On Simon, Anna, and Trust Falls

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

A few nights ago, my husband and I watched “The Tinder Swindler” on Netflix. I followed that up (while I was ironing, of course) with “Inventing Anna,” another Netflix show. I mean, who doesn’t love a good, juicy story about a conman/conwoman? When someone has the audacity (or mental illness) to buck society’s norms and use their friends, lovers, and coworkers as pawns in their own personal chess game, without any regard for what will happen to these people, we get curious. Curious about what makes them tick. Curious about how they planned and executed their cons. Curious about how their victims didn’t see it all as plain as the brown on a paper bag. Humans love a sensational story. If we didn’t, TMZ wouldn’t exist.

Much has been said about the naiveté of the victims of these hustlers. In the case of the Tinder Swindler, people have called his female marks slurs like gold diggers, idiots, and sluts. When we were watching the documentary, I admit I sat there agog that these women would send a man they had only known a matter of weeks photos of their passports. What on earth could they have been thinking? I remarked to my husband that in a million years I never would have done something like that when I was dating. I grew up feeling anxious and unsafe in my home environment, and there I learned I could trust no one but myself. As a young woman in the dating world, I was cautious and independent, so the idea of meeting a guy for coffee and then agreeing to hop aboard his private jet bound for another country seems insane to me. While these young women were thinking, “Oh…this is like a fairy tale movie,” I would have been thinking, “This is like a serial killer movie. He’s going to lure me to another country with his private jet and then murder me and dump my corpse there.” I mean, really. Fairy tale? Come on. And call me crazy, but a young, handsome heir to a diamond fortune doesn’t need to find women on Tinder.

Once I got over the preposterousness of it, though, I felt for his victims. They wanted to believe the best. They wanted to trust that this man was what he said he was, what he was actively working to present himself as. They were being flown all over Europe in private jets, wine and dined, presented with lavish gifts and attention. All of these things seemed legit. In the absence of skepticism and a stunted, cynical heart like mine, you are primed as a human for this trickery. So these women lost tens of thousands of dollars to him, and they are still paying off their losses.

Trust is necessary for people to coexist. For societies to work, we have to trust each other. We have to assume when we drive that other drivers will also pilot their vehicles according to the rules of the road and act to keep themselves, as well as others, safe. When we go to the hospital, we trust that the doctors and nurses will do everything in their power to help us. We trust our teachers to be kind and helpful. We trust our neighbors will be decent and responsible. When you don’t trust others, you limit your ability to participate in the world around you. Ask Vladimir Putin.

So as you watch The Tinder Swindler or Inventing Anna and find yourself being deeply critical of those who fell for the ruse, just remember the victims of these cons are not pathetic, gullible losers, but human beings doing what human beings do: trusting others and believing that good still exists in the world. Conmen have for millennia taken advantage of the human need to trust others. We use the term “snake oil salesman” as a cautionary tale for a reason. But we need to believe in the inherent good of others. Trust in others is part of what makes our survival as a species possible. It’s a shame there are those bad apples out there who insist on reminding us there is evil and unmitigated gall for our species to survive too. And it only makes for entertaining television when you aren’t the one who got dropped in their trust fall.

There Is No Substitute For Seeing A Film In A Theater

The pandemic screwed up a lot of things for most everyone on the planet. Being on the fortunate end of most everyone on the planet, the biggest losses we suffered were dining out, going to concerts, traveling, wearing a mask outside the house, and seeing films in theaters. Needless to say, we didn’t suffer much, but the last film we saw in a movie theater was Knives Out on January 31, 2020, which I saw in preparation for the Oscars. I have a long-standing history of trying to see all the films nominated for Best Picture because that is how I geek out.

I love films. One of my earliest memories was seeing Live and Let Die in the big back of our station wagon at a drive-in in Buffalo when I was only 5. I was supposed to be asleep, but I wasn’t. For decades I had scenes from that film in my head, and it wasn’t until I rewatched it as an adult that I was able to verify that I did watch the movie that night. The first rated R movie I saw was The Survivors in 1983 starring Robin Williams and Walter Matthau. My friends and I bought tickets for Superman III, but snuck into The Survivors instead. In 1985, I got a part-time job at the Mann Theaters behind Southglenn Mall. I must have seen Back to the Future a dozen times that summer. That job was my first introduction to so many things and people that it’s nearly impossible to separate that experience from who I am today. I loved working at the theater in high school so much that I found a way to work with movies on campus at college. Wednesday nights I managed the box at the Forum Room and Friday nights I ran concessions at Chem 140 on the University of Colorado campus as part of Program Council. CU introduced me to myriad films from decades before I was born. I saw at least two movies in a theater every week while I was in college. It was simultaneously an escape and a way to stay tied into life in the larger world.

I worried when everything shut down that perhaps I might never see another film in a theater again. Tonight, though, after a 21-month hiatus, my family and I returned to a theater. Despite having had Covid and being fully vaccinated, I was still a little leery about spending a couple hours indoors with the Covid numbers increasing in our area. What could make me take the risk, you ask? Only one thing. A new film by Wes Anderson. Was it worth the expense and the potential exposure risk? Absolutely, if you love Wes Anderson and all his quirky films, which I do. I find his work exceedingly clever, fascinating, and entertaining. Tonight’s film, The French Dispatch, had an extraordinary cast containing most of his regulars (Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Willem Dafoe, and Ed Norton, to name a few) plus a few newcomers like Timothee Chalamet and Elisabeth Moss. Anderson pushes the boundaries of film, maybe a bit too much for some, by incorporating elements of theater and cartoon. I’ll admit there were moments when I struggled to keep up, but that is what I love. I like a movie that makes me think, one where I can’t zone out for ten seconds or run to the restroom because I will miss too much.

It was good to be back. The gargantuan soda and bucket of popcorn took me right back to my polyester-uniform-and-clip-on-bow-tie days working at the theater. As much as I enjoy the convenience of watching a film from the comfort of my own home with the ability to pause it for a minute to grab a snack or check a text message and not miss a thing, nothing will ever compare with seeing a movie in house. And if the day comes, which I assume it will, when movie theaters become part of our history, the world will suffer for the loss of shared experience, of sitting in a dark theater and melting into a story, a story so important that you can’t leave it to go to the bathroom or you risk destroying the magic.


Stupid time and its flying
Stupid time and its flying

I watched the Golden Globe Awards last night. I watch them almost every year. I’m not a big Hollywood junkie or anything. I don’t have an investment in who wins the awards. I just watch to find out what shows or movies I might not want to miss. The Golden Globes are how I discovered Breaking Bad, and I have no regrets about the hours I logged watching Walter White. The Golden Globes are research. That is all.

Last night’s big winner was Boyhood, which won in the motion picture category for Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Drama. I was curious, so today I rented it on iTunes. The director tells the story of a boy growing up, from age 6 to age 18. He did this by filming the actors once a year for 12 years. It’s brilliant, really. As you’re watching the film, you are literally watching the main character grow up before your eyes. I suppose that’s what makes the movie so poignant. As a parent watching my own kids blossom, it was damn near heartbreaking to watch. It’s a beautiful film and an appropriate reminder that time with our kids, no matter how exhausting, frustrating, and downright unpleasant it can be at times, is ephemeral. Damn all the people who have made a point of telling me that life is short. Damn them for being right.

Toward the end of the film, the mom is realizing that her nest is about to be emptied. She has a small meltdown and says, “I just thought there would be more.” More. She recognizes that she’s reached the milestones of her adult life. Getting married. Having kids. Getting divorced. Finally getting her degree and her dream job. Watching her kids go off to college. The big stuff is over, and now all she can think is that the next phase of her life ends in her own funeral. We’re raised to focus on milestones. It’s all about reaching the next phase. We’re forever rushing forward until we reach the time when we feel we’ve gone too far too quickly. We just want to go back, but by then it’s too late.

I’ve been working to appreciate each moment as its own, knowing that this is all there is. I’m getting better at being present in my life. I know I must be because sometimes now I look at my boys and get weepy. In a good way. They’re so handsome and precious with their unique personalities and their whole lives ahead of them. The emotions I used to run from bubble over these days, spilling into everything I do. There are more hugs in my life now. More deep breaths. More moments of gratitude. When I hear that clock ticking, I make a conscious effort to slow it down by focusing on now. I know we’re all screwed up. I’m not alone in my insanity. It’s only recently that I’ve acknowledged that I’m one of the lucky ones. I get it.