Confessions of a Scam Artist

Dear M., It was so good to hear news of you. I saw you quoted in a trade magazine, a week old, smuggled into my quarters here.

I don’t know if you’ve heard: I’ve been detained. It’s all part of the big crackdown after the Tsunami Affair. Zero tolerance for scammers. Well, you can imagine I was public enemy No. 1. (Frankly, I was surprised-but pleased-to see you were still at large.)

The Unique Show conducted a sweep of known scammers and they pulled me out of bed at 5 a.m. The pricks wouldn’t even let me make an espresso. I don’t know what all the fuss about waterboarding is, though; hell, we did weirder shit in Singapore, back when Singapore was a town. My square-jawed minder, President of the Jury, dunks me twice a day and tries to get me to give him the Answer.
 
In the cell next to me are the missing interns from Brazil, the striplings who caused all the fuss. We used to communicate through knocks in a kind of Portugenglish until (you know me) we quarreled. I let them know I’d never seen a worse ad, or a more obvious fake. Knuckles on fire, I continued: If you’re going to scam with success, you need finesse. You can’t package up feces and submit the pile for praise if you reason like a small woodland creature. (Who equates acts of nature with mass murder?)

They replied they, too, thought it was feces, but their higher-ups kept obsessing about “the Li-ons.” Then they retorted who was I to judge anyway. I was a politically correct Yanqui and they were bold, fresh, provocative Latins. My reply proved how wrong they were about the politically correct part. The knocks on the wall have stopped. It is quiet.

I now have time to think about our scam days. I’m filled with shame of course, but also with beautiful memories. Remember how we ran the dot-com scams up and down the Valley for companies that possibly didn’t exist? Remember how we never paid for anything, anywhere? Like the steak houses in New York, where we’d order steaks and first-growth Bordeaux and by closing time we’d have three magazine spreads and a promise from Nadav to shoot them? Or the barbershops in Minneapolis, where the barbers would have their ads before they’d even finished shaking out the smocks? Or the gun shops in Dallas, where we’d walk in with a notepad and walk out armed like Texas Rangers? (Sorry again about winging you. If it makes you feel any better, I’m presently nursing a small knife wound.) And did we ever pay for a condom?

Ah, M., how often we heard the chimes of midnight together, which meant it was time to stumble down to the chop shops where they’d strip up the unapproved ad just in time for us to meet our contact at the back door of the newspaper who, for the price of an unregistered handgun, would slip it into the morning paper. And do you remember all those flights to Bend, Ore., where the lonely traffic lady at the local station would accept our unsanctioned public service spots and air them at 12:30 a.m. just after we’d finished pleasuring her? Or how about the crazy YouTube engineer babe who’d take your viral in exchange for what she called friendship? Such times.

And wasn’t it brilliant to be on the beach at sunrise at Cannes, still in evening clothes, puking yourself pure again, knowing the scam had worked for another year and you had the metal to prove it? You were there, warm in the knowledge that the bare breasts would soon sprout all around you while the legitimate packaged-goods drones were at home in bed with their mousy spouses in Wilmette. Scam was a lifestyle.
 
Sometimes, as the jury president holds my head beneath the water and the oxygen flees my brain, I think of giving him the Answer, the utterly obvious way to stop the scams.

1. Make a client sign every entry.

2. Attach business results.

This would put us out of business once and for all. I may have to use it to cop a plea. I can’t get a lawyer. The Unique Show has extra-judicial powers (who knew?) and black sites in Poland. But I’m not without protection. I’ve prepared a little black book filled with fellow scammers, including the greatest names in the global creative directorate. In the few smuggled trade articles I have I’ve seen many of these luminaries denouncing the clumsy Brazilians.

Nonetheless, I was touched, M., to see your quote in the press, unrepentant as always, supporting the kids who had the guts to scam. Fight the good fight, friend.

I feel bad for the kids, too, M. We boiled their planet, flatted their fees, divorced their mothers, seduced their half-sisters, burned their clients. Now they’ve got to make their ads legit and sleep with the same person night after night in Wilmette. We are sorry, very, very sorry.

Yours in arms,
T.

Steve Simpson is a copywriter, creative director and partner at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.