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Seashells and Balloons: The Distressing Story of a Not-So-Great Scott

November 30, 1987|SCOTT OSTLER

My mail tends to be horribly boring. A lot of weekly team press releases, invitations to press conferences to unveil plans for big bass-fishing tournaments, desperate queries from the expense-account department, occasional critical letters from readers, mostly in crayon.

The other day, though, I got an interesting and disturbing letter from a woman in Texas who is very angry at me if I'm the person she thinks I might be, which I am not.

Apparently there is a guy out there somewhere claiming to be me in order to score with girls. I'm guessing this is not a standard singles-bar come-on, but it worked once.

The Texas woman, named Jeannie, told her story. During the college basketball Final Four in Dallas 18 months ago, she met a guy in a bar who claimed to be a big-time sportswriter. Jeannie and the ersatz me wound up having a brief but intense friendship, which culminated in this cad stealing her checks and subsequently forging and cashing them, stealing her mini-TV, quoting corny poetry and generally abusing her Texas hospitality.

"The grand total cost of my kindness was around $900, not counting the food and drink I provided," Jeannie wrote. "I guess I just wanted to finally be able to say something about a person like this, and since yours was the name used, I'll use you too. . . . I guess I'll never really trust a stranger again. Hope it really isn't you, but if it is . . . Damn you!"

Why did she wait so long to ask me if I was the larcenous lounge Lothario?

"I was in L.A. a couple weeks ago," she wrote, "and noticed your column and I decided I would at least let you know that someone is using your name, perhaps a colleague, or if it was actually you, let you know that the bank in Dallas is looking for you."

If it was me, Jeannie, which it wasn't, thanks for the warning. I should tell you for future reference, when crimes are committed, banks and cops generally prefer to sneak up on the bad guy.

I plead innocent. During that time frame, I was nowhere near Texas nor any girl named Jeannie, and I have witnesses, including my wife.

As further evidence, I offer the handwriting on the notes this imposter sent to Jeannie. She enclosed copies. They feature a nice, almost feminine, script. My handwriting is manly and illegible, purposely so because I don't want anyone reading over my shoulder when I take notes.

"Thank you very much for coming into my life tonight," the phony me wrote. "Your presence is awesome. . . . Please do not think of me as being too forward, but you excite me."

In all three notes, the guy signs off, "Seashells and balloons, Scott."

Seashells and balloons?

In one note, the fake me quoted the poet "Rob McKuen." The poet's name is Rod, and I would never quote him because I never read him. He was popular during my college days, especially his "Listen to the Warm" collection, but I felt that exposure to his sensitive and drippy work might adversely effect the embryonic development of my hard-boiled writing style.

This whole incident would be good for a chuckle, except for two things. A young woman has been bilked out of $900. And it indicates that sports imposters are branching out.

They've been around forever, unscrupulous jerks posing as a big-time sports stars, for love or money. The public is gullible. People want to believe they're really meeting a star.

But this is the first time I've ever heard of someone trying to impress a girl by passing himself off as a sportswriter. I should be flattered that this fake thought enough of my station in life to use it as a pickup device. Except that he probably did so because my last name is similar to Jeannie's, affording a convenient icebreaker.

The lesson, I guess, is that even a very minor celebrity status can leave you open to exploitation. You try hard not to make a fool of yourself and someone does it for you.

Even though this was possibly a one-shot trick, I would like to warn any women who might be reading this: If someone claiming to be me offers to buy you a drink, or to let you buy him a drink, or asks if he can look at your portable television or your checkbook, or quotes Rob McKuen, ask to see a driver's license and a major credit card.

I can't do much to help Jeannie feel better except to assure her I'll keep my eyes open for the imposter. Some day, somewhere along the sports beat, perhaps in a bar somewhere, I hope to run into the guy. He'll introduce himself as Scott Ostler, L.A. Times sportswriter.

"Glad to meet you," I'll say. "I'm a traveling salesman. Seashells and balloons."

Or, "My name is Rob McKuen. My presence is awesome. I'm going to smack you upside the head so you can listen to the warm."

Or, "Small world. Say, while we're waiting for the cops, can I buy me a drink?"

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