Loretta Ross

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Category: This Really Happened

Yering

Every now and again someone on Twitter will talk about coming up with character names.  Most of my names, honestly, get pulled out of thin air.  But it occurred to me today that I do have one very minor character in the book I’m currently writing whose name has a story behind it.  On the off chance that anyone’s interested in that story, here it is:

As everyone who knows me knows, my day job is in the produce department at Walmart.  Part of that involves stocking fruits and vegetable and part of it involves getting rid of the boxes they came in.  One thing I really do like about Walmart is that, at least in my department, we throw very little away.  We donate almost-out-of-date food to the local food pantry, compost things that are too far gone to donate, and recycle just about everything else.  Part of that process — the oldest part, in fact — involves a huge metal monster of a squisher machine called the cardboard baler.

On the front of our cardboard baler there is a metal plate with the name of the company that produced it and three more names on the line beneath it.  Like this:

Manufacturer

Vernon, Al   *  Clearfield, Pa  *  Yering, Nv

And I know you all see this and immediately understand exactly what it says.  But for MONTHS, every time I took cardboard back, I would read this sign and think, “I understand Al Vernon and Pa Clearfield, but what kind of a name is Nv Yering?!?”

So, while working on this current book, I had a minor character who needed a name.  I was thinking about the character while I was crushing cardboard and so was born Firefighter/Paramedic Yering.

I haven’t said as much in the MS, but his first name’s Nv. 😉

I May Not Be Who I Think I Am

So, I’m having an identity crisis.

A couple of days ago I lost my debit card.  It’s possible I mailed it to my editor along with a CD copy of my author photo.  It’s possible it got stolen by Red Lektrons.  It’s possible it’s fallen through a hole in the fabric of reality.  I’ve heard something about eddies in the space-time continuum.  Maybe he’s got it.  The point is, I don’t anymore.

After searching everywhere for two days, I gave in and decided to report it missing and ask for a new one.  First, though, I wanted to update my mailing address to my new P.O. Box address, because having a debit card sitting in a locked box that only I have a key to sounded safer than having a debit card sitting in an unlocked box on a country road half a mile away and not in sight of any house.  Changing your address and then asking for a new card, though, apparently triggers special security checks, and here’s where it all went, as I understand our Brit friends to say, pear-shaped.

I understand the need for extra security.  I do.  But there’s security and then there’s SECURITY!

After logging onto the website with my user name and secret password and both parents’ middle names and my high school mascot I filled out the “lost card” form and hit send.  It gave me a security warning in big, red letters and a phone number to call to complete the report.

I called the number and got a young woman who was, I’m sure, perfectly lovely and whose grasp of English is undoubtedly much better than my grasp of whatever her native language is.  But … I couldn’t understand her!

This is a pet peeve of mine.  First, I have nothing against anyone in any country, but American businesses that want Americans to support them should not outsource jobs overseas.  Secondly, they’re outsourcing their customer service to people who do not speak the same native tongue as the majority of their customers. Also, most of the phone bank outsourcing seems to involve people whose native language is inflected.  They tend to speak English with an inflection, which makes it harder to understand.  Add in the fact that the telephone compresses and distorts sound slightly (I’m not certain of the mechanics) and it makes for a very difficult conversation.

When you are in contact with a business’ customer service department, the burden of communicating falls on the business.  If the person on the other end of the phone is unable to communicate clearly for any reason, it is the business that has fallen short.

Long story short (I know! “Too late!”) I failed my identity verification quiz.  After correctly providing my name, home address, date of birth, and social security number, I was unable to recall what color car I was driving eight years ago when I set up the account,* I didn’t (and don’t) know if my social security card was issued in the state I was born in or the state I lived in when I got it, and even after making her repeat them six or seven times, I couldn’t understand the list of addresses she was reading me to see if I could remember living at one of them more than a quarter of a century ago when I was in college.

The upshot is that they’ve closed my account and they’re going to mail me a check … at the same P.O. Box address they’re unwilling to mail a new card to.

So if it’s seemed like I’m not myself today, that may very well be the case.  I don’t know exactly who I am, but I am sure of one thing.  If I ever find that card, I’m going to salt and burn the damned thing!

*Actually, I didn’t remember what color “the Ciera” was.  I confused the Ciera with the Cavalier.  I’m not a car person and we’re talking three cars ago — four if you count the van my niece gave me that lasted about three weeks and almost got me arrested ….

Remembering The Tri-State Tornado of 1925

Yesterday, I sat through my first tornado warning of the season.  It got me thinking about tornados past.  The following is an excerpt of an arcticle I wrote for my old website.

A MassiveTornado  Image ID: wea00216, NOAA's National Weather Service (NWS) Collection

A MassiveTornado
Image ID: wea00216, NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) Collection

Every year the National Weather Service records about 1,000 tornadoes in the U.S.. It’s possible that as many as 1,000 more weak tornadoes go unnoticed. Tornadoes are ranked on the Fujita Scale (or F-Scale) according to how much damage they do to manmade structures.

While a tornado can strike just about anywhere in the world, some places get hit more often than others. (Tornadoes touch down in Sedalia so often, that I once called my niece up there after a tornado and she told me, unconcerned, “Oh, it didn’t hit here. It was three streets away.”) Areas prone to a high incidence of tornadic activity, or to a high percentage of violent tornadoes, are known as “Tornado Alley”. While there is a great deal of disagreement among storm chasers as to where, exactly, “Tornado Alley” is in any given year, Missouri is often included.

At this point I’d just like to say for the record that I’ve never personally seen a tornado, in spite of walking home through a storm in Columbia one night when eight of them touched down within two hours. I’d also like to say, for the record, that I’d just as soon keep it that way!

The Tri-State Tornado of 1925

March 18, 1925. One minute past one P.M. The deadliest tornado in U.S. history touched down in southeastern Missouri, three miles north-northwest of Ellington and continued on a 219-mile long path through southern Illinois and into Indiana before finally dissipating three miles south of Petersburg at 4:30 P.M.

An F5, the strongest catagory of tornado, the Tri-State Tornado set many tragic records that day. The average tornado stays on the ground for about ten minutes. The Tri-State monster was down for three and a half hours. It travelled through three states, killing a combined total of 695 people, injuring more than 2,000 and destroying 15,000 homes. In Murphysboro, Illinois, 234 people died, a record number of deaths for a single community from a tornado. (The Great Cyclone of 1896 doesn’t meet this because the deaths were divided between two communities: St. Louis, Missouri, and East St. Louis, Illinois.)

Parrish, Illinois, and Griffin, Indiana, were completely destroyed. Seventeen children died when Longfellow School in Murphysboro, Illinois, partially collapsed. In DeSoto, Illinois, the tornado killed 33 school children. That’s the largest number of children to die in an American school from this type of disaster.

To be thorough, I should note that some historians believe the Tri-State Tornado was not actually one continuous tornado, but rather a close family of smaller tornadoes. Technically, a tornado is only a tornado when it is actually touching the ground. If it pulls up it becomes a funnel cloud and if it touches down again that is considered a separate tornado. Thus, the question becomes “did the Tri-State Tornado remain on the ground for its entire 219-mile track?” At this point, it’s probably impossible to tell. What is known is that the tornado cut a 3/4 to 1 mile wide path of destruction across three states, it held the same heading for 183 miles of that distance and nowhere along that path was spared. Eighty-five years later the National Oceanic and Aeronautic Administration maintains a memorial website to commemorate that deadly day and to teach new generations about the awful power of the wind.

Ruins of the Longfellow School where 17 children were killed.  In: Journal of the Western Society of Engineers, Vol. 30, No. 9. September, 1925.   Image ID: wea00234, NOAA's National Weather Service (NWS) Collection   Location: Murphysboro, Illinois  Photo Date: 1925 March 18

Ruins of the Longfellow School where 17 children were killed.
In: Journal of the Western Society of Engineers, Vol. 30, No. 9. September, 1925.
Image ID: wea00234, NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) Collection
Location: Murphysboro, Illinois
Photo Date: 1925 March 18

 

Ruins of the De Soto, Illinois, public school where 33 children were killed.  In: Journal of the Western Society of Engineers, Vol. 30, No. 9. September, 1925.   Image ID: wea00238, NOAA's National Weather Service (NWS) Collection   Location: Illinois, De Soto  Photo Date: 1925 March 18

Ruins of the De Soto, Illinois, public school where 33 children were killed.
In: Journal of the Western Society of Engineers, Vol. 30, No. 9. September, 1925.
Image ID: wea00238, NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) Collection
Location: Illinois, De Soto
Photo Date: 1925 March 18

 

Things I Learned Today

Normally, I’m a creature of habit.  You know?  Kind of the way a rock is a creature of habit.  Five days a week I drive twenty miles southeast to Warsaw, work my shift at Walmart, then drive home.  On my days off, if I can’t work it out so I don’t have to, I sometimes drive twelve miles northwest to Clinton to shop and run errands.  And that’s it.  I can follow this pattern for YEARS without variation and, in fact, I have.

So going somewhere other than Warsaw or Clinton is a big deal for me, even if it just means driving thirty miles north to Warrensburg or Sedalia.  Well, today, for the first time in probably more than a decade, I drove nearly ninety miles south, all the way down to the big city of Springfield, Missouri.  This is what I learned on my Big Adventure:

There is a chain of convenience stores named Kum and Go.  Also, they are sensitive about their name and apparently haunt Twitter, constantly on guard against anyone who would mock them, so that they can respond almost instantly.  I am sorry if my amusement insulted them but I doubt I will ever again be able to put a gas nozzle in the tank opening with an entirely straight face.

Highway 13, where it crosses I44, has been redesigned by a team of drunken double-crochet fiends.  Seriously.  Google “map of Springfield, Missouri” and then enlarge it enough to see the lane detail.  I’ll wait.

You see? I thought I was hallucinating (I giggled about the convenience store thing long enough that lack of oxygen was a possibility) or epically lost and wandering around England (again — it could happen!)  when I drove it, but the map confirms what I thought I saw.  The divided lanes of 13 cross each other (so that you’re driving on the LEFT side of the road going over the overpass), then re-cross each other, then join up into a single road on the other side, going through a combined total of eight intersections.  Even the green arrows on the lights are gollywonkers.  Going south they point to the eleven o’clock position, then straight, then the one o’clock position, then straight again.  I don’t know how they look going north because I took highway 65 back so I wouldn’t have to find out.

Is this normal, regular city drivers?  Or is it some kind of entrance exam you have to pass to get into the city?

If it’s designed as an entry exam to keep the bad drivers out, I’d like to point out that it also keeps the bad drivers who are already there in.  Like, for example the lady who almost backed into me as she was leaving a business that advertised cheap, easy car insurance.

Of course, there are also many nice people in Springfield, like the kind couple who gave me directions when I got lost in a Walmart parking lot the size of Benton County!

I also learned that their Walmart has long-Johns with dark chocolate frosting and Bavarian creme in the middle.  Our Walmart does not have these.  This is not fair!

The reason I went to Springfield was to have a new author photo taken (more about that in a day or two) and the couple who run About Faces Photography are lovely, but when someone tells you on the phone to “watch for the mailbox because our sign is easy to miss” you should ask them to be more specific, because EVERYBODY has mailboxes.

I’ve learned that a professional photo shoot is remarkably like a game of Twister and that my head really will only turn so far.  I suggested that the gentleman photographer take up photographing owls, as they would actually be *able* to strike the poses he kept asking for.

I’ve learned that if I’m going somewhere with a wide selection of available restaurants I should choose one in advance, lest I get overwhelmed with the choices and end up just hitting a fast food joint.  Yes, I’m that lame.

I discovered that my favorite used book store (and this really did surprise me) regularly hosts book signings by local authors.  I also learned that the author of one of my favorite children’s books (and still an all-time favorite) Wylly Folk St. John, wrote another children’s book I’d never heard of.  AND I scored a copy!

As I mentioned earlier, I took 65 to come back north, in order to miss the tangled skein of roadways at 13 and I44, and in the process I learned that I still suck at merging onto a busy highway.

I learned that there is a Foose, Missouri and that either there is an Urbana, Missouri or I wandered several hundred miles off course and detoured through Illinois.

And, finally, I found Nemo.  He’s just a few miles south of Pittsburgh.

Missouri.

I think.

Charlie

The first customer I attached a name to was a sweet-natured, white-haired gentleman in a Korean Veterans baseball cap.  It was probably only my second or third day working in the produce department, right next to the door, that I heard Cecil, our people greeter, address him as “Charlie”.  He responded with a big, warm smile and they stood and talked for several minutes before he went on to do his shopping.

Our Cecil, I should mention, is a lady and, oddly, not the only female named Cecil in this small town.  She is a singular character, well-loved by customers and coworkers alike.  Cecil and her family have lived here for years and she knows everyone in town and everything that happens.

The gentleman in the Korean Veterans cap came in almost every day.  For the next six years, I never failed to greet him with a cheerful, “hi, Charlie!” and he always responded with a big, warm smile and stopped to pass the time of day.

Then one day, a couple of years ago, he was chatting with Cecil as I sorted through some fruit displays nearby.    When he left to continue his shopping, Cecil wandered over to me and said, “he’s the nicest man!  You know, I always call him Charlie and he always answers me.”

This gave me pause.  “Isn’t that his name?” I asked.

“Oh, no.  His name’s Marvin.  I just always call him Charlie.  I don’t know why.”

This is the point for an emoticon.  This one:  o.0

“Cecil!” I said.  “For six years now I’ve been calling that man Charlie because you called him Charlie!  Why didn’t you ever tell me that wasn’t his real name?”

Cecil wasn’t bothered.  “I don’t know,” she said.  “I just call him that.  It’s okay, though.  He always answers.”

The next time Marvin (as I now knew him to be) came in, I explained to him that I’d just learned I’d been calling him the wrong name and apologized.  “I thought that was your name because I heard Cecil use it.”

He just laughed.  “Yeah, she always calls me that.  I don’t know why.”

“Well, now that I know your real name,” I said, “I promise that I’ll call you by it.”

A couple of days later I saw him halfway across the department, looking at a produce display.

“Hi, Marvin!” I called out cheerfully.

… nothing …

I walked a little closer.  “Hi, Marvin!”

… still nothing …

I went right up next to him.  “Hey, Marvin!”

He wandered away.

I let him get halfway across the department.

“Hi, Charlie!”

He turned back to me with a big, friendly smile and a wave.

I’ve called him Charlie ever since.  It seems we’ve changed the poor man’s name.

This is a Real Thing

Spoonbill season, AKA “snagging season” opened this weekend.  Have you got yours yet?

 

SpoonbillDrawing by Timothy Knapp, NFWS

Saving the Pink Sparkly Slipper

My dream job is to be a writer.  My day job, as I may have mentioned, takes place at Walmart in Warsaw, Missouri, and involves stocking produce.  It’s not as dismal as it sounds.  The people are mostly nice and frequently entertaining. It’s always fun to people watch, and once in a while you can even find something to be proud of.  One accomplishment that I look back on fondly, years later, is the night that a co-worker and I Saved The Pink Sparkly Slipper.

This happened, as I said, several years ago — long enough ago that I can no longer remember exactly when these events took place nor recall the names of most of the people involved.  I do remember that it was a rainy evening, late in the spring, I think, or early in the fall.  I was working in the produce back room when an off-duty associate came in and asked me if I had a ladder she could use.  She was shopping with her middle-school-aged daughter and two of her daughter’s friends and one of the girls had lost her pink sparkly slipper on top of the “wet wall”.

The “wet wall” is the name of the big, open, refrigerated set of shelves that run the length of the produce department.  It’s called the “wet wall” because it contains misters to keep bulk vegetables moist.  Ours is about seven feet tall, some six feet deep and probably forty or fifty feet long. It is anchored to the floor by both electrical and plumbing connections and is completely immovable.  It backs up against the frozen food section, sitting back-to-back with a freezer unit that is just as long, just as deep and even taller.  Between the two lies a deep, narrow cleft.  The ends of the cleft are capped by smaller, but still massive, freezers and the space within is entirely inaccessible.

You can see where this is going.

You may be wondering, as I did, how the young lady managed to lose her she on top of this fixture.  I asked her that and she replied, quite reasonably, that she was just demonstrating how to kick a soccer ball.  Since I did have a ladder, at that point it seemed a minor problem.

The Pink Sparkly Slipper was not on top of the wet wall.  It wasn’t on top of the freezer unit and it wasn’t in the aisle on the other side.  The only place it could have gone was down in the metal canyon where it could not be reached.  Since climbing on either the wet wall or the freezer is strictly forbidden, there was no way to even see where it had landed.  It seemed the Pink Sparkly Slipper was gone for good.

The owner of the PSS took it hard.  One of the other girls lent her their shoes to console her and she went home weeping in the rain.

I felt terrible for her, and thought about it for the rest of that night and all through my shift the following day.  At that time there was an uncommonly tall young man named Matt who worked in our deli.  While helping one of the frozen foods associates fix a sign over one of the freezer end-caps, Matt discovered that, if he stood on a tall ladder and looked at just the right angle, he could actually see the Pink Sparkly Slipper.  He couldn’t come anywhere close to reaching it, but he could see it and we knew it was there.

After consulting with, well, just about everyone who was working or shopping that day, Matt and I hit upon a plan.  What we needed, we realized, was a fishing pole.

I had at my disposal a wooden mop handle, some lengths of wire, about the thickness of coat hanger wire, a rope we use to tie the freezer doors closed if there’s a power outage, a metal peg hook and duct tape.  (There is ALWAYS duct tape!)

I bent hooks into the ends of three lengths of wire and taped them together to form a grappling hook, then taped the grappling hook to one end of the rope.  The peg hook, I taped to the end of the mop handle, to act as a line guide, then I strung the rope through it and down the length of the handle, allowing me to push the rope out over the back of the wet wall and drop the grappling hook straight down.

In the last few minutes before the end of our shifts, Matt and I set up Operation Save The Pink Sparkly Slipper.  He put his ladder back at the end of the aisle, where he had a visual on the PSS.  Then he directed me in the placement of a second ladder, so that I was level with the target.  I dropped my grappling hook into the mechanical canyon and Matt guided me as I swung it down and towards the object of our rescue.

After all the preparation, it was ridiculously easy.  I caught the hook in the toe of the slipper on, probably, the second or third try and reeled it in.  We were outrageously pleased with ourselves and, going to the back of the store to clock out, we proceeded as if making a triumphal march, holding the PSS aloft and singing the theme to Rocky in that “da da DAH da” kind of way you do when you don’t actually know the words.  We turned the shoe over to management and they promised to give it to the off-duty associate so she could return it to its rightful owner.

Some time passed before I found out the whole of the story.

About a week before she found herself demonstrating soccer kicks in the produce department, the young lady in question had lost much more than a shoe.  Her beloved grandfather had suddenly passed away.  The Pink Sparkly Slippers were one of the last gifts he’d ever given her.

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