Thursday, August 16, 2007

up to $50,000—or more!

This is a little late as obits go, but I had completely forgotten about my signature Scooter moment until I was talking with a friend last night. “I’m embarrassed to admit it,” she said, “but growing up, I didn’t even know Phil Rizzuto was a baseball player.”

I knew right away what she was going to say next: “I thought he was just the guy from The Money Store.”

When I first came to the New York City, lo those many years ago, late night TV was filled with ads for Crazy Eddie, the Ritz Fur Shop, and, yes, The Money Store. The Money Store was one of those (is one of those? I think it still exists) sleazy, second mortgage, refi places that prayed upon the desperate with promises of quick cash from “the equity in your own home!” Even to the uninitiated, completely new to the world of credit, it seemed clear, these guys were basically little more than legal loan sharks.

Perhaps to soften their image, perhaps to capitalize on some personal connection to the subject—or perhaps to collect on an outstanding debt—for many years back in the go-go ‘80’s, The Money Store used legendary Yankees shortstop and broadcaster Phil Rizzuto, the Scooter, to, uh, pitch their loan business.

Now, being a lifelong baseball fan, I knew that Rizzuto was a famous Yankee from the 1940’s and ‘50’s, a hall of famer, the 1950 MVP, but I, too, must admit that what left the biggest imprint on my mind was not his playing career, nor his goofy way of calling everyone a “huckleberry” and not always paying attention to the action on the field during his years broadcasting Yankees games. No, for me, like for my friend, when I think of Scooter, I think (well, now I think of Scooter Libby—but before that) of The Money Store.

Rizzuto started every ad with “It’s a hit!” and then would launch into a stilted reading of some typically awful copy that tried way too hard to associate second mortgages with baseball games. But what got me, really got me, every time, was when Scooter promised that I could borrow “Up to $50,000—or more!” I would just lose it. . . every time.

Alas, I shouldn’t have to explain why, but after telling this story on more than one occasion to blank stares and polite nods, I feel the need to point out that the meaning and purpose of “up to” is completely negated by the addition of the phrase “or more.” Can I borrow some amount between one dollar and fifty grand, or is there effectively no limit on what The Money Store might lend me? Which is it Scooter??? Make up your mind!

Philip Francis Rizzuto passed away on Monday night. He was almost 90. . . or more!

24-hour party’s over

I would be remiss if I were not to also note the passing of another man that helped shape my ‘80’s experience: Tony Wilson.

As a 26-year-old reporter for Granada Television in Great Britain, Wilson attended a Sex Pistols concert that, as legend (and the movie, 24 Hour Party People) would have it, was attended by founding members of Joy Division, Buzzcocks (not “the Buzzcocks,” Mr. New York Times guy), the Fall, and the Smiths. Inspired by the music, the scene, the cheap drugs, or the raunchy sex in the men’s room, Wilson soon after formed Factory Records, and released music by the likes of Joy Division (and New Order), A Certain Ratio, The Durutti Column, and Happy Mondays.

In spite of that lineup, Factory never made a profit. “You either make money, or you make history,” said Wilson. When faced with the possibility that I might have had to go through the 1980’s hearing Scooter say “up to $50,000—or more!” up to 50,000 or more times, but without hearing a song like “Love Will Tear Us Apart” even once, I am glad Wilson chose the latter.

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