When ‘Hands Across the Water’ first came out I was taken aback by the comments it received. This was an early plum and subscribers at that time were mostly friends and friends of friends and they wanted to believe I wasn’t spoofing them. The cover letter (enclosed here below) was, I thought, with its naive presentation of a fictitious situation obviously a spoof, but my dear, sweet Plumpluckers took it as an earnest request for advice which they obligingly gave, asking me to warn Howard that Mike was not to be trusted.
How ridiculous it would be of me to say ‘Ha ha, fooled you’ when the people you are duping are only showing you the benefit of the doubt, trusting that you are being straight with them.
At the time I wrote the story I was a big aficionado of advance-fee scam mail from Nigeria or wherever it came from and I had a fairly big collection of exotic, lucrative economic proposals. I loved the imaginative narratives and assurances of discretion and trust, but I never felt tempted to do the scammer-baiting that was popular then and still is to some extent. I find it rather bullyish – the affluent, white, internet-savvy hipster picking on the third-world, grammatically (and morally) disadvantaged, small-change gangster.
The returns from advance-fee scam mails (doubt not that some succeed as there is truly a sucker born every minute) are a pittance, a few grains of sand compared to the mountains of wealth sucked out of the ‘dark continent’ by those that have exploited its resources for generations.
In this story I wanted to illustrate inequality from an alternative perspective. And whoever Mike really is he didn’t have to search far around him to find true life examples of the miseries he describes. Though I couldn’t refrain from throwing in some of the typical phrasing used in scam mails as clues to the reader, if there are any spelling or grammar mistakes in Mike’s letter of the sort we amuse ourselves over they are mine and not his.
Here is the original cover letter sent out with ‘Hands Across the Water’.
As some of my early readers already know, I have been advising my friend Howard Pirinoli in his dealings with an individual named ‘Mike’. I have no definite proof, but I am pretty sure that Mike is a scammer. Howard — good ol’ big-hearted Howard — is unconvinced.
Recently, I visited the Pirinoli family at their home in South Carolina and related for Howard and his wife, Nancy, case histories of mail-scam victims who had been duped and even kidnapped or murdered when travelling abroad to claim their ‘rewards’.
Howard countered by showing me his latest email from Mike. “Do you expect me to abandon this family in their hour of need?”, asked Howard, waving a printout in front of my face.
I can’t be 100% sure that Mike is a con man. If we suspect Mike of wrongdoing then we might as well suspect, every needy person, or every charitable organization in the world of the same. Like it or not, most of us have to sell ourselves — be it our poverty or our success. How do we know who’s for real and who is lying?
And then it dawned on me that I have hundreds of subscribers and that if I shared Mike’s mail with you all — well then collective wisdom might prevail. Let Plumpluckers be the judges!
So this month, instead of the usual plum, I am forwarding to you Mike’s mail (with Howard Pirinoli’s permission, obviously) along with the big question: Is Mike for real or is this just another tedious scam?
If you do make it through Mike’s mail please share your verdict on our facebook.com/plumplucker page. I guarantee that Howard will listen to your opinions.