name of the hypocritical child of God who set up the account.  (In retrospect, this was a good thing, because I would have hunted him down and done unholy things to him.)

I had a choice to make.  I could have changed my debit card number.  But I didn’t want to do that, because I have so many automatic payments that it would have turned my life upside down with having to change that number with so many institutions.  My better option was to reset alerts.  If there was a charge over $20, I would receive a text message so that I could catch it immediately.

All was quiet for about two weeks, although the bank did send me two fraud alert texts because they were concerned about a $26 purchase at Jewel (where I go every week), and a $29 purchase at LA Fitness (which is a recurring monthly purchase for my dad’s health club account).

I was hoping that the criminal would have grown tired of getting declined and moved on to the next theft.  Not so much.

One morning, I received an alert about a charge from AutoZone to the tune of $135. I called the bank immediately.   The conversation went something like this:

Gina:  I’d like to report a fraudulent charge on my account.

Customer Service Agent:  Okay, I have your account.  Can you tell me which charge?

G: Yes, the Autozone charge that occurred roughly 10 minutes ago.

CSA:  I see that.  And you didn’t make that charge?

G:  No, I didn’t. I’m sitting at home in my office.  Can I asked where that charge originated?

CSA:  In Orlando, Florida.

G:  So, let me get this straight . . . every time I travel, I have to tell you where I’m going or else my card gets declined.  Is that right?

CSA:  Um . . . yes ma’am.

G:  Okay . . . so what you’re telling me is that while I have to check in with you to use my own card, a criminal can easily get away with charging something on my account in an entirely different state.  Aside from the fact that I haven’t been to Orlando this year, and haven’t informed you that I planned to return to the state of Florida.  Right?

CSA:  Um . . . right

G:  Also?  I need to understand your algorithms

CSA:  I’m sorry?

G:  I need to know how you determine what might be a fraudulent charge.  Because so far you’ve frantically contacted me for small charges that I make at places that I frequent, yet you think it’s a stellar idea to approve obviously criminalistic charges from places that I’ve never been, in categories that I don’t have a history of visiting . . . such as Christian dating sites and body building sites?  Does that make sense to you?

CSA:  Well . . . no . . . I see your point, but . . . would you like to change your card number?

G:  And the only way to rectify this, in your mind, is for me to completely inconvenience myself by changing my card numbers, which turns my entire accounting system completely catawampus?

CSA:  Excuse me?

G:  Topsy turvy?  Oh, never mind.  It’s a mess!

CSA:  Well, ma’am, it’s the only solution that will completely eliminate the problem.

G:  While I realize that, I can’t help thinking that a fine financial institution like yourselves, with whom I have several accounts, would extend themselves to assist me.    By the way?  Can you please reverse that Autozone charge?

CSA:  Sorry ma’am.  You’re going to have to call them yourself once the charge changes from pending to actual.

G:  So, you can’t even call on my behalf?  What exactly do you guys do besides hold on to my money?

CSA: Umm

G:  Never mind.  Just please change my account number.  If you have to cut it off now, can you at least express the card to me?

CSA:  For a fee.


Sometimes I think it would be better to keep my money in the floorboards.

As it stands now, I have a new card number that I haven’t yet memorized, and I’m starting to get emergency alerts from creditors that my card is no longer valid.  If I receive an alert from, I’m going to lose it.

Thanks for listening!

Jan 27, 2013 - Rants    3 Comments

People will eat anything . . . .

I’m a particular eater.  I don’t eat red meat or processed foods.  I don’t drink soda.  I stay away from rich cream sauces, and if it weren’t for my love of cheese I would probably forego dairy altogether.   I’m not thrilled about genetically engineered or modified food or ingredients, and if it can be left on a shelf indefinitely or concocted from a strange powder in a packet, I steer clear.  I can’t help thinking that fake meat soy products are a very, very bad idea.  I don’t eat Chinese food — largely because I watch too much Dateline.  My favorite foods contain 5 ingredients or less.

Sure, I can be annoying, but I like to know what I’m eating.

That said, I’m always amazed at the people who will stick things in their mouths and ask questions later (you can take that any way you want).

Let me be clear . . . I’m not a perfect eater (because if I were, I wouldn’t be in a constant battle with my thighs).  One of my guiltiest pleasures is frozen yogurt.

Now . . . there are many problems with fro-yo.  It goes against all of my food sensibilities.  It emanates mysteriously from a silver machine. God only knows what goes into that machine, and how often it’s cleaned.  I try to determine the ingredients, but I’m usually far too enamored with the possibility of Red Velvet Cake mixed with Cookies and Cream to employ my usual diligence in deconstructing the ingredients.

Honestly, if I really wanted to be a frozen treat purist, I would go for ice cream.  But ice cream, while delicious, is too rich and makes me nauseous.  Fro-yo it is.

I’m in Miami Beach for a while, tagging along with the boyfriend while he works on a TV show.  I can think of worse places to be than South Beach in the first quarter of the year.    I’ve had to learn the city and find favorite spots, which would be more fun if the food quality in Miami were higher.  I’m a Chicagoan, and since we have nothing better to do in piercing cold weather than entertain ourselves with good meals, our restaurants are usually incredible.  The food isn’t so great in Miami, which is probably why everyone is, on average, about 20 lbs lighter than the typical Chicagoan.

I was craving frozen yogurt the other day.  I saw several people shopping on Lincoln Road with what appeared to be cups full of frozen yogurt complete with yummy toppings, and I set myself on a mission to find yogurt ground zero.

Finally I found a place that resembled one of my favorite spots in Chicago.  It was called Tasti something-or-other.   The only issue was the product. It resembled frozen yogurt, but it wasn’t advertised as frozen yogurt.  Nor was it advertised as ice cream.  Given my pickiness, I began to question the salesperson:

Gina:  So . . . is your product frozen yogurt?

Salesperson:  No

G:  Okay.  Is it ice cream?

S:  No.  It’s somewhere in the middle.

G:  Hmmm.  Is it dairy?

S:  I think so.

G:  Okay, so let me get this straight . . .  what you’re selling isn’t frozen yogurt, nor is it ice cream, and it is dairy — although you seem uncertain about that?

S:  Right

G:  Well, since you’re so great at telling me what it’s not, would you mind telling me what it is?

The salesperson points to a large poster on the wall.  The content on this poster was virtually useless.  I learned that the unknown substance was fewer calories than ice cream and contained fewer grams of fat.  Whoo hoo!  I learned that the company is dedicated to making a tasty, creamy product.   Fabulous! The company even touts the use of natural products and no artificial sweeteners.  Yippee!  Okay, so WTF IS it?

They lost me with the phrase “perfected in the lab.”  Which means that even THEY don’t know what it is.

Essentially it’s Faux-Yo!

I took a pass, but as I watched the multitudes of people who mindlessly shuffled in, asked no questions, and shoveled an unknown product into their mouths, I wondered if anyone bothers to question what they eat.  Or does everyone assume that if it’s sold in a retail outlet it “must be okay.”  Because that would be the very wrong assumption.

There is very low quality-control with foods that we buy from restaurants.  They have to meet health code requirements, but other than that, as long as they’re not killing people, anything goes.  It’s scary, if you really think about it.

I challenge everyone to REALLY think about what you eat on a regular basis, and then tell me your craziest guilty pleasure.

Thanks for reading!



Dec 1, 2012 - Rants    5 Comments

Grocery store rant

When I die, I want to be reincarnated and come back as the BF.  Since we started dating, he has managed to foist several unpleasant activities onto my plate, and I, for some reason, have willingly taken them.  I will admit that some of them have been for selfish reasons — like if I let him put things away in my kitchen, Lord only knows where half of them will end up. Or, if I send him to the grocery store, I’m pretty sure that half of my coveted items will be omitted.

The grocery store has become the bane of my existence.  Inner city grocery stores are typically a combination of comical, pathetic, and treacherous.

When I lived on the Gold Coast, the famed “Jungle Jewel” on Clark and Division was my shopping option.   It was a socioeconomic nightmare and a haven for street crazies.  Every time I braved that store, I felt like wearing camouflage and combat boots. I couldn’t even tune out and put on headphones while I shopped, because it was important to be on guard.  Someone tried to run a “lost wallet” scam on me there once (I didn’t fall for it), and a dirty guy exposed himself to me (I suggested he take “that thing” to the produce section).

Now that I’m in a different ‘hood, I shop in the South Loop Jewel for pedestrian items and visit Whole Foods for specialty fun stuff.  This Jewel isn’t nearly as bad as the Jungle, but still has its trappings.

For example, I always seem to end up with the “mind of its own” basket.   I know to avoid the lone basket because I’m certain that it’s left for a reason (similar to that one seat on the crowded bus that nobody wants for fear that the smelly man in the adjacent seat is afflicted with chiggers), so the frequency with which I happen to choose a ghost basket that meanders to the side or stops defiantly without warning or provocation, makes me think that at least 50% of the basket population is defective.  If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would accuse Jewel executives of taping shoppers and watching the footage of us struggling with the metal torturers on wheels for their comedic pleasure.

The entertaining aspect of Jewel is the greasy-haired special Chinese stock guy who is clearly OCD, wears coke bottle glasses, steamrolls customers, and emphatically repeats what must be the only English phrase he knows:  ”I’m so berry sorry.”  (If you shop there and see this man, take my advice and do not — DO NOT — ask the location of any items.  He will either fly through the store at breakneck speed to show you, or he will say something that you’ll never understand.  Either way you’ll get a headache.  Trust me.)

The other odd thing about this Jewel is that if you leave your basket unattended for one minute, the workers will abscond with it and start reshelving your items.  Somehow, the very basket that you’ve been struggling with can be whisked away in an instant by an overzealous Jewel employee.

But, the piece de resistance for me is always the self-checkout line.  I love the self-checkout line.  I use it when I’m in a hurry, don’t really want to have conversation with the cashier, or when I’m buying an embarrassing item.  Which pretty much means that I use them exclusively unless I have a full basket.  (Oddly, the BF hates the self-checkout line because he says that they’re taking the place of real people and reducing jobs.  My point being that if he were that damned concerned about inflating the economy, he should visit the store a little more frequently and reinvigorate it himself. )

But here’s what I hate — when people who don’t know what they hell they’re doing use the self-checkout line and slow down those of us who are experienced, well-oiled machines.

There are rules.

1.  Count your items.  If you have upward of 20 items in your basket, please use the regular aisle.

2.  Prepare. This means have your loyalty card ready to scan BEFORE arriving at the machine.   Beulah, who is lethargically manning the self-checkout station, is not going to expediently dash over to scan her card for you.  She will, in fact, arrive with disdain simply because you made her move.  People behind you will want to throttle you.  Just have it ready.  Also, if you are an extreme couponer, have them ready to run through, and don’t summon Beulah when your $0.50 coupon only impacted your bill by $0.40.  She really won’t care.  And neither will the people behind you.

3.  Avoid buying alcohol while in this line.  While I realize that your 40 ounce can of malt liquor will make or break your evening, having to call an attendant to check your ID or retrieve it from the cage actually undermines the premise of a FAST lane.

4.  Understand the concept of a bar code and know your limitations.  If you don’t understand the concept of scanning an item, or if your dexterity prevents you from quickly running said bar code over the scanner, move to the regular aisle.

5.  If you have something from the produce section that needs to be weighed, there are two things to know:  a) what it is, and b) how to spell it.  You’d be surprised at how many times Beulah gets called to discern between oranges and clementines.

5.  Have a bagging strategy.  I’ll admit that I’m a bit anal about this.  I put like items together in my basket, so that the bagging process can move smoothly.  For example, all of the frozen and refrigerated items are together so that they’re quickly put into one bag.  There was a woman today who spent about 10 minutes post-purchase making sure that the Lysol wasn’t near the apples and that neither of things were near the tampons.  I get it, but damn!  Organize!

6.  Move out of the way.  Don’t stand there post-purchase pondering your receipt while others are salivating to occupy your machine.  Also, don’t leave your basket lingering around.  Oh, and if you have a stroller and a basket, don’t scowl at others who are scowling at you because they can’t get through.

If anyone else has grocery store woes, I would love to hear them.

Thanks for reading!

Nov 12, 2012 - Holidaze, Rants    1 Comment

Holidaze and Mourning My Vacation

Is everyone ready?  I’m not.  And probably never will be.

While I realize that holidays should be a festive time of joy and surprises, I can never seem to get my head wrapped around it.  I see instead bad weather, congestion, bills, an over-infestation of cookies, dealing with family obligations, blah, blah, blah.

Yep, I’m all Scrooged out.

I began boycotting Christmas several years ago.  My family has always been a bit boring.  I’m an only child with distant extended family.  There were just the three of us, staring at each other, eating dinner, and generally disgruntled about what we found under the tree.

There were things that I could count on:

1)  My father, who suffers from gift paralysis (which I’m convinced is a clinical term), would wait until the last possible second to purchase gifts for my mother and me.  And by “last possible second,” I really do mean 9:00pm on Christmas Eve, when he would brave the worst possible malls (or drug stores), in the company of the most befuddled fellow gift slackers.

2)  My mother would hate whatever my father gave her.  Because who wouldn’t hate a pre-packaged perfume set desperately plucked from the aisles of Carson Pirie Scott from piles of picked over boxes.  (At a young age, I surmised that it added insult to injury that the fine holiday edition of Lady Stetson was given to her by the man who’s supposed to know and love her more than anyone else on Earth.  At a young age, I also realized that it was a bad idea to introduce my theory.)

3)  I would inevitably hate whatever either of my parents gave me, except for the rare occasion when I would ask for something very specific (in which case, there was absolutely no mystery in the process).  As if he didn’t know me at all, my father would give an assortment of small, weird things, like outsized candy canes (that I’m almost certain he procured for 2/$1.00 at Walgreens) and books that I would never read.  Unlike my mother, I accepted such gifts gratefully (largely because it made him feel good, and they were always accompanied by an envelope of cash).  My mother would always seem to retrofit something that she’d bought me over the course of the year as a Christmas gift.  “Remember that coat I bought you in June?  That was your Christmas present.”

3)  Marginal, if not bad food.  My mother wasn’t the best cook, but she was Ina Garten in comparison to some of the culinary skills displayed by the others that were on her list of people to visit.  I threw in the (tacky holiday) towel after one fateful holiday visit to her friend’s house where I was duped by a gorgeous triple layer chocolate cake that sat majestically inside of an expensive crystal dome.  It was beautiful, and could have been a contender for the cover of Gourmet Magazine.

Now . . . for those who don’t know me well . . . cake is a food group, in my opinion.  I love nothing more than a succulent moist cake, and even though I’ve ironically developed a cake intolerance over the years, I will indulge in good cake, even if I’m pretty sure it’s going to make me nauseous. 

My mouth watered for this cake, and I ignored the rest of food, eager for the large slice that was cut specifically for me.  I imagined the melt-in-your mouth buttery flavor of the yellow cake, complimented perfectly by the rich, creamy chocolate icing.

Imagine my disappointment when I was met, instead, with a mouthful of sawdust, and an icing that had the consistency of spackle and forced me to drink about 1/2 gallon of water to flush it through.  (If you know me, you’ll also know that as much as I love cake, I have equal hatred for drinking water.) And, to make it even worse, because my mother was a stickler for manners and etiquette, she all but insisted that I finish every morsel of food on my plate.  But I digress . . .

4) Expectations.  I’m a little obstinate, so being expected to buy things, be places and do things never resonates well — whether or not it’s holiday season.

The cake episode was pivotal, and after it, I embraced my free-thinker persona, and made the executive decision to abandon my family celebration and opt instead for television marathons, thai food, a movie (at the theatre), and lots of wine.  These activities became my own personal rituals that I grew to love.  I felt like I was stealing time from the world, and while everyone else was ensconced in holiday angst (except for the Jews and Muslims, who were my kindred spirits in pad see eiw), I was the genius who was having a fabulous time in a home that didn’t have tinsel strewn about the floor and tacky flashing lights.  My parents were a little irritated initially, but probably because I had the courage to opt out.

Oddly, I participate happily in gift-giving – mostly because my Godchildren would throw fits — and because, despite my Christmas uneasiness, I’m actually a good gift-giver.  As proof that we’re not always products of our environment, my gifts are typically thoughtful and useful.  (Another personal tidbit is that, as much as I love giving gifts, I’m extremely uncomfortable on the receiving end.  I’m a horrible person to buy for anyway, because I indulge myself often.  [I just realized that  learned this behavior in retaliation to the heinous gifts that I expected from my parents.  Hmmm.  Maybe I AM a product of my environment!])

Since my mother passed away, my father has come over to my side of the camp, and would be happier’n a pig in shit if he were allowed to cook his own food, and just be left alone to watch football.

And then, along came the BF to attempt to add some normalcy to my life.  I’m determined to bring him over to my sedate holiday darkside (because, really?  When you dance with the devil, you don’t change the devil.  The devil changes you.)

But seriously? Don’t mind me.  I’m just bitter, and upset that the holidays can’t be more like last year.

This time last year, I was in a dream state, anticipating my pending 12-day Jamaican vacation with the BF at a beautiful resort.   Lemme tell ya . . .  if you haven’t experienced Christmas day on a hot beach, drinking from a coconut, you haven’t lived.  It was absolutely incredible.

There was no tug-of-war for my time.  All of my friends knew that I would be out of the country and therefore unable to do whatever the hell it was they wanted me to do.

Granted, it wasn’t perfect.  There were little things, like the BF forgetting to pack ANY socks or underwear, and allowing himself to be SO overworked prior to our departure that he spent the first four days under the weather (and by “under the weather,” I mean “near death”).  But?  The bigger picture is that I was able to escape all of the typical holiday nastiness and return after all of the Christmas craziness.

This Christmas?  Sigh.  No planned vacation in paradise – time got away from me this year.  No imminent getaway or well-timed escape hatch.


But . . .the good news is that I have plenty of time to plan for next year, and I get to resume my ritual.

I might even do a little shopping, and I’m definitely baking my own cake!


Oct 2, 2012 - Rants    1 Comment

More Things That Keep Me Up At Night

Judging by the time, I mean that quite literally.

There are moments when I feel like a writer, and many more moments that I don’t.  But irrespective of how I identify, I know what’s entailed.  For example, I know that love stories are written either by writers who are in great relationships that they are driven to share with the world, or people who have no relationship or any relationship in sight, but they’re interested in playing out their fantasies on the page.  Either way, whenever a writer is moved to write, it’s because he/she is working some shit out.  Kind of like I’m doing right now.

It’s the nature of writing.  We write the best when it’s what we know or what we have living vividly in our heads.   The problem is the reader.  The reader is the person who interprets, and the person who believes that whatever is written could actually happen.  Because it’s written, after all!  It must be so.

Ummm, no.

For example I believe that, if wielded improperly, chick lit can be one of the most dangerous forms of literature (if we can call it that).  I’m convinced that some people use chick lit to set expectations for their own lives, while I refer to chick lit as a writer’s whack-off.  (People who are less crass might refer to them as adult fairy tales.)  Why?  Well . . . let’s look at the formula.

The protagonist is an office worker — sometimes even a frustrated journalist or a PR agent.  She wants love, but can’t seem to find it.  She has friends — maybe one with the perfect relationship, and another who’s even more of a mess than she.  (The friendship mix will depend on who’s in the writer’s life at the time.) She’s given up on love, and has taken to harvesting stray animals or allowing herself to be seduced by a man who is horribly wrong for her — maybe he’s married, or he’s her boss, or he’s her married boss.   But there’s another man in picture.  He’s a nice man.  A nice unsuspecting man.  Maybe he’s her neighbor, or the guy she talks to in the morning before work as she gets her Venti-skim-latte-with-a-triple-shot-double-whip.  The problem?  He’s too nice and normal for her neurotic ass.  He’s around, but he’s nobody that she would consider because she’s too busy dealing with Mr. Selfish Asshole.  Finally, when Mr. SA shows his true colors (usually in the form of something drastic, like sleeping with her messy best friend),  she turns to the unsuspecting nice guy.   Funny . . . he’s been there all along, but she’s never noticed him.  But when he takes on the role as her consistent, unwavering shoulder to cry on, she notices his cuteness.  And little does she know that he’s been harboring a secret — he’s really a Prince.  A Prince of a tiny European country (that doesn’t exist).  Or maybe he’s the heir to a $30B company, and he’s been rejecting his family because he’s so misunderstood.  Or maybe he’s quietly the owner of his own profitable business.  Either way, he’s loaded, dammit, and he would like to share his booty with her.  (Provided that she share her booty with him.)  They get married and all is right in a world that was oh, so frustrating a mere 315 pages ago.

Sound familiar?  And if you think that the story described above is anything but masturbation involving a plotline and computer, then, seriously?  You’re a little cray-cray.

But believe me . . . some of my best friends write chick lit, and they’re brilliant at what they do.  They serve a serious purpose, and I don’t begrudge them their successes.  I just wish that average readers would understand that what they’re consuming is little more than escapism and behave accordingly.

I watch a lot of movies (and what is a movie, if not a book played out on celluloid?), and I find it interesting to juxtapose the plots of films and the realities of the life that I observe.  Don’t get me wrong . . . I devour good, well-written, cerebral, dark movies.  Or anything with action . . . or death and dismemberment.  I don’t mind chick flicks, but I try not to overconsume them . . . .unless I need a special lift.  I have my moments.

Chick lit has a usefulness when I’m overtaken by life.  Like most of us, at any given time I know many people who are in financial situations that range from less-than-ideal to crisis mode.  Some of those same people are in the midst of nasty divorces, heinous breakups, and horrifically expensive custody battles.  A certain faction admits to being in bad marriages, but would rather stay than embark on an ugly divorce.  Others are dealing with health issues.  This is all normal life stuff, and unfortunately I tend to be used to it — without awareness of how sour I can become.

I know that I’m in need of a lift is when I hear a friend’s good news, and I can’t even be truly happy for him/her.

For example, an old friend called last week, exuberant.  She’s getting married and she needed my address to invite me to her wedding.   I’m primarily happy for her because she’s been wanting a family for so long.  She was engaged in the past, but called it off (luckily, because had she gone through with it, she would have been trying to extricate herself from a relationship with a sociopath).

Because I love her and would never dare shit on her happiness, I outwardly rose to the occasion and gave her the reaction that she was looking for.  But, if I were being honest, a bigger part of me internally shrieked: “Oh sweet mother of God!  Are you KIDDING me??  MARRIED??  WHY??!!  Most people I know are trying to get OUT of their marriages, and you want IN?  Why don’t you start smoking while you’re at it.”    And then I flipped through my mental rolodex of everyone in my life who’d had a bad marriage experience, and I recalled the divorce rate in the US, and wondered why anyone bothered, and why she’s bothering.

I realize that it’s not the best attitude, but this is where chick lit or more likely chick flicks, come in to give me a little reset.

Life can be so ugly. It’s nice to watch (or read) a slice of someone’s life where things work out . .  . even if it’s only for a little while.  It doesn’t matter that the story is born in the head of a writer, or that it might be lacking in realism.  I don’t walk away from the viewing experience thinking that my life will change as a result of having watched it, but I’m happy to have had the escapism.  Even better that I didn’t have to write it myself.  Because, really?  I would suck at it.

Aug 28, 2012 - Rants    2 Comments

When Do We Become Prey?

There are two kinds of people (for purposes of this blog).  The first group has a natural gullibility and naivete that borders on the unbelievable.  They seem to have been born that way.  It’s easy to pull a fast one on them, but they somehow manage to bumble through life, relatively unscathed but usually with hilarious stories that make the rest of us wonder “how the hell did she fall for THAT?”

And then there’s the second group — the ones who go through life with a good degree of common sense and street smarts.  This faction tends to make sound decisions with the ability to discern a good deal from a bad one, and suss out a scam quite effortlessly.

Oddly, at some point, these two groups end up in the same place.  I’m convinced that there is a tipping point in every person’s life — first and second group alike — where they become prey.

Last year, I was in disbelief that my aunt and uncle fell victim to a team of roof-laying travelling gypsies.  They drove by in their raggedy Sanford-and-Son-mobile, conned my uncle into allowing them to inspect the roof, and delivered the ominous prognosis that my unsuspecting relatives were in danger of the entire roof caving in.  Wow!  What a good thing they passed by!  And for a mere $15,000, my aunt and uncle could escape the possibility of their home turning into one big skylight.  Fortunately, my cousins arrived just as they were working and threatened to kick some gypsy ass if they didn’t leave.

My father and I chuckled about this story, and I counted myself among the lucky ones that he still had his faculties and common sense.

Firmly rooted in the second group, my father is nice, but can usually sniff a bad deal. (My mother [who was probably voted "Most Likely to Give the Side-Eye" in her graduating class] would disagree with this statement were she alive, and always claimed that my father would buy snake oil if presented nicely.  While he unbelievably swallowed a few of my tall teenage tales, I choose to believe he did so to spare himself.)  But as he grows older, I become more concerned that my mother’s theory was correct.

I received a somewhat surprised call from him a few weeks ago.  Apparently he had won $100K.

Now . . . most people would have blown the whistle immediately.  But I have a history of a) entering contests, b) entering contests in his name, and c) winning said contests.  At 15 I was bored in the Marshall Fields home section while my mother was making the difficult drawn-out decision between Le Creuset and some other set of pots.  To amuse myself I entered a Farberware giveaway and won $500 worth of cookware in my dad’s name, as I was too young to enter the sweepstakes myself.  Some years later I won a diamond ring in a raffle and other prizes in random drawings.

I bought my dad a stove for Christmas and I entered his name into a contest at that time, so the prospect of his winning something was totally feasible.  But as an avid Dateline fanatic, I was suspicious.

He had received three letters, the first two of which he ignored.  The third time’s clearly the charm, because when he received a “final notice,” he decided to call.  Why the hell not?

My suspicions grew as my father told me that the contact was in England, although he convinced me that the letter looked official.  My father is no stranger to news shows (he never misses an episode of 60 Minutes), so he informed Ramsey – his British contact — that he would not be paying any money, nor would he reveal his bank account number, or give any personal information.  Ramsey assured him, in his smug British way, that there was no way that this was a scam, and that he would certainly not owe any money.  The ONLY thing is that there would be a “handling fee” that would be taken prior to my dad’s receipt of the cashier’s check.  All told, he would receive roughly $95,010.

Ramsey told my father that he shouldn’t tell anyone about his winnings, for security purposes (although he failed to specify just whose security would have been jeopardized).

Then, the rules of the game changed.

My father received a check via certified mail for $4,910, which he immediately deposited.  Ramsey called to ensure receipt of the check, and told my father that in order for him to receive the rest of the money, he would have to wire two separate payments of $1,200 to two individuals.  For alleged taxes.  Which made absolutely no sense.  If you can find a country that would ask for less than 5% taxation on winnings, please let me know and I’ll be moving there this week.

When my father told me that part, I thought: “Gotcha, Ramsey old chum.  You bloody piece of shit!  You fat article! Nah-sty bah-stard! [insert any other rant from a Guy Ritchie film]“  Certainly my father would be on the same page!  We had caught this scamming sack of of crap.

But then my father said something that scared the shit out of me:  “So, I guess I have to wire the money if I’m to receive the rest.”  He went on to ask what the harm could have been since the check (officially drawn on Mellon Bank) had already cleared.

No, Dad!  NOOOOOOOOOOOO!  Et tu?

So I  told him not to send a damned thing — ESPECIALLY not via an untraceable wire transfer.  I instructed him to call his personal banker to investigate the check, and to bring all of the paperwork to my house.  Stat!

He followed my orders.  The “official” bit of documentation that he received?  Could have been printed on my old dot matrix printer.  I called the number.  There was no announcement; the voicemail was mysteriously full.  There was no website.  No email address.  Nothing.  Just the handiwork of an international scammer attempting to take advantage of an octogenarian.

His personal banker called to say that upon further examination, that check wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on.

Although I’d seen these kinds of scams documented online or featured on Dateline, it really pissed me off that my father could have been a victim.  So I made a call to Ramsey during British scam artist business hours.

When he answered, I introduced myself as the daughter of his latest victim, and produced the faux claim number and account number.  I told him that I was an official agent (of some sort), and expressed my concern in a mild way, initially.  He tried to backpedal and reassure me, so I aggressively informed him that he was under international investigation and that I had contacts in the British police force (I wanted so desperately to say that I knew people at Scotland Yard, but I chose to remain credible).  I stressed that what he should really be frightened of is my ability (and extreme desire) to cross the pond, find him and beat his pale, bony, 22-tooth-having, Cadbury eating ass until he’s unable to type, lick a stamp or partake in high tea.

Ramsey had the nerve to say that I was harassing him before hanging up on me.  The nerve!

I find it sad that my father has clearly reached the tipping point.  Or that my mother had been right all along.  Either way, I need to be more alert now than ever.

Thanks for reading my brand new blog!!