I had taken the day off, uncharacteristically, and was glued to CNN as I watched events play out in Syria. Living in Israel gave me more than a vested interest in the unfolding situation. My gas mask sat on the coffee table silently. Eventually, I decorated it with stickers.
Idly, I read over various Facebook status updates about the developing situation. I began to feel more and more worried. I tried to look at some pictures of kitties and puppies. No good.
In the past few weeks, I had received several messages a week in my "other" inbox on Facebook. Great declarations of love and interest in me from, no doubt, hacked Facebook accounts. In fact, there'd been a precipitous increase in these messages. Wearily, I blocked and deleted them without giving it much thought. The men always appear to be over 45, very plain, but friendly looking guys, often with double chins. These men have "fallen in love with" my "beautiful green eyes" (they're blue). They see by my profile picture that I am "the one woman" for them. My "in a relationship" status seems to elude them. They are very lonely and would like to start off as friends. Etc. You know, that kind of thing.
One can't help but think that it would take a real rube to fall for such clumsy, over-the-top advances from a total stranger who is clearly attempting to scam women (and men, it happens to them too but they are often too embarrassed to admit it) out of hundreds if not thousands of dollars. It's an oldie but a goodie, this scam. Who falls for it? Plenty of people, as it turns out.
Finally, mustering all my self-discipline, I turned off CNN. Enough. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen. As I prepared to pick up a book and try to get my mind off things, I checked my Facebook, that wily addiction, one last time.
"Hello Pretty Angel," a message in my inbox read,
I would like to start by sending you my warmest wishes for the day, I am very much interested in you and I want to know you better. I wish my message will bring you happiness, and I will be eager to read your reply soon, i was just browse through face book today and I saw your profile and decided to say hi. You look gentle and attractive though... and I wish we can become friends OK, Tell me more about yourself. I live and work here in Bedford City United Kingdom Hope to hear form you soon Thanks and God bless you.
Suddenly a mischievous urge took hold of me. Damn the gas mask, damn this worry -- what would happen if I took the bait? How ridiculous could I be and get away with it?
Far, far more than I ever dreamt possible.
So, I replied:
Dear Robert, I was SO happy to get your message! And -- you called me an angel! I'm interested in getting to know you too! Let's start with our favorite colors. Mine's blue. What's yours? What did you have for breakfast? I had some cottage cheese and plums. I just love plums. What's your favorite fruit? Do you also like plums? My favorite activity is taking long walks in the rain -- what is your favorite activity? Sometimes I like to also read books and once I tried to learn to knit but I just couldn't do it since I had that farm accident a few years ago and some of my fingers got sliced off. But I'm telling you too much! I can't wait to hear back! Isn't it great they let me use the internet while in the federal penitentiary? Twice each day, for good behavior. I can't WAIT to check my messages again unless that stupid Shirley gives me heck again in which case I might get my good behavior revoked. But don't worry about her, I can take her and she knows that from last time. Write back soon! xoxoxooxox
To my amazement, perhaps twenty minutes later, my new paramour wrote me back.
Hello my Sweet Angel, It was really nice hearing from you after I had sent you a note over your profile. How are you? Sorry are you a Christian? Hope you don't mind my religion? Because I am a Christian. Well I don't mind religion as long as I can get real friendship and ideal love from you then I am OK and satisfied.
You may want to tell me some more about yourself in the area of: religion, and what you will like to get out of this friendship assuming it grows positively... well about me just as I promised I have to tell you about myself in full and I have to start it by saying,I am Eng Robbert Thomas , the only son of late Eng Martins of the blessed memory from Bed-ford united Kingdom .
My father was one of the successful engineers with his company here in Bed-ford working so hard to make a better future for us. My father died due to the heart attack. i have a son named Luke he is 17 years of age his mother passed away from cancer of the breast since 4 years ago . mean while my favorite fruit is Orange , activity i do like going to movies .It is a time in my life when I feel I need a woman in my life because I feel quite insecure without life time partner and I really need to get married and settle down so I can build my own family, I need a caring and a loving woman who will understand me and take me for what I am because I believe in simplicity and I do accept people for who they are irrespective of their Race, Tribe, Religion & Culture otherwise lets get to know better and see how it goes.
Have a wonderful day and do send my regards to your family & friends over there with you. Really you made me feel at home , your message gave me a renewed mind to give you more time in sending you this mail and that was why I decided to tell you every bit about myself and am waiting for you to tell me about yourself too.I have to stop here for now till when I will hear from you again.
Game on. This was better than CNN. Way better than wondering when or if Obama was going to strike Syria. It was way, way better than constantly updating new sites for the latest.
Hi Robert! How amazing to hear back from you so soon! (I'm still on my Internet break here at the prison!) I can't believe you like oranges - I like them TOO! Well, as for religion, I am a Pagan and I do enjoy blood rituals in the forest. Hope that's not too weird for you. Nobody ever gets hurt. Except for Shirley but she stood right in the way that time. But that was before the police came. I have a 17 year old too! His name is Murgatroyd but we just call him Murgie. I used to be married too but my husband died of "mysterious circumstances" when really, I know exactly what happened. But I can't really talk about that online. All will be explained when they find the body. Tell me more about you!!
A long silence ensues. Hours. Game over. I won. I had successfully, temporarily entertained myself out of thinking about victims of chemical warfare. I had succeeded in freaking Robert out.
Then this -
what got you into the prison by the way?
and just moments later, this -
where exactly are you from and where do you live?
I couldn't help it. The writer in me -- the trickster -- just... I couldn't stop myself. Besides, I was beginning to identify with my alter-ego, with my fake friend Shirley, with my life in the pen. It was better than worrying about global events out of my control:
Dear Robert, well it was that Shirley. We knocked over a Dunkin Donuts but it was HER idea in the first place! I told her it was stupid but she wouldn't listen. I had NO Idea there was a federal agent in there on a coffee break. Seems like those guys are always on coffee breaks. That's how we both wound up here in Yazoo, Mississippi. I'm originally from Florida, up in the north part. I tell you, I have a lot of money buried in the backyard and I can't wait to get out of here to enjoy it! I put it in Folgers cans and buried it late at night when Walter (that's my ex, bless his heart) was out at his ice skating lessons. I figured he'd go for hockey but Walter was a big fan of figure skating - go figure! HA! I made a joke! Well, life in prison is pretty tough but that Murgie sends me letters a lot from his special school in Utah. I sure do miss that boy. My favorite candy bars are Mars bars, how about you? What kind of candy do you like? I also like Captain Crunch quite a bit. And also marshmallows! I like marshmallows a whole lot. I have a real sweet tooth! How about you, do you like Mars bars also? xoxoxo
I hit send and laughed so hard I cried. I knew it was stress laughter, I knew I was losing it a bit. And I knew, I just knew, that by now, there was no way in hell anybody would continue to try to woo the crack pot I was creating online. I was wrong:
at first do you wanna be my friend ?
Sure enough, a friend request from double-chinned Robert was in my "other" inbox. I deleted it. Like Kramer in the Seinfeld episode in which he tries to see just how far a car can go with the gas indicator on empty, I just had to find out how much fortitude Robert had left in him:
Dear Robert, I would love to be your friend and do you know what friends do? Friends help out their friends. I have always believed that. Like when Shirley helped me get rid of Walter. But that's another story. We're still friends but she gets on my last nerve. They got her two cells over. We used to barbecue a whole lot before prison. Do you like barbecue? I like barbecue a whole lot but dang it's hard to get a barbecue stain out of your clothes. They have me working in the laundry here in prison and you would not believe how many blood stains I see. Looks like like barbecue but it's not, it's blood which is even harder than barbecue to get out, trust me on that one. They basically like to use giant jugs of all-tempa-Cheer here in the pokey. Get 'em at Costco, I suppose. I don't know where all they come from. But it does get out the blood stains. Tell me more about you? What's your favorite movie? My favorite movie is Saw, you ever see that? Reminds me of Walter. He should never have dented the car the way he did that time. But I shouldn't talk about Walter, I'm bound to scare you away! Listen, I just found out that Murgie has a very rare spleen disorder. I don't know what I'm going to do. Only way I can help him see the doctor is to get some money. If you can help me out, just as friends, it sure would mean the world. I get out of prison in six months, maybe I can do your laundry to pay you back? Or maybe you can go to Florida and help dig some of my money up? I got maybe 10 grand in the backyard. Now that Walter's gone, his brother Earl lives there and he's got a shot gun but if you wait until he's asleep, you can do it. I can give you the address. Earl won't never wake up, he snores like a smokehouse! Well let me know if you can help me out with some cash, I'm very worried about Murgie. Doctor says he has 3 weeks to live! xoxoxo
Robert was not dissuaded.
if you really wanna be my friend kindly accept my friends request. then we can discuss further more .waiting for your immediate responds
Okay this game was getting old. I had proven my point several messages back. After the first response, really. Enough was enough. How could I wind this up? How could I take things up to a notch of such laughable nonsense that even this determined scammer would have to call it quits?
Dear Robert, Facebook won't let me accept any more friend requests for 3 entire months! I have a lot of pen pals, I guess, and they drew the line. Shirl says it's discrimination and I think she might be right. What's wrong with having pen pals! My doctor here in the pen says it has really made a difference with my rage issues and I think he's right because I haven't had a shiv fight in one whole month! Me and Shirl are thinking about getting matching tattoos of your name - Robert - isn't that a great idea! We're gonna do it tomorrow. Listen, I talked to the doctor again and he says the only hope for Murgie is if I get a donor spleen. Is there any way you'd consider that? Donating your spleen? Either that or if you could please send 10 grand, I would really appreciate it! xoxoxo
can we hook up on yahoo messenger right now
Ooh. Okay. Time to get rid of this guy for good. Besides, Obama was about to make a speech from the Rose Garden and you better believe I wasn't going to miss that. Let's wrap this up:
Dear Robert, well, I checked with the warden and he says I have been spending too much time on Facebook and he says I can't use any kind of IM service since because of what happened last time which got me in solitary. So if you can send your spleen or ten grand to Yazoo City, Mississippi, care of Shirley McKidders it would be really, really great! I will check my mail every single day! If you do send your spleen, can you just put some bubble wrap around it and maybe some dry ice like in a cooler for beers? One of those styrofoam ones should be okay. You know like the ones you might take if you were going fishing? One of those. Just pack it good okay? If you could also send some Mars bars I would really appreciate it. xoxoxo
Obama's speech was over. Nothing would happen for now. I felt awash with relief and confusion. What would the world do about this? Could I stow the gas mask?
can we see each other on the camera now . i want us to discuss this particular issue
I blocked Robert and felt mildly anxious. It was fun at first. It was really fun. I made up a very funny, bizarre life filled with references to buried coffee cans of money and possibly having murdered Walter, my fake husband. I had gotten a fake tattoo, I had mentioned my fake problem with rage and having been put in fake solitary.
This scammer was either more stupid and more determined than any scammer I have ever heard of or he was onto me. Maybe the scammer was gaming me right back. Time to get out before Robert found a way to hack my computer, my Facebook, my god knows what.
I had answered my own question: How far can you game a scammer? Pretty damn far.
My Israeli boyfriend comes home, weary from work and I share with him my epistolary relationship with Robert. He doesn't think it's as funny as I do. Too many American cultural references I guess. Obama's a coward, he says as he brushes his teeth. I don't reply. We don't argue about politics, Kobi and I, and in this case, I just don't know what the answer is. Or should be.
But I will tell you this -- I'm going to miss my friend Shirley, two cells down from mine here in Yazoo City Federal Penitentiary. She was really there for me when I was worried about a regional war that might yet come.