Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts…

23 Nov

Remember that old adage?

Recently (October 17th), I was contacted by an older  gentleman who was “fronting” a deal in Central Florida, for investors looking to convert a modular home factory (that failed) into an ISBU processing facility, to repurpose these shipping containers that we’ve all come to love, into homes that families can afford….

He’s a retired guy, who has a lot of time to sit around and think of ways to make change, and then,  he writes letters to the editor of his local paper about them.  We found out later that in those letters, he  also makes it clear that he’s just a retired guy living on social security, barely. He’s not wealthy, not “old moneyed,” and not connected. In fact, he’s not even employed.

His project goals (as he put them to me) were basically twofold;

(a) Recreate all the lost jobs that the community suffered when the factory closed, and…
(b) Build affordable homes for people who need them.

Pretty easy to get behind, huh? Noble, entrepreneurial, and even honorable.

Now, when he initially approached me, he wanted my assistance as a consultant, to help them navigate the waters and find some success.

He briefed me on his project and his financial backers.

I’ve made my family’s circumstances pretty plain, and even obvious, in the blog. It’s not because I want pity. It’s because I want people to understand that even when the odds are stacked against you, it’s your “sheer determination in the face of failure” that is the yardstick that your success will be measured against.

I also told him that I couldn’t work for free, under any circumstances. He assured me that his backers were able to pay. 

So, naturally, I jumped at the chance to help him. He was dreaming the same dream as I was.

Affordable homes for families.

I certainly wasn’t going to be the one to kill his dream. So, I wrote approach papers, manpower reports, construction process flow documents, I drew sample floorplans and even scripted  presentations for Governor Crist of Florida, Marco Rubio  (Crist’s opponent in the 2010 Senate Race) and some large foundations, so that “the team” could look for additional financial backers and political support.

I drew detailed blueprints of actual housing units to demonstrate the factory construction process.

I stayed up all night several times, writing his required papers and boilerplate. To the tune of about $2,000 of my time, if I billed at less than half the going rate per hour.

This guy told me repeatedly that he’d sent requests for consulting money to his “backers,” to get me paid. But help never came…

As this went on, he later offered me a small percentage of the company, if I’d join the management team. He did this knowing I had no intention of moving to Florida. In fact, I was really considering a move to Virginia to follow a job that might present itself if we could work out all the “technical” details. We’d talked about it extensively.

I even pulled strings with a well-known large “Green” foundation I was friendly with, to get his program on the “merit screening committee” schedule. And then I wrote the “merit application” myself.  This foundation recently funded a like project in Oregon, to the tune of $15 million dollars.

I recruited one of the top “process consultants” in the country to help out, and he came on board in part because he knew it would help my family, indirectly.

(You know who you are, and you have my profound thanks, and I hope you accept my sincere apology for exposing you to this.)

All along this path, I was told that consulting dollars were coming. But… they never showed up.

So, on November 4th, the guy I’m talking about offered me an old minivan (to be delivered after he “got it running”), so I could get Char back and forth the 2 hours (each way) to the hospital for chemo and radiation treatments. He called it a “late birthday present.” He kept saying that it was “for Char.”

He knew we’d sold our vehicles long ago to pay for Char’s medical attention, when the insurance company refused to. And then, we ended up with NO insurance. We’ve done exactly what most of you would do. We liquidated every single thing that we didn’t need, to make sure that Char and Joshua were taken care of. Oy.

Now, it wasn’t a new van or anything, it was a non-running 11 year old Ford Windstar that he’d sourced from some local “sell it on the local radio station for under $350 bucks” kinda thing. It was a “fix or repair special” kinda car. He did this after I repeatedly asked him not to, because he couldn’t possibly afford to help “anyone,” and I couldn’t possibly afford the repairs.

Would an old (and small) fuel efficient van or SUV be nice? Sure. What idiot DOESN’T want a car?

Do we EVER go anywhere as a family? No.

I take the city buses everywhere I have to go. I can’t manage both Char and Joshua (and his stroller, et all…) by myself. The buses run every 45 minutes, so there is no such thing as a short trip. Like everyone else who uses a bus (and I’m sure that many of you in metro areas can identify with this) a trip to the supermarket, is a “pack mule adventure.” This is especially true when the nearest affordable grocery store is another town and 2 buses away.

And… as it stands now, we hire an “ambulance/transport service” to transport Char when she has to go to treatment ( at a flat rate of right at $100 a trip).  But this guy was hardly in a position to give us a van, even a really old one, or do anything this generous, even it if was an old bucket of bolts slowly reclaimed from the dead…

So, he pressed us, and we declined it… over and over again. He persisted, complete with a dedication in the name and honor of his departed sister (who sadly lost her life to Cancer) and we finally relented…  we thought the idea of that old van a “miraculous G-dsend.”

A deal was struck, he got a non-running van (for under $400), and then he started working on it, to get it ready for us. He sent photographs, and emailed us, saying all the repairs were minor, and that it’d be ready in a few days… The photos depicted an old non-running Ford minivan in typical “salvageable” condition, with saltwater corrosion down one side, and the fuel tank, et all…  sitting in the cargo bay.

The Kelly Blue Book value was about $400, if it was running. And, it wasn’t.

Now, while he may have purchased the van out of pocket (according to him), he was using other people’s money to work on it. He started using our name and circumstances to solicit funds. He claimed that this person or that person was sending him checks. But for the most part (to the best of our knowledge), “they never arrived.” He did solicit and receive at least one check for $300 to help out, in our name, according to what he told us.

And as soon as it arrived, he started buying parts and tires, and began tinkering with the van.

He even went so far as to contact our local synagogue (from afar, remember), to berate them from not assisting us themselves. This after I asked him repeatedly, in writing no less, not to.

(They don’t have the ability to assist us, by the way… but all of our wounds got reopened along the way.)

We had tried for several months just to establish some kind of dialog with the “hurricane displaced” synagogue, only to fail.

After several months of trying to establish contact, we gave up.

Note: It’s not like they were avoiding us, or anyone else. The temporary Jewish meeting place at the Beauvoir Methodist church was just “unstaffed,” and the volunteers there during the day (in the meeting/volunteer labor center) were not related to the synagogue at all. We actually walked in and left several messages trying to locate a Rabbi, but we found out later (from the synagogue staffer – Lori Beth) that those messages were never received so that they could be acted upon.

The poor lady working at the synagogue told us that she’d been forced to deal with this guy, and she implied that  he wasn’t pleasant. (My words, not hers, she was very kind, but seemed uncomfortable with his interaction with her.) She (Lori Beth) was very sweet and kind, it was just clear that there was no help to be had. They never offered any help, or assistance of any kind.

This guy did succeed in making such a fuss that it’s actually damaged our relationship with the Jewish community here.

Any attempt at a tie now will be prefaced by “Oh, you’re THOSE guys…” How humiliating. Oy.

And he just wouldn’t stop…

We started wondering why he was hammering our local synagogue to give us a van, when he was supposedly “repairing”  one.

Each day, he’d call or email, saying that “this or that was wrong,” and that he’d have it fixed the next day or so. Only nothing ever got fixed.

Hey, we weren’t trying to push him, as we were actually getting our hopes up (because we’re “idiots”), and thought that we finally had a shot at getting a car again, even if it was an old piece of junk. If it ran, we could actually go outside as a family and Char would feel “safe” while we did it.

And I had worked my butt off for the guy, so it didn’t seem like a “donation” in the usual sense, it was more like “barter.”

But every time we talked there was more and more “wrong” and “this guy or that guy/mechanic that pledged help never showed up…” etc… This went on… to the point where we were heartsick every time we opened our email account or answered the phone.

And the more I pleaded with him to just do what needed to be done (within reason) and get it over with or finally, to just abandon it altogether…  the worse it got and the more detailed the “repair reports” got.

I finally contacted the people he claimed were backing him in his “Plant Project.” They ignored my requests for information, and then I did finally manage to get one “off hand” denial of any participation in the project.

Apparently, he was just an “old ex-employee”  (his own words) trying to arm-twist them into funding HIS project. There was not (nor would there ever be) any money.

Essentially, I became his “only backer” by doing all the work, calling in favors, and trying to line up investors. Unbeknownst to me, I might add.

If you want to get cynical; That revelation might explain the van’s “shadowy appearance.” It served to keep us focused on the plant project.

While all this was spinning out of control, he was asking me to help him get set up with Florida Governor Crist’s opponent (Marco Rubio) in the upcoming 2010 Senate election, to pitch his project to HIM, since Crist’s people had read his rambling and almost neurotic letters, and passed him off to “a dead end…”

And yes… the minivan would be ready “any day now…”

Who knows? All I know is that the van is still not running, it certainly never showed up, the guy took money from people using our name, and then spent it supposedly to repair a van that he’s now telling us “he’s going to sell for his own personal gain.”

So be it. Good luck. In the meantime, I’m still trying to be nice to him at this point, since he’s an elderly man and I have no way of gauging his real mental state. Maybe he actually believes all this nonsense.

Just please make it stop… please…  Ronin said… Oy.

And now… since he’s “hurt us so much” he’s not going to contact us ever again…

He got thousands of dollars of “free work” out of me, because I wasn’t smart enough to call BS when I smelled it. I’m trying to work out of my house, so I can care for my wife and child at the same time. So I took his “program” at face value. I just didn’t look deep enough. Desperation does that to a person sometimes. It did it to me.

It’s quite possible that he was innocent in all of this, that he really thought he had the backing he needed, and that he really thought he could help. But in the end, it’s the end of the day that you measure your progress against. And, in this case, at the end of the day… the progress was non-existent.

All he managed to do was cause us disappointment, heartache, and a lot of emotional pain. And we got exploited. I lost a lot of hours of hard work.

If this was actually planned (and I really, really don’t want to believe that it was) it couldn’t have been planned any better.

It must feel really good to exploit someone who already has nothing at all. Man… the nerve of some people.

It gets better.

As Billy Mays would have said: But wait! There’s MORE!

After it all imploded (and he was never going to contact us again, remember…), he contacted (by email) the local newspaper here in my hometown, to get them to publish a letter on our behalf. It was COMPLETELY and TOTALLY unsolicited.

Why? If he was repairing a van, why was he doing this? Why did he persist in doing things we expressly asked him NOT to do?

Anyway… after the “letters editor” read it, they passed it to the “Feature Desk,” and the paper (through one of their Ace Reporters) approached us wanting to run a “feature” story.

I can only imagine that it was a “Woman stricken with Cancer sacrifices life to bear child” kinda piece…

That’s how this guy actually described his goals for it, as he explained it to me on the phone. “Hold your wife up to the public as a heroine.”

Imagine my wife’s horror at hearing this. She hasn’t been out of the house in almost two years, except to visit doctors or hospitals. She’s changed so much due to the disease and the treatments that she’s afraid to let anyone even see her. She doesn’t even go outside voluntarily unless it’s DARK. She doesn’t put on make-up any more. She doesn’t dress up. She no longer talks to her friends. No one can come in the house.

She’s “beaten down.” She lives… facing her fear on a daily basis. She can just barely walk across the room, if she’s lucky.

She just wants to be left alone in her suffering, so that she can try to cope with the horror that is her life. And this guy KNEW all of that, and STILL did this… After we begged him over and over again not to.

After we had told him time and time again that he was harming our family and causing us pain.

We begged him to stop.

And now, some well meaning reporter is on the phone… and they want to put Char “on the front page.” (They want to write a feature story.) After discussing it with the reporter for a few minutes (who was very understanding and very sweet, not at all like the”pitbulls” you see reporters depicted as on TV) , we both concluded that doing this would only harm my wife and she’d already suffered more than enough.

I suspect that at the end of that conversation both the reporter and I were in tears.

After this happens, this guy sends me an email, “demanding” Char’s personal medical records and other very personal information, after he’s already proven to us that he cannot be trusted at any level, so “he can convince MORE people to help…”

Note that to this point NOTHING he has claimed to do has come true. But, he’s accepted papers, presentations and blueprint screen captures from me for “free…”  to fortify his own project, which I suspect is doomed to failure, because frankly, I’m the only one “in the alleged bunch” who really understood it in the first place.

What’s clear to us now is that none of this had anything to do with US.

It had to do with an old man who wanted to feel “important,” and he pushed himself into places and lives where he didn’t belong, to gain that importance, no matter the cost… despite the knowledge that he KNEW he was hurting people that he claimed he was “trying to help.”

It’s about EGO.

The point of this post?

If ANYONE, I repeat… ANYONE contacts you looking for funds or anything else to help MY family… or anybody else’s for that matter, it’s best you check with that family directly, first.

And you can bet that we’ll/they’ll probably be in the dark about it, and decline that “help.” It’s just too expensive.

Now I’m going to go crawl into a hole until my wife stops crying. It’s bad enough that she’s so sick… she didn’t need to get her heart broken.


Readers… I offer this to you, personally, both as written explanation… and as a formal apology.

I’ve spent the last 18 months trying to earn your respect and your interest, to promote these wonderful boxes. I don’t want anything to damage that. We’ve come too far together.
PS. Again… Please accept my profound apologies for wasting your time with this. I just felt like you were involved in our lives deeply enough that you deserved to know.

11 Responses to “Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts…”

  1. clarkscottroger November 23, 2009 at 9:43 am #

    Having acquired a reserve of good faith for your efforts, anyone who doubts the sincerity of your work both here at your blog and out there in the real world, is not worth the time it would take to respond.

    (For what it is worth) you have my (vote of) confidence.

    Keep up the good work.
    (You are continuing to demonstrate the old saying about success that I like so much:
    ‘get knocked down 10 times, get up 11…’)

    • renaissanceronin November 23, 2009 at 11:44 am #

      Thanks, Clark.

      I appreciate it. Truly.

      • John Hunt June 17, 2010 at 11:50 am #

        Hi Alex,
        I will pray for you and your troubles. I know you said you are Jewish. You sound like a Godly man. A couple millenia ago your people produced a Savior and I am now blessed with Our Father’s mercy because He came with the good news. Now that I realize the mercy of the Ancient of Days, I have a new hope and realization the this world is temporary and we are here to love one another as He loves us and as we love ourselves, which it sounds like you believe. Those who belong, those who have faith in our Savior, will be in the Real World with Him someday when we are released from this shadowy and material world that constrains us. Keep your hope and faith in Him as you continue to lead your family well. If you do, your family and all those of us who follow the great commandment to love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves will meet again in paradise.

        As I said you sound like a good man, husband, and father. If you turn to the Father and His Savior/Son you won’t be alone no matter what the circumstances in this world of chains and prison bars.
        God bless you.

  2. Alina November 23, 2009 at 8:10 pm #

    I’ve been trying to come up with an appropriate response to try to boost your spirits, and especially those of your wife. I’ve been typing and deleting for about ten minutes now and haven’t managed to write a single thing that I thought could make a person feel better. So just know that I care, and that I’m thinking of you and especially your wife and wishing her strength. Be careful on the internet, Ronin. Money first (Half up front? A quarter?) blueprints second. No more Mr. Nice Guy, huh? 🙂

    • renaissanceronin November 24, 2009 at 9:52 pm #

      Thanks Alina,

      We appreciate your caring.

      And I have that same “typing and deleting” problem… I write for hours and hours, typing and deleting, and in the end, all that’s left is this mind-numbing blog that only gives people headaches!! 🙂

      Sometimes… you just want something to be real so badly that you venture in without completely thinking things thru.

      I know… I shoulda known better.

      I’d write more, but I gotta go now. I’m expecting a FedEx from Nigeria! I just won the “Youdadumbest” Lottery…

      And I didn’t even buy a ticket! Man, this Internet thingy is great!

      That $2.5 million dollars is gonna help out… 😉

      I’ll be able to buy tissues for the next time somebody makes my wife cry… and flowers for his or her grave…


  3. Madrigorne November 24, 2009 at 7:12 am #

    I have so many words. My God, Ronin, I am so so sorry. Call your telephone company and BLOCK his calls, block his email address as spam/junkmail. Righteous indignation on your behalf has filled my throat and I may be sick. If this jerk persists you should contact the police and get a restraining order to stop this Madness. You did nothing to deserve it.
    Your ideas and the strength of your convictions shine through your writings, your humor. Unconventional thinking, and the courage to scream truth into the faces of the immovable Establishment burn bright in you.
    You are still yourself, a wonderful person with a wonderful wife and an adorable son. He cannot take that from you. Keep hold of those ideas you sketched out, the factory plans, you did not trade them, he did not buy them, they are yours to use when the opportunity arises. You have put forth tremendous effort towards what turned out to be a mirage – but your effort need not be in vain.
    I believe in you.

    • renaissanceronin November 24, 2009 at 12:12 pm #


      Thanks for the kindness.

      My goal for the blog has always been to inspire people to think outside the box, and then, act on it… and not just in their own yards. If we don’t start creating “communities” on our own, as the fabric starts to fail (like our economy HAS – i.e. unemployment, the escalating housing crisis, inadequate health care, homelessness, et all) we’re all going to end up “standing alone against the tide.”

      We HAVE to help each other. If we don’t no one will. Nobody is going to “ride in on a white horse, direct from Washington DC” to save us. So, I simply wanted to “believe” even though common sense should have told me to run like I had been scalded. And now, I have been.

      They say that “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” I’m hoping that old dogs can learn their lesson. I can’t bear the repeat of this one…

      Again, thank you for your support and your caring. It’s truly appreciated. It’s for people like you that I write this blog…

      • Madrigorne November 24, 2009 at 12:45 pm #

        I don’t blame you for wanting to believe. Mad scientists need people to bounce ideas off of too. I myself want to score some rocky highground farmland nearby and build a wind farm, and raise milk sheep and chickens, and garden vegetables, run a cat rescue… and I am an art degree toting tech support geek behind a desk from dark til past noon. I think ISBU housing ROCKS. I think reusing what we have instead of throwing all our hard won pennies into the wind is just awesome. I fund my projects (reflooring, repairing) doing odd jobs for people, computer repair, babysitting, floor scrubbing, scrapmetal recycling… my work paycheck is to keep the wolf from the door. I keep my ear to the ether-wind most days scanning for any info/supplies that might be of use, either to myself or to people who are also building and dreaming.
        I went through all the craigslists of Mississippi from the last month and did not see anything of real use to anyone – besides a ton of free to good home pets (if they could be trained to fashion corten dens by jove you could make millions). If you do move for work to VA – I will include the Virginia breezes in my daily retinue. I probably should anyhow as my sister lives there.

        • renaissanceronin November 24, 2009 at 10:00 pm #

          You can milk sheep? Why would you do that? How do you find their… um… er… milky bits, in all that wool? 🙂

          Man, that takes “geekiness” to a whole new level… 😉

          But seriously, I know what you mean. We all have that ideal place where the world will just seem “right.”

          We just have to keep pursuing it, until it gets so tired that we can finally catch it. And you my friend… after that list of jobs you do… must be dead tired at the end of the day. I pray your dreams come true, soon, before you work yourself to death! Oy! I thought that I had a full plate…

          And BTW: There ain’t no such thing as “scraps” in Mississippi, we’re so poor here that even “the scraps” have waiting lists…

          Sooooo… We’re just gonna take a deep breath, and start chasing the dream again… until it becomes a reality.

          Once again, Thanks for the comments! I really love hearing from you!

          “milkin’ sheep…” Oy Vey… And they thought I was strange! 😉

          PS. HEY! Wouldn’t “Milkin’ Sheep and the Chickens” be a cool name for a rock band? Oh Baaaaa-by!

          PPS. I “Googled” sheep milking… Oy freakin Vey! I had no idea! They have automated milking apparatus and everything! The first feta cheese even came from sheep. Who knew?

          But I gotta wonder what that first Benedictine Monk was thinking…

          “Ah man… I gotta go milk sheep now. That’ll teach me for playing my iPod too loud in my cell… 🙂

          Maybe I’m in “the wrong line of work…” that sheep feta sells for $30 a pound… 😉

  4. Oshun November 24, 2009 at 1:17 pm #

    Hello Ronin,

    I have followed your blog off and on over time and have learned so much. It is easy to see that you are a stand up guy who’s wife and family are going through some pretty tough times.

    I am so sorry that this happened. I am so sorry that this man put you, your wife, and family through so much.

    Thinking of all of you…

    • renaissanceronin November 24, 2009 at 5:02 pm #

      Hi Oshun,

      We all have to keep doing what we’re doing… trying to help everyone we can. It’s the only way that things are gonna get any better.

      Otherwise Santa is gonna put coal in your stockings! Muuuuwahahah!

      Wait… coal burns and gives off heat, right? Maybe we should rethink this… 😉

      And me… um… I’ve just gotta learn to be more careful.

      Or my wife will kill me.

      Thanks for your kindness.


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