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  • Writer's pictureMarcia Seligson

I Don't Understand People

Tom and I had just finished dinner with Sarah and Paul, new friends with whom we have connected deeply in a short period of time.  We ate at our favorite local restaurant, Charcoal Venice on Washington Boulevard in Venice, a wide street with four lanes. The restaurant has no parking lot, so we always park in a lot across the street.  We’re very careful, but too lazy to walk down to the crossing lines, the legal place to cross.  The traffic is generally light, especially at 9:00, when we finished dinner and headed towards our cars.


Sarah and Paul crossed after us.  Shortly before they reached the far side of the boulevard an SUV careened towards Paul and hit him, knocking him over.  Tom and I rushed to pick him up and walk him to the sidewalk. Two guys who were strolling on the sidewalk ran over to help. Paul is big. He was hurt.  The kind men supported his sitting on the curb. Sarah began shaking feverishly and didn’t stop for the next thirty minutes that we stayed in that spot. 


The driver of the SUV stopped, stayed in her vehicle while Tom rushed over, yelling at her, accusing her of speeding up instead of braking when she saw the Paul and Sarah.  Tom is a calm man who screams rarely but has a giant voice when he does. He was standing by the driver’s window which was shut.  She shouted back, insisting she had braked when she saw the couple, and it was their fault that they didn’t move out of the way.  She was lying.  We all saw what happened.


I was comforting Sarah whose trembling was uncontrollable.  But I was also shouting at the driver, who finally emerged from the car at Tom’s insistence. She was tall and muscular.  While in the car she phoned her husband, who arrived fifteen minutes into the drama; they obviously lived in the neighborhood.  He was also large, with white curly hair and visible tattoos on his arms.  He also insisted that she would never make the giant blunder of hitting the gas pedal instead of the brake, we were all mistaken and just freaked out by the scene and our refusal to confess to what actually happened. He was rather menacing, he just contributed to the threatening atmosphere.


Tom wanted to call the police, but after thirty minutes or so of everybody standing in a circle talking over each other with increasing hostility, repeating the same conflicting story of gas pedal versus brake, Paul and Sarah were desperate to go home.  The group dispersed after exchanging each other’s information.  Tom and I drank shots of bourbon when we reached our nearby apartment.  We didn’t sleep much.


Paul got medical help the next day His back is still achy after a month, and he has periodic headaches. Sarah takes anxiety pills a few times a week. They’ve never connected with this awful couple again.


I haven’t stopped thinking about this incident and why people sometimes do the things they do.  Unpredictable things, inexplicable deeds, dreadful acts.  Since then, I see or hear weirdness everywhere I look.  Just yesterday I saw graffiti painted on the freeway overpass.  It was immense, obscene and stupid.  I think: Why did he/she/they take their time, money and energy to do this useless garbage?  Was it merely to be noticed by thousands of passerby’s, to exorcise some angry internal demon, to use up hours of life instead of watching Netflix or creating a real piece of art?


Like everybody I know, we are besieged with spam calls every day. I’ve been told not to pick up the phone if I’m unsure of the caller because our number will be exposed to even more of these infuriating interruptions with nobody on the other end. Or a recorded message that sounds real because they ask me how I am that day and then leave space for me to be dumb enough to actually answer “fine” before they launch into their AI rap. But sometimes it’s a spam call with a human being on the other end. And sometimes it’s deadly.


About a year ago, I got a call from the Water and Power Company, with a sweet-sounding woman on the other end.  She told me we hadn’t paid our latest bill, and someone was on his way to our home to turn off all the water and power.  I was shocked and scared.  Was there anything I could do, I implored? She told me I could pay it now with a credit card if it wasn’t too late, since he was set to arrive at any time.


She was so good at her job, and I was so frightened envisioning my entire life falling apart with no water or electricity, no computer, tv or shower, all our refrigerated food dropping dead.  Just then my hip young assistant ran into my office and yelled “HANG UP RIGHT NOW.  IT’S BULLSHIT!”  She was so adamant, I just hung up.  She explained that nobody legit would operate this way, on the phone.  They would send me a letter in the mail or on email.  That made sense and I was thoroughly mortified at my idiocy.


Awhile ago, Tom was driving home from a client when he picked up a call on his cell.  The man identified himself as being from the Social Security Administration.  He claimed there was a problem with Tom’s account which had to be fixed immediately or he would no longer receive benefits.  Tom explains: “He was convincing. I became very agitated; the guy gave me his first name and his employee ID number.  He said he had to transfer me to a supervisor to check my identity. He then said I had to go to my bank, and if I didn’t, an LA Sheriff’s patrol would be dispatched to arrest me at my home. This was too much, I hung up.  This experience took over forty minutes and I felt naïve and shaken.”


So why do these people do what they do? Are they proud of their live and their careers? How do they get out of bed in the morning, every day/week/month/year knowing they’re purpose in life is to scam as many people as they can?  Are they delighted when they get a sucker?


I asked those questions of the next live people who called to trick and swindle me in some obvious way.  “Why do you do this scam”, I asked, trying to sound merely interested and not judgmental or threatening. Most said it was for the money, it was putting them through school, or paying off loans.  Some said when they conned somebody it made them feel good. When I asked if they felt this kind of work gave them meaning and purpose in their lives, they all hung up instantly.  The way I should have done to them.

Tell me about your experiences with scams.

MY MOTHER WOULD HATE THIS BOOK is now available in hardcover, paperback & eBook on AmazonBarnes & Noble, or order through your local bookstore.

Check out my website and blog for stories and more:

“Marcia Seligson is one of the funniest, most original, and irreverent people I know, and her book carries all those qualities. She can make anything funny, from a Peloton bike to a 40-hour brisket cookery. And she can be touching, deep, and bracingly honest. My advice to readers is make sure you have unbroken time ahead when you pick up this book. Each time I did, intending to read for ten minutes, an hour went by before I looked up. And I’d laughed out loud at least twice.” Sara Davidson, Writer NY Times bestseller Loose Change, Head writer for Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman  

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May 22

This is such a sad story about your friend being hit by a car. I’m sure it was terrifying while it was happening.

As for phone calls and scams, the perpetrators are so skilled and the scammers so sophisticated that I can see how folks get pulled in. My personal rule…if I don’t recognize the number I never answer! If it’s someone I know who needs me, s/he will leave a message. Otherwise it’s not that important. I, too, wonder how there can be any satisfaction or pride in such “work”. Boggles the mind!


May 22

People are really unbelievable. Great article!

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