Another year. Another skeevy roommate. And another set of unbearable quirks, mannerisms, obsessions....
I'd known this guy in high school. Back then, there was an organization, tenuously attached to the English department called (somewhat confusingly) the Greek Honor Society. Time when, the students involved actually studied the variety of Greek language usually considered traditional classical Greek (that is, a synthetic language having only a faint resemblance to any Greek ever spoken by actual Grecian people alive or dead). At the time of my involvement, mid-70's, it was a haven for "philosophical" students run by a teacher with a penchant for Abraham Maslow and his school, Great Literature, and, unfortunately, a great deal of pseudoscience, ranging from ESP to Chariots of the Gods? and far beyond. You know, a great place to find good conversation, a willing sexual partner of your choice, and a pot connection while feeling intellectually smug about it. Though bright, articulate, and a misfit (the basic qualifications for membership) I was mostly a minor player. Matt, on the other hand, was quite enthusiastic, though, try as I may, I can't remember much about him otherwise. Fast forward about twenty years...
I was trying to find a cheap place to live, we met by chance, and he just happened to have a spare room....
He's put on...well, quite a bit of weight. (As have I, to be quite honest.) He's also a much-medicated schizophrenic, with additional lashings of testosterone, with the result that what was a handsome, shy, intelligent, charming young man has now become bloated and physically awkward, with vacant eyes and greasy hair and skin. He also has severe memory, language, and social deficits, though able to drive a car and work as an adult babysitter to several people down the next level in mental health functionality. In short, the uncanny valley applies here: he's just off-center enough in appearance and behavior to be more-than-slightly off-putting. It's also meant that he's simply not had anything resembling a normal adult life of love and work, with the result that he's very lonely, broke, and horny.
To combat this, he relies on formulaic "niceness": obsequious interest in whatever someone is doing/saying, small favors, some hearty cheerfulness, and all the usual tricks that most of your parents probably gave you when you complained of being unpopular in high school. And, for want of a better term, self-improvement.
His apartment, neat, though lifeless, is chock-a-block full of every get rich quick scheme that merited an infomercial, and more. Being his hapless flatmate, I've managed to scan more than a few of them, and have noticed some earmarks of scammery, which I'll summarize here:
Lifestyle issues Do you know the make and model of car Suze Orman drives? Or how many bathrooms are in each of the Motley Fools' houses? Or, for that matter, Warren Buffet's religious affiliation or how he spent his last vacation?
Scamsters know that their audience isn't swift on arithmetic, and is going to be confused by percentages and compound interest. However, small bright objects hold the attention of most mammals (and even some birds and reptiles) and large, shiny automobiles, piles of greenish paper, and neo-Victorian houses impress most higher primates. Everyone wants to go to Disney World or Hawaii. Therefore, scammers love flashing their lifestyles, and point out that you, too, can own all these things, too.
They also know that their prospective audience is most likely poor, overworked, and undereducated, with little idea of how or why the system works as it does. So, there's a great deal of talk about how little- or no-money-down investments, the "lazy way" to wealth, so-called "secrets" of "the rich", and a downright contempt for education. Also, a great many of them claim at least some religious background so I'll go on to my next warning signal....
"Spirituality"/Product padding In order to transform the sort of Jimmy Corrigan I see every day at breakfast into a billionaire tycoon of course, would take a bit of makeover. And very few people, especially those who are poor, are going to simply go out and buy a book to read, even if it does teach them something vitally useful. In the investment scamster world, the minimum you can buy to get their information is a "course".
You see, you can't possibly get the benefit of their techniques simply by reading them. You have to live and work with them daily, the way the author does, who applies them in his daily multimillion-dollar deals. So it is that Carelton H. Sheets's Real Estate for No Money Down course (which is one of the more professionally produced examples, and the one I'll use here) is written on three workbook-style pamphlets of about fifty pages each in plastic bindings with wide, lined margins for notes and many real estate terms (such as "bankrupcy") written in sidebars. Additional help is given in an "audiotape library", videos, and a Mentor (which appears to be a Sheets Courses salesman with the book handy) available 24/7 on the phone -- none of this seems, from my snooping, to contain anything other than the basic text. However, in order to get the full benefit of this material, it's essential to give it your full and studious attention every single night, for at least an hour before bed, supplimenting it with cassette tapes during the morning commute. Additionally, videotapes can be viewed during one's leisure time, and key concepts reviewed at odd hours of the day on handy wallet-sized cards. You can also, if truly dedicated to wealth creation, go to what would be called a class, or course, either at a local hotel or in retreat, but what in the scamster biz is called "boot camp". (Just about the only thing he doesn't recommend is talking over, or showing your course material to anyone not taking the course.)
Partly, I suspect, it really does take some of the audience this much reinforcement to retain what, as you will see, is a very small amount of material. The other reason is that what people buy in these courses isn't the real-life possibility of easy money -- it's the euphoric pipe dream of "success".
The first volume bears this out: it's largely given over to a sermon on the value of setting and focussing on goals for one's self, whether they be to own fifty rental properties (a good minimum is twenty-five, he says) or to own one's own home, with six bedrooms, four baths and a pool. Meditating on these goals, at least a few minutes every day, is one of the keys to success. Accordingly, since "positivity" is the order of the day, the book has almost no indication of pitfalls and very few warnings on how the system can go wrong. Everything's fine in Scammyland! And remember, you CAN do it! Think of how happy you'll be when YOU can treat your wife to nice things...even a home of your own! Once you have your first property, no matter how small, it will all come easy. Now lie back, and listen to the tape...it will happen only if you can believe...And NEVER discuss these matters with those who haven't taken the course! Dream stealers abound who "pooh-pooh" other's success out of jealousy and ill will, even trying to talk you out of it, claiming reason and logic will win out...but don't listen to them....
Illegal/Unethical/Impractical Techniques -- Unrealistic Results So what's the actual technique? Well, you have to read through Volume Two, and thoroughly understand real estate before being able to use it. This is the section that scambusters love to call the "dictionary out of sequence", a simple illustration of buying and selling land with just enough terms defined as to make the prospective Donald Trump sound knowlegeable. This is necessary, since the actual technique calls for a lot of fast talking.
The idea is to find a distressed seller (someone desperate to sell, and sell fast, such as a recent widow with medical bills) who will take 80% of the money, immediately, in cash. How to get this money? Well, with a good credit record, you can get a mortgage for this 80%. She, on the other hand, can easily mortgage her property and get the remaining 20%. While you step in and take that money, for a promise to pay. Then, of course, you can step in and easily make the money back with rental or resales to pay all these people.
The problem is, in many places this is illegal as hell. Most banks won't handle a deal like this, and regularly check to see if this is going on. It's also unethical -- most people won't do this kind of deal, since you're taking their house for a piece of paper. Thirdly, you have no guarantee that you'll be able to rent or sell this property at a profit -- if she wasn't able to sell in a reasonable time, how can you? (And remember, you have no money yourself to back this up.) And maybe you can do it again, and again...oh, it's so easy to get the hang of it...The rest of the book is given up to sales techniques, on the level of "look well-groomed and professional, always be polite". (I've now saved you up to $3000. Please thank me, small bills would be nice.)
Politeness isn't Matt's problem. It's that he sees nothing wrong in a snack of sardines (in the can) and gulps from a half-gallon of orange juice while waiting in the living room for a formal Sunday dinner, can't understand high-school-level English anymore, despite a B.A. in Psych, and answers any kind of objection with a cooed "But I want to!" in the hurt tones of a five-year-old who knows just how to get to Mommy's heart.
Watching him study/meditate in the living room, weeping inwardly, angry that I'm angry, all I want to do is leave. Now.