Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Phishing for Compliments

One of my favorite bumper stickers and crypto-patriotic car decorations is in the shape of the yellow ribbon used to advertise sympathy for our troops in Iraq. 

 This decoration I so favor advertises support for "the guy in China who makes these stickers," a lovely irony suggesting that any time one pays for political slogans, even those espousing one's own favorite causes, one is not supporting the cause at all but rather some identity thief, some capitalist entrepreneur who is simply taking advantage of a momentum.

Old wives' tale-ish as it may sound, many are concerned that a photograph taken of them will somehow kidnap their spiritual essence.

Scarcely a day passes when those of us who use computers, bank, use credit cards, and similar electronic transactions are not warned about the dangers of disaster when some capitalist entrepreneur gleans our password, our drivers' license, our Social Security Number, or some other key to doing business in this increasingly automated society. 

Today alone, I received authentic-looking emails, complete with art and corporate logo from Bank of America and Downey Savings, informing me that my account has undergone a few necessary changes and would I please send the requested information in order to keep my account current. Trouble is I don't and never have had an account with either institution.

Thinking about it, I see how easy it would be to be drawn away from my intended confession and investigation, shunted into a screed over the way we are presented with so many options that appear plausible and on second or third blush, are no such thing. George W. Bush comes to mind, but that vagrant thought is far from original or relevant.

Almost without exception, I regularly steal identities, turning them into characters whom I proceed to abuse in one way or another, possibly educating them, possibly redeeming them, occasionally getting them laid, which seems only fair after all the mischief I put them through.

When I contributed to the now defunct Nick Carter series, I invariably stole the identity of my then department chairman at the University, rendering him variously as a spy, a crook, or someone who had as an agenda the goal of returning the world to iambic pentameter in some kind of formal rhyming pattern. 

 I frequently use the names of friends in novels and short stories, and indeed my own identity has been phished by a former student who has led me up the bureaucracy of the Bronx Police Department, where I achieved the rank of sergeant before taking early retirement to go into the private sector for trendier investigations.

This is by no means to minimize the effects of identity theft on the men and women who fall victim to the schemes or accidental vicissitudes of financial chicanery, but it is an acknowledgment of how many of us give away our identity on the spot to some seemingly obvious con. 

 Ah, there I am, back to George W. Bush again, and I apologize for that, but wait, haven't many of us done the same thing with regard to the late Rev. Falwell? And of course we give certain portions of our identity to the likes of the hysteria-mongers on Fox News, and there are cadres of politicians, societal reformers, religionists, and the aforementioned capitalist entrepreneurs, waiting to sell us bumper stickers in one form or another.

I am at the particular stage in a twelve-week summer session where I am attempting to lead a group of students toward buying a particular bumper sticker, one I get no financial reward for, only satisfaction. This is the scary part, because the satisfaction is of an evangelical nature: I hope to motivate them to finding their own identity and--yes, yes; I know, this makes me not only evangelical but a conservative--holding onto it because in many ways, it is all there is for them.

When I began this essay, I thought of myself as pretty optimistic; a bit edgy, perhaps, but certainly not evangelical, conservative, or suspicious.

My resolution, my answer, my salvation has grown with me from the times when I set into motion characters I did not like. I have since learned that all characters think they are right, an observation that has saved me from being a lousy plotter. My salvation is that there are ways of being right. My salvation is that although I have come to favor quirky, possibly even devious characters, I like them all, and along with their identities that I have stolen for my own use, I have stolen a remarkable concern for their welfare.

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