November 27, 2002

Credit Cards and Hi-Jackers

I've never been in debt. Okay, that's not entirely true. Yes, I've been in the kind of debt where I had to make car payments, and I'm currently in the kind of debt that says I have to make house payments.

I've never been in credit card debt, however. Truth be told, I've never even owned a credit card. I don't trust them. I've been conditioned not to trust them thanks to many years of living with college roommates.

Most of my college roommates had this weird outlook on credit cards. Basically, they thought credit cards were magical pieces of plastic that just magically paid for things and that they were somehow immune from the the ensuing debt that came about due to excessive credit card spending.

I'll admit it: I was sort of jealous of my roommates and their magical credit cards. After all, they always seemed to have money and, if they didn't, they just whipped out their credit cards. Books? Put them on the credit card. Food? Put it on the credit card. Night out at a strip club? credit card.

And yet there I was writing checks and budgeting like a fool. I remember thinking that I was doing everything all wrong. I mean, there I would sit, meticulously lording over my finances, while my roommates went waltzing all over town swiping their credit cards with the careless glee of a six-year-old with a loaded pistol.

Then, one year, I was a roommate with a guy named Chad. Chad was actually a former high school classmate of mine. He was, and is, a tech-head. He's one of those guys who was born to know technology. Way back in elementary school, he taught me how to write simple programs for the Apple IIc, and he always just seemed to know everything about computers.

But he didn't know shit about personal finances. He whipped out any one of his many credit cards with the swiftness and ease of a Old West gunslinger. By the time we became roommates, he had already accrued over $10,000 in credit card debt.

I remember thinking what an incredibly large amount of money that seemed to be, especially when I factored in the understanding that he also received financial aid, and that he also worked. Granted, he worked at the local Brach's candy factory on the Gummi Bear line, which paid about as well as you might imagine, but it was still money, so I came to the conclusion that old Chad was a pretty carefree spender.

Well, one day, I popped into Chad's outrageously messy room where I noticed, tucked between two huge bags of pilfered defective Gummi Bears, a credit card notice that was slugged "Urgent!" and another that was slugged "Immediate Payment Required" and still another that read "We Break Fingers And Toes."

Then the calls started coming in, usually two or three a day. "Is Mr. Haugen available? We really need to speak with him." No, he's not here. "Are you sure you're not really Mr. Haugen?" Yes, I'm sure. "Well, when he comes in, have him call Mike at Discover immediately." *sound of shotgun cocking* Will do.

Chad was masterful when it came to avoiding creditors. He always seemed to leave the apartment just two or three minutes before a creditor called. It was like he had some sort of sixth sense. Which was all fine and dandy, except that I ended up being the intermediary between Chad and the creditors, so I got to absorb all the impatient anger and suspicion of basically every credit card company on the planet.

It was the day a creditor appeared, in person, at our doorstep that I realized Chad's debt situation was probably more dire than Chad cared to admit. There was a knock at the door, I answered, and a gentleman in a suit that looked both impressive and threatening stood before me. He asked to see a Mr. Chad Haugen, at which point I heard a little scuffling emanating from Chad's room as Chad scurried out the back entrance which, conveniently, was located at the far end of his bedroom.

We chatted together, the ominous creditor and me, for about an hour, waiting for Chad to get home, even though, of course, there was no way in holy hell Chad was going to make an appearance while that guy was in our apartment. I even had to produce my ID, so the creditor was satisfied that I wasn't, in fact, Chad Haugen.

After that, I believe, Chad ended up getting a loan from his parents, or somebody, so he could pay off his credit card debt at least enough to keep the creditors at bay. He eventually got a job working at IBM, which was a long-assed commute from Winona to Rochester, but paid a whole lot more than the Gummi Bear line.

As for me, Chad's experience with credit cards pretty much scared me away from plastic for good.

This Hi-Jacker is Good

How do you know if you're a really good hi-jacker? Well, if you can hi-jack two airplanes in your lifetime, I'd say you have the whole hi-jacking thing down pretty good. Such is the case with a fairly unstable Frenchman who managed to hi-jack his second plane Wednesday using an empty cardboard box and a TV remote control.

What floors me about this story is that the guy also hi-jacked a French plane in 1999. How does a guy like that get out of jail, let alone step back on board an airplane? Who fell asleep at that ticket counter?

TICKET AGENT: Hmmm, it says here that you hi-jacked a plane in 1999. Now, before I give you a ticket, I need you to promise not to hi-jack this flight. Do you promise? Good. Here you go.

Oh, but this story gets much, much better.

French police said Savorani also commandeered an Italian train in 1998 with a toy gun, but no charges were pressed against him because of his mental illness.

That's right, folks, this man has been able to use his mental illness to shield him from blame for two previous hi-jackings. I think I speak for everyone in the entire world when I say, "what the fuck?"

Authorities said they did not immediately know if he spent time in prison after the 1999 hijacking.

How could they not know?! How is it possible that, in our country, the public is notified by the press when a registered sex offender moves into a neighborhood, but in France a two-time hi-jacker can walk around practically undetected? Someone, somewhere, is simply not doing their job. And what does Savorani's mother make of all this craziness?

"Oh God, he's done it again," the Italian news agency ANSA quoted his mother, Orella Savorani, as saying. "I've been anxious for hours because he didn't come home at lunchtime."

How messed up must your son be if, when he doesn't come home at lunchtime, you have to worry that he may be out and about hi-jacking things?

She said he borrowed $500 from her in the morning, saying he needed it to pay university fees.

*groan* That's like the oldest trick in the book! I can't believe she fell for that.

On a more serious note, and a little editorializing on my part, this story points out a glaring reality when it comes to organizations like al Queda. After 9/11, the terrorists were held up as organizational and tactical geniuses for the way in which they hi-jacked and flew planes into buildings.

The reality is that they did nothing more spectacular than a mentally insane Frenchman with a TV remote control. They had, and have, terrorist training camps set up to teach radicals how to do what Savorani has done, not once, not twice, but three times.

Seriously, if there are any al Queda dudes out there reading this, I have to say, that's pretty pathetic, guys.

Posted by Ryan at November 27, 2002 02:43 PM
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