My fame is global and my reputation is impeccable, if my inbox is any indicator. Each day, lonely women plead with me to meet them and make their lives complete. Former ministers of distant lands beg for my aid in reconnecting them to their fortunes. Brokers offer me unique investment opportunities guaranteed to deliver 100,000,000,000,000% returns.
And drugs. All kinds of drugs. Drugs for arthritis, ear warts, toe cancer, knuckle nodules, and the always popular erectile dysfunction. It's amazing that Walgreens is still in business when all this top-quality product is available for nearly $zero on the internet.
And every time I read one of these e-mails, the same question comes to mind. Who ARE these people? I’m not asking about the people sending the e-mails. I’m talking about the idiots who respond to this stuff.
All this spam would disappear if it didn't make money for someone. Which means, of course, that somebody just got a message with the headline, "Hapy Birtday from a Freind," and opened the email to find an offer for low-cost V*I*A*G*A*R*A*. And this same somebody said to himself:
"Hah, look at that. It's not a birthday card after all. They tricked me into looking at this ad for medicines they can't even spell......But, wow, look at those prices. Where's my Visa????"
Before there was an internet, I received 2-3 handwritten letters each year, on onionskin paper, via international air mail, with a return address of.....yep, Nigeria. The sender was the former minister of mining or a widow whose husband was killed by an evil cabal or...didn't matter, really. They were all the same.
They were desperate to reclaim their lost fortunes and, of all the millions of people in the United States, I was the one they were counting on to rescue them. If only I would show them I was truly trutwothy, sinsere and finacialy reponsible. It was quite a burden for me to shoulder, but that's why they knew I was the only one for the job.
"I am the former mining director/ exiled president/secretary of the ministry/Yasser Arafat’s widow (really) and I must call upon you in a mater of grate urgency and discreetion...."
Ah, classic literature. Decades go by, but the text is eternal, along with the misspellings. Are the misspellings a part of the plan, placed intentionally to seem more sincere? Perhaps they want to target people who see the errors and assume the senders are not very bright, or maybe they’re targeting people who won’t catch the typos at all.
So who is it that thinks Yasser Arafat's widow is really searching the globe and landing on them? Yeah, Columbus made a wrong turn, too, but let's get real. If this had ever happened, ever, we would have heard about it by now.
As it is, I’ve never even heard an urban myth about it. You know, the urban myth where a friend of a friend of mine has a $50 million house he bought with his share of the Nigerian gold mine money. Most urban myths concern events that never really happened. If there isn’t even an urban myth, then it really, really never happened.
And yet, the emails keep pouring in to my spam folder. Somebody must be responding to these scams, but who are these idiots?
(P.S.: If you’re reading this and you have actually fallen for one of these come-ons, I apologize for calling you an idiot. I would like to make it up to you by letting you in on a unique investment opportunity designed specifically for you. It's guaranteed to deliver 100,000,000,000,000% on your money, as soon as we can get it out of Azkaban.)
Why a $5 bottle of water is worth it, the new biggest lie in business, and a fail-safe trick for turning your book into a best seller, among other tidbits for the week ahead…
I almost killed a guy the other day. It made me very happy.
Emphasis on the word almost, of course. I didn’t kill him, even though I started driving just as he was coming up on my right side while I was looking left. Any time you come close to a major problem and you miss it by inches, it’s a good day.
I’m trying to pay more attention to these good days, the near-misses that bounce into my win column, because it’s a great way to get more enjoyment out of life. If I got to the pharmacy two minutes after they closed and nobody would open the door to give me my prescription, I’d be talking about it for days. If I got caught in traffic and missed my flight and I couldn’t get a refund on the ticket or the hotel room, I’d be complaining for weeks. But, if I had the chance to kill a person and I didn’t take it? Crickets.
People write, and read, all kinds of guides to happiness—how to find it, how to nurture it, how to maintain it—but there’s no mystery to this stuff. Happiness comes from feeling fortunate and feeling fortunate comes from a lack of entitlement. Nobody owes me anything, God isn’t required to save me from killing pedestrians, and I don’t get any mulligans when I screw up. When something goes well, it’s a gift, whether I worked hard for it or it flew through an open window.
This happiness thing turns out to be ridiculously easy, so easy that I thought, at first, there must be something huge I was missing. Turns out, though, it’s a WYSIWYG. In business, everyone talks about making customers happy by exceeding their expectations, but there are two parts to that equation. The first part is the expectations themselves. The lower they are, the easier it is to blow right past them.
This isn’t a game of pretending to enjoy it when you fall into a manure pit or thinking it’s great to be fired. Crap is crap, sometimes literally. But you don’t have to enjoy a situation in order to feel fortunate that it didn’t turn out worse. And you don’t need to be Pollyanna to recognize when little things are going your way.
Things do go our way almost all the time, every day. Starting with the moment we open our eyes in the morning, take a shower with hot water, brew a cup of coffee, etc. etc. etc., the list of wins is almost endless. Recognizing and appreciating those wins in real time is the key to a happy life.
As I look back on it, my clock has reset to zero at least eight or ten times. I was hit by a truck while in high school, but relatively little of my brain ended up on the street. Art Drake probably saved my life in college when he stopped me from cutting some live electrical wires with a pair of scissors. I don’t remember exactly if it was Kirk James or Dwight Grimestad who stopped me from walking into traffic while on my phone in New York, but it was one of them and I am grateful to both.
The list goes on. There was the time I suddenly realized I was walking less than a foot from the edge of the Grand Canyon, the day I fell asleep at the wheel on the Kennedy, the morning a semi drove through my Dodge Dart… I follow Cheating Death on Instagram but, now that I think about it, maybe they should be following me.
After I didn’t kill the guy on the bicycle, the rest of my morning was more upbeat than it had been before I drove out of the garage. I hope the cyclist enjoyed his day as much as I did.
The real key to a long life, wearing out my Fitbit, and a few new rules that you won’t hear about on Bill Maher’s show, among the lessons learned this week...
We finally decided to get a second car after living as a one-car household for more than five years, diving deeply into the brave new world of computers perched on radial tires. Ten months later, I am almost done with the owner’s manual and, maybe, I will be ready to drive this thing before the lease runs out.
As you might expect, the car has sensors that beep when someone is walking behind the car or when we’re getting too close to the car in front of us, when there’s something in our blind spot and when we’re about to hit a shopping cart in the parking lot. All the new technology is very cool, and very, very noisy.
Still, most of these features fall into the category of nice-to-have, not essential. What I really need isn’t in the car, yet, but the automaker who delivers on my must-haves will earn a customer for life. For instance, I absolutely need…
Beyond these innovative accessories, consumers will clamor for my soon-to-be-patented water cannons and poop blasters. This is a gold mine for the first car company to compensate me for my brilliance.
The biggest problem with technology is that it’s developed by people who don’t get out much. Spend enough years on the road with crazy people, though, and the horizons expand astronomically.
Rosh Hashanah starts at sundown tonight, beginning the period of introspection and hope that constitutes the Days of Awe. The rituals are essentially unchanged year to year, as they have been all my life and as they were more than a century ago for my grandparents in Poland. One of these repeated rituals is the reading of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, a story that has troubled me since I was about ten.
As related in Genesis, Abraham and Sarah finally have a child, Hagar and Ishmael have settled in Egypt, and all is well, until God comes up with one final test for his favorite human.
Roughly translated from the original Aramaic, God says, “Take your son, Isaac, and make him a human sacrifice for me.” And Abraham, who has argued with God on behalf of the evil sodomites in Sodom, doesn’t argue about sacrificing the innocent son who is supposed to carry on the faith. He doesn’t discuss it with Sarah, either, even though Sarah waited 90 years to have a child and, by the way, this is her son, too.
Nope, Abraham takes his son to Mt. Moriah and binds him on the altar where Isaac, the Passive Patriarch, doesn’t appear to object. The sacrifice is about to be completed when an angel intervenes. Abraham has passed the test, the angel declares, and everything will be great from here.
Now, when you’re a kid in Hebrew school, the teachers present this story as a wonderful example of faith. Abraham was so loyal to God that he was willing to murder his own son, simply because God said to do it. And every kid in the classroom is thinking, “I really hope my dad isn’t that faithful.”
As an adult, sitting in the synagogue and listening to the story each year, you get a chance to think things through. First, there’s the question of whether Abraham passed the test or not. Yes, the angel says he passed, but that’s the angel talking, not God. After this point, the Torah doesn’t mention God talking to Abraham again.
Ditto for Sarah and Isaac. As far as we can tell, neither of them is on speaking terms with Abraham after he “passes” this test of faith. Sarah appears to be living in a different town than Abraham when she dies. Abraham’s servant, not Abraham, finds a wife for Isaac and introduces Isaac to her. After the Akedah, the Torah records no interactions between Abraham and his son, or his wife, or any angels, for that matter.
At the end of his life, Abraham seems to be estranged from the family that will carry on his legacy. Families, if you include Ishmael’s line, as nearly 2 billion Muslims do. Abraham has created a new faith, won many followers, amassed wealth, and claimed the Almighty God as his BFF, but now he seems to be alone. (Yes, he has a new wife and concubines and children, but none of those people is part of his Great Narrative.)
In a more modern context, we might see Abraham as an entrepreneur of sorts, founding a great enterprise known as monotheism and creating a personal estate that appears to be of significant value. And, like many founders, his personal and familial relationships suffer along the way. Did he regret that fact at the end of his life? Did he consider the woulda coulda shouldas that might have led to the same end with less estrangement? Did he think about it at all?
Like Abraham, the rest of us mortals make countless trade-offs on our journeys. Some are great and some minor, some by action and some by acquiescence. Some days, we betray our beliefs and our best instincts so cavalierly that we don't even recognize what we've done. It's impossible to remember all of them, which is probably a good thing, since we'd be shocked and embarrassed by our official scorecards.
That's why I always find the Akedah to be personally challenging, even though I haven't founded any faiths recently. The stakes and the situations are different for me than they were for Abraham, of course, but the question is eternally the same:
What am I willing to sacrifice, and upon which altar?
I have much to ponder as we enter the Days of Awe.