Beware of Facebook Ads

I need a tattoo that says, “Do not buy anything from a Facebook ad, you gullible doofus.”

Some of the more important lessons in life are the very ones I seem to be destined to learn over and over and over and over again. This one should be tattooed on my forehead, backward, so I see it every time I look in the mirror: DO NOT BUY ANYTHING FROM A FACEBOOK ADVERTISEMENT, YOU GULLIBLE DOOFUS.

I’ve been burned so many times at this point that it should be permanently etched on my brain, but apparently not. You’d also think Facebook would be embarrassed at the level of false advertising that goes on on its platform, but we all know that Facebook’s monitoring department, if it even exists, seems to be sound asleep during office hours. They don’t know, they don’t care. It’s the digital equivalent of the wild wild West up in there.

First of all, when you go to the websites for these companies, there is no indication of the location of their offices. That’s a red flag. More often than not, you’re dealing with products from China or some other distant nation. That would be fine if these companies had the same business ethic that we do, but they most definitely do not.

You will also notice that these companies have nothing but 5 star reviews. Read them closely and you’ll get the distinct impression that they were all written by the same person using different names, and that person’s first language isn’t English.

These companies are not really concerned with repeat business or customer satisfaction. They’re all about getting money from as many people as possible as quickly as possible, and then disappearing once everyone gets wise to their tactics. They’ll often pretend they’re going out of business or have limited stock to get you to hurry up and part with your money. Once you discover what a piss-poor product they’ve sent you, you’ll find that refunds are less of a policy than they are a suggestion. In fact, you get the impression that their employees are penalized every time they give a refund.

Here are a few of my experiences:

Facepalm Number One: I ordered a pair of shoes that would have gone perfectly with my wedding ensemble. The website comments revealed that their sizes run a bit small, so I ordered two sizes up and hoped for the best. The shoes arrived 6 weeks later than they said they would, and this was pre-pandemic. In fact, they arrived at the 11th hour. They were so narrow and small that a 10-year-old child probably would have found them uncomfortable. I can’t imagine how minuscule the shoes in my actual size would have been.

Given the size discrepancy, I’m sure that company got a lot of complaints, and yet they still did not adjust their size chart. That shows you how much they care. The price was really good, until you factor in the minor detail that you are paying for something you could never wear. I had to run down the street the day before the wedding and buy the first pair of basic black shoes that I could find in my size. I was too busy being blissfully wedded to even worry about a refund for the tiny shoes. I’m sure some very tiny person at the Goodwill enjoyed them.

Lesson learned? Of course not.

Facepalm Number Two: I saw some really, really cool shirts by a company called Comfyrs.com. Everything in their catalog was right up my alley. It was hard to choose. I even bought one for my much skinnier sister. When the products arrived, I kid you not, 8 months later, the shirts that were supposed to be my size were so tight that I had trouble getting back out of them. And the one that I wanted the most, shown here, was a medium, even though I had ordered an XL (and in retrospect should have ordered a 3XL so it would actually be an XL sized shirt.) The shirts were also polyester, not cotton.

I contacted the company about just the one shirt. I figured the other issues were my own stupid fault. I asked them to send me the one in the right size. They said send a picture proving I had gotten the wrong size. I did. (I was willing to cooperate at first because it would have been a cute shirt, had it worked out.)

They responded, “Dear customer, Thanks for your order. As the return shipping charge is high and need a very long time till we received. We sincerely suggest if you will consider again to keep the item. As I see, the style you bought is really popular and cost-effective, maybe you can give it to a suitable friend/family as gift or transfer it to colleagues/neighbors. Which would be perfect. Meanwhile, we would like to make up 5USD gift card for you in this case for our sorry. So you can buy some other items you like and suitable. How do you think that?”

Uh, no. I said send me a prepaid FedEx ticket and I’ll send you the shirt. Meanwhile, please send me the right size or refund me for the shirt. They offered me 10 percent of its cost. They also said that even though it had been shipped to me from San Franscisco, I’d have to pay to return it… at my expense… to Hong Kong.

I kept asking them why I should be penalized for their screw up. We went round and round and round with this for about 6 weeks. Then, since I had purchased it through PayPal, I finally resorted to doing a dispute with them, and got my money back.

Now, you can find reviews and warnings about Comfyrs all over the web. This site had 86 percent of all the reviewers giving it one star. Of course, the company did not respond to any of these negative reviews. And when you attempt to go to their website, it has disappeared. It seems that their Hong Kong address was a vacant building that hadn’t been occupied in about a decade.

You’d think that this nightmare would have put me off Facebook ads for life. But no…

Facepalm Number Three: I have always, always wanted a quilt but could never afford one. When I saw this picture in the Facebook ad by a company called Antcozy, I was hooked. It looked absolutely gorgeous. The website said this was a handmade item made to order with “so much love”, just for you.

Should I have asked myself why it was called a “quilt blanket” rather than a quilt? Probably. Should I have zoomed way, way, way in on the picture to discover that the “quilt” wasn’t made of individual patches of material, but instead was one big print with fuzzy edges and random stitching? Definitely. Should I have wondered why the description made no mention of quilt batting? Abso-freakin’-lutely.

All I was thinking about was that it was pretty, affordable, and I’d finally have the quilt of my dreams. Made just for me. A day or two after I placed the order, I was informed that the quilt was “in production”. Images of Appalachian women sewing away on someone’s front porch. Hooray for good communication!

When it arrived, I was horrified. It definitely did not look as thick as the photo indicated. In fact, it was so thin that I’d probably shiver beneath it in the height of an Arizona summer. Packing blankets are of higher quality. This was mass produced dreck. It was still colorful, but it was no quilt. The price I paid would have been a steal for a quilt, but it cost about 5 times more than what this blanket was worth. It has now got pride of place on the guestroom bed. I look at it as my penance for being an idiot.

Lesson learned? Kind of. Briefly.

Facepalm Number Four: Then I saw this picture in a Facebook ad by a company called Derandy.

Isn’t it cute? It looks like it’s made of patches of velvet or chenille, and that it has depth and texture. And this company made a point that the products came from an American location. Yay. Surely that’s a good sign.

When placing the order, I discovered that if I bought just one more item, I’d get free shipping. What the heck. A lot of their shirts looked pretty, so I chose this one. (I think I was dazzled by the sparkles.)

Countless weeks later, when the package arrived, I could tell I was going to be disappointed before I even opened it up. It was thin and light. These were not shirts of substance. This is what I got.

Polyester prints once again. The collar isn’t even the same in the first one, and the glitter was just a super pixelated part of the print which would fool no one. These were shirts that even women with 80 years of bad taste under their belts would never be caught dead in. I’d be laughed right out of a nursing home if I wore one of these shirts on a visit. Little old ladies would be pelting me with the tennis balls from the feet of their walkers.

I don’t know which was more disappointing, the shirts themselves or the fact that I had fallen for this scam yet again. I went to the website and discovered that if you scroll waaaay down, you get the pictures of the actual product. And they warn that they cannot be responsible for “faded prints.” At least they can say they warned you. If, unlike me, you had bothered to scroll down, that is.

Again with the round and round about a refund. It was an 87 dollar purchase, and they offered me 30 bucks. When I refused that, they offered me 45. I threatened to do a PayPal dispute, and they offered me 55. Finally, they said that if I wanted a full refund, I’d have to return the product. I said fine, as long as it’s going to an American address.

This time, my stupidity only cost me the 16 bucks it took to mail their crap back. I also learned another handy tidbit while doing research for this post. If all the pictures in a catalog have the models heads cut off, those pictures have most likely been stolen from another site. It has something to do with copyright. So, somewhere out there, the actual quality products exist via a different company, but at a price I can’t pay. And as they say, you get what you pay for. I had paid for cheap knock offs.

———-

So why don’t I ever learn? I think several factors are at play. First, I hate to shop. I’d much rather have things arrive at my door. The pandemic has gotten me used to that. Second, I can’t seem to let go of the belief that most people are honest, and most companies stand by their products and care about customer satisfaction because their motivation is repeat business. And third, I really want to believe that there are still quality, affordable products in this world. Somewhere.

I have to say that I felt slightly less silly recently when Dear Husband ordered a portable telescope. It was portable, all right. When it arrived, it was the size of one’s index finger, and, of course, couldn’t magnify anything for shit.

So there you have it. I live in hope that you can learn my lesson since I apparently cannot do so. I wonder what fresh Facebook hell will arrive at my door next. I shudder to think.

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Spotting Facebook Bots

Don’t inadvertently help these scammers take advantage of your friends.

I am the administrator of four different Facebook groups. There’s The View from a Drawbridge, which I created to promote the posts on this blog; Drawbridge Lovers, which posts pictures of drawbridges from around the world, and has attracted a lot of bridgetenders and enthusiasts; Public Art Lovers which posts a lot of amazing murals and statues and the like from everywhere you can think of; and a group for my little free library which mostly consists of members from the neighborhood.

I really do enjoy these groups. I’ve met a lot of fascinating people thanks to them. I’ve learned a great deal. It’s a pleasure seeing what people come up with to post from one day to the next.

There is one downside. Facebook bots. I hate Facebook bots.

These fake Facebook profiles come from automated software. It will steal pictures and information from outside sources to make it look like a legitimate human being to the untrained eye. In fact, the nefarious person behind this profile is most likely running hundreds of these profiles at once, so they don’t really have time to actually show much human activity on the Facebook page in question.

The way these bots acquire more legitimacy is through those trusting souls on Facebook who are motivated by numbers. Some people running groups want these groups to look as popular as possible, so they’ll accept anyone (or any bot) into the group who asks. And a lot of people also accept any friend request that they receive. When I see people with 2000 friends, I always ponder the absurdity of that, and also think they are taking undue risks with their privacy. And if you friend a bot, and that bot sends a friend request to one of your real friends, that friend may say, “Hey, this is a friend of Barb’s, so they must be okay.”

The more friends and groups these bots acquire, the more “real” they look to people. And that’s evil, because the motivation behind these bots is malicious at the best of times. The more legit these bots seem, the more likely you’ll accept them as a friend, and the more likely they will steal your identity. If they hack into your Facebook page, they can start sending messages to your friends, pretending to be you. One favorite type of message is, “Hey, my car broke down! Can you loan me some money for the repair?” If they’re pulling this caper with 100 bots at the same time, they’re bound to come across a few gullible people.

Bots can also hack into your account and start advertising the sale of sunglasses or whatever. Or, another popular one is posting on your page: “Hey, I just got a free gift card from Starbucks! Click here and you can, too!” Then your friends fill out the information and their identity is stolen. They can also post links that will send you to sites that will give your computer malware.

So, how do you spot a bot? It’s really not that hard if you’re paying attention. If someone sends you a friend request or asks to join your group, look at their profile page. Some things that many bots have in common are:

  • If they post a picture on their profile, it’s almost always someone who is very attractive.
  • They also often seem to have an exotic name.
  • They rarely list a job, but they almost always post what school they claim to have attended.
  • The only posts they have on their page are either updates of their profile pictures and nothing else, or a whole lot of posts on one theme (for example, artwork if they’re targeting art groups and artists) with zero comments from friends or family.
  • The rare, sophisticated bot has comments, but they often have nothing to do with the post, or they make no sense at all.

Do not get used. Don’t prop up the credibility of these bots by friending them or allowing them to be a member of your group. If you spot one on your list that snuck past you on a more trusting day, remove them. Trust me, you won’t be hurting their feelings. They have no feelings to hurt.

Also, if you are operating a group, definitely take advantage of the ability to ask people questions before granting membership. Make them questions that require more than a yes/no response. Ask them what one plus seven plus three equals. A bot can’t answer that. (Yet.) Have a strict no response/no admittance policy.

In these increasingly desperate times, scammers abound. Don’t help them take advantage of people. Be safe and savvy. The picture below is of a typical bot. Attractive, with friendly looking posts, but no real signs of life. Join me in kicking this bot to the curb!

I’m not a bot. I wrote a book. Check it out! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

There’s More to You Than Sexy

Nurture the beauty within.

In another place and time, I had a friend whom I saw almost daily for two years. I liked her a lot, but we never got super close. I’m 30 years older than she is. And we only had the one daily thing in common.

I’m sure she’d have given me a ride to the bus stop if it was raining, but I doubt she’d invite me out to lunch. That kind of friend. You know the kind. We all have them.

We’ve kept in touch over Facebook, but I don’t think it would occur to either one of us to pay a visit if traveling through the other’s town. Which is fine. Best wishes all around, no doubt about it.

But sometimes I wish we had gotten closer so I could give her some advice. Did I mention she’s a gorgeous girl? Absolutely stunning. And her Facebook page is full of sexy pictures of her in leggy evening gowns and bathing suits and negligees.

It kind of makes me sad. Part of me thinks, if you’ve got it, flaunt it. She certainly has it. But I know her to be so much more than that. She is intelligent, funny, hard-working, dedicated to family, and extremely kind and capable. I have no doubt that she’ll be a success at whatever she chooses to take on.

But if you don’t know her and you look at the pictures she presents to the world, all that you see is sexy. And she has well over 2000 Facebook friends. I doubt most of them are there because they think she’s a brilliant conversationalist.

I hate the idea that she thinks that sexy is her most valuable commodity, because trust me, beauty fades. She most likely won’t have that slammin’ body for that much longer. If you consider your looks to be your trump card, your success will be fleeting. It’s important to nurture the beauty within.

I fear that with her primary focus being all about her surface, she’ll let her substance atrophy. The older she gets, and the more she has to rely on her character, her charm, her wits, and her life experience, I worry that she’ll be out of practice.

I look at her sexy pictures and what I see, first and foremost, is an extremely rough mid-life crisis in her future. And that’s so unnecessary. It’s hard to watch.

Portable gratitude. Inspiring pictures. Claim your copy of my first collection of favorite posts! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

The Annihilation of Space

We can now talk to just about anyone on the planet any time that we want to.

I just finished a Pokemon Go battle with some friends I’ve made therein. They are from Guatemala, the Netherlands, Poland, and South Africa. Of course I don’t know them by name, and I don’t know what they look like, and I never will. That’s fine. But it makes me smile to think that for a few minutes there, five of us, from different parts of the planet, were focused on one task. I wish my mother were alive to see that. It’s truly miraculous.

In this internet age, not a day goes by when I’m not in communication with someone from another country. I administer several Facebook groups. I know people from all over in the virtual world of Second Life. I have friends that I talk to on Skype. I have relatives in many parts of the globe. The miles no longer matter.

On my drive home the other night, I heard an interview with Steve Inskeep. He was talking about his latest book, Imperfect Union. It sounds like a fascinating read. But one of the things he discussed was that moment when Samuel Morse sent the first telegraph message from Washington DC to Baltimore. “WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT” indeed.

There’s no way to overstate what a big deal that was. It was also an election year, 1844, and soon news of the debates were being sent over those miles, in real time. That was unheard of. Inskeep says people were calling it the “annihilation of space” at the time.

We’ve been annihilating space ever since. We can now talk to just about anyone on the planet any time that we want to. News spreads around the globe in record time. (Unfortunately, drone strikes can also be done remotely. Every rose has its thorn.)

What I love most about this destruction of space is that evildoers have a lot less space in which to get away with things. We all have cell phones. You might have been able to anonymously kneel on someone’s neck in years past, but not anymore. There’s nowhere for scumbags to hide. We will see your face.

Perhaps someday we’ll be able to annihilate injustice, too. I’d like to think that’s coming. I wish it would hurry up.

The ultimate form of recycling: Buy my book, read it, and then donate it to your local public library or your neighborhood little free library! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

“The most racist week of my life.”

A white man wears a Black Lives Matter hat for a week.

Recently, a man named Alan MacAulay (pictured below) posted the following story on Facebook. It’s about what he experienced, as a white truck driver in rural south Georgia, when he chose to wear a Black Lives Matter hat for one week. I’ll let him tell the story in his own words.

THE MOST RACIST WEEK OF MY LIFE

I work for a beer company I’ve been delivering for 7+ years

I run a route that consist of Pooler, Rincon, Springfield, Guyton, and Port Wenworth. All of these places are in southern rural Georgia. This week I decided to take a stand with my fellow American brothers and sisters against racism.

I have never felt as much hate, fear, anxiety, and disbelief since I started here.

My Black and Indian customers loved it. Many of my white customers showed me nothing but hatred and disgust.

I have been followed all week, I was kicked out of a store for the first time ever, and had customers openly refer to Mein Kampf and death to the Blacks.

My Friday’s are usually my best day but not today.

At my third stop today I had first ever run I with a Klan member. He stood very close to me and my black assistant with hatred in his eyes. I didn’t realize what he was until he walked away wearing a jacket with a huge Blood Drop Cross.

I continued my day 2 stops later a firefighter came and stood at the back of my truck. He followed me to the door with my pallet of beer just standing and talking on his radio.He did this for the next 3 stops. I was concerned and scared but I just keep working. At my last stop today I was rolling beer into the cooler and a man in full army fatigues, a bucket hat, and sunglasses ran in a stood about 2 feet away with his hand in pocket. Not one white person said anything about my hat all week, but I could feel their hatred. It was sickening and scary how much they hated me for it. I will never know the struggle of being a black man and I could just simply take the hat off. I felt things this week I haven’t ever felt in my life all because of my hat. These people hate and want to kill anyone who stands against them. This is very serious and I cannot believe what it would be like if I was black. Please my fellow white people Please help from the bottom of my heart.

No American should feel these things and die because of them. I love you guys please help make America and the world a better place.

I admire this man for what he did. I admire him for what he posted. His heart was in the right place. It’s a step in the right direction. But at the same time, as I read it, I couldn’t help but think, “You know you can take that cap off at any time.”

And that’s the crux of the matter, isn’t it? We white people have the ability to dip our toes into the pond of racism, but we are not forced to swim there every minute of our lives. People of color can’t simply take off their skin when they get tired of being mistreated. They don’t get to take a break. They are in it. Always.

I think it’s great that more of us white folks are trying to understand. But I think part of that comprehension means that we have to acknowledge that we can never completely get it. Because we can always take our hats off at any time. That’s what’s known as privilege.

Alan MacAulay

Enjoy my random musings? Then you’ll love my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

 

Any Excuse to Be Angry

What is the point of all your impotent rage?

There have been a lot of Facebook fights of late. People are scared, and they’re only brave enough to lash out if they can do it from a distance with very few consequences. I try really hard not to feed the trolls, but, as with everyone else, my patience is paper thin.

As I write this, I’m watching a live video feed with my governor and multiple nurses, in celebration of National Nurses Day. Even as these heroes talk about what it’s like to work on COVID-19 wards, trolls are commenting that it’s all lies, and that no one is really sick, and that this is just some twisted conspiracy to keep people from working. Attacking nurses on National Nurses Day seems like a new low to me.

I was also attacked online the other day for saying that as a bridgetender, I blow my horn at 8 pm to thank the frontline workers. This guy immediately jumped on there, infuriated by the number of times we bridgetenders have made him late to work. He said a bridge opening for a sailboat would often cause him a 20 minute delay.

First of all, the average bridge opening only lasts 4 ½ minutes from the time the traffic light turns red to the time the traffic gates rise back up, and I’ve never, EVER seen it take an additional 15 ½ minutes to clear traffic afterward. I’ve never seen that in 19 years as an operator. It may feel like you’re sitting there for 20 minutes, but trust me, you’re not.

I often wonder why people who get so irritated at drawbridges don’t simply take a different route. But I think it feels safe to be outraged at an inanimate object. Those iron girders can take it.

I think a lot of people are angry about any number of things, and don’t have the skills to deal with their anger, and therefore express anger at ridiculous things instead. That guy that jumped on my case told me that Seattle drawbridges are a pet peeve of his, and that any time a bridge opens, it infuriates him.

Um…  Get over it? It’s a situation that isn’t going to change. Why would you allow fury into your life several times a week? Either take a different route, or reframe it as an opportunity to step out of your car and get some fresh air, or maybe try and figure out why you have so much anger inside of you, and get some help to learn how to deal with it effectively.

Becoming infuriated by something you know you’ll be exposed to multiple times in the course of your life seems rather self-destructive, and frankly, insane, to me. Getting upset at a drawbridge is about as silly as getting upset every time it rains. Rain happens. Bridge openings happen. What on earth is the point of all your impotent rage?

I suppose, in light of all the anger that’s floating around out there, the rest of us just need to breathe deeply and not let their anger enter into us. Don’t feed the trolls. Don’t become one yourself.

But man, that’s easier said than done these days.

trollfeed

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Being Distantly Social

We truly are all in this together.

I don’t think I realized how isolated I was feeling until I saw videos of the Italians singing from their balconies. It brought tears to my eyes. But I don’t have a balcony, and my nearest neighbor isn’t even within shouting distance.

Social distancing sucks. While the concept is important, and absolutely must be adhered to, the term sounds like a punishment. At a time when we all need each other more than ever, it sounds like we’re in jail. Solitary confinement.

But this is 2020, y’all, and we don’t have to take it lying down. We have technology! Instead of being socially distant, we can be distantly social. Because we truly are all in this together.

For example, last Sunday I attended virtual Unitarian Universalist Church via an app called Zoom. The sermon was in one living room. The music came from another. A story was read from a third. We all watched and participated on our computers. We were able to express our cares and concerns on camera or via text. One gentleman even attended from his hospital bed.

It was all unexpectedly comforting. We were all alone, and yet together, doing the same thing at the same time. Fellowship. For a brief shining moment, I found it impossible to feel sorry for myself. And it was also fun. I wasn’t bored. Those moments are few and far between these days.

I’ve heard of all sorts of creative ways that people are getting together virtually. A local librarian is doing virtual storytime for the kiddies live on Facebook. A friend of mine had a virtual talent show where people performed from their various living rooms. Neighborhoods are hosting teddy bear hunts. They’re putting teddy bears in their windows for kids to be able to walk around and see from the sidewalk. Virtual book clubs are cropping up, and people are watching movies together while sitting on Skype so they can still make snarky comments about the movie together. And if you’re not so technically inclined, of course, there’s still the good old fashioned telephone.

And now more than ever, it’s important to check in (distantly) with your elderly or disabled friends, neighbors, and loved ones. They feel isolated at the best of times. This must be a special form of torture for them.

Yes, I know that virtual socializing isn’t exactly like the real thing, but it’s what we’ve got right now. If you’d like to (virtually) interact with people face to face, I highly recommend Second Life. I’ve written more about it here, but in essence, you get an avatar, and move through the world with other people.

It’s not a game or a competition, and you don’t have to spend any money in there. You can go to church, go dancing, listen to live music, explore, or just sit in a virtual coffee shop and talk to people. It’s the closest thing to real life that you may be able to find these days.

I’ve made amazing friends in Second Life for more than a decade, and I’ve done a lot of exciting things there. So if you’re feeling cooped up, check it out! There’s no COVID in cyberspace!

Stay safe, everybody!

Second Life
Socialize in the virtual world of Second Life!

I wrote an actual book, and you can own it! How cool is that? http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

A Group Story to Keep from Going Nuts

And then it moved.

If you’re like me, you’re starting to understand why pets try to run out of the house every time the door opens. (I wish I could take credit for that. It’s a meme going around Facebook.) In other words, I’m going stir crazy. Even this introvert is starting to miss community interaction, so recently I posted the following on my blog’s Facebook group:

Write a story with me! Everyone contribute a few sentences at a time. Please keep it relatively PG, and expand and read all comments before contributing. If it works out, I’ll post it on my blog.

I contributed the first sentence and chimed in to keep the story on track here and there, but special thanks to Chuck Christison, Cris LeCompte, Jennifer Dropkin, and Florita Robinson for contributing. This was fun! I may have to do it again!

Without further ado, here’s the story we came up with:

Serenity’s Tenement

In spite of the quarantine, Serenity was able to entertain herself by eavesdropping on her neighbors from the balcony of her crowded tenement.

And then a sound came to her that she had never heard during her daily, and now hourly observation, of the sights and sounds of her very small corner of the place she called home.

This particular conversation seemed to be rather one-sided until a response came in a guttural voice that sounded like the dog replying.

Could it be Mrs. Polliver’s poodle from across the way? Surely not.

Or maybe it was Mr. Pratt, that old guy who always smelled of cheap booze and cigarettes. They say he used to be a Negro league baseball player of some import. He even knew Jackie Robinson when he was a kid.

He did have a guttural voice, there’s no denying it. But he was a man of few words, once you got past all the Jackie Robinson stories.

Serenity didn’t think it was him though. He is only happy when his small social security check comes in and he can stock up at the bodega. Otherwise he doesn’t say much as he is slumped on the front stoop. It’s god awful hot and humid and people in these parts don’t have any cool air.

People were getting restless from the heat and the fact that they couldn’t leave their homes. Arguments were breaking out throughout the building. But this particular conversation didn’t sound like an argument. It sounded much more sinister.

It was the funniest thing to watch Ms. Shuller and Ms. Lopez argue while leaning out their windows. Serenity was not sure what it was about, but all that “red in the face” , hand waving and yelling must have been about something. She was really afraid they were going to fall out of their 3rd floor windows and splatt on that concrete.

Serenity wished those old biddies would shut up, so she could hear the machinations going on below.

She loved that word “machinations”. She heard it on TV, Jeopardy, she thought. Always lot of big words on that show. There is that sound again. It didn’t sound natural.

It sounded like a cross between a bagpipe and Mr. Tolliver’s typical after dinner belch, but sound tended to echo in this alley in unpredictable ways.

But then Serenity heard Ms. Lopez say to Ms. Shuller, “You shouldn’t have taken that package off of his stoop after he went back in to get more cigarettes.”

Ms. Shuller replied, “Nonsense. He’ll never miss it! Let’s see what’s inside!” Intrigued, Serenity peeked over her balcony railing. Could the package be where the strange sound was coming from?

The package was wrapped in brown paper with a ton of tape. Covered with a colorful mass of different size stamps all in symbols I didn’t recognize. Sure wasn’t English.

Ms. Shuller noticed some holes punched into the side of the package.

As Ms Shuller peered closely at the holes, she realized she heard a scratching sound from within the package. What could it possibly be?

And then the stench hit her.

It smelled like a combination of curdled milk and rotting asparagus. “Ugh!” Ms. Shuller screamed, and she tossed the package as far away from her as she possibly could. It landed squarely on Serenity’s balcony.

And then it moved.

I’ll repeat that in case you didn’t hear it the first time. It. Moved.

Suddenly the quarantine felt like the least of Serenity’s worries.

So Serenity thinks to herself? “Self? How bad could it be?” Summoning her inner explorer, she took out her trusty well-worn pocketknife, a gift from her grandmother, and started in.

But then she had second thoughts.

Serenity shrieked and jumped to the corner of her balcony. Now what?! She did not dare open the package. There is a 2 meter social distance, remember?!

So she grabbed a broom, and holding the knife in front of her for protection, she flipped the package over her railing. It landed squarely on the lap of Mr. Pratt, who had been passed out on the front stoop. He said…

“What did you get from Borneo?” He slipped into a chatty high pitched language as he rattled off the price paid, where it came from, and a story of being marooned with pretty local girls during that Typhoon in ‘46. He was just getting furloughed from the merchant marines and he was flush with Yankee dollars.

“Beats me,” Serenity shouted down. “It’s your package. Ms. Shuller stole it off you when you went in for cigarettes.”

“Did not!” Ms. Shuller shouted.

As his cloudy eyes focused, a sense of knowing came over him. He straightened up with an air of long lost tenderness. “Oh , Suni my dear?” His gnarled hands traced the exterior of the box gingerly that were splashed with his tears. “How could you ?”

Suni had been a surprise when Mr Pratt returned to Borneo eighteen years after his visit in ’46. It was quite something to discover he’d been a father without knowing all those years.

He had loved her instantly like any father would have. Alas, he could not obtain the visa to stick around. As a parting gift, he had gone to the local market and gotten her a Spectacled Flowerpecker. She had loved that bird and named it Phinnius, after her father.

When Mr. Pratt finally managed to cut the tape on one corner, he could see a single black eye looking back at him, Staring right into his psyche.

“Oh, Suni,” he said. “How could you?” Because gazing up at him was the very bird he’d given his daughter so long ago. In the package were its favorite foods, milk and asparagus, both long since spoiled. The creature was ravenous.

Then Mr. Pratt took a closer look and realized that it wasn’t his namesake, Phinneas the Spectacled Flowerpecker, after all. It was a Magpie Robin, and it needed a veterinarian who would not tell the authorities that it had made it from Borneo to the States without detection. And it needed some insects to eat. Whatever that stinky mush was in the bottom of the box, it wasn’t asparagus or milk….

Mr. Pratt was relieved that it wasn’t Phinneas after all, as he couldn’t imagine what he could have done to Suni to make her reject that gift. Then he noticed that there was a card inside a plastic bag at the bottom of the box. He had to wipe the stinky mush away to get to it, but he’d done worse in his time. He carefully opened the card. It said…

“Dear Dad, I know that you blame yourself for being absent in my life but I wanted you to know I forgive you. You did the best with what you had”. I hope this gift makes it to you and ……”

…and the rest of the sentence was blurred out by the stinky mush that had gotten through the plastic! Mr. Pratt whipped out his cell phone and called Suni in Borneo. “Suni,” he said,…

But Serenity couldn’t understand the rest as it was in another language.

While the words in the note were trashed, his eyes were drawn to the picture. The childish drawing of a stick figure tall man and a smaller stick figure child with a heart and a sun

And as the cheap booze-addled brain began to clear, he recognized that picture as being similar to the ones that Suni used to draw with worn crayons and scrap paper to leave in his lunchbox before he went to work. Many days of toil were broken by her sweet pictures. The emotions came flooding back as tears filled his eyes and poured down his weather worn cheeks.

“I love you, Suni,” he said. “Stay safe during this quarantine. Wash your hands.” His tears flowed as he hung up the phone.

Seeing this, Serenity wanted to hug the old derelict, but in these times of quarantine and social distance, she knew she couldn’t do so. So instead, she lowered a bag of birdseed down on a string. “For your new friend,” She said.

She then stuck her tongue out at Ms. Shuller, the package thief. Ms. Shuller went inside and slammed the window shut. But everyone knew she wouldn’t sulk for long. It was too hot to sit inside.

Mr. Pratt took the seeds and poured them into his cupped hand as the Magpie Robin began to peck at the seeds. After several minutes of frantic feeding it stopped. The bird looked up at Mr. Pratt and made eye contact. At the very moment he felt as if he had been transported to Suni’s side. He felt that wave of contentment flood over him and he closed his eyes to take it all in as it washed over him.

Even in this time of social distancing, there are ways to reach out.

Serenity looked at all the people on the various balconies and realized that each one had a story. And somehow that brought her comfort. We are each unique, and yet we are all in this together. As the bird began to sing, she felt as though she might survive this quarantine with her sanity intact after all.

tenement-2-web

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Public Art Lovers

I love the concept of group whimsy and delight!

I genuinely believe that public art makes a city more livable. I’ve written about this before. I think murals and sculptures add a certain whimsy to a community, and that’s a joy to behold.

While going through my many photo albums, I suddenly realized that a recurring theme therein is public art. If I see a beautiful or funny bit of creativity, I’m compelled to stop and take a picture of it. These things make me smile. I suspect this is the case for others as well.

So, glutton for punishment that I am, I decided to start yet another Facebook group. Hopefully you are aware of and/or have joined my other two groups already.

The View from a Drawbridge is a group for readers of this blog, and every day I add a link to that day’s post. Many people are more comfortable leaving comments there than they are at the foot of the actual post, so you often get a more in-depth discussion of the topic du jour.

Drawbridge Lovers, on the other hand, is a group about all things drawbridge. People post some amazing photos of movable spans throughout the world in that forum. They also include links to drawbridge related news, which can be quite fascinating.

So this new group is called Public Art Lovers, and I’m hoping that it will get just as much participation as the other two groups. I’m really looking forward to seeing murals, sculptures and the like from all over the world. I wish I could be everywhere at once and see all these things with my own eyes, but of course, that would be impossible. So much art, so little time…

So, here’s hoping you’ll join my newest Facebook group and share your public art encounters with the world. I love the concept of group whimsy and delight! I think we all could use a little more of that in our lives. Join us!

Mural Seattle

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The Nuts and Bolts of This Daily Blog

I love the comments most of all, because it makes me feel like we have a community, here.

I spend about 4 hours a day working on this blog. I’m fortunate in that I have the kind of job that allows me to do much of this while on the clock. If I had to dedicate this much of my free time to keep this engine chugging along, trust me, you’d be staring at a blank page.

The truth is, though, I don’t blog every day. Actually, I write two posts a day, four days a week. At least, that’s my goal. The nice thing about WordPress is it allows me to postpone my publishing date, so I can have them come out one a day, one minute past midnight, Pacific time.

If I don’t have at least 10 posts in queue at the end of my four day writing week, I’m very uncomfortable. My world doesn’t feel quite right. I genuinely believe that this weekly routine has improved my writing greatly over the years.

Sometimes I plan even farther ahead. For example, if I have a vacation coming up, I try to get enough posts in queue that I don’t have to mess with it during that time. (I love you guys, but sometimes I need a break.)

But who am I kidding? Even on holiday, the first thing I do when I wake up is check my statistics to see how many people have been reading my musings, and try to get a sense of what brought them here. I also post a link to the day’s publication on my Facebook group, The View from a Drawbridge. Then I run back over to my statistics and watch them spike, because a lot of my readers find me through Facebook. I’m averaging 106 views a day, now. What a rush.

I also try to respond to all comments the moment I see them. I figure if someone has taken the time to read what I write and respond to it, the very least I can do is reply. And I love the comments most of all, because it makes me feel like we have a community, here. And often that feedback from what I call Drawbridge Nation inspires other writing topics, which is wonderful.

Every day, I also reread and edit every single post that’s in queue. That means that if you see a typo, I’ve likely overlooked it as many as 10 times. Shame on me. (I really do appreciate it when you guys point errors out to me, though, so I hope you’ll keep it up.) Often the final draft is so different from the original as to be unrecognizable.

But that also means that I don’t want to get too much more ahead than 10 days. More than that and I feel so removed from the topic in question as to have become bored with it. I’m so over my writing after the 10th edit.

Another thing I try to do is link back to other posts that have something to do with the one you’re reading. After 6 years, I have quite the backlog to draw upon. New readers seem to appreciate this the most.

And after more than 2,200 posts, I’ve found it useful to keep a spreadsheet with the titles, the date published, and a short sentence as to what each post was about. In alphabetical order. With a link to the post. Because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to find anything, and since the ultimate goal is writing anthologies, this is a tool well worth maintaining.

I also link to other sources of information whenever possible. I’m humble enough to realize that there are others out there with more expertise and insight than I have. It is my hope that my posts are starting points for people, not dead ends.

And I enjoy finding really interesting pictures to include in each post. I’ve discovered that a lot of search engines have a way to filter their photographs so you can choose one that is “free to use or share.” If ever I were to be approached by someone who said that I didn’t have permission to use a photograph, I’d take it down immediately. I really do take copyright seriously. But I love the fact that it’s often the photo that draws the reader in.

One thing I do every waking moment is think in terms of blog fodder. Things I see or do. Conversations I have. The news of the day. Suggestions from you, dear reader. All can inspire a post. I have a long list of ideas for future posts. Some have been on the list for so long that I can barely remember what I was talking about. I’ve come to view everything through the filter of my blog. It’s second nature to me now. Like breathing out and breathing in. (I also tend to think in terms of song lyrics.)

This blog came to life because it occurred to me that I spend a great deal of time all alone in my little bridge tower, staring at the same view day in and day out, and because of that I notice minute details that most people overlook. I figured this blog would last 6 months, if that. But now I can’t imagine life without it, and without all of you. It’s such a big part of my routine, and such a source of joy for me.

What a gift. What a gift. And your reading of my writing is what makes it come alive. You are the nuts and bolts of this blog. So thank you, dear reader. Thank you for taking this journey with me.

(And a big thank you to Ray for suggesting this topic!)

You

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