UBC DAY 19: The Story Begins

UBC 19 BarleyMowLogoOK, story fans. I may not finish this in time for the October 25 Halloween Storytelling gig at Barley Mow Brewing Company, but I decided to get the story started anyway. Comments welcome.


The itching on her hand wouldn’t stop. Ophelia looked down.

Nothing. No mosquito bite, no small break in the skin, no redness or swelling. Just that awful, gnawing itch under her ring.

Ophelia spun the ring around so the narrowest part of the band faced up. Still nothing.

“It figures,” she thought. She turned the ring around again, so the wider part of the circlet was once more “face out.” “The one nice piece of jewelry he ever gave me, and it’s going rogue on me!”

The ring had been a gift from Jeff the Christmas before they were to be married.

“For ‘Oaf,’ forever,” he’d written on the card attached to the box.

Ophelia had laughed at the play on her name. “Oaf” hardly matched her pixie-ish look!

Spoon RingShe opened the tiny jewelry box. It wasn’t the diamond she’d anticipated. Even so, the ring Jeff had chosen for her Christmas present was lovely. A sterling silver spoon ring. Most of the rings Ophelia had seen made from tableware had been fashioned from the tines of forks. This was interesting, and she sensed something special about the ring, but she couldn’t say just what.

She examined it more closely. The pattern was Joan of Arc.

Ophelia looked at Jeff with a smile on her lips.

“Thank you,” she said, giving him a quick hug and kiss. “But … Joan of Arc? Any reason you selected the patron saint of martyrs and militants?”

Jeff kissed her nose and told her, “Well, with all the folks who saddle you with their crap, you are long-suffering,” he pointed out. “And I sure wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of you in any battle that really mattered!”

Ophelia grinned and put the ring on the only finger it would fit: the ring finger on her left hand. She planned to replace it with her engagement ring when Jeff got around to it.

As the ring settled into place, Ophelia swore she felt a tingle. She jumped a little at the sensation.

“Whoa,” she said. “I hope that doesn’t happen again! What is this thing? Alive?”

Jeff grabbed her hand and held it up so the ring faced his girlfriend.

“Ah, my pretty,” he cackled. “Wear this ring forever more, and you’ll be surprised at the things it will reveal … ah, ha-ha-ha-ha!” Jeff released her hand, and his poor imitation of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Ophelia batted at the back of Jeff’s head. “You goof.”

Four months later, Jeff was killed in a car accident.

That ring became more precious to Ophelia than ever, and in the three years since Jeff had died, she often found herself gazing at it, catching her reflection in its polished silver surface.

Now, she stared at the ring and scratched around the itch that seemed to be centered beneath it.

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UBC DAY 18: Aberrations, Apparitions

Well, here I go again, filling up my day with writing projects for clients, and skidding into the deadline for the Ultimate Blog Challenge, Day 18. This has to post before midnight on October 18, and here it is quarter past the last hour of the day, and the best I can come up with is a survey question:

What kind of Halloween story should I tell next week?

I’m booked for a storytelling gig next Saturday night, October 25, for spooky, ghost-y stories at the Barley Mow Brewing Company in Largo. The thing is, one of the other tellers specializes in ghost stories, another has a website dedicated to tales of horror, and the other has such a large repertoire of stories of all types that you just know he’s gonna blow everyone away.

Me? I like the lighter side of Halloween. I have a cute story from my series of story-poems about savvy, spunky, six-year-old Sal. “Sal and the Pumpkin, Patch” tells how Sal picks out a pumpkin to decorate for her town’s Pumpkin Festival. She names the pumpkin Patch, because after dropping him on the ground a few times, the pumpkin needed some patching up.

There’s also an original about how the Wind came to live in (insert customized location here) The Barley Mow Brewing Company. I like this one, too. It’s for grown-ups, but only because the story is kind of involved, too much for little kids to follow.

So, fellow bloggers, should I go with the cute and funny story poem, lighten up the mood a bit? Or should I go with the more involved but still lightly humorous story about the Wind that haunts the Barley Mow Brewing Company?

Or … should I do something daring?

See, I had a really weird dream the other night, and part of it just won’t let go.

In this dream, my former hubby, Tom, is leaning against the wall leading to my hallway, home office, and spare room. He’s been dead for over twenty years, now, and I haven’t had a Tom dream in a while.

As I walk toward him, I notice that he’s aged appropriately for our years, has now grown a beard that is a little grey but mostly reddish, the same red it was when we were in our twenties, and he looks … worried. About me.

In the dream, I’m aware that he’s dead, and I tell him how much I’ve missed him.

“I’m always with you, you know,” he says, and gives a nod to the spoon ring he gave me the Christmas when we were 19. I’ve always worn it, even after our divorce. It’s unusual. Most of the rings I’ve seen made from tableware were made from the tines of forks. This was from the handle of a spoon. Sterling silver. Joan of Arc pattern. Patron saint of martyrs and militants.

We will not speculate on what wearing what is essentially a silver medallion honoring martyrdom has done to my psyche. Work with me, here.

I look down at the ring, and for the first time I notice that its polished silver surface returns my reflection. I’m sure it always has, I just never noticed it before. As I ponder this, I notice the silver start to brighten, and I see Tom’s face looking at me from the smooth surface of the spoon handle.

POOF! That’s where I wake up, and for some reason, I think there’s a supernatural kind of story to be written about this aberration, this apparition, in my spoon ring.

What do you think? Should I junk the fun Halloween stories I already have performance-ready? Or should I allow this weird dream to take me to a slightly darker tale?

Inquiring minds on deadline want to know …

(and look! 10 minutes to spare for UBC!)



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UBC DAY 17: Bitter Pill

You know how some things in your childhood are so traumatizing that they stick with you for years?

I’m pushin’ sixty, and to this day I can’t stand the smell of coconut. Mom used to make coconut and chocolate chip squares, but she didn’t tell me that coconut had such a chewy texture, nor did she mention that the smell of freshly shaved coconut can stick in your nose for hours. Yuck.

And beets. Don’t come near me with beets! Cranberry sauce? Beets with no backbone. Yuck.

Ah, but my all-time, don’t-come-near-me-with-that trauma is … pills.

The idea of sticking some pellet into my mouth and then downing a gallon of water in an effort to trick my throat into letting it sliiiiide down has always terrified me.

It was probably Mom’s fault.

I’m her first born. She had a lot to learn about being a Mom the first time around, so I was the guinea pig. By the time Tracie got here, Mom was a lot more … savvy … about the whole child-raising thing.

So. There I was, about four years old and sicker than a dog.

Mom relied heavily on her own parents for guidance, since she was divorced and we lived with them.

When she woke up one morning to find me all sick and blotchy and snotted up, well—she went into overdrive.

Grandma suggested cod liver oil. (At four years old, I didn’t know about, “Oh, HELL, no,” so I had that spooned into me.)

Grandpa suggested Milk of Magnesia. (Grandpa needed his butt kicked.)

My Mom decided on whatever the flavor of the day children’s cold tablets were popular that year, and they weren’t chewables. That’s where I decided to draw my four-year-old line in the sand.

“No more! No more!” I screamed, covering my mouth and running down the hall to the room I shared with Mom. I slammed the bedroom door and opened the top to my toy chest, threw all my toys on the floor, and climbed in. Didn’t occur to me that Mom might notice the toys and figure out where I was hiding.

She opened the toy chest, grabbed me by the arm, and dragged me kicking and screaming to the bathroom. Good thing. The cod liver oil and MoM had reacted with all the excitement. Let’s just say tiled walls and floors made clean-up easier.

Ah, but eventually the unpleasantness was cleaned up, and my energy (and resistance) wore down.

Mom grabbed the cold pills and placed one in the middle of my mouth. She gave me a glass of water. She told me to “Drink,” and “Swallow the goddamned pill.”

I almost had her fooled. I’d perfected a little trick when we were staying with her sister, who made some god-awful meals. I had a round little face and chubby little cheeks, so I learned to hide the food like a chipmunk (I liked chipmunks) and spit it out on my way to bed.

So, just before I took a BIG drink of water, I stashed that pill inside my cheek and opened my mouth so Mom could see it was gone. I was so relieved! I was so sure I’d gotten over that I didn’t look around before spitting the pill into my hand and heading for the kitchen to throw it away. Just as I lifted my hand over the kitchen can, WHOOSH!

Mom grabbed my fist, pried my little fingers open, saw the mushy pill in my palm, and dragged me back to the bathroom. (Yes, yes. We lived violent lives back in the day. Get over it.)

This time, she wasn’t taking any chances. She locked the bathroom door and leaned against it. She opened the pill bottle and took out ANOTHER pill. She caught me trying to climb the tile wall and wedged me between her knees, then squished my face in her hand.

And as my mouth opened with the pressure (picture a fish face), she stuck that pill on the end of her index finger and PUSHED IT DOWN MY THROAT.

I gagged! I sputtered! I screamed, “Dying! Mom, I’m dying!”

“Drink,” she said, handing me a glass of water. “No! I can’t! I won’t!” I was willing to risk death, rather than swallow that lousy pill.

It went down anyway. Scratchy, dry, icky-tasting. I could feel the lump of it in my throat for hours.

And now, I’m pushin’ sixty and terrified of making a doctor’s appointment because I know I’m gonna be told, “Drink. Swallow.” Because I’m at “that age.”

Oh, HELL, no. I’ll just stay healthy and not need the pills, thank you!

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UBC DAY 16: Write Like a Pro!

Oh, my goodness! Today, I had not one, but two presentations to make about writing.

One was by invitation from Carl Lucchi of Success Builders, who is also the founder of TampaBayNetworkers. Carl hosts several networking meetings, and today’s was at Ferg’s Sports Bar & Grill in downtown St. Petersburg.

Carl had asked me to talk to his group about The Power of Using the Proper Words in Your Promotions, geared toward small businesses that may not have the resources to keep a full time writer on staff to generate press releases, web content, blogs, brochures, and video scripts.

This is right up my alley! I have a presentation that I adapt for 20-minute to half-day programs called “PRx for the Media-Impaired,” and it covers everything from how to prepare a decent press release, to how to be a guest on radio or TV, to how to deal with sound/film crews when they cover your events. (Yes, I’m available in YOUR town!)

I had fun with this one: I gave examples of “right words” and “wrong words” for a radio or TV commercial.

RIGHT WORDS: (pretending to take a DEEP “toke,” then sounding like it wasn’t the day’s first): Oh, man! We’ve gotta get back to The Haze out on … uh … out there! They’ve got the best papers and pipes for supporting our … smokin’… habit!”

Imagine the laughter—but for a head shop needing to reach it’s target market, yep: Sounding like Cheech of “Dave’s not here” fame was the right tone.

WRONG WORDS: (imagine coming home after work, unlocking the door, and calling out, surprised, when Fluffy doesn’t come running to welcome you), Fluffy, I’m home! Fluffy? (sound of fast footsteps) Oh, Fluffy! NO! (voiceover comes in) When you come home to find your dog dead on the floor, call Three Guys Pet Cemetery. We have guys who know how to burn or bury your furry friend, so you can start looking for your replacement pet right away.

More laughter, but they all got the point. There are messages that speak to your audience, and messages that speak at them, and sometimes in appalling ways.

My next “performance” (yeah, I’m a bit of a ham) was up in Clearwater. VonHenry Media was presenting the class, “Video Toolkit for Your Online Marketing.” They had invited me to talk about script writing for small businesses wanting to use videos on their websites, from quick vlogs they produce on their smart phones, to longer pieces that explore their topics more fully.

Again, right up my alley. I’d spent 14 years with Vision Cable of Pinellas (now Brighthouse Networks), producing commercials, 3-minute “packages,” 30- and 60-minute shows, even documentaries.

Here, after my quick 3-point presentation (Make a Strong Statement, Read It Aloud, Remember The Audience) that included elaboration of each point, we got into discussions about other applications for writing on their websites. One participant was intrigued by the use of blogging to bring people in, but didn’t want to throw “just anything” out there. Good on him! There is a lot of dreck going out just to fill content pages, and he’s right to instinctively feel that weak content won’t keep people coming back.

I’m always harping on the importance of quality writing. Not just quality content, but content that is expressed well and clearly. I remember a writing teacher who tossed these words onto the chalkboard and asked us to punctuate the phrase:

Woman without her man is nothing

You’d think you couldn’t do anything to direct or damage the meaning of such a short phrase, right? Uh-uh. Look:

Woman. Without her, man is nothing.

Woman, without her man, is nothing.

This is the kind of thing I mean when I talk about quality writing. Knowing not only which words to use, where to place them in a sentence, how to organize the sentences into flowing paragraphs, and how to place your punctuation so your message isn’t mistaken.

Another fun one that’s made the rounds on Grammarly, a Facebook page, is this pair:

Let’s eat, Grandma! (who doesn’t love a grandma’s home cooking?)

Let’s eat Grandma! (e-yeeeeew!)

‘Nuff said …


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UBC DAY 15: A story for you

YOU’RE A WHOLE NEW AUDIENCE, you folks in the October 2014 Ultimate Blog Challenge!

I can share a story that I wrote some time back, and then recorded with the guidance of Hank and Yvonne Charneskey at VonHenry Media!

Let me welcome you to my storytelling website, StoryStruck.

How the Stars Came to Live in the Nighttime Sky. First, you get the written version. Keep scrolling, and you’ll see the video. And scroll still further, and you’ll see the video someone else recorded of my story!

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UBC DAY 14: Joel Frye, Bard Extraordinaire

camslogo2When I met Joel Frye, he had stopped in to check out the CAMS Coffeehouse, the hang-out I ran for musicians, poets, artists, and other ne’er-do wells.

He came in late by our standards, too late to get a set in prime time. So he sat and listened to amateur poets shuffling their newly written poems, and more experienced wordsmiths who knew how to deliver their words. He listened to loudmouth wannabees who talked over the musicians. He listened to the musicians brave enough to take the stage, some who deserved an audience, some who just pretended to.

Finally, when we were almost out of time and audience, it was Joel’s turn at bat.

UBC14_JoelFryeHe brought Guinevere up on stage with him. Guinevere is Joel’s guitar, and she makes a joyful noise under his expert fingers.

Joel played like his very soul was lodged in his fingertips. And his voice? Oh. My. God. (Yes, he’s recorded a CD.)

I can count the fingers of 1.5 hands the number of performers who came to CAMS and did to a room what Joel did. Shana Smith. Myriad (OK, they’re a group. Still.) Bill Haughey. Ken Keller.

We were lucky at CAMS: Joel became a regular. He had a day job, and “played out” on the weekends.

He made friends with me, and BFF Bob, and Paul, and eventually he collaborated with Bob on a CD called “Warehouse.” Poetry by Bob, instrumentals by Joel.

It was a beautiful piece of work, and we turned it into a concept video that made it to the top five finalists in the national CableACE awards. We lost to … Joel Grey. Yes. Of “Cabaret” fame. Man, that was a heartbreaker.

Time passed. Joel revealed himself to be a more than decent poet. He joined BFF Bob, Paul, and me for occasional gigs and poetry open mics.

Life intervened. CAMS closed. We all got busy with work, relationships, other interests.

And then one day on Facebook, Joel posted something about a poetry site where he’d been sharing his written work. It’s called “Hello, Poetry.”

He’s a damn rock star on the poetry circuit!

And here’s why: Hello, Poetry. (Yes, he has a book out!)

I have such talented friends. Cherish them all!

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UBC DAY 13: Ronny Elliott’s “Hope Fades”

Hey, Music Fans:

One of the Tampa Bay area’s best minstrels is Ronny Elliott, whose songs are strewn with knock-you-down lyrics (“You’ve got the king of broken hearts and the heartbroken king ….” and stark descriptions (“the road out of Memphis we call The Overdose”), and that’s just in ONE song off the CD Valentine Roadkill.

Here’s Ronny, performing “Hope Fades.”

I have Carlene Cobb to thank for introducing me to this singer/storyteller/songwriter.

Many thanks, my friend!

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UBC DAY 12: Aquatic Therapy for the Horse in Your Life

LFS LOGO lighter teal FINAL

One of the coolest things about starting my subscription copywriting service, Linked For Success, is that I’m continually getting to learn about really interesting people and businesses.

One of them is the Amber Glen Equestrian Wellness Center, in Pinellas Park, Florida.

Owner Patti Johnson has been a friend of mine for years. I met her when she was an administrator for a housing development for adults living with various physical challenges. She was an interpreter in American Sign Language, and one of the friends who fueled my interest in taking classes in ASL.

I was away from mainstream Pinellas Park for over a decade, and when I got back, Patti had a whole new career going on!

PPK LOCATIONShe and daughter Patti (“Patti Gail”) Fiedler had opened the Amber Glen Feed Depot, catering to all manner of pets with fur, fangs, fins, feathers, hooves, claws, what-not. And Patti also had started an Equestrian Center, offering boarding and training for the equestrian set.

The Amber Glen Equestrian Wellness Center grew out of tragedy, when one of Patti’s horses died following another stable’s fire. Patti couldn’t find a stable with the therapeutic resources to help her beloved animal, so she decided to build one.

CenterAisleThis state-of-the-art center features a central aisle barn that provides excellent ventilation to each of their 12′ x 12′ matted stalls. Feed is premium grade, and hay is dropped three times every day.

Amenities include automated systems for fly deterrence and watering; covered, lighted wash racks; a 150-foot roundpen for training; all-grass turnouts, with tree-shaded paddocks to shelter horses from Florida’s hot sun; a lighted clay riding arena; and a covered spectators’ gazebo. There’s 24-hour security and on-site management.

Patti’s daughter, Patti Gail, brings significant value to the Amber Glen Equestrian Center. Patti Gail is one of only eleven ARIA Level III certified instructors, and is AAA-carded.

TrainerPattiFiedlerShe is responsible for developing our City’s Mounted Police Unit, and trained Tampa’s police officers to provide mounted support during the Republican National Convention in 2012. Her therapeutic understanding has helped save the lives of a number of horses whose injuries and illnesses confounded other specialists.

Today, Amber Glen Equestrian Center offers regular boarding and training, as well as therapeutic boarding. Its services include Low Level (Cold) Laser Therapy to stimulate the healing of damaged tissue. A vibrating platform helps revitalize muscles.

And Amber Glen Equestrian Wellness Center has the only aquatic therapy program within a 90 mile radius of Pinellas Park that offers both fresh and salt water treatment to aid in wound healing and tissue revitalization.

The fresh water stall can be filled deep enough to float horses whose injuries won’t allow them to support their own weight. Normally, though, the water is only deep enough to provide resistance as the animals walk on the stall’s treadmill to speed recovery and build strength.

Pinellas Park is one of the last sections of our county that really caters to horses and horse enthusiasts. The city has a show and competition ring at Helen S. Howarth Park, and the Bay Area Horseman’s Association holds its shows on the Florida circuit every month from September through May. BAHA is further distinguished by including competition classes for riders with disabilities.




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UBC DAY 11: Donning my groveling britches. (No flogging, though.)

You know those dreams where you’re in a social setting — shopping, at the movies, in school, at work, at a party — and everyone else is dressed appropriately, but you show up … naked?

This isn’t about that.

But close. It’s about blogging, and doing something so stupendously DUMB that you might as well be the only naked kid on the playground till you’re 21.

This gaffe sends me cringing to the cybersteps of about 15 fellow bloggers whose comments on my blog have been ignored. For two years.

Here’s what happened:

Back in 2012, I was in the WordCount Blogathon, a GREAT blogging challenge that had it goin’ on when it came to getting great traffic to all participants’ blogs.

I went from 943 visitors between May 14, 2010 to April 30, 2012, to over 2500 visitors between May 1 and 31, 2012!

At the same time, all that exposure also exposed my blog and website to those nefarious spammers. You know what I’m talkin’ about. Those jackasses who post NOVELS about where to get cheap Viagra@, Michael Kors bags, mineral make-up, you-name-it.

I was getting hundreds of spammer comments on my posts every day. Every. Damn. Day.

Now, even though I didn’t allow just anyone to post comments without moderation, I did have the sense to activate a setting that allowed anyone who had already had a comment approved to publish a comment without moderation, bypassing my approval. Loved that!

But because they were pre-approved and went right onto the site, I didn’t see these comments in a timely manner. I did this so I could work on paying gigs in writing, remember.

When I finally did check on Comments, I discovered that I had over 800 “awaiting moderation,” and they were almost all spam!

Crap. I didn’t need this. I didn’t want this. I wasn’t going to deal with this. I turned off Comments across the board, forgetting that my solution created a new problem for my fellow bloggers: they couldn’t comply with our “rules of engagement” by leaving a comment on my blog.

Today, a third of the way into the Ultimate Blog Challenge, I thought maybe the spammers were done with me. I thought maybe I could reactivate Comments, because I’d already been bitchin’ on the Ultimate Blog Challenge that nobody was commenting on my blog. Oops. They can’t.

So, I went back to the Dashboard and checked on Comments. More than FIFTEEN THOUSAND had come in, and almost every one was one of those idiotic spammers. Some were written in Chinese and Russian for Pete’s sake!

I decided to clean out my comments, and as I sat there scrolling through to make sure I didn’t delete a legit comment (so glad most bloggers use icons; spammers don’t!), I came across more than 200 entries from bloggers familiar and unknown, and about half made thoughtful remarks that should have generated a response from stupid, rude me.

I’ve just spent two hours purging the spam.

I’ve reactivated the Comments.

And I’m going to be writing lots of bloggers who expected to hear from me over blog challenges reaching back two years.

I’m brushing off my groveling britches …


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UBC Day 10: Keyboard Chronicles

We’re proud of the oddest things, aren’t we?

In 2012, I had a laptop to die for.

No, not the laptop that little kids crawl onto for story time.

I had a 17″ MacBook Pro laptop. The titanium one. It was a work horse and a work of art. I bought it in late 2007, and I worked on it every single day, for about ten hours a day (did I mention I’m a Type A workaholic?).

I worked it so hard that, by the time 2012 had rolled around, one of my friends, Jay Ashworth, who is as high up on the Computer Geek ladder as you can get without a nosebleed, asked if he could take a photo of my keyboard.

I was startled and asked him why.

“Why?” he repeated. “Look at the damn thing!

I looked. I looked for a while.

“Oh,” I said as reality finally settled in. “Yeah, ‘Oh,'” replied Jay.

Here’s how it looked:


Yes, I had worn many of the letters off my computer keys. If you look closely, you’ll see the number “9” key is actually missing. It flew off one day when I was enthusiastically keying in a bunch of addresses. I never did figure out where it landed.

Such is the life of a working writer.

Not long after, I discovered that even a MacBook Pro will lose its mind, and I found myself unable to get the box to boot up. Ah, but it’s a Mac. A quick trip to the Genius Bar would make it all better.

Uh-uh. This was one seriously ill hard drive, and it had opted for the computer version of the Hemlock Society. The Mac Genius who told me all was lost said they might be able to save something. I should leave it with him and call back in a week.

I didn’t like the idea, but what choice did I have? I touched my well-worn keyboard, testament to the bond I had with my laptop, and left.

A week later, the news wasn’t any better. A second Mac Genius told me something different was wrong with it, and I got a lump in my belly that SCREAMED “take it home!”

I reclaimed my laptop and took it to a Mac-authorized clinic closer to home. They said they might be able to get my data back. No promises. (By now, I guess, you’ve realized that I had not followed my own advice–I didn’t back up my hard drive with the oh-so-easy to activate Time Machine; yes, I’m an idiot.)

They were right not to promise. It was fried. They helped me grieve, noting the well-worn keyboard that spoke of happy, heavy usage.

They couldn’t replace the hard drive for the price I could get at the Apple Store, so back I went to schedule the transplant.

When I went back a week later, they still hadn’t replaced the hard drive. They told me it was really the logic board and a faulty port. They opened up the laptop to show me the diagnostics and … it wasn’t my machine!

“This isn’t mine,” I said. “Mine has half the letters rubbed off.”

“Oh,” said the Genius. “We replaced those for you.”

I stood there for a good ten seconds. The Genius (and I use the term very loosely) looked at me looking at my it-could-belong-to-anyone keyboard.

When I looked up, I was ready to cry. “You couldn’t fix the one thing it needed, but you ‘fixed’ something that was my point of pride? I want my old keys back. I don’t want … these!”

Didn’t matter. My keys had gone the way of my hard drive, never to return.

Ah, but at least I have …




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