Thomas Wictor

Fraud is the new normal

Fraud is the new normal

I hate fakery. When I was in college, a guy on my dorm floor overturned his BMW as he tried to pull into the parking lot. He ended up in a ditch, upside down. A tow truck was called, and his Beemer was removed.

He and I were not exactly friends, but we spent a lot of time together during our floor’s drinking and pot-smoking sessions. He was extremely handsome, from the East Coast Brahmin class.

Despite his wealth he lacked funds to fix his car, so I lent him $900. Thirty years later I can admit that I did it to buy his friendship. I thought by lending him the money, he’d like me more. He was one of those broad-shouldered, athletic woman-magnets that pear-shaped guys like me tend to envy.

He never paid me back. After months of bugging him, I called his father in Connecticut. The man listened, and then spoke in a kind of puzzled, earnest tone, as if he couldn’t understand my obtuseness but was willing to help me see the light.

“Did you get it in writing?”

So I knew I was screwed. The broad-shouldered, athletic woman-magnet transferred, and I was never repaid. This guy later went on to work for the US State Department.

Admitting my screwage to my father was mortifying. I think for the rest of his life, he brought it up at least once a year.

Fraud is the new normal

I got this e-mail a few days ago.

It’s eerie because fake tits—like facial cosmetic surgery—have become desirable ends in and of themselves, rather than means to achieving a more holistic societal value: physical attractiveness. Now, it’s the implants that people like. I don’t get that. What’s exciting about plastic bags full of saline or silicone?

If FakeTits had called herself “EnhancedTits” or “ImprovedTits,” it would’ve had marginally more appeal to me. Maybe she’d had stem-cell therapy and was now the proud owner of stunning headlights that defied gravity. But “fake” to me indicates fraud, and our culture has become far too comfortable with it. There don’t seem to be too many consequences to committing fraud.

I’m astonished at the number of politicians who lie about their military service, yet the voters don’t care. There’s currently a US Senator who claimed for years that he flew combat missions in the Vietnam War, but it turns out he was actually stationed in Japan and flew occasional test missions in repaired aircraft over Vietnam. He never saw combat.

Another US Senator “blurred the details” or “misspoke” by stating that he’d served as a marine in Vietnam; in reality he never left the US during the conflict.

I think too many of us admire the chutzpah of shamelessly lying about your accomplishments. The problem for us as a nation is that lying always leads to more lying. Fake breasts, lips, and buttocks aren’t all that important in the grand scheme of things. They wouldn’t cause warped perceptions in little girls if parents did their jobs, but I can’t parent the world. If little girls grow up thinking they need to have knees on their chests, duck lips, and Daliesque butts, there’s nothing I can do to change their minds.

However, fraudulence begets fraudulence. I saw a video of a woman whose butt implants had turned upside down. To me, her face is is actually worse than her ridiculous rear. There isn’t a single natural feature left on it. Once people board the fake-train, they can’t seem to get off.

We’ve convinced ourselves that liars can compartmentalize: Just because a person lies about one thing doesn’t mean he or she is going to lie about everything. Well, all evidence leads me to believe the opposite. When a person is caught in one serious lie, I think they’re lying about far more than we realize. These lies are now impacting our daily lives.

The global financial crisis of 2007-2008 was a result in part of institutions lying about their health and politicians lying about what they knew was coming. Things had gotten so bad that nobody wanted to address them, so the lying continued in the hopes that the cancer would go away on its own.

When I discovered that Mike Albee and Lura Dold of Sandpiper Publicity had defrauded me of close to $40,000, I immediately confronted Mike, who lied. He panicked, which tells me that he and Lura are in a heap of trouble financially. How sad. Sure hope it works out for them.

I love the movie The Sting, but they gloss over the fact that Newman and Redford are con men who’ve defrauded hundreds of people. The reason they go after gangster Robert Shaw is because Redford and Robert Earl Jones stole from one of Shaw’s couriers. Instead of taking Jones to court, Shaw just has him killed.

“He croaked Luther!” Redford says in outrage, and then he’s on a moral crusade to avenge his friend…a con artist who picked on the wrong person.

I’m not going to kill anybody. But Mike and Lura picked on the wrong person. I’ve been told that not one of the many authors Mike and Lura defrauded wants to come forward. Part of it is shame, but part of it is our culture’s veneration of con artists. We still think of them as loveable scallywags, rogues, and rebels. They make their own rules.

That would be fine if the con artists and women with Daliesque butts went to live on an island together, where they could coexist in a frenzy of deception and leave me out of it. If I ruled the world, I’d adopt the Chinese solution to fraud.

Heartbreakers is another brilliant film. Gene Hackman gives the performance of his career; his comedic timing is unsurpassed. Ray Liotta is also stellar. But Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt are grifters. This is softened somewhat in that their scam targets only men who willingly choose to commit infidelity, so the audience is mollified. The guy got what he deserved.

However, there’s a scene in which Hewitt uses her ravishing beauty to distract a completely innocent man at a gas station and “borrow” his credit card to fill up her tank. The way the scene is filmed, we know she does this almost daily. She’s left a trail of total destruction behind her, and she’s indifferent.

My favorite grifter film is I Was an Adventuress, starring the Norwegian dancer Vera Zorina.

She, Erich von Stroheim, and Peter Lorre have a scam going in which they check into the most expensive hotel in a city and then wait in the lobby. When they see a wealthy man they’ve previously identified, Zorina marches up and slaps him in the face.

“How dare you say those things about me!” she snaps.

The man is always older, fat, and physically unappealing. Of course he has no idea what’s going on, so he says, “But I don’t even know you!”

“Aren’t you _______?” she asks, and when the man says he isn’t, she falls all over herself apologizing. Since she’s a looker, the lecherous old dope offers to buy her coffee, and as they get acquainted, she tells him that she’s a Russian countess down on her luck. She has a pendant that she wants to sell but doesn’t know how because she’s just a helpless girl.

The old lecher invariably offers to sell it for her, giving her a large sum of money as collateral. When he goes off to the jeweler’s, Peter Lorre picks his pocket and retrieves the pendant. Then the three flim-flammers skedaddle.

This scam goes swimmingly until in one hotel, they choose Richard Greene, a handsome, fabulously wealthy young fellow. Zorina flounces over and slaps him; without a second’s hesitation, he slaps her right back.

It’s a real slap. He absolutely nails her: KAK! Stunned, she holds her cheek and stutters her explanation that she thought he was someone else.

“I don’t care what you think,” he snarls, turns on his heel, and walks away.

And that’s his salvation. Eventually.

It’s a lesson for all of us. No matter how attractive the con artist, slap them in the face and walk away. There’s nothing charmingly roguish about grifters. They ruin lives.

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