Pay attention. I am not kidding. Really.

Month: March, 2018

A Sucker Born Every Minute

Rome Piazza della Repubblica, Fountain of the Naiads, Nymph of the Oceans

The scene of the crime: the Fountain of the Naiads, Piazza della Repubblica, Rome

Warning: this is another Hubby story (related with his permission, BTW) but different. This time, I throw myself under the bus, as well. As I’ve said previously, “I don’t make this stuff up; I just report it.” I couldn’t possibly make this stuff up, even if I thought and thought for weeks and weeks. And this one, dear reader, will top every other Hubby story I’ve ever told you and the ones about myself that I have not told you. Pay attention: you’re about to be astonished.

On a 2017 trip to Rome, I left Hubby at the Piazza della Repubblica Fountain of the Naiade Nymphs (which caused quite a stir when it was installed in 1901). It’s situated in the middle of a huge roundabout, and he was perched on the side of the fountain’s perimeter, dangerously near the inner lane’s traffic. I left him painting the Nymph of the Oceans while I took off to check out shops under classy colonnades and the ruined Baths of Diocletian, all of which surround the fountain and roundabout. 

Now I can see how you might think that he could be left to paint and not get into too much trouble but P.T. Barnum was right, so you, my friend, would be wrong. While I was off learning fascinating details about Diocletian’s pile, a car stopped right beside Hubby. Did I mention this was a huge roundabout? It’s goofy to stop in the middle of traffic in a large roundabout, especially in Rome – unless, of course, there’s something to be gained.

Out jumps a guy who says to Hubby, “You look familiar.” Now, is that not the OLDEST line in the book? Hubby, who’d been deep into his painting, thought to himself that this guy did look an awful lot like a Croatian friend we visited a few years ago and asked, “Have you ever lived in Croatia?” And guess what? He had! Next: “Do you know ______ [our Croatian friend’s name]?” AND HE DID! Now I ask you, what are the odds?

Well! By now the guy considered Hubby his new BFF. What do you do for BFFs? You give them deals, of course. From there, the whole conversation disintegrated into the classic scam, except this hustler had tweaked the well-known-to-everyone-but-Hubby “Salesman in Distress” schtick. You see, bless his little heart, he’d just finished exhibiting at a high-end fashion show and needed to offload some of the high-fashion jackets he’d shown . . . to get euros . . . to buy gas . . . to get himself . . . back to his little wifey . . . in Milan. AND HUBBY BELIEVED IT. (Let me repeat. I do not make this stuff up. I just report it.)

When this bozo offered to sell him three, probably stolen, “leather” jackets in unknown sizes for only €50, right away Hubby recognized this was a deal from his new BFF he could not possibly pass up. Hubby had been busy as a fine artist, and this guy was efficiently busy being another kind of artist – a scam artist. It took only five minutes for the scam artist to take €50 off the distracted fine artist.

Deep into his painting, Hubby wasn’t paying attention to where he was: Rome. Ever since the first century, when Roman poet Tibullus invented that syrupy marketing tag line, The Eternal City, romantics have called it by that name. We 21st-century cynics more accurately call it The City of Pickpockets and Scam Artists.

When I came back from my sightseeing, Hubby came bounding toward me with a large white shopping bag AND that smiley, cheesy look that I know so well. It was his I’ve-just done-something-stupid-but-I’ll-do-my-best-to-convince-you-otherwise look that I knew from 50 years of experience I would not find the least bit amusing. Sure enough, I didn’t. I could NOT believe what I was hearing. I still can’t. I sat on the edge of that fountain trout-mouthed for a good ten minutes staring at this man’s head and thinking, how is it possible to get a complete lobotomy in only an hour and fifteen minutes? (That seemed to be the only logical conclusion at the time.)

I had my nose out of joint for almost an hour, until Hubby gently reminded me that when I get taken, it’s always for more money. A LOT more money. (I don’t mess about with a piddly little €50 ($62 USD).

Hubby turns the tables
with pay-attention lessons
from my past.

He recalled the time a friend of his asked to practice her spiel for selling Rainbow vacuum cleaners (the several-hundred-dollars kind) on me. He reminded me that after listening to her “practice” spiel, I said I’d take one. It’s only fair to mention that at the time, we had a rule: we were not to buy anything over $100 without consulting each other. Oops.

Warming up to his topic, he dredged up a later episode. A friend at church had a daughter working her way through college who needed to practice her spiel to sell Cutco knives. Same old story. After she finished, I said I’d take a set. A few hundred dollars later, I’d conveniently ignored our rule, and we were the proud owners of the finest kitchen knifery money could buy. Oops. Again. As lame justification, I would like to point out that we’re still using all of them 20 years later – and probably will till they roll us into the Alzheimer’s Unit. Yes, they’re that good. For what they cost, they very well should be.

Hubby’s coup de grâce was yet to come, and I very much deserved it because by this point, I should’ve been old enough to know better. He reminded me of a much more recent foray in which my lust for a brand new Prius that we might win led us down the primrose path into a “seminar” by a vacation package company. And just for us, just that day, we could have their very valuable services for a real steal – half off, which was WAY, WAY, WAY more hundreds than even the Rainbow. I talked myself into believing this was just what we needed to plan economical, international trips and then used Eve’s apple trick on a skeptical Hubby. Not till long after we’d signed on the dotted line did I discover they have no bargains on vacation deals we would want.

Having been reminded of these embarrassing low points in my marketing prowess and will power, I got my nose back into joint and we went on, €50 poorer but more educated and astutely aware that we were in the City of Pickpockets and Scam Artists. On the way back to our hotel, Hubby said no four times to street hawkers. FOUR. He passed up selfie sticks, carved wooden plates from Syria, fake Rolex watches, and African thread bracelets.

The pay-attention points of this story? Oh, my. So many and so little time. Here you go.

Our Sucker-Born-Every-Minute,
Pay-Attention Points

(in no particular order)

  • A sucker is born every minute, but not all of them stay suckers. Some of us do, though. Though my math’s always dodgy, my calculations say Hubby has a few thousand dollars to blow through before he catches up to my unenviable Sucker Status.
  • Educate yourself thoroughly before your next trip. If we’d read not just Rick Steves’ Italy and Rome books, but also his web page (below) on this subject Hubby, even as distracted as he was, would’ve begun laughing at the first words from the “salesman’s” mouth. 
red box with white text from Rick Steves'

Oh, man, Rick Steves and Troops, you’re spot on, as usual.

  

  • Never make impulsive buying decisions. Never. Never. NEVER! That’s a pay-attention point we both need to work on until we die, as we seem to be slow learners.
  • All education costs something. You pay to take classes in anything you can name: for college degrees, continuing education classes in your profession, classes in your new hobby, classes on how to sweat at the gym. And, yes, you “pay” when you take a Sucker Class like ours.
  • When something sounds too good to be true, IT IS. This is an ancient bit of advice – and one I regularly harp on – which doesn’t make it any less difficult for me to grasp, as you’ve just read.
  • When you do something stupid, just own up and get it over with. Trying to paint it as something smart will only annoy your significant other. (Trust me on this one.) Laugh at your foibles and encourage others to laugh, as well, but DO NOT try to justify them.
red box with white text:

Hubby’s take on that old “laughs last” maxim – and he should know.

© 2018, Teresa Bennett

THE Lamps, Part 7

No. It isn’t your imagination. Yes, you DID read in THE Lamps, Part 6 that it was the final installment of the Ugly Lamp Revenge Game that my husband’s family has played since the eighties. And, yes, you DID read that I had exited the game.

Things have changed. The wretched game isn’t over, and I’m still very much at the table – which just proves how supremely naive I can be without even trying very hard.

Almost a year ago, a knock at our front door signaled a package had arrived. Imagine our surprise as we read the address label’s note: “Thank you for your blog on ‘THE Lamps!’ It made our day!”

Since neither of us recognized the sender’s name and it came from Shreveport – where we know absolutely no one – I jumped to the obvious conclusion that my PayAttention! Blog had gone viral. Who knew how many millions were reading it with bated breath?

None, as it turns out. (Here’s an early-in-the-post, pay-attention point: pride usually helps us on our way to very inaccurate conclusions.)

Sneaky Little Sister and her conniving husband had been at it again – reviving The Ugly Lamp Revenge Game they started in 1984. Because the Pistachio Orientals have mysteriously disappeared, they had ferreted out a new ugly lamp to replace them and asked a friend to mail it from Shreveport while he was attending a conference. That friend had asked a coworker, at the same conference, to take it to UPS. (Note: two innocents drawn into this dreadful game.)

You’re just itching to see the monster, aren’t you? Not so fast. This lamp, unlike its five predecessors, bore a tiny, oval, gold-foil label on its underside, proudly proclaiming “Made in China.”

China?

China????

WHAT?!

All of Lamp #6’s predecessors were made in the good ole US of A, where all the players in this silly game reside. Now – NOW – we’ve stooped to involving another country filled with 1.379 billion innocent victims??

Wait a minute: not all of them could be correctly labeled innocent.

There’s China’s Tier 3 ranking in human trafficking issues. So maybe that heinous trade accounts for a very guilty couple million.

And then there’s their longstanding penchant for stealing our copyrighted technology, claiming it as their own, and manufacturing bazillions of whatever they’ve stolen. I’d guess that non-innocent bunch is at least another two million, wouldn’t you?

And let’s not forget the ever-so-lame “instruction” sheets they pack with their crummy digital watches to drive us all nuts. The writers well know they’re omitting two or three critical steps. There’s another couple million decidedly guilty Chinese, in my book. (I’ve lost track of how many of those tissue-paper instruction sheets I’ve torn to bits.)

So we can subtract six million less-than-innocent Chinese, leaving way over a billion (give or take a few million) garden-variety Chinese persons who are completely innocent. So why drag ALL of them into this messy revenge game?? Beats me. Go ask Little Sister and The Conniver.

You’ve been patient, so here you go: Ugly Lamp #6:

lamp base of three black monkeys stacked on top of each other

Three uglier monkeys, you’ll never find = the ugliest monkey lamp in the world.

Yes, some desperate manufacturer in China (with questionable taste) was convinced by some misguided designer (with equally questionable taste) to mass produce this sucker. Can you imagine?

And so now, the game’s afoot – AGAIN. A couple of months later, with equally bald-faced sneakiness, we asked some friends to “help us out” since they’d been planning a visit to Little Sister’s hometown anyway. Good Christian folk that they are, they jumped at the chance to participate in this interminable game of revenge. (They’ll regret that someday.)

I dolled up those three ugly monkeys in a fabulous gift bag with plenty of pastel tissue paper sticking out and an elegant gift tag bearing Little Sister’s and Conniving Brother-in-Law’s names. It looked like a legitimate gift and very, very come-hither. Our friends did the deed, leaving it in The Conniver’s office. (Two more innocents drawn into this dreadful game.)

You may remember from THE Lamps, Part 2 that Little Sister and Conniving Brother-in-Law are really NOT very good sports. They don’t give any of us the satisfaction of admitting that we GOT them. Oh no. They just act as if nothing has happened. Drives me crazy. We’ve been waiting for nine months. Do you think they could even acknowledge receipt of said “gift”? Absolutely not.

By now, I’ve trained you to expect a really, really profound pay-attention point in my rant somewhere. Here you go.

People’s bad habits can affect bunches of other people.

Between the four of us – Hubby, moi, Little Sister, and The Conniver – we have recently embroiled FOUR innocent American bystanders (and who knows how many before Lamp #6?) and about a BILLION innocent Chinese in this fine mess.

Pay attention. When someone like us asks if you’d like to participate in _______ (whatever), you may be joining a rather large crowd, should you decide to participate. Think about it: do you want to join that sort of crowd? Remember the annoying questions your mother used to ask? “Just because ‘everyone else’ is doing it, do you have to, too?” “If Johnny jumps off the Empire State Building, does that mean you must, as well?””

Here’s my next-to-the-last pay-attention tip. When receiving an invitation “to join in the fun” from the likes of us, the wiser option would be to RUN AWAY. Don’t join that kind of crowd, since you’ve usually been amply warned of what will happen if you do.

Should we ask one of you, dear friends, to join in the fun, you, at least, have the option of running away. None of us in Hubby’s family have that luxury. We all have enormous targets painted on our backs. We are all now in the same tenuous position we were in while uneasily awaiting the resurfacing of the Pistachio Orientals a few years ago.

After visiting one another, we check our backseats and trunks as carefully as border patrol agents check for drugs. You can imagine how that bit of paranoid drama delays the start of our hours-long trips home. It slows us down some more when we stop mid-trip, in another fit of paranoia, to check the undercarriage “just to be sure.” We also cast an uneasy and suspicious eye upon unexpected UPS and USPS deliveries, which sort of takes the fun out of package arrivals.

Here’s my final pay attention tip. Listen up. Bad behavior not only corrupts good character, it also takes a good deal of fun out of life, as you’ve seen from this Ugly Lamp saga.

red box with white text: “Bad company corrupts good character.” – I Cor. 15:33

See? I really DON’T  make this stuff up. It’s right there in the New Testament.

© 2018, Teresa Bennett

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