THE TRUST FUND GRIFTER
I have invented a new phrase, which is something every writer dreams of doing. When I was a young, unformed writer composing morose poetry, I read Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying and was awestruck by her invention of the phrase “zipless fuck.” Granted, “trust fund grifter” doesn’t exactly knock “zipless fuck” off its pedestal, but I’m proud of my accomplishment. It came about, as many literary inventions do, from a recent life experience, which I have now turned into a lesson, and a catch phrase.
We think of grifters as con-artists who are out for money and swindle unsuspecting people into parting with theirs. We think of the movie The Grifters, and how the characters worked every angle with disastrous consequences. But money is not the only currency in life. Validation, power, inclusion, admiration are also things that people crave, and will sometimes use any means to obtain. I recently learned this from a man I am now calling a trust fund grifter, although I don’t believe he is the only one out there. There are others, lurking in luxury cars, dining at five star restaurants, and offering up family money for charitable causes. We must all be on the alert.
This particular man not only pledged money to a program I’m involved with, he repeatedly told me that the donation had been made by his family’s foundation. He then told me, a year later, that a second donation would be given and that he would make sure this kept happening on a yearly basis. He inserted himself into organizational aspects of this program, and spoke effusively about his passion for it and commitment to it. I trusted him because it was obvious that he had money, and I knew his family did. So it seemed logical to assume he was being truthful. But then he abruptly left town…deciding he needed to be at the other end of the country…something about finding himself, something about following his bliss. He assured everyone he was still going to honor his commitments. Distance couldn’t dampen his passion for this particular program and cause, he said. Foolishly, I believed him. Foolishly, I didn’t ask anyone about the monetary donations; I just assumed they had taken place.
Then I got suspicious. After many months he’d turned into vapor, almost disappearing entirely except for cheerful photos on Facebook and brief updates about a whole new life. I began asking questions. No, no one had heard from him. People who were relying on his participation had tried reaching him, had left messages; none were returned. And that family foundation money? Not a cent had ever been given. I tried finding this supposed foundation by googling his family several different ways and I found nothing. I ended up apologizing to several people for having vouched for this guy, and was assured that they had trusted him initially too. Still, I felt like a fool. I was angry at him, but I was also angry at myself. I realized he’d played us to get the validation he craved, and had then fled to supposedly greener pastures.
So here’s my life lesson on this: Beware of smooth-talking people even if you think they don’t need anything from you, which makes you assume they must be sincere. They may have monetary wealth, but they may be desperate and starving for acceptance and adulation. Poverty has many different faces. So does betrayal. Beware of people who appear to have solutions and fixes for everything, as if they have traveled the globe absorbing wisdom and will now lead you to the mountaintop. There was only one Yoda, and he was in the movies. Beware of people who are too ready, too willing to get involved in charitable efforts. The most charitable people, those who give of themselves tirelessly, still take a few minutes to think about it before jumping in feet first. And my final piece of advice: Never assume you don’t have to research someone. Google is your friend. It’s free, it never sleeps, and it probably can lead you to the mountaintop, or at least close to it.