So I got phished

Well, that’s three hours of my life I won’t get back.

It’s my own fault. I was supposed to be Writing The Book, and instead I let myself be distracted by a [presumably fascinating, but I don’t really know, since I didn’t actually get to read it] article about how some stars appear to be older than the universe.

Suddenly this enormous red square bloomed on my monitor, and upon it a lot of words, the largest of which read MOZILLA FIREFOX CRITICAL ERROR. The gist of the subsequent, smaller words was that my computer was being hacked, my data was at risk, and I had to call the Microsoft help desk.

There was also a phone number.

Which I called.

Yes, really.

rachel bloom bang head on desk GIF by Portlandia

Look, that square? It was really red. Not a bright happy red, like cherries or a toddler’s cheeks on a cold day. It was a gory, gloomy sort of red, like old ketchup the morning after you brought dinner home in a paper bag because you’d had a shitty day and were too tired to cook, but you’re not a complete slob so you ate off plates, only you were too tired to wash up afterwards. And it took up the whole screen.

Anyway, the young man who offered was so helpful and sympathetic, and he explained that it was our “home network” that was infected, not just the computer. We don’t actually have a home network, as such … but I figured he meant the bad stuff was leaking in through the modem and into both the Hubbit’s and my computers and our smart phones.

Naturally, when he said he needed to access my computer over the internet in order to see what damage may have been done, I couldn’t wait to say yes.

234153

Well, sort of. I did have a moment of sanity. You see, you have to hold down the Windows icon key on your keyboard and another key – I think “S” but not sure – and then a window pops up on your screen. And you type some things and click on things and then you have to input a special number, which the helpful person on the other end of the phone gives you. And then your computer asks you if you want to give that person permission to access your shit … and at that moment I did hesitate.

“Wait,” I said. “Give me a moment. I need to verify that you’re real.”

He was a little impatient, but polite. If he’d been more impatient and less polite he’d have lost me … but he was reassuring. He gave me his name and his employee number. So when Google didn’t immediately scream “SCAM!” I went ahead and clicked yes, and he was in. Then I sat and watched as he poked around my computer. It was a bit like having a plumber in to fix a leak and to do it they have to empty your sink and – oops – you have underwear soaking in there. I mean, my internet habits are boring (as is my underwear, to be honest) … but still.

Eww.

So then a display appeared on the screen, and it was this long list of attacks. More than 1,500 warnings (bright yellow) and error messages (bright red) zipped up the screen. My new friend tutted in my ear. “See?” he said. “This is just from this month. You’ve been under a heavy attack!”

“But what could anyone possibly want?” I asked plaintively. It’s not as though we have any serious money, or interesting secrets.

“Well,” he said. “They could be using your personal data to commit international fraud. See there?” He showed me columns where the action was headed “Local” and “Foreign”. “Or maybe they’re after your money. It doesn’t matter how much or how little it is – they want it all! Tut tut tut. This is terrible. I’m so sorry,” he said. Then he showed me where I had a trojan – only, he said, he couldn’t fix it. It wasn’t clear why not.

229362

Helplessly I sat and watched file names scroll rapidly up my screen, and after a while he said he needed me to wait on hold for a minute or two while he spoke with his supervisor to try to figure out the best way to help me.

Well, waiting is boring. And since I wasn’t actually doing anything with my phone, I clicked over to Google again … and found … this.

Sigh.

So I ended the call and ignored his attempts to call back, and logged off my computer, and unplugged the modem just to be sure. And then I went and confessed to the Hubbit, who sighed and rolled his eyes but was otherwise forbearing. I figured out how to change the access to my computer, and I changed our most critical passwords. And then I called Microsoft – the real one, this time – and paid $99 for a year’s worth of technical support for all the internet devices in the House of Took. And after that I spent about an hour and a half on the phone with a very nice young man, who also requested permission to prowl around in my underwear computer, and while he was in there he did a whole lot of necessary housekeeping.

Which is something I didn’t get to do today, owing to spending the entire damn day on the computer – and not a fresh writerly word to show for it.

Except this post, of course. Does this count? Probably not … but it does make me feel better!

Have you ever been scammed? How stupid, exactly, did it make you feel?

 

 

Channeling my inner little old lady

So you know how sometimes you have to dial an 800 number, and from the first syllable emitted by the robot voice you can tell by the roiling in your gut and the pricking of your thumbs that this isn’t going to go well, but you persevere because you screwed up and now you’re in a panic?

And the reason you’re in a panic is that you’ve just woken up to the fact that your husband’s insurance has been blithely denying all the claims relating to his tractor accident? Okay, in all honesty I don’t know they were necessarily blithe about it. They may have been in ho hum mode, thinking about the past weekend or looking forward to the next one. No reason for me to presume there were any shrill cackles of banshee glee. Either way, to get back to my point…

What this means, in ordinary everyday terms, is that the giant wodge of papers covered with numbers and headed, reassuringly, “Explanation of benefits” and “This is not a bill”, which you’ve been ignoring because, seriously, who reads those things … but then you do, and HOLY CRAP!!

Paper pile (2).jpg
The actual wodge, artistically draped over a pile of fresh bills.

Oh – and I should mention that the reason you’re reading the wodge is that suddenly you’re getting actual bills – $1,814 for the emergency physician, who is the guy who essentially saved the Hubbit’s life, so it was totally worth it (most of the time, although maybe not so much when he refuses to wear his hearing aids) but, you know, on the other hand, you could do a lot with $1,814, if you had it. For example, that’s pretty much the cost of a pregnant cow around these parts.

But I digress. I was telling you about bills you might happen to receive following a major medical event.

Like $961 for the emergency hospital. You go “Ouch” because, after all, he was there for only a couple hours before they shipped him off to a hospital that was actually capable of keeping him alive – and then you look again and you realize the $961 is what’s left over after insurance kicked in $25,765 – and I mean, seriously, that’s more than $10,000 per hour! The Hubbit’s a smart guy who was highly qualified and certified up the wazoo back in his pre-retirement days, but no one ever thought he was worth that much back then! If they had, we’d probably be in ho hum mode at the sight of these numbers. Or maybe not, because … there’s more. So much more.

A whole sheaf of bills for the ambulance services that got him from home to the local emergency hospital, and from there to the bigger hospital in Spokane … and bills for the rehab facility, and the orthopedic clinic, and the imaging company, and the physical therapist. But that pile of bills is still smaller than the “explanation of benefits” wodge, so you start flicking through it, and you come across one for $25,765, which is the amount due for the local emergency hospital, and you realize that when the hospital sent you a bill for $981 they were (blithely?) assuming that the insurance company was going to pay – only this particular benefit explanation says, in a word, “Nope”. And you keep going and you find one for $99,285.97, which is just for that first day at the hospital in Spokane – less than a day – he arrived there after 6.00PM, for crying out loud. But that’s what it cost to make it so that he didn’t die right away.

Bill
You see that number? Someone tells me that’s my “total responsibility” – except that it isn’t, because this is only one of 55 pages of ridiculous numbers that came in a single envelope; other envelopes have come bearing additional pages – and all I can do is laugh. Shrug my shoulders. Vote for Bernie. Because this is absurd – not because magical medical technology isn’t worth what it costs, but because no individual human can or should shoulder such a responsibility.

And you look at it and you think, “Well, he’s alive. So there’s that.” But at the same time you realize your heart is going “Ofuckit Ofuckit Ofuckit” like The Little Engine That Could, after it made it to the top of the hill and headed down the other side and then gravity took over just as it noticed there was a wide, churning river at the bottom … and no bridge.

You know how that feels?

I really hope not, because if you’re taking the time to read this blog I like you, and I value you as an important source of warm fuzzies and endorphins, and I don’t want you either to plunge headfirst into a river or succumb to a heart attack.

Anyway, at that point, feelings aren’t really the issue. The issue is, what are you going to do? What I did was clutch the wodge in sweaty hands and take it to the Hubbit, and pick a fight with him about politics – his being conservative, and therefore opposed to state-funded universal healthcare. That urgent business having been satisfactorily concluded (it’s hard to concentrate on defending a philosophical point of view when your doting wife has just delivered a quarter million dollar-or-so whack upon your shiny pate), we agreed that there was no point in worrying about it, since payment was impossible. I promised to call the insurer on the next business day for a WT actual F conversation, organized the wodge into a neat stack (ordered by date and page number), put it on my desk, and promptly forgot about it.

I have an excuse. The Girl Child has been visiting and I’ve had coffee to drink and arguments to have and … oh, just generally more interesting things to do. Every few days a fresh bill would arrive, sometimes with a plaintive note scrawled across it from a medically-oriented bookkeeping person dismayed by the failure of the insurance to pay, and I would snicker at their naivete and rush out to suck down another coffee with the Girl Child. A couple included a form and a request that we complete it with the details of the “motor vehicle accident”, and I’d roll my eyes, because a tractor is not a motor vehicle, it’s farm equipment, and the reason I know this is that it’s not insured as a motor vehicle, so obviously it can’t be one! I’d add each bill to the growing pile on my desk and promise myself (and, occasionally, the Hubbit) to deal with the matter “tomorrow” – which, as we all know, is always a day away. Hooray for tomorrow!

Well, a couple days ago I was poking around on my desk and I came across a letter from the insurer dated April 12. It was addressed to “Dear Sir or Madam”, and expressed regret at our injury/accident and a wish for “good luck with your recovery”. There was also some reference to the need for a prompt reply.

Ofuckit Ofuckit Ofuckit.

They provided a post office box address, and a phone number.

I pondered my strategy while remembering how to breathe.

It was clear that a snail mail letter wouldn’t work. For one thing, my hands were trembling too much to type. Also, my grammatical synapses felt out of whack. And this wasn’t all bad. While tremor and grammatical uncertainty are a problem when one is wording a professional-sounding business letter, they can be helpful in presenting the persona of a slightly dotty and forgetful old lady.

I picked up my phone and dialed 1-800-ETC-ETRA – as provided at the end of the insurance company’s letter for the Other Party Liability office. A chirpy young woman answered, and introduced herself as Jessica. She asked for my name, and I gave it. With cheerful enthusiasm she expressed her eager willingness to help me. “But first,” she said, “I’d like to tell you about a great opportunity we can offer you.” Then she asked whether anyone in our household was over fifty years of age. I didn’t feel like listening to a sales pitch, but on the other hand she sounded so hopeful and eager that I decided to humor her. “Yes,” I said warily, “we’re both over fifty.” She launched into a description of a medical alert system the company was offering. She was clearly new to selling – she said “um” a lot, and a couple times she forgot to tell me something and had to backtrack, and although she was very sweet after a while I ran out of humor and cut her off.

That is, I tried to cut her off. “You know, I don’t want to waste your time. I really just want to deal with my query. Can you put me through to someone?” She ignored me. Just kept right on talking, rolling over me. “Hey!” I said. “Jessica, stop! I’m not interested!”

There was a pause, then she asked, “Would you like to talk to one of our representatives?”

“NO!” I shouted. “Just put me through to customer service!”

kate mckinnon omg GIF by Saturday Night Live

“Oh! Okay!” she chirped, perky as ever. I ground my teeth and breathed deeply, and a new voice came on. This sounded like a more mature, experienced woman. She also expressed a desire to help me – but first, she said, she’d like to offer me a great opportunity. Did I have a cellphone? I exploded – I was totally and irredeemably out of humor by then – and blow me down, she also just rolled straight into her pitch.

It finally dawned on me that she wasn’t human, and nor was Jessica. Nor was the woman who invited me to sign up for a roadside assistance program, or the friendly young man who wanted to know whether we had a TV. They were all, every one of them, bots. Not even real artificial intelligence.

The fact that Jessica had fooled me was profoundly embarrassing!

So, anyway, by the time the fourth robot voice came on I gave up on the number provided in the letter. If you’re wondering why I didn’t hang up sooner, it was because I kept hoping for a human! There comes a point in any venture where you’ve invested so much time and emotional energy that you can’t stand to quit, in case you’re just one cuss word away from Nirvana.  Come to think of it, that’s probably also why I keep buying Lotto tickets.

Anyway, eventually I called the number on the back of the Hubbit’s medical insurance card. That got me through to someone who could find no record that I had authority to speak with them on his behalf, so we got to have one of those super-fun threesomes that so enrich the lives of partners of the hearing impaired. You know how those go: you turn on the speaker phone so you can both hear, and he leans over the phone, breathing heavily into your ear, and then the person on the other end says something and he says, “Huh? Whut?” So you repeat it, and he loudly and clearly enunciates his response, and … rinse and repeat, for however long it takes. In this case it took a while, and the grand finale was when she read back a contract, and every time he started to say “Huh? Whut?” I’d frantically flap my hands in his face, because we did NOT need to be interrupting an electronic recording of a legal document. Eventually he got to say the required legally binding words, and he was given leave to kiss the telephone, and they were married. Or something like that.

We all heaved a sigh of relief and the Hubbit trundled off to play with his tractor, leaving me to explain the difference between a tractor (wheeled farm equipment) and a vehicle. “Oh,” she said, “No problem. You just need to speak with the Other Party Liability department. I’ll give you the number.”

“Oh no you don’t!” I exclaimed. “If the number you’re planning to give me is ETC-ETRA, forget it. That’s the number I called before this one and it connects directly to the fifth circle of Hell!”

There was a slightly stunned silence. “Are you sure you dialed the right number?” she asked. I said I was, and launched into a tirade about companies that infest the ether with robo-voices and inflict sales pitches on helpless little old ladies (at this point I remembered to insert a slight tremor into my voice) who are exhausted by caring for their injured and aging spouses, and also potentially facing homelessness because of denied claims and unpayable medical bills in a world that keeps voting for Damn Capitalists who refuse to support Medicare For All and just want us all to die in penury..

She offered to connect me directly to someone in the Other Party Liability department, and I said that would be acceptable provided she could vouch that they were human.

So that’s what she did, and this time I remembered right from the start of the conversation to quaver and dodder and make reference to how slowly old men heal after running over themselves with heavy equipment (which is not the same thing as a vehicle), and how stressful that was, and how difficult it was to remember everything, especially when we’d dealt with all sorts of paperwork at the hospital and I’d no idea there was more. I should mention that by this time I was tired, which meant I had to pause and say um occasionally while I thought about what to say, and I tended to forget details, which made it necessary to keep backtracking and repeating elements of my story, and all I’ll say about this particular young woman is that she sounded perky enough but she didn’t exhibit much empathy or compassion. She abruptly cut me off. “Was he at work when the accident happened?” I explained that he was loading up the tractor to get feed to the animals, right here at our little farm, and that he’s been retired for more than fifteen years now. She interrupted me again. “Okay,” she said.

“Um,” I said. “So what happens now?”

“I’ll adjust the record and pass it along to the appropriate department,” she said.

“But what do I have to do?” I quavered

“Nothing,” she said.

And that was it. What had been building up to be a fabulous blog post on the fundamental awfulness of the American medical insurance system fizzled with a soft pop. Which doesn’t mean I won’t still write it … but maybe not today.

Instead I thought I should write a blog post on the fundamental awfulness of insurance companies that use robots to try to sell services to people who want to deal with serious business, so I decided to call back 1-800-ETC-ETRA and find out just how many exciting new opportunities they’d offer me before connecting me to a human. I looked up the number on the insurance company letter.

That’s when I realized that the number they’d provided was in fact 1-866-ETC-ETRA. The 1-800 version of the number connects to a company that sells panic buttons, roadside assistance, and similar products.

So what the heck am I supposed to blog about now?

Please talk to me! What do you think about the cost of healthcare, and how it should be funded? Do you talk to robots on the phone, and do you find it reassuring or terrifying when they sound human? How do you decide what to blog about?

Breaking the day

Every morning when I open my eyes, the first thing I do is check my phone. The third thing I do is vow that I will stop starting every damn day this way, because the second thing I do – Reading All The Things – invariably takes hours and leaves me with a headache, an aching bladder and a bad mood.

So henceforth, starting tonight (and continuing tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow) I will leave my phone on my desk, next to my computer, so that I have to get vertical and actually leave the bedroom in order to check it. And that will automatically push it back from the single-digit events of the day – because I’m an old lady, or getting to be, and therefore can walk only so far without attending to bladderly duties even when not under extreme pressure to do so. And if I’m going to schlepp all the way from my side of the bed (the window side) to the bathroom (which is on the Hubbit’s side) I might as well take my contact lenses with me and poke them in, and if I’m at the sink anyway I’ll brush the teeth, swallow the apple cider vinegar and pop the pills. It would be nice to say that at that point it would make logical sense to take two steps sideways into the closet and get dressed, but between sticking a finger in each eye and glugging down ACV and monster pills (all supplements; I’m still off drugs – yay!) and wielding a vigorous vibrating toothbrush I usually need to sit down at that point and think about the coming day.

Which of course is another reason to leave the phone in the Woolf Den rather than next to my bed. The early morning read-while-still-horizontal is achieved without contact lenses – in other words, phone about two inches from one eye while clamping other eye shut with one finger.

The Hubbit has never photographed me in this position, but if he did I’m guessing “alluring” wouldn’t be the first adjective to come to mind.

Ermm … no, I don’t wish to discuss other positions, alluring or otherwise, that the Hubbit may or may not have photographed me in during the course of the past two decades. Now if you’ll let me get back to the point of this post…

… Sitting and thinking about my day usually involves looking at my calendar (on the phone) and to do list/s on Evernote (also on the phone), which exposes me to the immediate peril of new incoming texts, emails and news alerts – not to mention (the horror!) possibly even a phone call. Many a promising start to a day has been derailed in this way.

So anyway … Today I prized open the bleary windows to my soul and fumbled for my phone and there was a text from someone I didn’t know, who had clearly dialed the wrong number before hitting “send”. I responded helpfully. Things went downhill from there.

Morning message

Yea verily, between literacy louts and Trump-infested news held excessively close to my face (the up-close view doesn’t improve him – ask Melania) I need a better wake-me-up than my phone. Looks like I need a new charger, too. Pthah!
So what do you do to get your day off to a chirpy and cheerful start? Does it work?

Going postal

USPS-Exam-3D-Cover-with-text (2)So it looks as though the US Postal Service has a clever new scheme going: tell people you’re hiring, then when they go to your website to apply, don’t let them do so unless they fork over $29.95, in return for which some helpful people will send you a “well written Guide with NO MEMORIZATION required”, including test-taking strategies and tips from “subject matter experts”.

What’s particularly cool about these people is that they don’t expect you to waste time waiting for snail mail – because, as it’s important to understand if you’re going to apply for a job at the post office, actually physically posting anything is pretty old hat. No one who has a clue does that any more. So they will provide a link to a 98-page PDF document that you can download within three seconds of making payment, and print out using your very own personal printer ink and paper.

Alternatively, for only $10 more you can get essentially the same thing from another source, only what they promise to send is a “Postal Exam Package” containing exam registration materials, “eCareer Profile Creation Tutorials”, a bunch of practice tests, and a “Postal Interview Recommendation”.

It’s not entirely clear how they send this, but to me the word “package” denotes physical substance – something with heft. I imagine brown paper and string, the knots liberally coated with sealing wax … Dang, those were the days! I remember helping my mother make up parcels like that! Sometimes she’d let me hold the stick of sealing wax. I remember the smell of burning string and hot wax, and how quickly the drops of wax hardened, and how satisfying it was to scratch the hard accidental drips off the paper, and how important it was not to put my face so close to the flame that I burned off my eyebrows.

Hand made leather man wallet and  package on wooden background
Searching for this illustration made me feel so old! Everything I found was essentially an artistically staged picture. Take this one – what’s the relevance of the man wallet? I also found a still life in shades of brown, featuring a stamped seal, a watch on a chain and a cigar, arranged like relics of a forgotten era. Also, there are lots of pictures of scrolls, apparently made of papyrus, tied with hemp, and sealed with a perfect dab of red wax. Seriously, Adobe, WTF? Real people living today actually used this stuff, you know – and it had a purpose. It wasn’t just bloody decorative, okay? It was messy and it dripped and blobbed, and if you let your kid do it they probably illustrated the package with artistic extra drips and blobs, but – and this was important – YOU DRIPPED THE WAX ONTO THE KNOT IN THE STRING, okay? It was there to discourage postal workers from opening your parcel, because that was back in the day when it was reasonable to expect the South African Post Office to deliver parcels rather than dumping them in a ditch, losing them, or selling them to the highest bidder. Because, of course, back then we hadn’t invented scissors yet, so sealed and unbroken string was impenetrable.

Well, I digress … A modern parcel would have tape, not string, and it would likely come in one of those standard red, white and blue USPS boxes. Unless they sent it UPS or Fedex, those being the faster and more reliable options since the Pony Express closed down. But either way, there wouldn’t be string.

Sorry, that was another digression, because in fact I resisted the temptation to order a Postal Exam Success Guide. The only reason I was googling post office jobs was a sudden panic over money, for crying out loud! If I was going to spend $39.95 on something, it wouldn’t be on an unartistically presented package, which I wouldn’t receive because we don’t get mail delivery at our house due to an argument over post box location with our local post office about eight years ago, which culminated in the Hubbit declaring his independence from delivery services by renting a PO box (from USPS) instead. (That’s a whole blog post in its own right, but not one I feel like writing today.) Anyway, the $39.95 option didn’t include space for a PO box address, so I couldn’t choose it. As for the other option, the convenience of receiving a PDF document is offset by the fact that I still haven’t figured out how to get our wireless printer to connect to my computer, and I am fundamentally fed up with having to forward every bloody thing to the Hubbit for printing. In any case, if I had random bits of money to be scattering to the four winds I wouldn’t be contemplating a job at the post office, now would I?

Sometimes I feel as though my life is spiraling out of control. There are too many damn buttons to push, and you have to push them in the right order, and … GAH! It’s just too  complicated.

I couldn’t help wondering what my $29.95 would get me – I mean, in the sense of what career opportunities would open up if I accepted their Success Guide. So I went back and took another look at what popped up when I googled USPS jobs, and I realized that the sites I’d found the first time I tried this weren’t actually part of the official US Postal Service. They’re very cleverly dressed up to look that way, complete with bald eagles and flags, but if you click on the actual USPS website you can go straight to the online job application, easy-peasy.

USPS stamps
Turns out they have a new stamp design, called “summer harvest”. Click on the picture on the USPS website, and it’ll take you to a fantastic array of gorgeous stamps. Some of them are so pretty I just want to rush out and … I don’t know … start mailing letters again? Probably not – back in the day (before email) I was notorious for writing long, wonderful, newsy letters, putting them in an envelope, sticking on the prettiest stamps I could find … and then forgetting to put them in the mailbox. Actually physically going to a post office to post a letter was one of those things I invariably put off, so letters would go onto the pile of un-dealt-with paperwork I have kept on every desk I’ve ever owned, and there they would slowly sift to the bottom, to be found years later when I packed up to move house.

So anyway … I looked, and apparently the main post office in our area is looking for rural mail carriers. Only to get hired you have to pass a test, which takes about two hours to complete. I don’t have two hours right now, having already invested a substantial portion of today in writing this post. Also, I really hate writing tests, because failure, rejection, feelings of inferiority – AAHHHHH! I mean, how would I feel if I failed a test that was directed specifically at school leavers and other people with no prior experience, skills or training? Plus, apparently the test includes a section called “Summary of Accomplishments”, and the advice to applicants is  to “write about how your skill set, education and training matches the posting”. Seriously, should someone who can’t mail letters be responsible for delivering same?

Still, I have to admit I’m tempted. The thought of working in a post office, dealing with the Great Unwashed every day, fills me with dismay. Yes, I know, you don’t actually have to be nice to anyone – that’s one of the perks of working for the post office. But … ugh … you’re perpetually at the end of a queue, and every single day is just one piece of mail after another. Could that get monotonous, do you think?

Driving around delivering letters, on the other hand … now that could be fun. Lots of time to think, and – thanks to the invention of GPS – I wouldn’t get lost. Probably wouldn’t. Not very lost, anyway, and probably not permanently. It would be different if they were still using ponies – I like ponies way too much to sit on one – but these days you get to ride around in one of those cute little vans with the driver on the sidewalk side. You know, I can see myself doing that, while simultaneously dictating a Great Work (or, at least, a blog post) into a little hand-held recorder thingummy. I already have one of those. I just need to figure out how it works.

So what’s your dream job? What do you do when you suddenly realize you’re down to your last $50 and there’s still a week to go to the end of the month?

 

 

Voluptuous, vivacious and versatile – that’s me!

My first taste of internet sex was back in the Nineties, when the World Wide Web was a flimsy new creation draped over the moldering corpses of newly extinguished dinosaurs. My business partner and I heard about it (the web, that is; we had no clue about its pornographic potential) and decided we needed to get connected. Boffins installed a modem, did mysterious things to our computers, told us many things that we wrote down and hoped one day to understand, and left us to unravel the mysteries of email and web surfing.

Those boffins were mischievous young men. In the course of getting me set up they signed me onto an online dating site, so when I finally figured out how to open my email I found it awash in penises. There were startling measurements, intriguing claims, invitations to conduct a personal inspection at a time and place of my choosing, and even photographs.

Young surprised woman sitting in front of laptop.
Surprise! (Source)

Nowadays, of course, we can find exactly the same stuff on Craigslist, but back then it made me blink a bit. There were a few penis-free emails (well, not totally penis-free, but the penis was implied rather than being central to the message) and I responded to some of those and it was all rather entertaining, except that it bothered me that all these hopeful young men clearly had expectations based on an ad that didn’t necessarily my reflect my personal inclinations. I eventually got one of my cyber-swains to send a link to the ad and, yeah, it was pretty much as expected. So I deleted it … and replaced it with my own creation, headed: “Voluptuous, Vivacious and Versatile Sweetheart”. Something along those lines, anyway.

And, well, apparently this description still applies, since I have just lately been honored with a Versatile Blogger Award AND a Liebster Award. (Liebster means “sweetheart”, according to Herr Professor Google.)

I have a rule when it comes to awards, which is that their rules don’t apply. My blog, my rules – okay? On the other hand, I do appreciate the compliment, and I welcome the excuse to introduce bloggers I enjoy to bloggers (and others) who enjoy me. (My writing, I mean. Let’s not get carried away here – the penis story is over, folks!)

So here is Jamila, whose blog Thisizapen is a fun read. She’s bright and articulate, and she has a zest for life and an eye for the absurd that bubbles out in her writing. Hop on over and enjoy. And Jamila, thanks for the Liebster. You now have five reasons why I think you’re epic, and maybe I’ll answer more of your questions … one day.

Also, I’d like to introduce My Perfect Breakdown, who writes mainly about the challenges of recurrent pregnancy loss and cross-border adoption. This is a world so far from my experience that I honestly don’t know how I stumbled upon her blog, but she writes with such honesty and so much feeling that I find myself compelled to stick around. I’d encourage you to pay her a visit. And Ms MPB, thanks for the Versatile Blogger Award! Some random facts about me coming up!

Okay, now I’m supposed to nominate a total of 26 bloggers, but that’s just silly, so I’m just going to pick three for each award.

liebster-award

First, the Liebster, which is for bloggers with fewer than 200 followers. Not all these bloggers reveal their numbers, but they’re all new to the blogiverse so I’m taking a crazy chance and nominating them anyway.
Living Between Breaths is by a mom who lost her teenage son last year to a brain aneurysm. Her courage takes my breath away.
Tim at Party of One, Meal for Two is a young gay man who writes with heart and humor about his search for a life partner.
Absynthe Minded’s Fairy Dust is all sorts of this and that – something very new by a talented blogger.

versatile-bloggerNext, for the Versatile Blogger Award I’d like to nominate:
Fiona’s Favourites, mainly because it’s fun but a little because she’s a fellow South African. Also, her recipes are wonderful!
The Tempest and the Teapot, which is every bit as amusingly random as the name implies.
Exile on Pain Street, who has been writing entertaining, sometimes thought-provoking vignettes about his life for the past quarter century or so – and I know this because, in addition to commenting on life today, he periodically publishes a post from one of his old journals. It’s good stuff!

Right, and now I get to talk some more about me… and … umm, no, I simply can’t bring myself to answer a list of questions-about-myself per the award rules. I don’t read lists like that posted by other people either. Sorry, not trying to be rude, and I really do appreciate the vote of confidence, but trust me on this – my list of answers would be very, very boring.

So … instead of lists, here are some odds and ends I found in my “potential blog posts” pile, for your reading entertainment.

Search terms

Sooner or later, every blogger writes a post about the search terms used to find their blog, and when I read these posts I’m consumed with envy because having bizarre and creepy search terms is second only to having a dedicated troll. They let you know you’ve arrived in the blogiverse. Well, things are going a little slowly here … Since December, the search term that most commonly brings anyone to my blog is “bookworm costume”. Really, Google? Yes, my parents did indeed perpetrate a bookworm costume upon my person – but there is so much more to me than that!

Things did look up a little last month, when someone found me by searching for “2015 hot fat sugar granny who want to…” hmm, yes, I’ll leave the rest of that one to your imaginations. Suffice to say that this site must have been quite the disappointment. But it raises a concern. If I want to be noticed (and yes, to be honest, I do, a little bit, anyway), and if I don’t want to be perceived merely as an unreliable authority on Really Terrible Fancy Dress Ideas For Dweebs, do I have to write more about bodily functions? Because I can do that – but if I do, will you still respect me in the morning?

So a parrot walks into a bar…

Not really. It was a restaurant, and I didn’t see the parrot walk in because it was already there when we arrived. I saw it sitting on a big hunk of tree branch, and I got all excited because it was an African grey, and – as everyone knows – they are really smart and interesting and, in every possible way, evidence that African is better. Since this happened during Himself’s first visit to South Africa, I was eager to embrace any opportunity to demonstrate the fundamental and broad-ranging superiority of all things African to him.

So I rushed over to the parrot to get acquainted, and he crooned in a friendly sort of way. A passing waitperson warned me, “Be careful – he bites!” … and the parrot cocked his head and did a little dance on the end of the branch closest to me. I sidled closer, and he leaned, and he crooned, and I murmured sweet nothings, and boop-de-boop he hopped onto my arm and scuttled up to my shoulder.

Awww... ain't that cute! And Not depraved at all!
Awww… ain’t that cute! (If you ignore the depraved look in his eye.) (Source)

“Oh boy … he likes you,” commented another waitperson in tones of gloom. Feeling rather smug, I pranced around the restaurant a bit, enjoying the other patrons’ looks of envy. The parrot nibbled my ear and crooned a bit more. I sat down to eat, and he shared my salad. He snuggled up really close to me, and sort of cuddled. It was so sweet!

“That bird is humping your shoulder,” commented my adoring spouse.

“Oh rubbish!” I said, and offered the parrot another nibble of something tasty. The parrot sort of shuddered, ruffled all his feathers, crooned again, and commenced to hump my ear.

I raised my hand in an attempt at gentle discouragement and – YIKES! “They told you he bites,” remarked Himself, dispassionately.

I became aware that the other patrons were not, in fact, looking envious … although they certainly were looking, and they seemed to be enjoying the show. In fact, I had the feeling that some were regulars who had seen this show before, and would continue to enjoy it for as long as there were tourists to keep it running. It was time to dislodge Humpty Parrot. My head held high, I walked the length of the restaurant and nudged my shoulder against his branch in an encouraging, get-the-hell-offa-me way.

He scuttled to my other shoulder, clamped my ear with his beak and, with a glazed expression in his beady parrot eye, commenced frottage upon my pony tail. It took the manager and two waitpersons, armed with large towels, to get the bloody bird off me.

And I have to say, I think the applause, as I walked back to my seat, was entirely unnecessary.

While on the subject of body parts…

… in the context of the fact that South Africa just is better, did you see what our boys have done now?

Seriously, I’ve always enjoyed opportunities to brag about us pioneering heart transplants. And I think it says a lot about our values as a nation that we started with the heart. But this? It just makes a girl proud!

Awww ... ain't that cute!
Awww … ain’t that cute! (Source)

So … your turn. Have you ever found true love/had sex online? And has this ever involved a parrot? Did you find this blog by googling “lonely African grey needs love”?