Is there a bigger confidence man in human history than René Descartes? That shifty Frenchman got us all to believe our brains were our selves. Then, while we were transfixed by our own cogitations, staring off into space, he stole our wallets and tied our shoelaces together.
“I used to think that the human brain was the most fascinating part of the body. Then I realized, whoa, look what’s telling me that.”
— Emo Philips
But hey: You’re here for the good old-fashioned lost-your-life-savings scams, right? For me to deliver a bunch of riddle-of-consciousness malarkey is a classic bait and switch. So let’s talk about some primo Florida swampland with under-waterfront views!
“If I ever start to tell the story of my life, it will be interrupted by the blowing of a million police whistles.”
— Wilson Mizner
Wilson Mizner (and his slightly more scrupulous brother Addison) stands out the wittiest scammer and/or the scammiest wit, depending on who he was trying to dupe. He didn’t quite follow his own advice:
“Be nice to people on the way up because you’ll meet them on the way down.”
— Wilson Mizner
Though he certainly deserves credit for this widely used excuse to define deviancy downward:
“When you steal from one author, it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many, it’s research.”
— Wilson Mizner
“You sparkle with larceny” was one of his self-aware compliments to a fellow grifter, as was the observation that you’d steal a hot stove and come back for the smoke.
Mizner is the reason the phrase “Florida real estate” is a red flag. He helped his architect brother sell the dream of Boca Raton, fittingly translated as the mouth of the rat. He robbed churches, fixed fights, married heiresses (well, a heiress), and all the while maintained his status as, in the words of Anita Loos, “America’s most fascinating outlaw.”
“Charm was a scheme for making strangers like and trust a person immediately, no matter what the charmer had in mind.”
— Kurt Vonnegut
A sure sign of how thoroughly Mizner got away with it is the sympathy of his biographers. He had a “vast firsthand criminal erudition,” according to Alva Johnston, a virtual accessory to fraud based on how many glowing profiles of the Mizners he managed to write. Wilson’s included in Zanies: The World’s Greatest Eccentrics. And if the title Rogue’s Progress: The Fabulous Adventures of Wilson Mizner doesn’t give its author’s leanings away, that 1975 biography is filled with gentle observations like this:
“If you sold a man the Brooklyn Bridge, his education would be advanced immeasurably; at least he wouldn’t buy another bridge.”
— Richard O’Connor
Of course, the scams in which most of us are ensnared are the ones that fall between consciousness and swampland. The difference between multilevel marketing and a Ponzi scheme is a matter for the courts. As Anne Helen Petersen wrote in a bracing 2019 piece on higher education, the whole PhD game is a pyramid scheme with no one at the top, a sort of zombie scam.
“You have the same chance of winning a lottery whether you play or not.”
— Fran Lebowitz
I recall a newspaper editor explaining how journalism schools were a beautiful racket. No one needed to study journalism to practice it, but if the newspapers agreed to only hire J-school grads, the schools would reciprocate by hiring retired journalists as professors. And reader, it’s the same with brain surgery! Someone hand me a monkey wrench and we’ll fix that mind-body divide issue once and for all.
“You know they call corn-on-the-cob, ‘corn-on-the-cob’, but that's how it comes out of the ground. They should just call it corn, and every other type of corn, corn-off-the-cob. It's not like if someone cut off my arm they would call it ‘Mitch’, but then re-attached it, and call it ‘Mitch-all-together’.”
— Mitch Hedberg
And now, a totally legit & highly charming sales pitch
Every month* (*ish), my wonderful paying subscribers receive Riposte Cards, framable original 4x6 artworks created by a coterie of brillant illustrators. An annual subscription gets them all, but feel free to jump in for a month! Our first card — The March Edition! — is by Antony Hare and G.K. Chesterton. This week, we had to pick the final colour scheme. The options looked like this:
How to decide? Referring to The Wit’s Guide to Indecision, we went with Neopolitan, the classic ice cream flavour for people who want it all:
Listen! Can you hear the whirr of the presses? Yes, they’re being printed as we speak, and I plan to send a few to each precious and beloved subscriber next week. Want one? It’s not too late!
“I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad.”
— George Bernard Shaw
For next week, let’s hit the road and hope that the road doesn’t hit back too hard.
Get Wit Quick No. 192 was almost entirely above board. In the U.K., the word scheme is a value-neutral descriptor, so you see headlines in which politicians describe their schemes as though they are saying the quiet parts out loud. I’ll loudly mention Elements of Wit: Mastering The Art of Being Interesting, my ancient scheme that I ought to have marketed on multiple more levels. Tapping the ❤️ earns you the old five-finger discount.
Whoa! As a proud resident of this fine city, I take great exception to the following snide definition:
Boca Raton, fittingly translated as the mouth of the rat.
The correct translation is “ mouth of the mouse “. Much better.
some would call it, ' chutzpah ' ...ya think?