If you were to drive by our home in Beverly Hills, you would think that the people who live there have it made. The lawn is green. The trees are tall and leafy. The flowers are vibrant and the paint is clean and white.
But in fact, my wife and I are under more or less constant attack.
Someone hacked my Citibank MasterCard starting a few months ago. He started charging things on my card while I was in North Idaho. He charged over $30,000 worth at local stores in Southern California while — at the same hours — I was charging groceries and gasoline in Sandpoint, Idaho. Somehow, this never triggered any suspicion by Citi. It took me weeks and days on the phone with Citibank to get this cleared up. I am not at all certain it’s cleared up yet.
Last summer, my wife got an AT&T “smart phone.” The services she signed up for were supposed to cost about $100 a month. Instead, her bills were $1,500 a month. When we inquired about this, we were told it was because of all of my wife’s business downloads, videogames, sports apps, and international calls.
My wife does not have a business, has never had a business, never downloaded anything except a few pictures of our granddaughter, has never played a videogame in her life (neither have I), has never used a sports app (nor have I), and has never made an international call. It has taken roughly eight hours on the phone, five visits to the AT&T store and warranty center, a letter to the head of AT&T, to finally determine that the phone is faulty and is telling the command center that it is being used for all of these apps that it is not in fact using. We were told months ago that it would be fixed. It is almost November now and it is still not fixed. I have not seen a credit from mighty multi-billion dollar AT&T to fully compensate little us — not counting the value of our time — for this mistake. I would call it theft.
Bloomingdale’s is a nice store and my wife used to shop there forty years ago. She has not been in there since Nixon was President. Someone opened a charge card there in her name with a Brooklyn mailing address and bills started to appear. Five phone calls to Bloomingdale’s later, we are still getting those bills, only now with late fees and interest.
Our beautiful daughter in law had a Chase card that we paid. It was hacked. We canceled it and ordered new ones. They were hacked before we even got them in the mail. The hackers also had a Brooklyn address.
This is not to mention the fact that even in our green and leafy neighborhood, when we put mail in our U.S. Postal Service mail boxes on nearby corners, the mail is routinely stolen out of them.
I could also talk about my checks made out for hundreds that the payee forges to make it thousands. The checks get paid and we have to file complaints. It takes so long I cannot even recall if we ever got credited back.
I am not by any means a perfect citizen. But I am not stealing from anyone. Yet my wife and I, and millions, maybe tens of millions like us, are just fat juicy farm animals for the vampire bats of modern day theft, most of it done on the Internet. We are pitiful wayfaring travelers robbed blind as we go about our lives. I have no idea at all of what to do about it. We have Lifelock to protect us. We have Identity Hawk. I used to do commercials for the parent of the latter. I have not been saved by either of them so far.
I don’t like being robbed, even if it is over the Internet or by Ma Bell. Maybe time for some Internet guru to make his trillion saving us poor rubes. Maybe.
Meanwhile, Fall is finally coming to Los Angeles. The evenings are actually bearable. And evening is coming to my wife and me. Who really knows how much time we have left or in what condition we will be in to enjoy it. I treat every day as precious. I especially treat every day with Big Wifey as precious. Patient beyond compare. Forgiving beyond what is human.
Beautiful from the day I met her when she had just turned 19 until now, when she is 67, in fact more beautiful every day. Hilariously witty and politically incorrect. Never a mean word out of her mouth, never a mean thought.
Often as I am driving around L.A., stuck in traffic, waiting for a parking place at the hellish lot that attends our nearby Pavilions Grocery Store, watching some airheads on TV, I think, “I have failed at so much in my life. I have screwed up so much. God gave me a good family, a secure life in America, freedom from physical fear, a world without Nazis anywhere nearby, a devoted sister, and I still feel like a total loser much of the time.”
But then I think, “I have Alex. I have not got billions of dollars. I have no yacht. But what I do have is the world’s finest woman as my wife.” Then I laugh out loud with pleasure in my car or in the soft drink line at Pavilions or wherever I am. I have Alex and no amount of billions can equal Alex or one hour of Alex’s devoted time.
Gratitude. That is my mantra. For Alex. For America. For Col. Dale Denman, Jr., war hero in Germany and in Vietnam. For Bob Denman, war hero in Korea. For all of our fighting men and women and their families. For all police and firefighters.
I live comfortably. Not like a yachtsman, but comfortably. Thank you, Merrill Lynch. Thank you, Fidelity. Thank you, Phil DeMuth. Thank you, Ray Lucia, temporarily absent super financial advisor. Thank you, Warren Buffett, who lets little people like me tag onto his historically unique genius. Thank you, Peter Morton, who let me be an early investor in the Hard Rock Cafes. Thank you to Frank and Karen Hathaway, who have managed one of the best run companies on earth for generations —the Los Angeles Athletic Club, of which I am proud to be a small part owner. I have never met people of greater integrity.
Thank you to the mighty super agent, Marcia Hurwitz. Thank you to the lawyers who have defended me when extortionists came around and beaten them back.
Thank you Mom and Pop, who made sure I never wanted for any material thing. For my sister, who cleaned up after me when I vomited on myself the first time I ever got drunk back in 10th grade.
Thank you for my Weimaraners and German short-haired pointers who smooth out the rough places.
And again, thank you, dear God, for your agent on this earth, my Big Wifey, a living saint.
Now, to watch a documentary about the horrors of World War I, narrated by the great Robert Ryan, R.I.P., and to be thankful I was nowhere hear Arras, and then to sleep.
Oh, and thank you for air conditioning.