Scarlet Letters

The not-so-private thoughts and rants of Elizabeth Donald, journalist/author and founder of the Literary Underworld.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Julnawrimo: Day One

Word count: 1,891. I've had worse sessions.

I have two projects I plan to complete during the month of writing like a madwoman. I know if I don't get them done this month, they won't get done for a long time, because the fall schedule is brutal. However, I'm going to have to dig out my old wrist brace, because Ye Olde Wrist is aching something fierce and it's just the first day.

Once those projects are done, I'm kind of at loose ends. There's a number of things I can choose to do, but none that are contracted.

I could write the final novel of the Blackfire series and tell y'all how Major Sara Harvey's battles with the zombies end up. That series is out of print and we're down to three copies of The Cold Ones.  If I do write the final part, I might try to repackage it in a compendium edition as we did with the three vampire novels for Nocturne Infernum.

I could write the next vampire novel. Outlines for at least three more books exist, and were compiled many years ago before Cerridwen Press melted into that printing press in the sky. I guess that depends how many people want to know what the vampires are up to after all these years. Would you believe it's been 11 years since Nocturnal Urges came out? That one threw me for a loop.

There's the Sekrit Projekt, an amazing standalone book that has been sitting in a box waiting for its turn in the edit queue and when it comes out you guys will love it. Absolutely love it. All I have to do is a simple rewrite and it's ready to ship out.

I have this crazy idea for a serial novel. Write a continuing story, and sell it by chapters. I know myself well enough to know I'd need to write the whole "season" in advance; just the posting would happen live, not the writing. The idea intrigues me... maybe adventures of Cat the ghost hunter, or the Blackfire team... or both?

Or I can go rewrite Sanctuary again. Just kidding.


Wednesday, July 01, 2015

My silly little ladybrain

While I was pregnant with Boy, I went through the precertification and piles o' paperwork in advance of his birth so the nonsense would be fairly limited when it came time to deliver the baby.

As we were filling out the paperwork, I saw that they put my first husband's name down as the responsible party with his Social Security number.

"Wait," I said. "I'm the patient, and our insurance is through my employment. Please don't do that."

"I'm sorry," she replied. "It's hospital policy. The husband is always the responsible party for medical bills."

I begged. I pleaded. I had already fought enough battles with that HMO to know that unless my name was on everything including graven images marked with blood, they would deny the claims. Besides, it was 1998, not 1958. Why in bloody hell did my husband have to be the responsible party? I handled the bills, the insurance was in my name through my employment. But he had the penis, therefore, that's the way they filled it out.

I hate being right. When the hospital filed the insurance claims for my son's birth, they used my husband's Social Security number and name, and sure enough, my insurance company denied payment for everything, stating "no existing policy." So I spent eight months with appeal after appeal, requesting the hospital to resubmit the claims (which were then denied as "we have already considered this claim"), and I was still fighting it when Boy reached his first birthday. Some of those bills ended up on our credit report.

I really hoped things had changed.

Time and again, Jim and I have run into the same issue. It has now become a requirement that if I need to get technical assistance at any store, we are to enter the building separately and he has to stand far away from me. If we don't, they don't talk to me. Jim's questions are answered; mine are ignored. My favorite is when we're standing together and I ask a question, but they direct the answer to him. (The Apple Store is better about this than most, but even then it's occasionally been a problem.)

It happened while we were planning the wedding. We went to a local credit union to open a savings account for wedding expenses. We entered together, and the teller asked Jim, "How can we help you?" It was clearly directed solely at him, as though I weren't even there, and it put him off balance so he didn't reply right away. I spoke up and said we were there to open an account.

"I see," she said, still talking to him. "And your name, sir?" Jim gave his name, and she wrote it down. "Have a seat." No one was interested in my name. So we waited, and Jim leaned over to whisper, "Why is she only talking to me?" I gave him a sad little grin and said nothing.

A few minutes later, the accounts rep came out and asked for Jim. We got up and followed him into the office. Once again, the rep spoke only to Jim, all comments and questions directed at him, as if I didn't exist. I spoke up often enough that finally he had to acknowledge my existence, but he was testy as though I were interfering.

Fortunately, it turned out that  we didn't have the right documents to verify our worthiness, so we were unable to open the account that day. We left, and by the time we reached the car Jim was fuming. He was angrier than I was, because it was simply so blatant. He vowed that we would not return to that credit union, and indeed we opened the wedding account at a different institution.

Sometimes it's been funny; at restaurants, we wait to see whether the server will put the bill in front of him or between us. You'd be stunned how many of them automatically put the bill in front of him, because as the possessor of the penis, he must be the one with the debit card. (If he were, we'd have been homeless years ago; I adore the man, but I keep the money away from him for family preservation.)

I've never yet seen a server put it in front of me; it's in the center or it's in front of him. I can be physically holding the debit card in my hand and they will still put the bill in front of him. Perhaps they think he needs to check it over and confirm the charges are correct before he lets me and my silly ladybrain throw money about frivolously.

It just becomes part of the background, the assumption that woman with man is worthless chattel and certainly never to be taken seriously with money. It colors some of our actions; he did not accompany me to shop for the new car or conduct the negotiations. The car was to be in my name, but that wouldn't stop anyone from talking solely to him. Likewise when I negotiated for things like cell phone plans or contracts for our wedding, I had to leave him in the car to be taken seriously.

Perhaps we've reached a point where society will take single women seriously - though not as seriously as a man, of course. But I must admit, one of my hesitations in accepting Jim's proposal was that society would begin to treat me like Jim's arm candy instead of a separate person of my own intelligence, capability, career goals and business to conduct.

If I needed a reminder that nothing has changed in seventeen years, we got one from our soon-to-be-former prescription mail-order company. Both of us have chronic prescriptions, but Jim continues to order his at higher cost at a local pharmacy because he's hopelessly mired in the 20th century, and I prefer to order three-month supplies via our insurance-designated mail-order company.

I ordered a refill more than a week ago, expecting to receive it within 1-2 days as has been standard practice. When it didn't arrive, I looked it up and found that it had not even been shipped yet. In fact, they were scheduling shipment for next week.

So I called to complain; I've run out of the medication now, and it has a cumulative effect. I need to get back on it soon. They apologized and said there was a mixup when they tried to charge my husband's FSA card.

Drumming my fingers on the kitchen table, I asked why in heaven's name they would charge my husband's FSA; I have my own FSA, which is registered on my prescriptions under my account login. The rep got confused, and couldn't come up with an explanation. I then asked why they hadn't contacted me a week ago to tell me there was a problem; we could have sorted this out before I was actually out of the medication. Again, no explanation.

Once we got that straightened out, I pointed out that I was out of the medication and getting sicker. To their credit, the rep got it expedited and arranged for a free one-week supply at my local pharmacy to last me until it came in. All was well.

That is, until the next day, when the company called my husband's cell to discuss "his" order. He reminded them that I am the patient and the one paying for the order, and brought me the phone so I could confirm with the morning rep everything the evening rep had already said. A ridiculous waste of time later, nothing had changed and the prescription was still set to be mailed and charged to me.

I reminded them, again, that I am a separate human being and could they please call me directly if there is a problem with my account; my husband and I work opposite shifts and are not always together, so calling him doesn't do a thing to solve the problem.

That lasted a whole hour before they called him again to inform him that my order was shipping. Gee, thanks. I'm glad you didn't burden my ladybrain with information about my own health. And then another automated phone call, informing us that there was a problem with the shipment and we needed to call right away to get it resolved.

So I did, and for the 57th time, asked them to stop calling my husband and just call me directly. Two redirects later, it seems there was no actual problem, and the prescription still will be shipped tomorrow. I'm not holding my breath. It was a delightful way to spend a lunch break.

I'm stronger and smarter now than I was in 1998, and I know how to stomp my feet and demand to be treated as a customer on my own, not the appendage of the Real Customer (i.e. a man). But when I'm sitting here waiting day after day for my prescription to arrive, it's hard on the heart. It's needlessly complicated, it sometimes costs us money, it provides no end of hassles, and that's setting aside the frustration at still being a second-class citizen.

Each time his phone rings on my business, it puts me right back as the young pregnant woman in that hospital billing office, fearful of the bills and inevitable denials, begging them not to make me my husband's chattel.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Life of a Reporter's Son

SCENE: The car, making an unscheduled turnaround in a Main Street parking lot.

BOY: Mom, what are you doing?
ME: I'm going back.
BOY: I have to be at Scouts in fifteen minutes.
ME: We're like six blocks away. You'll make Scouts.

We pull up to the fire station, and I get out with my camera. Commence several pictures of the firefighter candidates doing "the ladder test," as they climb up to the top of the ladder truck at full extension - to see if they can physically do it, and if they'll freak out at the top.

ME: Get my iPad.
BOY: *eyes camera* Why do you need your iPad?
ME: To take notes.
BOY: You said it was just a photo!
ME: I have to get information for the caption!
BOY: *sigh* *teenage eyeroll* *retrieves iPad*
ME: Thank you.

I got the photo array. It was cool. He made Scouts. He's used to this.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Totally Tubular Teen Movies

I have officially given up on the Boy's generation coming up with good teen dramedies.

It really must suck to be a teenager now. To watch a movie with teenage protagonists, they basically have the choice of fantastical worlds like The Hunger Games (good times, but whoa depressing) or they can go to "old" movies like Harry Potter (just let that sink in for a minute). Or they can go to movies like The Fault in Our Stars or The Perks of Being a Wallflower, nicely tragic. Boy is all excited about Paper Towns, because it actually is about teenagers.

My new mission is to find good teen movies for Boy. The movie-teens of the Eighties might have been a little light on parental supervision and plenty heavy on sex, drugs and rock-n-roll, but they were awesome in all the bright-neon gaudiness I remember so fondly. The top themes were breaking through socioeconomic barriers: poor vs. rich was a constant theme, as well as busting through the caste system of the modern American high school.

Of course, I was a teenager then. So my memory might be a little... flawed. But here's how I remember the Awesome Eighties. Here be spoilers! (C'mon, people, it's been thirty years.)

The Breakfast Club. Pretty much the standard, taking the stereotypes by which we all lived high school and showing the layers beneath, as five kids who couldn't be more different find out they have a lot more in common. Required viewing.

Some Kind of Wonderful. I am hesitant on this one because it also pushes another common Eighties theme that bothers the hell out of me: rejecting college, do your own thing and fight the parental plans for higher education. Granted, the Baby Boomer parents leaped into college because it was often an alternative to being drafted into Vietnam, but higher education in the 21st century is going to be absolutely essential for just about every job, so seeing the main character ditch his college fund to buy diamond earrings for a girl he barely knows horrifies me (and it horrified me as a teenager, too). Still, Eric Stolz, Lea Thompson and Mary Stuart Masterson do an amazing job with what could've been another dumb love triangle. And you have to love a movie where a girl says, "Remember when I said I'd rather be with someone for the wrong reasons than alone for the right ones? I think I'd rather be right."

• I am probably the only child of the '80s who hated Say Anything. Another one about ditching the expectations of boring parents who don't get it, we have John Cusack in his last teen role as king of the slackers, doing his best to derail the future of a brilliant and motivated girl. Yeah yeah boombox, but as one who experienced something similar once, it's more "creepy" than "romantic" in real life.

• Can't Buy Me Love is another economic story, where the nebbishy kid has the cash to bail out the pretty girl and thus becomes cool by association - only it changes his life in ways he didn't expect. Early Patrick Dempsey is charming enough to overcome a wooden Amanda Peterson as the object of his affections, and also has some sly things to say about the high school caste system.

• Wargames. Not really a teen movie, but it has a teenage protagonist and the things it tried to say about the arms race and hope vs. defeatism were almost as fascinating as the acting from Matthew Broderick and John Wood.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off. No detail required. It was playing for free at the Wildey last week and we caught the show, which is what started this line of thought. Boy remarked that it was not only absolutely hilarious, but also had some serious things to say about facing uncertain futures and problematic relationships with parents (Ferris' parents are beyond clueless, Sloan's parents are nonexistent and we could write volumes about Cameron's unseen father.)

• Do not even discuss Heathers with me.

Sixteen Candles. Deeply problematic because of the offensive Asian stereotype, casual attitudes toward date rape of an unconscious girl, and the whole panties thing. I get that everyone loves this movie, and Molly Ringwald was fun in everything she was in, but I give this one a pass.

• Just One of the Guys is one I never actually saw, but I heard plenty about it. A pretty girl decides to dress as a boy in her new high school because she's tired of not being taken seriously as a writer. Supposedly it has some sharp things to say about gender stereotypes, homophobia, sexism and sexual identity, which is pretty advanced stuff for 1985. I may watch that one for myself.

Goonies never say die.

Pretty in Pink. Yes, Molly Ringwald was in everything. Another rich-vs.-poor triangle, with Andrew McCarthy as the rich guy and the eternal "Duckie" best friend. Everyone screams about the ending (and if you yell spoilers, I will assume you are Rip Van Winkle because the movie came out 29 years ago, folks), but I am just fine and dandy with the nerdy best friend not getting the girl. The "nice guy" who hangs out with a girl in the hopes of eventually "getting" her is not a trope I care for, though Blane was kind of a loser as well. Bonus points: a parent who was actually present and had conversations with his daughter!

Back to the Future. Where we're going, we don't need roads.

Stand By Me. Not exactly a teen movie, it was more a coming-of-age story and one of Stephen King's best. I hardly need to recap it for you, though I will say that the novella is darker, more nuanced and goes into greater depth for the characters than the movie. Again we have rich (or middle-class) kids and poor kids, as you can see a stark difference in the unhappy home lives of Gordie and Chris. There's an extra stab to the heart at the end, as we all know what became of the supremely talented River Phoenix, and Wil Wheaton proved he is so much more than Wesley Crusher.

That's the list that comes to mind without extensive Google. While Boy has, of course, seen the classics like Goonies and Back to the Future, I do believe some of these gems need to be on our summer viewing list. I know there are dozens more I haven't thought of, so if you have any recommendations, put them in the comments!

Labels: ,

Monday, June 22, 2015

Stalking Guide: Fall Edition

With Hypericon behind us, we enter a two-month lull in touring. I'm going to pretend that means I will be able to catch up the LitUnd inventory and bookkeeping, redesign and port to a new vendor, edit two books in the queue and finish rewriting Banshee's Run as I manage Julnawrimo next month.

Pause for laughter.

All those things have to be done before Labor Day, however, because I've been accepted at Dragoncon again and thus I will wend my way to Atlanta in September.

That kicks off one of the most grueling schedules I've ever set for myself. First it's Dragoncon for the Labor Day weekend in Atlanta. I'm a solo act at that one.

Then I go back home - for two days.

Then it's off to Louisville, Ky. for Imaginarium, the second weekend in September. This will likely be a Literary Underworld event, with the usual cast of characters and the Traveling Bar (of Doom).

Then back home, for three days.

I fly to Florida that Thursday (probably) for four days at Excellence in Journalism, the joint national convention for the Society of Professional Journalists and RTDNA.

I fly back, work three more days, and then it's my turn in the barrel for a weekend shift at the newspaper.

The following weekend is Archon. At least that won't involve a hotel room. Which does mean no Traveling Bar, but will definitely be a Literary Underworld event.

I share this stalking guide in part so you can catch up with me in my travels, should you wish to do so; and in part because if anybody needs anything from me, I'd suggest pitching it now. Because the next two months are the closest thing to free time I will have between now and Halloween.

And they're not entirely free; the Eville Writers' signing will be Aug. 8 at BSR Books, but it hardly seems like work when I'm not packing a suitcase. We expect to be in Memphis for the Fourth of July weekend, largely for family visits, but if you want a book, you know we deliver. :)

But suffice to say: no matter what it is, if it doesn't get done by Labor Day, it ain't getting done. Whee!

Labels: , , ,

Happy Hypericon!

It does take more than money to make me happy. But the sales from this weekend in Nashville go a long way.

I'm not going to disclose numbers. But I will say that the gross sales figures from this weekend are within shouting distance of our gross sales from Midsouthcon, one of our highest-selling conventions. 

Why is this shocking? Midsouthcon has more than 2,000 attendees. Hypericon had maybe 200. 

Those guys rock. My authors were happy. The staff was happy. And the Literary Underworld Traveling Bar was well-stocked. 

(This show's most popular items were an awesome maple bourbon provided by Underlord Stephen Zimmer and the famous apple pie moonshine provided by Michael Farnette. Yum.)

It takes more than sales. It takes good friends, colleagues in the small-press trenches and intelligent conversation that goes beyond debates about the Heisenberg Compensator to the reflections of popular culture in the world around us. It's always worth the lost sleep.

If I started listing all the folks I have to thank, I'd be up even later, and I have work tomorrow.* A general shout-out, then, to the terrific folks who supported us with their dollars, to my colleagues in the dealer's room, and of course to the Underlords who attended the event: Angelia Sparrow, Gabriel Belthir, Denny Upkins, Sara Harvey, Betsy Phillips, H. David Blalock, J.L. Mulvihill and even the ghost of Steven Shrewsbury, who was going to be there but was stranded by the floods. We drank Captain Morgan in your honor, Shrews.

And, of course, thanks to the good folks at Hypericon - small but mighty! - who put on a great show year after year. See you again soon, guys.

* Or today, actually, since this will post at lunch tomorrow. If you haven't figured out yet that I write these things in advance, you are a sillyperson who needs coffee. 

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Dear TiVo: It's not me, it's you

I've been a loyal TiVo customer since The Leprechauns first sent me one. Waaaaaay back in 2005 or so, a TiVo with a year's service prepaid arrived on my doorstep shortly before my birthday. The card was signed only, "The Leprechauns."

I was doing a lot more with CultureGeek back then, since it was part of my day job. When the column was canceled, I relaunched it independently. The upside was that I got to say "piece of shit" in my reviews. The downside was that I couldn't use work time for writing reviews anymore, which is why I go waaaaaay too long between posts. There are only so many hours in the day, and I spin too many plates as it is.

I always assumed the Leprechauns were friends who were fond of the column and wanted to assist me in finding stuff to review. I never wanted to know, frankly; some things should stay secret. It was immensely helpful in that regard, and I became a loyal TiVo customer - even converted my long-resistant dad to the world of DVRs.

Our latest TiVo was purchased on an installment plan when we moved into the house in March 2012. Service plus equipment installments was $19.99 per month. Two years later we'd paid off the TiVo, but I didn't notice that I was still paying $19.99 a month for our continued service.

Earlier this year, Charter informed us that our package deal was ending and we would see a one-third increase in our bill with reduced services. Seriously, they were going to charge us more and remove some of our channels. I tried to negotiate a new deal with them, but they wouldn't give me anything like the great come-on deals posted on their website. I decided I was done with being penalized for being a loyal customer, and we cut the cord.

With the assistance of an Apple TV and a digital antenna (total outlay: $120, or less than one month's Charter service), we ended our decades-long reliance on cable. We already subscribed to Netflix, and kept up with the shows we liked on Hulu. We're also Amazon Prime members, but except for Veronica Mars reruns, we haven't found a single show on Amazon that isn't available on the other two services. So for about $16 a month, we have access to everything we want and we aren't paying for 200 sports channels we'll never watch.

It made the TiVo pretty much useless, so I disconnected it and called TiVo to cancel our service. You know what happens next: the please-please-stay dance. I'd already survived this with Charter, though Charter didn't give me squat to stay - probably because I had to keep the internet service. I was perfectly satisfied with TiVo, but it just wasn't necessary in the new system.

But wait! TiVo Lady says. TiVo can be useful for streamers too! You can hook your antenna into the TiVo, and then it'll capture the shows on broadcast TV for you.

I wavered, but $20 a month was too much for a minor convenience. She countered: We'll drop your bill to $6.95 a month, and give you two free months to see if it's useful to you!

Okay, I gave in. So far the broadcast antenna was virtually useless; we were so accustomed to DVR-ing our entertainment that remembering to be at the television at the time a show actually ran was simply incomprehensible. Not only are we rarely home at the same time, but Boy was about six years old when we got the first TiVo, so he doesn't remember the trauma of racing home to catch Family Ties and missing the first five minutes. Ahem.

And there were a few shows - two or three - that were not available on Hulu or Amazon. We bought those shows via iTunes, but that was sometimes as much as $29.99. This could be a cost savings, yes?

Flaw in plan: I needed to find time to hook up the TiVo I'd already disconnected and figure out how to hook it into the antenna. It's not the most complicated setup - that honor belongs to the Film Professor, famous for his five-remote entertainment system - but since I am the tech support department for Donald-Smith-Gillentine Inc., I needed to sit down and figure out which cables went where.

Um. That sort of never happened. I kept meaning to do it, but the seasons were mostly over, we had moved into our summer binge-watching of old shows, and I've been running about like a madwoman since the new book premiered.

But they caught my attention, when billing resumed this month and they charged me $19.99.

I called again, this time determined to quit TiVo for good. The guy on the phone apologized profusely, and then asked a hilarious question: "If we were not able to set the rate at $6.95, what would be your intentions regarding your service?"

Hee hee hee. Oh boys, I play this game as well as you do, and thus is the point of this long, rambly and probably uninteresting account: always be willing to walk away. The only reasonable deals they ever give you are the ones when you're walking out the door. That is how I pay $16 a month for three year-round memberships to Six Flags, or less than the gate cost of a one-day pass.

I reaffirmed my intent to cancel service if the deal would not be honored. Thus he vanished into the Abyss of Holding, and came back with my $19.99 refunded, another month of free service, and the $6.95 monthly rate going forward.

So here we go again, and this month I swear I'm going to figure out how to put the TiVo back into the system and test it with the antenna. The super-suspicious part of me thinks that perhaps they did it on purpose, in the hopes that I wouldn't notice; after all, $19.99 is a pretty small amount for most people's budgets. But I am nothing if not cheap, and you would be too, with our salaries.

For the record, cutting the cord was one of the best decisions we've ever made. It's not just that we save more than $100 a month even with the streaming services added in. It's not just that we aren't paying for a gazillion channels we'll never use, including channels like TLC that we'd rather not subsidize.

We also choose what we watch differently. We might watch an episode or two of a new show, but if it doesn't grab us, we don't go on with it. We buy only what we want, and thus we choose more carefully. We are more likely to introduce Boy to classics from yesteryear like Star Trek: The Next Generation or M.A.S.H. (which is now his favorite TV show of all time) than to waste our precious few hours watching repetitive dreck just because it's there.

But TiVo, my old friend... shape up. Screw up again and I'll find a way to quit you.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Authors and puppies

After a long day of medical nonsense, I got to relax with my writer pals at Eville Writers. And a puppy.

Here, have a gratuitous puppy picture.

Said puppy is a service dog being trained by awesome writer and Literary Underlord Cole Gibsen. I warned her that if she didn't bring me fresh stock to take to Nashville this weekend, I was going to send Jimmy to her house and mug her for books. If you have any fondness for YA fantasy and kickass writing, you should check out Cole. We seriously cannot keep her titles in stock. And we have the new one, which will be up on the LitUnd site before the weekend. She's amazing and her work is really on the upswing.

Topics of conversation included the usual: state of the industry, self-pub vs. trad pub, recent signings, upcoming conventions, marketing your book and Julnawrimo.

Yeah, I guess I'm going to do Julnawrimo again. I'm doing a rewrite on a previously-written project, because I am still not happy with it and since it's temporarily homeless, I can do what I want to it. I must be doing something right, since I have done more than 2,000 words tonight and will do more before I sock it in for the day.

This weekend is Hypericon, a terrific show in Nashville that I've attended every year it's been held save one. I'm looking forward to seeing the Nashville crew and slinging some books. Two weeks after that will probably be a trip to Memphis, mostly for personal reasons, but I'll be bringing a box of Nocturne Infernum for anyone who missed the premiere in March.

Then we're home. For a month. At least. Holy crap, I might actually unpack. I'm starting to think Murv Sellars has the right idea: designate a few months of the year where you don't do speaking engagements, conventions, signings or any other nonsense, and just write. Knowing me, however, I'd end up binging on Netflix and arguing with strangers on Facebook.

(Seriously, I had a ton of spare time this weekend, which is not standard for me. And did I write? No, I watched a zillion episodes of Orange is the New Black, because that goddamn show is my productivity-killer. Shh, don't tell me what happens; I'm not done yet.)

Okay, that's enough procrastination. Another 500 words before I have to go pick up The Man.

Labels: ,

The Saga of the Stolen Phone

I know some of you have known some of this, but now that it looks like it's not going to progress further, I guess I can tell the whole frustrating, annoying, infuriating story.

We really aren't ones for big expensive phones. I use an iPhone because it is necessary for my job, and my old iPhone was about five years old. Man had acquired a smartphone two years ago; Boy was using an old-fashioned dumbphone. But as Man's contract came up for renewal, we decided to combine all of us into one family plan, and trade in our aging phones for a trio of shiny new iPhones on an installment plan.

The menfolk were inordinately excited, especially Boy. He had never had a smartphone, and immediately began filling it up with goofy games and madly texting his friends. I was looking forward to helping him use it for organization, for time management and tracking his school assignments. At least, that was the working plan.

Only a few days later, Boy had his theatrical debut in Les Miserables, performed at the Wildey Theater. He took a lot of photos backstage with his friends in the cast, all on his phone. My folks came into town for the show, and the next day they treated us to a Cardinals game.

In the fourth inning or thereabouts, Boy needed to go to the restroom. He was gone for more than two innings, and I began texting him to please return to our seats. He eventually arrived, and more upset than I've seen him in a long time.

He told me that he had left the phone on a toilet paper dispenser. As he was leaving, he saw a worker in a stadium uniform entering his stall. About ninety seconds later, he realized he'd left his awesome new phone in the bathroom. He returned, and it was gone.

Remembering the stadium worker, Boy went to guest services, assuming that the worker had picked it up and would turn it in. Unfortunately, they didn't have it. So he returned to us, trying not to show how upset he was.

I tried to use Find My iPhone, but it showed nothing. There are two explanations for this: while I thought I had activated it, it was a brand-new phone and I hadn't tested it yet. It's possible I didn't set it up properly. The other possibility: whoever found it turned it off right away.

So we texted the phone, asking whoever had found it to return it to our seats. We searched the bathroom, talked to guest services, reported it to security. Everyone was very nice and apologetic, but said there was nothing they could do.

We were still hopeful - naively so - that the worker had simply picked up the phone and returned to work, planning to turn it in at the end of his shift. We reported it to the stadium's lost-and-found and management, texted it a few more times, but did not immediately call the police. We decided to wait until the morning, and if it had not been returned to the stadium, we would freeze the phone and report it stolen.

Jim was pretty hot under the collar about it. Partly it was the ridiculous expense of the phone, the nicest thing we've yet been able to buy the boy, who has had to live with hand-me-downs and used extras most of his life. We shop at Goodwill and eBay, and "we can't afford it" is a near-daily refrain from me. This was a rare treat, and we had just signed an agreement obligating us to two years of payments on the damn thing - an agreement that is in force even if the phone is stolen or broken, by the way.

Partly it was watching Boy hid his face inside his baseball cap for the last two innings of the game so nobody would see he was trying not to cry. It wasn't the phone as much as those photos, the celebration of his first play. He hadn't even had a chance to back them up.

Jim sent a few texts that were a bit more angry than mine, until I told him to stop. But the next morning, I saw that the phone had sent several texts, received some pics and made a handful of phone calls. Clearly it wasn't going to be returned. So I made a list of the numbers involved and then reported it stolen to Verizon.

That same morning, I got a call from a clerk at a Gamestop in the city. It seems someone had tried to sell the phone to them that morning, and she saw a text from me asking for its return. She noted my number, refused the sale and called me after he left.

This was quite a break, I thought. I reported the theft to the St. Louis Police Department, and they called me back rather quickly. I provided a statement detailing everything I've said so far. I provided the list of phone numbers the thief had contacted, and the name of the Gamestop clerk who said she was willing to testify.

The detective, who was extremely kind, polite and helpful, followed up with the clerk and acquired a surveillance video of the man attempting to sell the phone. The clerk had also saved a copy of his identification.

So, we have the phone numbers, the videotape, the clerk's testimony and the ID of the person attempting to sell stolen property. You'd think that would be enough, eh?

As was related to me, the man who tried to sell the phone was arrested and brought in for questioning. He insisted only that some guys on the Metrolink gave him the phone. He also refused to produce the phone. This was not his first rodeo, according to the detective. "Uncooperative" was the word used.

Stolen phones aren't a big deal. However, the dollar value of a brand-new iPhone is $750. That makes it felony theft under Missouri law, not a petty misdemeanor. The detective told the guy (whose name was never shared with me) that if he produced the phone, it probably would just go away. This did not produce results.

The detective told me that they could not get him on the theft, because there was no proof that he was the one to lift the phone in the first place. That could have been the worker Boy saw, or someone else, and that person could have handed it off in the train as was said. (I have my doubts.) They could attempt to charge him with possession of stolen property, but then they had to prove that he knew the phone was stolen.

I pointed out that the cacophony of texts from us should have been enough of a hint, since iPhones generally don't grow wild on the Metrolink or in Busch Stadium, and that the theft was clear enough to the Gamestop clerk to spur her to call me. So the detective presented it to the state's attorney.

Then came two weeks of silence.

Last week, I got a voicemail from the detective responding to my latest query. He said they had not recovered the phone, and it was unlikely that they would, so I should go ahead and file our insurance claim. That tells me there will be no search warrant, probably no prosecution, and despite the plethora of evidence, he will get away with the phone.

And we get stuck with the $199 "deductible" on the crappy insurance policy that Verizon uses to cover stolen phones.

My frustration has been immense. I'm not angry at the stadium, because we're not sure it was a worker who stole it and it's not their fault anyway. I received a concerned phone call from stadium management apologizing for our experience and asking me to keep them in the loop; if it does turn out that an employee was involved, they want to know about it.

I'm not even angry at the police. The detective was extremely polite and helpful, communicated with me pretty well considering he was also investigating, y'know, murders at the same time. He put a lot of effort into our case, including the arrest and interrogation of the suspect. He made his run at the prosecutors in the suburb where the Gamestop was located rather than the city, figuring we'd have a better chance there.

But none of it seems to matter to whomever was responsible for the prosecution. You have a man caught on videotape attempting to sell stolen electronics worth $750. You have the testimony of the clerk, his identification presented along with the phone, videotape of the attempt, electronic records from Verizon and Apple, and our full cooperation. Surely that would be enough to get a search warrant, at least? In the hopes of recovering the phone? Apparently not.

It certainly has been a learning experience for my son, the inevitable lesson of "life isn't fair and sometimes the good guys don't win." Everyone seems to think that's a good thing. I don't. Sure, he'll take better care of his phone in the future. We have all walked away from our phones at some time or another. It was his terrible luck to do so at the wrong time as someone with sticky fingers came through.

But it's also been eye-opening for me. It's not like I don't know my way around the criminal justice system, but as a reporter, my emotions usually aren't involved (or at least I know how to separate them from the job). My checkbook isn't involved, either.

I cannot imagine the emotions involved for a crime involving physical injury or a more serious violation of our lives. If, for example, it involved the kind of things that my colleagues explored in this series, the frustration and anger we feel would be compounded a thousand times.

This was just a phone. No one hurt us. Not in the ways that really count. But when I remember my son hiding his face in his baseball cap, it's hard for Mama Bear not to feel that fury again.

Labels: , ,