Seriously Wicked: conversation with a reader

I recently interviewed Evelyn about “Seriously Wicked” by my friend Tina Connolly. Spoilers below!

S: Alright, who was your favorite character in the book, and why?

E: Um, my favorite character in the book was probably the witch, because I like her, like, passion. Even though Cam kept rejecting her spells and stuff, she just kept on trying, and I think that’s… I mean, she stuck with it.

S: Do you, so, do you think the witch was a wicked witch?

E: I think she was a wicked witch in its own sense, like, she was wicked totally because she wanted to take over the town and be in charge and everything, and she was going to do it in wicked ways. You could also think of her in other wicked ways, like she kills animals for her spells. But, like…she also is like a nice mom and she takes care of her kid. And it’s probably very hard for her since her husband died, so.

S: What was the funniest part of the book?

E: The funniest part of the book is when – it’s also my favorite part of the book – is when Sparkle figures out that… She’s like, what is going on? How do you guys know that I’m a witch and like everything is coming back to her and stuff. It’s the funniest part because she’s just so confused and she doesn’t know what’s going on because she did a forgetting spell on herself.

S: Do you think if you were like Cam in this book, do you think you would like having a witch for a mom or not like having a witch for a mom?

E: Well if I was Cam I would have the same personality as Cam, so then–

S: (laughing) Okay, well let’s say you were in a situation like Cam but you were yourself, would you like that your mom was a witch, because, you know, maybe you could learn some spells and stuff, or would you not like it, because she might be evil?

E: Not like it, because, um, I don’t know. (laughing) I just think that the witch’s plans were pretty crazy.

S: So who has crazier plans, Cam’s mom or your mom?

E: Probably Cam’s mom, because she wants to take over the town, but mommy, she… (laughing) Yeah, pretty much Cam’s mom.

S: Do you think this is a good book for someone your age, and why or why not?

E: I think I would recommend maybe a few years older even though I liked it, because… I don’t know, I feel like people would understand it a little bit more, because like… I don’t know, it’s about like boys and love and stuff. I mean, no offense, but…

S: So were there any parts you didn’t understand? Or to take it a different way, is there anything you would want to ask the author if you could?

E: I would ask Tina Connolly where she got her inspiration from because most authors combine people they know, and I think that Cam’s personality – and all the people in the book in fact! – have very different, interesting personalities, and I want to know where she got her inspiration from.

S: Do you think maybe her mom was a witch?

E: Very unlikely. But maybe she was like me and Oliver when we made potions in the bathroom?

The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad, stomach flu

Since I originally posted about the stomach flu thirteen days ago, you’d kind of think we would be over the topic, right?

As I previously mentioned, Evelyn was the next to go (well technically Oliver was, but he never actually threw up, so that one doesn’t count). That left me as the last man standing. You would think, knowing that, that I wouldn’t have been taken by surprise when I got sick, but I spent a significant portion of Wednesday afternoon rubbing my chest and going, “Man, that bagel is just not sitting well.” By the time I got to the train, I was only thinking about getting home ASAP, and by the time I got through the 30 min train delay, I was really sweating it.

After going through it myself, I only have more sympathy for the rest of the family, because it was utterly brutal. It really only lasted 24 hours or so (plus another day to recover from the dehydration), but here I am almost a week later and still not *quite* back to normal. I did lose almost 6 pounds in 24 hours, but as a weight loss plan, I can’t recommend it.

The bad news is that Alex was both the first, and last, person to have it, going on almost two weeks now. He hasn’t thrown up since Saturday, but we’re still being careful. He has gone for a few stretches before, only to unexpectedly go through another bout again after a few days. He has seemed a bit more like himself since yesterday, so maybe we’re out of the woods.

That poor, poor baby.

What to do, if your identity is stolen

Every once in awhile, someone would gain access to our credit card or Amazon account or whatever. So I thought I had dealt with identity theft before, however, in retrospect it turns out that’s not really identity theft.

Now that I’ve been dealing with this for several months, I feel like I am gaining a lot of skills, but I will HOPEFULLY never have a need for those skills again. So I thought I’d post them here in case anybody else ever has to deal with this, so they can maybe don’t have to go through the learning curve that I went through.

1) Put a fraud hold on your credit immediately

This was my first mistake. The first thing I did after my mugging was to cancel my credit cards. However, it didn’t even occur to me to do anything with the credit reporting agencies, and nobody mentioned this as a good thing to do.

A fraud hold costs you nothing and could prevent what happened to me next.

All you need to do is contact one of the “big three” credit reporting agencies, listed below. The system is entirely automated. If you contact one they are supposed to notify the other two, but it wasn’t too much hassle, so I went ahead and contacted all three:

TransUnion
1-800-680-7289
Experian
1-888-397-3742
Equifax
1-888-766-0008

2) Get copies of your credit reports

Strangely, the official place to go for this is annualcreditreport.com. You are entitled to a free credit report once a year, but you are entitled to an extra one when you experience identity fraud. Go ahead and get your copies right away, but I’ll talk about what to do with them in a separate step. Make sure you save or print each of your 3 credit reports, you will need them all.

I was unable to get one of the three online; I learned later this is because the thieves had already requested my credit report from one of the agencies (presumably to “pre-vet” my credit and make sure I hadn’t already put a fraud hold on). So for the third I had to request it be mailed to me. It was worth the wait, however, as I found several credit accounts from that third credit report that I would not have found otherwise.

3) File a police report

The police report is an important piece of documentation to get companies to take you seriously. Most people require this in order to open up a fraud investigation.

Here in Chicago you can file a police report by calling 311. Also note that I needed to file a separate police report for the identity theft, independent of my police report for the mugging.

When I filed my police report they asked me a lot of questions like “Where have they opened accounts?” and I was unable to answer those questions. Later I had a lot of information on that subject, but it’s a chicken and egg problem: you need the police report to even talk to the companies and find out if there are accounts!

4) Verify the info on your credit reports

The credit reports are very long and scary looking, but there’s nothing for it but to dig in and start reading. For this part just verify things like your name, address, and open accounts; we will get to the inquiries in the next step. Companies will sometimes compare the address on the application against the one in your credit report, so someone might theoretically try to change that information for their nefarious purposes. In my case, all of this information was okay.

I caught my identity theft quick enough that there were no actual accounts listed in the reports – this does not mean you are safe!! At first I thought this meant I had caught it before they were able to open any accounts, but unfortunately that proved untrue. I suppose it takes a while for the open accounts to start showing up on your credit report proper.

I presume any open accounts you do find listed here need to be handled the same as the inquiries, but I’m not sure since I didn’t have to deal with any of these.

5) Start digging into the inquiries

This is where the real detective work comes in.

Inquiries are various companies pinging your credit as a normal part of verifying you for an account. There is nothing wrong with inquiries in and of themselves, however, the inquiries themselves do impact your credit. So even if the thieves were ultimately unable to open an account, you should still dispute the inquiry.

In my case it was easy to find the fraudulent ones, because all of the accounts were opened on the same day. You need to check every single one of these.

So how do you check them?

Well, some of them are easy. Something like “Verizon” is pretty obvious, but a lot of smaller stores have their credit cards serviced by a larger bank. So, for example, it’s not so obvious that COMENITYCAPITAL/MPRCC is actually “The Children’s Place”. All you can do is google it, but luckily there are a lot of people out there asking things like, “Why is there an inquiry from COMENITYCAPITAL/MPRCC on my credit report?” (For the record, MPRCC stands for “My Place Rewards Credit Card”)

Once you figure out the name of the creditor, you need to find a phone number and give them a call. Sometimes this requires a LOT of effort! Usually you can find a phone number on their web page, but even if you get the right phone number it sometimes takes a couple of tries to get through the automated system. Most places want your account number up front, which of course you don’t have, and then they need to transfer you two or three times, or else give you a different phone number to call.

If you do get through to someone, ask to speak to the fraud department (which may be a different phone number). In my experience the fraud department is VERY, VERY helpful, more so than the average customer service rep. I can’t help but notice that the people who got taken for $$$ also happened to be the places without good fraud departments. I doubt this is a coincidence.

At some point they will try to locate your account, which usually means giving out your social security number. It is one of the great ironies here that to recover from someone stealing your SSN you have to hand your SSN out to everybody on the face of the planet.

This is probably a good time to just leave a reminder about good identity safety. There’s no avoiding the fact that you’re going to have to give out a lot of personal info to people you don’t really know. At the very least, if someone contacts you and asks you for personal information, you need to do a little leg work first. Don’t take their word for it; find the number for the fraud department on your own and verify it against the number they gave you. Verify they are who they say they are.

Anyway, the company should be able to either A) find an account in your name, or B) find a record showing that an account was attempted, but denied. There were a few where they were unable to find any record of an account, which means there are probably a few out there I wasn’t able to close. 😦 But you can only do your best.

The company should do two things, 1) dispute the inquiry on your credit report with the credit agency so it gets removed, and 2) send you a letter confirming that you are not liable for any charges in your name. They may require additional information from you first; usually, at the very least, a copy of your police report.

6) Other miscellaneous things you should do

Many sites recommend filling out a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commision at identitytheft.gov. I’m not sure what that buys you, but leave no stone unturned as far as I’m concerned.

Apparently one of the biggest forms of identity theft is to file a bogus tax return on your behalf. For example, I could file a tax return in your name claiming a bunch of deductions and basically get all of the money you’ve paid in so far this year, leaving you in the lurch when you went to file your actual return. Therefore, it is probably a good idea to file an Identity Theft Affidavit with the IRS.

Another thing an identity thief might do is change your address, so that any credit cards or notices get sent somewhere else, potentially delaying you from noticing the theft. If you are receiving mail at your current address, you’re probably fine, but my case had the extra wrinkle of just having moved. So I gave the post office a call just to make sure my original mail redirect was still in place. You can find phone numbers for the USPS here.

Finally, because the thieves were operating in Indiana, I filed an identity theft complaint with the Indiana Attorney General’s Office. Again, I’m not sure this was all that useful, but it certainly can’t hurt, and they seemed to take it more seriously than the Chicago PD had taken it.

7) Be watchful

Even after all of the above, I received some things in the mail asking me to opt out of sharing my personal information. Of course, that led to additional accounts that had to be shut down. Just watch out for anything that seems out of the ordinary, or anything that sounds like someone you don’t know has recently done business with you. Worst case you spend some additional time on the phone to find out it is legitimate!

I think that’s it. Hopefully this post will be useful to someone. My fondest desire would be that nobody would ever need to use this information, but that seems hopelessly idealistic.

I will try to update this page if anything else comes up, so if anybody has anything to add, please leave a comment.

 

Why doesn’t Whole Foods want me to eat their pizza?

When the Whole Foods opened up in Hyde Park, we were naturally a bit excited. We’re not every day Whole Foods shoppers, but there are a few things that are more convenient to get there than anywhere else.

At first there were some hiccups: mistakes ringing things up, having to remind cashiers about the “case discount” every single time, cashiers not knowing things like which kind of bread you were buying.

Now that the store has been open for almost a year, I can report that…absolutely nothing has changed. Whatever opening day hiccups were there, are still there in full force.

One particularly humorous aspect to this is our repeated (failed) attempts to order multi-grain crust pizza. If you’ve never had Whole Foods pizza, it’s actually pretty decent. It’s roughly on par with anywhere else we might order pizza from, and cheaper too! Especially on Wednesdays, when they’re discounted, which just happens to be the day the kids have activities until late. A match made in heaven! I would really, really like to recommend it to you, but….

We vastly prefer the multi-grain crust, and they vastly prefer, I don’t know, not to sell it to us I guess? Every time we call, we get a different excuse. It’s become something of a game between Sara and I.

“We just sold our last one” is a popular excuse, second only to “we can’t make it, it takes too long to thaw”. “How long does it take to thaw?” we asked once. “Two hours.” Next time we called two hours in advance. “Oh, it takes three hours to thaw.” Nowadays we call about 5 hours in advance. “We just sold our last one,” said the guy on the phone. “It’s before noon!” Sara said in exasperation. “Maybe you should get more than one!” “Yeah, well, it’s really not that popular…” “How could you even know that if you only make one a day, and it sells out before noon?!”

Multiple times we’ve gotten, “Multi-grain crust? We don’t sell that. That’s not a thing.” My all time favorite was, “There’s no way you can order that, our ovens here can’t even cook it. It wouldn’t even work.” This despite the fact that we have gotten it there many times AND it’s on the paper menus sitting at the counter.

The funny thing is that about 50% of the time we are able to convince them to make it for us. “It’s in the freezer. You need to thaw it first,” we tell the person whose job it is to know how the pizzas work. “It takes about 3 hours, which is why we are calling now.” “Oh, okay,” they say, and sure enough, that week we get multi-grain. …Until the next week when it’s, “Oh, no, we don’t carry multi-grain at this store, you must have gotten it at a different store.”

We’ve personally spoke to the distributer about getting more mult-grain crusts ordered. “You should fill out a comment card,” one guy at the counter told us. “That’s the only thing they listen to.” Well, we’ve filled a few of them out too, and it hasn’t made a difference.

This past week we got, “You know, for some reason the delivery never came this week, so we don’t have any.” “That’s a new one, right?” I giddily texted Sara. “Better add that to the list.” “You know what?” sighed Sara. “Call them back and cancel the order.” “For real?” I said, but she was for real. I guess she finally hit her limit.

By my calculations, we have called to order pizza somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 times. That’s 20 times of having this ridiculous conversation. Why should I have to work this hard to convince somebody to sell me their product? What am I missing here, why don’t they want to make this pizza? Is it really that much harder to make than the regular pizza? We’re talking about Whole Foods here…shouldn’t they be into multi-grain crust?

I don’t know, man, and I guess we’ll never find out, because I think we’ve finally thrown in the towel. Another unsolved mystery for the files…

Could I be a musical theater nerd?

Scene that happened at work today:

::me, explaining some work stuff::
Coworker: “…and then you’ve got trouble in River City.”
My face:

Me: “Did you…did you just make a Music Man reference?”
Him: “Oh, I don’t even know where the phrase –”
Me: “Weeeeeeell you got trouble my friend. Right here, I say –”
Him: “Oh, you’re singing it. Well –”
Me: “…trouble right here in River City. Well sure I’m a billiard player, certainly –”
Him: “It keeps going. Okay.”
Me: “…mighty proud to say, I’m always mighty proud to say it. I consider –”
Him: “You’re not stopping.”
Me: “…that the hours I spend with a cue in my hand to be GOLDEN –”
Him: “SOMEBODY HELP ME I CAN’T PUT THIS TOOTHPASTE BACK IN THE TUBE!!”

I know some of you think of me as the Hamilton guy, but I absolutely never thought of myself as a theater nerd. I never *did* theater, so I thought that automatically disqualified me. And sure, I have a soundtrack or ten (or 20), but who doesn’t? Musicals are just pop culture, I thought, and I have a talent for picking up song lyrics.

I mean, it really probably wasn’t until about a year ago, when I was at a wrap party for one of Evelyn’s plays, and I got involved in a conversation with some of the adult actors. They were discussing topics like “best/worst Andrew Lloyd Webber show” and “best musical (not named Hamilton) in the past 10 years” and I was all

I had opinions man.

So that got me thinking. Have I been musical theater nerd this whole time?

I mean, okay, so I have an abiding love for Jesus Christ Superstar, but that’s really my mom’s fault, and yes, okay, if you really press me I can make a top 10 favorite musicals, but it’s not like I have it written down somewhere, and sure, I know all the words to all the songs forward and back to maybe 15 musicals, tops, but some of those are because of the kids, and yes fine, I’ve seen quite a few shows on Broadway, but we used to live in Philly, and we didn’t plan our Honeymoon specifically around Broadway, it was just a happy accident, and I know that perhaps it’s a little abnormal that one of my favorite movies of all time is Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, but when you think about it, for it’s time…

But that doesn’t make me a musical theater nerd, does it?

The Case of the Preponderance of Pastries

Shortly after we moved into our new house, I noticed a bagel on the ledge outside the dining room window.

It was a little odd, because I don’t even know if that window opens. The window is right above the door to the basement, so it is way too high for someone to easily have set a bagel there. The only thing I could figure is that it is next to the steps leading up to the back porches of the apartment building next door, so maybe somebody dropped it off by accident? I kept meaning to get it, but I kept forgetting until I noticed there were little animal nibble marks on it. After that I got a broom and knocked it down. Don’t need critters thinking my house is a good place to look for food.

I probably wouldn’t have thought much about it until one day Sara was putting on her shoes and she looked out the back window. “Hey,” she said, “Is there something that looks like frosting on the back window? Like, sealant or something? It looks like…buttercream.”

Sure enough, it DID look like buttercream, and in fact WAS buttercream. A nice piece of birthday cake, smooshed up against the back window.

What does this mean?? Sure, a neighbor on the other side of the house ALSO could have lost some food and accidentally tossed it at an angle to get it up on our back porch I guess? But that’s a pretty weird coincidence, right? I mean, I could see a bagel rolling away from you or something, but a slice of birthday cake?

Naturally, my first thought was that the children of the neighborhood somehow left food offerings to appease the capricious and petty demigods who inhabit the walls of our new house, or else possibly the previous owners pissed the neighbors off so much that they continued to throw pastries at the house, not knowing it was under new management. Either way, it seemed ominous for us.

“Stop being so dramatic,” said Sara. “I’m sure there is a logical explanation.”

I called her about a week later. “I am at home, in the backyard. There is a cupcake on the air conditioner…”

Poor little naive Shane

We were sitting in the bathroom at the new house, and I noticed something in the heating vent.

“What do you think that is?” I asked Evelyn. “Is it a letter?”
“I think it is a book,” said Evelyn.
“A book?” I said, getting all excited. “Maybe this is where they hid the secret tome with the forbidden knowledge! It could have been hidden here for decades! Let’s get it out!”

We ran immediately to the toolbox and got a screwdriver. It only took a few seconds to get the grate off.

Now, obviously I didn’t REALLY think it was a forgotten spell book, but I was at least hoping for an old newspaper or something. We found some old newspapers in my house growing up one time and it was a lot of fun to read the old stories and look at the old ads.

With Evelyn excitedly peering over my shoulder I removed…an extremely explicit adult magazine.

Why, oh why, did it never occur to me that the kind of “book” you’d find hidden away in the bathroom would indeed be forbidden knowledge?? I felt so hopelessly naive. It never in a million years would have crossed my mind for even a second, but it seemed so obvious in retrospect. I guess it says a lot about me that I was totally convinced it would be some secret mystery text, possibly leading to an adventure, rather than something so obvious.

Luckily it was kind of rolled up and I whisked it away before Evelyn could see what was going on, but of course she wanted to know what was going on. After all the hype, why did I run away with it so fast?

“Evelyn and I just found a dirty magazine in the bathroom,” I hissed to Sara. “What do I tell her?”
“Tell her it was a gun magazine,” said Sara.

“It wasn’t for kids,” I said. “It was, uh, a gun magazine.”
“Oh,” said Evelyn. She still looked like she didn’t believe me, but to my great relief she didn’t push it any farther.

According to the cover, that magazine had been in the bathroom for about 26 years. I guess you really don’t know what you’re going to find hidden in your house! Just got to remember to be a little more circumspect (and worldly!) next time.