I Do Not Exist. And, if I did exist, I Would be Paranoid
By Larry Romanoff, February 26, 2022
I want to preface this by telling you I have had a strange life in a couple of aspects. One is that I have never fit into the boxes that seem to accommodate virtually everyone else. If the form says “choose A, B, C, or D”, my answer inevitably is “None of the above”. If the application requires 4 credentials, I have three. If a particular document is mandatory, in my case it doesn’t exist. In any contact with “the system”, whether education, tax, law, the public library, the electric company, I have always been the odd man out. Near as I can figure, I survived only because I was so much trouble that various frustrated but blessed bureaucrats would eventually throw up their hands, close their eyes, and say, “Oh, just go!”, and they would stamp my form and life could continue.
The second aspect is more difficult to explain, rather like UFOs. The experiences throughout my life, ranging from trivial to serious, seem to have been mostly one of a kind, things that would never happen to anyone else in a million years. I’m serious. I once bought a new Jaguar (the car, not the cat) for $3,500, and the man who sold it to me was a complete stranger; I’d never seen him before in my life.
Then there was the time shortly after I’d moved to Rome, when a friend at the consulate urged me to attend a diplomatic function – which consisted of a fantastic dinner followed by four hours of speeches in Italian which I couldn’t understand. Happily, there was a little girl, maybe five years old, who spoke excellent English; we became fast friends. At the end of the evening her father found her sitting on my knee listening to stories. The man was the President of one of Rome’s leading universities and, after ten minutes of conversation, he invited me to teach classes at their business school. My first stint as a visiting professor.
These life events are sometimes trivial and sometimes negative. I am so lacking in physical coordination that I can hardly tie my own shoelaces. Physical sports, athletics, are out of the question. When my son was three years old, he could roll over ‘Space Invaders’ on Atari at a score of 10,000. I used to sit up at night after the kids went to sleep, and try my darndest, but I never reached 300.
I hate basketball. I was forced to play that horrid game all through elementary and high school and, after 1,879 attempts, I have yet to sink a basket. It’s worse when attempting to toss a wad of paper into a wastebasket; 14,321 failed attempts, regardless of distance. You will probably laugh at me for this, but one day on a street in Rome I had a wad of paper and a trash can maybe 5 meters away, the kind with just a narrow horizontal slot near the top. I looked at that in despair and I said to my Guardian Angel, “In my whole life, I have never been able to do this. Would it really matter so much if just once I could hit the slot?” I was totally impressed. Like a bolt from a crossbow. First and last time, though.
Many of the first articles I published were extracts from book manuscripts that had not yet been submitted for publication. Most of those extracts were critical of the US, and at least some contained ‘black history of the dark side’ that had been buried for many decades, but that I was suddenly bringing to light.
When I began publishing those articles in late 2019 or early 2020, I unfortunately attracted more attention than was helpful, much of that from the wrong kinds of people. My articles were mostly critical exposure of truths that had been well-buried, producing small amounts of alarm and attracting censors of various sorts. The first wave consisted of the US mass media wanting interviews primarily as an information source for hit pieces. Those being declined, the next wave was a push to discover my sources. It seemed I knew things I shouldn’t know, and they couldn’t figure out where I was getting my information, leading to forceful demands for my sources on pain of being trashed with more hit pieces, or worse.
As one example, a request from a nice man at Gannett Publishing who identified himself as “a fact-checker for USA Today”. So far, so good, but it should be obvious that ‘fact-checking’ would produce a request such as “You made this claim. Please can you provide documented evidence of its accuracy?” Not with the nice man from Gannett, it didn’t. In fact, he displayed no interest in supporting documentation for my statements, but presented a demand to know my sources, specifically “from where did you collect the research in your articles?” He also wanted a list of the names of other “writers, officials or commentators” who knew what I knew and who shared my views. This is not fact-checking, but intelligence-gathering for the purpose of identifying and silencing sources of dissention. I received quite a few of this kind from various members of the US main media, sufficient to solidify a reticence to reveal any source of anything to anybody. These were usually of only mild concern, though a bit frightening to realise the lengths to which these people would go to silence dissent.
Then inexplicably the climate changed, the cloud formations progressing from ‘cumulo-concern’ to ‘polar-paranoid’. It seemed that suddenly they were no longer interested in locating my sources, but in locating me instead. A new experience.
One typical such was an email from someone with the fine African name of Lmbuki Ngbiwa Widodo, or similar, a grad student at the Columbia School of Journalism who wanted to speak to me for information critical to his Master’s thesis. I visited the School’s website and discovered a feature page on this person, but something still felt wrong. I contacted the School and told them I believed the young person’s email address may have been hijacked, and would they be so kind as to confirm his request. A few days later, they replied that they spoke to the student in question and “He did not contact you for information, and had never heard of you.”
In another case, a lovely (I assume) girl named Julia contacted me from a major Russian TV network, requesting an interview (if I had no objection in speaking to Russian people). The audio interview became video, and Julia, inflamed with my charm, wanted to send a crew to do a live interview. Now, nobody will send a camera crew from Moscow all the way to Shanghai just to interview me, so I asked a friend at Pravda to check with the TV network: “They have no such person on staff, and they have never heard of you.” There were several others similar.
I received a request from a prominent German magazine, seeking permission to translate one of my articles into German and publish it in their periodical, and please could I provide my home address and bank information so they could arrange payment. I gave permission, waived the payment in lieu of proper credit. They replied by asking for my home address so they could send me a ‘hard copy’ of their magazine. I asked the German Consulate to check for me: the magazine had no such person on staff, and they had never heard of me.
In each case, the contact emails had all the appearance of legitimacy, with logos, phone and fax numbers, legal statement of tax incorporation . . . The email addresses appeared legitimate as well, but were obviously spoofed and re-directed. I doubt the New York Times or others similar have people on staff doing this for a living, so my conclusion was that these were crafted by the alphabet agencies. I know the US Embassy in Beijing was involved because they “reached out” to me, but I doubt very much those particular persons were ‘diplomats’.
I received several dozen of these, usually with names that were almost certainly fictitious, like ‘Davis Blank’, ‘Brandon Halting’, ‘Baye Lahade Touba’. I think my favorite was “Major Sisira Wijesooriya of Sri Lanka Army”. They came at me with offers of fame, fortune, flattery, girls. They appealed to my vanity, my greed, my kind heart, my humanitarianism, my (assumed) religious affiliations, my need for recognition. When those failed, they frequently resorted to threats and intimidation. When I failed to respond to one series of emails offering assistance in publishing my writing in hardcover, their final missive was “If you don’t want to co-operate, fine. We have other ways to find you.” Several took the time to inform me of the number and gender of my children, in true Mafia style.
I didn’t bother checking each attempt but, of all those I did check, the results were as above. If real people were involved, their email addresses had been hijacked and none had tried to contact me. Some referred to their “nearly 20 years in China”, thus apparently making us family. Some admiringly wanted ‘precise’ information about my background or profile. Several knew European journalists who “are eager to interview you”, on the basis that “The West needs to know more” of the truth which apparently only I possessed.
I was surprised at their creativity and imagination. One man, apparently an American expat, a high-level executive working in Shanghai, wanted to buy me a nice lunch if I would meet with him and his daughter – to help him explain to her the seamy side of US journalism. I was offered speaking engagements at events or facilities that had never heard of either me or the person making the offer. For about 15 months the efforts to lure me into the open were continuous, becoming more sinister and intimidating at the end. They have moderated but not ceased.
At one point, many emails suddenly contained “important information-sharing” attachments which were almost certainly virus-infected. It was almost comical that shortly thereafter I began receiving messages like “Haven’t seen any recent articles. Please let me know that everything is okay.” I interpreted those as “Did you click on one of my attachments and did I fry your computer?”
I do not know why these efforts were being made, nor what would have happened to me had they been successful. It was a surprise to discover on a personal basis how determined and vicious “The Great Wurlitzer” can be, hence the concern for my personal safety. In some ways I envy the Ron Unzes of the world who had a different beginning and can comfortably remain public figures. For my part, withdrawal seemed the more prudent option. Sticking pins in the US State Department’s balloons is not the safest way to live.
Mr. Romanoff’s writing has been translated into 32 languages and his articles posted on more than 150 foreign-language news and politics websites in more than 30 countries, as well as more than 100 English language platforms. Larry Romanoff is a retired management consultant and businessman. He has held senior executive positions in international consulting firms, and owned an international import-export business. He has been a visiting professor at Shanghai’s Fudan University, presenting case studies in international affairs to senior EMBA classes. Mr. Romanoff lives in Shanghai and is currently writing a series of ten books generally related to China and the West. He is one of the contributing authors to Cynthia McKinney’s new anthology ‘When China Sneezes’. (Chapt. 2 — Dealing with Demons).
He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org