Otho, R. Lee Emery, and me.

My wife is Otho from Beetlejuice.

We’re renting (you don’t buy in a wildly rising seller’s market) and the house, while lovely, is…blah. Four days after we were approved she asked me to contact the leasing agent and ask if we could paint. The response was yes, and the owners would reimburse for materials.

From there it took 1.73 zeptoseconds for her to have paint sample splotches on every goddamn wall, wallpaper chaff all over both floors, spackle and sandpaper (my job) in every room, and sure enough my quiet Saturday turned into a R. Lee Emery pantomimed paintfest in the den.

“Where’s the dropcloth you maggot! I’ll rip your head off and shit down your neck!”

She is the steady-handed trim queen, and I am The Man of Tape Chi. We’re pretty good at this.

In a kind of record, we stripped the room of everything, crammed the sofa, vintage stereo and record collection into the center, taped the shit out of anything remotely close to where a brush or roller would be, threw paint on the wall in an orgasmic flurry of color, and from 3:00 to 6:45 completely finished, including putting everything back where it came from, even the cover plates on the light switches.

Today I am hiding in the basement. She’s up there, I know it. She’s planning to paint something.

Years ago we had a house in Charlotte, North Carolina. New build, pretty, big, planned, shitty neighbors. We went out one day, all dressed up for whatever, and on the way home stopped by Home Depot to get some Pine Needle Green satin for the kitchen.

We got home. I set my keys down. I took my shoes off. I looked up, and there she was.

She already had a roller in her hand, and was rolling paint on a wall. She still had her coat on; her goddamn purse was still on her shoulder. She’s happily rolling Pine Needle Green paint on the wall, dressed for an afternoon luncheon. She’d opened the can, poured it in the rolling tray, popped a clean roller on the roller…thingie, and was painting. The entire world winds down, everyone else is moving in special effects slow-mo, and she’s slathering paint on the walls in a skirt and sensible deerskin loafers at lightspeed.

She was smiling. Maybe it’s a nesting thing.

There’s a scene in Beetlejuice where Otho – an interior designer  – is planning to capture some ghosts. Jeffrey Jones’ character says “what are you going to do, Otho? Viciously rearrange their environment?”

Yeah. That’s my wife. Guerilla Decorator. 

A Foolish Little Deflowering: My First Scam.

Learning to trust is one of life's most difficult tasks.

     - Isaac Watts

I hate moving.

Bloody hell it’s a pain. It would be easier if I weren’t a packrat, but there you go.
“Honey, do you need this?”
“What is it?”
“Don’t know. Maybe it’s a pipe. It was my dad’s. I think.”
My wife is not a packrat. I should adopt this attitude from her.

Anyway, moving: you’re busy as hell, and you get to that point eventually where you look at your dog and subconsciously gauge what size box she’d fit in. Then you recalculate because you forgot the food dish. Our impending relocation is international, which makes it even more fun: who knew you had to fumigate your mattresses when moving into Canada?
Then, the only way I could imagine this little excursion worse than it is happened. The most infuriating experience I have ever encountered while moving: falling for a scam while looking for a place to rent.
It started with my wife and I searching for a house to rent in Calgary, Alberta. We’re moving there so she can grow her career in a medical field. I can work basically anywhere. We looked at ads on Craigslist and Kijiji, and also a great site called Rentfaster.ca, which is where we found most contacts.
It was frustrating going: homes rented days after postings went up, and we were still in the states and unable to view the properties or safely give landlords or property managers deposit money to secure a place. Very scam-savvy, you see: silly to send security or deposit money to someone without a contract and a set of keys in return. Everyone knows that.

In our travails she came across an unprepossessing ad for a home in the part of the city where we were looking. The ad was sparse, had a pretty nice photo, and seemed like a good deal. Not too good to be true, just good.
My wife inquired, and the response seemed unusual but not terribly out of the ordinary: the landlord (scammer) wanted to see proof we were able to afford rent. He’d been burned before, he said, and he made a seemingly reasonable request: we could set up a money transfer via Western Union - not to him, but from me to my wife, who would be required to present a photo ID to collect it. All we’d need to do is show him the receipt which proved we had the money.
We did exactly that. $2,831.00. I had to pay cash, so I went to the bank, withdrew $3,000 (I have had so little experience with cash I was actually nervous holding it – victim of a debit card-driven society. It made me feel like goddamn Scrooge McDuck, rolling in dough), and went to the local grocery. The kid behind the counter was efficient and overly-nice, curious about my family’s move from the US to Canada, and nodded approval when I told him I was sending this money to my wife, and the landlord (scammer) would just see just the receipt. “Sounds good,” he said.
After I returned home, I scanned and sent a copy of the receipt off to the landlord (scammer) and put my feet up.
About an hour later I got a call. It was from a toll-free number, and the gal (scammer-2) on the end was well-spoken and seemed professional. She announced that she was from Western Union’s Anti-Fraud division, and she noted we had a particularly large transfer in the works. I said “yes.” She noted it appeared to be going to a family member. I said “yes.” She stated this seemed like a safe way to conduct business, considering the only person who could pick up the transfer was my family member, so she was going to approve the transfer to go through. I said “thank you” and we hung up. Sounds good, indeed.
The landlord (scammer) later reached out to me with an email stating his wife was unable to verify the money was transferred, but we were assured the house was reserved. He sent another message with a dozen bright pictures of the home. To me, this was one thing off a massive, looming checklist of things to do, and that was nice: we were packing, filling out paperwork; all the BS one must go through to move out of one country and into another. Having lodgings secured took a load off our minds.

I was sitting in a tire shop getting the rears replaced on our car when my wife texted me that the landlord (scammer) wasn’t responding to her emails for additional pictures of the place, and she wanted to confirm the address. He hadn’t sent the actual property address, stating he felt that was unsafe. Half an hour later she texted again, saying she thought we might have been scammed.
The thought hadn’t crossed my mind at all, and even after her text I shrugged it off – he was probably just busy.

A few minutes later she called. The money had been picked up already.
How could they pick it up? You need a photo ID, right?
Yeah. You do. What was I missing?

Here are a few details of a Western Union transaction I was a little hazy on:
1.) You cannot send money to a city when you send it out of the country. Send a thousand bucks to, say, Italy, you can pick it up in Palermo or Rome, no difference.
2.) Your receipt has a number on it called the MTCN – this is the number which the sender and recipient can use to verify the transfer is ready for pickup. Anyone, of course, can use this number if they have it.
3.) The receipt also has the recipient’s name on it.
4.) A scammer with the ability to get a fast fake ID only needs that MTCN and the recipients’ name to collect the money, and they can do it anywhere in the country.

The money we intended to secure a place to live was to be picked up in Calgary – my wife would collect it at her leisure after she got there, since she was going to get there first. It was, in fact, picked up in North York, outside Toronto: 2000 miles away.

In hindsight this all seems pretty damn stupid, and I certainly feel stupid. Maybe I should – this was not a “too good to be true” deal, but it was odd. In our zeal to secure the lodgings we needed we fell into it. The scammer knew the market well enough, I think, to set up a basic, no-frills ad that didn’t particularly stand out, but showed a nice, clean home for a fair price. What’d I miss?
Well, how about this:
1.) We never got a phone number
2.) We never saw a photo of the front of the house
3.) We never got an address
I called Western Union’s fraud reporting hotline and got a very tense sounding individual who took my report dispassionately and succinctly. I was in a furry lather at this point, and kept my remarks short and tart – this guy was a note-taker for them, and wasn’t the cause of my woe, no need to chew on him. At one point I angrily muttered “seems the damned receipt is more like a claim ticket for the money, that might have been good to know.” He grunted and kept typing, instructed me to notify the police, and bid me a good day. I assure you I did not have one.
I called the Charlotte/Mecklenburg County Minor Crimes Reporting Hotline, but after 30 minutes I couldn’t handle any more waiting and gave up. I called back on my cell from work later and gave up when my battery died after 25 minutes. I’ll get it done, some day when I have a few hours to waste.

My money’s gone and never coming back, of course. I am certain of that.
So where did it all go wrong?
1.) Stupid is as stupid does. I have to take virtually all the responsibility for this. It doesn’t matter that it wasn’t a too-good-to-be-true deal, it doesn’t matter that it seemed fairly straight and narrow – there were signs, I ignored them. For instance, the scammer wrote stating money was not yet available. So what? This was a cash transaction. The receipt proved we’d already spent the money, and that was all the evidence one would need. I paid $2,831 dollars to learn that cheery little factoid.
2.) This scammer was well equipped enough to have a simple little scam, a partner, and good working knowledge of Western Unions’ weaknesses, plus I might actually assume a there was a good understanding of the working mind of one who has never used Western Union before: it was called a receipt, but should have been viewed by me as a hat check ticket.
3.) Young, pleasant clerks in grocery stores are trained to set up Western Union transfers, but holy hell are they poorly trained. I told the kid what I was going to do, and he didn’t shoot down my security measures. Note that the grocery chain, and the kid himself, are blameless here: they didn’t invent the process, and obviously were not well trained on it.
4.) Noob factors: I have never, ever been scammed before, and this type of scam – rental/roommate scams they’re called on the http://www.scamvictimsunited.com web site – aren’t something I do weekly, monthly, or even yearly: renters who move a lot may know about it, I tend to stay places for at least a few years.
5.) The Perfect Storm. Take into account my glee at finding a clean, quick solution to our rental problem, my willingness to turn my back on the quirky nature of the deal, and all the above factors, and I am suddenly the perfect victim. Face it, folks: this story contains a measurable amount of laziness on my part, no matter how exhausting the process of moving is. The signs were there. My head wasn’t.

For their part, I do have a few questions for Western Union, of course. The idea of having all relevant data needed to collect money on a receipt seems a bit ludicrous, and low-hanging fruit to the scammer community. What if I drop it? I am assuming the scammers who took me put little more than an hour’s effort into it, depending upon how long it took to secure a fake ID. Given the number of friends I had who carried fake ID’s back in High School, it isn’t a long reach, I bet.
And recent events uncovering scams which have included luring victims off into dark places and murdering them, how can they say they are performing good customer service when their agents community at large remains so untrained?
As for the grocery store, I was loathe to call and tell them about it for fear the poor kid who did my order would get fired, but it needed to be socialized that this happened there to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

In the end, I got my cherry popped by someone just clever enough to know there’s some truth to P.T, Barnum’s famous adage “there’s a sucker born every minute,” and I am left feeling like most virgins who just gave away their purity.

It was a lot better for the other person than it was for me.

The great, great show, and the passing of the political process.

Few businessmen are capable of being in politics, they don't understand the democratic process, they have neither the tolerance or the depth it takes. Democracy isn't a business.
     - Malcolm Forbes

The endless blather – wrapped in political sniping and loophole creation – about energy is a massive misdirection in the NeoPol world of today. Simple enough to point and YouTube and Twitter as the vehicles which carried the new attitudes about politics to the masses, it’s all for naught anyway. Energy, it seems, is not an issue on the table anyway.

A quick digression to pop a nail in the lid of the discussion: Republicans will blithely point at Global Warming, greenhouse gases, and the entire energy package in general and scream “lies!” without taking a breath to explain why they’d rather not stick their own face in front of an exhaust pipe. Democrats, with an equally blithe wave of the hand, state this is the wrong view, we’re destroying the planet, wind and solar forever!, then give BP a little kiss on the cheek and send them happily a-drilling back into the Gulf of Mexico for some tank-filling, get to the office and the grocery store and the soccer field, we gotta have the gas no matter what production. Whores, one and all, wearing skimpy red and blue outfits, and bearing dire warnings: no gas, no vacation at Disneyland, fuckers; YOU fix it.

That energy discussion is elliptical, irrelevant, and baseless: energy companies run the place, the fox tells the henhouse what to do, and no matter who you voted for recently you still got a floozy on their knees with a frequent mouthful of some oil or other executive. There is no argument, only the question of who will swallow and who will spit. Winners, I assume, swallow.

Energy now has a new source, outlet, and positive/negative effect: media. The users of that energy are discovering you needn’t be terribly bright, adroit, adept, well spoken, or liked. Cite Glenn Beck: hard to remember someone as vile, less useful, yet so popular.  That, people, is energy today.

Sigh. Where am I going with this? Directly into the newly-minted, gilt and shiny circus clown insanity of one Donald Trump, the Next President of The United States.

Don’t laugh. This isn’t about him. It’s about energy, and you’d better believe he knows how to manage it, evidenced by this week’s remarkable trip down The Birther Beltway.

I like John Avlon’s (The Daily Beast) description of Trump’s masturbatory lunacy. Simple, clean, plain vanilla: he wrote “This is the political equivalent of lighting a house on fire, calling 911 and then expecting a medal.” Take an issue that does not exist, ride the wave of “Did too!” Did not!” arguments ineloquently yet endlessly vomited by Orly Taitz, make mention of it using no more skill than a five year old reciting the alphabet (not necessarily in order), and when BamBam stops doling out oral sex on demand to his corporate Johns long enough to produce a goddamn piece of paper denoting his personal provenance and pedigree, gush and spew “I'm very proud of myself, because I've accomplished something that no one else has been able to accomplish.”

This is like finding out what color underwear George Bush wore to his inauguration: no one has been able to accomplish it, but no one should really give a shit anymore, either.  The only difference is: trump can ride this horse like nobody can, full gallop, straight into your living room, onto your flatscreen, into ur internetz, and POW: a country will wake up one November day in awe and terror, staring at that cheap fucking hairpiece and muttering "the fuck did I do?"

All snarkiness aside (or not), this is the new face of political force: the NeoPol way to get yourself in the running. You need at least some pedigree, which despite what many think, Trump has. You need money: he’s got some of that left, certainly. You need viz and buzz, too – Flouncing through her unapologetically putrid reality show could get Snooki into position as Vice President, really, so Trump’s “Apprentice” (I will have to admit I’ve only seen a single episode, with Gene Simmons on it. A garish parade of ego and imbecility) is a natch.

Trump and Snooki, 2012. Gawd.

Remember the platforms we used to watch for? Conservatives talked reduced spending and family values and church and national strength and freedom, while Liberals talked spending and family values and the common good and freedom?


Enter the new world of politics, where the bullshit spewed by both sides (if there are sides) is supplanted by glitz and flash of a paparazzi-lined red carpet and a plug for the new show. No longer do we rely on Hannity and O’Reilly to dole out lurid palaver about the greatness of conservativism, or a manic Olbermann sending his watchers scurrying for a thesaurus and using impeccable manners (loudly) to dash his issues to confounded bits while denoting Liberal supremacy.

Now, the candidates will tend to that chore themselves. No longer is there a need for news anchors to play this role solo: now they can play along, and it will be a lucrative ride, I suspect. There is no discussion needed about one’s expertise with current events. There is no history of public service to praise/lament. Military service is a worthless token. Nobody will stand on the issues today which politicians in their corner voted down and vetoed in the past. The only tools you need are money, mouth, and megalomania; the three M’s of modern political success which make up the new energy. What the hell; a mouth like a grade school dropout from Queens and a recorded history as a cast-iron cheese dick idiot haven’t slowed Trump a bit. The new energy doesn’t bow to such things.

BamBam’s comments on the release of his cert, accompanied by a call not to heed “sideshows and carnival barkers”, seems less a snippy call to return to politics as usual than it does a whiny plaint for better television.

Trump knows he will be the next President of The United States. He knows it like he knows Ivanka’s ongoing cosmetic surgery costs, like he knows Gene Simmons has more ego but less talent (which isn’t saying much), and like he knows how to schmooze and flooze his way along the byways of the American Dream like a typically power-hungry politician, like they all are, of course, but one better: he knows doesn’t need anything but bright lights and a big mouth to succeed. In the world of reality television, the new energy is in endless supply, as are a deep, rich pool of vapid, brightly-lit clowns to take power.

So, hail to the chief, everyone. Tonight, right after American Idol and your local news program.