Monday, June 7, 2010

Duped. Swindled. Hoodwinked.

I like to think of myself as an intelligent, savvy, and a relatively street smart gal. 

For example, I got approached on the street last week by the folks trying to gather donations for Save the  It's an entity that I actually know exists, and still, I let them know kindly that I have a policy not to give randomly on the street.  I, logically, give to a certain number of charities at certain times of the year after having collected and researched information on them over time.  That's just the way I roll.

I also receive numerous desperate pleas from the Prince some country I only slightly recall and other wealthy individuals from India who are simply looking for a way to bring their millions of dollars to the US because of unstable times in their country, and they need my help.  All I have to do it give them my bank account numbers.  They will wire the funds to me, and when they are able to retrieve it, I will have done them a huge favor for which, in return, I will receive a generous percentage of the millions I have housed for a short amount of time.  Though the deal sounds totally legit, I delete these requests without another thought.   I wasn't born yesterday even for the promises made by self-declared royalty!

 Like I said, I can spot a scam a mile away...   

Weeeell, today, I went to see my Aunt who is visiting my Mom downtown, joined by my husband Art and my almost 2-year old son.  We had a lovely brunch at the Lux Bar.  The day was absolutely gorgeous so we went walking up and down Oak Street in order to extend the visit a bit longer.  As we're looking in windows at The Ultimate Bride (um, freakin' fabulous dresses, btw), I hear, "Do you like Jazz?"

I turn around and see two clean looking individuals, a guy and a girl, walking towards us.  They are in black T-Shirts and shorts and really look like they could be in a band… or crew for a band.  Really.  

I, trying to be courteous, say, "Well, yeah.  Some."  At this point my Aunt continues to move forward while I, not wanting to be rude stick around to chat with these seemingly harmless folks.  Our conversation went something like this:

"Well, we're part of a band that's playing a bunch of different venues (they named them, I recognized the places, but don't remember them now, except Green Mill, of which I'm a fan) in a fundraiser that's organized to raise money for a member of our band, who sadly, has colon cancer."

"And no health insurance," chimed in the girl making a sad face.  Little did she know, she just hooked me.  Who would lie about that?

He continued, "We are giving away these first 20 CD's... for a donation."  

Hmmm, Giving ... for a donation.  Is that an oxymoron?   Or just moronic? Tough questions for tough times. 

So, of course, I said, "Ok, you sold me.  How much is the CD?"  (Mistake number One:  Yeah, absolutely just let them name their price!)

Brief pause and then,"$20," he said, and followed it quickly with, "But showing the CD at the door will also get you into the show at Green Mill for free," – in defense of the asking price. (I told him I really liked the Green Mill.  Yeah, I play it cool.  I also tell car dealers when I absolutely can’t live without a particular car.)

And, as if I was no longer in control of my limbs, I reached in my wallet, grabbed a 20-dollar bill and gave it to him.  (Mistake Number Two:  Certainly don't negotiate the "donation" they're asking for!  I'm so awesome.)

Now, before I continue, as you know, I'm an artist myself and I have a soft spot for artists.  I also can sympathize with how horrible colon cancer would be for anyone, let alone a struggling musician who, it was not far fetched to say, had no insurance.  Cue the violins. 

   ... back to the encounter.

I handed him $20 like I had it to give - I must have been feeling the Oak Street vibes - and he said, "Great!  See you on Thursday!" and almost too quickly, jetted off.

My Mom, Aunt, Art, and, it seemed, even my almost 2-year old didn't say anything, just looked at me.  I looked back at them like the cold heartless animals that I knew they were, and said, "It was a fundraiser for colon cancer!"  The ladies turned without a word and walked ahead.

Well, now I got to thinkin'... (Mistake number Three:  Got to thinking too late.)

I stopped my husband before we caught up to the ladies and said, "I think I got taken."  His first instinct, a good one, was to slowly tilt his head and say, "What do you mean?"

"I just gave them $20.  They didn't have a flyer to offer.  I think it might have been a scam."

Art squinched up his face and tilted his head and said, "Well, they had me until the CD purchase."

This didn't make me feel better.  He silently took charge of my son and continued walking.  We didn't speak anymore about it because I was starting to feel like a serious idiot.  …or moron? defines the difference as,
"an idiot is a stupid person with a mental age below three years, while a moron is a stupid person with a mental age of between seven to twelve years"...

psyched about neither definition, let's say nincompoop.

Here comes the coup de grace:  

We got in the car, and I can't stop the nagging feeling that I have been seriously had.  Um… no judging!  It's easy from your perspective, to see that this is stating the obvious – at that moment, not so much.

So, slowly, much more slowly than I pulled the 20 out of my wallet, I got the CD out of my purse and looked at the enclosed white sheet that I assumed had the list of songs that were burned on to my most recent jazz purchase.  As I look closer, it was a listing of who's playing when at The Empty Bottle, a venue on Western in Chicago.  Oh, and the listing is for April & May of 2010.  It's June 6th today.  So, now I have a $20 listing of memories I didn't make at The Empty Bottle.  (FYI, on 4/26, the bands F*ck Knights, The Runnies and Dumpster Babies played there.  To think I missed them... that's just adding salt to the wound!)

Ok, so as I look at it, I realize that there is very likely no Jazz on this CD, but I have this tendency to believe in people.  Musicians don't have a lot of marketing money, and... so, maybe they just slid that in there to ... um, ... protect the CD?  Art, smirking, says, “Just put the CD in.  Maybe the music is good?”

In slow motion I take the CD out of the envelope.  The front of it has no writing, and as I'm noticing that, Art asks, "What's the band's name?"  The pit in my stomach grows in acidity as I realize that I have to answer, "I don't know."   Deep breath in.  Deep breath out.  I put the CD in the player and wait.  
And wait.

And wait.

Art presses some buttons to fast forward, but the player isn't reading the CD.  He gallantly continues to eject and re-insert our new gift hoping that songs, any kind of songs, will play miraculously.  The reality sinks in that I just bought this one and only blank CD, with added bonus of April/May listing from The Empty Bottle for the low, low price of 20 of my hard earned dollars. 

"There is a special place in Hell for someone who swindles a person into giving money in the name of colon cancer," I say.  Quickly though, I formed a plan, "Oh! We should get a sitter, go to the show, find this guy, and confront him.  Remember, this CD also gets us into the show at the Green Mill for free next Thursday."  Before the last word comes out of my mouth, Art bursts into laughter that he's clearly been holding back for a good hour.  

"I'm sure the Green Mill will honor the blank Maxell CD you bring to the door for two tickets to the show that night," he is barely able to say between gulps of laughter.  

Picture this for a moment.  I’m at the Green Mill door with a blank CD in hand as payment.  "No really, I bought this for $20 from a guy on Oak Street... for the band benefitting the guy with colon cancer... (make a sad face) with no insurance!"

My last hope is my CD player in my computer, but alas, it confirms what I already know.  I have been seriously bamboozled.  Perhaps my time in the suburbs has made me more naive than I knew.  Whatever the case, no one, not even the little child with one arm in Mexico selling Chiclets on the side of the road that her mom bought for one cent, and she's selling for “almost free for you”, will get me again!