Sticks and Stones

Holly took in a deep breath of fresh air and smiled.

“I love football weather!” she exclaimed and then took a sip of her coffee.

It was a gorgeous Sunday morning along the river in Maine.  The weather people would certainly agree with Holly that this was, in fact, football weather even though it was technically still summer.

Aaron smiled from the end of the bench that he shared with his best friend, and gave his bottle of Snapple a good shake.

“Ironically, I’d like to talk about something related to baseball,” he quipped.

“I will allow it as long as I get to keep the weather,” she replied with a grin.

“Do you remember how I told you the other day about the old lady who made the comment about my cap as I passed her on my run?” he asked and took a sip of his Snapple.

Holly glanced up at the ever present Yankees hat on his head and nodded.  “Yeah, she said something about your needing to change hats.”

short story, humor, Modern Philosopher“Exactly,” Aaron confirmed.  “I’m a devout Yankees fan, and I hate the Red Sox, but I would never go up to a stranger and make a disparaging comment about anything.”

“That’s your New York upbringing,” Holly pointed out and took another sip of her coffee.

“I’m not sure if you’re teasing, but you are one hundred percent correct,” he acknowledged.  “You learn very early on the mean streets of New York that approaching a stranger for any reason, let alone one where you mock his favorite team, could lead to your getting punched, stabbed, or shot.  And the cops would blame you because it’s an unwritten law that you never say anything to a stranger.”

“Sounds like a charming city,” Holly quipped and shot him a wink.  “So why are you bringing this up again?”

“I was running the other day, and a pack of little old ladies slowly approached on their morning walk,” he explained.  “One of them stopped and said she owed me an apology.”

“Now I don’t recognize her, and I still don’t like to talk to strangers, but I do try to be a little more charming now that I live in Maine.  So I asked her why she thought she owed me one.  And she said she felt bad about what she had said to me about my hat…”

Holly nods in understanding.  “You didn’t recognize her?”

Aaron shakes his head.  “All Red Sox fans look alike to me.”

She laughed and slapped his arm playfully.  “All you Yankees fans are jerks!”

Aaron did not deny the accusation.  Instead, he took another sip of his Snapple.

flash fiction, Maine, Modern Philosopher“Anyway, I told her not to worry about it because I was used to Red Sox fans always saying inappropriate things.  Then I added that they can’t seem to help themselves, and I kept on going with my run.”

Holly laughed so loud that a passerby on the path behind them turned in their direction to see what the fuss was all about.

“You can take the guy out of New York, but you can’t take the jackass out of the guy,” Holly declared with a shake of her head.

“And that comment just proves my point about Red Sox fans always saying inappropriate things!” he countered and stuck out his tongue.

They both smiled and turned their attention to the river.  It really was a gorgeous day.

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The Vanishing Corpse, Part 19

They were all flabbergasted by Bruno’s revelation.  A silence came over the booth as they digested what he had just told them.

“What do you mean he knew he was dying?” Wally finally broke the silence.

Bruno smiled smugly and sipped his beer. 

Maggie gave him a little nudge in the ribs with her elbow.  “Come on now, Chip.  This is my favorite part.  Wow us with how that big brain of yours works.”

Michelle smiled at the line and nodded her head in agreement.

short story“It’s right in front of our faces,” Bruno explained.  “When I realized the evidence was taking us on a wild goose chase, I looked at it again.  Remember, kid, they’re ain’t nothing wrong with admitting you made a mistake as long as you go back and cover your ass by fixing it.”

Wally chuckled.  “I don’t remember anything that said Charlie was dying.”

“Well, it ain’t always gonna be spelled out for you,” Bruno chastised the rookie.  “Sometimes, you gotta let the big brain connect the dots.

Maggie laughed and slapped him playfully on the arm.

“So lay it out for the ADA, and I’ll tell you if you’ve got a case,” Michelle suggested.

“What did Big Tony tells us about why Charlie quit?” Bruno challenged Wally’s memory.

“She wouldn’t give him the raise he demanded,” Wally replied without hesitation.

Bruno shook his head.  “She offered him a raise in the end. He quit because she wouldn’t give him benefits.  Remember, she said if she had to provide benefits for all the mechanics, it would bankrupt her.”

“So you think he wanted medical insurance because he was sick?” Maggie asked.

Bruno nodded.  “I’m guessing he got a surprise diagnosis, suddenly realized that having no insurance was a major problem, and immediately went to his boss to try to rectify that.”

“Intriguing,” Michelle admitted, “but merely conjecture without corroboration.”

“You remember what else the boss told us about Charlie’s job performance after he started making those demands?” Bruno asked Wally.

Wally closed his eyes as he searched his memory.  Bruno gave the rookie a break on this because he was fine with anything that helped an officer remember key information.

“He started showing up late, missing days, and going home early claiming he didn’t feel well,” Wally recited as he finally found the right memory.

Michelle smiled proudly because her guy had finally scored a point.

“He also started to screw up jobs, something he ain’t never done before,” Bruno added. 

“Okay, so that does sound like someone who is dealing with a medical issue, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s life threatening,” Michelle continued to play devil’s advocate.

“Are you like me, Michelle?” Bruno asked seemingly out of the blue.

Without skipping a beat, she shot back, “No, I’m not a slightly over the hill narcissist who takes joy in pointing out the shortcomings of others.”

That earned her huge laughs from everyone, even Bruno, who raised his arms in surrender.

“Guilty as charged.  Read me my rights.”

More laughter.

“What I meant,” Bruno explained once he’d lowered his arms, “is do you trust your gut?”

Michelle pursed her lips and drummed her fingers against her mug as she mulled over the question.  “At times, yes, but I really can’t that often since it’s my job to prosecute offenders based on solid evidence, not the circumstantial.”

“You told us that the last time you saw Charlie White, you offered him a card for the free clinic and urged him to make an appointment.  Why?  You ain’t mean to tell me you went to Medical School in addition to Law School?” Bruno asked with a smile.

Maggie rolled her eyes, but waited eagerly for Michelle’s response.

“I’d been around the man enough to know something was off,” she answered slowly as if thinking through every word before allowing it to leave her mouth.  “He looked pale, thinner than I remembered, and his desire to secure a conviction against The Heathens seemed to take on more urgency.”

Bruno nodded.  “Why did he suddenly want to play hero, and take down a dangerous gang he had once sought to emulate?  You ask me, you gotta have either a personal vendetta, or maybe you’re looking to square your accounts with a higher power before it’s too late…”

“Objection,” Michelle declared with a smile.  “You are now testifying on behalf of the missing witness.  I ask the court to strike Detective Bruno’s last comment from the record.”

“So it shall be done!” Maggie ruled and banged the empty pitcher against the table.

“You really think his decision to provide evidence against The Heathens was because he knew he was dying, and wanted to make a better case for himself with St. Peter when he arrived at the Pearly Gates?” Wally challenged with a laugh.

short story, mystery, Modern PhilosopherBruno shrugged.  “It fits a pattern of behavior.  Quits his job, gives up his apartment, and turns to a life of petty crime where he shares what he steals with the homeless.  Remember, he lived in that parish, not far from the Church, and came face to face with the scary Nun at least once, so there’s a good chance some of that religious chatter rubbed off on him.  Let’s not forget what those chuckleheads from The Heathens told us about stealing Zeus’ bike.”

Wally looked befuddled.

“They said only someone with a death wish would mess with Zeus’ ride,” Bruno reminded him.

“He wanted them to kill him to put him out of his misery?” Maggie asked as she attempted to follow the logic.

“Why not?” Bruno asked and drained the last of his beer.

“I don’t know,” Wally said.  “I mean, everything you’re saying makes sense, but like Michelle said, she can’t prosecute a crime based solely on educated conjecture.”

“That’s the beauty of this, kid,” Bruno replied with a sly smile.  “It ain’t murder, so there ain’t no crime for her to prosecute.”

Silence fell over the booth again.  Sensing that he hadn’t quite won over the jury, Bruno added another thought.

“The Nun said she ain’t seen any sign of bodily harm,” he reminded them.

“You mean the Nun you declared a liar in front of her boss and ours?” Wally countered.

“Then were you lying, Officer Wainwright, when you reported that you saw no sign of injury on the corpse before you managed to lose it in an empty parking lot?” Bruno delivered his zinger with a chuckle.

Maggie elbowed him again.  This time, a little harder.

“Everything you say makes sense,” Michelle stepped in to take the spotlight off Wally.  “So let’s say he was dying.  Why did he go to that parking lot in the middle of the night, when no one would be around to help him?  Why didn’t he call 911 or go to a hospital?”

“Because he knew someone would be there to make sure he got the help he needed,” Bruno announced with a sly smile, and then raised the empty pitcher to wave it at the bartender while the others pondered his latest revelation.


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Where Has The Eagle Landed?

“That was awesome!” Aaron gushed as he sat down on their usual bench with the amazing view of the Penobscot River.

“Agreed,” Holly concurred as she took her seat on her end of the bench.

“I just wish I could’ve gotten better photos,” Aaron lamented as he quickly scrolled through the pics on his cell phone.

“No picture would have done it justice,” Holly countered as she sipped her coffee.  “That was the kind of thing best experienced in person.”

Aaron had to nod his agreement after giving it a moment’s thought.  Then he washed it all down with a big gulp of Snapple.

They were talking about the near religious experience they’d just shared while out on their Sunday stroll along the river.

They’d watched in awe as an eagle soared over the river, then turned directly for them, before perching in a branch high up in the tree above them.

Aaron had tried desperately to get a clear photo of the gorgeous bird, but it was well camouflaged in the branches and shadows of the tree top.

short story, flash fiction, Modern Philosopher“This is the kind of thing I had in mind when I was talking about moving to Maine,” he shared once he had put the cover back on his drink.

“You were sitting in Southern California, choking on the smog, and daydreaming about one day checking out eagles along the river with the most beautiful woman you’ve ever met?” she teased in return.

Aaron chuckled.  “Well, I don’t know about the beautiful woman part.  I was married at the time, and only had eyes for the woman who would eventually ruin my life.”

Now it was Holly’s turn to chuckle.  Talking about the ex-wife was always a touchy subject, but right now, she was more focused on the fact that Aaron hadn’t made some snarky quip about her not being beautiful.

“Good job on respecting the institute of marriage,” she congratulated him with a playful pat on the shoulder.

“One of us had to,” he quipped with a tinge of anger in his tone.  “If I’m being completely honest, though, I wasn’t daydreaming about eagles.  It was more this idea of a quiet life, close to nature, and far from traffic and smog.”

“So how did you end up in this neck of the woods?” Holly questioned.  “There are far more remote areas of Maine you could have chosen for the quintessential cut off from the rest of civilization experience.”

“I have to blame my marriage again,” Aaron replied with a shrug.  “I wanted to move to the middle of nowhere, but she vetoed the idea with the logic that such places were where people got murdered in Stephen King novels.”

Holly laughed so hard that she almost spilled her coffee.

“You were living in Los Angeles at the time, and had been living in New York prior to that,” she recapped for those at home who might not be up to date with Aaron’s previous living arrangements.  “And she was worried she was going to get murdered in Maine?”

Aaron simply nodded in response.  No words were necessary.

short story, humor, Modern Philosopher“And you were together with this burst of sunshine for how long?” she asked.

He punched her playfully in the leg.  “Let’s not awaken those ghosts.”

“Yeah, because that’s how people get murdered in Stephen King novels,” Holly shot back without hesitation, but with the largest smile she could fit on her beautiful face.

Aaron rolled his eyes and took a long sip of Snapple.

“I should’ve done a little more research on Mainers before my move,” he admitted.  “I didn’t realize the natives were such wise asses.”

Before she could reply, the eagle appeared in the sky high above them.  They forgot about everything else, and simply watched the majestic creature soar above them…

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The Vanishing Corpse, Part 18

Maggie McGee’s was always packed after dinner, but Bruno had used his pull with the owner to secure a booth in the back corner of the establishment.

He sat across from Wally and ADA Ambrose.  There was a half full (or was it half empty?) pitcher of beer in the middle of the table, and each of them had a mug.

Maggie appeared out of the crowd with a full pitcher and a mug of her own.  Bruno’s face lit up, and he rose to greet her.

“Maggie, this is Wally and ADA Ambrose…”

“If we’re going to hang out outside of work, you have to call me Michelle,” ADA Ambrose insisted with a kind smile that confused the hell out of him.

“Chip has told me so much about you both,” Maggie explained after she placed the pitcher next to the other, and then slid into the booth very close to Bruno.

short story“Did you refer to my hard ass, no nonsense mentor as ‘Chip’?” Wally asked as a sly grin grew on his face.

Bruno’s face hardened.  “You gotta problem with that?  Maggie’s can call me whatever she wants because she’s my…”

They waited for him to finish the thought, but Bruno found himself at a loss for words.

“Special someone, significant other,” Maggie finally let him off the hook.  “Mr. Romance over here apparently needs a speech therapist because he can’t seem to say the word ‘girlfriend’.  He’s lucky I think the world of him because otherwise I’d kick him out of my bed and ban him from my bar.  The sad thing is, I’m not sure which one would upset him more.”

Maggie laughed, which gave permission to Wally and Michelle to join her.

Bruno blushed ever so slightly, and fought to hold back a grin.

“The point I was trying to make is you ain’t gonna call me by my childhood nickname.  And you ain’t gonna tell nobody about it, either.  That goes for you, too, counselor.”

Michelle saluted him and then took a drink of her beer.  Wally snickered, but made sure not to make eye contact with Bruno.

“When she ain’t too busy needling me about how I introduce her to people, Maggie also uses her position as the owner of this joint to feed me information that people willingly share with her because she’s just so damn charming.  Ain’t that right, Sweetie?”

Maggie shook her head and kissed him on the cheek.  “I’ve asked around about your missing corpse, and what little I’ve learned shouldn’t be news to you.  He was a respected mechanic, who fell on old times, pulled the occasional job when a situation presented itself, and was currently public enemy number one with The Heathens because he absconded with their leader’s beloved motorcycle.”

While Maggie spoke, Bruno refilled all the mugs.

“That doesn’t surprise me,” he admitted as he placed the empty pitcher at the edge of the table.  “I’m convinced, after all the digging we’ve done, that Charlie White presented a version of himself that he wanted the world to see, and held the truth close to his chest.”

“So what does that mean in regards to our case?” Wally asked in confusion.

Bruno raised an eyebrow.  “What did I tell you about choosing your questions wisely, kid?  I swear you don’t listen to a word I say.”

Maggie slapped Bruno playfully on the arm, much to Michelle’s delight.

“Dial it back, Chip,” she advised.  “You’re off the clock, so Wally is your peer.  Don’t talk down to him.”

“Thank you, Maggie,” Wally added.

Bruno shot him a dirty look, but knew to hold his tongue to avoid any trouble with the real boss at the table.

“Would I be correct in guessing you fudged Charlie’s credentials as a thief a little to make him look more bad ass to The Heathens in hopes of getting him in better with the crew?”

Michelle drummed her fingers nervously on the side of her mug.  “Yes, you are correct.”

Wally’s eyes widened in surprise, while Maggie smiled proudly at her man’s intuition.

“I apologize for not telling you the truth from the start, but Charlie was an important CI, I’m never sure who I can trust in the department, and I was trying to get a feel for your interest in him while wrapping my brain around the fact that he was dead.”

Bruno nodded like he understood, but Wally looked concerned.

“You didn’t think you could trust me?” he asked liked a wounded lover.

“Don’t freak, kid,” Bruno advised.  “It’s me she wasn’t sure about.  I hope this little sit down, and the information I sent you today about our investigation, convinced you that I’m one of the good guys…”

“Actually, it was Maggie who convinced me,” Michelle quipped without hesitation.  “She’s clearly an excellent judge of character.”

“Oh, I like this one, Chip,” Maggie purred.  “We’re going to get along just fine.”

Maggie extended her mug to Michelle, who reached out with hers to tap it.

Wally smiled in relief and took a big gulp of his beer.

“Charlie wasn’t the career criminal we made him out to be,” Michelle explained, “but we set him up with a fake record just in case The Heathens had someone on the payroll who did any digging to check his bona fides.”

“He was still pulling a few little jobs, though, right?” Wally asked like someone who was late to the party and desperately wanted an update.  “He clearly needed money.  That’s why he went to his boss to demand a raise.  And he probably stole the bike so he could sell it…”

“I’m gonna circle back to that,” Bruno promised as he refilled Maggie’s mug and his own.  “Why do you think a guy, who was very good at his job, suddenly decided he wanted to play cop and try to bring down one of the baddest gangs in the city?”

Michelle shrugged.  “To be honest, I didn’t give it much thought.  At least not at first.  I just knew that bringing down The Heathens would be a major feather in my cap.  If this guy who had access to them and had earned their trust and respect suddenly wanted to turn on them, who was I to question it?”

crime, murder, Modern PhilosopherBruno nodded and sipped his beer.  “I ain’t trying to jam you up here.  I just gotta gut feeling about why he did it, and I’m curious if we’re thinking the same thing.”

Michelle drummed her fingers nervously on the side of her mug.

“We’re all friends here,” Maggie assured her as she reached out to touch her hand. 

Michelle looked over at Wally, who smiled reassuringly.

“My gut tells me Charlie was this lonely, nerdy guy, who enjoyed the attention and respect he got from the scary gang bangers.  They were amazed at what he could do with an engine, and he wasn’t used to anyone, let alone someone like The Heathens, thinking that was cool.  He decided he liked the attention, and he wanted to be like them, too.  His knowledge of tools made it easy to figure out how to pick a lock or get into a vehicle.  The rush of it all made him feel alive for the first time in ages.”

Bruno smiled and nodded.  “Looks like we’ve got the same gut.”

Michelle smiled.

“So then why did he suddenly decide to turn against these guys he so badly wanted to impress and be like?” Wally asked.

Maggie put her hand on Bruno’s.  “Before you answer that, tell the young man that was an excellent question.  It’s the least you can do after you jumped down his throat earlier.”

Michelle chuckled.  “I really like you, Maggie.”

“Back at you,” Maggie replied.

Wally looked at Bruno with a wise ass smirk on his face.

“Excellent question, Wally,” Bruno said in the most monotone voice possible.  “He had a change of heart, an epiphany, or better yet, a catastrophic life change that made him look at everything differently and caused him to completely upturn his life.”

“What are you talking about?” Wally asked what everyone else was thinking.

Now it was Bruno’s turn to smile slyly.  He then milked the moment by taking a sip of his beer, which caused an impatient Maggie to nudge him in the ribs.

“We ain’t working a murder here,” Bruno announced confidently.  “Charlie White knew he was dying…”


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When Does Life Start To Imitate Art?

I am a hopeless romantic, Modern Philosophers, with a definite accent on the hopeless part of that title.

It’s not that I’m looking for love in all the wrong places, but more a case of love hiding from me so well that I’m never going to find it.

Recently, I’ve been getting a lot of emails from readers asking me why I simply don’t ask out whoever is the basis for Holly in the Aaron and Holly stories.

First off, was it really that obvious that Aaron is based on me?  I mean, I thought I did a very good job of hiding that fact.

Okay, so maybe all the sarcasm is one of the reasons why I can’t find a special someone.

Sure, Aaron is based on me.  Most of my protagonists are.  Lucky for them, they have a great writer who can always figure out a way for them to find love.

Me, on the other hand…I’ve got some real issues with the writers in charge of my life.  Why the hell can’t they create a leading lady and introduce her to story?  I’m not getting any younger!

Please excuse my tangential venting.  It’s how I deal with stress.

dating, humor, Modern PhilosopherBack to the original question.  Why don’t I ask out the woman who is the basis for Holly in all those stories?  Even though Aaron is oblivious to her feelings for him, it’s pretty obvious to anyone reading the stories that they would make a great couple.

Here’s the thing, Modern Philosophers: There is no real life Holly.

Holly is an amalgam of many women.  Some of them are currently in my life, and many of them are from my past.

Basically, she is my Frankenstein Dream Woman.  A combination of so many women who had made an impact on my life, captured my heart if only for a fleeting moment, and left an impression that I will never forget.

I know I have horrible luck with women, and my social awkwardness makes things even more difficult, but if someone as amazing as Holly was hanging out with me every Sunday, I would definitely ask her out.

dating, relationships, Modern PhilosopherI took the above photo on today’s run, and sent it to a friend with the caption: Every day after my run, I sit on this bench and hope that Holly will finally come out of hiding and reveal herself.

Yes, that is the bench I imagine Aaron and Holly sitting on every Sunday when I write those short stories.  Yes, I really do sit there after every run and hope.

I mean, crazier things have been done in the name of love, right?  And keep in mind, I’m looking across at Stephen King’s side of the river.  If something magical like a stranger sitting down next to me on that bench and becoming the love of my life is going to happen, it’s going to happen in Stephen King country!

It’s not like it’s easy to meet someone during a pandemic.  I’m trying Facebook Dating, but Zuckerberg and his clowns keep trying to match me up with women who live in Canada and other states.

So I guess I’m just going to put my faith in life finally imitating art.  Holly is going to show up someday on that bench, and we are going to live happily ever after.

Holly, if you’re reading this, I usually run pretty early in the morning, but if you that doesn’t work for you, leave me a note and I can be there at a time more convenient for you…

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Don’t Set Your Happiness Budget Too Low

I was raised by a very frugal woman to be extremely tight with money, Modern Philosophers.

Don’t get me wrong, this philosophy has certainly come in handy at times.  It helped me to put myself through college on only a busboy/waiter’s salary.  It allowed me to keep The House on the Hill after my divorce even though, at the time, I made way less money than my ex-wife.

They say that money can’t by happiness, but it can purchase things that make life more pleasant and its stresses easier to handle.

But because I was brought up to be a tightwad, I not only learned how to properly pinch a penny, but I also learned to get by without so many things I wanted.

money, life, Modern PhilosopherIt was this mentality that kept me behind the wheel of Zombie Car way past its expiration date because it wasn’t logical to trade a vehicle that was paid in full for monthly lease payments.

Luckily, the Fates intervened.  Zombie Car would not rise again, and I was forced to get a new ride.  Now I am able to drive in snow without the paralyzing fear that plagued me for over a decade.  The peace of mind alone has been worth the monthly car payment.

And that’s what my stepmother’s lessons never taught me:  It isn’t all about the money.

So many more things need to be factored into the equation, and the bottom line cannot be determined simply by your bank account balance.

Despite this epiphany, I have not changed my ways.

I still think about purchasing the MLB Package every season so I can watch my beloved Yankees, but then I convince myself there are enough games on cable that it would be a waste of money to pay for the plan as well.

I’ve needed a new laptop for years, but can’t bring myself to pull the trigger.  I am proud to say, however, that I have gone to Best Buy and looked at my options.

Before you write me off completely, I did finally splurge on a big ticket item.  New windows are being installed on the first floor of The House on the Hill this month.

money, life, Modern PhilosopherOf course, this is going to be expensive, and Frugal Austin has demanded that I do something to help defray the cost.  Because it has been burned into my brain that I should feel guilty if I buy myself nice things.

I calculated that the one way to find some money in my budget would be by cutting back on what I buy at the grocery store.  As a result, for the past two months, I’ve trimmed my grocery bill from $100 a week to under $75.

This morning, I realized I was almost out of my allergy medicine at a time when my allergies have been going haywire.  My grocery list had already been finalized, and I knew there was no way to keep it under $75 if I bought the meds.

What to do should not have even been a question.  I’m miserable when my allergies are on a rampage.  My eyes itch, my nose runs, and I can’t sleep.  And yet, I stood in the medication aisle of the grocery store for way too long debating whether I could afford the $10 for the generic allergy medication.

How had I allowed myself to be brainwashed to a point where I thought that spending $10 on something for my health would be an extravagant expense?

Needless to say, I finally came to my senses and bought the allergy meds.  I also made one more lap around the store and bought a few treats that will come in handy this week while I’m on vacation and enjoying the game.

Ironically, I still spent less than $100.

At least I know what’s wrong with me, and that’s half the battle.  Please don’t be like me.  Don’t set a budget on items that bring you joy.

Splurge on yourself once in a while.  It might leave you will less in your back account, but there’s so much more to life than money.

And never forget: You can’t take it with you.

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The Joy of Waiting

I am not a patient man, Modern Philosophers.

To that point, I am impatiently drumming my fingers on the table while waiting for you to finally finish reading this post so you can like and comment on it.

I do not like to be kept waiting.

I think all companies should be forced to have a voicemail option on their customer service lines.  If they cannot take your call in an acceptable amount of time, the caller needs to be given the choice to leave a message and get a return call.

After all, we have more important things to do than to wait for your customer service people to finally get around to providing that customer service that’s desperately lacking.

This morning, I wanted to follow up on an order that had yet to arrive at The House on the Hill.  I had placed my order over the phone without needing to have any human contact.  That’s definitely my preferred way to have an transaction.

However, in order to find out why the product hadn’t been delivered, I needed to deal with my fellow humans.  Never a joy.

As luck would have it, someone answered on the first ring.  Only to tell me I had to call a different number to inquire about delivery status.

And that’s when the idea for this blog post popped into my head.  Because I waited and waited for someone to pick up my call.  Despite the earnest recorded voice promising that my business was important, and a customer service agent would be with me shortly, no one ever came to the phone.

I tried to be patient.  I told myself I would walk laps and get in my steps while I waited on hold.  I agreed to wait no longer than five minutes.  Then ten minutes.  Then fifteen minutes.

At the fifteen minute mark, I finally disconnected the call.  Not before yelling at the recorded voice that it was a @#$%^&* liar when it told me, for the twentieth time, that a customer service agent would be with me shortly.

Of course, I still have no idea if my package is on the way.

Why do companies do this?  They must be aware of the hold times, and realize that they don’t have enough people covering the phones to provide adequate customer service.  And why not offer the option to leave a message and get a return call?  Are they afraid that we are going to turn the tables on them, and keep them holding when they call us?

humor, Modern PhilosopherThis wasn’t the only time I was forced to way today.  Earlier, I had to deal with the technician from the oil company who had come for the annual service on my furnace.

Yes, I do know how to have a wild vacation.  I did intentionally schedule this service call when I would be home from work.  Party!

Thankfully, the guy was early, so he did not keep me waiting for my 7:30 appointment.

But once he’s in the house, I have to wait.  I’m sure it will come as no surprise to discover it makes me anxious to have a stranger in my house, especially when he is tinkering with something that could cost large sums of money to repair.

So I was a hostage in my own house until he decided it was time to go home.

I wanted to go for my morning run, but could not because there was a stranger in my basement making all sorts of odd noises.

I needed to use the bathroom, but I was afraid to do that because I was certain the minute I started to do my business, he’d trudge up the stairs with a question.

Worst of all, I hate waiting for his assessment of the furnace.  Every year, I nervously await the verdict.  Is there something wrong?  How much is it going to cost to fix it?  Will the furnace survive another harsh winter?

Last year, the service guy screwed up something because the first time I turned on the heat that fall, all the smoke alarms went off.  The company had to send someone out to sort out that issue, but now I’ve got that memory in the back of my mind.

customer service, Modern PhilosopherClearly, I’ve got a lot of issues going on that lead to my being all wound up about having to wait, but that doesn’t mean anyone should ever make me wait.

But one of the great joys of having a blog is not having to wait to vent my frustrations.  As soon as I sat down at the laptop, the opportunity to get all this off my chest was right there.

Perhaps companies can learn from this.

The customer is always right, and this customer thinks your hold times suck!

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General Tso: Kitchen Warrior

Chinese takeout used to be a regular part of my diet, Modern Philosophers, which probably explains why I run so much.

Once the pandemic hit, however, I stopped ordering any food that was not prepared by me in my introvert’s kitchen.

Even now that most restrictions have been lifted, and I’m fully vaccinated,  I’m in no rush to get takeout.  It’s not that I don’t trust the people making the food, it’s just that I’m already dealing with an overwhelming number of anxieties and phobias.  Why add to that list by making myself wonder if there’s anything wrong with my takeout order?

But I am on vacation, and sometimes Vacation Austin gets VERY crazy.  Case in point: I ordered Chinese food for lunch.

General Tso’s Chicken to be exact.

vacation, humor, Modern PhilosopherI have been craving the dish very badly, and what better way to add to my wild vacation than by taking a walk on the takeout side?  Besides, I was paranoid that my car would die if I let it sit in the garage for ten days, so a trip to the Chinese restaurants killed two birds with the very same stone of paranoia.

As always, my lunch was delicious, but not the amazing feast I had built it up to be in both my mind and my stomach.  Truth be told, I got full and didn’t even finish it.

But don’t take that to mean that my vacation day is anything less than a success.  I’ve already been out for a run and gotten a haircut. 

So Chinese food was just the cherry on top of an already action packed day.

While I ate lunch, I watched the episode of Castle I had on the DVR.  I don’t know about you guys, but I love re-watching shows that I enjoyed during their first run on TV.  Right now Castle and The New Girl are both filling up my DVR.  I’ve gotten lucky because I caught them both at the end of their syndicated runs, and now the stations are going back to the Pilots and starting again from the beginning.

Sure, you can do that on a streaming service, but I don’t subscribe to any.  So I’ve got to binge watch my shows the old fashioned way.

That’s my update from vacation.  I have nothing else planned for the rest of the week, and am really looking forward to it.

What are some old shows you’ve been binge watching in reruns?

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Self-Improvement Hack: Don’t Say It!

I think I’ve finally discovered something positive about social media, Modern Philosophers!

Now I will admit that comment was somewhat provocative and controversial.  Did it make you want to say something mean or snarky in reply?  Have you already gone to the Comments Section and told me off for being so close-minded?

If you answered in the affirmative to any of those questions, this might be the blog post for you!  And I apologize for trying to bait you with that opening sentence.

But I did mean what I said.  I do believe I’ve found a positive use for social media.

I’ve long known that one of my faults (and I have SO MANY) is my tendency to say whatever comes to mind, without giving any thought to the consequences of the words that escape from my mouth.

This flaw was one of the contributing factors (again, there were SO MANY) to my divorce.  J and I were both very stubborn, well-spoken, and always had to have the last word.  I never backed down from a verbal confrontation over the course of our relationship.

And why would I?  I’m a writer.  My command of words is my superpower.  Witty comebacks form instantly in my mind, and refuse to be kept inside my mouth.

Unfortunately, J was the same way.  Our relationship philosophy wasn’t “Don’t go to sleep mad“, but rather, “Don’t go to sleep until you’ve shot every hurtful arrow in your quiver.”

And that, Modern Philosophers, is something I’ve been working to correct.

You know, in the miraculous event that someone wants to be in a relationship with me again.

advice, humor, Modern PhilosopherI took the above photo on my morning walk.  I had already decided to blog about this topic, and seeing this at the start of my running path seemed like a sign that I had chosen wisely.

This exchange is a perfect illustration of what I found to be positive about social media.  When I’m online, I see so many comments to which my brain immediately forms a witty comment.  And those comments are rarely positive or supportive of the original statement.

What social media has taught me is that it’s okay to think my thoughts, but keep them to myself.  There is no reason for them to ever leave the vault of my mind.  Like the original poster, I am entitled to my opinion, but I’m not obligated to share it.

Since there’s no one actually across from me engaging me in a conversation, no one ever has to know that I started to say something, but held back.  I won’t be accused of backing down or chickening out.

I can simply scroll on to the next comment, and no one will ever be the wiser.

After all, do I really want to get into some social media flame war with someone I will never meet?  Is it worth the momentary satisfaction I might feel after posting a total zinger?  Why would I want to make an enemy and add any more stress to my life?

I wouldn’t be surprised if, when I go for my run tomorrow, there is a rude/hateful comment or two scribbled in chalk under that unsolicited reply.

Who wants to see that?  Not me.  I’m there to run, not to get drawn into the controversy of strangers.

advice, humor, Modern PhilosopherThis is why I urge you, Modern Philosophers, to use social media as your test lab for ingesting controversial takes, but not spewing out venomous replies.

Trust me, there are plenty of takes on social media that you can use to hone this skill and improve your self-control.  People are not afraid to speak their minds when they can hide behind the anonymity of a screen name and do not have to say it to your face.

The question is: Can you swallow that reply that would probably get you a ton of likes, but also make you a target for all sorts of strangers who would love nothing more than to make your life a living hell for disagreeing with them?

Don’t get me wrong here.  I’m not saying to always bury your feelings and never express your opinion.  I’m simply suggesting to learn to control your response time.  Think about whether it’s worth it.  Very often, the first thing that comes to mind is fuel added to the fire, rather than an informed reply that adds something other than ill will and discontent to the discussion.

Being able to control your response to controversial topics will come in handy in real life situations.  It might save your relationship.  It could prevent you from offending a coworker and then having explain yourself to HR.  Maybe it keeps you from losing a longtime friend, or ensures that Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t became a war of words.

Social media is there, looking to entice you into saying the wrong thing.  Why not turn the tables, and remember that some words, once spoken, can’t be taken back?

I’d love to read your thoughts in the Comments Section.  And, yes, that is a test…

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Vacating Reality

It was an overcast Sunday morning along the Penobscot River.  For the first time in what seemed like an eternity, the temperature had dipped below 60 degrees.

Holly reacted to this temperature change by wearing a wind breaker and ordering a larger coffee than normal.  Aaron did nothing different.  He was both a creature of habit, and so relieved that it was finally cool again that he wanted as much of his body exposed to the fresh air as was socially acceptable.

He sipped his Snapple and stared out at the river.  Without turning to her, he finally broke the silence.  “Thanks for not asking that annoying question.”

Holly smiled a held the coffee up to her beautiful face for warmth.

“You’re my best friend,” she stated the obvious.  “I know you better than anyone.  Of course I’m not going to pester you by asking what you plan to do on your vacation…”

short story, humor, Modern Philosopher“This is why I keep you around,” he informed her with a chuckle.  “With the way the world has been lately, I am looking forward to just shutting off my brain, watching baseball, and doing a lot of writing.”

“Won’t the writing require your brain?” she asked with a giggle.

“You’d be surprised,” he replied without hesitation.

She didn’t know how to reply to that, so she moved the conversation on to another topic.

“You’re probably not going to miss all the debate about masks, vaccines, and the start of the new school year,” she remarked.

Aaron shook his head.  “Just one more reason I’m looking forward to turning off my brain and checking out on reality for the next ten days.  You might have to force me to turn it back on after Labor Day.”

“Or maybe I’ll just join you, and we can live happily ever after in a shared state of ignoring reality,” she quipped.

flash fiction, best friends, Modern Philosopher“It wouldn’t be the worst plan,” he conceded.  “However, I heavily rely on you to be the anchor that keeps me tethered to reality.  If you flee into the slacker matrix with me, we might not have any chance to ever rejoin the real world.”

“And that would be a bad thing?” she challenged with a sly smile.

“No fair firing philosophical fast balls at me when my brain is off,” he complained.  “Can’t we just look at the boats, and wonder which one of them might end up on a Gilligan’s Island type adventure if bad weather hits?”

“Sure thing, little buddy,” she replied with a wink.

That made him smile, which was all Holly really needed to be happy on a quiet Sunday morning along the river in Maine…

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