Last Friday, I barely avoided giving $500 to a con artist. My only defense is that I was on medication.
Some things happen like clockwork every February. The Arkansas temperature ranges from 20 to 70, often in the same day. A valentine arrives from my Mother. The Oscars broadcast goes 15 minutes longer. And I get stuck with a lousy cough.
This year it started early, and by last Wednesday, it got so bad that I hacked away through the night. I managed to get to the doctor Thursday morning under my own power, but while standing at the window filling out paperwork, I started to feel faint. Within seconds, some very kind nurses were carting me to a room in a wheelchair.
In one minute, I went from a 46-year-old man to an 86-year-old invalid, complete with a heavy overcoat and raspy cough. All I lacked was a fedora and some butterscotch candy in my pocket.
The doctor prescribed a shot and various other medicine. I thanked him, and after he left the room, I got up to leave, forgetting about the shot. As I was shuffling down the hallway, I turned to see a nurse coming after me with a syringe raised high in her fist. Had the 6-year-old Michael seen this image, he would have fainted for real. I apologized, returned to the exam room and explained that I was not firing on all cylinders that morning. Shades of things to come.
I didn’t go to work that day and instead went home to bed. By the next day, I felt confident to return to class to shape the minds of America’s youth.
The trouble began before I left the house. Because I had missed Thursday’s office hours, I was scurrying to get in early to take care of some things before class. As I was checking emails, I noticed an email from a supervisor. It had the cryptic message, “Are you available?” And it also had a warning from Harding’s firewall to be skeptical of this email.
Did I mention that I was on cough syrup?
Already discombobulated from being in a hurry, I answered the email and asked how I could help. This is what we do at Harding. We help people. The person sending the email responded that he needed me to go buy some iTunes gift cards right away.
Let me say that I was also on antibiotics.
I thought it was odd he would ask me to do this, but I replied and asked in what amounts. He answered that he wanted four of them, for 100 British pounds each. He then said that after I bought them, would I please scratch them and email him the codes.
I should also mention the two squirts of nasal spray I had in me.
Any person operating at full mental capacity would have asked, “Why the rush?” “Why British currency?” “Why does he want me to email him the numbers?” Instead, I asked, “Where in Searcy can I find gift cards in pounds?”
I had also been in a wheelchair less than 24 hours earlier.
Now I was running late, and the emailer was insisting he needed this errand done right away. So, when I got to the office, I asked our new secretary for help. Within minutes, she was on the phone trying to track down international gift cards in White County.
They laughed at her at Walmart.
In her defense, she did not read the email chain; all she knew was that this was a favor for the boss. Surely she would have noticed — among all the other screaming red flags — that this “supervisor” was using bad grammar in his emails.
Obviously, the Tylenol, antibiotics, nasal spray and shot had combined into a Molotov cocktail that renders me completely immune to critique. Any mockery you consider lobbing my direction would be, frankly, un-Christian.
I was just about to put on my overcoat again and go out shopping, when a colleague — let’s call him Yoda — glided into my office. There seemed to be a halo when he came in. But that could have been the cough syrup.
He had overheard just enough. “A scam this is,” he intoned. “Stop it, you can.”
There is a classic line from “The Truman Show,” a film where — fittingly — only one man doesn’t realize what is obvious to everyone else. It goes like this, “We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented.” True. A lot of con artists would be out of work if we didn’t.
My latest plan is to stay on these meds for another week to get blanket absolution for every gaff, bungle, miscue and blunder. Let me know if you need any gift cards in francs.