It seemed like I had been famous for only a few minutes when I ran into one of the pitfalls of super-stardom. Coming home the other night from a 12-Step meeting in Chillicothe, Ohio, I found a message on my ancient answering machine from my old man. Because my dad never calls unless someone has died, I thought about waiting until morning to contact him, wondered if I wanted to go to bed that night with death on my mind. But I went ahead and called, and to my surprise, the first thing out of his mouth was, "I think maybe I been bamboozled." Then he asked me if I knew a certain gentleman by the name of ---.
"Sure," I said, "he works for my agent."
"Well, okay then," he said. He then proceeded to tell me that a man by that name called him from Coalinga, California, and gave him a sob story about losing his plane ticket. The man explained that it wouldn't be such a big deal, but he was supposed to fly to Ohio that afternoon and present me with a big fat check worth thousands of dollars. When my dad suggested that he call and let me know what was happening, the joker protested that he wanted the check to be a surprise. He then tossed some more names at my 78 year-old father, pleaded with him that time was wasting, threw him off balance, got him thoroughly confused. "I want you and your wife to be there when I give him the check," the crafty bastard added. "We'll be taking photos." Then he asked the old man for $200.23. All the time my dad was telling me this,I was getting more and more pissed, but at the same time I couldn't help hearing that loopy Laurel and Hardy music playing in the background (I'll be the first to admit I'm still a little sick). I love my father, but just for a second, I had a vision of him slipping on banana peels, putting his coat on backwards, running into walls in his mad scramble to send this S.O.B the money. And yes, that's exactly what he did — he sent the S.O.B. the money.
The next morning I dug up some change for gas (believe me, just because you've been blessed with super-stardom doesn't mean you have any money) and drove out to my old man's house in Knockemstiff, figuring maybe he needed some reassurance that he wasn't losing his marbles. I also got the name of the person who was supposed to pick up the money transfer at the Western Union office, though I assumed that individual was smart enough to use an alias. I then found the email address of the police captain in Coalinga and explained the situation. And guess what? An officer called the next day said he knew the woman that picked up the money. And then, the day after that, he called back again, let me know that the woman had confessed. So everything ended well, I guess. Though the crime is just a misdemeanor, and the money's probably gone, my dad learned a valuable lesson about trusting people who are calling about his son, the big shot. And I have nothing but praise for the police force in Coalinga, California.
But here's the thing: I figure these people must have read about my poor collection of stories and gotten my name and the names of my agent and co-agent off the Internet. They then concocted a story of their own and called my father, hoping for a hit. Look, because I haven't lived the most exemplary life myself in the past, I can understand that part. If the cards had been dealt another way a few years ago, I might be out there right now doing the same kind of shit (though I hope that I'd have a little more guts than to prey on old people). I'd sure like to hear it.But, Lord, why go to all that trouble for just $200.23? That's what I can't figure out. So if anyone has any idea why a scammer, calling long distance, would only ask for such a small amount of money,
My dad getting conned wasn't something I even considered when I got lucky and my agent sold my book, or when people then began writing about it. I mean, I wasn't expecting to be invited to the Oscars or Dog the Bounty Hunter's house, but at the same time, I didn't think I'd have to worry about anyone getting hurt either. In the end, I know my old man's fortunate that he only got took for a paltry sum, but shoot, now I've begun to worry about all those illegitimate children out there that people might try to say I fathered, back in the day, before I became a super star.
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Donald Ray Pollock grew up in Knockemstiff, Ohio. His stories have appeared in the Berkeley Fiction Review, the Journal, Third Coast, Chiron Review, Sou'wester, Boulevard, and Folio, and he has contributed essays on politics to the op-ed page of the New York Times.
Books mentioned in this post
Donald Ray Pollock is the author of Knockemstiff