Velma’s Diced Life: A Memoir

“No one is going to read that.”

The smile faded from Velma’s face. She was so proud of her work that the thought of anyone being negative about it hadn’t even occurred to her. This wasn’t fiction—this was her life! This was a tell-all memoir about her fame.

Gloria realized she struck a nerve. “I’m sorry for being so blunt, Velma. But I really don’t know who would even be interested in something like that.”

“I was famous!” Velma defended. “People enjoy learning about celebrities!”

“You weren’t famous!” Gloria realized she suddenly backpedaled from her apology, but her friend was deluded. “You were in an infomercial for two seconds! And probably not even a full two seconds!”

Velma jumped to her feet. “My testimonial was instrumental in the viral success of the Dice-Woah! Do you honestly believe that sales would be as astronomical without my riveting and talented first-hand review? I mean, honestly, Gloria! Tell me right now you think I’m a sham!”

“I never said you were a sham.”

“Tell me what you really think!”

Gloria started to speak, but decided against it. She did not mean to betray the trust of her closest friend, but using words like “astronomical” and “talented” were a little conceited and overblown. She wanted to be supportive, but she also wanted her friend to be realistic. But Velma wasn’t satisfied with her friend’s sudden withdrawal.

“Tell me your opinion, Gloria! Why are you jealous of me if my testimonial was indeed not pivotal?”

“Oh, I am far from jealous of you.” Now it was Velma who struck a nerve. “You think your testimonial was the driving factor for the success of the Dice-Woah? Far from it, sister. I could have said the same thing you did, and the result would have been the same.”

Velma gasped. “I knew you were jealous!”

Gloria rolled her eyes. “I’m not jealous. I’ll take it a step further. They could have removed the testimonials from the entire commercial and there would be no difference in sales today.”

Velma was stunned. Her friend was fast becoming an enemy. She knew a life of fame and fortune would change her relationships with those around her, but Gloria? This was the ultimate betrayal. “I never thought I’d lose my closest friend over my fame, but I guess you never really see this sort of thing coming anyway.”

“I’m not rejecting you or your friendship, Velma. I’m rejecting this lunacy you call a tell-all memoir. The Dice-Woah hasn’t even been relevant in twenty years! And do you really want to associate yourself with a product that was heavily recalled after that lead paint fiasco?”

Velma wasn’t listening. She began digging through her entertainment center to find the VHS marked “My Portfolio.” This was meant to be a portfolio of her work she would send to talent agencies, though she never sent it to anyone. She did play it several times over the past twenty years to friends and family, however, who quickly grew tired of her pomposity, especially because the portfolio contained only one entry: the entirety of the original Dice-Woah infomercial.

Velma located the VHS and hastily jammed it into her player. She whirled around to her former friend who was staring in stunned silence. “Watch this performance and tell me with a straight face that I am not crucial to the advertisement.”

Gloria didn’t know what to say. She had seen the infomercial dozens of times. Seeing it again was unnecessary.

The television blinked blue before giving way to thick lines of static. The words “DICE-WOAH BY TELESELL. COPYRIGHT 2007” flashed quickly into view. Then the ad began.

A frenetic messy-haired man in his early thirties walked into a makeshift kitchen. His every movement was jittery, as if he hadn’t had coffee for a week after drinking it exclusively for the past thirty years. His voice was a stark contrast—confident and clear. “Hey, guys! It’s Jerry Jelbow here for the Dice-Woah. You use this thing and you don’t say ‘Woah!’ then you’re probably just an idiot.” This was a very controversial line to use, but Telesell demanded the ad air with Jerry’s unique pitching flair. This was probably the real reason the ad achieved brief viral success, though the same couldn’t be said for the product itself.

Jerry continued. “Look, dicing food is tough. You ask the pros? They still struggle with it. Forget about trying to impress your friends by shaking a knife at breakneck speed through a ripe tomato. You’re going to lose a finger and you’re going to lose respect.” He threw the knife behind him and it embedded in the wall. In a later interview, this was revealed to be an impromptu move by Jerry. Telesell’s legal team were very unhappy with it, but they aired the knife throw anyway.

“Bust out your Dice-Woah, fellas. Look—the tomato goes into the chamber. Pop the lid on. Pull this lever, you got your slice. Pull this lever, you got your dice. A one-two punch, and the tomato never saw it coming. Look, here’s the best part. Pull right here to get the false bottom, and you’ve got fresh-diced tomato in a container, never looked better. No mess, no stress, go about your day.”

Gloria started mouthing the words as they came out of the TV. She’d seen this ad way too many times.

“I know what you’re thinking. Jerry, those are some big ol’ chonkers! I want a real fine dice. Don’t be naïve, guys. Surely you’re not that dumb. Look what I’ve got in store for you. Squeeze right here to get those blades close together. Now, let me get an onion. Pop it in, and look how easy. Here’s the slice. There’s the dice. Pull out the bottom, and WOAH! You can’t get finer than that by conventional methods, my friends. I dare you to even try!”

Velma shot a look at her friend. Her testimonial was coming up and she wanted to make sure Gloria gave it her full undivided attention.

“Ever see something like this in stores? You’re going to pay an arm and a leg for it, and it doesn’t even work as well. But we’re so flipping crazy, we’re throwing the Dice-Woah your way for only twenty-nine ninety-five. You’re not going to find it cheaper, better, or dicier out there, my friends, I’m telling you right now.”

Without warning, the ad cut to the testimonial section. Members of the general population who were patient or crazy enough to stand through a live presentation at some fair or convention were given time with the product and a chance to get their face in the commercial. Other products might have tried to get the craziest performances from these people as a sort of marketing ploy, but this is where the Dice-Woah differed. Dice-Woah’s testimonials were infamously dry.

An elderly mustachioed man appeared on the screen. “I’ve never seen anything like this. It’ll definitely be the next thing I talk about at my book club.” His voice dealt a very monotone, unexcited delivery.

After a screen wipe, a young mother with three children appeared on the screen. “As a single mother,” she explained, “I’ve desperately needed something that can make my time in the kitchen just a couple seconds shorter. And this will definitely do that.” This testimonial was fun to re-watch, only because the youngest child could be seen picking her nose, but the clip still made it to air through several editorial reviews.

After a final screen wipe, Velma’s face filled the screen. Both Velmas—the one on the television and the one in the living room—beamed with pride. “All I can say is… Dice-WOAH!”

And that was it. The screen went back to Jerry Jelbow, who carried the sales pitch home with his general frenetic aplomb. Velma shot her friend a look, talking over Jerry. “I mentioned the product by name! Those other two jokers couldn’t even be bothered to do that!”

Gloria stared at Velma. This sounded like some sort of joke, but she could tell her friend was dead serious. “Velma—”

“Don’t ‘Velma’ me. That sounded very much like you were about to talk down to me.”

“I was about to talk down to you! You barely have a part in the commercial! You can’t possibly think that because you said the words ‘Dice-Woah,’ you had any more impact on sales numbers! Furthermore, that line was it! You can’t write a tell-all memoir about nothing! No one is interested, you self-absorbed, entitled, pompous ass!”

Velma stared at her friend. This was a betrayal of the highest order, and she never would have guessed Gloria would be the one to deliver it.

The weight of her own words hit Gloria hard. Sure, Velma may have had delusions of grandeur. She may have wished so hard for a better life that she already believed she had one. But whatever was going on in her head, she didn’t deserve that outburst. “Velma, I’m—”

Velma quickly held up her hand. “I get it. You don’t need to say anything else.”

“But I—”

“No. That’s okay.” She left a moment of guilt-increasing silence hang in the air before continuing. “Elmer isn’t coming back this weekend like I thought. Something was spelled out in his contract that basically means another six months over there.”

Gloria felt the loneliness of her friend. “Oh, Velma, I’m so sorry.”

Velma shook her head. “These things happen. But either way, it’s getting to be that time for me to go to work.”

Gloria nodded slowly. Whatever damage she had done would not be resolved today. “Okay. Well, maybe I’ll come by tomorrow with some steaks. Tony did so well on that client that he got a huge bonus. Figured we’d splurge on something.” She realized immediately after saying this the insensitivity of her timing, but the words were already out there.

“Yeah. Maybe.”

***

Velma drove to the Littner Plastics Consolidated factory at the north end of town, where she’d worked ever since Elmer was deployed. She always told people she’d forgotten how long it had been since she’d seen her husband, but she knew. And she also knew the army was lying to her with these constant redeployments. No one stays in the military into their sixties.

Velma stood at her post next to the etcher, reflecting on the conversation with her friend. Was she really so self-interested? She’d spent over a year writing her tell-all memoir. Was that entire time wasted?

A horrifying screech interrupted her thoughts. She whirled around. The machine responsible for this noise was also responsible for taking plastic and chopping it into smaller pieces to begin recycling it into newer products. Her years of experience told her the problem immediately; it was jammed. No one was standing by the control panel for the machine, which meant she was the closest person who could stop it. She ran across the concrete aisleway to the controls and slapped the oversized red button. The machine stopped its screeching and ground to a halt. Anyone on that side of the aisle would have to stop their work until the jam could be cleared.

Curious, Velma peered through the chain-link fence where the jam-inducing plastics were contained. It looked like a massive number of the same thing. This happened sometimes when companies discontinued a product line. They’d ship them off to Littner to recycle their old unwanted or unsold merchandise and get a nice discount on newly-made plastics.

“Get away from the fence, please!” the safety officer shouted to her, as he ran down the nearby stairs to inspect the issue.

She began to comply, but looked back at the fence one more time. There was something so familiar about the plastics. As she continued to stare, she was finally able to make out the words she had personally etched on that same product about twenty years ago.

“Dice-Woah.”

Yankee Swap

I became the general manager of a low-volume, casual dining restaurant two days before Christmas last year. The restaurant was burdened with several issues that worked against it ever having success, but I threw everything I had at it to try to reverse the public perception of the place. If only I knew it was doomed from the start.

One, it was difficult to enter the lot. You had to circle the perimeter of the building and drive to the far end of a strip mall, then double back and navigate a large pothole while going uphill. By the time you did all that, you really wanted a perfect dining experience, but that wouldn’t happen, because…

Two, it was understaffed. Criminally understaffed. This could be because the employees also would have had a tough time entering the lot, shortening the hiring pool, but whatever the case, the staffing list was small.

This was a fairly new building and location, opening in 2012, if I’m not mistaken. There was a plaque in the lobby commemorating the opening of the restaurant signed by the mayor. And the design was modern and chic. You could tell expectations were high for the restaurant’s success when it opened.

Unfortunately, the store did not do well. Sales were miserable, and what few customers they received did not get great service. This was because the staff was either nonexistent, poorly trained, or both. The few busy periods would be considered incredibly slow by most restaurant standards, but even these would prove too difficult for this crew.

You might be inclined to blame management, as so many members of the public are quick to do. But the turnover for managers at that store rivaled the employees. There were few that stayed for any long period of time, so no one got hired and no one got trained.

Public perception was abysmal. No one wanted to eat there, either because of past poor experiences, or because they had heard of someone else’s past poor experience.

This was what I inherited. Two days before Christmas, I became the general manager of this failing restaurant.

Immediately, I knew things had to change. I began hiring people. Writing schedules and making people stick to them. Ordering the right amount of food. Cleaning the place more than it has in recent times. Organizing and labeling everything. Training people the correct way of doing things. Tracking and curtailing food waste. Encouraging guests to send in comment cards and feedback. And, while I don’t think I’m the greatest manager in the world, I think I was doing a great job. Positive reviews were going up. Staffing levels had reached acceptable levels. Cleanliness was again a priority. It was nice.

And then along came COVID-19. This pandemic wreaked havoc on restaurants worldwide, and mine was no exception. Just three months after I had taken over this store, it was shut down. This was a business move. All locations were expected to take a huge sales hit, and mine was already a very low-performing store. I got moved to a different location for the time being, and I waited anxiously for its reopening.

But it didn’t reopen.

I suppose I could have seen this from the beginning of the pandemic. It was a wonder we were open to begin with. But it was in a nice, high-rent area, and closing it, I was told, would cost more than keeping it open.

Now that it is permanently closed, the local news decided to write a small blurb about it. I do mean “small.” More or less, “This restaurant in this county is closing, though there other ones in the county aren’t.” That was about it.

And the comments people left about it closing were disheartening, to say the least. My short three months were a waste of time. People were unsurprised, judgmental, and almost happy at it’s closure. They listed all sorts of problems and negative experiences at that store.

It was a tough thing to read. I can’t help but feel like if I had just a little more time, maybe I would have been able to make a difference. Maybe I could’ve changed things for the better.

But alas, we’ll never know.

***

I’m trying to write more things. I know I say that all the time, but it is true. One day I won’t have to manage restaurants.

Anywho, this is something I’ve written. Though normally I opt for fiction, this is a true story, and I felt like writing it for some reason.

See you on the next one…

A Criminal Since Eden

I recently entered a 100-word microfiction contest through NYC Midnight. I’d never written any sort of microfiction before, but I enjoyed the challenge. All participants were grouped into specific conditions that had to be met. My group had to write a sci-fi story about robbing a bank using the word “develop.”

The results came last night. I did not make the top 20 in my round to move on, unfortunately, though I did get an honorable mention. And out of roughly 100 entries in my group, I’ll take it. So, here was my submission:

A Criminal Since Eden

As I pointed my laser-blaster at the teller, noting the fear in her eyes, I couldn’t help but think of my ancestors. Likely, they would be ashamed their legacy was tarnished by such scum, but what little shame I could muster didn’t lower my aim.

“Why do this?” she pleaded. Centuries of technological developments and modern marvels made most think in this day, on this planet “safe-haven” no one would buck the status-quo.

I heard the sirens. Speed was key. “There’s been a criminal since Eden,” I told her, squeezing the trigger.

And there always will be.

Beginnings (Writing Exercise #3)

I am the worst at discipline. Writing shouldn’t feel like a chore, should it? I don’t even want to admit how long it took me to write the following blurb. It’s not even good. But it’s an exercise in developing discipline and exploring style. Read it if you like, but this is more for posterity purposes than anything.

~~~

 

What I am saying now is a lie.

***

Will Armand shot and killed a fourteen-year-old girl one night when he had too much to drink. If he did it before, he’ll do it again. History, after all, is subjective. Those with superior powers of diction and persuasion are the ones who get to alter the course of history, whether it has actually passed into history or not. A flimsy line of evidence is enough for conviction.

History… has proven this.

You might think to yourself that this is not fair, but it is. It is the way the world was ordered from the beginning.

Will Armand was destined to take the fall for your mistake. Just like you are destined to take advantage of his destiny. Neither of you can help the predicament you are now in. You must fully realize—and this is important—that nothing you’ve done or could have done would have changed anything.

You’re sitting in that faux leather chair across from me right now with a look of confusion, but I should let you know that you are not the first person to sit in that chair and give me that look. I’ve worked wonders for those people and I will do the same for you. Now you are about to nod to indicate that you understand me.

You didn’t nod.

You should believe me.

Well… You’ll see soon enough.

***

I am not an evil man. I am not an evil man. I am not an evil man.

He can’t do this to me. I never wanted to destroy anyone or anything. This has all been one stupid mistake after another.

He sounds confident in himself. And if he’s right, all my problems will go away. They will.

I’ll have to live with this huge lie afterwards, but I can do that. Time heals all wounds, right? Or forgives all sins, or something like that. It will just take time.

This seat isn’t that comfortable to begin with. Maybe the others who sat here before me were just uncomfortable, not confused. Their destinies ended up okay, supposedly. It’s not as if he’s given me a portfolio of his work. I’m just supposed to take him at his word. That’s probably what they did too. Probably.

Well, I didn’t dig myself into this mess, but I guess it’s time to dig myself out.

***

What I am saying now is the truth.

It’s Been a While…

Howdy, friends. It’s been a while…

What have you been up to? What have I been up to?

Discipline. Discipline. Discipline. Pray for me, friends. I have no discipline, but I desperately need it.

I’m wanting to write more. The gimmick of the moment I’ve purchased to help aid in that this time is a beautiful leather five year journal. I’ve never been much for journaling, but I very much enjoy the idea of a single book with a few lines devoted to the same day over five years. It will be interesting to see what twists, turns, pitfalls, and pinnacles I’ll have over the next half-decade. Such a format does not afford verbosity, but it’s not as if I’ve been doing much writing in the first place. Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it’s also apparently the soul of habit-forming.

***

I’m dreaming up ideas. More will come soon. Here’s something very short I wrote tonight:

 

Will Armand was drowning.
All his friends agreed. The stresses of his job, coupled with marital issues, financial issues, and self-esteem issues made for a man that was truly drowning in the pressures of modern life. It had been this way for a while, and those who cared for him were truly worried. But for all their knowledge, they did not have the insight afforded to Corey Ashland, a complete stranger who was walking along Crybaby Bridge late one night in Milton-Cumberland, Indiana. As he gazed across the water, he learned something about Will Armand that none of his friends knew, but that still made him think Will was drowning.
Will had about five liters of water in the space in his lungs that most people would host oxygen.

***

Good night, everyone.