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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Circle of Life

About a month ago I noticed a Krispy Kreme store being built only three miles from my house. Yay!

It wasn’t opened yet, though. Boo!

Although I did not go that way often, whenever I did, I watched the construction getting nearer and nearer completion. Yay!

It was being built on the wrong side of the road from me, though, across a divided highway. Boo!

I could access it easily, though, when coming home off the highway, so I could work out the problem. Yay!

Weeks went by and I passed by the store a couple times. It still wasn’t open. Boo!

Yesterday I passed by it on the way to a doctor’s appointment. Cars filled the parking lot. A billboard over the new store advertised its glazed doughnuts. It was open. Yay!

I was on the wrong side of the road, going in the wrong direction. Boo!

I could stop by on the way home, though, which would be even better. Yay!

On the way home I slowed to get into the parking lot of the brand-spanking new Krispy Kreme store, but traffic cones blocked three-quarters of the driveway. Boo!

I carefully steered through a small opening in the cones, entered the filled parking lot, and found one open slot. Yay!

Before I turned off the engine, a woman wearing a jacket with the Krispy Kreme logo on it walked over to my car and said, “We’re not open yet. We’re in training.” Boo!

She added, “If you drive out the back way…” She pointed. “There’s a woman out there giving out coupons.” Yay!

I maneuvered my car to where the woman had pointed and saw another woman wearing another Krispy Kreme jacket. She pointed to the hidden back drive and waved me on. Boo!

Not one to give up on the chance for a coupon, I stopped anyway. Yay!

“We’re not open yet,” she reiterated. “We’re in training. We don’t open until December twelfth.” Boo.

Determined, I said, “I was told someone was giving out free coupons.”

She seemed reluctant, but she reached inside her jacket, ripped a sheet off a pad, and handed the paper to me. A coupon! Yay!

I glanced at the coupon. It was good for one free doughnut. One lousy doughnut! Boo!

I looked up and saw the secret back driveway that led to a traffic light that would allow me to reach the store from either direction. Yay!

Now I have to wait for hot doughnuts until after December 12. Boo!

In the near future, though, there’s going to be a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop nearby making fresh doughnuts to resolve any of my emergency carb and sugar requirements. Yay!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Pharmaceutical Fiasco

Writers write. What do we write about? With nonfiction writers like me, every bump in the road, every event in our lives, feels as though it happens only to give us more material to write about.

Below is what happened to me just the other day.


By Bobbie Christmas


When I attempted to fill my day-by-day pill box for the week, I used up the last of my blood-pressure medicine. Clearly I would be out of medicine in less than a week. My mail-order prescription service was supposed to send refills automatically, though. I worried that if I requested a refill that day, my supply would be depleted before the refill arrived by mail.

With much concern, I called the phone number on the empty prescription bottle.

A robotic voice responded. “Thank you for calling XYZ Pharmacy. Please say if you a provider or subscriber.”

I was not a provider, so I figured I must be the other thing. I answered, “Subscriber.”

The robot voice continued. “Do you want to refill a prescription?”

“Yes,” I said, looking forward to explaining my dilemma.

“Enter the prescription number at the top left of the prescription label,” the robot instructed me.

I held up the bottle, squinted, and carefully read off an interminably long list of numbers, something like “Two one two three four six nine eight three two seven zero two six two four.”

After a moment of silence the robot said, “Your prescription is scheduled to be automatically refilled on August eighteenth. Would you like to refill another prescription?”

I said, “No, but—”

Before I could explain the problem, the robot thanked me and hung up.

I looked at the remaining number of pills and did the math. If the service refilled the prescription on the eighteenth, I would have to wait five to seven days without pills before my refill arrived.

I redialed the number. A robotic voice started again, “Thank you for calling XYZ Pharmacy. Please say if you a provider or subscriber.”

I went through all the menus and options again, said the right things, again learned when my prescription would be refilled, and heard the robot hang up.

A third time I dialed the number and listened even more carefully to the menus. Nothing offered me the chance to talk to a real person. My blood pressure rose. Before the robot could hang up on me, I shouted, “Give me a human being!”

To my surprise the line went quiet and another robotic voice said, “Please hold.”

After a long wait, I heard a tiny voice say something I could not quite hear.

A voice whispering from twenty feet away, it is said, can be measured at twenty decibels. The voice I heard on the phone had to have come in at less than fifteen decibels.

I asked, “Would you please speak up?”

At exactly the same level, the speaker whispered, “Is this better?”

“No, it’s not. Please speak louder.”

Is this better?”

“No. Speak closer to the phone.”

The woman muttered something else at the same level.

I gave up and jammed the phone against one ear and shoved a finger in my other ear. “What did you say?” I asked.

With no change in volume she murmured, “This is Heather. How may I help you today?”

“Heather, I am almost out of a prescription that isn’t going to be automatically refilled in time. How can we resolve this issue?”

The barely audible voice asked, “What is your membership number?”

“Hold on.” I set the phone down, took my finger out of my ear, and held the prescription bottle higher under the bathroom light, but I could not find a membership number on it. I stuck my finger back in my ear and pressed the phone against my other ear and asked, “Where is my membership number on the prescription label?”

A wee voice said, “It’s not on the prescription label. It’s on your membership card.”

“Membership card? I’m upstairs in my bathroom looking at my medicine, and my card is downstairs in my purse.”

“What’s your membership number?”

I grew angry. “The robot I talked to earlier found the prescription without my membership number, why can’t you?”

“I can’t discuss your medications unless I have your membership number,” squeaked the mousy voice.

“Okay,” I relented. “I’ll have to go get my membership card. Hold on.” With the portable phone in hand, I walked out of the bathroom, through my bedroom, down the hallway, down the stairs, and into the basement, where I hang my purse by the door. I pulled out my wallet and sorted through many cards until I found the right one, and then I had to go into another room in the basement so I could get enough light to read the card. There I examined the card from top to bottom, and although it listed many words and numbers, nothing indicated a membership number. Out of breath and frustrated, I asked, “Where is the membership number on the card?”

“It’s at the top,” Heather told me in a barely audible tone.

I examined the card from top to bottom, front and back, again. “It’s not at the top,” I told her. “The top has my name and address, no numbers.”

“Your membership number starts with the letter G,” the quiet Heather explained.

I looked at the card again. “In the middle, not at the top, is an ID number that starts with a G.”

“That’s it.”

“Why didn’t you call it an ID number in the first place? I would have known what you were talking about. And why did you say it was at the top of the card, when it wasn’t?”

“I’m sorry. What’s your membership number?”

“You mean ID number?”


Heat rose up my neck. My throat shut down. I opened my mouth, but nothing came out.

“What’s the number?” the unapologetic young woman asked.

Infuriated, I blasted, “Before I read the ID number—not the membership number—may I ask if this call is being recorded so someone will know how frustrating this call has been?”

“Yes,” she peeped.

“Good.” I took a deep breath and read off another list of hard-to-read numbers that represented my ID number, not my membership number.

Before I could take another breath, I heard her say, “And what’s the prescription number you’re calling about?”

I exploded. “I’m downstairs where you sent me to get my card so I could give you my ID number that you called a membership number. Why wouldn’t you take the prescription number when I tried to give it to you, when I was upstairs with the prescription? I’ll have to go back upstairs to get the medicine bottle for the prescription number now.”

“I’ll hold.”

My fury increased. Before I trudged back up the stairs, I shouted, “You do realize that you are speaking to a person who is in her seventies who can barely hear you, and you’re making her run up and down the stairs, and if you had simply asked for information in a logical manner, you wouldn’t have put me through all this? And do you also realize that I’m calling about blood-pressure medicine, and you’re making my blood pressure go through the roof?”

She may as well have been another robot. “Do you have the prescription number?”

“You’ll have to wait until I put my purse away, climb the stairs, go down the hallway, walk through the bedroom, get into the bathroom, and get the medicine bottle again.”

“I’ll hold.”

After my long trek I breathlessly read the long list of numbers off the bottle.

“Please hold.” When she came back on the line, she noted, “That prescription will be refilled automatically on August eighteenth. Would you like to fill another prescription?”

I tried to calm myself before I spoke, but I didn’t do a good job. “No!” I shouted, “I don’t want to refill another prescription, and I already know the prescription is set for an automatic refill on the eighteenth. I’m trying to tell you that schedule won’t work for me. I have only a few more pills. I’ll be out before then.”

“Oh, you’ll be out of town when the prescription arrives?”

Please God, give me strength, I begged silently. “No, I am not leaving town. I will be out of medicine. I have only six more days’ worth of medicine, and the prescription won’t be filled for another week, and then it has to travel through the mail to me.”

The petite voice murmured, “We can call in an emergency prescription for a few pills to a local pharmacy, if necessary. Let me check on that.”


The line went silent. I took a few deep breaths. Why did the issue have to turn into a fight? I wondered why I ever signed up for the mail order service. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I would save money, and refills came automatically. Obviously the system was not working for me, though.

Heather came back on the line. “We have that you were sent a ninety-day supply with the last order.”

“Correct, and I’m almost out.”

“The instructions say to take two a day, correct?”

“Yes, and if I do that, I’ll be out in a few days.”

“That prescription comes in bottles of ninety pills. Our records show that we sent two bottles of ninety pills each in your last refill. You say you are almost out of the second bottle?”

I looked at the empty bottle. In the tiniest print possible, one line in one corner read: One of Two Bottles. Confused, I opened the drawer where I kept my medicine. Toward the back was an identical bottle, but its label said it was number two of two bottles. Oh, God, shoot me now!

I cleared my voice. “Um, Heather?”


“I just found the second bottle. I haven’t even opened it yet. I have more than enough to get me through. I’m so sorry.”

“Is there anything else I can do for you today?”

“Yes, you can forgive me for losing my patience. Now I’m embarrassed.”

“No problem. Have a nice day.”

“You too,” I said, before collapsing in an embarrassed heap.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Early Inspiration


Those of us who write have been either blatantly or subtly influenced by someone, whether a writer, a teacher, a relative, or a friend. I certainly have been influenced by many folks, and today I’m going write about two of them.

After I had Martha DuBose for tenth- and eleventh-grade English, she petitioned the school to allow her to give a creative writing class for senior English. She stipulated that it would not be open to just anyone; she would select the students she wanted to invite. I was one of only thirteen students she selected that first year. Simply being selected thrilled me, but I had no idea what to expect.

On the first day of class, Mrs. DuBose distributed a lengthy syllabus that included projects we had to turn in before the end of the year. In early September I found it hard to think I had to turn in so many things before June graduation. More than fifty years later I don’t remember the list exactly, but it began something like this:

Fifteen sonnets

Ten short stories

Twenty haiku

Fifteen essays

Four one-act plays

Two first chapters of two separate novels

One three-act play

Seventeen free-verse poems

Twenty narrative poems

One villanelle

Twenty-five couplets

Four magazine articles

We could turn in any and all those projects at any time, but we had to complete the list by specific date before graduation. Mrs. DuBose never mentioned the list again. Instead she spent every class examining and discussing subjects related to writing poetry, essays, short stories, magazine and newspaper articles, and more. Her favorite phrase was, “I want pithy, pithy, pithy writing.” Today I joke and say I thought she had a lisp, but in truth, I did not quite comprehend that she was telling us to write tight. By the end of the year, though, I had a better idea, and I saw my writing improve with her red-ink comments on everything I turned in.

To my personal surprise, I also realized I was not the procrastinator I thought I was. I turned in all my required projects long before the end of the year and earned valuable feedback on each one. I entered quite a few of my polished projects into the competition of the school’s literary yearbook, and to my surprise, my works dominated the book when it came out. It wasn’t the first time I had seen my byline, though, because Mrs. DuBose had inspired me not only to write for the school newspaper, but also to become the editor for the Spanish Honor Club newsletter. Yes, it was written in Spanish.

Mrs. DuBose set me on the path to creative writing, but working with and under good editors helped even more. My father was one of my toughest critics, and he earned the right. He ran a business brokerage business with affiliates around the world, and when I was in my twenties, I worked with him for about seven years. While Daddy handled the sales and mergers of businesses, I interviewed business-owner clients and wrote their business profiles. I also edited the business profiles that affiliated brokers sent in, and Daddy always edited me. With Daddy’s clever deletions, I saw my wordy profiles of 2,300 words magically turn into tight reports of 2,000 words. We made a great team. I could spell better than he could, but he could slash and burn my wordy script, leaving only pithy, pithy writing.

Later when I read Hemingway, famous for his tight writing, I was not impressed. My father could have edited even Hemingway’s books down to bare bones.

Since those early years I’ve been mildly influenced by others, but Mrs. DuBose and my father, Mike Rothberg, were the early influencers in my life who made me the writer and editor I am today.

Who influenced you early in your writing life? How did those people influence you? I’d love to hear your stories.