Short Story: What’s in a Name?

A comedy of errors

Photo by Isaiah Schultz on Unsplash

“So, ah, there’s something you should know before we go through with this,” said Clyde as he knelt in the soggy grass.

“Oh god, anything, Clyde! I love you so much!” Jessica cried, mascara streaking down her cheeks. “I can’t wait to be Mrs. Packer!”

“Yeah see that’s the thing,” he began tentatively. “My name isn’t Clyde Packer.”

Jessica’s bloodshot eyes widened and the grin fixed on her face. Her voice quavered. “What?”

Her mind brimmed with horrible scenarios. Had he truly been lying to her this whole time? Was Clyde on the run? Living under an assumed name? Wait, was he in witness protection? He shouldn’t tell her if he was. She blanched with the sudden terror that maybe she had been calling him by the wrong name this whole time and he never corrected her.

“It’s Clyde Pac-Man.”

“Did you say ‘Pack-m’n’?”

“Nope. Pac-Man. I go by Clyde Packer, but it’s Clyde Pac-Man.”

Jessica stared at Clyde, unblinking.

Clyde shifted awkwardly, still balanced on one knee in the grass. Boisterous birds chirped overhead and his brand new fiance wasn’t saying anything. “Like the game? You know, little yellow guy? Likes to eat dots?” He clapped his thumb against his fingers, imitating the pie-shaped character’s eating habits.

“I know the game,” Jessica breathed. “Well, I see why you go by Packer!” So this meant Clyde wasn’t a fugitive from the law… she didn’t think.

“Yeah. But. My legal name is Pac-Man and, so, yours will be too.” Clyde eyed the diamond ring on Jessica’s finger as though it might explode.

“So I’ll be… Ms. Pac-Man?” Her head felt light.

“Well, Mrs. Pac-Man, technically, but yeah,” Clyde admitted. Jessica plunked down in the grass next to her still-kneeling fiance. He rocked back on his heels and squatted in the grass. He wanted to be ready for a quick escape after dropping his bombshell.

“That’s kind of funny, but it could be worse. I’m sure I’ve heard worse names,” Jessica placated her fiance and rubbed his back. She considered a mutual acquaintance named Ronald McDonald. He managed. She knew someone who said he knew someone named Chris P. Bacon. And what was it that Elon Musk named his baby? Surely being Ms. Pac-Man wouldn’t be so terrible. She kissed his hair and something dawned on her. Jessica stopped and pulled back.

“Wait. Clyde…

“Yeah,” he sighed. “I’m named after one of the ghosts.”

Jessica flattened her lips and tried to stop smiling. “So, which one is that?”

“…It’s the orange one.”

Jessica lost it. Laughter ripped through her and Clyde sat down hard, dropping his head in his hands. He clutched the ring box against his temple.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Okay so why don’t you change your name if it bothers you?” She swallowed her giggles.

“Can’t. Dad changed our last name after he beat the game before I was born. I told you about that, right? That he was the first person to get 3 million-something points?”

“Yeah but you never mentioned anything about naming you after a video game. I didn’t know he was, like, a superfan.”

“He wasn’t. He isn’t. I guess Namco — that’s the game maker — contacted Dad and offered up a contract. A big annual stipend if he changed his name. Sort of like a living breathing advertisement for the game, you know?”

“But ‘Frederick’ isn’t one of the ghosts…”

“No, I know. He negotiated the contract so that he only had to change his last name. But payouts would be doubled if he had any children named after the characters. So I’m Clyde. I’d’ve been Pinky if I was a girl.”

“Can’t you change it now?” Jessica repeated. “You’re an adult.”

“Sure, but if I break the contract, he forfeits the second half of the stipend. Not just future payments, but all the money he made from naming me Clyde Pac-Man. And it’s… not a small sum. Owing that kind of money would ruin him.”

Jessica wasn’t laughing anymore. She considered Frederick and Merideth Packer’s impressive home. She had never known Mr. Packer (Mr. Pac-Man, she reminded herself) or his wife to work for a living, but assumed they were old enough to retire. Jessica had not considered the possibility that they’d retired young. Now that she thought about it, there were quite a few old arcade games in their finished basement. She remembered seeing several editions of Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man in the collection, too. There were even some of the newer versions on nicer consoles. She envisioned the plaque on the wall stating that he had achieved the highest possible score in the game back in the 90s. She knew Mr. Packer was the first one to do it and was vaguely impressed by this feat, but, since Jessica was never much of a gamer, she didn’t give it much thought. Clyde’s admission cast a whole new light on the basement.

“And I know it’s kind of sexist,” Clyde winced, “But the contract says you’ll have to take my last name. If you do, we get payments, too.” He looked up hopefully.

Jessica wobbled her head on her shoulders. “Okay, I could just do like you do and say my name is Packer. I’d use the legal version only when I had to. Nobody would know! I mean, all this time I never knew your legal name, so it can’t be that bad.” She considered the potential awkwardness of their upcoming trip to the courthouse. Filling out their marriage certificate with Namco branding would definitely raise eyebrows. She would certainly endure quizzical looks at the DMV when she updated her license with her new married name. She just hoped she would never get carded.

“Fine, but…”

Jessica flinched. What now?

“If we have kids someday…” Clyde tread carefully.

Jessica blushed scarlet. This was a conversation that she wasn’t fully prepared to discuss. One thing at a time, she thought. She and Clyde had only discussed children in the broadest, most hypothetical terms. The day of their engagement was surely not the most appropriate time to discuss having children.

“No, seriously. There are rules. If we have children, a girl has to be named Pinky and a boy has to be Clyde. Or Namco. That’s the unisex option.” Clyde let out a long, slow breath. “This contract… it’s pretty solid. Namco lawyers are no joke.”

Jessica had run out of words.

Clyde swallowed hard. “I just want you to have all the facts upfront. I understand if you can’t — ”

“Afternoon, lovebirds!” chirped a jogger as he dashed past. The couple’s jeans were getting soaked from sitting on the dewy grass in the park. Jessica dropped her eyes to admire the sparkling new ring on her left hand where a halo-set diamond graced a delicate eternity band. The little channel of diamond dots winked up at her. Clyde waved politely at the jogger without looking up.

“Well,” said Jessica, “we will just have to have fruit salad at our wedding reception.”

Also available to read on Medium and Reedsy

Why generalists make the best content writers

You are an expert in your field, or close to it. You know your business inside and out. What makes your business stand out, your edge over the competition, the nitty-gritty specs for your product — you’ve got it all down cold.

Your customers, on the other hand…

And now you need to produce content to get those customers to understand why you’re the best of the best.

Your first instinct is probably to just flat out tell them you’re the best. Direct, but ineffective.

Then you think again and decide, no, let’s show them with all the technical specifications and minutiae differentiating you from your competitors. Way too effective.

Think a third time!

Your customers don’t care about all that. I mean, they do, but they don’t actually know that. They don’t care about the granular details of your business. They want just enough information to push your product ahead of your competitors, and not a speck more.

A good content writer will be able to walk that line. And the truth is that a generalist — or at least a non-specialist in your field — can do it more easily than an expert.

Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

Hire a generalist because…

They won’t give too much information

Last week, I went mattress shopping.

All I know about mattresses is that I have a queen and it needs to be replaced. After that, all I care about is how comfortable it is and whether or not I can afford it.

The salesperson at the mattress store (let’s call him Matt) spoke at length about the chemical composition of the latex topper, the exact force of the springs, the source of the organic bamboo quilt, and the geographical distance between the spring manufacturer and the assembly facility.

Those things are really important… to the mattress company. Not me. I’m just a sleepy person who needs a bed.

Matt clearly knew what he was talking about and I had a lot of respect for his industry expertise, but it was an unhelpful waste of time. You definitely don’t want your site to be an unhelpful waste of time.

If your writer doesn’t even know the nitty-gritty, they can’t get bogged down by it.

They know the right questions to ask

If I’m going to drop a grand on a mattress, I don’t want to be blinded with teeny tiny details. Don’t use excess details to confuse me into parting with my money — tell me what I want to know and nothing more.

Did I ask about spring coil density? Did I somehow imply that I cared whether the topper was organic bamboo and that this would be my deciding factor? Noooope.

I just wanted to know if it was going to be comfortable, stay comfortable, and whether or not I’d wake up with a backache.

Matt was so busy telling me about the gauge of steel used that he forgot to use that information to actually answer that question. I went home and googled what I needed to know and guess what? His direct competitor had my answer. Yikes, right?

It did involve the coils, but I wasn’t asking about steel gauge, I was asking about what makes a mattress good quality. He was so close, but misinterpreted the question I was asking. Matt lost my interest when he went off on a tangent.

A generalist content writer is curious in the same way your customers are.

They also speak to computers

Don’t forget about SEO! Lord knows content writers can’t…

Generalist content writers’ greatest asset is SEO. Instead of deep industry knowledge, they rely on their ability to speak to search engines to make your content pop and rise to the top. They know that with the right phrasing and correct keywords, a solid article can put your product page in front of more eyeballs.

The trick to this?

It’s the last 2 bullet points.

But don’t hire a generalist if…

Your clients are also experts

If you’re a mattress spring salesperson, you don’t want a generalist telling mattress factories that springs are part of mattresses. They know that. These are the people who actually care about spring force. They care about the steel gauge and the diameter of the coils.

If you’re not telling your customers what they want to know, they’re going to bounce.

And if you‘re confident that your customers are as knowledgeable as you are, lean in. Impart your expert wisdom. We’re right back to where we started — answer the right questions and give the correct level of detail.

Accuracy means life or death

Latex toppers are, I guess, part of mattresses. If your chemical company relies on perfect precision or else the whole factory is going to explode, then, um, make sure whoever you’re educating about chemistry doesn’t misinform.

Don’t be vague or else you’ll explode!

Okay, so it’s probably not as dramatic as all that — perhaps you’re writing a user’s manual for some specialized spring-making equipment. For this, you need an expert. Someone who really knows the tiny details and spares none of them.

Sometimes you need perfect accuracy more than you need enjoyable content. So it goes.

So get out there and sell those mattresses!

The tl;dr is this: don’t get fancy.

Know your audience. Speak to them. Ask the right questions and give pertinent answers. Give just enough information to give you an edge and no more.

Sounds easy, but sometimes when you know too much, you forget what people are really asking.

So leave the legwork up to that generalist and go take a nap. You know which mattress will give you the best snooze.

Previously published on Medium

Top 5 Most Beautiful Pet Finches

previously published on Medium

Finches are lovely pets, inside and out.

They’re mild-mannered, stay small, eat a steady diet of seeds, and tend to be lower-maintenance as far as birds go. Give them plenty of space to hop around and socialize, and a handful of finches will reward you with a light, chirpy song.

Best of all, domestic finches are available in a rainbow of colors, from drab gray to a technicolor explosion. Not that you’d pick a pet based solely on looks, but it sure doesn’t hurt that these bouncy little birds are among the most striking pets on the market.

Here are five of the prettiest finches you can add to your aviary.

5. Zebra Finch

Look how cute these preppy little guys are!

Go to any pet store and it’s hard to miss the requisite flock of zebra finches popping around the cage, honking like they’ve swallowed tiny trumpets. They’re easy to find, inexpensive, and hardy. Even better, zebra finches stand out among ginches because they actually enjoy playing with humans, which makes them perfect for families and beginners.

I do, however, question their fashion choice of blending spots with stripes and wearing brown and black together.

4. Owl Finch

If you want a bird that makes even other bird owners go, “Wow, what kind of bird is that?” then you’re looking for an owl finch. Also known as the double-barred finch, clown finch, and Bicheno’s finch, these distinguished birds are best identified by their barn owl-like face and bold black band. Okay, so he’s not all that colorful, but he does make an impact. And the females look almost as bold!

Owl finches are less common birds can be pricy, but they do make decent pets and don’t mind having cage mates. They’re chatty, but not as boisterous as other finches. There’s a lot to love here.

3. Parrotfinch

There are many kinds of parrotfinches: blue-faced, red-headed, short-tailed, red-throated… and several other ‘adjective-body-part’ varieties. If you like the aesthetic of parrots but don’t want a pet who eats the woodwork, consider a showstopper like the parrotfinch.

Make sure they have plenty of space, though: parrotfinches belong in the wild or else in a humongous aviary. They don’t always do well as pets and are exorbitantly expensive, but they sure are head-turners. This bird is only for the experienced aviculturalist.

2. Strawberry Finch

Do you like strawberries? Would you like to see one in a cage? The male strawberry finch is named because, well, that’s exactly what he looks exactly like.

What’s cool about strawberry finches is that they actually change color! Males wear bright red, black, and white-spotted duing the mating season and drab plumage otherwise. Females are pretty cute, too, with their brown bodies, yellow bellies, and Maybelline-red beaks. Keep their cages large and full of greenery to prevent permanent color loss.

They have a lovely singing voice, too: not too loud, not too annoying. Just a sweet twittering song.

1. Gouldian Finch

yowza!

C’mon, you knew this was number one. Even the female is a riot of color. Green! Red! Purple! Yellow! Black! They look like a shaken-up jigsaw puzzle.

Gouldian finches are almost too pretty. You’ll want to pick it up and play with it, but they absolutely hate that. Gouldian finches are cage-only birds who are exceptionally fragile, quiet, and tricky to breed. They’re fussy but omg so gorgeous. Definitely not for beginners, but ideal for a large aviary with other finches.

Only seek out these handsome devils if you know for sure that they’re coming from a reputable breeder or are in a rehoming situation. Gouldian finches are near-threatened and facing endangerment in their native habitat, thanks to the booming pet industry.

Actually, that goes for all pet birds. Aviculture has only increased in popularity, and this has done no favors for the wild bird population, so do your homework and be a responsible pet owner.

Do skunks stink as pets?

previously published on Medium

Everyone knows a friend of a friend of a friend who has a pet skunk.

But I have a confession. I’ve always kind of wanted to be that friend with a skunk.

Can you blame me? They look so soft and cuddly. And I mean, just look at this adorable face!

those nails tho

But the only skunks I’ve ever encountered have been huddled under my front porch, lumbering across the lawn, or eternally resting on the side of the road. I’ve never had the chance to pet that luscious black and white fur.

I wonder what it’d be like to cut out those degrees of separation and actually pet a skunk. Thankfully, real life skunk owners do exist and they’ve shared their thoughts on the topic.

Do they stink?

Alright, let’s just get this one out of the way. We’re all wondering it. It’s the first thing anyone asks when the topic of pet skunks comes up. Heck, it’s the first thing anyone mentions when the topic of skunks in general comes up. Their smell is so iconic, it’s synonymous with their name.

Do pet skunks deserve that level of infamy?

Short answer

No. Well, maybe.

Long answer

Did you know that skunks don’t always smell? They spray their odor from a scent gland near their tail (I’m putting it mildly here) and otherwise smell no stronger than any other pet. If you can tolerate ferrets, you’ll have no problem with skunks.

Pet skunks that were born and bred in captivity (as all legally obtained pet skunks are) often have their stink glands removed in a process called descenting. Like declawing a cat, this is a controversial procedure since it takes away the animal’s entire self-defense system. But like declawing a cat, if it’s an indoor-only animal that might otherwise be surrendered after using its defense mechanism, it’s something to consider.

But…

The legality of owning a skunk is surprisingly snarly and one state actually prohibits the practice of descenting on the grounds of unnecessary mutilation akin to debarking a dog. So if you live in Wisconsin, your skunk’s gonna stink.

Another but…

Skunks only spray when they feel threatened. If skunkie was raised right, has no predators, and has gentle and loving human companions, it’ll probably keep its stink to itself for the vast majority of its life. But if your animal is sick, injured, or startled, you’ll need to get out the tomato juice.

Anyway, it’s just smell. It’s not like the odor can kill or even injure you.

So do pet skunks smell? No. Well, maybe.

Are pet skunks nice?

They’re as sweet as they look! They’re cuddly, curious, and very playful. Also sneaky — if you’ve lost your favorite teddy bear or guest towel, check the skunk cage. They like to line their “den” with soft squishiness.

If you start with a baby skunk, the best way to bond is to keep it tucked into your shirt or sweatshirt pocket. I can’t even. There’s nothing cuter.

Photo by Bryan Padron on Unsplash

They enjoy tug of war, roughhousing, and puzzles. Got a mysterious stain? Have a particularly interesting hiding place? Your skunk will find it!

This only applies to domesticated skunks, of course. The ones that live under my porch will never make good pets.

And like all pets — especially exotics — YMMV. You absolutely cannot predict your pet’s temperament. I had a hedgehog once and everyone on the internet swore up and down it would be a lovable, snuggly little pincushion, but he wasn’t. All he wanted to do was ignore me, run in his wheel, and eat hamburger meat.

Are they smart?

As a matter of fact, they are!

Skunks are scavengers, as you may have noticed when late-night wildlife gets into your garbage. They’re curious little critters, always looking for novelty and/or bugs. Skunk-proof your house or make a special playpen full of toys, blankets, and treat puzzles like those made for dogs.

They don’t make much sound, either, so that’s a plus if you know what it’s like to live with a yappy dog.

They can learn basic tricks and yes! They can be litterbox trained!

What do they eat?

Skunk food! Who knew, right?

If not skunk chow, feed your stinky pet human-grade fresh food like vegetables, cooked chicken, nuts, grains, and crickets. The Skunk Haven website has a full meal plan worked out and honestly? It looks more nutritionally complete than mine.

Skunks love bugs. If you have a spider problem in your home, get a skunk and boom. No more spiders.

How hard is it to care for a pet skunk?

Skunks can weigh between 15 and 20 pounds, live up to 10 years, and grow to 35 inches in length. They’re like large cats that way.

Not many vets want to work with skunks, but it’s important that you find one who will. Aside from distemper shots and flea/tick treatment, you’ll want to get your skunk neutered or spayed (hah! almost wrote sprayed) because they can get pretty riled up when the female is in heat, resulting in more than just more skunks. I’m talking about scratches, bites, and property damage. They get rowdy.

Keep your skunk in the biggest dog kennel you can find. They’ll need some room to move around in there since they’re crepuscular animals, meaning they are most active at dawn and twilight. You’re probably not.

They do not like being in their cages and will need toys, things to dig, and plenty of stuff to play with. Ideally, you’d devote a corner of your garden to your little stinker’s digging habits. Those nails are no joke, and if they don’t have the opportunity to use them for foraging, well…

Can pet skunks live outside?

Nope. Without their stinkiness, they have no way to defend themselves from predators, making them a juicy morsel for your local coyote population.

But what if it still has its stink glands?

It still shouldn’t be kept outside. Pet skunks are accustomed to people and will gladly approach a smiling human face… and that might not go over well. Imagine Pepe le Pew going in for cuddles from your local cat lady. Or worse, your varmint-hating neighbor with a 12-gauge. Not going to end well.

Also, they can really move if they want! It’s no problem for skunks to wander for miles at a time and no, they don’t have a good sense of direction. Your descented and domesticated skunk is a goner if it gets lost.

What about rabies?

Ah yes. Rabies.

Wild skunks are vectors and you really don’t want to get bitten. Unfortunately, there are no approved vaccines for pet skunks, so if your pet bites a human or another animal, it will be euthanized on suspicion of rabies. You definitely don’t want that to happen, so it is absolutely vital that your skunk is not aggressive and has been properly socialized. Eliminate all chances of skunk bites and you’ll be fine.

Is it even legal to own a pet skunk?

Depends on where you live. In the United States, only 17 states permit pet skunks and only two provinces in Canada. And it absolutely must come from a licensed breeder, pet store, etc. There are permits and legalities all over the place.

Bottom line. Should I get a skunk?

Skunks are basically cats but stinkier, pickier, and higher maintenance, somehow. But they’re cuddly, curious and just a lot of fun to own — if your expectations remain low. Not to mention the phrase “I have a pet skunk” is an incredible icebreaker.

So should you get a pet skunk? Probably not. Just see if you can track down that friend of a friend of a friend who has one and get your stinky fix that way.

Hidden Gems Alternative Travel Guide: Beatlemania at Walnut Ridge, Arkansas

The Beatles only visited Arkansas once, and even then it was just a layover. But that was enough for Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, to dive into the deep end of Beatlemania and devote the town’s entire identity to Liverpool love.

If you consider yourself a fan of the Fab Four, Walnut Ridge needs to be at the top of your travel wishlist. The tiny town hosts a massive award-winning Beatles-themed festival at their Beatles-themed park next to their Beatles-themed museum, located (where else?) on Abbey Road.

beatlesbeatlesbeatlesbeatles

link redirects to Medium. no paywall

Hidden Gems Alternative Travel Guide: Arizona’s Love Affair with Plants

After the year we’ve all had, choosing a vacation destination can feel like an impossible task. Should you visit a desert, a rainforest, marsh, savanna, or an ocean climate? There’s so much we haven’t seen!

Why not visit all of the above? All at once?

Head to Tuscon to experience Biosphere 2, then head north for the Rainbow Forest. Whether your prefer your plants tightly contained or ancient, Arizona has something to inspire every imagination.

link redirects to Medium. no paywall

Hidden Gems Alternative Travel Guide: Alaska’s Kennicott Ghost Town

Alaska has a lot to offer. Mountains, glaciers, polar bears, whales, heart-stopping beauty, and… ghost towns.

Just when things looked most promising for the brand-new copper mining town of Kennicott, Alaska, everyone left. What remains is the country’s most picturesque ghost town right on the edge of the country’s largest, most untouched national park.

It is awesome in the most literal way.

Let’s explore Kennicott and the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

link redirects to Medium. no paywall

Hidden Gems Alternative Travel Guide: Alabama’s Rattlesnake Saloon

Are you ready to travel the American South, but not sure whether you prefer to explore untamed wilderness, dance the night away, or dive into a plate of jalapeno poppers?

No need to choose! Alabama’s Rattlesnake Saloon ticks all the boxes and even offers handsome lodging for you and your horse.

Let’s go to The Rattlesnake Saloon!

link redirects to Medium. no paywall

Hidden Gems – An Alternative Travel Guide

The sun is shining, it’s almost summer, and your vaccination card is filled.

Now you want to go on vacation, don’t you?

Me, too!

We all know about the big tourist traps and unmissable sights, but what about those lesser-known spots that always seem to be the highlight of the trip? I’m on a mission to find them! Let’s explore some of the country’s most interesting, unusual, underrated, and awe-inspiring locations.

Big, small, or just plain weird, America’s hidden gems are worth digging up.

Come on vacation with me!

link redirects to Medium. no paywall

Book Review: Death In Florence

After her marriage fell apart, Diana St. James went on a year-long European trip to escape her ex-husband and the boring life she left behind. Unfortunately for her, her ex followed her to Florence… with the other woman in tow. Diana can’t seem to shake her past, even when she goes to the Shakespeare festival in Verona: without warning, the handsome, flirty Italian actor Marcello dies right in front of her, and Diana’s the prime suspect — again! With the help of her adult daughters, she sets out to unmask the killer, clear her name, and straighten out her messy love life.

Lovely! Death in Florence definitely works as a standalone. I haven’t read the first one, but at no point did I feel confused or like I was missing out. I enjoyed that the author slipped in tons of references and important plot points to the previous novel, A Murder in Paris, but stopped just short of giving away the entire story. Her next stop is Vienna, which I have no doubt will be full of surprises, too.

I enjoyed this travel-themed cozy, but there were two things that irked me. First, Diana heaped all the blame for her failed marriage on her ex’s too-young, too-cute, too-vapid fiance, leaving little for the ex-husband, and none for herself. Hmm. And I can’t help but wonder what’s up with the title! Almost the entire story takes place in Verona, not Florence.

Death in Florence is a fun, easy-reading travel cozy mystery with all the requisite red herrings, colorful characters, and gorgeous settings. Gourmet food, wine, villas, and live theater — it’s no wonder main character Diana falls in love with Italy!

Death In Florence by Blake Pierce was published March 30, 2021.

Thanks to BookSirens, the publisher, and the author for providing a copy of this ebook. I am leaving this review voluntarily.