Featured Story: Election

Friday, September 28, 2007

My Heart Goes Out

As with most people, I’ve been on the receiving end of many a scam email over the years. As irritating as they are, it puts a smile on my face when I see one of them getting creative.

“Dearest in Islam,” begins the one I received today. The salutation is unique enough to divert my finger from the delete button. I can imagine the scam artist leaning back in his chair, stretching his arms in front of him and cracking his fingers while he thinks, “What character should I invent next?”

Running down a mental list of candidates, he crosses off the Nigerian desperately trying to move his money outside the country, the Russian woman who is looking to "do friendship or more than simply friendship", and the co-ordinator of Lottery Winners International who needs to know how to deliver the jackpot money. Then he reaches “Widow”. Not an instant sell, but maybe it’s got potential. His eyes fall on a copy of The Atlantic Monthly lying next to his keyboard (what, the scammers in your world don’t have a subscription to The Atlantic Monthly? Come join me my friend, my world is a far richer place) and sees an article on President Ahmadinejad denying the existence of gays in Iran. He sits upright, snapping his fingers. “Muslim widow!” he says out loud. “Now that’s an angle!”

Religious affiliations allow our author to appeal to both devotion and fear simultaneously. “Please, let this message not come to you as a surprise, but a divine duty,” begins our widow. I’m already halfway to giving her my bank account details. No one wants to be on the wrong side of God. And no one wants to reject a woman whose husband died and who is herself struggling with cancer. Oh wait, not dire enough. She’s “battling with both cancer and stroke”. That’s more like it. It’s a good thing she didn’t keel over before hitting send. Time’s obviously limited. I better help her quick.

“According to the doctor, my medical report quotes a very short life sperm due to my health status presently.” You want to laugh at the typo, but the situation is too tragic. Poor woman, she doesn't even know what she's saying! By now she's endeared herself to me. I can almost hear our author laughing at his own subversive tactics. I’ve played right into his hands. “Now I’ve got him by the emotional balls,” he thinks.

“Having known my condition I decided to donate this fund to a devoted Muslim individual or a Muslim organization that will utilize this money the way I am going to instruct herein,” continues the widow. As a rule of thumb I try to be honest. I don’t fit into the categories she listed, but then again with the typo she already made, how am I to know she didn’t make a simple grammatical mistake here? Let me fix it. “... I decided to donate this fund to a devoted Muslim, individual, or a Muslim organization that will utilize this money...” Now that’s better. I’m an individual. Sign me up.

“When my late husband was alive he deposited $1.5Million (One Million Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars) with a security and finance company here in Cote d' Ivoire. [...] I am searching for real brother or sister in Islam to assist in using this fund.” Well sister, I’m real. And I’m glad you decided to take a chance on my random email address.

“You will be entitled to 5% of the total amount for your time and kind assistance.” Amen to that! Oh, excuse me, I mean insh'allah. My help’s on the way.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

An Offer I Can Refuse

As soon as I slowed down I realised I was making a mistake. I had just come out of a job interview and was lost in thought as I walked through the SoMa neighbourhood to the San Francisco CalTrain station. The man looked at me as I passed as if he knew me, and I returned his half-smile with a curious expression on my face. I pulled my mind from the interview and back to the present. Did I know him? Maybe we’d bumped into each other when I was working here last year. I stopped and turned around.

“Hi, I’m Jack,” he said, extending his hand.

I shook it and said, “I’m Nigel,” realising a second too late that all was not usual with the situation.

“Where are you headed?”

“To the train station.” And then, because walking away seemed rude and I didn’t know what else to say, “What about you?”

“Wanna go back to my place?” he replied.

“Uh, sorry, I gotta get home,” I said and turned and walked on. If only the companies I’m interviewing with would make me an offer so easily...

Sign of the Times

After a day wandering Chicago’s city streets, from Bronzeville to glitzy retail stores in The Loop to a nighttime view of the skyline from the Hancock Center, I headed to Giordano’s for some Chicago-style pizza. I passed an old lady begging for money.

“Can you spare 10 dollars?” she asked.

It was the surest evidence I’ve seen that the dot-com era is back.


There are a few things I miss about Washington DC. One, the people I grew up with. Two, bagels and whitefish. Three, the sudden summer downpours. So I was more than a little pleased when my bus from New York dropped me off at a DC Metro station just as a storm burst from the clouds. The air became heavy and the sky turned a deep, dark purple. Lightning cracked through the air. And water poured over everything.

Doctor Warren

From Friends / Family

Listening to my sister’s thesis defense presentation, the culmination of 6 years of hard work, I found myself simultaneously impressed and baffled. The thought crossed my mind that getting a Ph.D. is like learning a language only you and a handful of professors are able to understand.

Home Soil

The passport control guard looked at my customs declaration slip, then suspiciously at me.

“What were you doing in all these countries?” he asked, referring to the long list of names I had written in the “countries visited on this trip” section. I wondered if he might confiscate my passport and accuse me of being un-American.

"Travelling," I responded. His expression didn't change, but as I had shaved recently he didn't send me for further questioning. At customs I was diverted from the green “nothing to declare” lane and sent to an inspector. He began questioning me and asked me to put my two bags on the table to be searched. I hoisted my backpack up.

“Oh, a hiking backpack. There’s no way I’m digging through that,” he said. “What’s in the other one?”

I started to list the items. “Some t-shirts, a bottle of vodka—”

“Go on, go on,” he cut me off. "You're fine," he said as he waved me through.

So here I am, back in the States, preparing myself for a string of job interviews. I felt an odd mixture of familiarity and foreignness as I stood in the dark night air after the bus from the airport dropped me at a deserted car park. It’s going to take a while to get used to living here again.