Live from Marin County, California

White-Collar Crime: Notes From The Underground

I lie. I lie and cheat and steal. I don't do it publicly; I do it through the System. It's how those of us with a bit of money stay out of the poorhouse, as in a Charles Dickens novel. We don't learn to become pickpockets like Oliver Twist and accost old gentlemen in nice overcoats, and live with a man named Fagin who fries sausages for us. No. We steal through the System. We steal in a mature, entitled way that does not incite any actual remorse. Instead, we feel better when we steal and lie and cheat. We feel smarter and better and we save money.I can cite many examples of white-collar Marin County crime flat off the top of my head.

Let's start with computers. Laptops, specifically. Laptops that travel with us as we drink Courvoisier in plastic cups and juggle overcooked salmon and tiny minuscule salads with plastic cutlery at 30,000 feet. It is inevitable that something bad is going to happen to these laptops. And it's going to be User Error. It's going to be me spilling a slug of brandy onto the keyboard and watching it blink out like Tinker Belle when nobody believed in fairies. It's going to be me chain-smoking under a fierce deadline and not noticing that the head of my cigarette is burning a hole in the space bar of my keyboard until it's too late. It's a close friend, drunk, burning a Carmen McCrae CD at midnight and unintentionally sprinkling Merlot on the CD tray while it's open. It's falling asleep while I am at my computer and knocking my pea soup into the USB cable ports. It's setting fire to the USB cable, which encountered the burning incense holder, until it was marred in an ugly fashion. It is that kind of thing. It is not Apple's fault. But they will repair it anyway. Why will they do this?

Because I lie and cheat and swindle. I pour Liquid Paper on the burned holes until they just look like white lumps of malformed plastic material. I take an X-Acto knife and I scrape off the telltale brown nicotine spots of the cigarette burns that riddle my laptop. I scrape and scrape until it is just an inexplicable badly scratched part of the laptop; it looks as if vandals have attacked it: Vandals on crack with X-Acto knives and no real motive.

Moving on to cell phones: I lie whenever I can to get a free cell phone. I pay about $4 a month for Defect Repair. This, in my mind, includes anything and everything that happens to my cell phone. I reason that this $299 cell phone should be able to handle anything except a nuclear bomb. And if it

doesn't? Well. It's defective.

Last night it was not raining. I park my car in the driveway because my two-car garage is not accepting cars at this point in time, unless the car is a Hot Wheel. The garage is crammed and stuffed, and it is all good stuff. I know it is. So my car was in the driveway last night. And I meant to close the sunroof; I meant to come out later -- I thought it wise to let the car air for a while. Yet TV seduced me, and so I forgot to close the sunroof.

When I wake up it's raining. I go to my car and there it is, in all its exposed glory. Beneath the open sunroof is a small compartment in the interior, where I keep my cell phone. So now? My cell phone is luxuriating in an inch of rainwater. I remove it and take it inside. I dry it with a clean, dry dishtowel and then I place it, flipped open, in front of the heater vent in the upstairs bathroom. I will cook it right. I will cook it back to life. I imagine the tiny microchips drying and becoming functional again; I visualize my sad and forgotten Sanyo cell phone healing in a magical and lucky way, overnight.

This does not happen.

The very next day, I take the dead cell phone to the Sprint store in Greenbrae. I tell them I have no idea why this has happened. I erase all expression from my face and I look him straight in the eye, the Sprint representative, and I say, "It must be defective, I guess."

He gives me a new phone. This is why I do what I do. For this high and this sense of power. Yes, white-collar crime abounds. We must all do our part to make sure we don't get caught.


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