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Monday reading #14
A Scamtober story about money, class, and in-ground swimming pools
Monday Reading is my weekly recommendation of something I’ve found thought-provoking or fascinating. Sometimes it is about something I have read. Sometimes it is about television or food or music or projects I care about supporting. Sometimes I do not send it on Monday. Please share with anyone who might like the vibes!!
I had a different recommendation for you today, but this morning I read “The Great Zelle Pool Scam,” a new long-form story over at Insider, and I cleared the (pool) deck to write about it.
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It starts with one of the kinds of figures I love, a sleazy salesman.1 Gary Kruglitz (not his real name2) owns a pool company and, as reporter Devin Fridman puts it, “cuts a certain figure,” which you might recognize as kind of vaguely porny seventies: mustache, “thin short-sleeved dress shirts through which it is occasionally possible to glimpse just the hint of nipple when the lighting is right.” He “answers his phone ‘yelllow’ and says ‘bye now’ when he hangs up.” The three women who work for him are Cheryl, Cheryl, and Sheryl. He “ran his company from an AOL account, which I didn’t even know you could still have.” This man is Friedman’s bête noire. Kruglitz promised to build Friedman a swimming pool, took $31,000 from him via money transfer app Zelle, and then claimed to know nothing about it.3
The story is a narrative reconstruction of what happened, but we also learn, immediately after meeting Gary, that it’s also a story about class. First, obviously, this is a story about an in-ground swimming pool. Friedman says that “the rich-person-ness” of having a pool bothered him, but he wanted “evidence that my life hadn’t amounted to nothing.” In the cultural imagination, above-ground pools do not produce this status. Before all that, Friedman notes that he lives in the Berkshire Mountains, “home to white folks who love the Boston Pops, farm to table, and Lyme disease.” (The last one seems a little unfair.) Further, Friedman writes, the pandemic brought “people from cities moving to places like the Berkshires and building swimming pools and bringing their obnoxious, demanding, me-first city culture with them.” Which kind of Berkshires Guy is this Senior Correspondent for GQ? Handily, he doesn’t say, but he’s from Shaker Heights, Ohio, so he either had an affluent childhood or was the child of a single parent who scraped together money to rent an apartment in a better school district. And he was able to save up another $31,000 for a pool in the two years after this fiasco.
All of this is communicated lightly. It’s context. It’s a between-the-lines way of contextualizing very funny things like this:
At some level, I realize now, I expected someone at Chase to say holy shit that's crazy, hey everyone, stop what you're doing because we need to raise this one up to DEFCON 1 and send a drone over to Sunshine Yasmine48's house.
Anyway, this reported story about the wilds of peer-to-peer money transfer apps and identity theft is very funny and, like the long-form magazine journalism this man has spent his life writing, makes an existential gesture that is probably too grand for this but also not wrong:
This is what security has come to — proving an instant of existence. And while knowing if Gary is Gary or I am me or Breezy is the Breeziest Breezy on the internet is getting harder and harder, the pull to decouple ourselves from any real-world identity — the anonymity of crypto, the maybe-someday-plausibly lifelike simulation of the metaverse, the evolving deepfake of AI — gets even more powerful. Knowing who anyone really is seems like it's going to become a philosophical question, not to mention a practical one. Anything can be true. Nothing is real. The simulation is reaching its singularity.
Anyway. Never send a contractor $31,000 via Zelle in small sums daily over a couple of weeks. If you do not get anything else from this newsletter but this knowledge, I’ll be satisfied.
According to Friedman, “I changed his name so I could be as honest about him and his nipples as possible.”
It turns out he d—well, just read it.