Monday, August 25, 2014

I've Been Conned

In my last post, I mentioned that my kids are way smarter than I. Some people of my generation were offended at the mere suggestion… damn Millennials!

During the lost 80’s decade I had spent a few years at university without graduating; completed a two-year stint of national service in the South African Army as a Medic; gotten a job; married my gorgeous sweetheart; bought a house (with a mortgage); became a father; quit my job to become self-employed; and gone back to night school (in an attempt to overcome the embarrassment of not having graduated the first time around.)

My sons should not allow themselves to be conned, because that’s something I can actually teach them about, based on firsthand experience. Perry - my 1982 conman - was very good at his chosen trade. He professionally relieved me of all the money in my savings account. Promptly thereafter, he disappeared.

Two years worth of savings. Five hundred bucks. Being instantly broke is a very good reason to quit school and honor a military service duty call-up because accommodation, clothing and food would all be provided by the army, starting on day one, at no charge.

But, the above is nothing really. Just a simple life lesson. Anyway, it’s relatively easy to recover from a financial setback when you’re just over twenty years old.

Stupidity becomes more of a burden as you mature.

Once, in the early 90’s, when my personal business interests included a couple of successful photographic retail stores, I was very proud to be appointed as one of the judges for a large newspaper group’s annual wildlife photographic contest.

I was now not only a successful, young businessman, but also regularly featured in newspaper stories about the competition and related events (the Internet wasn't available yet). I had obviously been appointed because of my expertise in photography. I kinda forgot that I was a wannabe businessman, rather than an expert in photography… but who cares about the details while enjoying 15 minutes of fame?!

This one year, a teenager entered an impeccably timed shot of an eagle’s descent, perhaps about to capture prey, similar to the image above. The eagle on the award-winning photo was large, powerfully built, beak open, and with its extremely strong and sharp claws ready to end some unfortunate little animal’s life (the prey unseen, yet imagined).

The background lighting was almost artificially good, with the sky a rainbow of different shades of blue, almost absent behind the powerful bird in flight. Like a good butler who only appears when you need him. This was also before Photoshop existed, so cheating was unheard of in photographic competitions.


I implored my fellow judges to agree with me that his was the winning shot. Collectively, they folded like a cheap Wal-Mart tent, and agreed. My guy was the winner. I awarded the prize. A nice young man, well spoken, polite, presentable, good looking.

After he had accepted the first prize, people mingled, chatted, enjoying some snacks and drinks. My winner pulled me aside to say thank you. I was pleased. He also shared that he had shot the award-winning picture of the stuffed eagle at the local museum.

I was stunned. I had just awarded the best wildlife picture to my preferred photographer, for his dead-eagle-in-flight-wildlife-photo-entry. Nay, the bird was not even just dead… it was very dead… as in stuffed. He said that he hadn't been aware that wildlife also meant that the animals were alive. We changed the rules that year, and I quit judging photo competitions.

But, I did what any upstanding businessman would do. I hired the kid who had won the wildlife photo competition, to work in one of my photographic retail stores. He was an excellent hire. Honest, great client skills, and a good, creative photographer!

The story above represents the 80’s version of the current-day computer hacker. Except my guy didn't steal other people’s credit card info, or their money. What do you do when you discover a seriously fine hacker? You hire him or her! 

Remember, all is never as it seems, and my kids are still smarter than I am. 

And... the eagle has landed, or has it?