The Creepy Photog At Walmart

The hunt was on.

Armed only with a blind email address, I wanted to track down the middle-age creep who approached a friend of mine from the coffee shop while she shopped at Walmart. He asked if she wanted to make a few bucks posing for pictures on adult-oriented web sites.

She didn’t.

As you can imagine, she was unnerved, scared and freaked out. No one goes shopping and expects to be approached by a greasy-haired guy in sweat pants to pose for online sites that cater to whack jobs. Screenshot_2013-02-14-19-46-57_0But he handed her his business card and when she recounted her story, she passed the info on to me.

The encounter only lasted a few seconds and the pervy photog was low key before he moved on to scout for other prey. He had to be subtle. The head of security at Walmart later told me they’d already banned him from the store but he still sneaks in, hidden among the crowd.

His card had little information, just an email address, “moneycanthurt@gmail.com.” No phone number was listed, just a photo of a camera and the phrases “Voluptuous Modeling,” “Sexy Has No Size!!!,” and “You Have Been Scouted.”

“Don’t delay,” the card said, “email us today!”

So I did, but I didn’t want to tip my hand just yet. I didn’t think he’d respond to a pissed off guy offended by his behavior.

Step One: Create a fake hotmail account using a woman’s name.

Step Two: Send an email saying he’d given a card to a friend of mine at Walmart. She wasn’t interested, but I may be.

Step Three: Wait.

In less than an hour, the pervy dude wrote back and was nice enough to give me his name, Bernard Friend, his personal email address, his phone number, and an invite to call anytime between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Before I did, I decided to do a little checking around. His email included the names of some websites he worked with. I sent them emails asking if they’d ever heard of Bernie.

One confirmed he was an independent contractor whose work they used on occasion. Their site featured women in sheer lingerie on the front page. Another said he was a talent scout; if he found a woman suitable for their site, they would fly her down to Florida for a photo session and give Bernie a finder’s fee. That site had topless models and section labeled “Fetishes.”

Another helps models set up their own web sites in exchange for 45 percent of any cash it may generate from online voyeurs with more green than gray matter. Bernie takes another cut for making introductions and taking the pictures.

Now that I had some info, I decided to give him a call.

Question: “What right do you have walking up to strangers at Walmart and asking them to pose for porn?”

He got defensive: “That’s not pornography,” he insisted. “Pornography is people defecating, or animals, or midgets, or children.”

“That’s not the point,” I replied. “What right do you have stalking people at Walmart in the first place? You creeped out my friend.”

“I’m not a stalker. I’m polite,” he replied. “She could have said ‘No thank you’ and handed me back my card.”

“I don’t care how polite you are,” I pressed on. “It’s one thing to advertise on Craigslist, it’s another to walk up to women out of the blue and scare them at Walmart.”

“I go to several Walmarts. I get approached by girl scouts all the time trying to sell me cookies,” he replied. “Is that harassment? No. If I don’t want any, I say ‘No thank you’ and move on. Your friend could have done the same.”

We went back and forth for several minutes, but Bernie never did get the point. Not that I expected him to. I’ll confess my real goal was to verbally bitch slap him a few times.

As a final step, I called the head of security at the store. She told me Bernie sounded familiar and that he’d been banned from the store before.

“We are in a Catch-22,” she said. “We don’t want him in the store and have banned him because we don’t allow soliciting. But since there was no physical harm, we can’t call the police.”

She did, however, pull the security tapes of Bernie in action. She made prints and handed them out to the managers with orders to kick him off the property if he shows up again.

Guess what Bernie?

This time you’re on camera.

And no one is smiling.

I Have Met The Enemy And It Is ‘The Other Steve’

To paraphrase a very wise cartoon character, I have met the enemy and we share the same name.

To be fair, I’ve never spoken to The Other Steve Wissink, better known in the database of TV drivel as “The Guy Who Chose Girl No. 2 On A TV Game Show.”

I’ll even venture a guess that The Other Steve is a good guy in many ways. If it weren’t for his Tea Party paranoia, we probably could pass a pleasant afternoon at his yacht club bragging on our daughters and chuckling over the latest Facebook humor.

The laughter would die quickly – and we’d likely end up in a dual at dawn in the grand tradition of Burr and Hamilton – if we ever talked about the real issues. Like millions of

Steve and Dating Game girl in Kenya.

Steve and Dating Game girl in Kenya.

others in every neighborhood and workplace, we are polar opposites on gun control, immigration and the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency.

From his Facebook posts, I can tell The Other Steve likes assault rifles, hates the president, and belittles those who don’t speak his language.

Among the most offensive: “I Will Not Be Forced To Learn A Foreign Language To Accommodate Illegals In My Country.”

Um, Steve, no one is asking you to. I’m betting my Hispanic and Asian friends really don’t want to hear your bile even if you bothered to pick up a Rosetta Stone course and learned their language.

Plus, I never realized the Wissink clan spoke the language of the Wampanoags, the tribe that met the Pilgrims when they stormed the border without passports or work visas.

You can feel The Other Steve’s hatred toward Obama on his Facebook page. One post shows a picture of Michelle, Beyonce and the president at the Inauguration. The caption: “Fake Hair, Fake Singing, Fake President.”

Cheap shot, Steve.  I suspect you’re just angry that Obama and his coalition of minority voters stomped the holy bejesus out of your aging white guy who only cared about the Haves and the Have Mores.

I stumbled across The Other Steve while searching online for old newspaper stories I’d written. Since there are so few of us with the same name, I checked him out.

I was amused to find a video clip on YouTube from 1967 when he was on ABC’s “The Dating Game.” He chose Nancy, a college student with big blonde hair who loved to cook

Steve the advertising model.

Steve the advertising model.

and dreamed of having children. Host Jim Lange commended Steve on his choice because Nancy definitely had serious “domestic possibilities.”

Even back then, The Other Steve looked like the future chairperson of his local the Tea Party Whackos For Michelle Bachman. While the rebellious wore their hair long and their jeans torn, Steve favored short hair, suits, and polished shoes.

He looked just like a local weatherman, or a pretty-boy model for magazine ads, or a shill for Lexus at the L.A. International Auto Show. By the way, The Other Steve was all of those, according to his LinkedIn profile, Facebook photos, and YouTube videos. In between bouts of wanna-be-celebrity status, he was a successful executive before retiring a dozen years ago.

The Other Steve also loves guns, whether it’s an old army rifle or a modern-day machine gun. “Firearms may change [but] the right of the people to keep and bear arms will always stay the same,” one of his Facebook posts is captioned.

Given his passion for the NRA, I doubt The Other Steve read the The Atlantic magazine’s authoritative piece on the “Secret History of Guns.” If he did, he certainly would have known the IRA originally advocated for stronger gun restrictions.  He might have cringed to learn it was the Black Panthers and Malcolm X who led the charge for less restrictive gun laws in the ‘60s to gain liberty “by any means necessary.”

It’s pretty obvious The Other Steve and I agree on very little. I’m not sure how the handful of other Steve Wissinks feel, but I hope they lean more toward my point of view

Pogo

Pogo

than his.

According to various online directories, there are fewer than 20 of us in the United States with the same name. It’s such a small group that we all could get together for a weekend of fishing and camping. Despite our differences I’d actually invite The Other Steve.

I’m not sure he’d understand the invite, though. I’d write it in Wampanoagian.

————–

 The information on The other Steve Wissink came from his Facebook Page, his LinkedIn Profile and YouTube. I’ve sent him an email via Facebook and left a voice mail on his home machine. He didn’t respond to either. Nor has he accepted my Friend Request. Mmmmm. Wonder why?

More Sizzle Than The Super Bowl

The question raised by my coffee house clique posed a daunting challenge.

How does one become the buzz at a Super Bowl Party, more talked about than the year’s best commercials or the game itself?

To make the challenge even more arduous, there was a ground rule. Being caught in flagrante delicto during the pregame ceremonies doesn’t count. After all, it is considered rude here in the South to feast on a man’s chicken wings after playing bow-chicka-bow-wow with his wife.

Grammy Award winner David Byrne
Grammy Award winner David Byrne

 

So, setting aside the serious issues of the day, I contemplated several ways to upstage that annoying brat whose parents are dumb enough to let an infant plan the family’s investment strategies.

Alas, after many a restless night of rejecting one idea after another, the answer jumped off the TV screen while watching a late-night rerun of the Andy Griffith

show.  Barney was getting fancied up for his date with Thelma Lou and donned that grandest garb of Southern fashion, the seersucker suit.

My heart actually skipped a beat at the thought of forgoing jeans and a jersey for a stylin’ seersucker suit better suited for polo matches and the Kentucky Derby.

dressTo be “the buzz” of the party, all I had to do was show up in an old-school suit complete with a pink shirt, a blue bow tie with green stripes, white buck shoes, and an elegant straw hat highlighted with a black and red ribbon.

Best of all, I wouldn’t have to iron. Seersucker is 100 percent double stitched cotton and never stays crisp, so ironing is futile and the rumpled look is part of its charm.

Still, with such a difficult challenge ahead, I had my doubts about whether wearing bikinia suit – no matter how distinctive – would overshadow a group of inebriated frogs thirsting for another beer.

To test my theory, I scoured the web for information and asked several Facebook friends for their thoughts.

Sure enough, seersucker is a sure-fire conversation-starter.

“Nobody doesn’t notice when you’re wearing a seersucker suit,” reporter Ken Burger once wrote for Charleston’s daily paper, the Post & Courier.  “[It’s] a statement to the world that you’re a little different and darned proud of it.”

Well that certainly works in my favor. I’m proud of my premature eccentricities and if you need references to that fact, just ask. I have a few in writing.

But back to the subject at hand. For a simple piece of cloth, seersucker certainly evokes strong reactions.

For example, my pal Tom, who works at a university in Michigan, says seersucker seems “foreign.”

shorts“Only one person I have known in the last several years has worn seersucker,” he says, “and he’s an old guy from Texas who might say something like, ‘What we have heah is a failure to communicate.’”

Ouch.

My long-time pal Joanne, a respected attorney in both New York and Fort Lauderdale, adds: “I would not wear it, and I don’t think I’d be too keen on any of my men wearing it.”

Double Ouch.

I turned to my former colleague Dawn, a southern native who now works for a nationwide newspaper based in New York City. She’s a fan of seersucker but offered this counsel when I asked whether such Southern garb can be worn in the land of city slickers and sophisticates. “If you’re coming here, don’t. That’s my best advice!”

And that comes from a woman who notes her husband “charmed her” when he wore a seersucker suit while they dated.

Photo courtesy of Ron Gunzburger
Photo courtesy of Ron Gunzburger

 

Still, some people have a quaint fondness for seersucker. A quick search of the web shows the puckered fabric is used for dresses, shirts, ties, bikinis, travel bags, hats, shorts, skirts, capris, robes and certain delicates worn by ladies who favor both comfort and style.

My friend Karen, an educator in North Carolina, “likes everything” about her pink seersucker jacket.  Stephanie, a supermarket CEO in Ohio, says “it’s quite preppy” and Leslie, a firefighter in Connecticut, “loves it on young kids.”  Laura, a marketing professional for a San Francisco TV station, says it “makes me think of little boys at a beach wedding.”

“I find myself smiling whenever I see someone in seersucker,” she says. “It always seems so sweet and evokes a ‘time gone by.’”

Great. There are strong opinions on both sides, which is sure to spark discussion and debate.

Much to her surprise, my friend Terri Bridgewater, discovered during our conversation that she’s a bit of a “seersucker connoisseur.”

Her advice: Always make sure the attire is clean, tailored for the perfect fit and limited to the traditional blue with white pinstripes. Women should only wear one no nopiece at a time, such as a blazer or jacket. “If the sleeves are too long or the fit isn’t just right, hit the gong and No Go,” she says.

“Very few people can wear it well and most of those who do are men,” Terri says.  “[Acclaimed musician] David Byrne definitely pulls off the seersucker look and I think Andy Griffith did a pretty good job with it too.”

Her advice on who shouldn’t wear it? Those with weight issues, bad complexion, dirty hair, or favor the grunge look, ala Kurt Cobain.

“If you’re sort of greasy, somehow seersucker just highlights it,” she says. “You might as well be wearing a sign around your neck that says ‘Dirty.’”axe

With all that to be considered, I do believe I can achieve the challenge first raised at the coffee shop. Seersucker makes for much more compelling conversation than a commercial starring a bikini-clad blonde beauty who abandons a lifeguard for an astronaut just because he wears the perfect deodorant.

Ok, it may be tough to outshine the blonde in the bikini, the lifeguard with the chiseled body, or the dude who’s been to outer space.

Even so, the idea of eating wings and chips while dressed to the nines has a certain appeal.

As a columnist for GQ once advised: “I always aim to overdress rather than underdress. It looks like I have someplace better to go later.”

–          OUTTAKES –

Here are a few final quotes (with a bonus scene from the Simpsons) on seersucker.

“From this Northerner’s point of view, it’s fine for selling ice cream but crazy out-of-date nowadays. On a certain kind of elegant old dude, however – white beard required – I like it.” – Syndicated cartoonist and political commentator Ted Rall.

“I’d say that like a skinny jean, it only looks good on the right people. In this case, middle-aged to older men, only in the South, and preferably in the few weeks

jacketsurrounding Easter.” – Megan B., a friend from my days working at a daily newspaper in Fort Lauderdale; she now lives in California.

“Textiles are not my specialty, but I do have a table cloth made of seersucker. It works well because it doesn’t need ironing and I don’t own an iron.” – Peter C., a Facebook friend in Australia, who’s obviously single.

“These days, I could see seersucker shorts on the golf course  …  but only in New England and only on a WASP. I do bet they are cool on a humid August day, something I dream about a lot up here in Maine in February. – John C., my favorite editor of all time.

 “Having come from the North where seersucker is only for preschoolers’ dresses, I was in total shock that the gentleman wore such a thing.” – Anne M., a Facebook buddy who came to North Carolina to study law.

“There is perhaps one occasion a year upon which I would wear it – Halloween.” – Scott A., another newspaper buddy and online pioneer, who now lives in Chicago.

“Quite honestly, there’s just something about wearing seersucker that makes you feel like you’re starring in a James Dickey novel and talking to Mark Twain while having a drink with William Faulkner.” – The Post & Courier’s Ken Burger.

Ah, Ken’s observation is my favorite.marge

Lastly, the final words come from an episode of the “Simpsons” where Marge tries to sweet talk the family out of trouble while traveling in the South.

 Marge: “My goodness, what a lovely suit, sheriff. Is that seersucker?”

Officer: “Nah, not on a civil servant’s salary. It’s neersucker.”

Marge: “Well, the fabric really brings out the red in your neck.”

Once again, Ouch!

 

Lessons From The Chemo Lounge

During treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, I often would jot down notes in a journal my daughter sent me as part of a care package.il_fullxfull.150203272

 Here are some of  the notes I made. They are my keys to living a happy and meaningful life.

1. Life is not a passive verb. Get off your butt and do something that YOU want to do.

2. If you’re drowning in the sea of life, follow the path of the dance band on the Titanic. Just keep playing. A life boat is on its way. If it’s not, at least you’re having a good time.

3. If you love someone, do so unconditionally. Don’t judge, don’t take them on a guilt trip, don’t second guess their motives and always trust them unless they give you cause not to. Remember, your insecurities are yours, not theirs.

4. It is better to understand than to be understood. It’s ok to have the people you cherish try to “understand you,” but don’t hold it against them if you don’t communicate well. It’s not your fault, though, if they don’t try to listen.

5. Smiling at friends and strangers alike is a great way to combat depression. So is laughing inappropriately at the oddest times.

6. The beach and woods are sacred places. Both also are great for certain “recreational activities” of an NC-17 adult nature. But please, be discreet. I don’t want to see you naked any more than you want to see me.

7. Listing three things every day that you are grateful for is empowering.

8. Taking a minute to look at the warmth of afternoon sunlight brings you moments of peace and awe.

9. Every setback is a chance to redefine yourself in the way YOU want. So is every victory.

10. You’ll never have all that you want. It’s better to want what you have, no matter how little it may be.

With that, I’ll leave you today with one simple thought, courtesy of my friend, Chuck Eckstein.

No matter, just keep on breathing.