More Retail Ramblings – Credit

A few days ago, I had to call a bill collector to discuss a debt I owe, which led to him wanting me to make a payment over the phone, which led to a discussion that didn’t make him happy: Where did he sit?  Was he in a private office away from others’ ears?  Or did he work in a cubicle, near others, including vendors, contractors, customers and other visitors?  He said he worked in a cube, and other people were near – walk-ins (customers coming in to do business), and a “kid sweeping the floor.”

“Think,” I said.  “I already gave you my name, address and phone number, which you repeated to me to verify they were correct.  To pay you, I must give you my credit card number, then the super-secret three-digit security code, and you will repeat the numbers to verify they are correct.”

“Yes,” he said, “But I only enter it in our payment screen – I don’t keep the information.”

“No, you don’t – but others may,” I said.  “What if they, or the “kid sweeping the floor,” have smartphones with voice recording applications running, recording all being said in the office?  Imagine the treasure they’d reap later as they replay the recordings and hear my name, address and phone number, credit card number and security code.”

I work in the information technologies field (I.T.) as a field service technician (F.S.T), which means I go into the field to fix computers and things.  That “field” is several stores of a national home improvement chain.

I thought of the above one day while working on a register in Customer Service, where an associate was handling a payment over the phone, repeating the credit information within the hearing of other customers and me.

Mind you, I’m not singling out the chain I care for, or the associates.  They need to verify the information so you are charged fairly, and the store receives payment.  Also, this happens at numerous businesses – if not all – whether a national chain, or your local convenience store.  I am writing about it, not because I feel a need to throw blame or shame, but because I feel a need to address it and fix it.

Until then, use websites to order and pay, or go to the store and do it personally – and don’t forget to be pleasant and smile.

– Billie

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Old Folk

Perhaps some of the most iconic images we think of from Rural America – something probably true in other countries, too – are those of old folk sitting on rural front porches, rocking in chairs as they whittled, played an instrument, knitted or worked needlework.  Most, unable to do more physical work, were tasked with simple work: minding younger children – perhaps teaching them also.

Often, the iconic thoughts of old folk more reflects the yearning in our minds for the slower, simpler, and gentler times, and we smile at the thought and, perhaps, wish we – someday – can retire to a front porch with a rocker and something to pass our time.  No computers, television, telephone or smart device.  No yelling, screaming neighbors, no traffic.  Just watch the sun go down and the stars come up.

We add to this pleasant mental scene, kindness and gentleness – of family gathered after the evening meal.  We imagine white-haired, wrinkled grandparents retelling family history, centuries old, doing so often enough all listening know it by heart.  The vast stories of hard work and rough weather endured.  Of hints, ideas and suggestions passed on that only years can teach.

We think of old folks teaching youngsters to play guitar, fiddle, banjo or another – or multiple – instruments.  We think of children learning to sew, knit, repair a lost button or two, or a ripped pant.

As I end, leaving you with the minds-eye view of old folks rocking away on the porch in the darkness.  Think of the last two paragraphs above this and wonder, what if they could have put all thoughts in their minds onto paper for posterity to know?  Some did, and we treasure them.  How many more – and greater – were lost?

– Billie

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To The Moon

Fifty years ago, I was sleeping over at a friend’s house when I took ill.  I’m not sure what the issue was, but I ended up in the hospital the next day – told I suffered chronic appendicitis.

In those days, hospital rooms didn’t have televisions in them, if you wanted a TV you had to rent it.  Then, this tall monster of a tower containing the TV would be rolled in and a device given to you with a wire stretching to the TV they called a remote.  It didn’t have push-buttons – it had dials you turned to change channels or adjust the volume.

There also was no cable back then.  The hospital had a boatload of antennas on the roof for TV and local police, fire and HAM radio repeaters.  There were no EMTs or paramedics in those days, so no antennas existed for Roy DeSoto or Johnny Gage to call in and send a strip.

Anyhow, the reason for this trip down memory lane is that first day in the hospital, after the TV was rolled in and I turned on ABC news to watch Apollo 11’s lunar lander, Eagle, course it’s way from the command module, Columbia, toward Mare Tranquillitatis on the moon’s surface.

“Houston, Tranquility Base here.  The Eagle has landed.”

Already addicted to science fiction stories, and a fan of Star Trek (original series), I was enthralled, glued to the TV as Neil Armstrong spoke those great words.  Humans had finally gone to another world!

I think no one doubts that a 12-year-old hospital patient would not be allowed to watch TV after 9 in the evening, but those rules went out the window as nurses and doctors – many not mine – stopped by to see what was happening, waiting for that moment when we’d see the lunar surface from a camera held by Humans stepping onto that surface!  And we did – me, laying in a hospital bed, with four nurses by my side.

“That’s one small step for man . . . one giant leap for Mankind.”

I remember one of the nurses hugging me in glee as two others jumped with joy.  I remember the pictures – all blurry and fuzzy.  Who cared?

In the sixties, as the USA raced the USSR to be first on the moon, there were many opinions what would happen when we got there.  We children dreamed of moon bases.  We believed many of us would be living and working there as adults.  We believed more rocket bases would be build on the moon to bring us to Mars, maybe beyond!

When class was boring, we scribbled drawings of what a building on the moon would look like – pictures of mushroom-shaped buildings with shafts extending into the moon where minerals were mined.  The old shafts would be reused to grow plants in hydroponic gardens.  Solar arrays and nuclear reactors would provide all the electricity we needed.

We had landed there!  Let’s begin building those bases!

** sigh **

Today, we talk about setting foot on Mars.  I would like to see that.  But I’d also like to see us finish what we started with Luna.

— Billie

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Fourth of July

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Such an amazing chunk of land were we – 13 colonies stretching from what is now Maine, south to Georgia.  Colonies composed of people who fled their homelands because they were different in philosophy, politics, religion and other ideals.  People took residence across these stretches of land, their differences obvious.  How could any fools think such different people would unite to fight Britain?  A Catholic fighting alongside an Anglican, Amish or Deist?  A white man alongside a black slave?  German, French and British brothers in war?  HAH!

But we did.

We were not perfect then, and still aren’t.  Independence Day was the start of a race toward betterment and we have improved.  The Preamble of our Declaration is a baton each generation passes to the next to, it’s tacit scream: “continue on!”  Trying to change the minds of established people isn’t easy, but we WERE making progress.  Now, many seem to want to toss that baton to the wayside and turn back to what we were – or worse, ideals we swore would never happen here.

So, today, don’t listen to pundits – or those claiming to be pundits – explaining US History.  Read it yourself.  While opening your beer or pouring coffee, when dabbing mustard on a hot dog, catsup on a burger or sauce on ribs, search for and read the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, and the Constitution of the United States – and it’s Bill of Rights and Amendments.

We must continue on.

Happy Independence Day.
– Billie

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Eulogy for a Wonderful Friend

Ten years ago, on April 25, 2009, Wanda, our grandson, Jason (who lived with us then), and I went to a local pet store to look at fish supplies.  This store had a Humane Society adoption center and, while Wanda and I looked for what I needed, Jason looked to see what animals were available for adoption.  It wasn’t long a handsome tuxedo cat came out and he and Jason began playing with each other through the glass separating them.  The next day, when a representative from the humane society was on duty, we returned and Avery became a member of our family.

Avery Demen

Avery’s favorite spot to lay was my keyboard.  In the online, virtual world of Second Life, he became well known to friends there as he would sit on my keyboard, sending strings of random characters into chat until I chased him off.  Each time, those in-world replied, “Hello, Avery!”  Several times, his leaning against the power button of my computer caused me to be kicked out of Second Life as the machine powered off.  I’d reboot and return in-world to the questions: “Avery again?  LOL!”  Eventually, I created an avatar for him on Second Life: Avery Demen.

Second Life was not the only place he caused trouble.  While writing, if I forgot to click out of a Word document, I often would return from the kitchen or bathroom to find he had added several paragraphs or pages of text by sitting on the keyboard.  During the final editing of Making Dull the Thorns, I found five blank pages added to a chapter thanks to a rear paw on the space bar.  It resulted in my posting a humorous Foreword by Avery, which I’ll include below.

When we lost Wanda, Avery kept me sane with his antics – even those that were exasperating.  As a result, I began looking the other way when he jumped on the kitchen table so he could look out the kitchen window, or the counter as I prepared dinner, or when he used the sofa as a scratching post (it was in bad shape anyhow).  The bedroom door, once always closed to him while we slept, was left open so he could join me.  His gentle purring was a wonderful sound to fall asleep to, now that Wanda’s gentle, sleepy breathing were gone.

He wasn’t just a pet or an animal.  He was a friend, an ally, and someone who made home Home.

Last weekend, Avery took ill with a blocked urinary tract, and, Monday, June 17, I had to make the sad decision I didn’t want to make.  That evening, Avery crossed the rainbow bridge as I petted him, telling him repeatedly how much I loved him – when sobs allowed me to speak.  I brought him home yesterday, his urn sits on a shelf in front of the bedroom window where he would sit to watch the world outside.

I miss you, Avery.

– Billie


Foreword
By Avery the Cat

The book is finished.  Billie readies it for publication.  But I wish to convey the sacrifices made so zie may publish Making Dull the Thorns for your enjoyment.

Computer keyboards were meant to be laid upon, the many keys depressing comfortably fit the fat . . . umm . . . curves of my body compared to the cardboard box containing hir personal things that I chose to use as a bed after zie filled it.

It is frustrating to be removed from my comfortable throne and returned to the cardboard box so Billie can type, hir fingers transferring to it the smell of everything zie touched in the course of hir job during the day – the smell that nauseates me when zie leaves and I reclaim my royal seat!

There!  I just left a fifty-four character run-on sentence for hir editing software, Editor, to complain of!  Hah!

And as you read Making Dull the Thorns, know that a Basement Cat lies in a cardboard box of old cassette tapes and other odds-and-ends, heartbroken, knowing he will soon die from malnutrition at any moment!  Hungry because Billie hasn’t yet taken hir royalties – I unselfishly allowed to happen by letting hir have the keyboard – and bought me the finest in cat food to turn my nose up to!

Oh!  Once zie fed me Friskies – putting half the can on a plate for me to ignore!  But now zie has moved on to Fancy Feast, from which I get one third of the can!  How humiliating to go from turning my nose up at one-eighth of a cup of food to one tablespoon of fine cuisine zie spent fifty percent more of my . . . hir pay on?

I have gone from a mere pittance to a pit!

As you read Making Dull the Thorns, know that I look toward death from lack of food, well aware that Billie has been too busy writing it for your pleasure to dutifully build the massive pyramid I should have for my burial and will probably end up ashes in a box – if they have enough of me left to burn!

Hah!  Sixty character run-on sentence!  Crash, Editor, Crash!

I should add some “but then” and “and then” to this, but I tire from hunger.

Enjoy – Avery the Cat.

(Please note: “zie” and “hir” refer to Billie)
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Random Ramblings – Retail Version

As an IT technician in retail, point of sale (POS) equipment is an important part of my daily routine – making certain cash drawers open (kick) and receipt printers print.  Not a difficult task as it sounds – if a drawer ain’t kicking or a printer ain’t printering, I’ll hear about it the minute I step through the doors.

Likewise is ensuring the device used to take credit cards for payment behaves.  This device goes by several names, but refer to those similar to the one pictured above – sigcap, pin-pad, credit reader, piece of ****, useless f***, etc.  Sitting on the counter, looking nothing more than a flat cat waiting to be stroked – or inserted or swiped – they seem passive and gentle.  Anyone who owns a cat knows better.

But that’s not the topic for this ramble.

Although the need for signing one’s John Hancock to a credit purchase has waned, some must still sign for a purchase, dependent on card provider, card type, retailer, the amount of purchase, weather conditions, or whims of the gods.  Often, I will hear Associates’ comments on the attention customers give (or don’t give) to signing for their purchases.

There are customers who will lean to the sigcap, attentively, signing their name with a wonderful, artistic flourish that makes it a shame to see it blink away with the key stroke of the cashier.  There are customers whose signatures resemble the output of an EKG of a dead person, then those who sign as if sketching a ride on Coney Island rather than a coherent string of legible letters.

Anyhow . . .

My observation of customers signing has led me to a conclusion – not one-hundred percent accurate, but close, me thinks.   Most who diligently sign are around my age (old).  Signing as if they spent a good portion of Elementary-School years learning proper cursive, practicing on three-lined sheets before moving to ruled sheets.  Persons whose work was presented to teachers who then examined each loop, whirl and line with the attention an engineer gives to the design of a fusion reactor.  Writing a signature in proper cursive was an art, the necessary tool for presenting your name to The World!

The rest are younger, signing their name away uncaring – never having known the toil mentioned above.  These are people who consider the required signature as opportunity – like being in a freshly painted bathroom stall with a brand-new Sharpie.  “Here I sit, brokenhearted, came to . . . ”

Never mind.

Now, please don’t construe I am suggesting cursive needs to return to the classroom.  That’s another blog, and this is just an observation.

– Billie

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Welcome to my new home!

In the past two years since publishing Transition on Kindle Direct Publishing, I have spread myself over several venues, including my KDP author page, Goodreads, my blog at WordPress.com, and – most recently – Wattpad.  I also attempted a page on Facebook I soon decided against because I am not a big fan of social media.

With the publication of Fem’an – the first book in the trilogy of Parched Earth, Green Corn – I explored my options to better market myself and my works.  WordPress.com was good in that I could pay attention to writing blogs and not worry about the background work of maintaining a blog site.  But, unless I was willing to pay for the yearly fees for commercial or enterprise subscriptions, I was limited in what I could do with the blogs.

So here I am at billiewinterholer.com.  I’m still unpacking boxes and finding the best places to put things, but hope you’ll find it a nice place to visit.

– Billie

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