C.C., and Key Words, and Tropes, oh My!
Category Archives: #amwriting
Murder at McDonalds?
Fair warning: This one’s a long one, even for me.
I might have titled this essay: Sweet, Helpful Young Lady Throttled by Bitter Old Woman. Or perhaps: Leave Me Alone, I’m Not Dead Yet. Or maybe: Through the Mirror Birthday Darkly.
I call years when both digits match ‘mirror birthdays’. My first was when I turned eleven, my second at twenty-two, you catch the drift. This week I celebrated my sixth mirror birthday when I turned sixty-six.
In the past, I’ve use these years for introspection, examining my life’s journey, the direction I’m headed, and making sure I still have a dream worth chasing. Every eleven years seemed like a good checking-in point, and sure enough it has been. I’ve used them to recognize, react to, and finally accept realities in my life. They give me a minute to poke my head above water and reorient my place in the world. I’ve anchored myself to my past, willing myself into the future. Sounds good, no?
Yeah, and it worked for the first five mirror birthdays. But this one…this one feels vastly different. For one thing, by noon I wanted to murder someone.
I’ve tried to keep up with technology as I age, unlike my own grandparents who simply ignored all innovation past television, or my mother who refused to figure out how to work a cell phone. I wondered why they didn’t want to stay modern, chase the changes, become the future?
Now I know how much work it is to grasp new concepts, connect them to other half-understood ideas, and translate all of that into real world, right now, hands-on competence while also dealing with biological consequences that drain your health and mental well-being after sixty. I say that because I struggle with apps, well one app in particular.
Being a hip great-grandmother means I order from the McDonald’s app with fair regularity. After the first two years, I’d gotten the hang of it and then Covid…sigh. Another two years and I’m coping with their eat-in/take-out/drive-thru alternatives, no-healthy-options-menu (c’mon, apple slices soaked to tastelessness don’t count), restricted ‘deals’ that never change, and even a clunky points reward system. Okay, I’m still not ordering off the cool kids menu, but nuggets are good enough for me.
On the day of my birthday I gathered up my sweeties and headed to McDonald’s for lunch. While my wife drove I pulled up the app to start our order, but I’d been signed out. When we arrived, their Wi-fry was too weak to service their app, so I switched to 4G (see? I’m trying). I finally logged in and got our somewhat complicated order placed. (Trust me, even that nightmare beats ordering from bored pimply faced kids who hadn’t been born when I started eating where they now work, telling me they can’t do this or that can’t be done when I’ve had it that way for years.)
Except my order wouldn’t process. It hung-up and never completed the payment, just giving me a pop up that said they were sorry and to try again later. Frustrated, I tried three, four, five times before finally going up to the counter and telling the manager my tale of woe. She looked in her system and couldn’t find the order I was pretty sure I’d already paid for, perhaps multiple times. I was loitering near the counter tap, tap, tapping away on the app trying to make it work before giving in and placing the order verbally, when it happened…
A young woman in her mid to late twenties started ‘helping’ me by explaining how the app worked and reassuring me that she had trouble using it too. She threw a knowing glance at the manager over my head, and then
Yep, the day I’ve dreaded since the first time I watched it happen to my aging mother has arrived. A helpful young snot, totally discounting my experience or expertise, was going to ‘show’ me how to do what I wanted done.
Grr… A thousand feelings raced through me as I stepped out of her reach, angling my back and shoulder toward her in a very clear attempt to block her. Undeterred, the pretty blond reached around me and nearly grabbed my phone.
“See?” She showed me her phone open to the app deals. “You do it like this.”
I jerked away from her and turned to tell the sweet young thing off, when the manager announced my order finally came through and was already being prepared. I muttered, “Thank God,” which the blond seemed to assume included her.
“Oh good, you did it,” she said cheerfully as she placed her order for a coffee to go. I stalked back to our table. Lunch arrived a few minutes later and the day proceeded apace.
I look old. My possessions are old. I use antiquated words and turns of phrase (see?). I feel old with creaking joints and aches everywhere. I tell stories about people who are old themselves now, so I write stories about young people like the youngster I still am inside.
I’m old and that’s HORRIBLE. Right? I mean, isn’t that what I’ve been watching in horror happen to those before me? I wanted to ask my neighbor when she was fighting her third bout with breast cancer what it felt like to watch her beautiful face crease, blotch, sag…and then she died and I couldn’t.
I remember watching older co-workers fanning hot flashes, plucking hairs from once softly rounded cheeks, fingers and backs growing crooked and painful. Did they know it was happening as it happened, or did they wake up one morning to find an old person staring back at them from the mirror?
The beautiful celebrities of my childhood disappeared from view, discarded as worthless once their sex appeal waned. I (and everyone else) would gasp to see two photos in their obits always side by side: one of them at the height of their beauty and one of them taken shortly before they died. “Tragic,” we’d mutter.
And now here I am, the quirky old lady I’d always hoped I’d become just without the fame, fortune, and thick silver-gray braids hanging down to my waist. Let’s face it, this might be my very last mirror birthday so I’d best use it wisely. Time to take stock of my life, tally totals to measure wins and losses, defeats and recoveries. And if I’m going to have a last hurrah it’s time to knuckle down.
I’mma get my kicks on my Route 66. Com’on along for the ride or get outta my way.
For All the Youngsters Still Wondering: I’ve known for twenty years that my body is changing and not for the better. It did hurt to watch my face crumbling each morning as I washed it. I agonized over every new wrinkle until I finally got used to it or a new one showed up to focus on. Still, I sometimes get startled by the stranger in the mirror and way too many times I’ve ducked cameras for family photos that now I can’t be remembered in. Not to mention I’d have looked younger in those pics than at any time since.
No snotty blonds were injured or insulted in an actual McDonald’s. Daydreams of an author, however…
Do You Know Why They Don’t Say Gay?
Unfortunately, I do – and the ramifications are staggering.
#DontSayGay #NoHomoPromo #StopBullying
Anyone who’s lived through real bullying knows that it is anything but ‘kids being kids’. Sure, it starts in childhood but carries on throughout lifetimes. Some childhood bullies become adult bullies. Some victims remain with that mind set their entire lives.
Today’s bullies still use traditional techniques of torment, but they’ve expanded their skill set to include cyberspace and social media as well. They don’t contain their cruelty to their immediate peers anymore, they spread proof of their inhumanity around the internet and sometimes the world, receiving anonymous support and encouragement.
I know this because of the research I did in 2010 following a rash of suicides in the Anoka/Hennepin school district in the counties next to mine. Each news broadcast about another kid dying by their own hand broke my heart.
As I learned about their lives and the bullying they suffered with no help from teachers, staff, and administration, my anger deepened. As I read articles like this MinnPost article: Bullying Gay and Lesbian Kids are How a School District Became a Suicide Contagion Zone my anger turned to rage.
When my emotions get out of control, I create something that uses up that energy. In 2012 I published The Boxer Shorts Rebellion. In vulgarity laden scenes taken directly from real life, I unflinchingly described the vicious reality that surrounds kids living in Don’t Say Gay school zones. It was incredibly difficult to write, and harder to read. That’s the way with unvarnished truth – it glares.
But, as much as slapping people across the face once appealed, when I heard about new Don’t Say Gay policies popping up around the country, I began an immediate rewrite to make the story more palatable so it might reach a wider audience, one that could help stop them. I left in about twenty percent of the original vulgarities, but did not tone down the bullying for the very purpose of letting you know the truth about Don’t Say Gay policies.
I’ve released the 2nd edition, significantly rewritten: Don’t Say Gay in Tranquility Bay, and during the first ten days of publication I’ve listed the book for free every other day and alerted as many LGBTQ+ celebrities as I could so they could download, read, and possibly endorse the book.
Alternate days and thereafter Don’t Say Gay in Tranquility Bay will be listed at author’s cost to encourage easy gifting to libraries and school districts across the country.
Unchecked bullying creates desperation in today’s kids, both online and in schools. I wrote Don’t Say Gay in Tranquility Bay! in response to the growing frequency of school shooters and the ‘suicide contagion zone’ created by a Minnesota school district’s decision to enact such a policy. My heart broke each time as eight suicides were reported in two years, knowing others tried without succeeding and still more self-harmed instead. No more. I am putting student risk ahead of financial gain and will make this book free immediately – not to promote sales, but to encourage its spread to those who don’t understand how dangerous such policies can be.
This book NEEDS to reach influencers, school board members, politicians, and anyone who can and might help stop the Don’t Say Gay legislation being enacted in America’s school districts today. It should be available to any student who must live through it.
To take fullest advantage of Kindle’s 5-free-days promotion, Don’t Say Gay in Tranquility Bay! will be listed as free every other day, in hopes your word of mouth recommendation (which understandably takes time) can spread the news farther. So please, get your free copy and then encourage anyone who might be interested to download a free version on the day after and urge them to let others know who might help fight the evil of Don’t Say Gay and No Homo Promo legislation. Don’t Say Gay in Tranquility Bay! (Kindle version) IS FREE on:
Thursday, May 26 12:00 a.m. (PDT) until a minute before midnight.
Saturday, May 28 12:00 a.m. (PDT) until a minute before midnight.
Monday, May 30 12:00 a.m. (PDT) until a minute before midnight.
Wednesday, June 1 12:00 a.m. (PDT) until a minute before midnight.
And Friday, June 3 12:00 a.m. (PDT) until a minute before midnight.
The in-between days, and thereafter until further notice the book will remain available for author’s cost.
If you’ve ever been bullied or stood by helplessly watching it happen, this novel is your next must read. If you were once a bully, or helped someone else to bully, this book offers redemption. If you stood by then but wonder now if you can make a difference, DON’T SAY GAY IN TRANQUILITY BAY! will bring you inspiration.
How Could I Be so Stupid?
There’s a pandemic, you idiot!
I heard the words loud and clear in my head before opening up my arms and giving one of the longest hugs of my life to a complete stranger.
To quote Inigo Montoya, “Let me start at the beginning. No, there’s too much. Let me sum up…” The world is swimming in a dreaded pandemic which has been ridiculously politicized in the US. People are living under unimaginable stress with death and misfortune everywhere. Add to the mix a holiday season with well publicized shortages, inflation, and people desperate to return to some sense of normalcy. Daily, the media highlight people having childish temper tantrums and taking their frustrations out on innocent bystanders. I had the misfortune to witness one first hand yesterday.
Sunday morning shopping at big box stores is anathema to me; I’d rather chew glass than be in a large crowd of people in a hurry. But Christmas be Christmas and one does what one must do. I masked up, armed with sanitizing gel in the car as I’ve done for going on two years now. I knew that any hope of getting in and getting out was useless, so I made the deliberate choice to go in with my best holiday spirit, my best sense of humor, and every bit of patience at my disposal. I entered humming Christmas carols, I was that determined.
And (maybe fortune favors the tone-deaf) I lucked out and quickly found the very last items I needed to complete my Christmas shopping. I will now pause to let you deal with the pangs of envy you must be feeling.
Ahem, to continue… I took my place in line with one couple being rung up, followed by an Old Feller whose few items were already on the conveyor. A young feller stood with a full cart appropriately distanced between OF and my half-filled cart. Every cashier line was full of heavily loaded carts and I counted myself lucky to have so few in front of me. I stood there waiting for the first couple to finish, which they promptly did paying with cash. Unfortunately, many before them also used cash and the cashier, a young woman in a hajib, did not have sufficient change to give them in her till. She put on the blinking light that summoned a manager.
I began fidgeting after two minutes, and three minutes after that the young feller took his full cart to another lane, getting in a much longer line. I moved up to six feet behind OF who began muttering darkly about the wait. We finally saw the floor manager wending her way to our lane, stopped here by one employee and there by another, answering questions thrown by harried customers quickly and efficiently but still slowed by the sheer number of requests being made of her. She apologized to the couple for their wait when she arrived and began promptly adding money to the till and recording it appropriately. OF urged her to hurry in irritated tones, threatening to leave his purchases on the belt and just take off. He looked over his shoulder to see if I appreciated his threat and I made the mistake of making eye contact. That encouraged him to get louder and more pointed in his abuse. Looking distinctly uncomfortable, the young couple took their change and fled.
It occurred to me that the manager looked rough, worn-out, as if hanging on by sheer will power. Although clean, her uniform was shabby and wrinkled. Her still thick hair, streaked with gray, fell to her shoulders with no shape. Her eyes busily darted from here to there, rarely landing on anything for long. Premature wrinkles creased forehead, eyes, chin, and firmly pressed lips. Swift hands moved fast as lightning; she finished filling the cash drawer, pocketing the paperwork while simultaneously closing the till.
The young cashier gamely stepped forward to ring up grumbling OF but her manager gestured her back and began ringing him up herself. It only took a couple of minutes to ring up his few purchases but when asked if he’d like to purchase the extended warranty for a small appliance he used profanity to bark his absolute refusal to wait one more second in line. The words ‘stupid’, ‘lazy’, and ‘incompetent’ were hurled at both workers until his bag was thrust in his arms, his payment complete. Oh, did I mention OF was unmasked? Of course he was. The manager, cashier, and I were all masked. His petulant petty behavior was liberally sprayed over us all. We sighed simultaneously as he left.
The manager began responding to the clamoring for her attention once more as the young cashier looked up at me. As I lay my purchases on the conveyor belt, her eyes begged for understanding as she apologized for my wait. I looked directly at her and told her what he’d just done and said was all about him and not one bit about her. I asked if she was new, her nametag was hand-printed. She admitted it was her first week and I told her she’d handled herself admirably and wished her a much better day and happy holidays. Our eyes smiled at each other as I took my receipt and headed for the door.
Feeling good at having expressed my sympathy to the cashier, I waved the busy manager over to tell her the same thing. And that’s when it happened.
“You didn’t deserve what that man said and did,” I said, making direct eye contact. She seemed startled, her eyes widened and I knew I had her full attention.
“You did nothing wrong, as a matter of fact you handled yourself well, and I really admire how you protected your new employee back there.” Her eyes began to mist. She stared at me without blinking.
I don’t know who she lost but she was hearing someone else speak through me, someone who loved her, cared how she felt, and would have said what I said. (Given my gray hair and wrinkles I’m guessing her grandmother.) She began to crumple.
“You’re a good person who deserves to be treated well.” Her tears spilled over and as they traced down her cheeks a chasm of pain yawed open between us. I knew she needed more.
There’s a pandemic, stupid. You can’t hug strangers. You’ve been so careful up to now! I heard the warning in my head. I knew I was being reckless to the point of stupidity. But sometimes you chance crazy things because you’re driven to it.
I opened up my arms and gave the universal hand gesture for ‘bring it in’. She grabbed me like a life-preserver and sobbed, long heart-rending whimpers on my shoulder, shuddering to regain control. I held her, feeling her vulnerable humanity in my arms, her heart beating against my winter coat, her tears dampening my knit scarf, and knew I wouldn’t release her until she was ready.
A few minutes later, I was on my way back home. Yes, it was incredibly stupid to hold a complete stranger close to me, to risk my health and those of my loved ones to help ease the burden of someone I’ll never see again. And if I get sick, or pass something on to my family, I may never forgive myself.
How could I be so stupid? But I’ll be that stupid again tomorrow, if need be.
Covid may have us down, but we’re not defeated.
Halloween is not Satanism
All Hallow’s Eve
The modern version we call Halloween is an amalgam of early Catholicism and autumnal festivals celebrated around the world and dating back to forever. As the harvest ends and shadows grow longer, people have historically associated the change of seasons with dying and death.
November 1st, All Hallow’s Day (Dia de Todos os Santos, All Saint’s Day, Dia de los Muertas), is the yearly remembrance of our dearly departed. People hope/expect the souls they loved so well in life to visit. Graves are cleaned and decorated, remembrances and offerings are left, memories cried over during celebrations and feasting. The night before All Hallow’s Day is, of course, All Hallow’s Eve(ning) and has been shortened to Hallow’een.
Over the centuries (and through the richness of storytelling around warming fires) the idea of lost souls with no one to mourn them also being up and about on that day took over active imaginations. What would these lost souls (ghosts) want more than anything? To take over the body of someone living.
Jack o’lanterns were carved into faces and planted on gates and around doorsteps to fool evil spirits into entering the pumpkin instead of those sleeping inside the house. That eventually grew into disguising innocent children on that night, too, so evil spirits wouldn’t recognize them and take over their souls. That’s why they dress up as the wicked and scary, so they pass among the evil ones without being recognized as the innocent souls they are. The tradition of giving treats to kids in costumes at your door was a wink/nod at tricking the ‘evil spirits’ into leaving their homes.
Satanism celebrates and worships Satan and evil. It’s a whole different vibe and intent, which has absolutely nothing to do with Halloween.
If you are still curious, I highly recommend The Halloween Tree, by Ray Bradbury. It’s a glorious short novel that explores different autumn festivals and how they’ve become associated with Halloween.