It’s for the BOOK

I’m guilty of googling a lot of ecletic questions.*

How big is a Muscovy duck? Do any of the theaters in Long Island City have copper or lead roofs?  How many months before the wedding should you order a dress? What’s protein content of a North American common cricket?  How about a feeder goldfish?  What’s the trunk volume, in inches, of a Dodge Dart?  Is hazelnut-cinnamon ganache a real thing?  Is drawing on an inside straight really a sucker bet? What outfit can a werewolf wear so s/he isn’t arrested for public indecency on the way to potential trouble, but won’t risk faceplanting after a quick change?  What did they call garderobes in 14th Century Spain?**

Which doesn’t mean I received answers I could use—especially for that last one.  Sometimes, you have to put yourself out there and risk being judged.

“Honey? Can I ask you a question?”

“Shoot.”

“If a divorced couple has a pre-nup and one of them gets a settlement, but later it’s discovered that that person violated the pre-nup agreement, say adultery or whatever, are they legally required to give back the settlement, or can their ex sue?”

” . . . I don’t know. You should probably ask a lawyer.”

“Yeah, I probably should.  Thanks.”

“No problem.”

Twenty years ago, this kind of question might have worried my husband, for several reasons.  Either he had a better handle on my thought processes*** or he just assumes out of long experience that any question that doesn’t involve the kids or something mechanical making a funny noise is about whatever I’m writing.^

Not everyone is as calm about these things as he.^^ You can get a lot of strange looks at the coffee shop debating the logistics of stuffing a dead body (male, not quite six-foot) and thirty-five cartons of cigarettes (no tax stamps) into the trunk of a Dodge Dart.^^^  Even if you’re speaking to another human being. Who is visibly present.

Until one of you says, loudly, “I can’t wait to read your book.”

And then everyone will relax and the waitress will stop trying to refill your cup with hot liquid from a minimal safe distance, which isn’t quite your minimal safe distance.

Search EngineLibrarians, on the other hand, tend to take the oddest questions at face value, though that doesn’t mean we can’t get enthusiastic.  A few weeks ago, a group of us had an all-day, off-and-on reference discussion launched by a single question I technically asked the screen of my workstation, while—if any of my supervisors have tracked me here—on my break.

“If you clip a wereduck’s wing feathers, will his fingernails be shorter on that hand when he changes?”

Not one of them blinked—even those who didn’t know why I was asking.  And the questions they asked about that question were fantastic, touching on healing factors, and follicle to feather conversions, and clothing, and magic versus science, and mythic laws of association.

Librarians don’t need to know why you need to know—they just need to know how to get you the right answer.

In this case, there wasn’t one—the general consensus was that it depended on several different things that I hadn’t figured out yet.  But I do have a pile of notes, and a much better handle on what I need to figure out.  So even if I never use that bit—which is looking like the sane  easier option—I’m much better off than I was.

Never be afraid to ask the weird questions out loud.

Even if they’re not for the book.

You’ll always learn something about something.

And maybe get a blog post out of it, too.

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*Don’t judge me, judge the people who posted the answers.

**AKA, “The word choice that got away.”

***Magic Eight Ball says Very Doubtful.

^Admittedly, he also knows we don’t have a pre-nup, nor any need for one.

^^He also helps me figure out ballistic trajectories and the batting stance I a character would have to take to use his a kneeling man’s head as a tee-ball and the position behind “home plate” (there are legs involved).  He’s a good man—and remarkably trusting.

^^^For some reason, my husband didn’t volunteer for this one . . . but he did check my math.

Think I’ll Go Eat Worms . . . Not

I was going to describe yesterday’s trip to buy school supplies, complete with my mixed feelings of shock, pride, and inadequacy when hunting down a calculator with required square root, exponent, and cosine functions—for my fifth grader*—and trying hard to set a good example for Sunny in my favorite office supply store, when all I wanted to do was join the chorus of, “If you get one, I get one, too!”

But this morning, a friend of mine—you can thank her later—sent me the latest in an off and on conversation we’ve been having about a flow chart she’d sent me:

Mongolian Death Worm

I’d said that the whole thing looked sadly familiar, but that I really wanted to kill off a character with a Mongolian Death Worm.

She told me no.

I persisted, claiming that I really needed an interesting plot point, and she finally said this morning that I was welcome to kill off my characters (I’m paraphrasing slightly) but please NOT with a Mongolian death worm:

“First, how would you explain that it got there? Second, what the hell is a Mongolian death worm anyway?”

I gave it a generous second or two of thought and answered:

“Mongolian Death Worms are a delicacy in the finer Asian danger-fusion restaurants right now.  If you remove certain parts of the worm, all the diner experiences is a warm glow and, an hour or two later, a colonic purge that is near-orgasmic in its intensity.

So it would be very easy to simply ‘forget’ to remove the certain parts of the worm (or switch worms) so that the diner/victim experiences an excruciating, karma-satisfying death.

Or so I imagine, since I refuse to google ’em.”

She e-mailed me back, saying that she’d changed her mind and I HAD to drop a danger-fusion restaurant in my new WIP and murder someone via Mongolian Death worm.**

I’m taking that as a victory of sorts.***

SandwormIt turns out that she’d been picturing these Dune-like sand worm things—which I have to admit would take some finagling to be a realistic murder weapon outside of Frank Herbert’s universe^—while I’d immediately assumed it was a sort of hagfish/tapeworm thing, with a hint of fugu and maybe a soupcon of that psychotic shami kebab in the “Polymorph” episode of Red Dwarf. 

I don’t know what influenced my friend’s vision, but  mine stems from my fascination with what people will Hagfishhappily eat if they think it’s trendy—other people, I mean—and my inability to rationalize the existence of the hagfish.^^

And this fascinates me, how two people can come to completely different assumptions.

Three, really, because after I described the Death Worm differences to a co-worker,^^^ she looked at me for a second and said, “Oh . . .  I thought it was something from the Kama Sutra.

Now there’s  a game of Clue . . .

What’s YOUR Mongolian Death Worm Like?

What Would YOU order at a Danger-Fusion restaurant?

Is fifth-grade math going to be THAT COMPLEX?!?

_______________________

*Found it in pink.  Who’s the Mom?  I’m the Mom.  Boo-yah.

** “It was Chef Antoine!  In the Bathroom!  With a Mongolian Death Worm!”

***Though I’ll have to set it aside for the right story . . . or the really, really wrong one I’ve always wanted to try . . .

^”It was Paul!  In the subway!  With a Shai-Hulud!”

^^I don’t lie awake at night or anything, but ugh.

^^^When you giggle in a library break-room, people ask questions.  Oddly, they don’t seem to mind the answers.  And sometimes they run with them . . .

I’d still rather be making it up: an Update

So.

After a total of ninety minutes on the phone yesterday, my debit card was finally cancelled—a shame, really, since I  repeated it or entered it so often to so many people or systems that the number string is now engraved on my memory.

The final service rep on my journey told me I needed to go to my bank to get a new one, a precaution I understood.*  I work the late shift tonight, so I was able to go in this morning.

It doesn’t appear that anyone tried anything before it was cancelled, but the one legitimate transaction I made yesterday morning hadn’t cleared, so it’s possible someone ordered some stuff while I was typing up my vent post yesterday.  But that won’t be a problem—the bank is aware that anything purchased with the card after eleven-thirty a.m. isn’t legit.

And I even scored a bonus:  while I was talking with the nice banking lady, I mentioned my ongoing problems with Honda’s automated pay service, which keeps taking car payments out of my account  and  mailing me refund checks with letters telling me to stop sending them money because my car is paid off—it’s the grown-up version of Why are you hitting yourself ? and it’s been going on since October.

My husband had suggested closing my account and getting a new one, and the nice lady agreed with him.  My old account has enough to cover that last debit transaction, after which she will close that account and move over whatever’s left.  The theory is that the ghost in Honda’s financial machine will note that my first account is closed, note that my account is paid in full, and leave us all the heck alone.**

Until my Discover Card,  new banking card, and checks arrive, I’m strictly a cash operation.  It’s an oddly helpless feeling, though not two years ago, I depended on cash and checks and now I’m wondering if I can even access my online Discover account without a card number so I can pay my bill on time.

I also have to get the library to direct deposit my paycheck into my new account and call our life insurance place to tell them to pull their quarterly out of the new one.  And then I can rest easy.

Or easier.

Okay, so I know it’s possible that the restaurant manager pulled my wallet from my bag to see who I was, some cards fell out, and they put them back in the wrong place.  This whole song and dance—and resulting migraine-like pain, I kid you not—might have been unnecessary.  But at the risk of sounding paranoid (cough, cough), I don’t know that for sure.

It would be easy to copy the information on my cards, including the three digit confirmation numbers on the back strip, and tell Amazon, et al to send the ‘gift’ to another address.  The cards themselves were still there—that’s the savvy way to go if you don’t want to alert the mark that anything’s out of the ordinary.   If I wasn’t so retentive about where my cards go or if they’d been returned to the right places, I might have let it go, despite my recent research into frauds, cons, and thefts.

So regardless of how inconvenient everything was, it was the smart thing to do.

Amazon!  I need to remember to change Amazon, too!  And Sony.  And a few other places.

Or I could take the opportunity to delete all my card info from these accounts—it would be more difficult to spend money online if I had to get the card each time.

That would be the smart thing to do, too.

I freakin’ hate learning opportunities.

___

* Someone jacked my Discover card number a few years ago and tried to get the bills sent to a Brooklyn PO box.  Say what you want about Big Brother, but Discover knew I didn’t live in Brooklyn and that I don’t normally buy Jet Skis in bulk.  If the thief had hit Godiva or FAO Schwartz, things might have worked out differently.

** Let’s hope I don’t get a call from Honda telling me I’ve missed a payment . . . or things are going to get tense.

I’d rather be making it up . . .

As of the writing of this post, I have been waiting twenty minutes in a phone queue to report that my debit card number was compromised.

That’s twenty minutes after a previous thirty minutes trying to make my way to the correct phone queue through Hell’s Own Phone Tree.

There are no words for how upset I am right now.  Especially since I’m the one who left my bag in the restaurant this afternoon.   Once we were reunited—after much cursing and abandoning my husband at the grocery store and even more cursing—I checked my wallet and noticed that some of the cards were in the wrong pockets.

Damn it.

I only carry two cards in my wallet, and Discover gave me no trouble at all–in fact, the customer service rep complimented me on my foresight.  But for some reason, my bank makes it completely impossible to report a lost or stolen card.  Impossible. 

All the regular service reps go home after two, so the phone system gives you a different number to call after hours.  Once.  Very quickly.  Three rounds through that part of the tree and I had the number.  I finally got a human being about fifteen minutes in, but she couldn’t help me because she was in the wrong department. 

We figured that out after I repeated my number to her three times and she couldn’t find it in the credit database.  Because it’s a &$%#% debit card, which I’d told her at the beginning of our conversation.

And now, I’m in limbo.

I can feel someone draining my account as I listen for the sixty-eighth time to a pleasant, sociopathic voice telling me my call is important and due to the personal attention given to each call, I might experience a brief delay. 

We are now forty minutes in.

On the other hand, I can now write what I know when it comes to card theft and the reporting of same. And, if I’m being honest, what it feels like to be a clueless mark.   That’s not much of a silver living from where I’m sitting, a cell phone warbling into my ear.

How’s your Sunday going?

Writing Who I Don’t Know

Or is that whom?

I spent this past weekend trying to put myself in the shoes of a gay, black man who can bench press a Chevy Nova and knows more about guns than I ever will.

As I self-identify as a hetero, white woman,* and am usually at a minimum automatically identified and treated as the latter two by strangers—those shoes aren’t a perfect fit.

Even though he’s essentially a figment of my imagination, there’s a lot about this character’s motivations and POV that I’m never going to get, regardless of months of research and reading** and bugging my friends. We’re just too different.

Our reactions to other people’s reactions won’t be the same.  The reasons others might have for accepting, marginalizing, or condemning us are most likely not the same.  My fears about walking alone into a room or down the street would not be his—his anxieties around certain family members won’t be the same as mine.   The ways in which we share private things, or don’t, will be different.

So why bother?  The story I’m writing isn’t about his sexuality,  skin color, and/or gender . . . but these are all part of who this character is and how the other characters interact with him, or don’t.  

And both the story and the groups to which this character might belong deserve better than the same old tropes, tokens, and caricatures.  I don’t want to ignore what I shouldn’t, or put him in a well-worn box of ignorant, if well-meaning assumptions.

Or make a bigger deal of these things than I should (cough).

Because though it seems like I might have tossed Write what—or who—you know out the window—and though I may be talking through my chapeau— he and I do intersect in some interesting (IMHO) ways.

We’ve both lost people we’ve loved very much, who loved us back.  We know what it’s like to be lonely and in pain and very, very angry about it.

He also has a sense of humor that verges on the inappropriate, likes veggie subs, has trouble bluffing on a poor poker hand, and doesn’t care to be patronized.  He’s also pretty good at his job, if he does say so.  Ditto . . . except for the poker.

He’s maybe not as calm and collected as he seems—or wants to seem.

He’s a fellow human being (if an imaginary one) who is both more and less than the labels he, or others, insist that he wear.

And I’m thinking that no matter what I know or don’t know, this common ground might be a good start.

_____

*Who, if this even needs saying, is far more likely to sit on a bench that lift heavy objects from one—and has a pathetic inability to write firearms.

**These aren’t the only resources I found, but they’re both thought provoking and a very good start.