Category Archives: Scumbag studies

My Archie Bunker experience

Everyone over forty knows exactly what I mean by that. Many under forty may not.

In 1971, the nation was divided and distressed. The Middle East would probably boil over again. We were losing in Vietnam, trying to tell ourselves it wasn’t really losing if we simply quit and abandoned the RVN government to its fate. Back in those days, there was a left wing, including on the world stage where the Soviet Union worked hard to export its authoritarian-left perspective. It seemed to make inroads everywhere. For our part, we talked big about exporting democracy, but the truth was that we’d throw money and support at any dictator who supported us over the Soviets. We lived in daily fear of global thermonuclear war.

At home, the civil rights movement had won its war but would find that winning the peace was much like the difference between de jure and de facto. The women’s movement was still called ‘Women’s Liberation,’ and it was nowhere near winning its war. Men who had fought in World War II did not understand why their sons not only refused to fight in Vietnam, but did anything possible to avoid it. Cowboys and hippies exchanged insults, and at times punches. In the previous year, Ohio National Guardsmen had opened fire on protesters at Kent State University, killing four and wounding nine. The year before that, the massacre of hundreds of Vietnamese villagers by a platoon of the Americal Division at My Lai had gone far to shake our sense of ourselves as the good guys.

The Pirates won the World Series in 1971, and I turned eight. That year, the sitcom All in the Family first aired. The show depicted a crabby, selfish, bigoted, working-class, staunchly right-wing World War II veteran, Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor). Jean Stapleton played his wife Edith with great comic genius, keeping a straight face when it was hard imagining anyone could; she was far more tolerant than her husband, but just as old-fashioned. With the Bunkers lived their daughter, Gloria (Sally Struthers), a somewhat dimwitted partner to her husband Michael Stivic (Rob Reiner). Mike, whom Archie typically addressed as ‘Meathead,’ was attending college while he and Gloria lived with the Bunkers to save money. As Archie was a parody of the day’s right wing and social conservatism, Mike parodied the left wing and social liberalism of the day. He was sexist, condescending, self-righteous, and inconsiderate.

I don’t remember Archie ever saying “nigger”–by 1971, that was the first (and only) racial slur that had become unacceptable on a broad social basis–but I’ve been watching old episodes, and I did hear him say “chink,” “spic,” “Hebe,” “gook,” “bohunk,” “fag,” and “Dago.” In nearly every episode, he called Mike a “Polack.” It must be quite jolting to the younger ear; it jolts mine, and I remember when such talk was just starting to go underground, throughout the seventies. (Some of us thought it had been eradicated, but that was wishful thinking. One can prevent a person from articulating bigotry, but that will not change that person’s beliefs.)

The show was so popular because it held up a mirror to the culture of the day, with nuanced characters and some good comedy. It may have been the catalyst for some self-awareness growth. We all knew at least one Archie Bunker. All in the Family ran for nine years, with a couple of middling spinoffs.

The reasons all this matter, at least to me, are:

  1. If I don’t help to tell the history of my times, people will make up fictitious purpose-driven versions.
  2. It touches my life because I came moderately close to being the son-in-law of an Archie Bunker.

Back in my twenties, I got involved with a young lady–we’ll call her Katie–who was in a mode of post-collegiate-but-still-living-at-home rebellion against her parents. The father, who worked construction, might well have been somewhat grateful that this time his daughter had brought home someone of similar ethnic background to herself. The previous one had not been, and you can imagine what Archie (I think I’ll just call him that) had on his mind about that. He was an ugly flat-faced SOB who looked like he could eat wallpaper off a wall, and not without virtues; unfortunately, among his virtues was not multicultural tolerance and acceptance. He was also a troll, and knew that his racism offended me, so he made the most of that: he’d turn the channel to a boxing match, for example, and talk about how much fun it was to watch a couple of “niggers” beat each other up.

Unlike TV’s Archie Bunker, whose wife Edith had a heart of gold, Katie’s mother was as mean and bigoted as her husband, and considerably more vindictive. On some level, her husband was human; the mother was not. In fact, Katie did not have one single relative I could bear: a brother and cousin, clones of the father; an absurdly dumb sister; a stereotypical drunk, deaf uncle. The price of dating Katie, and of later being engaged to her, was to be required to endure these people most weekends.

Can you believe I tried for five years to make this relationship work? Good lord. I had my flaws, and I contributed my share of mistakes, but in the end it was time to bow to reality. Significantly poorer, I moved on in relationships. We still have a few friends in common, but Katie moved on and married (this time, to a Hispanic man; Archie must have just loved that). We haven’t spoken in nearly a quarter century; both her parents are gone, but I’ll be glad just never to have any reminder too direct of that experience.

I guess the point of this tale is that if you’re young, and you happen to be watching old TVLand reruns of All in the Family, and you simply cannot believe they could get away with talking like that on TV (except maybe on premium movie channels), much less that such views were commonplace, believe it. And they are by no means all gone even today.

I hope your generation sees the final die-off of those attitudes, because with their current remalnaissance*, mine will not live to see it.


*For those of you who are not French speakers, this is my neologism for ‘re-misbegotten.’ ‘Renaissance’ means ‘rebirth’ and ‘mal’ means ‘bad.’ It is not meant to be correct French, but to modify the English term to indicate that the original birth was no good either.

It is nonsensical to expect shame from those who have none

Spanish has a beautiful word: sinvergüenza. It means “shameless,” but is culturally loaded. (Don’t make the mistake of thinking it changes by gender; it is a compound word, “sin vergüenza,” or ‘without shame’; thus as an adjective it retains the same form regardless of the noun it modifies, and if a noun, is the same whether describing a shameless man or woman.) To articulate it correctly, remember that the trema (two dots) over the U means to pronounce each vowel: seen-vair-hu-en-za.

In most Spanish-speaking cultures, one’s personal honor is an important thing, which may require actions or non-actions for the sake of preservation. A sinvergüenza is a person whom dishonor would not restrain, a person who has placed him or herself outside shared cultural values and ethics. It occurs to me that this useful word can help nice people to understand some of the assholes we deal with.

I began to think about this while reading a thread on my local Nextdoor. A salesperson or scammer came to lady’s door and knocked. While waiting for an answer, he muttered profanities. We know this because her video camera recorded him in full glory. Several responded to say they had seen him, or that he had come to their doors and behaved with anger and rudeness. Everyone was surprised and outraged.

My theory as to why they were surprised: they had ignored the most obvious clue. The guy was sinvergüenza. How did we know this? Because he was knocking on doors, even those with NO SOLICITING signs, intruding on people’s private property in order to bother them. It’s the same mentality that sends spam, or makes scam phone calls. All those who do these things, which a decent human being would be ashamed to do, are lacking in shame. If one is impervious to shame, a key moral restraint is not in place, and thus all behaviors are permissible (in that person’s mind) and all other persons are required and expected to tolerate them. If other persons do not tolerate the bad behaviors, those said other persons are intolerant, mean, wrong, bad. It all comes back to the statement of policy: “I may be an asshole, and you may not object. If you do, of course, I single you out for extended assholery.”

I recall one time back in Kennewick, I happened to see a guy snooping around our vehicles in our driveway. I went outside with the sjambok (not brandishing it) and asked him just what the hell he was up to. He was handing out flyers for a hypermiler event sponsored by a Toyota dealership in Yakima. He then proceeded to evangelize me on hypermiling. I told him frankly that he was being creepy and had better get the hell out of there. The verbal altercation deteriorated to the point where I had to advance with the sjambok. I laughed when he talked about ‘threatening me with that stick.’ (He’s lucky he didn’t turn around and put me in a situation where I worried for my safety. That thing feels like boiling water hosed onto the skin.) Here’s the point: to him, it was perfectly fine to pull into my driveway, start snooping around one of our cars unannounced, then behave as an asshole when told to stop. A normal person would be embarrassed to behave this way.

We see it in email spam. A friend of mine wrote, this very day, about an email exchange with a marketer. After his third email, she told him her firm wasn’t interested, and to stop mailing her. His response was that she could have said so the first time. Point being: to him, as a shameless person, sending repeated emails was just fine. Thus, it was her fault she got them, because she did not opt out. Every couple weeks or so, I find myself on some unwanted mailing list. If it persists, I reply telling them to remove me. They often tell me to use their unsubscribe link. See what they did there? They intruded upon me unasked for. If I wish it to stop, I am expected to do work. Asking them to do work to correct their own wrong work, that makes me a very mean person, and unkind. They assume that their initial contact was perfectly legitimate, and it was not.

The area where this is most punishable is U.S. Junk Mail, because most days someone sends a business reply envelope that gets to hold all the day’s junk. It’s still wrong, because I’m still asked to dispose of it in some way, but at least I can dispose of it by sending it to a junk mailer for disposal.

I realize that most of you are fundamentally nice, decent people. You get surprised when bad things happen, because you do not do such bad things, and you wonder how anyone could. Thank you for being as you are; you are appreciated. I’m here to help you. And it’s simple:

THEY ARE SINVERGÜENZA. They have no shame.

They don’t play by nor care for your rules of courteous conduct. Because you impose those rules upon yourself in dealing with the shameless for longer than they deserve, they bother you longer and behave more rudely to you when you voice objection. They may go away when threatened, but they will not act as you would. If you had done what they did, you would walk away wondering what had become of you. They will not do this. They are already on to the next mark. Nothing you said hurt them or caused them to reconsider their actions. They are not like you. They lack shame.

You did not have to allow this. If you were to realize that a sinvergüenza action is the marker of a shameless person, you would not make nice with him. You would respond in the beginning as if this person were unworthy of courtesy. In most cases that might mean not answering the door; it might mean toying with telemarketers; it could mean refusing to answer nosey questions; etc. But you already have the person’s personality marker.

Because only a shameless person does in such a way.

Scumbag studies: Arnold Rothstein

He’s the perfect subject for this series, because he was a complete scumbag–just not in the ways most people imagine.

  • He didn’t fix the 1919 Series.
  • He was a gangster of Jewish heritage, but never part of a Jewish gang.
  • He may have been the brightest underworld figure of his time, a lock to succeed in legitimate business had he chosen to do so.

Arnold entered the world in 1882, son of Abraham and Esther Rothstein, of Manhattan. His parents were respected well beyond the observant Jewish community in which they lived, Abe being well known as an honest straight shooter (and not in the literal sense). Arnold was the family’s black sheep, quitting school early and marrying a non-Jew. To Abe, that was equivalent to his son’s death, and the father performed all the mourning rituals of Judaism. Arnold never outwardly repudiated the faith of his culture and upbringing; he simply did not practice it. He would one day be buried in a skullcap and tallit (prayer shawl).

A.R., as many referred to him, built his fortune as a professional gambler. Cards, the racetrack, didn’t matter; he was in. If he could fix it, he would. Many sought to clip him with fixes of their own, and in those circles, the rule was that the winner was the winner and the loser was the chump, and still had to pay up. He was no greedier than the rest of his ilk for that era, just better at it for most of his life.

My assessment: the 1919 World Series fix was the worst thing that could have happened to him. He didn’t do it, but the bum rap stuck to him. A couple of the players initiated the fix, and pitched the idea to Rothstein through intermediaries. Rothstein didn’t believe it was feasible to fix a Series; one biographer says A.R. respected the national game too much to do such a thing, and that’s where that author loses me. I know of no other evidence that A.R. gave a damn about the integrity of anything except the obligation to pay whatever portion one must of one’s bets and debts, and if bought, to remain bought. What the Series fix did to Rothstein was make this intensely private and reserved man into a public figure. It didn’t matter that he didn’t put the fix in. Enough people believed it that his innocence didn’t matter; plus, in fairness, as Aunt Polly said to Tom Sawyer, he didn’t get a lick amiss. Before that, the public mostly neither knew nor cared about A.R. After the Black Sox Scandal, the public knew it ought to hate Arnold Rothstein–and from 1920 on, he had scrutiny like never before. He had never wanted public notice, and he now had the worst possible kind.

Rothstein was a gangster, but not as many modern folks view a Prohibition- and pre-Prohibition era gangster. The modern tendency is to see those gangs in ethnic terms, and in many cases that was so. In that of A.R., not so much. There is no evidence that he ever put heritage above money; he was an equal opportunity opportunist, if one may pardon the clanks that emanate from that descriptor. As a gangster, his genius was constant evolution and a formless organization. One could look at, for example, Dion O’Banion’s mob in Chicago and say: “Irish gang.” It was an organization, well known, and those who were in, were in. Rothstein never had anything of the kind. He had deals going, with whomever for whatever reason, and when a line of trade became less profitable, he walked away with what he had earned. He gambled, bootlegged, sold insurance, whatever came his way. Until the last years of his life, he never followed a bad play off a cliff, which explains his enormous wealth. There were always new opportunities, and payoffs were the price of doing business. He did business with Tammany, but was never their creature, nor were they his.

As a personality, he was calm, reserved, urbane, polite, private, and patient. I have no way to know, but I watched the whole run of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, and I find Michael Stuhlbarg’s portrayal quite credible. A.R. was so reserved that his wife, Carolyn, eventually moved to divorce him. To go by her memoirs, he loved her as much as he was capable of loving any person, but hers was the proverbial gilded cage.

There is so much we don’t know about A.R. and never will. His 1928 shooter did not kill him immediately, and Arnold didn’t squeal; we still don’t know who did it. There were elements of the police that did not much want to solve the case. Toward the end, Arnold’s gambling wasn’t going as well as it had before. It is hard to imagine that his death was not a result either of some past grudge, or some scheme or bet more recently gone against him.

Was he a scumbag? Fair to say, but he wasn’t one for the oftenest-thought reason. He was wealthy, introverted, brilliant, and private. He was deeply corrupt, and he had plenty of company. Whatever other names we might call Arnold Rothstein, there is one I am sure no one ever used.

He was not dull, in any sense of the term.

All about Messing With Telemarketers

It’s not just a fun hobby; it’s now a website, whose author has written a great book. Much of the insight presented here emanates from my interpretations of Haven Riney’s methods, for which I extend him his due full credit.

Where Riney’s mind and mine meet is where most disagree with us both, to wit:

  • Problem: telemarketers waste our time and annoy us.
  • Most people: just hang up on them, not worth your time.
  • Riney and I: torment them and waste their time in creative ways that amuse us.

I can’t speak for Riney, but the way my mind works is that we make the world a better place every time we make bad behavior less profitable. I also believe we should find ways to enjoy making bad behavior unprofitable.

Riney draws a valid distinction between telemarketers (who intend to deliver a legitimate, if stupid and/or useless, product or service) and scammers, whose work is to steal. I agree with his recommendation, that one show telemarketers a little more mercy than scammers. In my view, the scammers are fair game for everything including a scam of one’s own. There is plenty of e-mail scamming going on, as all of us who know and love are aware, but Riney covers only phone scams. The most common one at this writing is the fake IRS collector. Among others, in the book Riney reacts to many iterations of the Windows Security scam. I’ve had lots of those.

Riney, it seems, is a born actor and improv comic. His dialogues with telemarketers and scammers are genius. He nearly always knows how to run with any reaction he might encounter. I hope his book sells quajillions of copies, makes him rich, and inspires so many people to take up telemarketer-tormenting and scammer-tormenting that both become unfeasible economically, horrible work, and die out. (This will unfortunately destroy the economy of Boise, which is the Unaccented English Call Center Capital of the world these days. Can’t be helped.) I doubt Riney’s skill can be taught.

For some of us, it’s harder. I’m not very good at handling surprise lines of inquiry off the cuff. I need a plan, some prompts, a little preparation. I don’t think I’m the only one. So what I’m going to do is glean from Riney some tips that will enable others, who might also need a little advance prep, to screw with these people. I’ll add my own inspirations, in case they help.

One of Riney’s best methods, which won’t work for me, is to react as if one were a given film character. It helps if one can pick a suitable film character for the line of inquiry. For example, Riney responded to a health insurance query by pretending to be Steve Austin, the character on the 1970s show The Six Million Dollar Man. He presented as Star Wars characters. I think it’s a great idea if you watch much pop culture (I don’t) because you can adopt a persona and react as that person would. If it’s someone that few foreigners would probably suss out, better still. In my case, I’d have to think of a few in advance so that I could react on the fly.

Another method is to adopt a made-up, bizarre persona. Riney did several of these, usually with names that would read very comically. A given persona might desire to re-enact the battle of Gettysburg with rodents as the actors, or claim to be in the process of actually holding up a convenience store during the call. I’m not able to do this at all without time to process, but some people can.

One that occurred to me: why not claim to be an animal of one’s choice and knowledge? “My name is Mr. Ursus. I like honey and salmon.” Then give the sorts of responses that would be reasonable for a bear.

Other methods used or inspired by Riney:

  • Adopting a very odd manner of speech, such as like a Star Trek computer voice or somesuch.
  • One of my inspirations would be to do a very heavy foreign accent, such that it was difficult for a foreign speaker to understand. Even a very heavy domestic accent: if you’ve always wanted to see how your drawl sounded, that’d be your chance.
  • Random quotes would work, if you were encyclopedic and quick enough. Riney is; I’m not.
  • One of my favorites with the Windows Security scam is to pick a random non-computer device, such as my microwave or toaster, and pretend that I think it’s a computer. That gets them very frustrated. “It doesn’t have the key you are talking about. It has this sliding thing alongside.”
  • Claiming to be occupied doing something fairly gross while talking. The funniest one in Riney’s book was the one about getting a rectal piercing. You could claim to be eating live mice if you thought that would rattle them.

Just as people advise writers to write what they know, the common thread here is to act out what you know. If you know your cat’s personality well enough, act it out. If you’re a huge fan of Tatiana Maslany (and you should be), pick one of the Orphan Black clone characters (I vote for Helena). If a cow could speak in response to a telemarketer or scammer, what would that cow say? You could pretend to be your Prius, your conure, your schnauzer. I think the key is the ability to imagine a different perspective and play pretend.

Many telemarketers are so wrapped up in the script that they don’t use any active listening at all, as Riney’s results illustrate. In many cases, he even answered the phone with “,” yet people just rolled through their scripts. Riney got so many calls from the same scam artists that he got to know a few of them, even had candid conversations with them about how the scam worked. One of the more interesting revelations is that scammers use the MagicJack device to fake phone numbers, but that they themselves get hacked by other thieves, and it bothers the scammers a lot.

I have no patience for the argument that there is anything wrong with being unkind to them. When you are in a bad business, people will be unkind to you. That’s because it’s a bad business that deserves unkindness. Suffering goes with its territory.

If you question whether it’s worth your time, which is a valid question, consider this. While you’re wasting this person’s time (by donating some of yours), you aren’t wasting yours. While he’s talking to you, he’s not available to run game on Mrs. Edna Miller of Wausau, WI, who is a little confused nowadays and is thus vulnerable to such tactics. If every telemarketing or scam call resulted in wasted telemarketing or scammer time, the world would be a better place. None of us can stop it singlehandedly, but if we all pitched in a little time, we’d have a little fun while helping the vulnerable.

I feel energized. I think my next scam caller will hear that I am Sarah Palin, or Johnny Manziel, or Octomom, or Ban Ki-Moon, or a grackle.

Fun with car dealer service departments

Car dealerships do not get it.

My truck has, or had, a leak somewhere in the cab. My truck is a quarter century old, I am its only owner, and I like it. If someone gave me a free Rolls-Royce, I would sell it. No, I would never want to drive it just the once. I simply don’t get a kick out of driving new cars. Because my truck is that old, there are many potential failure points: rusted floorboard, deteriorating window seal, maybe even a drain line from the heater.

Unless I wanted my well-preserved truck to smell like mildew sooner rather than later, this needed handling. A post on an automotive forum alerted me to the possible causes, got me lots of encouragement to try fixing it myself (no, thank you), and did not get a single respondent answering the question: would I take this to a mechanic, a body shop, or an auto glass place?

So I ended up at the Toyota dealership where most of my fellow Beaverts, or Aloverts, would be likely to go. I made an appointment several days out, kept putting paper towel rolls on the truck floor, and tried not to drive when the weather went full Portland. No matter what I did:

  1. I could not see where the water was leaking in.
  2. It was definitely related to driving, as in, if left to sit in peace, it did not leak.

Clear as mud, right? Now, the Toyota dealer (a species often condemned by Martin Shkreli for low morals) had quoted me $110 to diagnose the problem. With no real idea where to begin, this seemed that rare situation where going to a Toyota dealer service department could benefit a customer, since a dealer has to be able to address (or job out) all the different issues that could arise with their brand. All right, if it costs $110 to figure out what the deal is, if I don’t like the repair quote, I can always take it elsewhere to get the work done. I pull into the service bay, where I sit in my truck reading a book for ten minutes before a service writer comes out to talk. I explain the problem and what I’ve observed so far.”

“How long are you able to leave it with us? We’d really like a few days.”

That got my attention. “I was under the impression you’d spend an hour diagnosing the problem.”

“It can take a lot longer. We have to pull up your panels, rugs, take out your seats, then basically run it under a huge shower and see where the water comes from. Sometimes takes up to eight hours.”

I did some mental math. “In other words, you’re suggesting that you might charge me up to $880 to figure out where the truck cab is leaking. This is not what I was told over the phone.”

“I’m sorry. They’re hard to find. But we–”

I rebuckled my seat belt and turned the ignition key. “You understand, of course, that this means I was deceived over the phone in just about every way. Therefore, I agree to no service today and will not be needing this appointment.”

He stepped back without a word and opened the far bay door, and that was that.

Then I went to the backup plan. When you use Toyota dealer service departments, you need a backup plan. I took it to a mechanic who had gotten a lot of good reviews as an honest guy. He suggested I take it to his favorite auto glass place, and tell them he’d sent me. I did that. They charged $68 to leak-hunt, determined that my windshield was sealed properly, and discovered that all the crud in my vents was preventing water from draining as it should, thus it was overflowing into the firewall. For $50, they would clean it all out. I said “please do so.” They did. $118, please. Here’s my Visa.

$8 more than what the dealer wanted to charge me for diagnostics, problem addressed.

I do not know why Toyota dealer service departments are so typically bad, so underskilled, so overpriced. I know I have yet to meet one I believe should remain in business. While this wasn’t quite as satisfying as when my wife told the sales manager in Hillsboro to go fuck himself (I still get a little misty with pride when I think of it), I’ll admit a thing. The reason I was okay with setting an appointment there was because I was going to benefit either way. Either I would get a solution to my problem, or I would drive off without paying anything, or I would give a Toyota dealership hell’s fire. Couldn’t lose.

In the meantime, everyone who loathes car dealerships can have a little glimmer of joy from today.

Scumbag studies: SS-Oberführer Dr. Oskar Dirlewanger

When you go rooting around in the scumbag files, WWII Nazi Germany is fertile ground. Therefore, to achieve historical notice as one of the most loathsome officers to serve the Third Reich, that person must be abnormally messed up. While he lacked the level of authority to match crime for crime with the likes of Adolf Eichmann, or Rudolf Höss, Dirlewanger was a war criminal of a different sort. He commanded an anti-partisan unit held in low esteem by many even in the Waffen-SS: what began as SS-Sturmbrigade Dirlewanger, and ended as the 36th Waffen-Grenadier Division-SS “Dirlewanger,” carrying out his own personal Holocaust in command of some of the worst cutthroats ever to wear the uniform of any German army in history.

At least on paper, the Waffen-SS eventually fielded thirty-eight divisions. Some were elite, some were failures. Some have no record of atrocities; some existed only to commit atrocities. Many weren’t even German. But of them all, what became the 36th Division has few rivals for the title of worst of the worst.

The histories of Dirlewanger himself and his signature military unit are not quite the same, and this is about the man, so let us dispose of the Dirlewanger Brigade and its successors. Nazi Germany had a partisan problem in its occupied Soviet and Polish territory. Simply put, the locals had decided against accepting consignment to the status of ‘Slavic subhumans,’ and were resenting this designation in arms. The Nazis, always eager to wring maximum value from human resources, had decided to release enough convicted poachers to form a military unit. It soon expanded to incorporate SS men convicted of crimes not quite vile enough to warrant the gallows.

The Dirlewanger Brigade soon became the Waffen-SS penal unit. It made the French Foreign Legion look like a Mormon Boy Scout troop. In time, a fair number of recruits came from concentration camps. The unit spent much of the war hunting partisans and committing atrocities in eastern Europe. In May 1945, a flood of Soviet flame and steel wiped out Dirlewanger’s unit.

Thanks, Premier Stalin. That nullifies at least a small portion of the other things you did in life.

As for Dirlewanger, one might best describe him as a harmonic convergence of awful. Born in 1895 in Würzburg, he served with distinction in World War I. Rising from the enlisted ranks to Leutnant, Dirlewanger suffered six battle wounds on the way to the Iron Cross 1st Class. That’s the only good part. By then, he was already an alcoholic, a predatory sexual brute with a taste for minors, and a sadist with a tendency to run amok. Even then, twenty-five years before his WWII infamy, one may very reasonably suppose that atrocities were done under his leadership.

War changes most who see it, and especially those who fight in it. In Dirlewanger’s case, war made a bad mind worse. He spent the 1920s and early 1930s fighting in nationalist/fascist militias while embezzling from his employer and, somehow, obtaining a Ph.D in political science. When a court convicted him in 1934 of raping a fourteen-year-old girl, the Nazi party kicked him out. He even spent time in a concentration camp. What saved him then, and would save him later, were connections. His old army buddy Gottlob Berger had since risen to high rank in the SS, and sprang Dirlewanger from confinement. Finding the Spanish Civil War most convenient, Dirlewanger volunteered for the Spanish Foreign Legion. When Germany intervened, Berger got Dirlewanger transferred to the ground component of the Condor Legion. Cowardice was never one of Dirlewanger’s many deficiencies. His performance in combat gave Berger the necessary ammunition to reinstate Dirlewanger in the Nazi party.

Then came the outbreak of war, and in 1940, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler assigned Dirlewanger to the battalion of paroled poachers that represented the beginnings of the Dirlewanger Brigade. What we learn from his conduct at the helm of this unit, or at least what I take away from it, is what can occur when a man with a perverted code of morality receives absolute power in a situation where nothing he can do in the enemy’s general direction will earn him reproof. Dirlewanger spent the remainder of the war leading the most loathsome unit in the German armed forces with ferocious bravery, and committing rape, arson, torture, and murder with equal ferocity.

There is no evidence Dirlewanger ever asked a trooper to do a thing Dirlewanger would not do himself. What would normally be a commendable military leadership virtue, in this case, becomes one of the few ways to make a bad record worse. As bad as some of the Latvian, Lithuanian and Ukrainian SS police were–and if you do not know how bad, you have no idea how much currency Premier Putin’s accusations against modern Ukraine carry in the minds of those who know anything about eastern Europe–Dirlewanger’s polyglot force of condemned criminals, failed officers, and conscripted POWs was worse than any. The unit spent minimal time in frontline combat until very late in the war. It made war upon partisans and defenseless civilians in the occupied western USSR and Poland. All that they did, they did under the orders of SS-Obf. Oskar Dirlewanger.

After the German military collapsed, and his eponymous unit fell to broken bits, Dirlewanger tried to hide out. Acting on a tip, French occupation authorities detained him. Considering that the French knew exactly who they had, and considering that the detention camp had Polish guards, and considering that the French are not fundamentally naïve, I find it asking too much for us to believe that the French ever intended Dirlewanger to face a trial. While some of the details are murky and disputed, there seems no reasonable doubt that sometime around 5 June 1945, Polish guards beat Dirlewanger to death.

Merci. Dziękuję.

Naturally, it didn’t take long for rumors to begin that Dirlewanger had escaped beyond justice. A 1960 exhumation put those to rest in most evidence-oriented minds. Fifty-five years on, and seventy after his death, the modern mind often forgets Dirlewanger. At least, until one sees a photo of his gaunt, high-cheekboned face, with deep-socketed eyes that gaze out at the viewer to warn: if you’re soul-searching, don’t bother looking here. If you found one, you’d wish you hadn’t.

Every time someone does something truly awful–a school massacre, for example, or a day in the life of ISIS/ISIL–a number of wonderful, kind-hearted, truly decent folk will lament: “How can people DO that? WHY?” I understand that they do not understand. Their inability to see the world from the perspective of a Dirlewanger, or a Joseph Kony, or their like, is an enviable virtue. I hope they preserve it. One suspects that you rarely hear such a question from, for example, a Supermax guard, because they work in surroundings saturated by evil. As for me, I have never seen evil on that scale, but I’ve seen and felt enough of the real deal to answer the innocent lamentation. The answer’s simple:

“You wouldn’t understand. Rejoice in that. I wish I didn’t.”

Hosing off after automobile shopping

It will take a high-pressure nozzle. After dealing with most of the auto sales outfits in my wife’s area, it may take that to denude us of the ick.

My wife’s work requires her to drive moderate distances on a regular basis, which means that when her vehicle ceases to feel reliable, she isn’t the only one uncomfortable with that. Call me a sexist pig to your heart’s content: I view it as my personal undelegateable husbandly duty to make sure that my wife has a safe, reliable vehicle. I’m still driving my 1990 Toyota pickup, and with luck, I may drive it for another twenty-four years. She goes through cars in six to eight years. When it’s time to go shopping, I do most of the research, because I have more time to do it.

I have a number of friends, however, who know many things I do not. One goes back with me to third grade: my man Russell Deason, a fellow veteran of Heritage Child Abuse Christian School in beautiful Fort Collins, Colorado. Among Russell’s virtues is a mean streak when it comes to those who prey upon others, and with his sales background, that’s terrible news for car dealerships.

Before I get on with the story, with Russell’s kind permission, I quote here most of the advice he gave me. I took as much of it as possible, and kept some of the remainder in the quiver in case I needed it. I would like to share it with the world.

RD: “Look and show interest early in the month but walk on all offers. Return the last week of the month when they are desperate to make sales and fulfill their quotas. Continue to string the salesman along all month with teaser contacts (usually less painful over the phone than in person). Beware of the “tie down” questions. Those are designed to get you to answer yes, nod your head and other affirmative actions which in theory make it psychologically easier for them to ask you for the purchase. Drive the salesman nuts by constantly answering those questions ambiguously or negatively. Create a very long objections list to each vehicle you are considering. Dig through every consumer report on each and compile every petty complaint. Salesmen are taught to “answer objections” in ways that allow them to turn the objection in a “tie down.” If you beat them at this game they will become frustrated, their egos get bruised and they get desperate to land your sale because they cannot stand to be beaten at their own game. Finally, beware the “manager.” This person is their most well trained “closer.” They are the party best at the “tie down” and high pressure tactics. Do everything possible to avoid that person until you are actually ready to make the deal. When you do reach that point, insist on changing the chair position in the office. They will seat you back to the door. Turn the chair sideways so you can see the door. This unnerves them as this is a key point in their tactics. Tell the actual salesman to either not stand behind you or leave the room. Make that statement an order. They use that tactic to create an uncomfortable environment. Insist on time alone in the room to read the contracts in their entirety and hold out the possibility you may ask your lawyer to review them before finalizing the purchase. These are all things I was taught in sales training. Use them to your advantage with my full blessing. Please make the salesmen squirm so I can hear about it afterward.”

And I did. Russell, I know this is the best way to thank you.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t practical for us to time it that well. We needed to get Deb a new car, my window of time to help her was July 4, and that was that. But we were well prepared for their psychological warfare, and when they cut loose with it, we made sure it backfired.

RD: “I very much like David’s [another helpful commenter, David Lee] idea of a list the salesman is not allowed to see. They will find that most unnerving. I agree it’s also a very good idea to withhold job, family, downpayment amount or any other personal info back until you are ready to negotiation in earnest. Simply tell them that information isn’t relevant until “you are ready to be closed.” They hate customers who know what the close is and know how to avoid it. Also tell them upfront that you “will tell them when you’re ready to be closed. Please don’t try before that time as I find it offensive and more likely to go to your competitor if you do.” The more you take control of the entire situation the better. Their entire sales system is predicated on isolating the customer, controlling the conversation and narrative, creating a conversation full of the “tie down” (yes it does work on most people), and in hyping the emotional interest you show. Be dryly analytical about your interest in the vehicles. They play on emotion. They prefer the customer who is impressed by horsepower, options, fancy colors and street presence. If you display nothing but a dry analysis which allows no room for emotional manipulation you’ll be better off.”

I steeled myself. I think the points on my ears actually become more pronounced.

RD: “One more thing … the salesman is trained to exhibit positive body language especially when using “tie down” statements. They will nod their heads affirmatively vigorously, touch the vehicle fondly, pat you on the back or any other thing they can think of to reaffirm their desire for you to respond positively. They are also taught to watch for your compliance. So be VERY conscious of this and any time they are nodding yes, nod no. Respond to every question designed to get an affirmative answer (even if you answer affirmatively) with a negative head shake or other action like turning your back on the vehicle or salesman, scrunched face or a fart for that matter. This also confuses the salesman because they aren’t getting their desired reaction.”

We did not really get into this part as much, since we made looking at vehicles the last step, and did so only at the dealership where we had already negotiated what I think was a reasonable price. However, it does apply to most people.

RD: “If you are mindful in person, and force yourself to be cold it’s a great advantage. Go in person only when you are already in a bad mood and have negativity on your mind. Do anything that will put you in that frame of mind before meeting them. It helps.”

That was easy. After a month of emailing with dealer sales representatives, being put on spam lists, having my questions ignored and getting answers to many questions I never asked, the hard part was not being cold. The hard part was not betraying any emotion at all, especially the dominant ones of a) quivering with revulsion, or b) visceral loathing that burned with a sickly greenish-yellow flame.

RD: “Another good help with the in-person contact is to be in a hurry. Tell the salesman you have fifteen minutes and nothing more. Carry a stopwatch or set your phone for one if necessary. Control the situation by announcing the time left every 5 minutes and every minute after the halfway point. This was a tactic actually taught to me in a seminar by a 5 star salesman who used it to put off car salesman when he made his own purchases. He announced upfront, “I’ve done all the research. I know what I want. I’m in a hurry I only have 15 minutes. After that I’ll go somewhere else if you don’t give me a satisfactory deal.” Salesman use fatigue as a tactic. They drag out the sale and the close to wear people down. Thus the “let me go ask my manager” gag done several times before the manager finally comes in to do the close. By then you’re worn down and already beaten down by tie-downs. Don’t give them any time. Always be in a hurry.”

We did this right, though it only factored in on our trade-in evaluation visits. And oh, how they hated it.

RD: “I keep thinking of things. A technique is taught to turn objections into tie downs. The classic example is a price objection. Salesmen are taught to say “so what you’re telling me is that if I could get you this car for x$ you would buy this car today?” They attempt to put the affirmation in your head. The correct response is ALWAYS to say no and to reiterate your objection saying “I was only seeking an answer to the specific question. It does not infer anything further than a desire for information.” This also flummoxes the salesman because they know then you are onto the technique being used.”

We didn’t even let them get that far. They tried.

RD: “They use the same for options or features … “so what you’re telling me is if I had this car in hot pink with power windows and a V6, you’d buy it today?” The kicker is always “buy it today.” It’s a form of psychological warfare. The best defense for this is the hurry. I’ve only got 15 minutes and I have a LONG list of objections and questions. I’m NOT prepared to buy today, I’m only info gathering. If the salesman decides to blow you off because you’re holding your ground then you have the impetus to later to call the sales manager and complain. In turn the sales manager will force the salesman to call you repeatedly to try to make amends. It can be quite an amusing scenario. Always try to appear nonplussed and even a little pissed off with their performance or offerings when leaving. Also, always ask to use the restroom and complain about it’s cleanliness. This usually results in the salesman cleaning the restroom or being forced to do so when he’s being interrogated by the SM about why his contact with you didn’t result in a sale that day. Using the restroom is a good diversionary tactic if you are feeling overwhelmed by tiedowns and other high pressure gimmicks and it gives you an open opportunity to criticize. Also complain any car you sit in or test drive isn’t very clean and doesn’t have that “new car smell” you love so much. Ask if it’s been on the lot a long time, or has been used as a loaner by the service department and if it has been smoked in. This makes them manic.”

We used the hurry very effectively. And when some of their managers follow up, they will not like what they will hear.

RD: “…their system was researched and designed by psychologists. One must be very diligent and aware. Even those like myself who are aware of all these techniques can fall prey to a skilled operator. The best advice is to be obstreperous, hurried and constantly shake one’s head no. The very act of shaking your head no helps to allay the psychological pressures being brought against you.”

And it’s true. If you don’t realize that the whole tactical goal of what they do is to cause you to purchase something whether you want it or not, you can get maneuvered. You can’t play any game well unless you know its rules.

So. With that, our story.

A month beforehand, I wrote to about eight Toyota dealerships in the Portland, Oregon area requesting quotations on specific new vehicles, plus trade-in estimates. In my mail program, I coded their names with an abbreviation for the dealership and a number representing the order in which they responded, so that I could hold tardiness against the tardy. Thus, there was James RMT0, Julian RTT6, and so on. The result informed me that I wasn’t going to like the process.

Some took days to get back to me, and a couple never did at all. Some had communal e-mails, so you never really knew who you were dealing with. Some sent quotes from addresses one could not reply to. Many were semi-literate. Two put me on spam lists, and one actually failed to take me off their list upon the first request. No matter; I got a price spread, a rough idea of trade-in values, and a feel for which dealerships were pushiest, which were stupidest, and so on. All, of course, wanted me to phone them. Not a chance. The vast majority of the responses I got were garbage, irrelevant to what I’d asked.

The trip to Portland approached, and with the necessary funds on accessible deposit, it was time for us all to get serious. I explained our timeframe and the models that interested us, requesting quotes on three models, a quote on an option, a rough trade-in estimate subject to examination, and their work schedule for the upcoming weekend. Four responses came in, of which three were close to fully responsive: let’s call them Theater, Royal Baby, Mr. Wilson, and Witch Trial. (Samira, the rep at Theater, was perfectly responsive–strong props for a businesslike reply. Mr. Wilson’s rep refused to give even a range for the trade-in based on our very liberal parameters, immediately marking that dealership as a trouble spot. Royal Baby’s rep only remembered late in the game, just as I was leaving for the airport, that he wouldn’t be there on July 4, and sent me a colleague’s name. I didn’t bother to record it or ask for him. Let’s call him Walmart.)

Since we were doing the initial visits on July 4, Witch Trial wasn’t open that day, and it was out of the running unless all the rest failed, in which case we’d have to resort to Plan B–going in without some numbers beforehand. Had we found that necessary, we’d have had occasion to use far more of Russell’s good advice. Even so, it was of great value. In retrospect, where we didn’t do it his way, it was because the method we had chosen insulated us from the need to worry about that.

Before I left, I printed out all the quotation e-mails, and organized all the prices into a spreadsheet. The biggest remaining variable was trade-in value. Normally we’d sell the car ourselves, but I didn’t want my wife having to mess with that. Also, frankly, there were a few things about it that could stand to be serviced, and I felt more comfortable putting it into the used auto sausage machine than dealing with an individual coming back to complain that the gas mileage was lower than usual (normal on older vehicles of this model), or that a couple of the indicator lights wouldn’t shut off.

Thus, my logic: go to the three available dealerships and simply obtain a firm trade-in value. Nothing else. And see how they reacted to ‘nothing else’ as a concept.

First, off to Theater, where we met with Samira. She did precisely as we asked: obtained a firm trade-in value, and otherwise did not hassle us. Bear in mind that we already had her pricing, and in order to know what her cars would cost us, we needed only a firm trade-in. We advised her that we were in a hurry, and within twenty minutes we had what we’d come for. Overall, her pricing was second best not considering the trade-in.

We haled south to Mr. Wilson, which was an astonishing experience. Since the individual we’d spoken with was not present, we figured we were starting fresh (albeit with some reality check quotes to consider). Mr. Wilson was a shark tank, with plastic smiles converging on us before we got inside the front door. We asked to obtain a firm trade-in value for our vehicle, and were routed to the ‘sales manager.’ He began to deliver an oration on the dealership’s virtues and methods. I interrupted him, explaining that we didn’t need to hear any of that right now. Amazingly, he attempted to insist: “No, you do need to hear this.” I stood my ground. “No. We are not here for that. We are not going to buy on this visit. If you would like to be considered, we have fifteen minutes for you to evaluate our trade-in.” A frustrated, resentful employee finally undertook this task. While he did that, in a move that creeped us both out, the dealership looked us up in some database, presumably from our previous purchase, asking about us living at an address that was now obsolete.

While we sat in the lounge chairs, we watched another customer being strung along by another salesman as he waited, and he was blissfully vocal: “Goddamnit, I’ve been here three hours. If you guys don’t get it together, I’m leaving!” We enjoyed commiserating with him about the general suckage of car dealerships. I’d just about decided that Mr. Wilson would be at the bottom of our totem pole anyway, because their prices had been least competitive to begin with. The trade-in was reasonable, but not enough to overcome the poor pricing and ick factor overall.

As I was walking around the outside trying to find Deb, yet another salesman accosted me–let’s call him Potato. He’d seen the Idaho tags and wanted to talk, so we talked about Idaho and other meaningless things while I tried to spot my wife. He then switched to asking questions about our purchase. I explained that we were there for a trade-in value only. He persisted, asking rapid-fire questions about what we wanted to buy, and demanded to know why we did not buy today. I politely changed the subject. “You haven’t answered my question!” Potato said, polymer grin masking frustration. I said something else irrelevant. “You’re not even going to answer my question?” he demanded. Yes, demanded–and incredulously. I spotted Deb, said we needed to get going, and walked away. My last memory of Potato was his voice complaining: “I’ve never been treated this way before!”

So, I guess, in his universe, I was required to submit to any and all forms of inquiry, and if I declined politely, I was just a jerk. Nice job, Mr. Wilson.

Next it was off to Royal Baby, where Walmart had offered the best prices and most promising trade-in range. However, Walmart wasn’t working, so I figured I was on my own. I didn’t think that mattered much; surely they would price competitively, and if it was the best deal, we’d seriously consider it. That began with getting a firm trade-in value, and they didn’t give us too much grief about that. Their offer was very respectable, and we retired to Taco Time to eat lunch and consult. Over lunch, we decided to go back to Royal Baby and take the next step. Little did we know how much we were about to learn about the retail auto sales business, and that if we’d thought Mr. Wilson was a bag of foreskins, we hadn’t seen anything yet.

We sat down with a young salesman whom let’s call Julio, and began to talk about what we wanted–we had pretty well chosen one of the three original possibilities. Immediately another salesman let’s call Insurance Beard, supposedly a sales manager, sat down with him. The desk was by the front window, so I promptly turned my chair to put my back against that window. I looked askance at him: “Do you also have a role in this transaction?” Insurance Beard said something vague, which I interpreted to mean: ‘This is Julio’s first day and he doesn’t know beer from urine.’ We explained what we wanted and asked for a quotation. Julio and Insurance Beard left and came back with the list price minus the trade-in–which was much lower than the earlier value given, $1000 lower, in fact.

I kid you not.

I explained that I was very, very surprised, and that I’d expected a competitive quote. I gather that this caused them to think of Walmart, whom I hadn’t mentioned (why should I?). That set off some sort of alarm in Insurance Beard’s mind. He went in the back and dug through some emails, then came out with a look of patient disapproval on his face. “Did you get some quotations from Walmart?” Yes, I had, I said, but I figured he wasn’t here, so I had to start over. Insurance Beard went back, then came out with a hardcase let’s call Elijah. Elijah remonstrated with us for not telling them about Walmart in the first place. He talked over me, and I could tell he was mad as hell. Elijah began to lecture me about how Internet sales and floor sales were totally separate things, that good floor guys sold maybe twelve cars a month, but good Internet guys sold forty.

(As an aside: think about the implications of that. That means that they get a ton of online inquiries, and that those people get much better prices. Salespeople are evaluated on the profit they earn for the firm. That tells you that if you walk into the lot cold, you are getting the very worst pricing. The only way to buy new cars for a decent price is to contact them online, where you can keep a boundary between yourself and the ick.)

Next, Elijah accused me of trying to pit the departments against each other. When I tried to explain that I had no idea how his sales department worked, and didn’t care, he kept talking over me. He finished by presenting Wal-Mart’s original offer plus a couple hundred in movement on the trade–a very good offer, and one we would have accepted if presented by a non-jerk. “This offer is good right now only. If you want to do business, fine. If not, it’s been nice meeting you,” he said, in a tone that contradicted his words.

I wasn’t going to be bullied; I said we’d have to reconsider. I reached to take the paper with the offer. “You don’t get to keep that. That’s my property!” he snarled. At that point, Deb had had enough. My beautiful bride stood up and walked out, instructing Elijah to fuck himself. Brimming with marital pride, I followed her, commenting to Julio (who seemed very disappointed) that I’d never dealt with such an asshole before in my life, and that I was sorry he had to work for someone like that. We’d been told by locals that Royal Baby was a dump, and now we know just how truly awful it was. As we drove away, we marveled at the sort of stupidity that had a sale and destroyed it with bad attitude.

We also now had to think on our next move. While we’d made people uncomfortable at two dealerships, about which I felt zero guilt, we didn’t yet have forward movement on a purchase. I’m a believer that better people should get the business. I’m also a believer that once one identifies the better people, when it comes down to the firm process of making a deal, being forthright can get you places. Thus, I got on the phone to Samira. I explained that we’d just come out of two other dealerships and that we wanted to scrub ourselves off with brillo. I told her we’d like to stop by, if she’d still be there, even though she was a bit higher than the lowest competition. How much? asked she. I do poorly talking or calculating on cell phones while riding in the passenger seat, so I guessed at a gap of $1800 including trade-in, making very clear that it was just a guess. I suggested that if she could meet us in the middle, that would work. She called me back in a few minutes and told me she could come down $500, so that we wouldn’t be surprised when we got there. We still decided to proceed.

When we came in, I did the math in front of Samira. I labeled one column Samira and one Jerk, then put down honest figures as they stood at the moment. That got a laugh out of her. My estimate had been wide of the mark: they were $1261 apart, not $1800. “Samira, half the difference is $630, discounting the buck. Meet me there, and we’ll have a deal.” She checked, and did, as I was pretty sure she would. It was too late to go to the bank for a cashier’s check, so we picked out the specific vehicle and arranged to handle the transaction the next day.

Could we have beaten her up a little more on price? Perhaps, but I gave consideration to Samira’s overall presentation. She was the only one who had done only what we requested and neither pushed for more nor asked unwanted questions. She had done the best job by far. In fact, she was the only one who had done an acceptable job.

How’d we do on pricing? Per KBB, the fair market price is $25,916 out the door. We paid, let’s see: about $23,500. Not bad. However, if we’d been able to time it better, we could have improved that. It surely would have improved in another month. Unfortunately, greater considerations impacted us. I think we didn’t do too badly.

We learned a lot, though, especially about the difference between pre-shopping online and just bombulating into the front door. Let’s distill what we learned:

  1. If you just walk in the front door, you are a sheep awaiting shearing.
  2. Advance research and price comparison are crucial.
  3. Expect a good percentage of the dealerships you contact online to ignore everything you asked them, and to ‘follow up’ with you or put you on spam lists.
  4. They really do hate when you keep control of the sale, which is primarily accomplished by refusing to let them put you into their patented sales process.
  5. If they don’t get their way, they get borderline loutish. They may believe they are entitled to demand answers of you.
  6. They expect to hold all the information cards, and for you to hold and play none. When you play one, that’s cheating. When they play one, that’s smart business.
  7. You can’t trust Yelp or other online site reviews of any business. There are ‘reputation management’ companies out there busily creating spurious reviews loaded with bologna. In fact, my experience is you should go the opposite direction. Any business with massive amounts of loving reviews, especially with the same ‘customer service manager’ graciously returning all the oral sex in the comments, has quite probably bought them to swamp glaring deficiencies or simply render negative reviews harder to find.
  8. If you get a variety of offers online, you can use the best one to beat up (that’s sales jargon for negotiating aggressively) the floor salespeople anywhere but the dealership that gave you the online quote. Just don’t go to that same dealership’s floor people, that’s all.
  9. Trade-ins can vary widely–our lowest and highest offers were $2900 and $4500. You should learn in advance what is the acceptable range.
  10. Trade-ins are a shell game, and a silly one. Who cares whether they knock $1000 off the price, or give you $1000 more for the trade? It’s all the same unless sales tax is involved (which in Oregon it is not).
  11. Even if you don’t plan to trade your car in, you can still have them evaluate it, and see how they respond to your insistence that they do no more than that, and ask you no further questions.

It’s still as slimy a business as it has ever been. It has not gotten better at all. The more the dealership brags about how ‘different’ it is than the others, the more you should guard your wallet. You are still dealing with a fundamentally deceptive, dishonest business, and as such, you do not owe it honesty or candor unless someone earns these of you. And after studying Russell’s advice–which fortified us greatly, and in gratitude for which we can’t wait to buy him a decent dinner if life ever brings him our direction–I suggest that when shopping for cars, you consider the words of Anton LaVey (the carny who became a Satanist to shock people, then decided he liked it). I think he cribbed it from an Eastern proverb:

Lie to a liar for lies are his coin;

Steal from a thief, ’tis easy you’ll find;

Trick a trickster and win the first time —

But beware of the man who has no axe to grind.

Never as true as when dealing with auto dealerships.