Sunday, September 15, 2019

428. Scams, and How to Beat Them


A week from today, on Sunday, September 22, Silas and I and my books will be at the Brooklyn Book Festival at Borough Hall, Brooklyn, table 120, toward the north end of Borough Hall.  The fair runs from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.  If you're in the neighborhood, come by and say hello.  Also, Borough Hall is easily accessible by subway.  (If I, not knowing Brooklyn, can get there, so can anyone.) Because Silas and I will be meeting at my apartment at 9:00 a.m. or even a little earlier, I may not have time to do a post that day.  If not, I'll do it Monday or Tuesday.  The fair is outdoors, rain or shine.  We'll have a canopy over us, but we'll still pray for good weather.

Silas and me at the Brooklyn Book Festival, 2018.
A breezy day.  This time I'll wear a cap.

       Scams, and How to Beat Them

I have been scammed a lot.  Recently I got a phone call, ostensibly from my bank, but the woman spoke so fast that I couldn’t understand a word.  Leery of scams by phone, I told her to write me and hung up, knowing that if it was a legitimate call, she would know my address.  A day or two later I got not one but two letters from J.P. Morgan Chase in Ohio, saying that they had returned (i.e, not honored) two checks, each for $9,500, written on my savings account by someone in Missouri.  If I knew who wrote the checks and the transactions were legitimate, I should contact them immediately. 

         The checks were clearly fraudulent, so I was relieved that the bank had done the right thing.  But some good instinct prompted me to contact an official at my local Chase branch, and she urged me to come in and show her the letters.   When I did, she assured me that my account was secure, and then showed me printouts of the checks involved.  They were written by the scammer to herself and then endorsed for deposit only, but were drawn on my savings account.  Somehow she had learned the routing number of my bank and account number of my savings account.

         As the bank representative explained, the checks, though they looked like authentic Chase checks, were suspect for several reasons:

·      They were drawn on my savings account, whose routing number and account number appeared at the bottom of each check.  But that’s not what savings accounts are for; one writes checks on checking accounts.  Why did she do this?  Because she had the account number only for my savings account.
·      It was especially suspect to write two large checks in quick succession.  Why not just a check for a small sum, to see if it would work?  Then, if it was accepted, write a larger check.
·      Because of some federal regulation that I haven't grasped, the feds become involved if the amount of the check is $10,000 or more.  Knowing this, banks are suspicious of checks involving sums just under that amount.

         So the fraud had been thwarted, but there was more to do.  First, freeze the existing savings account, to prevent further fraud.  Next, open a new savings account, and inform Social Security that my monthly checks should now go into it.  Then, wait.  If the scammer should write another check on my old account, the bank where she tries to deposit it will get the message, ACCOUNT FROZEN / FRAUD ALERT.  At that point the scammer will be exposed and maybe get arrested.  The bank representative I was dealing with assured me that this had happened more than once right there in my branch bank.  Exposed, the scammer bolts for the door; some are caught, some escape.  So the old account,  though frozen, will stay open for two months, after which it will be closed forever.

         The bank official went on to inform me that all kinds of scams are widespread today.  For example, scammers have some small portable device that lets them read the information on an ATM card when it is taken out to be inserted in an ATM; the card’s owner is completely unaware of this.  Technologically, the scammers are one step ahead of the banks and the authorities, who are forever scrambling to catch up.  Constant vigilance is the best defense, and thanks to it my bank detected the fraudulent attempt to withdraw a large sum from my savings account.

         This scam was new to me, but I have knowledge of several others. 

·      The fear scam.  You get a phone call with a recorded voice telling you that if you don’t do something immediately, you will suffer dire consequences.  It may be seemingly from your bank, your credit card outfit, or Social Security, who claim they have been trying to reach you, and this is the last notice you will get, before they take action.  The scammers hope that fear will prompt you to give them information they can use.
·      The shame scam.  You get an e-mail saying that the scammer has hacked into an account of yours and sees that you’ve been visiting naughty sites online, and if you don’t fork over a stated sum at once, probably in bitcoins, your employer, friends, and family will be informed.  Getting such an e-mail, I just laugh and delete it, for I haven’t visited any such site.  But a friend of mine had, and when a scammer tried to blackmail him, he refused to pay.  He didn’t care if others were informed; in fact, he alerted them to the situation.  He refused to be motivated by shame.
·      The grandchild-in-trouble scam.  An elderly person gets word that a grandchild – usually a grandson – is in some kind of trouble and desperately needs money.  The scammer is counting on a grandparent’s indulgence and generosity, when it comes to grandkids, and it often works.  But when I get such a phone call, as I once did three times in a row, I just laugh it off, having no grandchild.
·      The sudden friendship or aloha scam.  You get a delightful e-mail, seemingly from a young woman, saying that, to judge by your profile, she thinks you are an interesting person and she would like to be friends with you.  I call this an aloha scam, because I got one such e-mail that began with a hearty “Aloha!”  I almost answered it, but then held back.  My profile?  Which profile, where?  And why is she so eager to be friends with a stranger?  Suspicious, I deleted the e-mail and have never regretted doing so.
·      The credit card scam.  You get a very official-looking e-mail informing you that there has been suspicious activity in your credit card account, so they need some personal information from you to protect your account. 

         As regards the last one, savvy as I am in such matters (or so I like to think), I’ve been fooled twice.  The first time the scammer was lucky, for certain recent events made me think the message was legit.  When dubious charges to my credit card followed, I questioned them and had to get a new card.  Then, a few months later, I got a similar e-mail and foolishly supplied some information.  The next day I realized my mistake, reported my card lost (there was no online option to report the fraud), tore it up, and got a new one.  You know the saying: Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  And I thought myself so savvy!  Moral:  We’re all vulnerable.  Even the most (self-styled) savvy operator can get fooled.  The remedy: eternal vigilance.  When in doubt, don’t interact with them in any way, delete the message, do nothing. 

         Some of the scams are obvious, some are not.  Scamming strikes me as a vile and foolish way to spend your time, but even if  only one person out of a hundred is duped into giving up money or information, it is probably worth it for the scammer financially.  Some scammers, I suspect, are living high, very high, on the hog.

         And so, good luck to all.  Illegitimis non carborundum.  Don’t let the bastards get you down.  Least of all, the scammers.

Coming soon:  When gays savage gays: the issue that splits the gay world down the middle.

©   2019   Clifford Browder

Sunday, September 8, 2019

427. Hot Silver


For information on my books, see my post BROWDERBOOKS.  I am also on Facebook.  Should you be inclined (i.e., nosey), from my Facebook personal page you can go to Browderbooksbiz, my business page.  

And on September 22 BROWDERBOOKS -- meaning me, my books, and my young friend Silas -- will be at the Brooklyn Book Festival, table 120, toward the northern end of Borough Hall, Brooklyn.  If you're in the neighborhood, come by and say hello.

Less is more vs. Description

The result of my query to eleven friends as to which of two subtitles for a book entitled New Yorkers they preferred, the short one or the long one.  

1.                                  NEW YORKERS 
                             THEY 'LL ASTONISH YOU

2.                                NEW YORKERS 

Six preferred the short one, four preferred the long one, and one had no preference.  A divided opinion, edging toward short.  So why have I opted for the long one?

It's a matter of less is more vs. description.  The advantage of the short one: the subtitle, as well as the title, is easy to remember.  But as an expert in these matters advised me, the long, descriptive subtitle is more inclusive, casts a wider net for readers.  More detail means more hooks to snag potential readers browsing online.  There's a good argument on either side, but I've chosen description over less is more.

Blackness that glows

I'm still reading the journals of my deceased partner Bob and am up to volume 22, which covers February 2001 to March 2002. Seated in his favorite Chinese restaurant, scribbling for hours in an elegant bound volume bought in Venice, Bob records his reaction to 9/11, the decay of his beloved Coney Island, time, change, aging, and the loss of old friends.  Also mentioned is the shaking right hand that has corrupted the handwriting he once took pride in (and which may be a sign of the Parkinson's that would in time grind him down and kill him).  His entries are repetitious, for this is only a diary, not a finished work.  But at times he becomes a poet.  On December 19, 2001, at age 64, Bob wrote:

I break into the ether.  To find a way to the black rose and all the charmed dark flowers in the imagination's center.  And to do it perhaps in page-by-page installments in this Venetian journal, within the elysia of my preferred Chinese haven.  I will attempt to crack the secret formula....
          There is a blackness that glows like the integrity of inner range.  It now exists in a Coney Island of death, the long past years.  The corridors and tunnels and serpent tracks.  Petrified in blackest serenity.  Let me choose exacter words.  Ping.  On the head.  The blackness of remembrance. Draperies of black chiffon hang across the structures and spaces.  Or blackest carbon.  Carboniferous paradise by the sea.  Entrenched. Engulfed.  Blooms of black orchidaceae, stalactites, stalagmites, the fall of onyx water through the ridges of the remembered illusions.
          I seize the artifice, by the integers of its construction.  Once pieced together in the forgotten hours of labor, by hands dead now.  The dead yielded to death and the aftermath is a grim one.  Yet grimly beautiful, too.  This I aver -- that the deathscape is glittering in darkest lights.  To be re-seen, in effigy, in smoke, in perspiration, dim collapse, shards, whorls of universe, becoming indeed black stars in a surrounding milky way.  There, you see, is the sequestered Dome, the Kubla Khan apex.  And no Coleridge to assist.  Merely my anchors and props.  My means to the inner field.  I will try.

          What is one to make of this?  Like a lot of poetry, it is imaged, both allusive and elusive, and less than crystal clear.  I take it as the inspired musings of an atheist groping with the mysteries of decay and death.  He mourns the deterioration of Coney Island, a place where he always felt free.  He has seen death claim his father and mother and many friends, and senses keenly his own mortality.  But there is beauty in the darkness, in whose depths may be found the sequestered Dome, the meaning we aspire to and seek.  And toward this goal he will strive.  The Dome is a reference to Coleridge's opium-inspired poem "Kubla Khan," where the emperor "a stately pleasure dome decrees."  But Bob's real literary icons were Proust, for remembrance of things past, and Samuel Beckett, for an eerie and obsessive awareness of decay and death.  What are Bob's later journals, if not a chronicle of the relentless march of time, and his determination to live life fully despite the approach of decrepitude and death?

                        Hot Silver

A recent Sunday was another perfect West Village day, sunny but mild, and not muggy.  I lunched again at Philip Marie, where I asked the young African American hostess if she missed Texas.  "Not on a day like this," she said, with the warmest smile.  "There, you don't get days like this."  And when, after my usual Greek yogurt followed by a cappuccino, I was leaving, I told her, "And I don't miss Illinois."  "Today," she said, "this is the place to be!"

          Given the weather, I decided to walk a ways down West 11th Street toward the river, and ended up going all the way and sitting on a bench near the water.  There was a blue sky with puffs of white cumulus clouds, and a mild breeze.  Rippled by the breeze, the gray-blue water flashed with the dancing dots of hot silver that I so love, and that in my rare poetic moments (yes, I have them too) I call the face of God.

          Walking on to Pier 46, I went out on it and, while other people played ball and did calisthenics on the wide expanse of fake grass, I looked over the side to see if any shoots of seaside goldenrod were sprouting in the rotten wood of the old pier underneath the new one.  

File:Solidago sempervirens L. - seaside goldenrod (3772294571).jpg
Sam Fraser-Smith

They were everywhere, proof that the summer weather had given them just the right mix of sun and rain, promising an array of bright spiky blossoms in a month or so.  As usual, I was the only one who was aware of them.

          Beyond that, I stopped in my favorite riverside garden, with its bronze rendering of the Big Apple, over which -- or rather through which -- New Yorkers love to crawl, since it is forbidden.  I had the garden to myself and saw it in its rich late-summer splendor: bright spots of red flowers; clusters of blue mint (paired leaves, square stems, and lipped flowers say mint); orange-colored blossoms here and there; pink roses on a thorny bush; a white butterfly fluttering among the flowers; leaves with every shade of green; masses of bright yellow flowers that assault the eye; and in the near distance, sounds of zooming traffic on West Street.  "Too early for Monarchs," I told myself, since they migrate in September and early October.  

File:Chrysanthemum coronarium May 2008.jpg

But as soon as I had said this to myself, I saw a solitary Monarch, his orange wings with black tracery, feeding in the mint.  

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It was a rich spectacle such as one sees only on a mild late-summer day.  I will treasure the memory of it.

Coming soon:  Scams, and How They Hook Us.

©   2019   Clifford Browder

Sunday, September 1, 2019

426. Moray eels, Gregorian chants, and the Charlest


Good news:  My historical novel The Eye That Never Sleeps got a good review from Sublime Book Review.  They call it a detective story enlivened with historical detail.  I'm still waiting for that inevitable bad review that usually comes, sooner or later, but so far it hasn't happened. For all my books, go here.

As most of you know,  I'm on Facebook.  For my personal page, go here. For my business page, go here.  And please, "like" the business page, if you can.  Silly as it is, I'm trying to play the Facebook game, and "likes" are a part of it.  

Upon reading my rant about Facebook not being a user-friendly site, my friend Patrick, who is Facebook-savvy, sent me this message:  "I think what you've started to realize with Facebook is that they're there for their purposes, not for ours. (Wow, that sentence contained three homophones!)"

Point taken.  And by the way, do you know what a homophone is?  And if you do, what is a heterophone?


This post will be a bundle of Fivesies -- things that come to me in fives.


1.   a coral reef
2.   a painted bunting
3.   Lake Tear of the Clouds, Feldspar Brook, and the Opalescent River
4.   wild horses galloping
5.   black ice rising from the polar sea 


1.   Jacques Cousteau has described coral reefs as resembling dwarf skulls, petrified mauve bushes, witches’ heads, white walking canes by the hundreds, and frozen parasols, inhabited by feather bonnets that explode into the stinging spines of the lion fish, and moray eels glowering from crevices and baring their savage teeth.  

File:Beautiful coral reef, Batangas, Anilao - panoramio.jpg
andre oortgijs

Who wouldn’t want to see such wonders, even at the risk of rapture of the depths, when the diver is tempted by mysterious populations still deeper, and risks madness and death.

File:Murena con gamberetto pulitore.jpg
Moray eel
Carlo Codispoti

2.   In the opinion of many, our most beautiful bird, the male flaunting bold splotches of blue, green, and red.  I have never seen him, since he disdains the usual south-to-north spring migration path of Eastern birds that brings them to the Ramble in Central Park and to me.  Instead, he winters in southern Florida and points south, then migrates westward to the American Southwest, or to coastal Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.  And to make matters worse for birdwatchers, he is secretive and hard to observe.

File:Painted Bunting (47102039584).jpg
Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren

3.   The lake is the source of the Hudson River in the far north of the state, high in the Adirondacks. Water from the lake pours into the brook and the river.  The very names of all three enchant me.  (No illustration can match what I imagine.)

4.   I have seen such horses in the 1953 French film Crin blanc (White Mane), which shows them galloping about the Camargue, a region in southern France bounded by the Mediterranean on the south, and the two arms of the Rhône delta.  In the film the leader of the herd is a white-maned horse, hence the title.  Unknown to tourists, the Camargue has lakes and marshlands that are a haven for wild birds, but also, as seen in the film, herds of wild horses, and the French cowboys that try to capture and tame them.  Though I have never seen them, wild horses also run free in the American West, grazing belly-deep in tall grasses, often dotting the hills as far as the eye can see.  Having removed them from public land, where their grazing has depleted the grasses, the Bureau of Land Management stores 46,000 of them on some 60 private ranches at a cost that eats up much of the Bureau’s budget.  The horses’ natural enemies, wolves and mountain lions, have been eradicated, allowing the horses to reproduce to the point that the grasslands are overgrazed and in danger.  But for me, an Easterner far removed from the West, wild horses suggest a magnificent force of nature that we humans have yet to subdue.

File:Wild horses in Camargue.JPG
Wild horses in the Camargue.

5.   Such a phenomenon is described in Robert Macfarlane’s recent bestseller, Underland: A Deep Time Journey, of which I read a review.  He saw a huge mass of black ice rise suddenly out of the Arctic sea, then sink again into the water, perhaps never to be seen again.  (For more about him, see my post #416 and scroll down.)

File:The polar and tropical worlds - a description of man and nature in the polar and equatorial regions of the globe (1874) (14591075859).jpg
Polar ice, an 1874 illustration.  But imagine it suddenly erupting
from the depths of the sea.


1.   I can sing the Marseillaise in French.
2.   I can dance the Charleston.
3.   I can sing Lili Marlene in German.
4.   Singlehanded, I repaired a double-hung window.
5.   I learned the optative in Greek.


1.   It’s easier on the voice than the Star-Spangled Banner.  Oddly enough, I last sang it with new acquaintances following a sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner on Staten Island.

File:Secretary Kerry Attends Bastille Day Festivities in Paris, France (28197342072).jpg
Bastille Day, 2016.  A band playing it on the Champs Elysées, 
at the start of the annual parade.

2.   Listen, at ninety that’s not bad.  I learned it on YouTube.

File:The Charleston as an aid to the game LCCN96524788.jpg
Teaching the Charleston to basketball players as an aid to the game, 1926.
Everyone was doing it.  The instructor's cloche hat is unmistakably 1920s.

3.   A song sung on both sides of the lines in Europe and North Africa during World War II.  The British in North Africa got it from the Germans, and the GI’s got it from the British and brought it back here after the war.  Many versions; I learned the original German one sung by Lale Andersen, first broadcast from Radio Belgrade in occupied Yugoslavia in 1941.  Dietrich and others later did it in English.  It's all about a woman who stands beneath a lamppost by a barracks gate, but no, she's not that kind of woman.  It's all about wartime loneliness and longing.

File:Postkartenmotiv Paris1942 Lilli-Marleen B001.png
A German propaganda postcard, 1942.  Illustration for the words
"Underneath the lamppost / By the barracks gate ..."

4.   Not once, but twice.  I was replacing a broken sash cord with chain.  The sash cord or chain lets you raise and lower the window.  You have to remove some wood paneling to get at the cord or chain and fix it, and then replace the paneling.  At times you’re tilting the whole window out of its frame.  It’s a miracle I didn’t drop it out the open frame and send it crashing down to the street.  I love the French name: fenêtre à guillotine.

File:INTERIOR OR BEDROOM NO. 1 SHOWING 1-LIGHT OVER 1-LIGHT, DOUBLE-HUNG WINDOW ON EAST WALL. VIEW TO SOUTHEAST. - Bishop Creek Hydroelectric System, Plant 6, Cashbaugh-Kilpatrick HAER CAL,14-BISH.V,7A-22.tif
Just an ordinary window, but imagine taking it out of its frame.

5. You think the subjunctive in French or Spanish or Latin is hard?  Classical Greek also has the optative.  It’s like a second subjunctive.  For example: Χαίροιμι ἄν, εἰ πορεύοισθε (I’d be happy, if you could travel).


1.   Hiked the full length of the Appalachian Trail.
2.   Danced up a storm with Brooke Astor.
3.   Heard Lawrence Olivier in a famous double bill.
4.   Become friends with a young French student who had spent a year in the States.
5.   Heard a Gregorian chant in an old French church, ideally Chartres cathedral.


1.  Over 2,000 miles long, it goes from Georgia to Maine.  You start in Georgia in April, end up in Maine in October.  You carry condensed food with you in your pack, let your hair grow wild, long for a hot shower.  It's all up and down, strictly for twenty-year-olds.  A day walker, I've done short stretches, including the Lemon Squeezer and the start of Agony Grind.  Only the start of the Grind, a long, steep climb that lives up to its name.

File:Appalachian Trail near top of Snowbird Mountain - Flickr - pellaea.jpg
Endlessly through woods, and up and down and up and down and up.
Jason Hollinger

2.  Known as the Aristocrat of the People, on her tours of schools, day-care centers, and homeless shelters in need of foundation money, she endeared herself to janitors and secretaries and guards.  But in high-society gatherings at night, she flirted with every male in sight, and when she heard wild music pulsing through her, even in  her eighties she danced up a storm.  Our paths never crossed, but I have felt that music too and danced to it like crazy.  Wild, mindless fun.

3.  I never saw the performance, but heard about it from someone who had.  As Oedipus, when blinded, he uttered a bone-chilling scream that left the audience stricken.  Then, after an intermission, he came prancing onstage as a Restoration fop.  For the friend who told me about it, it was the most unforgettable performance that he had ever seen.

4.  A student at a lycée, he had just spent a year in the U.S.  I met him at a party for foreign students in Lyons.  When I asked him about his life in the States, he said, "La vie est plus large."  Hard to translate: life here is broader, richer, less constricted.  Regrettably, I never saw him again to ask him to explain in detail.  He was quiet, self-contained, perhaps in the long run deep, and reluctant to risk his English in a public gathering.  In private I could have encouraged him, become his friend.  One of those should-have-beens that never was.  My mistake, not his.  Missed opportunities can haunt you for years.

5.  I love Gregorian chants for their simplicity, no music other than the human voice.  Two eighteenth-century parchments with the chants, which I got in Paris long ago, hang on my living room wall; with effort, I can translate the Latin words.


And I love Chartres cathedral for its sculpture and its breathtaking stained-glass windows.  To experience the two simultaneously would be an unforgettable experience, but one that I have never achieved.  But dreams live on, stubbornly, teasingly, poignantly.

File:Chartres2006 060.jpg

Coming soon:  Hot Silver

©   2019   Clifford Browder