Sunday, March 23, 2008

March Madness

Well, it's March again, folks, which must mean it's time for us to take away a giant backyard toy because it is "dangerous" and replace it with something which may or may not be safer. Yes, the Simmons' own version of March Madness. If you recall, last years match-up was Evil Trampoline vs. Traditional Wooden Swingset. The Swingset was a sure bet. After all, it hearkened back to good, old-fashioned family values, you know, with kids using their imaginations and the whole thing being built out of wood, just like the pioneers build their kids' swingsets, not this new-fangled steel-and-rubber pain machine that you just know Laura Ingalls Wilder never would have tolerated. Plus, we had the added bonus of sacrificing real dollars for our kids' safety - the swingset was like $800, but there's nothing too good for our kids, right?

This year, the Traditional Wooden Swingset is going head-to-head with Sturdy Metal Swingset, and while the odds are about even, it looks like the Sturdy Metal Swingset might come out the winner. I honestly thought the Traditional Wooden Swingset would be the Champion For Life, like we'd have to retire the whole sport of Backyard Play Equipment due to its infalliability. I thought this would be the swingset our grandchildren would come over and swing on, and there would be a grown-up Brad and Noah telling the story to their kids about how originally they didn't want to see the trampoline go, but how they had come to love this swingset. Yes, there we'd be, sipping our lemonades on the porch while the boys recount their glory days on the ol' set while watching the young'uns swing on the very same swings they once did. It looks like the story is going to be a different one than I had hoped.

We knew there was a problem with the swingset pretty much as soon as it was finished, not only because on Day 1 the blood started flowing from various children's bodies after they proved the swingset-is-safer fallacy. No, the problem was that the whole contraption swayed from side to side when anyone swung on it. It made Ryan sick to his stomach to see just how not sturdy the thing he had spent 20 hours or more building was. But how do you return something like this? Do you take it apart, throw all the pieces in the back of the van, and haul it all back to Toys R Us? I suppose we had that option in the beginning, but it seemed ridiculous to do that.

It seems less ridiculous now, a year later, when the swaying problem didn't magically fix itself. I don't know what I was expecting, that a year out in the elements would toughen it up a little? Like once the swingset knew that weakness would not be tolerated here it would brace itself for the storm that is a neighborhood full of kids? Well, here's a news flash - if you ignore a problem for a year, the problem is just a year older, not a year better. It turns out that I am pretty good at ignoring problems, I think it comes with being an optimist. I'm not an extreme optimist, like my friend Kathy who could see the bright side of the sun imploding, but definitely try to look for the good in things. There are some problems that are minor enough that if you ignore them, it eventually doesn't bother you. Swingsets are not one of those things.

Now that the snow has melted and we are venturing out of our caves again, we see the swingset problem in full bloom. And it's worse. At last count, we've got four separate pieces that have broken off, one of which (a monkey bar) left a giant screw sticking out of it, which Noah cut himself on last fall. I called Toys R Us at the time to complain about the thing breaking, and they couldn't have cared less. I suppose if it had been made in China and dipped in lead, then we could have had a discussion, but simply falling apart is not nearly as bad. I tried to call the manufacturer, Adventure Playsets, but it was on a weekend, and by the time they were open again I had forgotten. And now, naturally, it's out of warranty (except for defects in the wood).

Ryan approached me today with his concerns. Well, "concerns" is putting it mildly - he has resented this $800 wooden intrusion into our lives since it first started wobbling. Today he very nicely asked me if he could take a sledgehammer and destroy the thing, and replace it with a metal swingset. No, I said, it's here and it's staying. I am not throwing away $800! He said that it had gotten worse, and I should take a look - we don't want it seriously hurting someone before we decide to get rid of it.

I wanted to blow him off about this, but after he left to go see his grandparents for their birthday (I stayed home with sick kids) I watched Brad swinging. And Ryan's right, as much as I hate to admit it. Something is going to go seriously wrong. Not only is the swaying worse, but one of the arms that holds a swing bows dangerously when Brad swings on it. Not just a little, either, it bows by several inches. I had to tell him not to swing on that side at all. Plus, two of the giant screws that hold the monkey bar assembly onto the playhouse structure have popped out.

So now the question is, what do we do? Do we call it an $800 loss and start over with something else? Do we rent a backhoe and level a piece of ground, and move the swingset? It's my opinion that the problems are caused (or at least, exacerbated) by the ground not being level, although Ryan is pinning the problems on cheap wood. Both are probably true. But do we toss this one, or try to salvage it? Are wooden swingsets really disposable? Or at least, recyclable?

It would be an easier decision if the original swingset hadn't been so stinkin' expensive. If it had been, say, a $300 swingset, this would be an easier decision. Ryan and I keep a mental list of the stupidest things we've ever wasted money on, the worst financial decisions, and so far $500 is the most we've blown at one time. When Brad was about 6 months old, we got suckered into a uniquely Los Angeles scam, where we paid $500 for the privilege of a company called FlashCast Kids to try to get Brad cast in a commercial or something. What can I say, he was awfully cute and they were awfully sure he could be successful. Dave Ramsey (a radio financial guy) calls this kind of thing, where you waste money, a "Stupid Tax." We still regret those $500 (and the stupid decision it represents.) Will this wooden swingset replace FlashCast Kids as the phrase that one of us utters to remind the other about how stupid we can be?

My current position, which I am only tenuously holding onto, is that I'd like to repair this swingset before we toss it completely. Ryan's position, which is substantially firmer than the swingset itself, is that the wood was too crappy to be salvaged, and as the one who built the whole thing with his bare hands, he has an intimate knowledge of the wood in question. Why waste the time and money on something that was substandard to begin with?

Ryan's vote in the Traditional Wooden Swingset vs. Sturdy Metal Swingset is the metal one. The boys spend almost all of their time swinging or sitting on top of the monkey bars - they rarely slide or play in the playhouse, so all they need are swings. Ryan also votes for getting the crew of Mythbusters in to blow the thing up, he thinks that would be a fitting end to the whole situation. Me, I'm still on the fence. Which is a safer place to be than on the swingset.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I contacted after I saw their casting call posted on another site. Then I started doing some digging and found a lot of bad information about them. They used to have a website called but scammed a lot of people so they changed their site to Flashcast still post fake Auditions all over the web on places like craigslist. The Better Business Bureau gives them an 'F' rating which is the lowest possible score. This is what the BBB said about Flashcast:

“On December 18, 2001, we were advised by the company that they would no longer respond to the complaints presented by the Bureau.

On July 24, 2001, the Los Angeles City Attorney filed a 14 count misdemeanor action against the company and its principal, Carl Carranza. The complaint alleged in part, that the defendants made misleading statements in print ads, verbally, and on their website.

On May 17, 2002, Flashcast, and its principal, Carl Carranza, were convicted of 10 counts of using false and misleading advertising in violation of the California Business & Professions code. The company and Mr. Carranza were placed on probation for 36 months and ordered to pay a fine of $4,050.00. They were also ordered to include a statement listing any fees charged, including monthly fees, in all of their advertisements. Anyone seeing an ad that does not contain the fee information is asked to contact Mark Lambert, Deputy Los Angeles City Attorney at (213) 978-8070.”

This is their address:
Fabulous Flashcast
3575 Cahuenga Blvd West, Suite 120
Universal City, CA 90068
(323) 969-9006

Has anyone else dealt with this company?

Here are some things I found in google:

1. Business Owner Carl Ken Carranza and his Universal City-based company Flashcast were convicted last week on 10 counts of false advertising and could face a total of $60,000 in fees and up to five years of jail time. Sentencing will take place on June 19. To read more go here:

2. I worked for Flashcast almost ten years ago and I'm shocked by the fact that they are still in business. We were told to lie to potential clients and when they were called back because their child was 'cute' (ALL WERE CALLED BACK!), the head 'Casting Director' would tell the parents that they were auditioning for Huggies, Pampers, and other well-known companies even though they were not. To read more go here:

3. Carl Carranza, Flashcast Kids and Flashcast Companies, Inc. has stooped to fraud and deception again. One would have thought Carranza learned his lesson after being convicted on May 17, 2002 of 10 counts of fraud and false and misleading advertising, and was forced to pay thousands in fines (he was also sentenced to three years probation). to read more go to:

4. They advertise what looks like an audition in the industry and then they sell what they call their 'computerized casting service.' So you go there, you audition, they don't tell you about a fee. Then if you're called back (everyone gets called back if Carl Carranza thinks he can get money out of them), they tell you at that point that you have to make your decision right then. There's an initial fee of around $495, and you're obligated for the next two years to send them 20 photos, plus a $50-a-month fee. That's $1,200 over two years, plus the initial $500 registration, plus the cost of 20 photos per month. to read more go here:

5. The case against Flashcast Entertainment is based on a 14-count complaint against owner Carl Ken Carranza and Deborah Elton Haugen charging them of being an unlawful job-listing service as well as falsely advertising in the LA Weekly and on the company's own website, & To read more go here:

6. I recently signed with Flashcast and parted with $1500 in order to do so. These fraudsters need to be stopped! To read more go here:

7. They kept her mighty busy with more compliments and questions and fake interest, to keep her from reading all of their safety net legal stuff and small print. After signing away her life, she was asked for her identification and credit card for "verification purposes". These people will tell you anything to get your money. To read more go here:

8. On top of paying $1500 and still no modeling jobs not even one, my daughter has worked with other companies and clothing lines where they have never asked for a dime. Carl Carranza and Fabolous Flashcast are total scammers. To read more go here:

9. Company works from a very official looking office in LA in not a bad area and goes to every length to convince clients that everything is legit. Suspicion is raised by the mountain of very similar looking referral letters printed in the same font almost and the robotic but convincing sales pitch of two employees. Carl Carranza posts fake success stories all over the web trying to build credibility for himself. To read more go here:

10. Hard to believe that Carl Carranza and Fabolous Flashcast / Flashcast Kids are still in business, despite the numerous warnings on the Internet and the convictions for FRAUD. Carl Carranza has mastered the art of lying to your face to get your money. To read more go here:

11. When Brad was about 6 months old, we got suckered into a uniquely Los Angeles scam by 'Fabolous Flashcast', where we paid $500 for nothing. To read more go here:

12. We are recent victims of his fraudulent practice and are filing a case against him. Mr. Carranza's scams include illegal advance fee requests, pretense for being a legitimate practice, and use of hardball sales and emotional tactics to acquire money from intelligent and innocent parents. Carl Carranza and needs to be shut down for good. To read more go here:

13. Then, we were asked to meet with the CEO and he was very positive about the kids. He then goes through what the company does and talks quickly about a fee of $1500. To read more go here:

14. Flashcast kids company is a total rip off... they will fool you to pay money and then they never respond to you ever again... it happened to me and my family. To read more go here:

15. Can you believe this company still going on and on? Ripping off parents like us and using our child as a way of getting their money. Flashcast will steal your money and you get nothing for it. To read more go here:

16. Don't pay Fabulous Flashcast - anything! They are a complete scam company who posts fake modeling jobs for kids in order to get your money! Just do a check on craigs list and you will find they post the same fake auditions over and over. The owner of Flashcast is Carl Ken Carranza who is a convicted criminal. To read more go here:

17. One look at their terrible website and you can tell they are a scam:

18. My complaint is against flashcast which is a fraud and scam, this company when you first arrive have you sit in a playroom, where there are pictures of kids that so called modeled for carl caranza. To read more go here:

19. Because of the nature of their business, they can say anything they want, and blame their lack of performance and unfulfilled promises on the industry, your child, etc., and hide behind their small print. To read more go here:

20. The Fabulous Flashcast scam continues even after CEO Carl Carranza is convicted of fraud. To read more go here:

21. Flashcast cunningly fools eager parents into believing that their kids might be future stars and commands a large fee upfront. Company is allegedly trying to find modeling work for clients babies and commands a large fee up front. To read more go here:

22. I was also scammed. I paid $1500.00 almost a year ago and have only had one casting call that wasn't even for babies! To read more go here:

23. This company is a total rip-off. Yes, something has to be done, to keep other parents from being deceived. They pretend to be a legitimate company but they are far from being a true casting company. 24. I too have been riped off. To read more go here:

25. I have been working for Carl Carranza for many years. It is very difficult when we were ordered to give the customer misleading information just to get them to sign the contract. Of course to keep our job we had to do what we had to do. To read more go here:

26. I hope you can contact me regarding the jerk Carl Carranza. I will be taking him to small claims court and was wondering if you could be of any assistance to me. Carl has ripped off one too many parents. To read more go here:

27. Convicted criminal and CEO of Fabulous Flashcast ( ) Carl Carranza is still scamming hopeful parents who want to get their kids into modeling. To read more go here:

28. Carl Carranza and Debra were very nice in all of the pre-contract meetings (even though Carl reminded me of a smarmy car salesman), but once I signed the paper I was like the invisible woman and they would never return my calls. To read more go here:

29. Carl Carranza is a crook. He's been convicted of fraud and false advertising, he's violated court orders by weaseling around his responsibility to advertise his prices by using third-party websites to sell his services. He's lied as to how long Flashcast has been in business. To read more go here:

30. Flashcast kids company is a total rip off... they will fool you to pay money and then they never respond to you ever again... it happened to me and my family.. and many more parent that still keep going there... so somebody please HELP ME!!! LET'S TAKE ACTION against this company to prevent it from happening to many other parent. To read more go here:

31. Late last month, he filed complaints against two Los Angeles County companies, claiming they were illegally doing business in the entertainment industry. One, Flashcast Companies Inc. To read more go here:

32. Be careful, they are a serious scam. They have you pay, then stick your kid's file in a drawer doing nothing for the child until you complain. To read more go here:

33. Half of their site is dedicated to telling you that everyone from the Better Business Bureau to Rip-off Report is also a scam. Fabulous Flashcast attacks anyone who reveals their scam. To read more go here:

34. Beware of Mr. Carl Carranza's child modeling scam. We are recent victims of his fraudulent practice and are filing a case against him. Mr. Carranza's scams include illegal advance fee requests, pretense for being a legitimate practice, and use of hardball sales and emotional tactics to acquire money from intelligent and innocent parents. To read more go here:

35. The specific things that they say they will do are:(1) help you get an agent for your child (2) help you post your child on a casting website and (3) 'guide' you as a newcomer to the world of baby/kids modeling. My problem with Flashcast is that they barely do those few things for you, if they do anything at all - and for $1500 I expected a lot more. In fact there are many casting sites I can enroll on myself, I can search for my own agent, and I can read the endless information on the web about how to get into the entertainment business all by myself and save $1500! To read more go here:

This is an example of the fake auditions they post all over the web. The first thing that tips you off about this scam is when they say "Stable Parents! Financial stability is a must!". Hmm sounds like they want people who can pay them a lot of money!

Flashcast posts casting calls like this all over the web:

"All Ages, Sizes and Types! w/Fabulous Stable Parents! Financial stability is a must!
Modeling! TV Commercials! Films!
College Tuition!
Established Company, in biz OVER 20 YEARS in Los Angeles w/ impeccable references!
Pls email a regular snapshot ASAP to 24 hours!
For more information on our one of a kind service, please go to
(323) option 1

Recent Projects the talent agents we work with have submitted on:
Location: Universal City Compensation: $582 (approx.) for SAG work, $125.00 per hour (approx.) for Print Modeling Principals only. Recruiters, please don't contact this job poster. Please, no phone calls about this job! Please do not contact job poster about other services, products or commercial interests."

If you have been scammed by Carl Carranza & Fabulous Flashcast you should contact Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney Mark Lambert at (213) 978-8070. He is currently building another case against these scam artists!