Month: August 2013

Fictional Snippet – Lorraine…

As I’m plowing my way through my first draft, I occasionally like to take a moment to share snippets of the story that I’m writing. Why is this chapter titled “Lorraine”? Well… You can’t know at this point. It comes later in the chapter. For now, enjoy what little I’m providing. =)

I put Dodger’s food and water in his crate with him, along with what was left of Mr. Cuddles, and made a mental note to pick up an actual chew toy for him while we were in town. I grabbed the keys to the rental car off of the counter, then walked out to the car. It was a white Camry, about as non-descript of a car as one might find on a lot. I started the car up, then drove towards the Huddleston’s home.

As I passed the cupcakery, I saw River standing in front of her shop, taking a long drag off of a cigarette.

POP!

I slammed on the brakes, unsure of what had just happened. The engine went from a methodical hum to an irregular thumping, and a black cloud              billowed out from under the hood. I shut the engine off, pulled the hood release, and jumped out of the car. I opened the hood and looked at the engine, unsure of what I was actually looking for. I was keenly aware I had exhibited the most innate of male reactions: looking under the hood of a broken down car, regardless of having any actual clue as to what was broken.

“Are you aware you’re smoking?” River called, approaching from up the street. The cigarette smoldered in her left hand.

“You’re one to talk,” I retorted. I thought I may have come across too harsh, but River didn’t appear to notice.

“May I?” she asked, dropping the cigarette to the curb and stamping it out with her sequined ballet flat. With her apron, she fanned away some of the smoke, then leaned over the engine. She felt around with a tattooed hand, finally tugging out a loose wiring harness.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Looks like your spark plug blew out,” she replied. She squinted, looking into the boot. “Looks like it broke off, you’ll need a mechanic with an extractor to fix it.” She turned and smiled at me, and must have noticed a raised eyebrow and mouth agape. “I worked part time at a Toyota service shop during college. My small hands made me pretty useful around the shop, I picked up a few things.”

“If you don’t mind my asking, is there anything you haven’t done for work?”

“Investment banking,” she said flatly. “A girl must have her moral standards.”

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Wanna Bet?

In the immortal words of Betty White… “What you will be, you will be.”

Welcome to the

Wiener dogs have a gift. We have amazing powers to predict the future. For example, I know whenever Ralph gets a bowl of popcorn that he’s going to share. I know whenever he relaxes on the couch, he’s going to make room for me. I know whenever I hear water running and he tries to act nonchalant (pretty good word for a dog, huh?) that I’m about to get a bath. I won’t tell you how I know that it’s time for me to go to the vet, but trust me, I KNOW!

Here’s an example of how I always know the outcome of things…
http://www.gocomics.com/drabble/2013/08/04

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The Customer Experience…

As a former retailer and someone whose current job is driven heavily by customer service, I may expect a lot. It’s not that I’m a snob about customer service, it’s more that I know that a great customer experience should be the goal of any business, small or large. The customer is what keeps you in business, after all. I usually will view a situation as a customer from the mindset of a former retailer. After my wife and I walked over to Ava Roasteria for breakfast, we decided to peruse a couple of shops on the way back home, and what was interesting was the difference between the two shops we stopped in.

The first stop was an optometrist’s office. My wife has been considering getting a new pair of glasses, and a couple of months back, she had seen a pair in the window that she liked. As we looked over the walls of displays, a woman in a white coat (whom I presume was the optometrist approached us.

“Are you finding what you’re looking for?” she asked.

“Actually, we’re just looking.” my wife replied.

From someone who has been there, my reaction would be to introduce myself and advise “If you have any questions, please let me know.” Make sure the customer knows my name, and that I’m available to help. Try to make that personal connection with them.

“Oh, well, I noticed that you like red frames,” the good doctor said, picking up another set of frames off of the wall. This was off-putting for a few reasons. First off, the doctor hasn’t introduced herself at this point in time–I have no idea what to address her as, and neither does my wife. Second, her “observation” was that my wife liked red frames. While the pair that she had in her hand at this point in time was, in fact, red, Amanda had also tried on purple, pink, and black frames before we were approached, so her observation was based on a shallow perception of what she saw my wife with at that moment, not by any inquiry as to what my wife was looking for. Finally, my wife is exceptionally picky about glasses frames–she won’t try every one in the store on, she’ll spot a few she likes and try them on one at a time. The doctor proceeded to pick up every pair of glasses that had red in them.

My wife politely tried on several pairs, finally saying, “Well, alright…” as a cue that she wasn’t really looking for help and was getting ready to leave. In a last-ditch desperation effort, the doctor pulled a pair of blue glasses (which lends itself mightily to a joke about her doing it “out of the blue,” but I’ll refrain) and tried to have my wife put them on. Amanda wrinkled her nose, shook her head, and said, “No, thank you.” We then left the store.

In less than five minutes of interaction, I knew several things about this optometrist.

1) Her primary concern was selling glasses, not getting to know her customers.

2) By not getting to know her customers, she didn’t understand their needs.

3) By not understanding their needs, she was attempting a shotgun approach to sales.

4) By using a shotgun, she spooked the customers into leaving.

Contrast this to another local business we stopped into, one of my wife’s personal favorites, Sweet Siren Boutique. My wife just wanted to take a quick look around, and from the moment I walked in the door, I noticed the women working in the store were more concerned about the customer experience.

As you walk into the store, there’s not only the obligatory water dish for dogs (a must for any business in a dog-friendly neighborhood such as Neighbors Southwest), but they also have a dish of dog treats. We’ve previously gone into the store, and they were completely cool with Amanda and I bringing Mahler in (If you’ve got concrete floors in your business, honestly, what do you have to lose?).

What struck me on this visit was their interaction with one customer’s child. The little girl, who couldn’t have been more than five, was asked by her mother to take an item and put it on hold with the nail polish they were holding at the counter. The girl dutifully carried the item to the counter, handed it to the lady, and said “Can you please put this with my nail polish?”

“You got it, little lady.” Had she left it at that, I would’ve been impressed by her enthusiasm, but she went on. “Do you have a lot of fun shopping?”

“Not really,” said the little girl.

“Well, what do you like to do?”:

“I like to tickle my brother. I’m really good at that.”

“Really?” the lady asked. “If he asks you to stop, do you stop?”

“No,” she replied, giggling.

“What does he do when you tickle him?”

“He cries.”

Now at this point, everyone in the store can hear the conversation, and we all were laughing. The clerk has connected with her tiniest customer, and while sure, I’m sure somewhere in her mind, she wanted to make a sale, she wasn’t focusing on making a sale. She was focusing on building a relationship. The child was having fun, the mom was able to focus on shopping, and everyone who could hear the conversation was entertained.

“What else do you like to do?”

“Wrestle with daddy.”

“Are you good at that?”

“No.” She sheepishly grinned..

“You’ll get better. One day, you’ll wrestle with dad and win, and he’ll be like, ‘How did you get so good at wrestling?’.”

“Yeah.”

At Sweet Siren, the customer was the focus. And not even the paying customer, they were paying attention to the littlest person in the store and making them feel welcome. they weren’t just a sales figure, they were a relationship. If you build the relationship first, the sale can come naturally. Don’t try to force a sale on me, get to know me first. Figure out my needs, connect with me on an emotional level. Then let it grow organically from there.

On-the-Fly storytelling…

This evening during my final session of Personal & Professional Assessment, we were given an assignment to use five words chosen from a list of fifteen to create a story. Being the overachiever that I am, I determined to use as many of the fifteen as I could in my story. This was the result.

Once upon a time there was a nimble mouse named Mortimer. Mortimer was a cheese thief, very meticulous in his chosen mousely profession, making sure his actions did not endanger his mouse colony by catching the attention of the guard cat, Carlos. One day, Mortimer noticed a tempting piece of cheese in the middle of the room, but something seemed off—behind the cheese was an absurd looking tea cozy, with an obsolete chartreuse paisley print. The print gave an optical illusion that appeared to almost shudder, as though the tea cozy was cowering with fear. Mortimer bustled out of his hiding place, snatched up the cheese, and was attempting to avoid prolonging his time out in the open, but his gullibility put him right where Carlos, hiding under the tea cozy, could catch him.

I managed 11 out of 15 words on the list, but as it happens, Arlo managed to eek out 12 in his. Not quite the most in class, but I felt good about it anyway.

Fictional Wednesday -The Cobbler of Belfalls

This is the first chapter of a story I started writing called “The Cobbler of Belfalls”–It’s not something I made it very far into, really only scratching the surface of a second chapter, but it was inspired a bit by Tolkien’s “Farmer Giles of Ham.” I thought I’d share what little I have, though. ~A.L.

The Cobbler and the King

Long ago, in the southern part of what is now Britain, there was a town known as Belfalls. You shan’t find the town on any modern maps, for it was long since been destroyed and built over, though the history books are scant in details as to how it was destroyed, be it in some long-forgotten battle or the decay of time, but it was located near where Bristol is now. In any event, the town was not large by any means, nor noteworthy in any fashion, except that it had a cobbler.

Cobblers, you see, made shoes. It wasn’t like today where you could simply go to the store and buy a pair of athletic shoes that had come off of an assembly line. Someone needed to make them by hand. Why it was noteworthy is, in those days, very few people in the world wore proper shoes, except for the royalty because of the expense to have them made. Most went barefoot in the summer and wrapped burlap around their feet in the winter. The cobbler of Belfalls made the shoes for anyone who asked, and was willing to barter for prices that were reasonable for even the lowliest serf. And they were comfortable, much more so than the shoes you might buy today, and they lasted longer, but it should come as no surprise, as they were much better made.

Though his name’s been lost to history, the cobbler of Belfalls was renowned for his shoemaking, and although most of his work was done for the local peasantry, one cold October day a king was travelling with his courtiers through the town of Belfalls, when he noticed the curious nature of the peasants – they all wore finely crafted shoes, and not the burlap wraps on their feet that he had seen in the many towns before.  And the shoes were of such quality that, though the king would never have admitted it, his looked old and worn.

“You there, peasant!” the king called to a passing villager. “Where did you get such shoes?”

“From the cobbler of Belfalls, your majesty,” the villager replied. He turned and pointed to the signpost in front of the cobbler’s humble shop. It was a small cottage, with a thatched roof and an aloof hound tied up next to the door, laying with his paws in the air, napping.  The king rode his horse to the front of the shop, and called out from the back of his horse.

“I say there, cobbler!” he shouted. “I require shoes!” The king, rather stupidly, assumed that simply because he was a king that there was no need for him to get off of his horse to do business with the cobbler. His assumption is much the same as if you were to go to a shoe store and expect that the salesperson to bring the shoes out to you, and was received by the cobbler in much the same way, for the cobbler, with his back to the king, merely called back from his workbench inside while continuing to work:

“If you wish to buy shoes, sir, I suggest you get off your high horse and buy them.” It is a little known thing, but in fact, this was the first use of the expression “Get off your high horse.” Neither the cobbler nor the king would realize the historical significance of such a remark, nor did they realize that its use at this time would spread like wildfire when referring to someone being pompous or arrogant. However, the king was hardly amused with the situation as it stood.

“I said, I require shoes, cobbler! Know you not who I am?” The king called back abruptly.

“Nay, I’ve no idea who you are, sir,” the cobbler called back. “But it’s apparent you know who I am, else you’d not be standing at my storefront, demanding shoes. I can only venture that you’re some kind of highwayman, wishing to rob me of my wares, and I must warn you that my hound is part wolf, and does not take kindly to thieves and robbers.” The hound rolled over, looked up at the king, snorted abruptly, then put his head back down and returned to his nap.

“I say, your wolf-hound is as menacing as a sparrow,” the king called back. This coaxed a chuckle out of the gathered courtiers. “I’ve not come to rob you, cobbler, I require shoes and the peasants have guided me to your storefront.”

“Indeed?” the cobbler retorted. “Did they also tell you I have little patience for arrogant fools who make airs and expect to be waited on like some sort of king?”

“Blast it all, cobbler, I AM a king!” the king cried out.

“And did your mother raise you to have such poor manners as a king?” the cobbler asked. At this point, the king became livid, drawing his sword.

“I demand satisfaction, cobbler!” the king shouted.  “You may retort at me all you like, but to speak so brashly of my mother…”

“Sire, if it is satisfaction you have come looking for, I have none of it here,” the cobbler replied. “If you wish to purchase shoes, however, I have many, and you need only come in and I can fit you for them right quick.”

The king hesitated, unsure as to how he should respond. You see, on the one hand, he also came to the same realization that you and I had much earlier, that to demand the cobbler bring him the wares instead of going in to ensure they were properly fitted was quite arrogant, but on the other hand he was a king, and never once had anyone spoken so abruptly with him, save perhaps his father, and he did not much care for the feeling.  Dumbfounded, the king sheathed his sword and began to dismount, however while he was dismounting he became entangled in the stirrup, and without warning fell flat on his back, soiling his favorite cloak on the muddy road in front of the cobbler’s shop.  Two of his knights quickly dismounted and helped him back to his feet. The king was visibly flustered, but putting on his best air of kingliness, he strode into the cobblers shop.

The shop itself was not much bigger than a stall in the king’s stable, and although the stalls in the king’s stable were actually quite generous in size, to the king’s eyes it actually looked rather small. There were racks of every shape and kind lining the walls, and each rack contained pair after pair of the most unique shoes you had ever seen, in every size imaginable. Towards the back of the shop was a workbench covered with tools, with the cobbler of Belfalls sitting at work. He turned to the king, looked him up and down, and spoke.

“Begging your pardon, majesty,” said the cobbler, bowing quickly. “It would appear that you have something on your royal robes.” The cobbler appeared genuine in his concern, which surprised the king after their initial exchange.

“Yes, well, as I prepared to come in I stumbled.” the king replied, doing his best to not pin blame on the cobbler for making him get off of his horse.

“I wouldn’t worry about it, sire,” the cobbler said. “After all, the good Lord said that ‘Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall,’ and I very much expect He even means it literally from time to time.” This was not what the king had expected of the cobbler. He wasn’t a terribly old man, though clearly not young, either. His voice exuded certain wisdom beyond his life years, however. He was fitter than the king had expected, with blazing green eyes and a full head of reddish-brown hair. Had he not known the man’s trade, he would expect such words to come from a priest, not mocking in tone, but truthfully spoken.

“You are a curious one, cobbler,” the king said. “I see you are a master at your craft, and yet you seem to be a fair learned man beside.”

“I do my best to learn something new by the sun’s setting, majesty. I find it makes life most interesting knowing that I have not attained all knowledge and likely never shall.” The cobbler dusted his apron and walked to the king. “Now, what shoes do you require?”

“I am in need of boots,” said the king, looking at the cobbler’s shelves. “Mine have become rather worn from long travels across the kingdom.”

“I see, I see…” said the cobbler.” Let me have a look.” the cobbler knelt before the king, eying his current boots carefully. “Mmhmm… Oh, yes… Most interesting…”

“What is?” The king asked, curious what the cobbler saw that he himself did not.

“Does this foot bother you after wearing these for a long period, sire?” the cobbler asked, pointing to the king’s right boot.

“Yes, as a matter of fact,” replied the king. “How on earth could you tell?”

“Because of the unusual wear on the outside edge,” replied the cobbler, pointing at a worn seam near the sole. “It appears that the maker of these made them too wide in the center and too narrow for your toes. I imagine you have a blister on your heel as well?”

“Both, actually,” the king replied, astonished that the cobbler could derive so much from worn leather.

“It’s apparent that these boots were made on a form and not for your foot,” the cobbler replied. “They are tighter than they should be, but are just loose enough that they’ll rub and cause your ailment.” The cobbler went to his workbench and brought forth a length of leather, with many small notches marked on the edge. The king could only imagine it was used for measurements.

“Now then, sire, if I may be so bold as the burning bush, as it were, and ask that you remove your boots. This isn’t no holy ground, to be certain, but it makes the measuring of your feet much easier.” The king loosened the straps on his boots, and removed them, and immediately the cobbler went straight to work, measuring what seemed to be the length, breadth, circumference, and just about every other angle imaginable, eagerly jotting down all of his notes on a small pad of parchment he kept in his apron, while he occasionally spoke under his breath between measurements.

“Yes… ah yes…. I expected as much… Hmmm… Ah, there we are…” And almost as quickly as he had begun, the cobbler had completed his measurements.

“Very good, sire,” The cobbler said. “If you return in three days, I will have your boots prepared, and at that time we can discuss compensation.”

“Only three days?” the king enquired, puzzled. You see, when his royal cobblers made shoes for him, whom he considered to be the experts of the land, they were notorious for taking weeks to complete them, working out every minute detail by hand.

“Your ears don’t deceive you, m’lord,” the cobbler said. “The good Lord could raise himself from the dead in that amount of time, I’ve always fancied I shouldn’t take any longer to make a pair of boots.”

“Very good, cobbler,” the king said. “In three days I shall return, and I shall bring a price for the boots at that time.” And with that, the king returned to his horse outside, and the cobbler returned to his work.

The end

November 21st, 2012–a day that will live in infamy. After the 2009 movie 2012, the news stories began. According to the Mayan calendar, the world would be ending on December 21st, and we joked about it, but on November 21st, people everywhere wondered as the final sign of the apocalypse appeared to be upon us, making us question everything we thought we knew about the world.

Twinkies were no more.

After a nuclear apocalypse, we counted on only cockroaches and Twinkies to survive. And yet, curiously close to the alleged end of the world, one of the two things that we expected to outlast mankind was no more.

The preppers rushed out to Costco and bought them by the pallet. Snack cake aficionados began to hoard the delightful golden cakes en masse. Some even preached investing in Twinkies to pay for their children’s college one day, because eventually the snack cake aficionados would run out and need another fix. And Twinkies will last just about forever, so the longer you hold onto them, the more money you can get out of them when the supply dwindles. Surely, these tiny golden bars would eventually gain in value.

I personally was left with a dilemma–shortly before the announcement of Hostess’ bankruptcy, I had promised a colleague at work a box of Twinkies as repayment for taking one left on his desk while he was out of the office, and now, I had no source. What would I do? Sure, I could go on eBay and try to find them, but lets be honest–how do I know I’m not getting some kind of knockoff, a Little Debbie Cloud Cake put in a hastily printed faux Twinkie box? I couldn’t verify the product over the Internet, and if they were fakes? I would have overpaid significantly. There’s always the black market, but my childhood lessons in stranger danger prevent me from procuring snack cakes from a shadowy figure in a dank alleyway while maintaining a clear conscience.

It was a different world.

Only it turns out there were a few mistakes. For one, the Mayan calendar didn’t actually predict the end of the world. As it turns out, the Mayan calendar just ran out of space, similar to a printer running out of paper halfway through the story. The end of the calendar wasn’t a dire prediction that the world was coming to an end, and only John Cussack could get us to the ark in time to save us all. It was simply the last piece of paper.

And Twinkies weren’t actually going to outlast us, anyway–urban legends actually blew the 25 day shelf life completely out of proportion. This isn’t exactly the first time we were in danger of running out of Twinkies, either. Apparently Y2K affected Twinkie output, too, yet we somehow got them back.

Humanity pressed on, Twinkieless for eight long months. We toiled, we suffered inferior snack cakes from competitors, but in testament to our human perseverance, we survived the great Twinkie drought of 2012, and the tiny, cellophane-wrapped sundrops are once again available on store shelves.

Which begs the question–why would anyone invest in Twinkies to find their children’s college?

#amberalert – The connected society…

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I, like a lot of people, got this pop up on my phone this evening. Like a lot of people, I jumped, puzzled. I’ve never received and amber alert on my phone before. I didn’t even know cell carriers COULD broadcast amber alerts before today, so seeing one turn up came was a shock.

Truly, ours is a connected society.

It’s open for debate as to whether this is good or bad, regardless it’s here and now.  On the one hand, it is absolutely mind-blowing how much information can be relayed to a large quantity of people in one fell swoop – Where previously, severe weather or other emergency alerts could only come through the normal media channels–television or radio–now they can be pushed instantly to millions of cell phone users simultaneously, increasing the spread of information well beyond our previous uses. Even with Facebook reposts of amber alerts, the system is completely dependent on having the medium on or having a Facebook account. By pushing it to subscriber’s phones, the service providers can saturate an area with information regarding, as was the case today, a missing child, and not just with a shotgun blast of, “send to everyone on the network,” they can target these to subscribers who are geographically close to the area the missing person was last seen or may have been heading. From simply a law enforcement standpoint, it’s a boon to be able to get that many eyes on the road when looking for a missing person.

Of course, there’s the possibility for abuse of the system at some point in time, not to mention having such a system in place could conceivably be misappropriated by a hacker to send out false reports (I don’t know the technology they’re using, but if it’s computer based, chances are someone can figure it out). Unfortunately for every good thing that exists, there are inevitably ways that it can be misused or abused.

Still–For now, it’s spread the word. Whether it will be beneficial to law enforcement remains to be seen, but if the outcome is a recovered child and a convicted abductor, no doubt there will be some credit due to the swift spreading of the amber alert.

Let us all pray for the desired outcome.