Showing posts with label con games. Show all posts
Showing posts with label con games. Show all posts

08 November 2018

California Dreaming

by Eve Fisher
"All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey.
I've been for a walk on a winter's day.
I'd be safe and warm if I lived in L.A.
California dreamin' on such a winter's day..."
     The Mamas and the Papas  
Case Study House No. 22.JPGWell, maybe not safe, and maybe not warm:  a rainy California winter day can soak you to the bone, and as for safety, well, everyone has their own definition.  Some of the scariest moments of my life happened in California, and a few of the best.  But safety isn't always what you really want.  And sometimes I do wax nostalgic for the California of my youth.  The weather, the beaches, the surfers, the food (avocados everywhere), and the mix.  Every kind of music, architecture, food, neighborhood, ethnic / religious / racial / sexual type.  Juicy.  But cool with it.  You can blend in, you can hang out, you can just watch.

And there's a lot to watch in California.  From a woman grocery shopping in a bathing suit and high heels - in 1960 - to Julius Caesar XII in full toga, from the guy who used to drive around in a military tank to the DeLorean contingent, to people riding around in stretch limos, picking up hitchhikers to ask if they've heard their latest song on the radio.  (Which literally happened to me.)  Or meet up with some random person and end up in a three-day poker game in the Hills.  (Which literally happened to me.  One of the participants gave me a guitar.)  Or live on the cheap in a broken-down brick hotel, with hallways from hell, and - (but more on the Blackburn later).  California, a place of empty afternoons, sun-kissed dread, a sense of a past and future being lost... (but more from Jim Gavin later)

This fall, I watched Lodge 49 on AMC, my new favorite show. If you missed it, go to On Demand and catch up.  From the first episode, when ex-surfer Dud (played by a pitch-perfect Wyatt Russell), limping (a snake bit his foot) around Long Beach, finds the magic ring that leads him to Lodge 49 of the Ancient and Benevolent Order of the Lynx, I was in.

Lodge 49
From left, Ernie, sitting, Blaise standing, Dud, sitting,
and, of course, the corpse.
For one thing, the characters are great:

Liz (Sonya Cassidy), Dud's sister and polar opposite, works as Hooters-style waitress even thought she's much smarter than that.  By a quirk and a jerk, she gets into one of those boot-camp-style executive try-outs that you hear about but never get in.  And ends up making the final cut, to her own (and everyone else's) amazement.  Even better, when she finally gets a chance to talk to Chief Executive Janet, who really likes her, Liz throws herself off the executive yacht.  I like people who know a cage when they see one, and run like hell.  (Don't worry - she makes it to shore.)

Blaise (David Pasquesi), resident philosopher and alchemist, bartender, pot-seller, and apothecary dreams of finding the One True Lodge.

Ernie (Brent Jennings), Knight to Dud's Squire, a perpetually exasperated plumbing supplies salesman working for the perpetually exasperating Brian Doyle-Murray.  Ernie is looking for the really big score via the Captain (Bruce Campbell of Bubba Ho-Tep) who, when finally found, frolicking in a blow-up wading pool, is a con being conned while conning other cons - so California.

Image result for lodge 49
Liz, Dud, and Ernie
And Dud, who glues all of these and more together.  He's a lot more than an ex-surfer with a crippled foot.  He's game for anything.  He is, according to Blaise, someone who knows what's going on.  He is, according to Larry, the Leader of the Lodge, "part of the True Lodge.  He's very special."  Of course, Larry (Kenneth Welsh) appears to be crazy as a loon, and it soon turns out that he has pretty much ruined the Lodge's finances by living off the Lodge and spending a vast sum on the True Scrolls which have since been lost.  But what's a little embezzlement when you're trying to save the Sacred Scrolls?  Meanwhile, Dud might be saving Ernie's exasperated, tired, worn-out-with-hoping soul.  And be turning him into a true Knight again.  And vice versa.

  • Meanwhile, there's a live seal that shows up every time something strange is about to happen.
  • The occasional hallucination (?) of dragons on the part of almost everyone.
  • The sanctum sanctorum turns out to have an even more sanctum sanctorum with a resident reliquam corpus


Plus Jim Gavin, its creator, truly captures the feeling of California:  “Years and years of reading, combined with years and years of working dead end jobs. I wanted to capture the SoCal landscape that I know and love — freeways, strip malls, burger joints — and infuse it with a sense of grandeur and mystery.”  (LALoyolan)

It works because California is all extremes - it's a state where Pat Brown, Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown have all been governors.  There are (or were) cults, communes, branches, insurance salesmen and con men everywhere.  There are just as many bogus land developers in California as Florida, it's just that they're better surfers.  Sometimes.  With better music in the background.  Southern California and Northern California have almost nothing in common, and San Francisco is the equivalent of an Italian city state.

And there's the entertainment industry, which looms over everything like the Catholic Church in Italy.  It's why all the beauty pageant / talent show / body builder contest winners go to California, because they know they've got a shot.  And then they run into each other and every other beauty pageant / talent show / body builder contest winner from the last 40 years, and they have to figure out how to stand out.  And make a living.  Porn, physical trainers, child minders, pool boys, escort services, waitstaff, and clerks, are mostly made up of former winners, terrified of becoming losers, willing to do anything to crack into show business and become a winner again.  Often beginning - and, sadly, ending - with plastic surgery.  Since everyone tries to go to the best plastic surgeons, the same best plastic surgeons, sooner or later everyone gets The Look:  whether perky blond(e)s, sharp brunettes, feisty redheads, strong-jawed military, girl/boy next door, Number 12 Looks Just Like You.

Photo by Bengt Nyman
Flickr IMG_3770
Which is why the most interesting people in L.A. are all the other residents:  from the somewhat normal people which keep everything going to the downright crazy people, who all came out because, well, anything can happen, and while you're waiting, there's surfing.

Which brings us to the old Blackburn Hotel, which probably got torn down years ago, but was LA's version of the Chelsea Hotel in NYC, one of the few cheap, cheap, cheap places in a major city.  Because Los Angeles, like New York City, is a Third World country, where the rich and famous hang out cheek by jowl with the street people.  Where you can go from homeless to famous in two degrees of separation.  Or less.  Where anyone can end up as a star, or at least in a movie.  Hell, I woke up one morning at the Blackburn, and came downstairs to find people actually shooting a scene in the lobby.  Cables everywhere, and me with a hangover.

Anyway, I fell in love Lodge 49:  Thankfully it's been renewed for Season 2, so go binge-watch it on AMC On Demand, and wait, with great anticipation, for what happens as Ernie heads to Mexico with "El Confidente" (Cheech Marin)  to find the Sacred Scrolls.  And maybe find out how the reliquiam corpus got dead.  And how can you get from Long Beach Lodge 49 to London Central Lodge so quickly?

Meanwhile, enjoy Season 1.  Like California, like life, it's episodic and irrational, but with an underlying rhythm.  Full of hints and glimpses of a deeper meaning, and very strong on the universal need for a quest.  There are Arthurian legends and old mythology (is Dud a young Achilles, a young Fisher King, or simply Adam?  Or are he and his sister really Apollo and Artemis?).  There's alchemy, magic, hope and dragons.  And a lot of quietly wonderful dialog.


"We both have a background in residential hydronics."
“What’s the use of living forever if you’re all alone on a Sunday?”
“It’s a basic feature of capitalism: You can’t get loose, even on weekends.”
“It was perfect, but I didn’t realize it was perfect until later.”
“People always go looking for unicorns when we’ve got rhinos.”

"Signs and symbols, Ernie."



21 February 2018

There Was A Wicked Messenger

by Robert Lopresti

I have lots of friends on FaceBook, some of them I have known since childhood and some I wouldn't know if they bit me.  That's the nature of FB.

Not long ago one of that latter group contacted me on the FaceBook app called Messenger.  It became pretty clear that something shifty was going on and, checking out that friend's FB page I found a note saying "Ignore any messages from him.  His account has been hacked."  Well, by then I was too interested to ignore them.




Alas, I didn't spot the typos here. (I was in a restaurant wating for lunch to arrive.) I meant to say "I enjoyed their singing but frankly their dancework..."



??? indeed.

At that point I gave up.  But if I had sent one more message it would have gone something like this:

I contacted the sponsors and they said they left the names of some winners on the list at the request of the FBI.  You see, it turns out some real scumbags are trying to rip off the winners. I hate people like that, don't you?  How do they spend all day trying to rob people who never did them any harm and then use those same hands to caress their lovers or comfort their children?  How do they talk to their mothers knowing how ashamed those mothers would be if they knew the truth about them?  Please be careful, my friend. There is a lot of evil out there.

By the way, a few days after this happened to me the same thing happened to Neil Steinberg, one of my favorite columnists.  You can read about what he did here.

02 July 2015

What We Do for Love...

by Eve Fisher


Here are a few tips regarding those who wish to remain among the unincarcerated:

(1) Don't pick up work-release prisoners and give them a ride anywhere but directly to the pen.
(2) Don't pick up work-release prisoners and take them over to your house for a cup of coffee, much less a six-pack of beer.
(3) Don't pick up work-release prisoners and take them over to your house for sex.
(4) Don't have sex with inmates, even if it's in your car, and you're sure there are no cameras around.
(5) Don't take anything from an inmate, even if it's just a little picture that they want to give you because you're so nice.
(6) Don't give anything to an inmate, even if it's just a picture of you so that they'll always have a memento.
(7) Don't agree to bring anything in to an inmate, even if it will make them so happy and you're their only friend.
(8) Don't agree to give/buy/sell anything to/from an inmate's relative, friend, significant other, etc., even if their grandmother is dying.
(9) Don't have sex with an inmate's relative, friend, significant other, etc., even if they really, really, really find you attractive and always have.
(10) Don't have sex with an inmate, even if the supply closet/classroom/staff bathroom is open and unoccupied and no one's in the pod watching and/or another inmate will keep an eye out for anyone coming.
(11) Don't have sex with an inmate.

Sadly, it happens all the time.  Every year at volunteer/guard training, we hear the stories:  this guard picked up a prisoner on their way home from work-release, took them for a ride, took them home, took them here, took them there...  Had a little coffee/soda/beer/drugs/sex with them.  That guard brought in cell phones/chew/drugs for a prisoner, who paid them with sex and/or cold hard cash. Another person had an affair with a prisoner, and when another prisoner found out about it, the person got blackmailed into having sex with that prisoner, too.  And when yet another inmate found out about that, suddenly the person had to start smuggling contraband...  And then there was the case of a person who got caught having sex with a prisoner, and the prisoner turned around and sued the person for sexual harassment and rape under PREA.  And won.

In each case, beginning the long march to losing job, family, and freedom.

Prison inmates Richard Matt and David Sweat are seen in enhanced pictures released by the New York State police

I'm sure you've all been following the story of convicted murderers Richard Matt and David Sweat, who escaped from the Clinton Correctional facility in upstate New York with the help of two prison employees, Officer Gene Palmer (a prison guard) and Joyce Mitchell (who supervised inmates working in the prison's tailor shop).  I know I have.  (Just as I was finishing this up, Mr. Matt was killed, and Mr. Sweat was wounded and  back in custody.)  Now, I wasn't surprised at all that the prisoners tried to escape, and not that surprised that they succeeded - it happens.  After all, they have all the time in their sentence to sit and think up more or less inventive ways of getting out.  And every once in a while, they come up with a doozy.  One that actually works.  I'm just glad that this time no one was killed in the escape.

But what did surprise me, what always surprises me, is that some employees helped them.  To put it in the simplest English, "WHAT THE HELL WERE THEY THINKING?"
Danged if I know.

Gene Palmer: 5 Things to Know About Second Prison Worker Arrested in Escape Plot
Gene Palmer, in custody, looking shell-shocked

I do know that many inmates are really good at manipulating people.  If it wasn't their way of making a living out on outside, it sure is now.  Here's a great article which outlines a basic prison con:
http://www.correctionsone.com/corrections/articles/6349020-Downing-a-duck-How-inmates-manipulate/

First, they groom a person. This usually takes the form of either flattery or comfort.  Inmates pay very close attention to staff and volunteers, what they say, how they look, how they act.  (And, no, they literally don't have anything better to do.)  And so they might pay that staff member a compliment, or talk about what a difference the volunteer has made, or how good they are at something.  Given enough time (and believe me, the prisoners  have plenty of time), warm fuzzies abound...

Secondly, they talk, talk, talk, and get the staff/volunteer to talk, talk, talk.  Friendship blossoms. Confidences are made.  Perhaps about something that is slightly... illicit.  That's called instant blackmail.  And suddenly the staff member agrees to look the other way when the rules are bent a little.  And then that little indiscretion is used to hook the person into overlooking rules being really bent, broken, and thrown out in the trash.  And then the prisoners own the staff/volunteer, and anything is possible.  As we've seen.

Personally, I almost feel sorry for Joyce Mitchell (51), who was obviously led to believe that David Sweat (35) was in love with her.  I'll have to hand it to him, he took his time in landing her.  And, even though she still denies having sex with the man (while other inmates are heavily ratting them out and saying yes, they did, over and over again), I kind of hope she got something out of it besides the sickening knowledge that she was used, used, used, because she's going to prison herself, and it would be awful to trade away your entire life for absolutely nothing.


Joyce Mitchell is accused of helping two killers escape an upstate New York prison David Sweat remains at large

But I do not understand, at all, Officer Palmer trading his career and his freedom away for paintings. (At least the cell phone smugglers got money.)  I heard that he's claimed he was getting intelligence on illegal behavior in prison - but everything he did was (1) illegal according to the rules and (2) completely backfired because he ended up giving them at least some of the tools they needed to escape.  He appears to be one of those workers who came to sympathize more with the prisoners than with the institution.  Not that uncommon.  Prison is not a pleasant place to be in, no matter which side of the bars you're on.  But at some point, you've got to be aware of what you're trading when you become the duck.  You're trading your career, perhaps your family and friends, and all of your freedom in order to be a sucker.  A big fat waddling duck.

Prison Gangs
It's really simple:  don't violate the rules and don't trust the prisoners.  Be courteous, professional, even friendly (as in business friendly).  Do your job.  Be present.  Listen.  Care.  But don't trust them with your stuff, your mind, your body, your family, your freedom.  The con games never stop, and you are the obvious target, because you can get them something they want, something they need, and who knows?  You might even get them out of prison.  And put yourself IN.