Scams, schemes & shame

I’ve just finished with a most depressing discussion with a professional screenwriter (you know who you are) on the prospects of getting a screenplay of any kind produced and I guess now is about a good a time as any to break out my classic piece on get-rich-quick schemes.

After all, if I can’t make it in a legitimate manner, I may have to go back to my life of crime.

I believe his words were “An aspiring screenwriter stands a better chance of getting struck twice by lightning than ever selling anything.”

So, on that note, I present my foray into the world of sales, scams, schemes and shame.

You could say I’ve involved myself in a fair number of barely legal enterprises in hopes of getting rich.

My humanitarian history began in 1983 when I was about seven or eight.

The parents had just split for good, sending mom, my 4-year-old brother and I from our pedestrian, lower-middle-class-ish existence to a ramshackle apartment in the “Escape from New York” section of town.

Mom lost her title of “Stay-at-home” and for the first time I was alone.

Soon, I went from a shy, weepy momma’s boy to a shy, weepy hoodlum.

My first heist was modeled after a charity where people went door-to-door with coffee cups collecting for monkey Alzheimer’s or hippopotamus lupus or something like that.

With one of mom’s mugs in hand, and a short spiel in the name of a cancer cure rehearsed, the Gohs Candy Fund was in business.

Panhandling for non-existent causes turned to shoplifting at the local party store, because the former was simply too much work.

OK, to be fair, I got a handful of change at one house and I swiped two candy bars at one store.

It was wrong, but a career criminal I was not.

Decades later, I still feel the shame, but at the time it seemed like fairly victimless crimes.

Besides, any guilt I felt at the time was quickly drowned out by the fear of being caught.

And then, the strict military man who would become my father, appeared on the scene and the tomfoolery ended—for awhile.

Soon after moving out of my parents’ house I found a different sort of trouble.

Granted, selling overpriced gourmet treats and silver-plated jewelry isn’t the same as lying for donations, but it’s pretty damned close.

In the years following “Cancer Scam,” I hawked everything from vacuums to night crawlers, but my laziness and greed prevented me from seeing one pyramid and multi-level-marketing venture after another for the frauds they were.

I even kept the faith when an unemployed alcoholic and a former Texan drug runner arrived at my mother-in-law’s house in a beat up station wagon with homemade business cards and dog-eared pie charts to convince me I could make millions selling phone service door-to-door.

Please hold your applause until the end of the humiliation.

I soon found myself back at home.

In between cooking jobs, and desperate to move out of mother’s basement, I wrote a $250 check.

Months passed and loved ones were alienated by desperate sales pitches.

My partners in slime then turned me on to soliciting donations for Vietnam veterans and disabled Americans via telemarketing.

Taking advantage of peoples’ generosity gave me the same sick feeling as eating a gas station burrito, but I pressed on through four hours of people screaming graphic instructions on what I should do with the phone, myself and my mother.

Just think of the meanest thing you’ve ever said to a telemarketer and multiply it by like a hundred.

I broke for lunch and never returned.

The scams had such allure that it wasn’t long before I paid $100 for a list of homeowners who supposedly qualified for a refund of their closing costs.

Offering someone their money in return for a fee went over pretty much as you might expect.

I may as well have walked into a stranger’s house, picked up their toaster and offered to sell it to them. (Hold on, I’ve got an idea!)

By 25, my miserable machinations hadn’t produced a penny and I quit, for nearly seven years.

Then I began noticing the occasional odd classified like: “Free manure (horse). Easy to pick up,” and “Breast pump … barely used. $70.”

I wondered what I could sell, but resisted the urge to liquidate household furniture and knickknacks until I spotted an ad from a Christian man seeking a car or money to buy a car—it was all the push I needed to fall off the wagon.

So far, I have zero responses to:

“White 32-year-old nonsmoking professional male seeking wealthy surrogate parent. Interests include comic books, video games, cash, muscle cars, Taco Bell and beer. High bidder addressed as ‘mommy’ or ‘daddy’ and will receive finger paintings, hugs and phone calls on major holidays. Platonic interests only need apply.”

I’d like to think this will be my last swindle, but I know me too well.

Oh, and “Christian man seeking car,” if you’re reading this, let me know how it all turned out—the suspense is killing us.