If Its Too Good to be True….

Everyone is writing this week about the Super Bowl: the wonderful world of Peyton Manning having had a wonderful ending and the “Boy is this game fun” MVP’s Cam Newton’s grumpy look during and after a day of being battered. Not me. ‘more important things on my mind. The thesis here is “caveat emptor” (buyer beware).

Act One: The Sting

It all started with an innocent looking post card proclaiming good news. We had of the billions of people on the planet been selected to receive a 7 night all expenses paid cruise! And who wouldn’t want one of those? And if we called within 48 hours we’d get free airfare for two. Thus if you lived in Colorado where they were no “major seaports” (or any,for that matter), the sponsor would actually get you there on its dime. And to make things even more attractive this brighten your day card shared that “THIS IS NOT A TIMESHARE OR LAND SALE OFFER.” ‘ever had one of those stand in between you and a free weekend somewhere? We have. Suffice it to say, at the end of the promised 3 hours (which is more like five) one needs a weekend to recuperate and the weekend is mostly spent in self-castigation at how one had let such stupidity rain on one’s brain.

Yes we were skeptical but it was Wednesday. We were both retired. “What the hey?!?” “Let’s give it a shot, just for grins,” as we used to say back home in Brooklyn. So we did. We show up at the appointed time to a tony office building. Spacious lobby, lots of glass, lots of light. Security guard. So far so good”

It ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings” goes the old sports saying. In this case it doesn’t begin without her, a jolly, rotund lady with a deep Dixie accent, a broad smile, a “love to chat” demeanor and an insistent need for a credit card “on which nothing would of course be charged without our consent.” We got on this amusement ride of our own free will and volition, so out came the credit card and obligatory driver’s license, which just happens to be in my wallet that held my Sheriff’s Office credentials. I was curious if those creds would somehow lose us our creds and with an excuse out of the beautiful lobby we’d be ushered. Nope. All was sunlight and smiles.

We enter an office which is as uninviting as was the lobby inviting. It looked like the company had just moved in (or was ready for a quick get-away?). We were brought over to a desk where greeted us a large, looked-like-he-just-fell-out of-a clothes-dryer rumpled fellow with as thick an Italian accent as was the fat lady’s voice of of the south. His opening gambit was in fact the office. The company had been so successful that they were rapidly expanding and “pardon our appearance, but we literally just moved in.” After the “tell me about yourself pleasantries” he told us about himself–for a long time. Parents were diplomats. Traveled the world. Spoke some insane number of languages. Saw the world from the cat bird’s seat of privilege. Unspoken was why with that pedigree he was sitting here in a cheap suit, in a cheaper office, at an even cheaper desk devoid of even a family photo.

Act Two: Another Opening of Another Show.

After we knew him better than we cared to he said it was time to have the “15 minute sales presentation.” He said to us in a low, “I’m on your side” conspiratorial tone,” that we were under no obligation, we could leave at any moment we chose, and if we chose to leave not to forget the certificates to which we were entitled for our prized prize. What he didn’t tell us was that once we sat in the next seat, we would find that somehow the fabric was filled with glue and it would seem impossible to arise from it.

Now we find ourselves in a small small with 6 or 7 round cocktail tables with neither. cocktails nor people seated at them. We were the only two pigeons seated in the room in front of a projection screen. In comes a young man who is so thin he looks like he hasn’t eaten in three weeks. He is dressed to affect the “casual sales” approach and comes with a life story that sounds longer than he has had years to live. Slightly breathless with excitement he has “just arrived” (like 12 minutes ago?) from San Francisco from where he was tapped to open this “exciting new market.” Yes, things from this small, windowless room, had been going well. Some gentleman from the high rent district of our town had just bought a round the world cruise and, because of his business acumen, knew that he’d gotten such a good deal, a line of referrals from his condo were marching this way. (The light is beginning to dawn in this dark room–free week cruise? ‘ bought a round-the-world cruise? uh oh.”)

Now, we aren’t just any rubes who’d fallen off the hay truck. We had announced at every stop that we had no longer than the promised time because of an absolutely unbreakable, unmovable commitment. So i said, “Do you think we could see the film? ‘doesn’t look like anyone else is coming.” So “Carl the Cruise” guy begins the film. ‘ tries to, but not before one or two malfunctions (‘just getting set up, not all the wrinkles ironed out, he unflappably told us). Let’s just say that at the end of this production you wouldn’t see Steven Spielberg or the Dino DeLaurentis’ names. It looked like it was filmed during the time of the Hawaii 5-0 series and while missing Dano is actually did have Don Ho! And in case one was hard of hearing it played nearly as loud as the loud speakers at a pro basketball game and if in addition to being hard of hearing your eyes weren’t too sharp it came with nice, largely typed re-caps of what was being drummed loudly into your brain.

No, there was no land sale. Nor was there a condo mentioned. But they didn’t say they wouldn’t try to sell you a travel club… And try they did for an opening gambit of about what I used to make a year. When the San Fran Flash noticed the color drain from our faces, he was quick to point out that there was “something for everyone” in this deal, five levels at which one could buy into, each one with decreasing price and of course decreasing privileges. We plummeted from high five figures to mid-3’s, the latter of which seemed to give you bathroom rights to a hallway John on the lowest level of the oldest ship still afloat. Or so it seemed.

We’d had enough. “Certificates please!”

“But wait, I can’t let you go until you speak to my manager. I don’t get credit for the interview with out that. Help me out won’t you?” How ironic. We had to help him out while we were desperate to get help getting out.

Act three: Things get dicey.

In comes someone who has no cruise appeal at all. He looks, and sounds, like someone out of the “Wise Guys.” He had that stereotypical Brooklyn mid-level gangster look of a person who absolutely doesn’t understand how we could be so thick as to not understand what a deal we are being offered. “Let me run through it again, for you.” By this time, there was an air of intimidation in the room. Then came the knock and in comes our Italian version of Rumpelstiltskin now looking like his life depended on something other than our exit coming out of this conversation.

I stood up, took my wife’s arm, and announced,”We’re outta here–where’re the certificates?!?” No one opened the door. I did. Then came the fairly stilted apologies, sort of “don”t go way mad, but go way.” After about another quarter hour because, ” we’ve just moved in a couldn’t find where we put the box with the certificates” we finally got it and we got gone.

Act Four: Gotcha anyway.

So we get the certificate, fleeing with it in our hands, snatching up our card and license on the way, lest some other huckster from behind a palm tree take another swing at us. The certificate has emblazoned on it the same Royal Caribbean logo as did the post card of joy that started all of this. But with the certificate is a disclaimer letter that the “prizes” are offered through a different company and this company takes no responsibility for that company living up to its promises. We called the company. I can’t even remember what they said but what it amounted to was “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” (or in this case, a free cruise). Fees and all that jazz. We called Royal Carib and gave up somewhere in the middle of the bureaucracy when they couldn’t seem to find who handled these certificates. I got the feeling that someone in RC had either been snookered or was doing something on the side that the folks upstairs didn’t know about. And airfare? Forgedaboutit!

Act Five: Gotcha Back

A week later we read that the State’s Attorney’s Office had sued a similar operation so with a letter to the SA, whom we know, went all our documents. Do they make cruise ships with iron bars?

Act Six: Roaches will be the Ultimate Survivors

In yesterday’s mail, we got a postcard…….

Act Six: And The Conclusion Is?

Caveat Emptor–at least from my perspective



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