Tuesday, May 11, 2021

RAGE

 I had some kind and thoughtful messages of sympathy in response to my post yesterday, and am truly grateful--especially for those who have become more vigilant as a result of my saga.

A saga it has turned out to be. It is now more than a week since this sorry event started, and the repercussions seem unending--reports and claims to file, notifications, standing banking and credit card orders to be changed, redoubled efforts to protect identity. I spend entire days on the computer and the telephone, negotiating paths through multiple menu options in the effort to reach an actual person to whom I can explain the situation and ask for the action or the help I need.

What comes home is the realization--as though it were a new one!--that we are all now hooked into an invisible, impenetrable network of communications that no longer serves our human needs and interests but instead cannibalizes everything that's human about being human. It's a sobering experience, to have to face it so immediately and with such a deep sense of frustration and, yes, anger. It erupts constantly, a compulsion to throw the bloody telephone at the wall or toss the computer out the window.

So I get to watch my rage. I am thankful for the 25-odd years of meditation practice that allow me to moderate the impact of all this and give me, at least, small moments of clarity.

Monday, May 10, 2021

BE FOREWARNED

WE WERE SCAMMED I fell victim to an online scam last week. It’s embarrassing and infuriating, and I’m sure I’ll look foolish and na├»ve, but I’d like to share what happened so that others may be forewarned. It was a clever scheme and one that’s worth watching out for. 

It started with an email thanking me for my business and notifying me of an annual automatic deduction to renew an online protection service. Not recognizing the source but knowing that I routinely make arrangements for automatic deductions of this kind (GoDaddy, Earthlink, that kind of thing), I called the number to determine the nature of the service (my first mistake! I should have checked my bank accounts and credit cards to be sure that the deduction had in fact been made). 

Offered the option by the “nice” man who responded (why a nice man, I have to wonder now, and not the whole familiar, exasperating menu of options and lengthy holds?), I chose to cancel the service and receive a refund. To close the (lengthy, tedious!) process I was asked to type in the relatively small refund amount requested, but as I did so, the system mysteriously added some extra zeroes before I could stop the order going through. 

Oh no! My new friend was so distressed! My typing error meant that his company had now refunded me a very much larger sum than was intended. Of course, I needed to get their money back to them. My initial attempt to make a suggested wire transfer did not succeed, so they asked for a good faith payment in Target gift cards. (Okay, at this point I should surely have smelled a rat, but… I was reassured by the knowledge that I had a significant amount of “their money” in my account.) That initial request for gift cards was gradually tripled, by the way, but I won’t go into the excruciating detail of the trek from RiteAid to CVS to BestBuy and loading up our credit cards. 

After which, these people were kind enough to facilitate a wire transfer for the much larger balance… (This was early days, still a long time before I discovered that the “mistaken” refund that had arrived in my checking account was not their money at all, but had somehow been shifted over from another of my own family accounts. Their purported “refund” was in fact my own money from the start!) 

There followed literally days of negotiations to make good on what I was persuaded was a genuine mistake, involving financial shenanigans to avoid (at all costs!) having to pay a huge amount of tax on the mysterious, large sum of money that had appeared in my bank account (the IRS wants an explanation for anything more than $10K). More money was paid into my account to cover the dreaded taxes, and more taken out for the same reason. By this time, my head was spinning. I had become so engaged in the process I was unable to stand outside it and see it for the scam it was so obviously becoming. 

Bottom line, long story short, etc., the evidence piled up beyond my capacity to deny it. I realized I’d been had. I first froze all my bank accounts, then closed them and opened others. I alerted the bank’s fraud department and started a process to recall the major wire transfer—which or course may or may not happen. I tried, without success so far, to find someone in the Los Angeles Police Department interested in hearing the story and taking action. There’s a nightmare of reports to be made and consequences to be dealt with, including of course the revision of all my regular auto-deposits (Social Security, retirement plans…), and deductions to pay monthly bills, donate to charities, and so on. It will cost me at least another week of work to sort things out. 

So, friends, please guard against this particular piece of devilish cleverness. Above all, check to see in advance whether anyone thanking you for your business has actually done business with you before. When you read this story, please don’t attribute it only to my gullibility. Of course, there was some of that involved. But you’d be surprised, no matter how vigilant you are, at how easily you can get hooked. Please don’t!

Saturday, May 1, 2021

SO LET IT BE WITH CAESAR...

Eli Broad, who died on Friday, was the only billionaire I ever knew in person. I interviewed him in his home, many years ago. He invited Ellie and myself to join him and his wife, Edythe, for dinner at a posh Italian restaurant. In person, he was courteous, charming, at once himself interesting and interested in others--an important quality in my book. I'm well aware of his reputation as an autocratic philanthropist whose ego matched the scale of his ambitions; and even though many of those ambitions were for the city that he genuinely loved, they were perhaps, as Shakespeare's Mark Antony famously said of Caesar's, "a grievous fault." Certainly, they were held against him by many critics and many who matched wills with him and came off the worse for it. As for Broad, he brushed off such criticism, cheerfully calling himself "unreasonable" and attributing his success to that very quality. "The evil that men do lives after them" continued Mark Antony in his funeral oration. "The good is oft interred within their bones. So let it be with Caesar." In Broad's case it is perhaps the opposite: would we have Disney Hall, for example, without his sometimes bullying efforts? It's in part his philanthropy that turned the once widely mocked Los Angeles into a world cultural center to be reckoned with. May the emperor that was surely a good part of him be buried with his bones.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

LUCKY

 I met with my surgeon yesterday, a full three weeks after the surgery to replace my right hip. It was a good moment to thank him, and compliment him on the orthopedic surgery team that has taken such good care of me from start to... well, not quite finish, because there is a way to go before full recovery, but I'm headed that way. He told me he was "lucky" with the people he works with.

Which reminded me of what I always think--and try to remember to say--when I hear people say they're lucky: that what happens in our lives has little or nothing to do with luck. In the case of my surgeon's team, his "luck" is the expression of everything he puts in to the work he does--the intelligence, the recognition of the skills and dedication of others, the demands he makes of them, his own love for his work and compassion for his patients; all these combine to create his "luck" in having such a team to work with.

He was pleased, I think with the recognition and appreciation, just as I was pleased with the reminder that luck plays only a small part in my recovery. What counts is the extent to which I have taken care of myself in the past and have worked to maintain my strength and keep my weight in at least manageable bounds; and everything I do now to speed recovery, in following the guidelines and practicing the exercise routine, in being as conscious as I can of my body, its limitations and potential, its needs and cautions. 

I watch with amazement and respect as the body works to heal itself, and do everything I can to help it. The doctor, yesterday, suggested finding a new "project" every day to challenge its recovery, and that seems to me an excellent idea. It's early morning, yet, but I'll need to think up something for today. It should not be hard. There's still a long way to go!

Sunday, April 25, 2021

DOG FIGHT

We had quite a scare yesterday.

It was my first outing since surgery, now nearly three weeks ago. That homebound feeling was getting to me, and I needed to get out of the house and into the world out there, so it was my idea to head over to Highland Park--a twenty minute drive--to visit our daughter and grandson and see the new balcony and French doors she has had installed at her house.

I put my new skills and mobility to work to climb into the car--in the passenger seat, of course, since I'm not yet allowed to drive--and we set off on this significant adventure. (I'm a terrible passenger. Even though Ellie is a seasoned driver of many years blameless experience, I had my foot on the brake for the entire journey!)

So we had a delightful visit. The new addition to Sarah's home brings light and space into her bedroom, and the balcony connects to an existing one outside the kitchen, significantly expanding the area overlooking her back yard. Sarah was in good form, and it was great to have news of Luka's first three days back at school in more than a year. He's thrilled to be back in the classroom, and proud to have been assigned a desk in the front row. Class time is restricted to three hours, to allow the teacher to spend the rest of the school day with the children whose parents have chosen to keep them home until they feel safer, with the pandemic not yet fully contained. 

It was when we left that the trouble started. I headed out to the car first, needing more time to climb in and make myself comfortable. Then Ellie came out with Jake, the dog, and all hell broke loose. I was first only dimly aware of the racket--the barks and snarls and yelps of fear and the sounds of a terrible scuffle round the other side of the car; but soon promptly forgot all the instructions I'd received to take care of my hip and, abandoning all precautions, hauled myself precipitously out of my seat with my cane and hobbled furiously around behind the car--where I found Ellie and another woman struggling to pull apart two dogs engaged in mortal combat.

Jake is not a big dog. He's strong, for his size, but King Charles Spaniels are pretty much gentle, inoffensive little creatures. He had been set upon by a powerful, mid-sized, grey pit bull, off leash, which had spotted Jake on the street and dashed out from its owner's house when she opened the door to take out the trash--with every apparent intent to kill the intruder on what it obviously deemed its territory.

I joined the fray. Wielding my metal cane--and bending far below the limit for one in my condition--I managed to grab on to Jake's collar while the two women pulled the dogs apart. I dragged him forcibly around the back of the car, yelling out for Sarah to come out and help get him in through the rear door. The pit bull's owner, meanwhile, was struggling mightily to restrain her dog and shouting at me to put ours in the car--without knowing, of course, that I was incapacitated by the surgery. 

Well, Sarah came rushing out and we got a visibly angry and shaken Jake shut in on the back seat of the car, while the neighbor led her dog back into her house. Later, that evening, Sarah called for a report on Jake, and told us that the pit bull's owner was accusing him, Jake, of having bitten her dog! Said she'd had to take it in for an emergency visit to the vet. If so, we thought, it was clear that Jake was acting only in self-defense. The encounter was not without repercussions for him, too, having caused a recurrence of a problem with his back. Last night he was unable to jump up on the couch unaided, and this morning he has had trouble climbing the stairs. 

Having heard so many reports recently of small dogs being attacked and mauled--and in some severe cases actually killed--by pit bulls. we consider ourselves lucky. This episode could have ended so much worse than a bad back. We have come to treasure our little Jake. He has been the best of pals throughout the period of this pandemic, and a great comfort for Ellie while I have been out of action. It would be terrible to see him badly injured or, unimaginably, worse...

I'm not one to approve of violence in any circumstance, but it's hard not to feel proud of him for having put up such a good fight!