After the go-round with the phone number, things were quiet again for about six months. You stopped answering calls coming from 876 area codes. Mother and I thought things were done, now that you told them you wanted to be left alone. Without a willing participant, they can’t get money. We thought that, eventually, they would give up.
We thought wrong. One day in May, 2013, you answered one of the half-dozen calls you were getting daily; and it all resumed. Once they’d heard your voice again, they became like sharks tasting blood in the water. They swarmed. They called ten times a minute. You couldn’t resist answering. One of them told you he was a Federal agent investigating you for money laundering. You stopped sleeping, we couldn’t stop you from answering the phone, and you started sending them money again. You were still driving, at this point, and you would leave the house unannounced on your quests to purchase VHS tapes at Wal-Mart (the only place retro enough to still sell 10-packs of VHS tapes in 2013) and to send money to Jamaica via Western Union. You just wanted them to leave you alone, and you thought that one day they would have enough of your money that they’d grant you that wish. You didn’t know what I was reading in the papers, that people your age had paid as much as a half million dollars to these scammers, in that same hope of ending the harassment, and still achieved no peace.
The officer investigating informed me that the Department took calls about cases like yours every day. He wished there was more they could do to help, but there really wasn’t. The number traced back to a Jamaican account with no subscriber information. Via newspaper articles, I learned that the scammers lived in cardboard shacks in Jamaica, bought pay-as-you-go phones by the dozens, and murdered each other to get hold of the lists of phone numbers of seniors in the U.S. that they could call to scam.
And, boy, were you on lists! You received several pounds of mail each day, 95% of it fake sweepstakes offers, letters from alleged attorneys offering you money, and, of course, checks that you were not supposed to deposit until you called Bob or Jason or Melanie.
The Jamaican called you later that evening, after both the police officer and I had left. He was now offering you 2.5 million dollars and a car but wanted to know why you had called the police.
I still find them occasionally, as I clean up a corner in the house, or go through a box of papers. Most of them try hard to look like official communications from some government office, or legal documents from an attorney. They often have addresses in New York– God only knows how often I’ve looked up those addresses on Google Maps, to see what was actually there!–and they often have checks inside them, made out for obscenely large amounts.
It’s time to talk about them. It’s time to talk about the scams.
By the next time I write you, you will have been gone for two years. So much has changed, and so little.
This is a huge task you left me–have I mentioned that? I’m really at the point right now of looking at the house and saying, “Wow! I’ll never finish this!” I guess I’ve accomplished a lot, but, everywhere I look, there’s so much left to do. And, as I once pointed out to you, when you take fifty years to build a house, you reach the point where the work you’re re-doing may outpace the work you’re doing for the first time.
I suppose today will be mostly a day for outside work. I’ll be starting late. It was already 10:00 this morning before I was ready to head over to your house. I had read some articles forwarded by Beatrice and read a few pages of the book on Shakespeare that I’m finally about to finish. That was when my therapist texted to remind me I had a noon appointment with her, which I had in my head as 2:00. I had been thinking I’d have a good three hours to empty the truck (it’s full of the rest of my old deck, which I’m storing behind your garage, against the day the wood is needed for projects.) Then I’d spray some roundup around the garage, and get some general cleanup done out there. But there’s little point in driving 20 minutes to your house, just to turn around and leave for a noon appointment. So decided to wait until afternoon.
Backing up–therapist? Yes. Perhaps I’ve sugar-coated life since you left us. And I imagine I will continue to do so. But I’ll point the spray nozzle now and wash away at least some of the sticky coating to say that the work you’ve left me to do has saddled me with depression and made it necessary for me to have someone to talk to about coping strategies, and about whether or not I’m entering mentally dangerous territory.
I announced late Tuesday night, possibly early Wednesday
morning, that I had deleted Facebook’s apps from my phone and tablet and closed
the perpetually open browser tab for it on my desktops and laptops.
This was not a rash decision. This had been building for some
time, and, as I said in that post (call it a “flounce” if you will),
it was time.
I can say a lot of good things about Facebook. It brings to
my attention news items that I might have missed. It lets me know about the
joys and sorrows of family and friends. It’s kept me in touch with my cousins
in Carolina, my high school best friend in Omaha, and lots of old friends who
live around the corner, but whose paths don’t cross mine often if at all.
They’re all good people and I like knowing what’s going on with them.
It’s been another busy week–or how many days?–since I
wrote last. Taxes still loom over me. I have to delay paying until my next
paychecks come tomorrow, and then I have to scrape together enough money to
keep my credit card from maxing out completely. I really hate that I’ve got a
maxed-out card. I don’t think I’ve ever had one. But I didn’t quite expect a
$9,000 tax liability. And Lazarus still needs medical care, even though he’s
healthy for an old man. Two visits this month for antibiotics to kick a
UTI–you can relate!–and he needs a lump removed from his neck. Not helping
lower that debt.
I own your truck now. Did I tell you that? Hard to remember.
I do feel age creeping into my brain. It’s hard to know what I’ve said and what
I haven’t, and I’m often asking people to repeat themselves, not because I’m
hard of hearing, but because I just can’t process what they’ve said to me. I
need to hear it again. Anyway, I just loaded up your truck with about a quarter
of the waste wood from my old deck. I think I’ll hold onto it for a while, as
some of it came in handy building Mother’s ramp. I’m going to drive it over and
store it behind your garage, though.
When did I last write? I don’t know. Months. Not good
months. No one is to blame. Life gets too busy to handle. One person’s
anxieties clash with another person’s anxieties. Changing life situations catch
us by surprise and make the ground beneath our feet seem unstable. We take it
out on each other.
There has been little to no progress on the house since I
last wrote. I take that back. Christian has organized the tools. Ethan and
Christian have cleaned up the basement, actually trying to reclaim it as usable
space. Ethan unearthed two lab cabinets that you have bought decades ago. I
remember carrying them into the room I think of as the “lab” room. It
contains the water tank, the darkroom, the electrical panels and phone
interface. It also has your workbench that you built in the 1960s with your own
hands. It has the bloody (literally, as I recall) steel lab bench with the
transite top that we bought from Sacred Heart Hospital. And it has lots, and
lots and lots of oscilloscopes. And one last b-52 gunsite. Oh, and, yes, one
Last year my friend and mentor Howard Weinstein floated me a call for submissions for an anthology. Then untitled, it was to be published by Five Star Press, who published Howie’s excellent first Western novel, Galloway’s Gamble. The deadline was short, but it was a good opportunity. I dropped everything and wrote “Boxcar Knights,” a story set shortly after the civil war, in which two Confederate orphans hop a freight to go west in search of their fortunes. I love railroad stories, and I got to do a lot of cool research on hobo culture. I’ll never be able to listen to the folk song “The Big Rock Candy Mountain” the same way again.
Well, my drop-everything effort paid off. The story was very well-received by Senior Editor Tiffany Schofield. Within days, it was slated for publication in Hobnail and Other Frontier Stories, ably edited by Hazel Rumney. I had an overwhelmingly positive experience working with them, and now it’s shipping in glorious hardcover! Please buy a copy or ask your library to order a copy. And, once you’ve read it, review!
So much has happened in the last six weeks, it’s been hard
to keep up. Mother was in the hospital… Jim Heller died… Christian got a
car… Tax season hit…
I already talked about Jim. That was a blow, and really got
me thinking about my career and what I want out of it. Still thinking, so I
won’t say a lot about that.
Mother’s hospital visit and aftermath… I wrote about her
homecoming already. Since she’s been home, things have been stable, but our
lives have changed a bit. Mother’s more forgetful than she was before. A severe
urinary tract infection can do that to someone who’s 92 years old. They affect
the brain, sometimes permanently. Mother is very aware of her short-term memory
loss, and very frustrated by it. She asked me the other day why she had lost
the ability to focus on something like doing her taxes. “I always did our
taxes,” she said. “Your Daddy never did. Why can’t I do them anymore?
I try, and it just frustrates me. I get exhausted just looking at them.”
I explained to her that the human short-term memory is like
a table. When you’re young, the tabletop is big enough to hold, say, three rows
of five index cards. Everything you can write on those cards, you can think
about, all at the same time. As we get older, the available space shrinks–the
tabletop has to hold our pills and our eyeglasses and our hearing aids. And
photos of our grandchildren and the parents we lost a few years ago. After a
while, maybe there’s only room for three index cards, and that’s all you can
think about at once. If it takes seven index cards worth of information to do
your taxes, well, you don’t have space for that anymore. You need to put them
on another table, namely someone else’s brain.