Posts Tagged ‘Jared Cameron


Wal-Mart and Women – Don’t Play it Again, Sam!

A million monkeys hammering randomly on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the works of Shakespeare.  So I guess it was in the cards that the determinately whacky San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit would eventually write a decision that made sense.

Sure enough, the Ninth Circuit ruled last month in favor of a class action pay and promotion gender bias suit filed by female Wal-Mart workers.  That means that sometime before those monkeys complete their rendering of the complete works of Dostoyevsky in the original Russian, the case involving Wal-Mart’s systematically paying women less than men may and keeping the change may – just may – go before a jury.

So why does a most-of-the-time libertarian, occasional recalcitrant right-wing national security hawk and full-time male hale socking it to Wal-Mart – even if it makes AT LARGE’s next purchase of socks produced by Third World kids a penny or two more expensive?

Let’s see. 

Well first, paying women less than men for doing the same job is against the law.  (Just like crossing U.S. borders without papers, tho I don’t think the tea party folks are on the side of the angels when, so to speak, it comes to equal pay for women.) It’s also really wrong, bad business and – note to Sam’s Club members – not very manly, if you’ll pardon my 20th Century vocabulary.

Finally – those cheap socks aside – Wal-Mart’s discriminating against women is bad for AT LARGE and other guys who know happiness, nay survival in this economy is based on having a working wife.

(Didn’t you hear, Sam?  Nowadays, working women spend their salaries on ‘luxuries’ like food, mortgages, car payments and occasionally buying martinis for aging columnists at The Palm, not just on necessities like make-up and frilly dresses manufactured by Eastern European kids.) While Wal-Mart doesn’t seem to mind hosing women, they’ll be in big trouble if our wives ‘sock it to ‘em’ and make hubbies buy our automatic weapons, power tools, gym shoes and XXL sweat pants at a competitor’s store.

So the recent Wall-Mart decision is a source for optimism, but, alas, only limited optimism.

 Judging from media reports, Wall-Mart gender discrimination in pay and promotions was – maybe still is – egregious.  Should the case come before a jury of the discrimination victims’ peers, the women who initially sued and and others who join in the class action may well win big bucks.  But the case has already been going on for eight years and may go on for decades– unless Wall-Mart suddenly realizes that bad law suits (as opposed to ill-cut men’s suits) are bad for business.

Which brings us to the main lesson for women who are facing sex discrimination in their jobs right now: When you’re being economically violated, it’s no time to ‘lie back and think of England.’ Just because such practices are wrong, unfair and illegal, you can’t let ‘George,’ or Wal-Mart plaintiffs Betty Dukes, Michelle Braun and Dolores Hummel et al take care of it for you.

Don’t get mad, get even! Get help and a lawyer…now!


Augusta has Wood(s): Tiger to play with his golf balls for a change

For the third time today, some seemingly sapient citizen has solicited my views on Tiger Woods. 

It seems that Tom Cat, oops, I mean Tiger, shall seek redemption for several-score sins involving cocktail waitresses, among others, by participating in the Masters Golf Tournament played – if that’s the right word for an activity that generates millions, if not billions in revenue – at the Augusta National Golf Club. The announcement comes in the wake of Mr. Woods’s ‘graduation’ from a ‘sex addition’ cure.

AT LARGE is a font of knowledge on many, perhaps all subjects and rarely leaves home without prepared bon mots on a rich variety of causes célèbre lest the ravenous media pack, casual passersby or, especially, cocktail waitresses solicit my comments on the events that alter and illuminate our times. 

But I don’t give a good God-damn about golf!

It is a silly, frustrating activity. Why? Because taking more than 18 shots on 18 holes can be regarded as subpar even if you finish below par.  So much like a visit to a casino or an argument with a spouse, a round of golf always ends in failure. 

Even worse, golf involves fresh air, which has been scientifically proven to hasten aging.  It is conducted outside, where one can catch a cold, perspire, muddy up one’s costume, be bitten by ticks, cross paths with rabid animals or get leaves in one’s hair.  Since Lucky Strike stopped sponsoring tournaments, you probably can’t even smoke on golf courses anymore.  Not AT LARGE’s cup of tea!

A while back, friend and noted feminist Martha Burk took offense because the Masters Augusta National venue doesn’t allow women to join the club, which, one could argue, is none of her business; however, most of the big buck membership fees for hard driving corporate types is tax-deductable, meaning less lucre for the government to spend on, say, killing our foreign enemies, bailing out too-big-to-fail banks and hiring school teachers.  That, arguably, is her business and — assuming we pay taxes — our  business, too! And in fairness, if women can fight in Iraqi deserts, why can’t they play in Augusta sand traps?

Just before the conversation, I had suffered severe brain damage flying in first class next to a duffer who told me in agonizing detail about each shot in his most recent 2,000 rounds of golf. I prayed for a hijacking before mercifully sinking into an all-but irreversible coma.  With this horrific experience fresh, I tried to persuade Ms Burk that all-male clubs like Augusta National, the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility and the National Football League were necessary as a means of insolating rich golfers in plaid trousers, terrorists and violence-prone individuals from, well, me — not to mention The Little Ladies.

Surprisingly, she didn’t listen and annual protests over the Masters have become a rite of spring.

Surprised that Tiger Woods picked the ‘no women need apply’ Augusta National for his post-sex addiction therapy coming-out party?  It actually makes sense: Do you want to loose a recovering sex-aholic brandishing his driver and on his first outing at, say, a cocktail waitress convention? Sounds like a recipe for disaster!

That said, I am mystified by TW’s original sin:  If the world’s third richest man can’t relax and unwind a bit at the 19th hole, like why bother?  (Same comment on recent history: Why go through the travails of getting elected president of the U.S. if you can’t tryst with Miss America?  Or run for congress if you’re denied tickle parties with ‘single male staffers’ (the media’s word, not mine!)?

(For the record: AT LARGE  only dallies alone or with the missus! If I erred in this department – in the words of former House Majority Leader Dick Armey – ‘The last words I would hear on this earth would be my wife asking, ‘How do you reload this thing?’”)

Not to say Tiger hasn’t paid dearly for driving into the marital and PR rough: He’s lost endorsements valued at millions, tho last I heard, Gillette was sticking with the Woodsman. (It was a close shave, but I guess they like folks who live on the razor’s edge.)

Since every time Tiger swings his stick, it pumps millions into his pocket and the economy, I think he’ll be all right.  But if worst comes to worst and he’s down to his last $10 million, TW can always sell himself in Asia.

Tiger part are very popular as aphrodisiacs in those climes and whatever else you say, Tiger’s parts have plenty of endorsements!




Unlike lightweight media chided by Rep. Patrick Kennedy on the floor of the House yesterday, you won’t find AT LARGE piling-on when a politician’s personal foibles fall victim to a fourth estate feeding frenzy.

This noble attitude is due in part to self-preservation, the realization that I could be next due to misinterpretation of some perfectly innocent remark.  Recently, for example, a seemingly stable woman I ran into over martinis at the Palm Restaurant bar flew off the handle for no discernible reason.

The unseemly behavior took place when The Little Woman (TLW) arrived for dinner a half hour late, as is her wont.

Overjoyed at glimpsing the love of my life enter this prime capitol cholesterol kingdom, I ululated loudly and cried out, as is my wont:

“Don’t let me see that ‘nekkid’ on payday!”

TLW, well aware that there are no new jokes, just new wives, took this in stride, slapping me soundly about the head and shoulders with her Kate Spade handbag. Beauteous bartenders Mary Pat and Danielle – neither of whom has been immune from such deserved and heartfelt compliments in the past – understand that keeping a trophy wife’s humors flowing is an essential element in curbing the aging process.  They, too, reacted with both aplomb and a plum, accidentally spilling a sloe gin fizz on my nether parts. (Washington is a tough town!)

Case closed?  Not exactly.  My cocktail companion – out of sisterly solidarity, I guess – went off, accusing me of verbal spousal abuse and worse.

Fortunately, no media jackals were in the area to trumpet her embarrassing behavior in mainstream publications like the National Enquirer or Washington Post.

With the scars from such an experience unhealed, AT LARGE initially planned to skip dinner when it came to feeding on the political carcass of now former-Rep. Eric Massa (D, NY).  He’s the salty solon who left Congress amid charges that he sexually harassed staffers, the chap who – proving that a lawmaker who defends himself has a fool for a client – gleefully recalled on Fox News ‘tickle parties’ at a house he shared with several congressional aides.

But serious journalists learn to look beyond the prurient to provide their beyond-the-beltway readers with insight into the backstage machinations of the political elite.

So duty calls.

The Corning Conspiracy

When I first heard about the Affair Massa, alarm bells went off:  Was the whole thing the result of some vast – or half-vast – right wing conspiracy to embarrass the administration and retake Congress? (If you live long enough in Washington where everything is political, this sort of thinking becomes inevitable.)

It’s not hard to picture: Someone – my guess would be Newt Gingrich: this sort of long-range thinking is right up his Machiavellian Alley – approaches a wannabe congressman. Persuades the life-long Republican, Naval Academy graduate and retired Navy captain to ‘take a round’ for The Cause…switch parties…run for congress in a year when even a Megan’s List enrollee could win as a Democrat…vote against the programs he supported during the election…pick a fight with the White House chief of staff and House leaders…get involved in some kinky behavior…resign and trash former colleagues…remind Middle America that Democrats are a little, well, weird and want to insert the evil government in your Medicare.  Pure genius.  Pure Newt.

It’s not a hard-to-buy scenario in an ongoing political silly season in which loony tunes Democrats whispered that John McCain may have been a Manchurian Candidate under control of his former Vietnamese captors and Twilight Zone Republicans continue to proffer ‘proof’ that the president was born in Indonesia.

Most reports would stop there, but once AT LARGE’s little grey cells get to work, there’s no stopping them.

Upon further reflection, AT LARGE now believes that Eric Massa is a prophet who should be honored in his own time for showing us the way to restore comity to the American political scene.

Comity or comedy?

Comity?  That’s Washington-speak for acting like real people, folks who can disagree without being disagreeable…without calling their rivals communists, fascists or smokers.

Once upon a time, the halls of power were a much friendlier place. Legislators disagreed on issues, but were often personally close. When legendary liberal Hubert Humphrey faced a tough Senate race in Minnesota, arch-conservative Mississippi Senator Jim Eastland, it is said, offered to travel north and campaign ‘for or against Hubert,’ which ever would help Humphrey most.  Democratic Leader Mike Mansfield dined daily with rock-ribbed Republican Senator George Aiken, despite spirited philosophical battles over policy and later became friends with President Reagan.  

(This sort of friendship still continues:  As a senator, Vice President Joe Biden became close friends with by no means liberal Senate icon Strom Thurmond. Speaking first at Strom’s 100th birthday party, Biden preempted all the good lines in then-Majority Leader Trent Lott’s staff-prepared speech, leading Lott to wing it and make the ‘unfortunate remarks’ that cost him his post.) 

Somewhere along the line came the transmutation of policy disagreements into politics of personal destruction.

Lowlights:  The Ds falsely tarred and feathered Ed Meese and labeled former John Tower a grumpy drunk when the ex-Texas senator was nominated as secretary of defense during the Reagan years.  The GOP went for payback during the Clinton years beginning with future speaker Newt demanding that all his troops call all Democrats ‘weird’ in every speech and culminated with the impeachment of you-know-who. Then came Florida, with the Democrats, who long portrayed themselves friends of the mentally challenged, dubbing G.W. Bush ‘moron-in-chief,’ scurrilous attacks on nominees and Shiite Republicans trying to grab Sen. John Kerry’s medals. It continues today on both sides of the aisle.

Bonding over cold eggs

Worse yet, the venerable collegial cocktail hour succumbed to the breakfast meeting/fundraiser. This was a revolutionary, perhaps cataclysmic development.  Once a sacrament at the Senate sides’s Monocle Restaurant, Speaker Sam Rayburn’s Board of Education, the Capitol Hill Club’s weekly Poet’s Club session, the National Democratic Club, never-ending evening fundraisers that featured local cuisines, copious hooch plus a chance to get to know colleagues as people, not one-dimensional political caricatures, stiff drinks were the lubricant that kept government gears grinding – while now and then sending legislators to rehab and/or bathing in the Reflecting Pool.

Even if they disagreed, say, with former Senator John Breaux, or Senator Margaret Chase Smith, players got together for a cup of kindness, chat and compromise over Louisiana gumbo or Maine lobster and appropriate beverages.

No more! The only way one can make friends over breakfast is to nudge a single guest awake and call room service! Cordial, congenial confabs over dried out scrambled eggs, day-old fruit cocktail greasy bacon and lukewarm coffee at 7:30 am? Now way!  With the breakfast meeting/fundraiser, Washington insiders forsake firsthand knowledge and get to know each other through Fox News, Saturday Night Live and ‘slam book’ press releases.

A ticklish situation

As in all fast-breaking news stories, many questions remain unanswered.

Did Midshipman Massa first learn of tickle parties at the Naval Academy?  Did his fellow Annapolis graduate Jimmy Carter hold tickle parties to fight malaise?  (AT LARGE may take a bye on researching this angle:  Some pictures are too disturbing to contemplate, even mentally!) Did Capt. Eric Massa ever have a tickle party with cashiered Captain Holly Graf?  Did Massa’s nude encounter in the Congressional gym locker room with the White House chief of staff go south because no one was inviting the president to tickle parties?

And most importantly:  If everybody who doesn’t get along with Rahm Emmanuel were driven out of Congress, who would be left to turn off the lights?

But, lingering questions aside, Eric Massa may be regarded by historians as the harbinger of a new spirit of comity, congeniality and cooperation in Congress.

Only time will tell, but in this long day’s night of the long knife, the body politic would be far better off with a lot less character assassination, fewer breakfast meetings and a lot more tickle parties!

Where do I sign up?


Of Captains Queeg, Sharpe, Snipes, and Graf

It is generally understood that as a columnist I am an expert on nearly everything. True enough.

But AT LARGE has unique qualifications when it comes to commenting on the case of Navy Captain Holly Graf – she’s the erstwhile commanding officer of the guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens whose career ran aground, the Washington Post reports, for “subjecting her crew to “cruelty and maltreatment” aboard a warship in the Pacific.

You see, for a year or two during the early 60s, I was subjected to cruelty and mistreatment – most of it richly deserved – as an enlisted sailor in aboard the USS Pyro, an ammunition ship that plied Pacific, tho not always pacific, waters from the later 1950s to the early 1990s. The Old Navy when ships were made of wood and men were made of steel? Sure, but that credential makes me better qualified than most to comment on fey skippers.

Which brings us to the title of this opus:

You all know Capt. Queeg, the fictional anti-hero of the Caine Mutiny Court Martial. (Attn. Birthers and Tea Party people: Cowpens, Caine. A coincidence, I think not!) Humphrey Bogart, ball bearings… Capt. Queeg was – to use the clinical term – mad as a hatter, and got his just desserts, but not his strawberries back in the end. (Good flick! Tho the Caine doesn’t have much to do with the rest of this story, I couldn’t resist the ‘strawberry and just desserts’ line.)

Capt. Richard Sharpe – hero of a fictional PBS series about Brits fighting Napoleon in Spain – was an Army, not a Navy captain. For the benefit of those unfamiliar with such nuances – including more than a few commentators on La Affair Graf –- an Army captain is a Navy lieutenant; a Navy captain is the same rank as an Army colonel, but anyone who commands a ship is called ‘Captain,’ regardless of actual rank. Anyhow, Sharpe was commissioned from the ranks and a major subplot in the series centers on the ex-sergeant’s travails in earning the respect of both enlisted and commissioned colleagues in the class-conscious British military because that former enlisted status makes him ‘not a proper officer.’ More on this later.

Which brings us to Capt. Beecher Snipes, who commanded the Pyro when I first came aboard: Snipes might well be described as a ‘crusty sea dog.’ Now, the ‘auxiliary fleet’ comprised of ammunition ships, oilers and such – armed freighters – wasn’t generally a card that needed to be punched by officers sailing for naval ‘stardom. But as a ‘deep draft’ command, the Pyro and its ilk were stepping stones to commanding an elite ship, specifically an aircraft carrier. That was where Snipes was heading.

Not! Shortly before I graced the Pyro’s decks, the ship was returning to its homeport in Port Chicago, CA, outside San Francisco. As required by law, a civilian pilot was steering the ship. To make a long, sad story short, the pilot, slightly tipsy, it turned out, ran the ship aground. Civilian pilot required by law or not, as captain, Snipes was blamed based on the venerable Naval principal that the commanding officer is responsible for everything good and bad that occurs on or to his/her ship. Carrier command: Scuttled. Hopes for an admiral’s star: Sunk. Naval career: Effectively over.

But the Old Navy took care of its own (after taking care of its own’s career, so to speak). Capt. Snipes retained command of the Pyro.

Now you have to understand that then – and probably now – a Navy ship could be described as Lord of the Flies Goes to Sea. Except for the captain, the number two ‘executive officer’ and perhaps a couple senior enlisted people, the term ‘adult leadership’ is an oxymoron.

A ‘salty old’ chief petty officer might be 29. Most of the officers – generally decent and admirable sorts then and now, but don’t tell them I said so! – were fresh out of college ROTC programs and more than a little over their heads in deep water, at sea at sea, so to speak. The only fellow from Annapolis on the Pyro was the son of a Chesapeake Bay waterman who enlisted, like more than a few of us, faced with a choice of a hull number or a cell number. What with their fate for the most part in the hands of juvenile delinquents, college boys, old rummies and such, captains – remember they’re responsible for everything that happens on a vessel under their command – tend to get a bit testy.

Tho a dead man walking career-wise, crusty Capt. Snipes got even testier after the sandbar sojourn, throwing himself into on-the-job training of future Navy leaders while riding the ocean blue atop 27,000 tons of ammo.

He colorfully berated everyone, but especially officers when they screwed up, often, oh dear me, taking the Lord’s name in vain.

Representative examples:

• Once, Capt. Snipes spied a line (rope, in civilian-speak) hanging off the ship’s fantail. He summoned the second division officer, a seeming intelligent, but gangly and given to stuttering under pressure lieutenant named George Frye to a crowded bridge for 12 minutes of verbal abuse culminating in the benediction – with some two score iterations of the ‘f-word’ removed – “The next time I see a line hanging off the back of my boat, I want you to be on the end of it.” There is no record of Lt. Frye, who, scuttlebutt reports, later won a Purple Heart for running into a low hanging bulkhead door during Vietnamese patrol boat attack scare, whining to higher authority about the reaming or any indication that higher authority would have reacted to such whinging with anything but orders to ‘man-up.’
• Two petty officers sneaked off an authorized beach to an unauthorized brothel in Okinawa, missing the boat when the Pyro suddenly sailed away to elude a typhoon. Eventually, they were returned to the Pyro from an aircraft carrier at sea (using an accommodation chair, a skimpy seat attached two lines connecting the rolling ships – the transfer itself being a form of punishment which would have certainly sent the Cowpens crew crying to Mama). While the AWOLs were still literally swinging softly in the wind between boats, Capt. Snipes convened a non-judicial punishment ‘Captain’s Mast’ with a megaphone, finding them guilty and restricting them to the ship until ‘you die, I die or Christ calls forth the f***ing dead.’ No doubt traumatized by the verbal abuse, the sailors still declined to report the “cruelty and maltreatment” to their union reps (sic).

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, so Capt. Snipes became a bit eccentric at play as well as at work. When delayed in reaching libation(s) at the Subic Bay Officer’s Club because more senior skippers’ launches – small boats used to travel to inhabited areas from deep water berths where ships, especially ones stuffed with explosives, were allowed to anchor – were lined up to land at the pier, he improvised. The skipper ordered the launch to pull up next to two destroyers tied up side-by-side, chinned himself aboard the outlying ship, shouted, “Pyro crossing!,” went ashore and headed for the nearest bar.

In my brief and by-no-means glorious naval career, Beecher Snipes’s eccentricities were more the rule than the exception: One on-his-way-out-to-pasture skipper spent his final days in Yokosuka, Japan, hiding behind buildings and writing-up sailors who failed to salute him; another was fond of telling editors of the base newspaper, “This ain’t no Goddamn democracy; it’s a dictatorship and I’m the f***ing dictator.”

But save in the case of the ‘salute police skipper,’ most enlisted and junior officers overcame their traumas to develop a grudging respect and even affection for crusty captains. Tars bragged on having survived the salty skippers’ reigns when moving on to their next ship. (In the Navy, there are only two good ships, your next one and your last one!) Remember, the verbal ‘cruelty and abuse’ is only verbal (sticks and stones many break my bones…) and tongue lashings in many cases both taught a memorable lesson while substituting for far more draconian punishment. After all, these were ‘proper officers.’

Which brings us to Capt. Holly Graf.

While I personally witnessed or have first hand testimony on the tales related above, I – thankfully, the good captain and I probably wouldn’t have hit it off – wasn’t on the Cowpens.

But steering the risky course of relying on media reports, some questions arise about why the Navy chose to deck the halls with Holly’s head.

1) Allegedly, Capt. Graf “humiliated crewmembers in front of the rest of the crew by calling them ‘idiots’ and ‘stupid’ as she spat a stream of obscenities.” Temporarily putting aside the fact that sailors tend to ‘swear like sailors,’ were the recipients of the tongue-lashing, in fact ‘stupid?’ Did they, perhaps, do something ‘stupid’ or ‘idiotic’ that put the ship or crew in danger? Say, lock missiles on a civilian airliner? Did the nature of the tongue-lashing cause them to mend their ways? And did this form of, ah, guidance, take the place of a more draconian punishment that was at the skipper’s discretionary disposal?
2) Her rather extensive vocabulary of four-letter words may have been enough to ‘make a sailor blush’ and ‘intimidated her crew.’ Tough! I guarantee you that any captain who can’t intimidate the crew at some time or another needs to examine other career paths. And don’t forget: Bearing the brutal brunt of military style verbal abuse and the ability to withstand a ‘stream of obscenities’ is, believe me, good practice for marriage.
3) Google Gen. Patton if you don’t believe me: Not-so-nice people sometime make great leaders. Graf’s methods aside, was the USS Cowpens a better, more efficient, more combat-ready ship after Capt. Graf’s truncated tenure than before she arrived?
4) Then there’s the so-called ‘drag race,’ over which the civilian media tends to ‘tsk, tsk’ at Capt. Graf while grudgingly conceding that Navy investigators cleared her of ‘endangering the Cowpens.’ You call it a drag race; I call it operational testing. Specs aside, a commanding officer needs to know what a ship will do in an emergency situation where a knot of performance plus or minus can make the difference between a near miss and a torpedo amidships. There’s an expression for not testing capabilities before shots are fired in anger: dereliction of duty.
5) Doesn’t rank have its privileges anymore? Asking juniors to walk a dog or, horror upon horror, play the piano at a party is a tradition – albeit annoying if you’re the junior – that lives on in most hierarchies from the State Department to the Vatican. But dusting the ivory at a holiday fete isn’t comparable to flogging and is probably a far better deal than a midnight to 4 am. watch on New Year’s.
6) Someone’s gotta say it: If the complaining seagoing wimps and whiners can’t bear a little captainly ‘ca-ca’ mouth from Capt. Holly without losing self-esteem and ‘getting all upset,’ what’s going to happen if they ever cross paths with, say, a foul-mouthed Iranian POW interrogator, a Marine gunnery sergeant or go to work for Donald Trump, for that matter?

And finally we get to the question that no one seemingly has dared ask.

If Capt. Holly Graf were a ‘proper – read ‘male’ – officer,’ would she still be cussing up a storm on the Cowpens or even sewing on a star?

Damned if I know.


We wuz robbed! — How a trip to the gym led to a workout of an unexpected kind

By Tuesday, Feb. 23, the icy remnants of the storm that brought the Capital of the Free World to its knees began to melt; with that thaw the need to shovel sixteen tons of number nine snow daily in order to avoid a Donner Pass scenario abated.

Time to hit the gym for a workout involving muscles not stretched by snow removal.

AT LARGE has been a member of Gold’s Gym for nearly a decade.  Tho I haven’t yet been mistaken for the chain’s most famous alumnae, Golden State Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger or even Demi Moore, the experience on the plus side has led to several new chums, an 80-plus pound weight loss and a vast reduction in comments comparing my physique to that of Jabba the Hutt. 

To be, ah, fair and balanced, workouts at Gold’s has previously led to a minor assault on my person by a juiced up fellow member, a $100 cash locker robbery as part of a lock-cutting spree by miscreants at Gold’s Ballston sweat factory locker room.

Then on Feb. 23 came the jewel in the crown:  a second locker robbery in which what seems to be an organized gang of thieves: a) Cracked the lock Gold’s sells to protect valuables; b) made off with my credit cards and driver’s license; c) placed a look-alike lock on the locker to delay discovery of the theft; and d) went on a $2,000 shopping spree at Target, Best Buy, Staples and Burger King – how humiliating for a self-anointed food critic! – with the credit cards while I worked out

As I was grappling with the switched lock, FIA Card Service’s alert security folks called me about a several hundred dollar purchase at Target that tripped their fraud filters. (All praises to Steve Jobs: The iPhone doubles as a MP3 player and was attached to my perky gym costume, not in the locker, or more accurately in this case, in the swag bag of the scum bags.) That card was instantly cancelled and, as I recall, an additional authorization was denied.)

In previous incidents, Gold’s staff had, from my vantage point, been done everything in their power to avoid police involvement.  In the cash grab at Ballston, the managers swore a police report would be filed, but that didn’t happen and – after the then-manager evaporated from the scene – staff steadfastly refused to provide telephone numbers, e-mail or last names of responsible company officials, citing (nonexistent according to Gold’s corporate spokesman) ‘company policy.’  In the assault incident, they demanded to handle the matter internally, a euphemism for ‘file and forget it.’

This time ‘handling it internally’ was not an option. The Arlington, VA, police were called with relative good grace.

While waiting for the law to arrive, I busied myself by cancelling other purloined credit cards, alas too late to prevent more charges at Best Buy, Target, Staples and the infamous Burger King purchase. (C’mon, if you have an American Express Gold, wouldn’t you at least take your accomplices/gun molls to Chili’s?)

Great Expectations

Not one, but two very competent, polite, extremely muscular (hey, you don’t want to send a 90-pound weakling to Golds!) officers arrived.  Much to my delight, the officer who ended up handing the case actually seemed interested in catching the crooks, not just filling out a report. (This impression was, unfortunately, also a surprise to the fraud specialist at American Express, who said many police forces ‘won’t even take reports’ on stolen credit cards.)

They dusted the locker for fingerprints – likely a fool’s errand, but in the CSI era, what’s a crime scene without fingerprint dust?

So the officer – I know his name, but since he is one of the good guys and his enthusiasm for solving the case may or may not be shared by the department as a whole and the detectives in the financial crimes unit who may or may not actually follow up – took the report, asked me if I would testify/prosecute, (“I’ll cut off the crook’s right hand in the public square at high noon if you let me,” I replied, perhaps over dramatically) and stated he would pass the report on to the financial crimes unit of his department.

Since I hadn’t yet contacted all the credit card companies potentially involved, the officer asked me to report any additional fraudulent chards I discovered to the detectives in financial crimes unit of his department, the group to who the case, he said, would be assigned.

Crime and punishment?

OK, this wasn’t the Brinks robbery, but, according to the officer who took the report, gym locker robberies are a big business these days, dozens in Northern Virginia every month. And while I was the sole victim for the $50 in cash that was in the wallet, credit card companies – and ultimately everyone who uses plastic – are co-victims on the fraudulent credit card purchases, assuming the merchants followed authorization procedures.

At least in theory, this case has the potential to be solved:

1)      Gold’s has cameras covering the front entrance to the gym and the feeds are retained for some period;

2)      In theory, one can’t enter the gym without scanning a membership card and, again in theory, the data are captured in Gold’s computer system.  God help the member whose credit card has expired or who forgets his card – a photo ID and stool sample are demanded;

3)      Target and Best Buy stores – I don’t know about Staples – at nearby Potomac Yards Shopping Center where the shopping spree took place have extensive CCTV systems that capture, again in theory, all transactions at the registers.

4)      And finally, the Burger King took place in the District of Colombia, which, at least in theory, opens the miscreants to charges of transporting stolen property across state line and interstate wire fraud.

So, images of purchasers – I know this from serving on a jury in a case involving Target a while back – can be linked to credit card transactions, then compared to images of people entering Gold’s and the computer scans of entrants membership cards.  And if TV cop shows are to be believed (OK, I’m a dreamer!) facial recognition programs can often match faces with names.

In the real world, of course nothing is quite that simple.

1)      Gold’s won’t – company policy privacy policy this time – release the front door feed to law enforcement without a subpoena. On one hand, we should be comforted that wives can’t cop feeds of folks entering a public gym with their paramours, but, golly, maybe they should center more on protecting members from thieves.

2)       Gold’s corporate spokesman David Reiseman denies this, but the person on the front desk in South Arlington stated that the system often fails to log in members entering when a staff member is working on the computer. My name didn’t appear on the printout provided to police for the time period of the theft, tho I scanned my card and heard a ‘beep’ acknowledging its acceptance.  But a lot of names were on the list.  Maybe one was the Gold’s Jesse James.

3)      The stores where the stolen cards were used aren’t in Arlington County; three stores were major purchases took place are a mile away in Alexandria City, a fact that an Arlington officer who declined to take to report of additional fraudulent purchase at the crime report line (and declined to give his name) said ‘limited Arlington’s interest.’  Maybe, but county traffic cops will chase you across certainly county and, indeed, state lines if your inspection sticker is expired, provided you remain in their ‘line of sight.’ And on a clear day, you can see Potomac Yards from Arlington.

4)      The Feds? Face it, the culprit isn’t exactly Bernie Madoff, at least I don’t think it is, but I haven’t seen the video feeds…

Lessons learned

As they say on South Park, “We’ve learned a lot here today!”

1)      Gold’s cares very deeply about member’s privacy, but I’ll bet they’d deliver feeds to the cops in a New York minute if someone ripped off a tee shirt from them instead of a cash, credit cards and about 25 hours of billable time from me.

2)      Gold’s corporate warlords in Dallas express a somewhat higher opinion of their computer systems reliability and vastly different view of corporate policy than the ‘corporals with clipboards’ who deal with members on the ground.

3)      Gold’s really shouldn’t be selling Master Lock Company’s Fortress combination locks that dozens of web videos show how to ‘crack’ — open in under three minutes without tools – according to the police officer and confirmed by me with a 12-second Google search. 

4)      Gold’s South Arlington Manager Scott Reed deserves credit for doing something:  Undertaking to remove the dubious Fortress locks from his facility and from Gold’s as a whole.  Will he succeed or be told to put a lid on it because such moves violate our old friend, corporate policy? Only time will tell – and I really fear I’m not helping his career by sharing this.

5)      The jury is still out on the Arlington police.  If the investigating officer’s attitude typifies the department they’ll win a gold star. If the crime report line officer is the norm, maybe we should all go shopping with other people’s credit cards.

6)      Never, ever call Capital One to report a lost or stolen credit card without that lost or stolen credit card in your hand.  While a chat with a chap in Manila or some such clime is always refreshing, Cap One’s phone system is all but impossible to enter without ‘your 16-digit card number,’ and if you’re lucky enough to reach a real person, he/she just doesn’t seem to understand why you’re bothering them.

7)      If you must have a credit card stolen, hope it’s from Citibank or American Express. Replacement is fast and their fraud folks are really good.

8)      If catching folks who steal credit cards and make thousands of dollars in fraudulent purchases is too just much trouble for authorities, especially if local jurisdictional lines are crossed, don’t be surprised when – new card regulations or no – the overall cost of your credit cards rise. Like I said, ‘We’ – emphasis on ‘we’ – ‘wuz robbed!’

9)      At the behest of Mrs. At Large: Don’t carry so many credit cards; she doesn’t have any ideas about what to do with driver’s licenses.

10)   In 21st Century, a scapegoat(s) are a must; someone must be to blame for any bad luck; I am no better than anyone else when it comes to shifting a share of the blame.

11)   I really do funny better than bemused outrage, so the next column will be funnier.


As of 10 days after the great locker robbery, my checking account is unlocked, two trips to the DMV have yielded a new driver’s license, new credit cards are in hand and the legal papers are all filled out.

The miscreants, one presumes, are fondly recalling their Burger King lunches and playing with their new x-boxes or whatever.

The Arlington County Commonwealth’s Attorney sent me a slick brochure on dealing with the trauma of victimhood.  In fact, I am a little off my fed since the incident – go ahead and call me a wuss – but that’s not all bad for a once and perhaps future fat boy.

I’ll probably go back to Gold’s for a workout tomorrow, but will use a belly-bag for my steal-ables even if the additional weight slows me down. That is if –presuming the computer system is working – they let me in.  The card used for my monthly membership fee was stolen and cancelled.

I’m girding my loins to follow up with the detective assigned to the case. Since I’ll be poking some Arlington cops on this, I’d better make sure my inspection sticker is current before I go out.

You can’t be too careful on the road – or at the gym – these days.

Bulletins as they occur…

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Jared Cameron

It is better to smoke a single candle that to curse the darkness