December 2019

“Old Lang Sign” (or: Happy new year 2020!)

by Joey deVilla on December 31, 2019

Thanks to Tracy Ingram for the find!

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The 2010s, as I saw them

by Joey deVilla on December 31, 2019

It’s been a wild decade for me. It began for me in Toronto as a newly-single man wondering “What now?”, and ends tonight as a happily-married man in Tampa wondering “What’s next?”

The best way to explain the last ten years is to tell the story of the first of those years. I’ll do that by pointing you to some key blog posts from that time. I hope you find them interesting.

I’m off to celebrate new year’s eve. Be safe, and I’ll see you in the new year!

I Would Go Out Tonight…

…and as a matter of fact, I do have a stitch to wear. Waiting for Jamie Sorgente’s ride from the Hotel Le Germain (a pimped-out Audi that they use to take guests about town) to pick me up at the Queen Elizabeth and take us to Garde Manger.

Closing Time

I stopped blogging for a week, and a number of people asked if I was all right. The second-best answer I can give – at least here on the blog – is “Yes…considering the circumstances.”

As for the best answer, it’s a dream that I had Thursday night, after returning to my hotel room after a healthy dose of rye-and-cokes at a post-conference cocktail party in London, Ontario, and lying awake, having one of those long dark nights of the soul where you ask yourself so what do I do now?

For the purposes of a public forum like this one, I think it does a pretty good job of capturing my state of mind without violating any confidences.

The Great Reset

On the rare occasion that I find myself waking up at oh-dark-thirty and unable to nod off, I find that the most effective fix is not to lie awake and try to sleep, but to do something until I get sleepy enough. That particular night, I fired up the laptop and wrote about that dream in a blog entry titled Closing Time.

It never occurred to me that people would interpret it as work-related. Since posting the article, I’ve had a number of friends ask if I’m thinking of quitting my job and shooed away about a dozen phone calls from recruiters hoping to land a prize.

Instead, the article Closing Time and the dream that inspired it were about something a little more personal: it’s that Wendy has asked for a divorce.

I won’t get into the hows or whys of the matter here. Splitsville is a complicated place, and a blog is not the appropriate place to hang up your dirty laundry. It will simply have to suffice for me to say that I love Wendy dearly, and that I wish her all the happiness in the world. If you are a friend of hers, please reach out to her.

Anything I write about breaking up will not be about her, but about me and the question I will be attempting to answer for the next little while:

“So what do I do now?”

Greasers, Accordions and My New Portuguese Posse

They stared at me in disbelief for a moment, and then a number of them threw their arms in the air and yelled “ACCORDION!”

“Come! Join us! Play! Get this man a beer!” Magic phrases, all of them.

Five Evenings Out

I am too damn old to be here, I thought as I squeezed my way through the huddled masses of Generation Y that had packed themselves into the place. We’d missed last call, and there wasn’t room for additional molecules, never mind a free table.

“C’mon,” I said. “Let’s go hit someplace a little less crowded…”

A pair of impossibly cute, impossibly young girls squeezed by us.

“…and a little less…uh, statutory. How ‘bout Mars?”

Appearing This Afternoon on YTV’s “The Zone”

If you tune into YTV [Canada’s answer to Nickelodeon] this afternoon between 3:55 and 4:25 to enjoy a little Spongebob, you’ll catch me and Carlos as I talk about the accordion, explain how it works, attempt to teach him how to play The Hokey Pokey, and play a little game called musical roulette where I’m given a random musical genre and topic and have to make up a song on the spot.

My Hospital Week

I woke up in a panic, unable to breathe. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t take in any air. It felt like drowning, and all the while, I was thinking about the article Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning. I pulled myself partly upright, and felt something break away from my right arm. I clicked the call button that they’d attached to the railing of the bed and started looking around.

The room was mostly dark, lit only by some diffuse ambulance lights flashing through the room’s small translucent window and the monitors displaying my blood pressure, oxygen saturation and heart rate. Curiosity got the better of me for a moment and I stole a glance at my heart rate: 150.

No shit, I thought.

Although they’d transferred me into a hospital gown, I was still wearing my jeans. My phone was still in my pocket and still had plenty of charge. I hadn’t installed a flashlight app, but I fired up OneNote (which always runs with a light background). At least I had a light source now.

Why wasn’t anyone answering my call? I clicked the call button again.

I sat upright. I immediately felt a sensation of downward movement in my upper chest, as if a masseuse were working downward on me with a giant rolling pin. Was this what it felt like to check out? I wondered.  I hoped not.

After the sensation passed, it felt a little easier to breathe. Maybe sitting up did it.

Still no answer from the call button. I clicked it again. What was wrong with these people?

Casting the light from my phone about, I got my answer. I’d managed to not only disconnect my IV line with my thrashing about (leaving a small pool of blood on the right side of the bed), I’d also managed to yank the call button’s cord out of its socket on the wall.

Nice going, deVilla, I thought, you just killed yourself.

Like Me, Just More So

“Has it changed you?” my friend asked.

“Has what changed me?” I asked in reply.

“Your near-death experience.”

Has it changed me, huh? You know, I’ve been asking myself the same question.”

Waking Up and Seeing Strange Ceilings

So far, 2011 has been a roving year for me, what with me spending half my days in beds that aren’t my own.

I’m enjoying the roving life thus far, but it means that my apartment – which already looks a little different owing to major changes in the domestic situation – is a place just as strange to me as the places where I’m crashing. That’s okay by me, though; I love travel and this is the sort of shake-up that’s called for at the moment.

“February – Blog Later”

I have very vivid memories of the night my friend Jeannie drove me to place near the Sound. I breathed in lungfuls of cool night air and stood on locks over waters that would eventually flow into the Pacific, thinking that only a month before and a continent away, I was in a darkened emergency room. It hadn’t been that long since I was gasping like a fish on dry land, fumbling in the dark, desperately trying to reconnect the emergency call button and thinking “so this is what dying feels like”.

I got perp walked into a meeting with a perturbed C-level executive. I had some heart-to-heart conversations with a lot of co-workers who were convinced that I was going to quit, including one with my manager that was only survivable through continuous shots of Wild Turkey. Oddly, at the time, while it would be a fair assumption to think I was going to leave, I was determined to stay.

I had two terrible, sleepless nights, slumped in my hotel room’s easy chair with a bucket of Coronas in ice at my side, staring at the highway to Portland and thinking “something’s got to change.”

Consolation Fries (or: The Non-Date That Went Tragicomically Wrong)

She took my hand in hers, putting her fingers between mine and led me downstairs and to the street outside. We walked at a slow-ish pace, hand in hand down the street, with her leaning up close against me. I took in a deep breath and caught the scent from her hair. Ever since I was a teenager, I have believed that “girly shampoo on actual girl” is one of the best smells in the world, surpassing even freshly-cooked bacon or a new just-out-of-the-box Macbook.

The evening had just been elevated to…a date? Okay, maybe a non-date.

Half-a-Versary

It’s been half a year since my check-in, iffy prognosis and adventures with suffocation and call button repair at the hospital. Between hospitalization, travel and living away for the summer, I’ve been in my own home less than half the time this year. I’m in a place that isn’t my own, in a town where I have only a vague idea of the geography and know only a handful of people.

I’m five weeks into my new job as Shopify’s Platform Evangelist. I have left the security and the fat paycheque of a Fortune 50 company for a start-up. I’m in Ottawa for the summer in order to immerse myself in the company properly. I’ve gone from a company where I was at about the median age to being part of the “adult supervision”.

Strangely enough, in spite of all this change, I still think that I haven’t ventured far enough outside my comfort zone. There’s still a lot more I can do, and there isn’t a better opportunity than the one I have right now to do it.

Happy New Year 2012!

Happy (belated) New Year, everyone! I’m back online — but not where you might expect — and regular blogging here on Accordion Guy resumes as of Tuesday, January 3rd. Here’s to a great 2012 and an interesting Year of the Dragon.

I’ve got my hands full at the moment, so I’ll keep this post short and sweet. I’ll let the pictures tell most of the story of how quickly and completely things can change.

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If “Return of the Jedi” was released in 2019

by Joey deVilla on December 29, 2019

Yup.

This one’s been around in one form or another since 2018. I simply updated the year.

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The Tampa Bay Times story Attempt to cash $1 million check at a Tampa Amscot leads to woman’s arrest, authorities say has many of the elements of a “Florida” story, but the way they tell it is disjointed and a little confusing. I thought that it could benefit from a timeline and some context, and that’s what I’ve written below.

Take a seat, grab a beverage, and read on. This is the story told in chronological order, with additional background information that you may find helpful…

February 2019, St. Petersburg, Florida

A woman and man attend a benefit for the Florida Holocaust Museum held at the Vinoy Renaissance Hotel, a Marriott that should really be a JW Marriott, and one of the higher-end venues in St. Petersburg. They pose for the photo above, which appears in the Tampa Bay Times.

The woman is Lin Helena Halfon, an Israeli national, who is in the U.S. on a visa and is currently applying for a “green card”. The man is Richard Rappaport, president of a company in the medical supply distribution business.

Someday, in a made-for-streaming-TV dramatization of this story, the camera will freeze on this photo, and a voice-over will say “This picture tells you everything you need to know about their relationship.”

June 24, 2019: A clerk’s office somewhere in Hillsborough County, Florida

Halfon and Rappaport get a marriage license. In the state of Florida, this is not an actual marriage, but a license for the marriage to take place. It’s valid for 60 days from the date it’s issued.

When Anitra and I got our marriage license a month before our wedding, we were required to spend some time reading and certifying that we had read the Family Law Handbook before we could leave the county clerk’s office. It’s a serious book, whose seriousness is seriously undermined by its use of terrible Corel Draw clip art and the misuse of the Comic Sans typeface:

Tap the image to see it at full size.

As I wrote in my blog post from February 2015: “Believe it or not, this is an official government handbook on the topic of one of the biggest decisions you’ll make in your life, and it’s set in Comic SansComic effing Sans.

It’s also a downer of a read, as it seems to be mostly about what happens when your marriage doesn’t work out.

Here’s a snippet:

divorce

At this point, I should point out Halfon’s and Rappaport’s ages. She’s 26 years old, and he’s 77. He looks good for 77, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s still nearly three times her age.

August 21, 2019: Sarasota, Florida

Photo from IHA Holiday Ads. Tap the photo to see the source.

The setting for the TV series The Golden Girls may have been Miami, but it feels like Sarasota. If you want your life to consist of nothing but shopping, golfing, and walking on the beach, and your idea of an exotic dish is tiramisu, you are going to love this place.

In this setting, Halfon and Rappaport marry in a civil ceremony at a county clerk’s office. No one in Rappaport’s family, not even his daughter Dayna Titus, are aware that the marriage is taking place.

Backgrounder #1: Amscot

Headquartered in Tampa and operating only in Florida, it seems as if every other strip mall has an Amscot branch. With their blue-and-yellow color scheme, they look like Blockbuster Video stores coming back from the dead, but they’re actually “providers of non-bank financial services”.

In other words, Amscot is yet another payday loan company that “services” the 8% of U.S. households who are unbanked. Like many other payday loan places, the lend money at usurious rates. If you check out the fine print at the bottom of the page describing their “cash advance” loans, you’ll see that the APRs range from 271.14% to 365.00%.

Another Amscot service is check cashing. The fee for this service varies with the type of check you want cashed:

If you’re unbanked and rely on Amscot to turn your paycheck into cash, you’re losing nearly 5% in the process. If you’re cashing a personal check, you’re taking a 10% bath.

The type of people who need to cash checks at this sort of place generally fall into one of two categories:

  1. People in less-than-ideal financial situations.
  2. People engaged in less-than-ideal business.

November 7, 2019: An Amscot branch in Tampa, Florida

An Amscot manager receives a phone call asking if they are able to cash a million-dollar cashier’s check. The caller says that his wife will arrive with such a check.

An hour later, Halfon visits the Amscot and asks them to cash the check. She tells the Amscot employees that she needs the cash so that she and her husband can buy a yacht, apparently unaware of how suspicious that sounds.

As a cashier’s check, it is guaranteed not to bounce by the issuing bank. However, it is made out to both Halfon and Rappaport. As a check made out to two people with the word “and”, both of them would have to be present in order to cash the check, and Halfon is alone.

The Amscot people tell Halfon that they can’t cash the check. The manager asks Halfon why she doesn’t do a wire transfer instead. Halfon says that she needed the money immediately, and that wiring the money would put a hold on the check. This is true — with a wire transfer, there’s a delay that can be as long as a couple of days.

Undeterred, Halfon doubles down and offered to pay $100,000 to have the check cashed. The Amscot staff still refuse. She leaves.

Halfon returns later that day with three new cashier’s checks, each for $333,333. Perhaps she thought that by breaking the $1 million into more “bite-sized” chunks, the sum wouldn’t seem so daunting and the Amscot people would give her the money.

The Amscot staff refuse to cash the checks. This time, they make copies of the checks and Halfon’s ID, which were her Israeli passport and U.S. visa. The Amscot staff ask her where her husband is, and she tells they that he is out of the country. After she leaves, they contact the authorities.

This brings up an interesting question…

Backgrounder #2: Is it even possible to cash a million-dollar check?

Even if you ignore how shady Halfon’s request was, her plan had a serious flaw. Remember, Amscot’s a payday loans place, and the typical payday loan is for a few hundred dollars. My guess is that any given Amscot branch would have something on the order of $10,000 in cash.

For comparison’s sake, consider banks. This article says that small banks might hold $50,000 or less, while larger banks might keep on the order of $200,000. The article also points out that the average take for a bank robbery in 2006 was $4,330, “which likely reflects how little money is kept up front with the tellers.”

Even the three “bite-sized” checks Halfon returned with would be too much for just about any bank to cash, never mind an Amscot.

November 8, 2019: The Rappaport residence

There’s nothing like an attempt to move a million dollars to get swift action. The day after Halfon’s two attempts to cash the checks at Amscot, investigators from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) interview Rappaport and his daughter Dayna Titus at Rappaport’s home.

The news reports don’t say how or why he would give Halfon a million-dollar cashier’s cheque made out to both him and her. Perhaps deep down, he suspected that he was being played for a fool, and this was his way of simultaneously showing his affections with a fabulous amount of money and not losing said money at the same time.

The reports are more clear on the fact that realized that giving her the check was a mistake. He asked her to return it, and according to an affidavit, she “berated Rappaport on the phone when he asked for the check back.”

November 12, 2019: Halfon’s apartment, Bayshore Boulevard, Tampa, Florida

After having interviewed Rappaport, the FDLE investigators interview Halfon.

For some reasons that have not yet been explained — but which you’ve probably already guessed — Halfon’s address is a Bayshore Boulevard condo that Rappaport owns, a completely different place from Rappaport’s residence.

For those of you not from Tampa, here’s a photo of Bayshore Boulevard, which should give you an idea of Halfon’s lifestyle:

Halfon tells the investigators that she and Rappaport had a fight about the checks. After the fight, she says she mailed the checks to her sister in Israel to keep them out of Rappaport’s hands. She says that Rappaport’s family had been pressuring him not to give her money, and that she would ask her sister to mail the checks back to her.

During the interview, the investigators make this gem of an observation, which appears in their affidavit: “Halfon further advised that she does not work, and Rappaport pays all her expenses, like a normal married couple.”

Twenty minutes after the interview

Twenty minutes after leaving Halfon’s apartment, the FDLE investigators get a call from Rappaport. He tells them that he believes that Halfon will return the checks, and that he didn’t want her “bothered or deported”.

My guess is that Halfon called Rappaport shortly after the investigators left, sounding appropriately distressed.

November 22, 2019: Check Pros, Carteret, New Jersey

A Florida man (of course) with an Orlando address successfully cashes one of the $333,333 checks that Halfon claims to have sent to her sister in Israel. He manages to do this at Check Pros, an Amscot-like provider of “non-bank financial services” in Carteret, New Jersey (their motto: “The center of it all”), which is 1,000 miles (1,600 km) north-northeast:

Remember: Halfon supposedly sent the checks to her sister in Israel. Here’s a map for the geographically challenged:

Tampa, Carteret, New Jersey, and Israel on a map. Tap to see at full size.

November 27, 2019: Check Pros, Carteret, New Jersey

The same Florida man successfully cashes another one of the $333,333 checks that’s supposed to be held for safe keeping in Israel.

Here’s a photo of the place — does it look like a place that would be able to cash a $333,333 check?

Check Pros looks sketchy, but check out Khalsa Sweet House’s Yelp reviews — I need to check it out sometime!

This check-cashing Florida Man is still under investigation, and no details about him — including how he fits into this whole scenario — have been released.

December 6, 2019: Tampa, Florida

FDLE investigators talk to Rappaport, who says that Halfon has made arrangements to return the checks the following week. He confirms that he never signed any of the checks.

Remember, at this point, Halfon and Rappaport have been married for just under four months and live in separate places in the same city.

December 7, 2019: Tampa, Florida

The FDLE investigators get a warrant ordering Wells Fargo to freeze the last $333,333 check.

December 10, 2019: Tampa, Florida

The FDLE investigators meet with the Amscot manager, who tells them about the phone call they received prior to Halfon’s visit. He describes the caller as a “young-sounding and outgoing” man.

The investigators also meet with Rappaport, who says:

  1. He never called Amscot (which you’ve probably already figured out), and
  2. Halfon is flying to New York on December 15 to meet a friend who is bringing the checks back from Israel (remember, two of the checks had been cashed in New Jersey two weeks prior). The friend flying in from Israel is landing in Boston.

Once again for the geographically challenged, here’s a map showing the distance between Boston’s Logan airport (where her friend is supposedly arriving), and New York’s JFK airport (where Halfon is flying):

Yes, I’m confused too.

One of the investigators asks Rappaport if he feels that he’s the victim of fraud and theft, and he says yes.

December 11, 2019: Tampa, Florida

FDLE investigators learn that in a change of plans, Halfon had flew to New York that morning. The original plan was to fly to New York on the 15th.

December 16, 2019: Tampa International Airport

Creative Commons photo by Michel Curi. Tap to see the original.

Upon returning from New York, Halfon is arrested and charged with the following:

  1. Fraud,
  2. Money laundering, and
  3. The oh-so-Florida crime of exploiting an elderly person.

Sometime between December 16 and December 23, 2019: Tampa, Florida

Halfon hires Tampa attorney Todd Foster, who specializes in defendants accused of white-collar crime. Foster tells the Tampa Bay Times that “There’s a valid marriage between this couple and we look forward to bringing forward additional facts to bring clarity to this situation.” I assume he said this with a straight face, which might have taken some doing.

You’re probably wondering how she’s paying for the lawyer’s services. So am I.

December 23, 2019: Tampa, Florida

The Tampa Bay Times publishes the story under the headline Attempt to cash $1 million check at a Tampa Amscot leads to woman’s arrest, authorities say.

December 26, 2019

The story goes national as NBC News publishes it under the headline 26-year-old wife accused of trying to steal $1M from 77-year-old husband.

Halfon’s lawyer talked to NBC News:

The defendant and Rappaport “love each other” and that she has no incentive to steal, Foster told NBC News.

“As far as I know it’s (a) completely legitimate” marriage, Foster said, after visiting his client in jail on Thursday. “I believe there were lawyers involved and secured prenuptial agreements.”

Foster did not confirm or contest the prosecution’s allegation that Halfon tried to cash a $1 million draft at a check-cashing store — but said his client, who is new to the country, might not be fully versed in U.S. banking practices.

He insisted Halfon did nothing illegal.

“She did not stand to have any financial advantage from the allegations in the affidavit,” Foster said.

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The miracle of Hanukkah, explained in 21st-century terms

by Joey deVilla on December 23, 2019

Thanks to Alexandra Samuel for the find!

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Police in St. Pete arrested Richard Ellis Spurrier around 11 p.m. Saturday for handing out weed “because it was Christmas”. They say that said Spurrier had 45 grams of marijuana and was giving it away to passers-by, which is quite possibly the most Christmas-y thing one can do, short of tossing three bags of gold through someone’s open window so that their daughters wouldn’t have to take up prostitution as a career.

For some reason, Spurrier is being charged with possession of marijuana with intent to sell. Aren’t “giving away” and “selling” two very different things? The St. Pete po-po are the Grinches in this scenario.

During the arrest, the cops discovered that had one of the sweet-ass canes that conceals a sword, which means that not only is Spurrier is goddamn Christmas hero, he’s also a badass.

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Happy Hanukkah 2019!

by Joey deVilla on December 23, 2019

Hanukkah began yesterday evening, Sunday, December 22, and ends on the evening of Monday, December 30. Chag Chanukah sameach!

It’s been ages since William Levin has published a Shabot 6000 comic, but its site is still online.

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