The Ghosts of Flatbush

The sun set only a few hours ago and my hood is quiet. The building across from me is dark, with only half of the windows revealing the dependable orange glow of incandescent light. In one window, I see a Christmas tree. Nobody blasts music. Nobody even washes their cars anymore. The streets are lined with metal carcasses that don’t seem to move for alternate side parking, which is rarely enforced anymore.

Nobody in the building across from me utters a peep. I wonder if some of the residents have left, unable to pay their rent. Or maybe they lie there waiting. Waiting in the dark for the pandemic to be over. Waiting for some hope that neither the city nor the state nor the nation can give them.

There are two kids I once saw on a regular basis in one of the windows. They jumped up and down on their bed sometime around ten and engaged in pillow fights. And they did this through October. When I went into my kitchen to pour a nightcap, I would watch them, feeling some hope that joy and life had not died in Flatbush. But I haven’t seen them in the last six weeks. And I worry about them. I worry that they have been forced out of their unit or that their ability to make the most of a bad situation had reached a natural end point.

Even the guys who used to hang out for hours on the corner are gone. Last year, they stood there until December, pulling hoodies over their heads and chatting and smiling through shivers on chilly days. They likewise departed the streets sometime after Halloween. The only trace that they ever existed are a few bottles left on the sidewalk from their outdoor drinking. The only sign of their conviviality. Nobody has touched the bottles. In ordinary times, I would probably dispose of the trash. But I can’t find it within me to do so. Because those bottles are the only remaining indicator that people were there. I suspect that other neighborhood neatniks, the many here who silently pine for our old ways to return, feel the same way. The empty bottles serve as a memorial. A memorial to how the hood used to be. To how it might be again.

Over Thanksgiving, there was a lot of festive music played in my building. But nobody blasts any music now. They preserve the funereal silence of waiting and not knowing and staying quiet. Of knowing that we’re at the beginning of another crest of COVID infections and who knows how many deaths. Of understanding this is just the beginning of a dark time. A repeat of what went down here in March. The ambulance sirens are more frequent. They often wake me up at 3 AM. And I always think of the person inside ushered at high speeds to an ICU. My eyes moisten as I understand that the patient will probably die, leaving further grief for the patient’s friends and family.

The fight has gone out of people. We’ve accepted this as the new normal. We’ve accepted Trump’s indefensible inaction. We’ve accepted Governor Cuomo’s present “policy” to pledge “very strong action” while not actually doing anything. While keeping indoor dining and gyms open. Sure, there’s a vaccine on the horizon, but it won’t be here for months. We’re not even halfway through this long pain. Every other developed nation has a monthly stimulus check. We have nothing. Unemployment if we’re lucky.

So we sit in our apartments like ghosts. Because to inhabit the corporeal in any form is more exhausting these days, even when we are not in motion. And we need all the energy we can get. Because it’s going to be a long time before things return to normal again.

Robert Carroll: Brooklyn’s Scumbag Scrooge

I’ve spent the last two days trying to tame a great rage I have towards an entitled millennial New York State Assemblyman named Robert Carroll — or “Bobby4Brooklyn,” as this clueless asshat likes to call himself on Twitter. (Sorry, Bobby, but styling your handle like the title of a Prince song doesn’t make you any less whiter.) But I cannot find it within my heart to stifle my indignation towards a remarkably insensitive and entitled dickhead who clearly does not recognize the struggles of people with disabilities, economically disadvantaged New Yorkers who are hanging by a thread for dear life, and the elderly, who are often barely getting by on social security and pensions. Carroll has proposed one of the cruelest and most poorly devised bills I’ve observed in some time. And this dimwitted weasel has the effrontery to call himself a Working Families Party candidate!

In the middle of a pandemic, as many people have been forced to stay indoors and remain socially isolated and thus order packages to get what they need, Carroll has had the audacity to propose a $3 surcharge for any delivery in New York City. The bill — specifically, A06078 — does provide an exception for “essential medical supplies, food deliveries and for those using supplemental nutrition assistance program, special supplemental nutrition for women, infants and children and any other successor program,” but this still leaves a woefully gargantuan set of essential items that will still cause the underprivileged to pay up. Got a deal on a winter coat? Pay $3. Or how about some household goods you need to keep your home in tidy shape? Pay $3. Need a specialized tool for your job that you can’t get elsewhere? Pay $3. Your landlord won’t fix the radiator and you need a heater to stay warm in the winter? Pay $3.

You may be thinking, “Well, $3. That’s not that big of a deal.” Well, how many times have you been forced to order something online when it isn’t available in the store? Or when you’ve feared braving the teeming throngs of people crowding a supermarket? Moreover, if Amazon decides to split up your delivery across multiple packages, would you have to pay $3 for each separate delivery? That would seem to be the case based on the language of the bill. You could easily pay $12 if the algorithm decided to split up a bulk purchase into four separate deliveries. And for many people struggling in New York, $12 could mean the difference between paying this month’s electricity bill or playing Russian roulette with Con Ed, hoping that they won’t shut the lights off after months of falling behind on the payments.

This bill is also a slap in the face to small businesses, who are often forced to shell out for UPS and FedEx in an effort to keep their customers happy and fend off the big online behemoths. Amazon has succeeded in undercutting small businesses by pricing down goods at a reduced profit margin. The cash-strapped New Yorker is often forced to go with the cheaper deal. But what if that $3 surcharge — theoretically on every item — is simply too much for someone looking for loose change under the couch to stay alive? Well, they may go to the retail stores. They could clog the parking lots, creating the very congestion that Carroll, in his infinite imperiousness, claims to be fighting.

Our fundamental goal here in New York is to prevent people from socially congregating as much as possible. According to the Washington Post, social gatherings are leading the COVID spread. The spread has been so disastrous that Governor Cuomo was forced to cap social gatherings at ten people. Moreover, in an age in which three dollars is the new thirty dollars, Carroll’s bill is a repugnant war on the working class. All the funds generated by this would go to bailing out the MTA — which, not to put too fine a point on it, hasn’t exactly been known for its financial scrupulousness. Disabled people — who rely on deliveries in order to survive and who cannot use the subway easily due to the fact that only 77% of stations are accessible — are now being asked to bear the financial brunt of a public transportation service that has declared itself enemy to their mobility. And what about the immunocompromised? Surely, it’s an unfair financial burden on them as well.

Carroll clearly hasn’t thought out these obvious drawbacks to his bill. The $300 million he hopes to generate annually from a bill aimed at regular people would be a drop in the bucket for Amazon, which Carroll hasn’t targeted and which made $96.1 billion in revenue during the third quarter of 2020. If you asked Amazon to pick up the $30 million tab, that would be .3% of just one quarter of revenue. For the struggling New Yorker who has only $90 to buy an $89 winter coat, that would mean a $92 bill that he could not pay.

Robert Carroll is, in short, a heartless Scrooge for even considering this punitive scheme. He has received righteous pushback on Twitter and is too much of a cowardly Jacob Frey type to man up and address the criticism and walk back the bill. Since social media opened up a glorious can of whoop-ass on Carroll and his foolish and unjust bill, Carroll has tried to mask his assault on the working class by aligning himself with a “tax the rich” campaign and hypocritically stumping against state pension dollars divested to gas an doil.

Well, it won’t work, Bobby. We now know that you’re an enemy of the people. We know that you’re a Scrooge and that you’re actively contributing to undermining public health during a pandemic.

If Carroll manages to pass this bill, here is my promise. I will put my energies into supporting any 44th District candidate who will primary him. I will knock on doors to expose this charlatan and tilt votes. I will do everything in my power to ensure that Carroll loses his seat.

Asking the people — especially disabled people who cannot use the subway — to take a tax hit for a corrupt and bloated agency that requires significant reform is an unconscionable and morally unjust act. You surrender any right to call yourself a defender of the people when this bill is your “big idea.”

So what’s it going to be, Bobby? Are you going to walk this vile bill back and admit that you did not think this thing through? As a man of Brooklyn, I will be the first person to defend you if you do so.

Or will you continue to remain smug and stubborn? Will you continue to believe that you know what’s best for the people of Brooklyn? If that’s the case, I’ll be happy to volunteer my time and energy to become a significant factor to ending your political career with a sizable turnout in the next election.

The choice, Bobby, is yours.

The Rules of Brooklyn

Here is a story that delineates one of many reasons I love Brooklyn and why I am tremendously honored to live here.

I was out of coffee filters. So I went to the cash-only bodega to replenish my supply. As far as I’m concerned, a life without coffee is comparable to an existence without oxygen, ice cream, good books, and Cobra Kai. It simply cannot be done.

Anyway, there was a long line. Some white kid was at the head of the line. He was clearly unfamiliar with the neighborhood. He had the bushy-eyed confusion of someone who had landed here after an unanticipated Tinder hookup the night before. Hey, it happens. And I’m sympathetic. I had been there many times myself in my twenties, albeit without the carnality-on-demand advantages of a dating app. Kids these days really have no idea how easy they have it.

The kid was holding everything up, trying to buy a bottle of Diet Coke (of course!) with his credit card, not realizing that a credit card company imposes a ridiculous surcharge for any credit card transaction under $10. Which is often why cash-only policies are implemented. The bodega owner politely informed him that his establishment was cash-only.

Now, at this point, the kid here was on terra firma. Because the rules of Brooklyn dictate that everyone gives a novice a fair shake to learn the rules. It’s a beautiful egalitarianism neatly enforced by social mores. Truly, one of Brooklyn’s standout characteristics. You say nothing and you give the newcomer the opportunity to figure out what the system is and to respect it. In 90% of the cases, the bemused neophyte figures out the social codex and all is well and pleasantries are exchanged.

But this kid made the mistake of taking umbrage with the cash-only policy. He proceeded to hector and interrogate the owner.

Now the owner is a kind and very funny man with a low bullshit threshold whose respect you really have to earn over time. (It took me months to win him over. And I’m a fairly affable fellow.) Everyone in the bodega was deeply familiar with the owner’s character. Many of us are on a first-name basis with him. And we all knew that this was neither a man nor an establishment that you wanted to cross. And really there was absolutely no reason to behave like this, particularly since the bodega owner was so congenial. Everybody in the bodega immediately recognized the kid’s grave solecism in taking complaint with the place and the policy. And because the owner is a seasoned man who knows what to do when such calamities transpire, he smiled. He knew what was coming. He allowed the universe to do its thing. He let his devoted customer base do the work.

The customers in the store began shouting and singing variations of “cash and carry only, buddy” and “If you ain’t got the cash, you won’t fill your stash.” The small store erupted into a series of side-splitting threnodies that were truly impressive in volume and inventive variety. The kid walked out of the place, knowing that he had been rightfully hazed for being imperious.

The kid made the mistake of trying to exercise his privilege while not knowing the rules of Brooklyn, which are so easy to grasp. And he violated a vital corollary: if you are being a loutish jerk, the people will not tolerate it. But, of course, you’re welcome to return once you learn the rules and abide by them. And we Brooklynites will receive you with open arms, erasing any previous errors in judgment from our memory and engaging you in convivial small talk.

In my view, this is just as it should be anywhere in the world.

The Other Side of Pippa Bacca

“Enjoy your life before fifty,” says the fifty-year-old woman over the phone. “While it lasts.”

It was a strangely mordant statement from someone who I had matched with on Tinder and who professed to be looking for a relationship. I asked her why she couldn’t have a life after fifty. She seemed convinced that her life was over. She didn’t have an answer. I got the sense that she gave up on life ten years before. She was cynical and condescending. She spoke in a bitter and joyless voice. She told me that she resented my energy, the fact that I tend to talk and act like someone having a fun time. That there is something performative about my nature. Maybe she’s right. But I was born with the peppy voice that I have and I can’t be anything other than who I am.

I didn’t like her, especially after she told me of her elitist aspirations to live in a Long Island manse and have people attend upon her. While she does what exactly? Recline on a chaise longue and eat bon-bons?

Still, I carry on talking with her under the wrongheaded theory that she might offer a few redeeming morsels. And let’s face it. I’m as alone as everybody else. We talk about food. I mention all the food I made during Thanksgiving, the care packages I delivered to a few friends who were holed up alone. I talk about how making things tends to calm me and bring me peace. She says she has no interest in learning how to cook. She has no interest in anything really, other than to complain and kvetch and demand. I give her an hour of my time and permanently close off communications with her by text the next morning.

* * *

I have less than five years left before I hit fifty. I don’t want to be embittered when I hit that landmark. I still want to walk this earth with joy and promise and hope in my heart and bones. I still contain great vivacity and am still often confused for a younger man. My eyes still flicker with mischief and burn with possibility. I don’t demand anything of the world other than the privilege of living and being and listening and connecting. And, of course, making things.

* * *

I read Nathalie Léger’s The White Dress in one sitting, just before the sun brightened the dark December sky, an onyx decidedly crisper than the gentler shades of summer. I bought the book months ago from one of my favorite independent presses: Dorothy, a Publishing Project. Every year, they put out two groundbreaking titles by women. I have to confess that this new volume – one of two by Léger — was not nearly as good as Suite for Barbara Loden, which greatly moved me. I have not yet read Exposition, which sits in my bookpile for another pre-dawn meditation. Despite my slight disappointment, The White Dress does have me considering the ways in which women present themselves as artistic offerings and how audiences take advantage of this trust, resorting to repugnant and harmful behavior. The book examines this long problem by focusing mostly on Pippa Bacca, a young woman who participated in a project called “Brides on Tour,” a stunt somewhere between art and humanitarianism. The idea was to wear nothing but a white wedding dress, hitchhike like this anywhere, and to provide a message of peace and trust. But Bacca was too trusting of people. Bacca’s dead and naked body, decomposed for weeks, was discovered in the wilderness. She had been strangled. The man who led the police to Bacca’s corpse confessed that he had murdered her. Depending upon the account you read, it is believed that multiple men raped her.

It is a horrible story because Bacca wanted to believe in people. And she was raped and killed for this.

It is a horrible story because Bacca was someone who was a gushing optimist. And we need more of that these days. But her faith in humankind was betrayed. Not only did the vile man rape and murder her, but he also wiped her phone of her information, further eroding her identity and her legacy.

* * *

Pippa Bacca was only 33. What kind of woman would she have become if she lived beyond fifty? Would she have eventually reached a place of cynicism, leaving her faith behind? Would some other terrible incident have happened to her along the way? Women endure so much and say nothing.

* * *

Was I too dismissive of the fifty-year-old woman? It seems pretty clear in hindsight that I should not have talked with her longer than ten minutes, that we were fated not to get each other because I need hopeful people in my life, and that I am performing something of an injustice by even dragging her into these ruminations and exercising my privilege to write about her. Undoubtedly, she has her story about me. Perhaps I was a jackass on the phone. But I gave her an hour, as I do with anyone. Life is a pretty bland and unfruitful affair if you only talk with people who mimic your thoughts and sentiments. Groupthink is a ritual for the permanently incurious.

The fifty-year-old woman I talked to had every right to feel miserable and to take umbrage with my exuberance. Many people do. You can’t please everyone. Take my own participation out of the picture and you could chalk up the fifty-year-old woman’s pugnacity to a gesture that was as large as Pippa Bacca’s. Maybe her cynicism is just as worthy of reverence as Pippa Bacca’s faith in others, which is admittedly more palatable and thus more tragic. If Pippa Bacca had not been an artist with a hopeful humanist ethos, would she get a book? A documentary? Countless news stories? If Bacca had been more acerbic, there is no doubt in my mind that a number of writers upholding the patriarchy would blame her temperament and partially exonerate the nasty man who committed the evil act. Or maybe these armchair amateur shrinks would diagnose Bacca with mental illness or offer any number of speculative theories to “explain” what happened.

* * *

I’ll give Nathalie Léger the last word, just so she’ll know that at least one reader is paying attention and seriously considering what she’s writing about:

[G]oodness is a word that sticks, all right, it’s a word you want to throttle, and yet, I ask, with even more passion because no one is actually paying attention, who would claim that this word has no meaning, who would dare say that it’s shameful or even a dangerous word? Who wouldn’t suspect that behind the absurd insistence of her act, she had actually wanted, graciously, to hide within the folds of her dress the goodness that tacitly shaped her uncertain heart? This foolishness, this over the top, sentimental gesture – misplaced, according to quite a lot of people – was without a doubt a grand gesture, and a grand gesture is not a coalition of intentions cleverly conceived to serve our shamelessness, a grand gesture, I mumbled, a grand gesture might also be a failed gesture, history easily demonstrates this, at least in that it only records the successful gestures, fixing them in capital letters when one might rather investigate the possibility that the meaning of things and of lives – can only be written in lower case and must perhaps even be scratched out. Who would dare to claim that an individual failure cancels out the overall idea? Is it the case, though this is just an example, is it the case that the very idea of writing is rendered ridiculous because someone whom one thought was a writer failed to erect a small monument in words to Pippa Bacca?

The Limits of Escapism

I should be laughing and shaking off the sediment. Feeling joy roiling from my rouse heart. Finding a liminal space to land. The television show I am streaming is comedic and should make me happy in theory, but it is too close to a life I once lived, one now presently impossible to live. The images are too vivid, too palpable, too recognizably amateurish, frustratingly reproducible only nine months before. I wish I could succumb to this work of art, giving myself over to it completely. I see what it is trying to do and, deep down, I commend it. In another year, I would be chortling over its clever premise and singing its praises and telling anyone who will listen to me that this is something that speaks the truth and is worth the journey. But I can’t. And I feel ashamed that I cannot give this show the attention it clearly deserves. As the ghosts of how I once lived melt across my monitor, as the images of a quotidian life that will not be possible for at least another year haunt my starved soul, I feel the tug of deep grief. And I am shocked to find myself crying.

This wasn’t the case a few months ago. Who knows how I’ll react six months from now?

These days, I can’t handle the images of New Yorkers slapping each other on the back and talking within inches of each other. The casual cigarette exchanged from one person to another just outside a bar. The hugs. All the hugs. All the physical contact. The kissing. The banter. The ability to walk into a random building and get into trouble and have an adventure. The small talk. The eccentrics and the true originals in the subway. The packed elevators. All of this is now gone. Sure, you can find bits of it here and there. There are still buskers in the Village. There are still dependable outliers shouting obscenities in the streets. There are still friends you can see if both of you take a rapid test the day before and the results are negative and you haven’t seen anyone for a week. But even then you are taking a calculated risk. You see people escaping the cold into enclosed tents with heat lamps, tempting fate as they drop their masks for a meal and the underpaid and undertipped waitstaff nervously serves them, some of them terrified out of their minds. Outdoor dining was fine when there was plenty of air and you could feel the warm sun pour onto your skin and you felt that the setup was reasonably safe for you and the servers who braved this new world. But despite many enticing invites, I can’t bring myself to take the plunge for this new “outdoor dining,” which is decidedly indoor.

We all know that existence won’t be fully restored for a while. Yet we try to live anyway, often forgetting that we are in a pandemic.

After ten minutes of watching the show, I can’t watch any more. I’ve reached my limit. Perhaps it is the documentary quality that is too real. Perhaps I recognize myself as a potential participant within the frame. What I know is that I cannot escape into a world that bears strong resemblance to what my universe used to be. If I am seeing New York from twenty years ago, it sits sufficiently enough in the past for me to enjoy it. If it is science fiction or fantasy, particularly if there are preposterous creatures, even better. But if it is true to me, if there is a strong likelihood that I could meet and know these people in my former regular life, then I find my heart pleating and retreating, tightening into a balled bundle of wistful tension. I can read books and listen to podcasts. Because I am using my imagination and using my memory on my own terms. But the stark visuals of once ubiquitous panoramas are just too much.

I am fatigued by the screens. I have grown exhausted by the Zoom meetings. If there is a potential romantic partner, I insist on voice only for that vital vetting. Because the voice is as close to human presence as we can get these days. It’s a ludicrous burden to get dressed up and tidy up everything that’s going to be within the camera’s range if you’re not even going to meet. Better to talk with a prospective paramour in your boxers. Or nothing at all if you’re spending the endless days going commando.

It goes without saying that we were never meant to live such a disembodied life. Theatre has survived for centuries because there is no better substitute for emotional intimacy other than face-to-face contact. Our best moments happen in the flesh. And that is no longer possible.

The reason so many of us have ordered so many items by mail is not merely because we need them. It is not blind consumerism. It is not merely because there’s a certain comfort in getting a new item by mail. A new item in the mail is like a present, particularly if one forgets ordering it, which is often what happens to me. If we can’t have other people, what we can have in our lives is something tangible, something we can touch. I ordered a dozen board games just so I could feel the cards and grasp the tokens and roll the dice and clomp around the splayed out board as if I had four other friends in my apartment. (I was fortunate to have a friend come by to play some of these games with me. But, for the most part, I’m carrying out imagined multiplayer scenarios on my own. This is ridiculous and possibly a little pathetic.)

Home used to be something you returned to. Now it is a place you stay. For living. For work. And no matter how comfortable or ideal your home may be, no matter how much you have, there comes a point for anyone in which escapism has its limits. How many of us will crack permanently before we have a nationally distributed vaccine?

Work Ethic

We tell ourselves that there is virtue in hard work. That if we push ourselves beyond our limits, it will somehow pay off. But there’s always some con man out there who can get you: a villian who is willing to punch lower than his colleagues, who knows no bottom level of cruelty, and who defies the baseline of what any decent human being should never do.

It happened to me. And I hate myself for it. I was fleeced. Of my pride. Of my confidence. Of my identity. I fell victim to an identity thief because I wanted to believe that I was worth something. Because I wanted to believe that I was good. Because I try to have faith in people. Anyone who knows me knows that I have a work ethic that rivals a Victorian sweathouse. Well, that work ethic is gone. And I don’t know when I’ll find it again. I feel raped. Listless. Unemployable. My future gone. My potential extinguished.

It wasn’t always like this.

I’d started the year with such promise. I had turned my life around. I was in demand. People were hiring me. Recognizing my talent. Seeing that I was a fun and decent man. And they were employing me at what I was best at doing. What I loved doing. What I’d be doing anyway even if there wasn’t a paycheck attached. Audio production. Writing. What I lived and breathed. What I poured all my heart and soul into.

After six years of toiling without complaint at office jobs, I’d finally summoned the courage to freelance again, stumbling onto the magic formula that allowed me to pay my rent. I was cleaning up copy for a television network. I was serving as a story consultant for a podcast in development. I was writing voiceover scripts. It all happened so fast. February now seems so long ago, but it’s important to remember that, before wearing a mask became part of the social contract, it felt like a time in which you could do anything. The editors I spoke with over the phone loved me. I felt like the luckiest man alive. Not only was I immensely grateful for all of these opportunities, but this work gave me pride. Meaning. Purpose. Hope. Faith. Friends noticed I was so much calmer and more pleasant to be around. I honored the universe’s generosity by working myself to the bone. By being the kindest and most thoughtful man I could be. By being the guy you really wanted to have on your team.

Then the pandemic hit. And all the gigs evaporated.

I had some savings. So I decided to ride my way through the pandemic. It would only last a few months, right? I worked twelve hour days. I didn’t want a pandemic, much less anything, to stop me. I edited and released thirteen episodes of my audio drama, sometimes summoning my then girlfriend (now friend) to record some goofy background characters. She was more of a natural ham than she knew. And I wanted her to be included in my creative life.

A writer friend -– bless her soul for her mischievous machinations –- egged me on to write fiction. So I wrote a 75,000 word draft of a wild comedic novel in three months. I would spring from bed at 5 AM and write, accompanied by my girlfriend’s cat, who would often lay at my feet as I typed. The cat had become one of my biggest fans. When I finished another 1,000 word installment, I would read the latest chapter of my book-in-progress to my girlfriend, often offering a breakfast in bed option, watching her smile and observing the points where she laughed, which was often, for later revision. Then I would edit my audio drama for another eight hours or so before cutting myself off from my creative labor to make dinner and spend quality time with my girlfriend. She was a savvy news junkie who was good enough to fill me in on the latest developments. We looked after each other for weeks. Beta readers – including a number of published authors who are not easy to impress — told me how much my writing had improved and how this novel was going to be the skeleton key for people to finally understand my oddball empathy-driven soul. Beta listeners offered similar feedback on my dramatizations for the ear. So I stayed busy. I worked. I made things. I found peace in making things. There were a few nights in which I drank too much wine. But who didn’t buckle a little bit under the pressure? I kept at it.

But I had a finite amount of savings. I needed a job. I couldn’t keep at this forever.

It turned out that my girlfriend and I worked better as friends than lovers. It was nobody’s fault. I returned to Brooklyn in late April, feeling ashamed for fleeing my beloved neighborhood. This was my city. This was the place that turned me into a workhorse. This was the city that made me. It was also the city that had nearly ruined me. But I found the resilience and the humility to bounce back. And the city rewarded me for my pluck. Because that is the covenant of living in New York. If you work your ass off here, you will make it.

There came a point in early summer in which I knew I would need to look for work. I had once pulled myself out of homelessness and into a marvelous one bedroom apartment through sheer tenacity and indefatigable resilience. My life could be summed up as a historical record of overcoming countless challenges. Surely, I could emerge victorious over this one.

And so I applied to jobs.

330 jobs, according to my spreadsheet.

Mostly nothing back. Sometimes a form rejection letter.

The toughest job hunt of my life.

In October, I came very close to landing a dream job as an audio producer. It was down to me and another person. I busted my ass to show that I was the best. I sent endless show notes and ideas and audio cuts and guest lists. I carried on as if I had the job already. The executive producer – a very kind and talented journalist — was impressed. But he went with the other person. To come so close to something I was so right for and to not get it. Well, it was crushing. But I was greatly honored to have been considered and to have made it as far as I did.

Still, I was demoralized. Back to square one.

Enter the scammer one week after I learned that I didn’t get the producer job. He had enough information for me to corroborate against the company’s website. The COO’s name was Ed Sople. “Ed Sople” was also the name of the scammer. The company was Dellbrook JKS. The address he used matched up. The logo he used matched up. The names he used matched up. It seemed curious to me that he never wanted to talk on the phone. I actually left a voicemail for the real Ed Sople, pleasantly introducing myself as his new data wrangler, but he never called me back. I figured that the guy was just some weird eccentric in Massachusetts who didn’t like to use the phone.

The con man promised me a job. A job that would pay my rent and carry me through 2021. It turned out to be a lie and a scam. I learned later that the guy had bamboozled three other people. He used a Gmail and a Telegram account. I reported the account to both. But, of course, I never received an acknowledgment from either company. And there is, of course, no phone number at either Google or Telegram that I can call. No person I can speak to. That’s how these scammers operate. They find the services in which they can’t be shut down because these libertarian techbros believe they know best and extirpate all customer service options. And the scammers steal from victims with impunity.

The racket was this. You get an offer letter that you sign so that the scammer has your signature. You give out your address and phone number, as well as a copy of your driver’s license – which is natural, because you generally need to submit two forms of identification for a job anyway. You are told that you’re going to get a check in the mail to set up a home office for a remote position. You receive a list of equipment. But the check in the mail doesn’t arrive. The scammer says that the department is going to send along a debit card. That never arrives. You ask about direct deposit. But that somehow isn’t an option. Then the scammer asks if you have a credit card and says that he wants to wire you $5,000 into your account. Could you send the front and the back of the credit card?

I needed the job. But this was a huge red flag. So I sent him the front and back of the card and called my credit card company to cancel it. Once, the scammer had my card, he then asked me for the last four digits of my social security number. I asked if this was something I could give him over the phone.

I called Dellbroook. Heard back from the real Sople and the human resources person. It was a scam. A scam they knew about. A scam that they haven’t reported on their website to help protect other victims.

I was smart enough to catch on to the scammer before he had too many of my details. But I still feel so incredibly stupid to have been suckered along as long as I was. He had enough of my details to do some damage if he wanted to. I’ve spent the last 24 hours cancelling credit cards and talking with the authorities when not drowning myself in Maker’s Mark. Because I’m too hurt, too wounded right now to go through the terrible process of applying to jobs I’m highly overqualified for and hearing nothing back. But I have no other choice. I need a job. But then so does everyone. I can’t get through to the New York unemployment people through the telephone or the website. In a world in which scammers have no shame and a deadly virus is unstoppable because too many maskless yahoos believe they are immune, you’d think that there would be reliable resources to provide for the people. But there isn’t. Because the new way of life is government leaving people in the cold. Letting them starve. Letting them die.

And I’m angry. This scammer stole weeks of my life that I could have spent job hunting. Vital weeks before the holidays. Weeks that count that are now gone.

I am debt-free right now. Next month, I won’t be. I weep knowing that I may be facing a significant financial hole through no fault of my own. I’m a hard worker. I don’t want to owe anyone a thing. When I got a job after a nervous breakdown, the first thing I did was pay back anyone who had ever given any money to me during my tough times. I worked hard to pull myself out of debt over two years after losing everything I had. I lived like a starving grad student. Skimped out on anything really to get the balance to zero as swiftly as possible.

I know others have it much worse off than I do. And I feel ashamed to complain. But if I don’t say anything, I’ll never be able to discover some shred of self-respect. Other people have invented lies about me online, even weaponizing these fictions on social media to strip me of any dignity and to belittle my work. But this scammer went one step beyond the cyberbullies. He made me believe that I was worth something. And now I don’t know if I’m worth anything at all. What’s the point of having a work ethic if the people who hold the purse strings tell you that you have no value? In 2020, a work ethic is no better than an empty whiskey bottle.