Monday, November 30, 2015

Communications Breakdown

Greetings, WYMOP fans!

Karma. The Cosmic Balance. God has a sense of humor. Whatever.
All I wanted was a smartphone.
You see, I’ve never had a smartphone. Neither has my son or his mother. I figured it was time. More accurately, I thought it was time I was able to use a Square when I do author events and sales, so I can run a credit card through my phone: cash only doesn’t really cut it any more. But there was no way I could upgrade my own phone alone. Not with a thirteen year old boy on the plan. Not gonna happen.
I upgraded all three phones.
I was going to be out of town when they arrived, so I arranged to have them delivered to two different locations: my phone would meet me in Colorado, while the other two would go to their home in Massachusetts. I arranged this with a lovely Verizon Customer Service rep, and she handled both the upgrading of the phones and their disparate delivery. She was wonderful—truly a delight to deal with—as have been every Verizon CSR I’ve ever dealt with.
Until now.
SB and I were in Estes Park, a little tourist town right splat in the mountains of Colorado, a place where cell service is a little bit like Bigfoot: they’ve heard of it but never actually seen it, and though they secretly believe in it you’ll have a hard time getting anyone to admit it. It was there, in this mobile-coverage Bermuda Triangle, that I received a voicemail alert. I froze in place—a little like when we used to adjust the television rabbit ears back in the 70s, and found that the only way to see the picture was to touch the antenna with your left pinkie while standing on one foot—and took the message.
There was an issue with my smartphone order confirmations, and if I could just call the telephone number at the end of the message and give them the confirmation codes included in the email Verizon had sent me a week earlier, all would be well.
Aw, Christ! I thought, punching the replay button and motioning frantically toward SB for something to write on. She slipped a pad and pen under my hand and I copied down the number before I lost my balance; standing on one foot while touching your phone with your left pinkie is hard in a small, crowded shop like that. We left the shop and drove around a bit, searching for another one of those temporary little windows into modern communications: a place with a signal. It was Saturday, and the phones had been slated for Monday delivery, and I really didn’t want anything to slow the process down: sure, I’d never had a smartphone, but now that I was getting one I wanted the damn thing. Besides, if delivery was delayed too long, I’d be back in Massachusetts when the phone arrived in Colorado, and that would never do.
Have I mentioned I wanted the damn thing?
We found a spot where cell service was more than a modern-day myth, right in front of a quilt shop. SB went in the shop, because, as she says, “Quilty!” while I sat in the parking lot with the pad and pen, calling Verizon’s customer service line; all I had to do was talk to one of Verizon's almost magical CSRs, I thought, and they'd fix everything. I provided all the initial information the automated system required before letting me talk to a human being: my name, cell number I was calling about, the issue I was calling about, the account billing password, the last four digits of my social security number, the town in which I was born, my mother’s maiden name, my first pet’s name, my best friend’s mother’s middle name, my race, blood type, sexual orientation, type of underwear I prefer (“Press three for boxer-briefs”), and what Bud Light camp I’m in: Less Filling or Tastes Great.
I was finally connected with a real person, who mumbled her name and asked, I think, how she could help me. She was speaking slowly and unclearly, and reminded me just a bit of the adults on those Peanuts television specials I watched as a kid: someone talking through a trombone. I hurriedly explained that I was trying to confirm my order over the phone, or, if possible, have her give me the confirmation numbers from the email so I could call their special Order Confirmation line—also that I was in the mountains of Colorado, where cell service would require an upgrade to reach “spotty,” so I was in a bit of a hurry to finish before my signal degraded.
“Excuse me?”
I suddenly recognized her drawl as belonging to one of the southern states, and realized she’d have had a hard time understanding me at normal Boston speed; she didn’t have a chance with me set to hurriedly. I downshifted into verbal four-wheel low, and tried it all again.
“Oh, sure. We can do that.”
“Terrific,” I said. “Do I have to—”
“And if we get disconnected, I can call you back.”
“Awesome,” I said. “But can we—”
“At this number?”
“Yes,” I said, then paused a beat. “At this number. Now can I—”
“Fine,” she said, somehow packing at least five syllables into those four letters. “Now, let’s get started. Can you give me your confirmation numbers?”
“No,” I said. “That’s what I was calling about. I don’t have access to my email right now, and I—”
“Aren’t you on your phone?”
“Yes, but—”
“Well, all you have to do to access your email is—”
“I can’t access email from this phone.”
There was a pause—go figure—then: “But, sir, you’re on your phone?”
“Yes, but—”
“Well,” she said, “then all you have to do to access your email is—”
“I do not,” I said, speaking at least as slowly as she was, though much more clearly, “have the ability to check my email on this phone. No matter what you tell me, I still won’t. The phones I am trying to have delivered are smartphones, but this one I’m using right now is not.”
“It’s a dumb phone.”
“An old-fashioned mobile phone,” I said. “A slider.”
“With buttons.”
I finally heard a sound: the long, drawn out suck of air being pulled in through teeth in thought. I held my own breath for what felt like five seconds or so before the most baffled grunt I’d ever heard slipped through the line to whack me in the face with the despair stick: “Huh.”
My heart sank.
Well, she looked into things for a while, and came to the conclusion that she couldn’t complete the process for me, but she could give me those confirmation numbers I was looking for. She asked for my two order numbers, which I gave her with painstaking slowness, and then I told her I was ready for the confirmation numbers attached to those orders.
“Now, I’m going to text you those numbers in a minute.”
“But,” I said, “I’m all ready to copy them down right now. Pen and paper in hand. Right now.”
“No,” she said. “I’m going to text them to you so you have them in your phone with no mistakes or anything when you call the confirmation line. Okay. You ready?”
Wondering why the hell I’d have to be “ready” to receive a text, I gave her an affirmative. The line beeped with the incoming texts just as she drawled “There ya go.”
“Just a second,” I said, tearing the phone from my ear to look at the screen, punching buttons rapid-fire to see what she’d sent me so I could write it down—and there, on the small screen, rather than the confirmation numbers I had called for, were the two order numbers I had just so carefully dictated to her. She had simply copied them down and sent them right back. Struggling to keep my temper in check, I jammed the phone to my ear once more.
“No!” I said. “I had those! I need—”
Three rapid beeps sounded in my ear. I tore the device away to look at the screen once more, and saw the waiting message:
“Son of a bitch!”
Right about then I'm pretty sure I, as I have in the past, actually heard God laughing at me.
We managed to get the Monday shipment by Wednesday.

Since you’ve read along this far, I’ll treat you to an announcement:


CAROL OF THE BELLS, my not-so-short story of traditional terror will be coming to you in all e-formats from The Storyside Press!
"Too commercialized."
"Too mainstream."
When Brian and Carol came to England, all they wished was for the most traditional holiday celebration they could find: a dance in the village square, dinner in the inn's taproom, and a lovely winter stroll beneath the stars.
No one told them to be careful what they wished for: they just might get it.

This little dollop of holiday horror will be available on Amazon on December 6th.
Grab yourself a copy. Spread the word.

Happy horrordays!

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.