Monday, November 23, 2015

Pride Goeth . . .

Greetings, WYMOP fans!

Constant WYMOP readers will know I’ve been out of town for a while, visiting with SB in Colorado. Last week I chronicled my little jaunt through Logan International Airport in Boston, where I narrowly managed to escape without marrying one of the TSA agents. If you missed it, you can check out that little adventure in my post, Safe and Secure. Suffice to say I think it was fun for somebody, but not for me.
That was last week. Last night I came home.
Now, I won’t tell you all about the boarding agent at Denver International Airport who stayed on the PA system giving friendly—but non-stop—digs to all the Patriots fans on the flight until even us non-football fans wanted to kick him in the squackbag. I won’t go into detail about the tiny Chinese woman who sat next to me on the flight, shouting to her husband in the next row in Cantonese (or was it Mandarin? I get those confused) who managed to whack me in the face with her big, puffy jacket when she took it off. Then when she put it on. Then again when she took it off. Then again when she put it on to deplane. I developed a twitch that looks a lot like a duck-and-cover, but I’m not here to tell you about that.
I’m here to tell you about going through security.
With my last experience with airport security having been so much fun (See? You really ought to go back and read Safe and Secure), even after trying my best to give the TSA agents nothing to worry about, I was more than a little concerned. I was still wearing cargo pants (they’re the most comfortable pants I own, dammit!), and though I went through my pockets time and again, putting everything I could into my checked bag, I couldn’t help but notice I was approaching DIA security in much the same state I had been in on my way through Logan International. In fact, it was identical but for the nervous butterflies beating the crap out of me from the inside.
I said goodbye to SB, flashed my ID and boarding pass, then lined up my two bags and three trays—one for my belongings, the others for my laptop and chromebook (yes, I’m one of those asshats)—on the conveyor belt for the X-ray machine. I assumed the position in the bio-scan booth, the scanner whirred around me, I stepped through to the other side . . . and was promptly asked to step aside with one of the TSA agents.
Oh, God, I thought. Here we go again!
But no! Unlike my last journey through an airport security process, which included a fair amount of testicular discomfort, this patdown was brief and professional. There was nothing either over-friendly or assaultively invasive about it. Before I knew it, I had been pronounced explosives-free (yet again) and was striding over to claim my belongings!
Also unlike my last trip through the TSA two-step, I wasn’t the only one being randomly checked. Three other people had been pulled aside, though they had apparently opted for the “private” screening—if you believe “private” constitutes standing about fifteen feet away from the rest of the crowd, in full view of everyone.
Ha, I thought, slipping into my shoes and threading my belt back through its loops. I think I’m really getting the hang of this! I kept one eye on the three still being patted and prodded and questioned as I stuck my wallet and phone back into my pockets and quickly stuffed my chromebook and laptop into their sleeves within my backpack. I envisioned walking past those three looking cool and collected to their flustered and sputtering; the experienced and in-control jet-setter to their obviously novice travelers. I shouldered my pack and started for the stairs that lead to the terminals, choosing a route that would bring me, strutting just slightly, right past the trio of poor bumpkins.
A sudden whistle cut the air, sharp and loud as any big city resident flagging down a taxi in rush hour traffic. I stopped, surprised, glancing in the direction of the sound—to see SB, standing on the upper level, leaning on the rail overlooking the security checkpoint. Seeing she had my attention, she thrust a finger back toward the end of the conveyor belt . . . and my carry-on, right where I’d left it, alone and abandoned-looking.
When I sat down to write this, I checked the thesaurus looking for a better word than the one that occurred to me at this part in the narrative, but I really couldn’t find one; I slunk back my lost and lonely bag and, with all the casualness I could muster, hooked it up and offered a wave of thanks to SB. It was with a decided lack of strut that I made my way past the other bumpkins to the stairs leading down toward the terminals.
I do this two or three times a year; maybe, someday, I’ll get it right.

Talk to you later.

Black Friday? Black NOVEMBER!
Insanity Tales II: The Sense of Fear is on sale until midnight on Nov. 30th, so go a little mad while you still can!
E-book: $2.99
Print: $9.99

Monday, November 16, 2015

Safe and Secure!

Greetings, WYMOP readers!

Pick up my bag. Shuffle forward. Put my bag down.
Pick up my bag. Shuffle forward. Put my bag down.
Take off my shoes.
Yup, I’m at the security checkpoint at Logan International Airport on my way out of town.
Mom just dropped me off plenty early, I’ve already checked my other bag, and I did a digital check-in yesterday so I walked in the building with my boarding pass in hand. This security checkpoint is pretty busy—we’re packed in a little bit like cattle—but they’re moving right along, passing people through with no bottlenecks. A woman two spaces ahead of me in line walks through the metal-detector while wearing a chunky, silver bracelet bigger than my belt, with charms rattling on it the size of dinner plates. I see it and hear it, and I’m at least fifteen feet away. The TSA agent working the machine just gives her a friendly smile and waves her through.
Wow, I think. This looks like it’ll be my easiest flight yet.
My carry-on and computer bag (read: backpack) are on the conveyor belt, along with my three trays—one for everything not keeping me decent, the other two for my laptop and chromebook, each needing their own little cart to go on the ride. I wait my turn to go through the bio-scan booth (I never go through the metal detector, for some reason) with nothing but my socks, pants, underwear, and shirt. Oh, and a smile. Always with the reassuring smile.
“Please step over here, sir.”
One of the TSA agents running the bio-scan machine is motioning me off to one side, out of the flow of traffic. It’s not a problem, I was expecting this. The most comfortable pants I own are some fairly thin and loose cargo pants, and what with all of the pockets, it’s fairly usual for them to ask to either wand me with a metal detector, or—
“I’m going to pat you down, sir,” says the agent suddenly kneeling before me like he’s about to ask for my hand in marriage. “I’m going to go up and down your legs and over your pockets with the backs of my hands.” He holds up purple latex-gloved hands in example, then throws a thumb over one shoulder. “Unless you’d prefer a private screening, sir?”
“No,” I say. “I’m good.” I widen my stance and spread my arms, assuming a rather starfish-like pose as all the other potential passengers look on, some even pausing in the collection of their belongings to watch until TSA agents give them the old “Move along, nothing to see here.” My suitor goes up the inside of my legs and groin, then down and up the outside, feeling all the pockets. When he gets back down to the ankles on the outside, I almost start to drop my arms and take a step, assuming we’re done here.
He goes right back up the inside of my legs again. He’s taking his time and being pretty squeezy about it, which strikes me as a little odd since all the pockets he’s worried about are on the outside of my legs, but before I can ask about that he starts—and I can only assume here, from what I felt—counting my testicles. The pants are, as I said, pretty thin and loose, and it seems to me it would be pretty easy to figure out what’s in there. But from the way he’s rooting around, and the amount of time it’s taking, I’m worried that the man’s having difficulty adding one and one to get two.
That’s when I realize that either my suitor has extremely double-jointed fingers, or he’s no longer using the backs of his hands in his search for testicular abnormality. Oh, wow, I think, was his suggestion of a “private screening” just his way of asking for a date? I’m about to ask if there’s a problem, when one of the other agents steps over.
“Sir? Is this your laptop?”
“Yes, why?”
He’s already turning away as my question warbles out, my suitor choosing that moment to give me a little extra squeeze. “I just want to take this over here and . . .”
Since he’s walking away, the rest of what he says is lost in the crowd noise of people walking through the scanning machines, collecting their gear and moving on. My suitor, whom I’m now thinking of as “Dr. Feelgood,” slides his hands down and back to the outside, this time skimming right over all those pockets he mentioned before he started checking me for hernias. His fingers slip inside the waistband of my pants, held up by nothing but some built-in elastic since my belt is off in a tray somewhere. He gives a little tug, and for just a second I’m afraid he’s going to pants me right there and check my prostate as well, and I regret not going somewhere a little more private.
Then I think I’m lucky I am in public—otherwise I might already be married to this guy!
“Sir,” says the good doctor, “I’m just going to run my fingers around the waistband of your pants to see if mrphl eraw gaganikuk.”
He’s leaned in to reach around behind me and become rather muffled, turning his head away so as not to get a facefull of what he’s already had a fistfull of—we hardly know each other, after all—and I am again about to ask if there’s a problem, but a third TSA agent appears beside me like a pop-up mannequin in a carnival haunted house.
“Sir, is this also your laptop?”
I glance down at the chromebook in his hands. “Yes, but that other—”
“I’m just going to take this over here and . . .”
Again, what he intends to do with my laptop is lost in the noise of everyone else in the world traipsing straight through security, weapons intact, because I’m hogging all the TSA agents. I open my mouth to call out to him, to ask What? And what? but nearly bite my tongue off instead as Dr. Feelgood decides to make sure I didn’t grow a third testicle while he was busy fiddling with my waistband.
Feelgood stands, finally, and I’d like to go see where they brought my stuff—you know, all those personal belongings they keep harping about on the public address system, telling you not to let them out of your sight, or be touched by anyone but yourself?—but we’re not done.
“Would you like to step over here, sir?”
No, I think, but I go, looking back over my shoulder to see if I can spot my stuff in the crowd. I turn back in time to see my new pal, Feelgood, holding up a swabbing paddle.
“I’m just going to rub this over your hands for a moment. We’ll try to get this done as quick as possible.” He starts swiping my palms with the paddle’s white collection surface. “Now what I’m doing here is—”
“Swabbing my hands with that in order to collect any trace elements left in the oil on my skin, which you’re going to run through that”—I nod my head toward the machine we’re standing next to—“to check for any trace of explosives.”
I probably shouldn’t have interrupted him, but I really just want to get back to my stuff—including my wallet, that’s still just sitting in a tray as far as I know—and I know the drill: this is the third time I’ve been checked for explosives in the past two years. Feelgood goes a little squinty at my interruption, though, and makes sure to swab between all my fingers, as well as the backs of my hands and wrists.
Like I’m going to be packing C4 into tubes or something with my wrists?
Finally the machine gives me the all-clear, and I’m able to bid my new friend goodbye. I’m good with that; it’s not like I want to send Dr. Feelgood a Christmas card or anything. I approach the conveyor belt to find my stuff just sitting there, still in trays, unguarded by a single person: wallet, glasses, shoes, laptop, and chromebook. My carry-on is there, but . . .
“Where’s my backpack?”
Then I see it, just making its way through the x-ray machine again. All the pockets are open, and when I fetch it I find all the contents shuffled. Obviously, while Feelgood was twiddling my nether regions and two other TSA agents were examining my laptop and chromebook, at least a fourth was rummaging through my books, editing binder, and Cliff bars, without even bothering to let me know.
So I move a few feet away to a handy bench to re-pack, re-dress, and re-think my day. In the end I’m smiling as I walk toward my gate. Oh, sure, I’m walking away confused, disheveled, and feeling just a little sexually molested, but look on the bright side: I’m explosives-free, and once again I avoided winding up in a small room smelling of sweat and fear, accompanied by a large begloved man wielding an even larger jar of lube.
I’m calling that a win.
And all this because I apparently fit the description of some guy called “Random White Male.” Weird, huh?

Talk to you later!

Monday, November 9, 2015

What the Hell is a Storyside?

Greetings, WYMOP fans!

If you’re following me on Facebook, or even Twitter (and I’m mocked for my pathetic level of Twitterliness, I can assure you), you’ve probably seen me posting about The Storyside, or even things from The Storyside. You may have clicked into them, you may not, but I’m pretty sure at one time or another you’ve thought What the hell is a Storyside?
Well, I’m here to tell you.
By now you ought to know I’m a writer—you’re reading something I’ve written right now, for Christ’s sake. But I do write more than blog posts, Facebook posts, and the (very) occasional tweet: I write stories. I write fiction. I have an Amazon author’s page, where you can find the two dozen places I’ve had my short fiction published. I’ve even—I’m going to blow my own horn here, something I don’t do often because it makes me very uncomfortable—won a couple of industry awards, been nominated for a Pushcart Prize (kind of a big deal for me) and had an honorable mention from a pretty prestigious “Best Of” list.
It isn’t enough.
There are so many writers out there, all trying to make a go of it, it’s hard to get noticed. The crowd is so big it’s not enough to just stand out from it, you have to stand way out. Your stuff can’t just be good: it has to be great.
In late 2014 I got word of a small group of writers, most of them fairly local to me, who were joining forces with an intent that had me pricking up my ears: they wanted to pool their resources to put out the best product possible. They intended to mesh their individual skill sets to act as a lens, focusing each individual’s work like a linguistic laser. They were banding together to fight injustice, to right that which is wrong, and to serve all mankind!
Oh, wait, that’s the Super Friends.
Sorry. They did look at me a little funny when I asked them if I could be Batman, but—after a vetting the likes of which the Secret Service could take a lesson from—they allowed me to join them in their endeavor. They don’t have to know I sit behind my word processor in a cape and cowl now, do they? Nope. Nobody’s business but my own.
So that’s how I managed to team up with the group now known as The Storyside:
David Danielwinner of the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America Best First Private Eye Novel contest and a Shamus Award nominee, author of, among other things, the Alex Rasmussen detective series and more than eighty short stories
Stacey Longo—a 2015 eFestival of Words runner up for Best Anthology: Wicked Seasons (Editor), Featured Author on the 2014 Connecticut Authors Trail, professional copy editor, author of, most recently, Ordinary Boy, and My Mom has MS
Ursula Wong—regional winner of the New Hampshire Writer’s Project flash fiction contest, author of the novel Purple Trees
Vlad V. —editor, publishing consultant, freelance writer, former newspaper correspondent, author of The Button, and Brachman’s Underworld, and now our managing editor and fearless leader.
Oh, and me. I, uh, write and edit stuff.
Or, as I like to think of them, the Flash, Wonder Woman, Hawkgirl, and Superman. But they don’t need to know that, do they? Nobody’s business but my own.
So that’s what The Storyside’s all about: five writers determined to help each other raise the level of their game, and bring you, the reader, the best product possible, whether it’s a book one of us has for sale, or a short-short story we’re offering on our blog for free. Some of us are dark; some of us aren’t. We are self, small-press, and traditionally published. We are writers, editors, and (let us not forget!) readers. We are men and women with one goal in mind: to bring you, the public, the best possible stories, in the highest quality books. The Storyside has already published two anthologies of dark fiction—Insanity Tales, and Insanity Tales II: the Sense of Fear—and I’m not really going out on a limb when I say they are damn good. And that was while we were still finding our feet, and learning to work as a team.
You might want to keep an eye on us. We started out doing it right, and it’s only going to get better.
To try a sample or two of what we’re all about, click on the links below to get to The Storyside blog:

“The Visit,” a free short story from Rob Smales
Go ahead. Check them out.
Talk to you later!

P.S.—I’m Batman.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Can I Phone a Friend?

Greetings, WYMOP fans!

So, for those of you who do not yet know, I am the (not so) proud owner of a dumb phone.
Yup. That’s right. No apps, no social media, no browsing the internet; nothing but telephone and texting—and not even that, if the phone doesn’t want to. It’s an old phone, and somewhat temperamental, and has apparently gotten the concept of calling in sick on occasion. Some of my friends . . . okay, all of my friends, make fun of me for it. One in particular likes to hold his smartphone out toward me as if warding off a vampire with the cross of technology, saying “Look, Rob: it’s the whole internet, in the palm of my hand!” The smile on his face makes it all worthwhile. I’m just so glad I give him such joy. I just grin, and bear it, and tell him I don’t want to have a phone that’s smarter than I am.
Since I have begun writing, however, there is a new issue associated with my phone that I can simply ignore no longer. In the past, it had nothing to do with me, and I didn’t care that I couldn’t do it. Now, though . . . now that I go to book events and shows, trying to sell my books to the public, it’s becoming a problem. I . . . I . . . I just have to come right out and say it.
I can’t turn my clunky old phone into a neat, portable POS.
It's called a square because, well, it's square!
For those of you who, like me, assumed that POS still stood for Piece Of Shit, a phrase I thought eminently applicable to my dumb phone, I’m here to tell you the acronym now stands for Point Of Service—what some of us old fogies still refer to as the cash register. So no, I can’t attach a square to my dumb phone and turn it into a wireless credit card machine. I’m limited in these events to cash-only transactions, which has led to quite a few sadly shaken heads and lost sales.
Needs I must upgrade, it seems.
Now, here’s the thing about working on a phone upgrade when you have a thirteen-year-old boy (or girl, I suppose, but I’m working with what I’ve got, here): there is no way—no way—that I could get a smartphone without upgrading him as well. And he, when he found out about it, made a case for his mom to get an upgrade too. I was okay with it—he was right, she could use one, and we’re all still on the same plan—but before I could even tell him that, the little bastard whipped out the Big Blue Eyes on me. Big. Blue. Puppy. Eyes.
“Smart phones for everyone!”
So this afternoon I stopped by the Verizon store to discuss my plan: I wanted to make sure they weren’t going to try to gouge me for more data for upgrading to a smartphone. I’ve already been paying for a mandatory 250 monthly megabytes of data for three phones that can’t use it, because I’m independently wealthy, and—oh, wait, that’s not me. I’m the one who’s just an idiot.
So this idiot stopped by to talk to them and make sure they weren’t going to use the upgrade to siphon more money out of me; it would have been embarrassing when their contract started making that “bottom of the empty cup” sucking noise. I was met at the door by a guy with a name badge reading Tom, a customer service tablet, and a big, wide smile.
“Welcome to Verizon. How can I help you today?”
So I told the bright and cheerful Tom about my dumb phone dilemma, and that I was just there to check and see that my data plan wouldn’t have to be upgraded simply because I was suddenly going to use
“Oh, no, we won’t be upgrading your data plan just because you’ll be using a smartphone.”
I was starting to like this Tom. If I sent out Christmas cards, he would have just made the list.
“We’ll be upgrading your data plan because the plan you’re currently on isn’t even offered from Verizon any more.”
Burn in Hell, Tom. I never liked you anyway.
“So what we’re going to do is quadruple your data, but save you fifteen dollars a month.”
I went a bit blank.
“Uh . . . excuse me?”
“We’re going to quadruple your data,” he said again, “but save you fifteen dollars a month.”
I blinked a couple of times. “Excuse me,” I said. “But just how is that going to work?”
Tom was ready for this—hell, from his smile, he might have been looking forward to it. He whipped out a printed worksheet and a pen, filled in a few numbers in the spaces provided, then threw some other figures in above them. “Here’s your old plan,” he said, tapping some of the numbers with the nib of his pen. “And this is the new one,” he said, tapping all the other numbers.
Then he took a hard right turn, and left the English language behind. I heard terms like on plan, and off plan, then Tom slid right into words like sampsonium, and razzafraz.  Symphodatus strolled by, and then—I can’t prove this, now, but I swear to God—Tom said “Bippity, boppety, boo.” I looked at the worksheet, and saw it was now covered with more numbers, and arrows, and all kinds of symbols. The arrows, I think, were showing what could be applied where, and how things would change with the different plans, stuff like that. The numbers could have been prices for different plans, or options—Christ, they could have been The Lord’s Prayer in some sort of number-substitution code for all I could tell. And the symbols? All I was looking for were dollar signs, but I didn’t see a whole lot of them in that mess. Was this a good sign?
“So,” he said, tapping the worksheet with his pen again. “Do you see how it all works?”
I gave him a blank stare, concentrating to keep from actively drooling.
“The savings?” he said. “Because of the on-plan phone option?”
I still stared. I think I may have made a low grunt.
“Do you want me to explain it again?” he asked, with a hopeful smile.
“No!” I said. I pointed to the ink-covered paper in his hand. “I . . . uh . . .”
“Basically,” he said, a little deflated, “you get more, for less.”
“That!” I said, finally enthusiastic about the proposal. “I want that!”
Ten minutes later I was driving away from Verizon. Tom had given me the worksheet, and I’d folded it in thirds and stuck it above my sun visor. I pulled out my trusty (unless it’s decided to call in sick that day) dumb phone, and called Handsome’s mom.
“Hi. It’s me. I just left Verizon.”
“And I just wanted to explain the new plan before I forget it all. I have a worksheet I can show you later, but at the moment it’s fresh in my mind.”
“Okay,” she said. “Shoot.”
I opened my mouth to speak, but my mind was suddenly awhirl with arrows and figures. The words sampsonium and razzafraz flowed through my head, and I looked at the folded paper sticking out from the sun visor above my head: something looking vaguely like the alchemical formula for turning lead into gold stared back.
For just a moment I thought about saying Bippity, boppety, boo.
“We get more for less,” I shouted into the headset, then hung up before she could ask any questions.
I tell people I don’t want to have a phone that’s smarter than me. Sometimes, I think it’s too late.

Talk to you later!