Wednesday, April 29, 2009

When One Phone Recording Talks to Another

Our answering machine has picked up a bizarre recorded message several times over the past month or so. Oddly enough, the recording asks for a different person each time—but that person is never someone named Lingefelt.

A woman’s deceptively pleasant voice does most of the talking except when stating the name of the person they’re looking for, then the voice becomes deeper, stiffer, and—dare I say it—more menacing. (All proper nouns are fictional, see previous blog entry.)

“This is National Credit Data Collection Systems of America with an important phone call for Lausanne Davin. If you are Lausanne Davin, please press 1. If you are not Lausanne Davin, please press 2.”

I don’t pick up the phone to press anything, I just listen. Next comes my favorite part of the message:

“If you pressed 1, please stay on the line. If you pressed 2, please do not listen to the rest of this message.”

Excuse me? You dialed my phone number. You’re taking up valuable recording space on my answering machine. Your blathering has interrupted me and pulled me away from matters more important, even if they’re not as blogworthy. This is my home, my private domain, and through your own ineptitude, you have intruded upon it. Therefore, since you are now here, I jolly well intend to listen to every word you have to say henceforth.

It’s as if the recorded caller has never heard of answering machines or voice mail, or they might say, “If you are Lausanne Davin, please pick up.” But they can’t make her pick up anymore than they can make me not listen to the rest of their message.

So I listen to the rest of the message, even though I’m not supposed to. Apparently they don’t want me to know that Lausanne is in deep doo-doo debt and has some serious ’splainin’ to do to her creditors. She is to call a certain number between certain hours on certain days, unless she wants her name reported to certain agencies.

Only why don’t they want me to know? If they think she can be reached at this number, wouldn’t they appreciate me taking the message for her, perhaps even talking to her as a friend who cares, and persuade her to pay her bills? Not that I intend to give her a loan myself, now that I know from this message she'll never repay the money.

Or are they afraid I might use the information against her, spread mean gossip about her? “You remember Lausanne Davin, don’t you? Well, guess what I heard about her? She’s—(gasp!)—behind on her credit card payments! Can you believe it?”

In this day and age, that’s shockingly juicy.

But here’s what bewilders me about this phone call: If you have an answering machine or voice mail, why pick up and press 1 or 2, regardless of whether you’re Lausanne or Karen, if you’re going to hear their message anyway?

Given the circumstances and my own overly suspicious nature (oh, go ahead and call me paranoid if you like, it won't be the first time), I can’t help thinking that if—just for kicks—I picked up this phone call and pressed 1 pretending to be Lausanne, I would not get the same message I’m not supposed to listen to.

Instead, I would get trouble.

I could get trapped in a web of “reverse identity theft” in which I would somehow find myself on the hook for Lausanne’s debts—which could very well extend to overdue library books, parking tickets, arrest warrants, fines from her homeowner’s association for displaying the wrong colored gnome in her flower bed, and don’t even get me started on the unwanted “parting gifts” she might have accumulated from her string of ne’er-do-well exes. Lausanne Davin may not even exist at all, but only be a figment of someone’s imagination, invented solely for that person’s fiendish amusement and potential profit. (Hmm—rather like the “real” Lausanne Davin.)

On the other hand, if that were so, then why have the "press 2" option?

I would rather not know, but instead be thankful for the answering machine. It screens, baffles, and amuses.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Writers: Ever Googled Your Characters' Names?

I did recently—not that I expected to find a few of them now have their own websites and blogs; nor was I looking to IM them (“Please check all the bars for my Muse, then both of you report to my current WIP immediately.”) I was planning to blog a particular subject that required me to use an alias instead of someone’s real name. And since I’ve written many books with many characters, I thought why not engage in some desperately cheap and shameless self-promotion by using one of my heroines’ names?

But considering the somewhat delicate nature of the proposed blog topic—it could potentially cause embarrassment to a person who really does have that name—I thought I’d better Google the first and last names of some of my heroines to see who could be affected.

As it turns out, with the exception of female characters born into a fictional European royal family that starred in earlier novels now crammed under my bed—where I believe they will remain until they turn to compost (the novels, not the princesses)—all my girls are out there.

I was especially shocked to find both Natalie and Athena have posted racy pictures of themselves online. Well, maybe not Natalie so much—when I was working with her, she was always being haunted and bitten on the butt by past embarrassments and indiscretions, and I don’t doubt she continues to be dogged to this day; but I always thought Athena was too goody-goody gracious to stumble into such antics. Sheesh, you think you know somebody . . . Until now I would’ve trusted that woman with my kid, my house key, maybe even my PIN number . . . but alas, my opinion of her has just been flushed down the toilet. And to add insult to injury, it’s now backed up, because unlike Athena’s high and mighty royal throne, mine is just a low-flow.

I finally Googled the name of her husband’s grandmother, who was born Lausanne Davin. That particular first/last name combo didn’t pop up anywhere. And yes, she was born in and named after the Swiss city on Lake Geneva. I’ve heard “Geneva” used as a girl’s name, and I always thought “Lausanne” would be just as pretty a name, so that’s how she got her name. And while she will always be one of my favorite heroines of my own creation, the books in which she appeared absolutely sucked and will never see the light of day again. She was one of my lab mice who endured many explosions of smoke in different colors while I learned how to write something resembling a novel. In those novels and in her file I might have a ton of dirt on her, while on the World Wide Web, she’s so clean she squeaks—and being a lab mouse has nothing to do with it.

But that’s about to change once I use her in my next blog entry.

Friday, April 17, 2009

In Which Karen Jumps Mr. Lucky's Claim

Remember when Mr. Lucky found a computer work center at the side of the road and brought it home? Initially he thought it would be ideal for me, but it wouldn’t fit in my office--formerly the Crown Prince’s bedchamber located just off the family room. (For all the gory and literally soaking wet details on how that became my office, click here.) So Mr. Lucky installed it in his own office--a somewhat more secluded room located in the same hallway as Baby Bear’s lair and private waterpark aka the bathroom—and gave me the table he’d been using for his desktop.

This arrangement worked well for a while, until several months later when Mr. Lucky treated himself to a brand new flat screen TV for Christmas. The phone company was here all day installing gadgets and wiring to make the acquisition worthwhile, and when Mr. Lucky said their package came with free HBO and a zillion other channels that played the same two-star movies ad nauseam while saving the good stuff for their occasional promotional weekends, I knew wild horses couldn’t drag him into his office again. No force in heaven or on earth can fight the power of free HBO over my husband.

Sure enough, he took his laptop and has since built himself a formidable nest at the best end of the sofa. Papers pile up on the end table in the corner between sofa and love seat. While I haven’t actually seen him do it, I am quite sure that when he runs out of space on the end table, he takes his arm and slides it part way across the table, sending a pile of junk on the far side over the edge and giving himself a few inches of new space to fill up.

From the nest, he had a straight shot of less than half a dozen paces to the door of my office. Even with the door closed while I worked, I had this eerie sense of him camping right outside with an ice chest, sleeping bag and oversized umbrella, as if he were waiting for Hannah Montana tickets to go on sale.

My writing suffered. I started agitating to take over his office. Doing so would give me better insulation from the constant drivel of 10 Ways to Break Up in 30 Days with a 40 Year Old Virgin droning right outside my door 24/7; plus I’d be right across the hall from Baby Bear’s lair and better able to monitor him.

“I wouldn’t always be running in front of the TV and blocking your view to stop the kid from flooding the house again,” I argued. (I could always hear Bear turning on the tub from my office, while Mr. Lucky would remain in his nest with water sloshing up to his chin before he finally noticed something amiss—usually when sparks flew out of the back of the waterlogged TV and blew it out.)

But Mr. Lucky’s answer was always, “No!” He had every intention of going back in there . . . someday. After the holidays . . . then it was after he got his W-2’s . . . then Baby Bear got a cold and had to stay home from school on the very day Mr. Lucky said he planned to do the taxes . . . after Baby Bear goes back to school . . . oops, now Mr. Lucky caught Baby Bear’s cold, but as soon as he recovered, he’d go back . . . now spring break was coming and Baby Bear would be home for a whole week, so now Mr. Lucky had to wait until after spring break to go back to his office.

That's when I yelled, “No!” I wanted that office, and I wanted it before spring break, even if I had to move his stuff out of there myself. When he bellowed I would do no such thing, I challenged him to try and peel himself off that sofa and stop me.

In the end, I did indeed do such a thing, and he didn’t try to stop me. I now have triple the workspace with plenty of drawers. I’m only two steps away from Baby Bear Country, and when the door is open, I can see the kitchen and catch unauthorized foraging. I’m writing more, submitting more (it helps to be in the same room as the printer, even with a wireless remote hookup), and am feeling much happier and more productive.

Most amazing of all, I even moved all my books and bookcases (to his credit, Mr. Lucky did help with the bookcases)—and after I declared on this blog that no force in heaven or on earth—save an act of God or Baby Bear—would ever make me do it again.

Obviously, that was before I learned the power of free HBO can have its own effects on me, too.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

I See You Checking Out My Goodies, Mister

You can’t find anything else to do while you stand here waiting, so what do you do? You check out my goodies. Take a gander at my stuff. Oh yes, I see the look on your face. I know that look. I’ve seen it before, on countless other men just like you. You think I don’t know what you’re up to?

As long as you're gawking, I’ll bet you see a couple of things you’d love to get your big meaty paws on, certainly your mouth; but your wife, who’s waiting for you back home, very likely wouldn’t be too pleased about that. For one thing, she didn’t send you here to partake of such pleasures, and for another, she probably thinks those treats—even if they’re her own—are bad for you.

“Remember what the doctor says, Harold,” she’s always chiding. You poor thing. Maybe you have to sneak out of the house for a chance to sample these delights. Or at least look at them and remember the good old days when you could indulge in such delectations without worrying about the long-term consequences.

Honestly, mister—I don’t blame you for wanting to scrutinize what I have, especially considering your motive. That’s why I see no need to hide it from you or the rest of the world. If anything, I feel blessed by the bounty you see, and you can be sure my husband shares that sentiment. Like your wife, he’s also waiting for me at home, but unlike her (trust me, I know this from checking out what you have), he’s absolutely salivating at the prospect of my return.

Believe me, I fully understand and appreciate your interest. I completely sympathize, because I too am a human being just like you, with the same needs and frustrations.

Still, do you have to be so obvious in your perusal? I realize you don’t have a clear view standing behind me. But do you have to step forward, lean over to one side, and practically stick your face in what I have?

Not that I object. In fact, I’d be perfectly happy to satisfy your—shall we say, curiosity. All you have to do is ask.

I’m just that easy. Yes, my husband knows it, and of course he doesn’t mind.

So you should be lucky I don’t hit you over the head with my purse and say, “Look, mister, you can stop counting the number of groceries in my cart—I swear I have less than twenty items, so I have just as much right to be in the express line as you do!”

And my husband can salivate all he wants, but that bag of chocolate is mine and he’s not getting it.

It’s bad for him, too.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Life in the Military, Part II: The Quest for a Floor Buffer

Legend had it that buffers were available for free checkout from the base self-help store. Mind you, there were three hundred housing units on the base. Three hundred military families with floors that regulations “recommended” be waxed and buffed at least once a week.

The self-help store had only three buffers in its inventory, two of which were always checked out while the third was in a constant state of repair. Everyone wanted to know why they didn’t buy more buffers. The answer was always, “The budget only allows us to maintain three buffers. We can’t buy any additional buffers unless it turns out the third one can’t be repaired. Only then can we order a new one.”

Ha! When I was in the Air Force, I got stuck with supply monitor duty, and let me tell you, no one alive today will live to see that new buffer. I know, because I once had to order one.

Somewhere downtown is a store specializing in appliances like vacuums, zambonis, buffers—anything you use on a floor. When I was supply monitor, you couldn’t just go in there, say “I’d like to buy a buffer, will you take a company check?” then walk out of there with said buffer thrust into a plastic bag with the sales slip and a coupon for a dollar off your next purchase of Johnson Wax.

No, nothing that simple or efficient. Instead I had to fill out Air Force Form 601b in quadruplicate, and submit it to the squadron commander for his signature. The 601b included a huge blank block headed JUSTIFICATION. This was an essay question worth more points than anything else on the form. Here I had to explain why it was necessary to spend taxpayers’ money on a new buffer for the office.

“Buffer is needed to buff office floors after waxing,” I wrote.

No matter what you ordered, whether it was a Number 2 pencil or a Stealth bomber, the form invariably came back stamped with the word DISAPPROVED followed by one of two reasons for disapproval. It was either CANNOT IDENTIFY ITEM or INSUFFICIENT JUSTIFICATION.

In the case of the buffer, the form came back stamped INSUFFICIENT JUSTIFICATION.

What the heck more does anyone need than that? What else do you do with a floor buffer?

I called up the supply squadron and asked the clerk there to elaborate.

“You also need a popcorn popper to pop popcorn,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean the government’s going to buy you one. You have to explain why you need to pop popcorn.”

The supply monitor for the crew of the Enola Gay probably put “Atom bomb is needed to end the war with Japan” on his 601b, and it still came back stamped INSUFFICIENT JUSTIFICATION. He would’ve had to explain why America needed to end the war with Japan.

So I redid the form. Under JUSTIFICATION, I wrote, “Buffer is needed to buff office floors after waxing. Floors must be waxed because they are dirty. Dirt has a negative impact on the Air Force mission.”

Again, the form came back stamped INSUFFICIENT JUSTIFICATION. Seems I didn’t explain how dirt had a negative impact on the Air Force mission. How did it keep the planes from flying? Well, too much of it could clog up the engines and—oh, what the hell. The JUSTIFICATION was still INSUFFICIENT.

Eventually I managed to spin such a convincing story (I borrowed a few details from the movie Independence Day—something about aliens attacking military installations in search of wax residue to oil and fuel their spacecraft before moving on to another planet big on military—or wax, if you will—buildup), that the disapproval was changed to CANNOT IDENTIFY ITEM.

Considering the rarity of buffers, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that no one in the Supply Squadron knew what I was talking about.

The supply clerk advised me—with a perfectly straight face, mind you—to attach a sample of the requested item to the 601b.

Hello? Planet Earth calling, will you accept the charges? If I had a “sample” I wouldn’t have needed to order one! Not to mention that even if I did have a sample to attach, it would have required me to order extra large heavy duty industrial strength paper clips—which Supply couldn’t identify, either. I should know. I’ve sent them 601b’s with whole chains of different paper clips dangling from the upper left-hand corner.

The supply squadron clerk, who seemed to have a witty comeback for everything, said if a sample wasn’t available or attachable, to just include a picture of it instead. See previous paragraph above.

Obtaining a picture of a buffer would have further required me to hire a private investigator to hide out in alleys and dumpsters, waiting for one to skulk by. How much do you want to bet I could have gotten government approval—oh, better than approval, but a federal grant for that?

It was too much. Several months earlier I’d gone through a similar rigmarole ordering envelopes. Long, white, Number 10 business size envelopes. You know what I’m talking about. I know what I’m talking about (at least some of the time). I could interview fifty people on the street and every last one of them would know exactly what I was talking about . . . unless they happened to be assigned to the Supply Squadron.

Apparently the stock number I’d given them for the envelopes—which I got straight from the box containing our remaining inventory—was no longer listed in the supply roster. Some bureaucrat at the Pentagon had been charged with the all-important task of changing the stock number, so who knew how to find it now? The supply clerk presented me with a foot thick binder that constituted the roster, and turned to the section listing envelopes.

“Find your envelope here,” he said.

There were more envelopes listed in that roster than there are Smiths in the Manhattan white pages.

Who knew there were so many different kinds? The kind I wanted was so standard, so common, that it should have been at the top of the list.

But I never found it. We had to wait till they mysteriously appeared in the warehouse months later.

Meanwhile, I went to the commander to tell him of my dilemma with the buffer. He fired off a letter to the commander of the Supply Squadron, and finally got (some) results.

The request was finally approved.

And, like everything else in the military supply system, promptly placed on backorder.

In the meantime, we had to continue borrowing the buffer from another squadron across the street. I asked how they’d gotten it and when, but no one knew. The form used to order it was no longer on file. Regulations dictated such forms were kept in active files for one year, inactive for another year, then moved to archives somewhere in the Ozarks. The person who ordered it had long since gone to that great big VA waiting room in the sky.

It seemed the buffers on hand had always been there, even before the base was built; the buildings and aircrafts and runways had merely sprung up around them.

As for the buffers designated for residents in base housing, I’ve never met anyone in base housing who ever actually checked out one of them. In fact, no one seemed to know anyone in housing who’d ever used one of them, simply because they were never available. No one wanted to go off base and spend hundreds of dollars to buy one of their own, but if you wanted to buff the floors in your on-base house, that’s what you had to do, unless you could find a place that rented them.

I didn’t want to, so I didn’t. At the time I had young children. I swept and mopped, and that was it. When it came time to move to another base, we hired a professional cleaning service to clean the housing unit to the standards required by the Air Force, and let them buff the floors.

All military organizations have mottos. I have one for the supply system: