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Work of Art: Stranded somewhere in Europe

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By Art Trujillo

The first installment of Work of Art, on May 1, 2003, declared that talk certainly is not cheap. In that column I mentioned paying more than $52, to listen to a woman, who spoke flawless Spanish, tell me my close relative had been detenida at a hotel in Tijuana.

The name the caller gave was Maria Trujillo, which fits both my mom and my sister. The catch is that my mother had died six months earlier and my sister had gotten married months earlier. I listened to the collect call I had agreed to pay for, but after a few minutes I said to myself, “Self, you’ve been had.”

The caller hadn’t even gotten to the important and time-consuming part: the part where she was to give me a couple of numbers to call to secure the safe release of Maria Trujillo. I didn’t wait for the woman to repeat the numbers. I hung up, and soon thereafter, bundled with my Qwest bill, was a Zero Plus charge of $13 a minute for four minutes.

Would I have had to mortgage my house and family if I had stuck around to hear those two numbers I was to call? And if I had called them, would I still be in debt? Strange how it was a common con, but it took me minutes to realize it.

That incident reminded me a couple of recent e-mails many others and I received detailing alleged distress for two members of our community. In each case, those on a huge mailing list read about Barbara Casey and Rosalie Lopez, two well-known educators, who found themselves stranded somewhere in England.

Already, a famous Mark Twain quotation is probably on your mind: “Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” which he said after hearing the New York Journal had published his obituary.

So, despite the alarm that two of our citizens were detained in the United Kingdom and unable to get back to the states, Casey and Lopez were safely ensconced in their homes. Yet, concerned people, whose names appear on Casey and Lopez’s computer mailing lists, must have wondered. Barbara Casey’s case happened several months ago, when someone sent out a mass e-mail explaining that the former superintendent’s purse had been stolen and she needed money to pay for her hotel and trip back home. In Lopez’s case, she simply lost her purse while attending an across-the-Atlantic seminar.

The strikingly similar e-mails asked for whatever amount we could spare. Any amount would be appreciated. Now most users of e-mail are sophisticated enough to know when they’re being scammed. First, we phone the stranded ones to find out if the e-mails are for real. But some people aren’t that conversant with the ways and wiles of those who use the blogosphere to con and cajole.

My mother, for example — remember the deceased woman who had been “detenida” (literally “detained” or “arrested”) in a hotel in Tijuana? — would have taken the message seriously and explored ways to send money to the stranded ones. Many people — I would guess mostly the elderly — would have inferred veracity in the plea and tried to help.

Neither Barbara Casey nor Rosalie Lopez seemed fazed when I joked that I’d already sent them each a couple of hundred. Well, we’re glad our alleged sojourners are safe in Las Vegas, recipients of a vicarious trip in which their imaginary purses were lost or stolen.

• • •

Salvation Army has a shopping cart full of new, personalized wrapping paper. I searched through hundreds of the flat packs of wrapping paper, looking for ordinary family names like Diego, Adam and Ben.

Soon the question occurred to me: When did people start using last names for first names? Let me explain: In lieu of finding Art, Bonnie, Dorothy, Dolores, etc., it seems that what used to be last names are now given names.

I jotted down as many “nouveau” names as possible, and here’s what we have: Austin, Brooke, Cody, Haley, Hunter, Jordan, Kelly, Kelsey, Madison, Morgan, Paige, Scott and Taylor. Should any little girl bear a given name that once was the last name of a president, as in James “Madison” or a baseball player, as in Satchel “Paige”?

Some of today’s first names are or were surnames of people like Buffalo Bill Cody, Tab Hunter, Michael Jordan, Grace Kelly, Gary Morgan, Randolph Scott and Elizabeth Taylor.

Most of the names are too distant from Trujillo family names, although I was able to get free wrapping paper for two members, Adam and Heather. Does that mean I need to buy them a gift next year?

And if you have a Josh, or someone else with a really 21st century concoction, like Kristin, Brandon, Kelly, Lindsey, Destiny, Hannah or Bailey, pick up your free gift-wrap while supplies last.

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to artbt@rezio.net or atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com.