The first sensation that hit me after I began reading the New York Observer’s ‘Hipster Grifter’ article at 2 a.m. Wednesday night was a sense of growing nausea, as the paragraphs continued to describe charge after charge, account after account. The second was to check my wallet and make sure nothing had been missing in the two weeks since I was at Kari Ferrell’s apartment in Crown Heights.
There are a number of ways one can run into a con artist, I suppose. This was my first time, but it was not how I imagined it. Our introduction was more of the ‘your parents warned you about strangers’ variety.
Being new to New York, I decided to post a personals ad on Craigslist pretending to be an unemployed pirate looking for a three-eyed hipster girl (glasses plus eye patch = three eyes) [read the ad here - Tim]. I wrote it with a mixture of sincerity and ludicrousness, with the secret hope that someone interesting and attractive might actually come across it and respond.
Most of the responses were from porn sites looking for subscribers. But then I got this very well-written note from someone named Korean Abdul-Jabar, listing about seven reasons why I should want to get to know her, signed Kari.
And I have to admit, they were pretty compelling reasons. She talked about being into music and science, and she said she had a degree in physics. She attached a photo, and the tattoo on her chest of a phoenix was nearly as enticing as the pixie crop and the mild look of benevolent disdain. She included a line indicating her enjoyment of giving handjobs via mouth — a phrase already on its way to Brooklyn infamy — that was both provocative and hilarious in its directness.
How could any self-respecting skinny nerd boy not respond to that? If nothing else, it deserved a congratulations on the effort, as far as I’m concerned, and so I wrote back, and, a few e-mails later, I asked if she wanted to get a drink at Great Lakes after work on a Thursday. She said she didn’t drink, but that she’d love to hang out.
Things turned strange a couple of days later. The day we were supposed to meet [April 2], we were texting back and forth, had decided to go to the Bob Ross Tribute in the Lower East Side instead of having drinks in Park Slope, when out of nowhere she sends me a message that something terrible had happened.
‘I’m so screwed. Ughhhhhhh. My debit card was stolen, money is missing, account frozen, no money, rent due.’
Now this sort of thing, to anyone with half an ounce of sense, will of course raise some red flags, especially when it’s someone you’ve only spoken to online a handful of times. But at the same time, you want to give a person the benefit of the doubt. I offered my condolences, told her she should call her bank and that they would help her resolve the problem.
‘Maybe your landlord will give you some leeway if you talk to him?’ I texted.
‘Landlord is a no-go. So frustrated. Ugh.’
After a few exchanges along those lines, she said she didn’t feel like going out, that she was having a nervous breakdown and just wanted to stay in. As I was headed home to Fort Greene after work, I texted her one more time.
‘If there’s anything I can do, or you change your mind, let me know.’
‘Are you a millionaire … and a charitable one at that?’
‘Sadly, I’m barely a hundredaire.’
There was no response.
There was no point when I considered, or would have considered, giving her money, but skepticism was setting in. Surely there’s no way that anyone would think that someone they had spoken to three or four times over the course of a week would be willing to fork out cash like that, I thought.
About an hour later as I was sitting around, doing nothing, she called me and asked if I wanted to come over. We’d never met in person, and she was inviting me to her house. But, being someone who considers himself fairly resourceful, able to know a bad situation and high-tail it if necessary, I thought, ‘Why not?’
‘Can I bring anything?’
‘No, but thank you.’
And I headed over to Bedford Ave. on the G.
When I got to her apartment at about 11 p.m., this cute Asian girl opened the door. She was chubbier in real life than her digital pictures had suggested. Her hair was shorter, and her face rounder. She was cute, but not pretty, with a face marked by pimple scars. On the elevator up, I joked that it was brave of her to invite a strange boy over, and that I could only assume she was going to tie me up and rob me.
Her roommates, one a painter and the other I can’t remember what, were playing college basketball on their Xbox. While they were doing that, Kari and I talked. She liked the Utah Jazz, and was excited about the game that night. She told me she was from Salt Lake, adopted, so forth and so on. All details of her life that have since been laid out for the entire internet to read.
But mostly I was caught by the mix of shyness, in contrast to the sexual forwardness she displayed online.
One second she would be looking up porn on her iPhone, showing it to the three guys in the room, and then she was sharing her leftover spicy tofu and cabbage soup with me, as she talked about her tattoos. She showed me some copies of Vice, where she worked, and talked about what she did there, though not in much detail. Her title, she said, was assistant publisher, or assistant to the publisher, more realistically. It was her vacation week, but they still had her working.
Then she began talking about waiting on a former roommate to come over with $2,000 that he owed her, and that was the reason she really didn’t want to go out. She said she kept calling him, and e-mailing, and even showed me the responses from him, cryptic messages that went along the lines of ‘are you OK, Kari?’ and ‘I’m so sorry.’
Kari said she had been living with a man a couple of blocks away whose wife and daughter had left him, but that he never cleared out his daughter’s room, so she was having to sleep on the couch. Things got confused around here. She also said she was staying with friends somewhere else in the city, because of the couch thing, but regardless, she had decided to move out, and he said he would give her deposit and rent back, because she had never really had a room.
We were waiting on a man, a man who may or may not have existed, who never showed up anyway, while it got later and she got more distraught about the whole thing. There was a point when she asked if we should go over to his house and ask for the money, considering he had promised to bring it over that night, but that idea got quashed fairly quickly by her roommate, who figured that the only thing that would happen would be a fight.
Eventually, one roommate left to go spend the night with his girlfriend, and the painter decided to go to bed. Kari and I took the dog outside, and there was a police car up the road, blue lights blaring, as the dog took his shit and piss on a green fence. She made a joke about not wanting to get arrested for not picking up the dog’s shit, but we left it on the sidewalk anyway, and went back.
Upstairs again, it was just the two of us, and she started looking up voyeurism sites online, the sort of webcam things that mostly teenage girls are on or watch, except for a few adult couples who are just into that sort of thing. There’s generally no nudity or sex, just people talking, and perverts making chat comments about wanting 15-year-old girls to take their clothes off. She went back and forth between that and the end of the Jazz game, and since then, I’ve wondered how much of an effect their loss had on the way the rest of our night progressed.
After the game was done, we were watching a couple on webcam, and she was criticizing the performers for being dull. She said we could do a better job, but that we’d probably end up just having sex on camera. It was around that point that I kissed her. Nothing too intense, just a kiss, and a hand in her hair.
Kari smiled, and stopped, and said, ‘I’m kind of trying to take things slow right now.’ I asked her what she meant, and she said she didn’t know. So I ran my hand through her hair again, and said, ‘OK.’
A few minutes later, I got up to leave. She walked with me downstairs, and hugged me. I kissed her again, a perfunctory thing, and she said I was sweet. It was 2 a.m.
‘I’ll talk to you soon,’ I said, walking out the door.
I didn’t speak to her again. I had a cigarette as I walked back to the subway, went home and to bed, knowing that I had no desire to see her again, but thinking about the situation, nonetheless. I wondered if I would have slept with her, if she had wanted to. I wondered why I would kiss a girl whom I wasn’t attracted to. And, over the next couple of weeks, I wondered what she was doing a few times, and I told a couple of friends what had happened. But it wasn’t much to talk about, just another in a long line of fairly uninspiring quasiromantic interactions.
Then a certain article was published in the New York Observer and started spreading rapidly across the New York blogs.
A friend [that's me! -Tim] sent me the link to the Observer story Wednesday night, asking, ‘Was this the girl you were telling me about?’ As each of the charges was detailed, one after another, I had to reconcile the thought that I could easily have been one of those victims. Most Wanted List in Utah. $60,000 stolen. Bad checks and broken bank accounts. A wake of friends stolen from and roommates bilked. Claims of cancer and easy sex to anyone who would listen, and the same lines used from one to the next, now her personal cliches of social malice and obsession.
There’s a distinct quality to being involved with the infamous that goes beyond the typical celebrity sighting in New York City. There’s a fear that seeps through it, a way of knowing that one step different could have landed you in a ditch, or some impenetrable situation.
Like other people who knew Kari in New York and are now speaking out, I was shocked. There’s the part of you that tells you something is strange, but we still tend to have this grounded sense of trust in others, or that the average person isn’t trying to steal from us or harass us in some way. We generally have faith in such fundamental principles, whether they’re dependable or not.
When someone shatters that notion, the mind implodes a little, and you’re left lapping at the shards with a sense of unease.
Tonight, two weeks later, I was walking home, considering the whole thing, wondering how exactly I would write about it for Tim [that's me! -Tim]. ‘Femme Fatale’ by The Velvet Underground came on my iPod, and I couldn’t help but laugh at the timing.
In the end, I can’t say I felt much sympathy for her, if there was a sense of politeness in my actions. (Being from the South ingrains politeness in a boy, and love for sweet tea, if nothing else.) There was not even attraction or interest on my part, really. But there was one thing, certainly: curiosity.
From the start, you could tell she wanted attention. As many others have said, her actions revolve around that idea, and the more extreme one’s acts are, the greater the attention. Is she merely a reflection of what any of us would do to be noticed, if we were so courageous as to flout society’s will and pursue our own agendas at any cost? Instead, we let her do the dirty work, and the rest of us feed off her actions, writing about how we knew her, and what it meant, or might have meant.
She is wrong, and she is OK with being wrong. That will never change the wrongness that courses through her cherubic frame, nor afford her any rash or noble justifications. But it does make you look in her direction, which is what she really wants to extract from those around her. She will suck out every eyeball for 20 miles around to keep the glances on her.
I don’t think Kari is a monster, as some who have crossed paths with her are suggesting, but she is a rotten eggplant in a self-touring museum. And while she might not mind the smell of herself, no matter how far she goes, to Philadelphia or Salt Lake City or prison or all the way to Korea, where she was born, the mold will continue to rise and infest, delight and disgust those around her. She is a sociopathic chimera, at once in love with and in dire hatred of the thing she needs: people. And those near her, they will always return the favor.
This morning, as I was still only beginning to absorb the whole thing, I received an e-mail from an address I’d never seen before containing links to the stories about Kari. The e-mail address was a kitschy reference to Jon Voight, and it reminded me of the address Kari first used to reply to my pirate ad on Craigslist.
I wrote back, ‘How does it feel to be a star?’
There was no response.
Thanks, Chris. So, let’s talk about the lesson from all this folks: Kari conned her way into some jobs and several dudes pants and/or wallets all until they decided to check the Googles to see what they said about her. That pulled up her most-wanted status (and now 11 hundred thousand blog posts like this) about her past. I’ll admit — if I find people intersting, I Google them nearly immediately after we meet. If we go on a date, you had beter hope that that poetry contest you won in high school is something you’re proud of. Some would make you feel creepy for doing this. But the lesson here is clearly: Google that shit. Always. The internet was invented for a reason people. And even if it is creepy, you can be the creepy guy who still has his wallet and cell phone.
Stories about this girl are turning into a serious meme around the Brook Lins this week, and FreeWilliamsburg already put out the call for a T shirt. We’ll leave you with the t-shirt image (and instructions on how to get one), as a reminder of the perilous world full of would-be hj givers every day in the BK.