Circle The Wagons

I need a Reese’s Cup. Maybe lots of them. Frozen ones. Oh, my goodness. And a long, long walk to cool down.


As I write this the week of March 24, I’ve gotten notice (personal notices, mind you, from real people in my life, not just read-it-online notice) of another gigantic uptick in spammers, scammers, and generally sadistic people who prey on the elderly or anyone who dares to answer the phone from an unknown number.


It all ticks me off on even the best day. Many were the times I had to talk my elderly grandmother out of doing something stupid over the phone with her bank account.

Many were the times I’ve had to sort through loved ones’ emails and snail mail to help navigate what looks like a good idea from what was a definite snake-in-the-grass evil plot to drain bank accounts.


And now, now? Now I’m ticked. Because I was working on my novel. And I got so fed up I had to stop and rant. Little Miss Muse and all three cats scattered from the office when I tossed the phone across the desk in exasperation. News of another poor soul fallen victim to thieves.


(Side note: Don’t you miss the days when you could slam down the phone? Now to end a call, we press a polite little button. We don’t even have anything to “hang up.” I truly believe some situations call for a handheld receiver to be slammed down. Hard. No more, though, so a-tossing-we-will-go. Then the retrieval of the phone to ensure the screen isn’t cracked.)


Then I got mad all over again. Because I already had this scammer rant back at the beginning of the lockdowns. And here we go again. (The scammers never go away… they just multiply, change their game, employ new technology, and attack afresh).


I can hear Little Miss trying to console the cats after my rage explosion. The cats are having none of it and may very well be self-soothing by climbing onto the kitchen counter and having a taste of my turkey that I laid out for my lunch. Which now I have no appetite for, so I peeked into the kitchen and told them to go ahead. Have at it.


Take all the turkey, you little thieves.


These monsters (like a herd of cats to unsupervised turkey) know when the stimulus checks hit the bank. They know the time of the month you get your Social Security deposits. They know you or a loved one is waiting for a vaccine. They know people of a certain age group are likely to have grandchildren, and that these folks would do anything for those kiddos. They know the chances are high you shop online or at Walmart and might have a package on the way that needs “just a bit more information.”


These Blood Thirsty Ingrates just won’t quit.


So, the following is from a personal Facebook post back on March 20, 2020. I’m gonna leave it right here, it’s all still applicable. It’s all still happening.


Circle your wagons, blow your whistles, and watch out for your loved ones.


If you’re in the “target” demographic, especially elderly widowed ladies (sorry gals, that’s the cold, hard truth), gather your girlfriends and turn up the grump!


“Miss Bethany’s about to blow a gasket… Please allow me my *hopefully* one-and-only pandemic-induced Facebook rant:


While taking such great care to protect at-risk demographics from the virus spread, we’ve created fish-in-a-barrel scenarios. Seems that’s the rule of the day: Fix one problem, five more problems grow big ugly heads.


Blood-Thirsty Ingrates (BTIs) have stepped up their scams—especially toward seniors.


BTIs are bad news on a good week, let alone now with the virus fear fodder. Isolation and panic can cause even otherwise rational humans to grab onto any bit of attention or hope, and the BTIs know it.


The following came across my screen in some form or fashion in the last 24 hours. I didn’t go looking for examples—they’re everywhere:


-The Red Cross is NOT going door to door in Gramma Hettie’s neighborhood with Covid-19 test kits for the low, low price of $29.95 and verification of the last four of her SSN.


-Great Aunt Irene is NOT wanted for drug trafficking and overdue speeding tickets in three states. And Medicare will NOT cancel her insurance NOR clear up outstanding warrants for the low, low price of $99.99, the last four of her SSN, and her dearly departed mother’s maiden name.


-Your gregarious 85-year-old Grampa Walter does NOT have a long-lost, sweet-talking, great-great niece named Martha Lou who happens to be trapped in an overseas hot zone and needs $5,999.99—or whatever he can spare via Western Union—to get back to the States.


Look out for your loved ones—not just their health, but their whole wellbeing. Have a conversation with them about this. Be proactive. Be diligent.


It seems we’re walking around in a real-time movie script co-written by King, Koontz and The Gang. Watch for those plot twists. Not everyone is who they claim to be—from the voice on the phone, the knock at the door, or the family member who just showed up out of the blue…


And if you happen to be one of those BTIs, and you’re reading this… Hmmm. I’m gonna stop there because I’ve already had to tell Jesus that I’m sorry FOUR TIMES this morning for glorious glittering visions of electric chairs, woodchippers, and industrial meat slicers.”


My phone was ringing as I wrote this post. Today. March 24, 2021. I didn’t answer as it came up as an unknown number.


But they were kind enough to leave a voicemail.


Apparently, I’m wanted for a felony in California and possibly Alaska. But for the low, low price of my Social and a credit card number, they can clear that right up for me.


Gee. Thanks.


And now back to the novel if I can get the cats out of the turkey and Little Miss Muse out of the freezer. I’ve no idea what’s she’s doing in the freezer.

Likely looking for a Reese’s Cup.


P.S. Yes, yes. I did apologize to Jesus for dancing visions of all those BTIs taking long walks off short piers into shark-infested waters, slipping into great vats of lye, and generally tripping into highway traffic.


And I’ve made an appointment with him to apologize again tomorrow.

The Great 2021 Procrastination Purge

Fair warning: This blog post contains scene spoilers (but not those oh-great-now-it’s-ruined kind of spoilers) for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

Don’t you just love it when your ignorance is highlighted in neon? I mean, you could be the most reasonably intelligent person on the planet. I mean, you can dress yourself and hold a job and at least pretend to have a clue.


At least you think you are. Reasonably intelligent, that is.


Then out of the clear blue sky—or out of the invisible atmosphere that is cyberspace—someone or something points out just how dumb you are. Even if it’s a sliver of dumbness—there it is. On display.


Like for my birthday last year when my grown-ish Gen Z kids attempted to “gift” me with the keys to their language. A language that uses English, but not the English I taught them. I hear familiar words coming out of their mouths, but none of it makes sense. My brow furrows until I have just one eyebrow and my head hurts from thinking through the phraseology. Like trying to pick out a full sentence in Alpha-Bits cereal but missing all the vowels and having only Xs and broken Cs to work with. They talk in text-speech and code. They tried to let me in. To “school” me on this new and better language. But alas, I’m from a different era, I guess.


And then there’s anything culinary. Again, I’m using recipes in ENGLISH. My one and only language. But still…ignorance on display, boiling over, slopping messes, and setting ovens on fire.


But this past month? Oh my. Computer speak. Uggg…


Let me explain it with an analogy that you Marvel fans will enjoy. For those non-Marvel people (what even in the world??), I’ll try my best to explain.


In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, we have a prisoner-trying-to-get-free after a mutiny on board a spaceship. Baby Groot (a small, tree-like creature with super strong little limbs) wants to help our heroes, Yondu and Rocket, out of their jail jam.


But Yondu needs a piece of tech from bad guy’s lair to make his weapon—and the escape plan—work. Rocket (a cyber-punked talking raccoon) plays translator between Yondu and Baby Groot. Yondu explains exactly where the piece of technology is. What it looks like. The color…


Yondu, satisfied with this explanation smiles. Rocket, knowing little Baby Groot’s ignorance so well, grimaces.


Baby Groot, happy to help and eager to leave behind all things awful, infiltrates the evil captain’s quarters while the enemy sleeps and snores all around—but he doesn’t bring back the right piece of tech to our jailed heroes. he brings back:


Underwear. With a smile on his face.


Another explanation from our heroes, and Baby Groot brings back:


An alien rat. Baby Groot gleaming with joy.


A third explanation, and a super excited Baby Groot brings back:


A prosthetic eyeball. The only one happy about this is Rocket (the raccoon has a prosthetic fetish—don’t judge me, I didn’t write the script).


The next try results in a desk. The next? A severed toe. (He really is trying. He’s giving it all he’s got. Wholeheartedly.)


Even on his final attempt, Groot just can’t get it right, and a third party has to step in and help the little guy out.


So… here’s why all this matters. I am Baby Groot in this real-life, kill-me-now-please scenario…


My Web Guy says “We need to update your security certificate on bapaul.com.”


I say, “Okay.” I smile dumbly. I’ve no clue, but I’m up for whatever. He’s speaking English. I know this. I just don’t know this.


And since neither Web Guy nor I possess a cyber-punked talking raccoon with a prosthesis fetish to translate, Web Guy sends me to my domain host with THE EXACT instructions to tell someone over there what I need.


It’s in another language. I can’t make heads or tails of it. Total and complete ignorance. I just know Web Guy is grimacing as he gives me these instructions. He knows me well. I’m bound to screw it up.


So I copy and paste exactly what Web Guy says into a chat with the folks over at GoDaddy. They give me an answer, which I copy and paste back to Web Guy, and I’m so excited. It was so easy.


Until…


Web Guy says I brought him back what amounts to… underwear.


Let’s try again. Perhaps the next chat will open with a different technician that will be able to help me in just the right way. The next tech barely types in broken English.


I bring back a prosthetic eyeball to Web Guy. He’s not impressed and sends me back with more copy-and-paste work.


Then I get an artificially-intelligent-but-smarter-than-me chatbot who gives me… a giant metal desk. Surely this is what Web Guy needs?


No. In fact, Web Guy is as equally unimpressed with the giant metal desk as he was with the underwear and spare optical orb. This goes on and on, through alien rats and severed toes.


I’d rather sever my own toes than deal with tech stuff. Or cook. Or learn a new language that’s even still in English…


I gave up.


My “third-party” saving grace was to hand Web Guy a set of passwords and logins so he can maneuver without my ignorance getting in the way.


And way back, several paragraphs, some of you may have gasped and thought “Oh, my bapaul.com isn’t secure?”


Let me explain, in very basic terms because I assure you, basic terms are all I know.


When you type in bapaul.com the tiny little icon in your web browser shows that the site is not secure. What this means is that if I try to collect information from you (your name, address, email, etc.) that my site could potentially be hacked and your information stolen.


The good news? I’m not collecting anything from you unless you sign up for the newsletter. You’re visiting here, reading along and that’s it. You’re fine. I’m fine. No hackers. No severed toes. No strange pairs of rogue underwear.


But wait! There’s more! If you type in www.bapaul.com (you know, actually typing in the three Ws) the site shows secure and everything is fine and dandy.


Likewise, if you got here through the Facebook link, it should show secure, because I’ve been wasting precious seconds typing in all those extra Ws when I post about a new blog—at least the last several since I found out about this glitch.


I’ve not a clue why this is. Web Guy does. GoDaddy might. But they’re speaking plain English and I can’t translate what they’re saying… There aren’t enough letters left whole in my cereal to figure it out.


In the meantime, if you do want to sign up for the newsletter? That goes through a third party who is secure, and your information is protected. The emails collected for the newsletter signup are submitted through a service called BookFunnel. Their page and site are totally secure, so no worries.


And, if you haven’t yet, go ahead and get that Newsletter (link up in the menu bar) into your repertoire of things to check periodically. Because periodically, I’ll be updating that with publishing news and new releases.


You also get a cool free short story for your trouble.


And I promise I wrote it in plain English.

The Great 2021 Procrastination Purge

Ahh, spring. The first day of spring in this just-as-rocky-as-2020-ever-was year is Saturday. From the time this goes live, we’ve only four full more days of “official” winter.


But I bet the good folks in portions of Colorado will beg to differ. As the weekend approaches, they’ll likely still be digging out from around, under, and alongside of massive wintery piles. Winter can still happen here in Indiana, too. I’ve seen my share of Easter Bunnies hopping through two-foot drifts back in the day. (I’ve also walked to and from school in the snow—uphill.)


But, hey. The calendar says spring is happening. So we’ll go with that and hope for the best.


And, as I’m toiling away at revamping (uggg… I’m so sick of revamping, restarting, re-anything-ing that I’m about to put myself into timeout—where still nothing will get done but my brain might rest) the current work in progress, that notification of Spring Begins on my calendar prompted me to clean things that didn’t need cleaned: the inside bottom of the Mason Jar that holds my paperclips, the metal teeth of the tape dispenser. I even lint-rolled the cats’ fuzzy mice toys.


But with everything I cleaned and tidied, I felt my mind clearing a little bit as well. So I kept on using this as an excuse to justify my solid track record of procrastination.


I cleaned some more and decluttered and generally purged through all the rooms with reckless abandon. I took away an SUV packed full of junk (and I do mean not one square inch of room was left, I was driving half-sitting off the seat) to an auction house. Another back-end full to Goodwill. And the garage and the south side of the house is piled high, waiting for the right day when the transfer station is open for recycling and general dumping of broken and marred things.


The garage is the last stronghold, and for good reason. If I applied my purging skills to that space unsupervised, my poor hubs would be left with exactly one golf ball (stop losing them, and you’ll always have one, right?) and exactly one golf club (a stick is a stick, yes?). So to keep the marriage intact, I’ve left the garage for a day when he can be home and stop me from tossing his toys all away.


Massive, massive amounts of procrastination purging. But, hey. It had to be done, right?


Then came the office filing cabinet. I filed our taxes and cleaned out that uninteresting but much-needed “adult life” drawer. Got a black trash bag of papers to burn in our firepit as no Walmart-grade personal paper shredder could keep up with all that. I had taxes all the way back to 2003. IRS says three years, so audios to well over a decade of manilla-stuffed folders.*


But the drawers under the “adult life” drawer? Those are fun drawers stuffed writing classes and writing notes and story idea notebooks (started and abandoned), bits and pieces of manuscripts, Little Miss Muse’s greatest hits… and, and (you’ll be proud of me) a more recent filing system of contracts, payments, and rejection letters set up right in front of all that old stuff (okay, maybe not so proud. Should’ve purged those drawers a bit before slapping a brand new system in there).


My purple little imp, wings aflutter and glitter flying everywhere, became overjoyed about these drawers. If she can’t get me to write her new words down, we can walk down memory lane and bow to her ever-present genius. “Ooh. Look what we did way back in 2015. Wasn’t that fun?”


And “Eeeek! That was so cool. That notebook I started and didn’t finish. Well, I started it and you never finished it.”


And lots of, “See, I told you that idea would work. You should listen to me more.”


I admit I rather enjoyed walking down this path with her for a while. Little Miss really did drop some amazing ideas here and there. Little Miss Muse bombs—or rather Baby Little Miss Muse bombs, as the idea of her wasn’t fully formed, but there she was the whole time.


Like a parent walking back through baby albums and past report cards. Ahhh. Those were the days.


But the feeling was short lived…


And now she grins and glitters the walls and the floor over the simple memory of the purge we did together last week. I just swept this floor.


She prances with pride and gloats that she’s the only reason I ever have a bright idea.


Not the hours of work put in studying story form and structure and characterization.


Not hours upon hours of practicing scene beats and setting, and—


And now she’s drug out her lavender lute from her ever-growing pile of bribes and gifts. I knew when I gave it to her for Christmas that it would come back to haunt me, but 2020 was such a rough year, she needed a little cheer...


She’s strumming and humming and… and now bellowing at the top of her tiny lungs.


Reveling in her own accomplishments.


I and my efforts, clearly, are chopped liver next to Little Miss in all her glory.


“Hey.” I say to her. “Hey!” A little louder. She can’t hear me over her plucking and prancing. She’s donned one amethyst high heel and one violet Ugg boot and is clopping around like a two-legged horse.


All three cats flee the office, tails tucked and eyes bulging, in a single-minded herd.


“HEY!!!” Loud enough to rattle the windows, but it gets her attention.


She pauses mid-pluck and mid-stomp, the Ugg boot midair.


“If I promise to go back to writing, will you come with me— quietly, like a good little muse?”


She lowers her foot, the boot barely making a sound on the hardwood.


Little Miss lowers her lute, one chubby finger accidentally plucking the highest note on the neck of the instrument.


She grins. Glitter flutters from her wings. She tips her head sideways—which has become code for “What will you give me for my time and trouble?”


I tilt my head back in response. “One can of grape soda and three pieces of grape bubblegum.”


She tilts her head the other way and drops the lute with a hollow twang and puts her hands on her chunky hips. “Two sodas. Four gums. And I’m almost out of glitter.”

I almost snark back that if she’d stop spraying it EVERYWHERE and ALL THE TIME that she’d not be out of glitter.


But I bite my tongue. I’ve an entire chest full of all shades of purple glitter just for situations like these. The soda. The gum. The glitter. Always buy in bulk for your creative muses, folks. It saves gobs of dough over the months.


The deal struck, we abandon Memory Lane and take north-bound turn onto Get-R-Done Drive.


Next year, 2022, I’m scheduling in this time of great purge. A time of taking off a day or two of the day job and planning on a no-writing stretch. Just sheer elbow grease, a hefty supply of trash bags and donation boxes at the ready. A fresh stock of grape gum, glitter, and sodas.


Perhaps if I control my organizational system, it won’t take nearly as long or be nearly as complicated. And maybe it won’t trigger Little Miss into a fit of overjoyment that it takes a week to unbury us from the glitter…


Perhaps the blog title this time next year will be something like: The Simple 2022 Spring Tidy-Up. And perhaps I won’t be procrastinating anything.


One can hope.


*I am not a tax professional nor am I an accountant. So if you, based on the reading of this blog, decide to likewise purge, shred, or burn your own personal financial records, please seek advice from someone who knows more than Google or I do. Little Miss Muse and I absolve ourselves from any of your resulting legal matters…

Sliced

I do believe I am, at heart, a dog person. But the circumstances of life over the last few years have precluded our home from adopting a high-maintenance pup. So we opted for cats. Well, I opted for ONE cat. Somehow, cats attract more cats and now we have three in the house. And those three have sent out some hive-mind message to the neighborhood and now several cats—not our cats—patrol the perimeter of our property. And leave footprints on the garbage can lid. And sleep in the landscaping bushes. And serenade the two lady cats through the sliding glass doors. A song of their people…


But prior to our current round of furry companions, I was definitely a dog person. Dogs. Always happy to see you. Don’t know how to hold a grudge. Always ready to play with very little—if any—begging or coaxing required on the part of the owner. And human/canine playtime never required much forethought or preplanning. Tug? Grab a rope. Fetch? Just grab the ball and toss. Chase? Run.


With a cat? Well, one must think this through. Perhaps the cat is angry because their Fancy Feast Turkey Florentine was fifteen minutes late. Don’t play with an angry cat.


Perhaps the cat is bird-watching in the breakfast nook. They’ve no time for you.


Perhaps the cat is napping on the back of the couch (their couch—not your couch, just FYI). Don’t bother.


Perhaps the hands on the clock have swung within fifteen minutes of Fancy Feast time once again. Again, don’t bother.


Perhaps the cat is already in solo-play mode, and you, dear owner, believe you can simply stroll over and join in, only to be greeted with a flick of the tail and the rear-view of the feline derriere walking away in a huff. Oh, the intrusion!


But when the stars align and the cat, perhaps, has decided to schedule you, dear owner, in for a few moments of quality time, then you, dear owner, must now THINK IT THROUGH. The toy of choice should be of the cat’s choice, not yours. And you, dear owner, must sign the contract that states if the tinkle ball rolls down the hallway, and the cat chooses to give chase, the cat may or may not be seen again for four hours, or until Fancy Feast Time. This counts against your allotted playtime minutes and you, dear owner, must live with the fact that quality time with your kitty will leave you unfulfilled.


Perhaps you should’ve buckled down and bought that bulldog.


However, if engaged playtime continues and the cat bores of the tinkle ball chase, you must once again THINK IT THROUGH. Toys, for the enjoyment of the feline and the protection of the human, should be attached firmly to long strings or twenty-four-inch sticks. The sharper the claws, the longer the front leg reach, the longer the string or stick needs to be.


A couple months ago while playing with Stella Marie (my long-haired, mini-Maine Coon-like lady with razors for toes), she got a little bitty bit excited.


Like really excited.


Like, “Hey, I feel good today. I was abandoned, shot in the back with a pellet gun, had a litter of kids under a porch, was fostered, someone took my kids away, I was put up for adoption and now this lady who says she loves me wants to play fuzzy-catnip-mouse-on-a-string toy with me. Why not? I’ve put in my hard knocks. It’s time to let loose and live a little.”


We’d played quite a while—I was thrilled and honored to have been included in Stella’s very busy schedule. Her good vibes were still in high swing when I laid down the teaser toy on a string at the end of a very long stick. (See what I did there? A string AND a stick because, well, razors for toes.)


Then I made a grave error in judgment. I did not THINK IT THROUGH.


I patted the couch—her couch, not my couch—and instead of joining me on the cushion, she swiped up with one paw, claws out ready to grab the fuzzy catnip mouse, but instead got two of my fingers. I didn’t even feel it at first.


The first thing I noticed was the blood oozing from under both sides of two fingernails. Both sides.


Then the burn.


Then the blood decided oozing wasn’t sufficient and, quick as a flash, blood everywhere. I squawked and jumped from the couch—still her couch, not mine—and sped to the kitchen. Stella was unhappy with this commotion and canceled quality time with me for three days. See? She holds a grudge.


From oozing to burning to gushing. Then the throb. Then the red and swollen fingers when I’d planned on writing. Hard to type with pressure-dressed fingertips dripping peroxide and Neosporin onto the keyboard.


She sliced me good. Weeks later, I still have a hairline scar from the edges of the fingernails. I truly thought Stella may have surgically dissected one nail from its bed, but alas, all parts are accounted for.


While my hand was bandaged up and I waited for the oozing to subside, I turned my attention from typing new words to working out an error in judgment in my work in progress.


I have next to my keyboard a legal pad where I jot down chapter-by-chapter notes as I write. This keeps me from losing track of my characters and prevents me from creating accidental magical pickup trucks (it happens, folks). As I was going back through the manuscript notes, I realized I had not THOUGHT IT THROUGH. (I’m sensing a theme, here…)


I had an information flow issue and needed to divide up chapters and rearrange things a bit.


I also realized I’m old. And how things worked in middle school when I was in middle school is no longer how things work in middle school. I had not THOUGHT THIS THROUGH.


So, I grabbed a pair of scissors—not nearly as sharp as Stella’s implements—and sliced. I sliced and sliced each chapter’s notes into little strips. I spread them all out all over the place to rearrange the scenes in a more logical order. Then, with a pen housing ink the color of my oozing blood, I made notes and sliced some more.

A productive session to re-start a stalled project.


And now, as I type this, I’m sitting on Stella’s couch. She sat next to me for a few quick seconds, long enough for a quick scratch under the chin. She jumped to the back of the couch and stretched out behind my shoulders. I hear her purring in my right ear. My left ear is full of her “fur feathers” as she swings her bushy tail back and forth across my shoulder and up the side of my cheek. One of her paws reaches out and touches my other shoulder. I see the very tips of her little razor toes.

She presses down that that one paw, letting me know I’m right where she wants me to be.


And that it’s her couch.


I sit very, very still. I type a little slower, a little softer, with my still-scarred fingers so as not to disturb her slumber. I push all thoughts about English Bulldogs and Great Danes and sad-eyed pound puppies far, far away, lest she read my mind.


Because I’m thinking this one through…


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