Scams Make you Feel Old


 Ever have one of those events in your life that is slightly traumatizing, but in the back of your head you know you’ll laugh at later? Much later.

Recently, I was contacted to become a Mystery Shopper for a few stores in our area. This is a business where you are paid by the store to sneak around, buy things and then write a detailed report of what you witnessed, from cleanliness to customer service. They pay for all expenses and give you an itinerary so you know exactly what the company wants.

Living in New York City stole the Midwest girl out of me. Robbed me blind of trusting others. Because of my jaded outlook, I did some research and learned this “company” was legit. It seemed too good to be true, but I figured they contacted me because of my writing skills and charming personality. Or it could be that I had a Bachelor’s degree in Theater and could complete a sentence.

The initial email correspondence from the company seemed appropriate. There were no mentions of Nigerian Princes wanting to marry my daughters, nor tragic tales of someone being kidnapped in Nepal and losing their travelers checks. If I had a dollar for every email that sounds like this:

“So if you please, Mrs. Stacey, wire money to my bank in my home village in Netanyahu. Blessings.”

So far, no red flags were raised, but I remained cautious.

I even spoke to friends who had heard of this company, which legitimized it more. Plus, my concrete research on… Just kidding, everyone knows that site is bogus and the “facts” can’t be trusted. I did, however, find the Mystery Shopper website and it looked trustworthy.

So when the Priority Mail envelope appeared in my mailbox, I had an extra skip in my step down the sidewalk. I was going to be making some money while shopping! Who could ask for anything better?

It wasn’t until I read the return address on the envelope that a rose color flag clouded my glasses.

Why doesn’t the company have its name on the envelope?

When I opened it up, I expected to find a packet filled with documents on fine paper, with a professional masthead. Instead, I found a piece of copy paper that was tri-folded and lacking any business sense or style.

Why wasn’t the name of the company printed on the letter either?

Still clinging onto hope for the payout, I sadly found a check that looked as if the cheap ink-jet printer I used in college a LONG time ago printed it.

Warning, warning, Will Robinson!

Now the red flag not only slapped me across the face, but also branded a new type of shame on me. I’ve been embarrassed for making mistakes. I’ve had numerous experiences where I made a fool of myself publicly. But why was this scam especially devastating?

It’s probably because I’ve felt the elderly are more prone to getting the wool pulled over their eyes. Naïve and trusting grandparents of the world fall for computer scams, not me!

I’m not old, by golly! Jeepers, I’ve even embraced my age lately, by not flinching at stray grey hairs or shrieking at new wrinkles. But this scam cut the pressed-powder cake in my compact. It’s time to apply ghost white powder to my nose at restaurant tables, and some fire engine red lipstick I scored in the bargain bin at Woolworths.

Actually with time, I’ll crank my Gloria Gaynor LP and survive this pity party – but I better catch a nap first.

Previously printed in The Kansas City Star on November 21, 2015

Reoccurring Dreams are Often a Nightmare

Friends in the mirror may appear crazier than they are

Have you ever had a dream that you went to school in your underwear? Yeah, me neither. That would be awkward to admit.

Actually, I had numerous variations of weird dreams as a child, which I’m sure isn’t surprising to those who know me. I even walked and talked in my sleep. I prefer to think I was chatty even while sleeping.

I became obsessed with analyzing dreams when I grew a bit older. I didn’t have a crystal ball or Tarot cards, and never took money for my services – this “talent” was a mere hobby. Plus, the gypsies weren’t exactly knocking on my door.

Once I checked out a dream analysis book from the public library, eager to explore my friends’ dreams. What a fabulous guest I was to be at slumber parties. In between Mad Libs stories, Ouija boards and the light as a feather game, I was going to be a hit!

Ah, the good ole days when we could be easily lifted by girlfriends, using only four fingers each. It would take a lot more than magic to get me up into the air now!

Several friends divulged dreams where their teeth fell out or crumbled from their mouths for no rhyme or reason. The flying dream was a popular one too. Although I never found my inner Super Girl, I sure thought soaring around town sounded super. The dream where you go to class and the teacher gives a test that’s eighty percent of your grade, but you hadn’t read the material was always horrible.

Recently, my husband and I were invited to a charity event, which was hosted by a friend of his from college. A few of his fraternity brothers from all over the country were coming. Since my husband hadn’t seen many of them in awhile, he wanted to catch up with his buddies and to support his friend.

Several bands were scheduled to play, there was an open bar, and since it was right before Halloween, our invitation requested everyone dress in some kind of Rock and Roll costume.

Since I’m the theater geek and my husband is an engineer, I’m typically the one who loves to create crazy costumes and Hubby politely goes along with it. But this time he insisted we should go all out.

Dressed as Axl Rose from the hard rock band Guns N’ Roses, my husband escorted me, a frightening cross between Marilyn Manson and Ann Wilson from the band Heart. Let’s just say I was working the AARP card-carrying, Goth look.

As we sat in the parking lot outside the venue, I noticed several couples arriving without costumes.

“The invitation did say costumes, right?”

Axl flipped his blonde wig to the side, “Oh, yeah. We won’t be the only ones dressed up.”

Famous last words as we entered the event. There might have been an audible gasp when we strutted through the doors, but I can’t rule out it could have come from me.

It’s an understatement to say we turned a few heads. Many of his normally dressed college friends didn’t recognize us at first. What a surprise! But when it clicked for them, much laughter ensued. Please note that none of it came from my black lipsticked mouth.

I was one mortified Morticia. I wanted to check into a Black Flag Roach Motel and never check out. Instead, I hit the bar – nothing like drowning your sorrows like a band roadie after a killer show.

The next day, I awoke with a mighty headache and eyeliner down to my shoulders. By the standards of every great rocker…I had arrived!

From this experience, I realize the life of a rock star isn’t all that it is cracked up to be. My children can be confident that when their whining is cranked up to a ten, their mom won’t give it all up and join a band.

Actually, I plan to sit in my rocker by the window awaiting the postman. That AARP card is sounding pretty good about now.


My Kids are Scared of Halloween

fear of HalloweenPreviously published in The Kansas City Star newspaper – October 23, 2015

Once upon a time, there were children who hated Halloween.

“Shut your mouth!” the crowd exclaims in unison.

True story.

“How can children not enjoy a holiday, where they can play dress up and receive copious amounts of free candy?” you ask.

Apparently, some kids are afraid of the dark and/or monsters and can experience extreme fears of the holiday far into grade school. Before motherhood, I wouldn’t have believed it, but I have firsthand observed children – due to their overly creative minds and fueled by zombie commercials on the Disney Channel – who have such a fear of all things Halloween they have been knocked out of prime candy-retrieval position for years.

As a child, I remember being afraid that monsters would jump out at me in the middle of the night. That’s normal, right? There was that one time I was dreaming and thought I was being stalked by Scott Baio, but it turns out the poster of him at the foot of my bed was just bad Chachi placement on my part.

Believe it or don’t, but there’s a diagnosable phobia for the fear of Halloween. It’s called Samhainophobia – an obvious choice. Not quite sure how they came up with this catchy title, but I have a sneaking suspicion a gang of scoundrels picked on a guy named Sam Hain on October 31st. And after Sam was found screaming through Town Square in his pajamas with burned poo on his slipper, the gang made amends and named his anxiety after the one they bullied. But I could be wrong.

The first Halloween my girls went all “Sam Hain” down our street was when they were four and three. Most of the house decor was mild, but there was one that aimed to scare the Jujubes out the kids. The lighted ghouls flickered on their aluminum siding. A floating head in a fish bowl cackled when nearing the doorbell. The year before we had tried to get our sweet Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck to inch toward their porch, but that year they were brave and headed to meet the “nice neighbor who wanted to give them candy.”

I’m not sure if a curse word left my lips after the homeowner welcomed us because had I stopped breathing and the kids were screaming so loud I couldn’t hear anything. As my sweet daughters were running like their inner GPS was set to home, I was left alone on the porch with a man dressed as Frankenstein. I said, “Trick or Treat” dressed in my mom jeans, snatched a handful of mini Snickers for me, and thanked him with a shaking voice.

“You’re welcome,” came out of the man’s trachea device. The man who scared my kids was using a device shaped like an electric razor to speak with because he had lost his voice box. It was the kind of device one puts up to his chin to make his voice sound like a terrifying robot.

Really? If he had just come out with no decorations, no costume and dressed like Santa Claus, he would have scarred my children. Thanks for torturing my children for your pleasure.

We moved from that neighborhood, not because of the dear man who lost his vocal chords and his ability to judge what is appropriate for young children, but because we were looking for a more kid centric environment.

Moving in November, we didn’t witness the Halloween antics until the next year. Don’t get me wrong; we love our neighborhood, the people and their sense of fun. But out of all the neighborhoods, we picked the one with the scariest yard decorations. There are several homes with people hanging by nooses from trees, graveyards with appendages reaching out, and decapitated men in coffins. These are some seriously talented, artistic thriller movie scenes.

I guess it’s only the month of October we have to alter our driving paths, and age will fix my girls’ fear; but until then, they will be passing out candy until the holiday becomes fun.

Until then, we won’t be getting sacks full of neighbor candy and my husband and I will have to curb our chocolate desires until November 1st. The day-after Halloween candy sales are amazing!

Extravagant Kid Birthdays Wear on Nerves

Cupcakes closeup

Previously published in The Kansas City Star news: September 26, 2015

I grew up in a house where birthdays were not only celebrated, but morphed into a pageant. They always included some sort of a talent segment and occasional formal wear, but thank goodness swimsuits never made an appearance. (That one Christmas when Grandpa took off his shirt by the tree to model his new gift was enough torture for a lifetime. As a result, we enforced a stringent dress code.)

We couldn’t celebrate a birthday on just one day. Apparently, the idea of throwing one party annually never occurred to us. Why would you do that when you could drag out your birthday for a week?

Lice Claim They Need Some Respect

lice story with itching hand

I need to air my recent grievance to the public. Truly, I try to be the wine-glass-is-half-full type of gal, but I had a bomb dropped on me that brought out the cynic in my Syrah.

There is no way to sugarcoat my woe. In fact, I’m pretty sure I would prefer a root canal than wish this on my worst enemy. At least there are drugs that can help you get through mouth surgery. I’d rather have an endless laundry pile rather than experience this again.

Wait, I take that last one back. That’s partially what’s been causing my panic attacks.

Just rip off the Band-Aid, and spit it out…

We had lice. Parasites. An infestation, if you will. The secret L-bomb!

Never before have I so vehemently practiced sterile technique, and I’ve worked inpatient in a children’s hospital.

If you’ve never experienced these little bugs from hell, you will. I hate to be the bearer of horrific news, but it’s inevitable. Either your kids or your grandkids will drop off these itchy nuggets while you’re watching reruns of All in the Family in your comfy living room recliner – and those suckers will klatch onto your hair follicles and (shh!) re-pro-duce.

Oh, yes I’m sure many of you were like me. “I’m too clean to get lice,” I boasted. “They are for peasants and third-world country dwellers!” Well, I’m here to tell you my clean head and various princess heads in the neighborhood have never itched so badly. This pest war has entered my suburb and I’m ticked!

After much personal research and costly visits to the “experts,” I am a professional louse executioner. I might even start up a lice removal version of Stella and Dot jewelry or Jamberry nails home parties.

The reason why I’m jumping on my tea tree oil box is it is about time we stop shaming our kids. I want to break through today’s social barriers and go all “Norma Rae” about kicking the stigma to the curb. I’ll be yelling it from the rooftops, from church steps and various factory union meetings – whatever it takes to get my message out.

Lice is not a four-letter word! (waits for applause)

OK, maybe it is, but shouldn’t we be able to discuss infestation outside of school nurse room curtains and dark alleyways? What’s so shameful about having bugs taking residence on your noggin? I agree it’s gross, but shaming others is unjust. If you are brave enough to discuss it with friends, you will find out that about every house in your zip code has experienced the insanity that comes with the territory.

Especially now, that there are teenaged-mutant lice running rampant in many states. The stories are plastered across all media. These buggers are resistant to over-the-counter drugs. They have built up such resistance to old-school treatment, that everyone’s going to have them. It’s the new fad.

“Did you hear? Becky’s family has lice.”

“No! I’m so jealous! You know that lice is the new black stink bug.”

“Yes, it’s all over Facebook!”

Maybe lice infestation isn’t pleasurable. Unless, you have some twisted love affair with washing every fabric item in your house, vacuuming daily for three weeks, or twice a day picking nits out of your loved one’s tresses.

But can’t we give lice a break? Nits happen. Deal with it, stop the blaming and quit laughing at the downtrodden.

And remember, paybacks are an itch!