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HAPPY BIRTHDAY, EB!
Posted On 07/30/2014 07:21:35

All of you know her as EB, some of you know her as Darcy, and most of you know she’s a pretty special lady. She is the one who makes sure that everyone who writes gets an answer, every order gets filled, and everyone with a computer problem who has a Cloudeight Direct service key gets scheduled.  Without her, Cloudeight would probably not be around anymore. She’s a fighter and she really cares and she makes the ideas I come up with work. My head’s always in the clouds — which is why we are called Cloudeight…not really…but my head is in the clouds. She makes this site work — and she does come up with some great ideas too.

Today is her birthday and I hope you will join me in wishing her all the best. What I wish most for her birthday is that all her dreams come true.

You probably don’t know this but she used to own a bar, and that’s where I met her. The bar was called Michigan^Tavern. Honest! I stumbled into her bar and starting fighting with her (it’s true). For some reason, in spite of my arrogance and contentious nature, she became my friend. I was a helpless nerd who knew almost nothing about computers then. My son was in a rock and roll band — and I made the world’s worst looking site, but I was proud of it. I showed it too her and rather than telling me it looked like a pile of junk she redid the entire site — she took her time to make the first web site I ever made look great — and she barely knew me and didn’t know my son at all.  What she did with the junky looking site I made was amazing — but she never took any credit for fixing it up.

The year was 1997 and the bar Michigan^Tavern was virtual — it was a chatroom that EB and some of her friends had created. So we met in a virtual saloon and Cloudeight was born.

In 1998, after she took me under her wing and taught me a lot about making web sites and we created the first Cloudeight site. It was called “Thundercloud and Eightball’s Christmas Graphics and you can still see it by clicking here.

We both use to work other jobs back then. Every day whoever got home first would check the counter on the site to see how many people had visited. I can remember the day we got 50 visits and we were sure we were on our way to Web stardom — ha! — but there’s something beautiful about naivete.  The excitement of having 50 visitors encouraged us and we kept working together.

One day, EB sent me an email with a scrolling background — and it had music playing. I thought she was magic! “How did you do that?” , I asked. We figured it out and started making stationery. It was then we created Cloudeight Stationery and it became wildly popular — at our peak we were getting 3 million visitors a year and our stationery became the most famous stationery on the Web.

We loved our jobs and we were so excited when we were working on a new stationery collection. We’d show each other what we had designed and couldn’t wait to release it to our subscribers and visitors. Cloudeight Stationery grew and grew – and Cloudeight became a business and our only job.

In 2002 we started Information Avenue and later InfoAve Premium to pass along some of the computer tricks and tips we’d learned over the years. It’s a good thing we did because when Microsoft introduced Windows 7, it had no email program, and therefore Windows 7 users couldn’t use our scrolling / musical stationery – our bread and butter. We had to completely re-invent Cloudeight and staying in business became a weekly struggle.

I have no doubt that if it weren’t for EB’s kindness and caring, we’d have gone belly-up several years ago. She never gave up and we came up with some other ideas and we’re still around. Cloudeight Direct Computer Care was her idea, not mine, and it really has helped us keep sailing on — and it really helped us get to know the folks who helped us through some very dark days.

Whether you know her as Darcy, EB, or both, she’s quite a lady and I’ve always felt quite lucky that, despite my cantankerous, contentious, belligerent nature,  she saw through all that and saw a different part of me — the part I never show the world — the compassionate, generous, gentle part. We’ve been friends since I walked into that virtual saloon and I’m a better person for it. And any of you who have had the chance to get to know her are blessed too. She’s one in a billion and we’re all lucky to have her.

Looking through her phone, I found a couple of her selfies, and I’d love to share them with you:

EB finds TG sleeping on the job again: “I’ll get you my pretty!”


EB getting ready to ride her broom to the grocery store to get me beer.

She’s the best partner and friend anyone could ever have. I poke fun at her in almost every newsletter, and she laughs along with us all. She’s great and I’m lucky to have her — and so are all of you.

Happy Birthday, EB! May all your dreams come true…



Lucy Jupiter and the Blue Duck
Posted On 07/11/2014 07:13:30

Lucy Jupiter and the Blue Duck

Chapter One

They call me Spike. There's a reason for that, but I'm not going to waste time telling you about it right now. My real name is Alvin Spencer Mickler, but as I said, everyone calls me Spike, and in fact, the name  on my mailbox says Spike Mickler. I should know. I recently spent $1.88 on stick-on letters over at the Walmart in Bowling Green.

You can tell I'm from Ohio because I say things like "over at the Walmart" and "where are you at?". I  was born and raised in Ohio, and I still live in Ohio, but just barely, and I'm not going to apologize for it.

Right now I'm hiding out in Luckey. Who I'm hiding from you don't need to know right now, because this story is not about me or my colorful past. Suffice it to say, I'm living in Luckey because I don't think anyone will think to look for me here. I buy everything with cash, including my little 2-bedroom house which sits on 1.5 acres of the rockiest, most disgusting piece of useless dirt you can imagine; the price and the location were more important to me than the dusty, hard clay soil and dead trees on the verge of toppling.

While looking for a place to hide, I happened to be driving down old route 6 through the heart of Farmville, USA. This is how I discovered Luckey. But it's not why I decided to live here.

To be honest -- and I'm going to tell you right now, I'm often not honest-- I decided to live in Luckey because it has more bars than churches. I never go to church and I always go to bars. But before you judge me too harshly, I do believe in God. God gave man a brain and God made grains and the brain God gave man allowed him to discover whiskey and, of course, beer. God also gave humanity the skills to mass produce it; I am thankful for God. As I always say, if God didn't want man to drink, He -- or if you're politically correct 'or SHE' -- wouldn't have made the stuff that man makes whiskey and beer from.

Anyway...

After I paid cash for my little 2-bedroom house, on 1.5 acres of the worst land God ever created, I spent a fair amount of time in the bars in downtown Luckey. They're all nice. And they all have what I like - beer and whiskey. And there's no such thing as bad beer or bad whiskey, some's just better than others and if you drink either you know what I mean.

Anyway, after spending a fair amount of time in each of the six bars, I decided that Jake's Bar and Grill would be my hang out, but not because of the beer or whiskey, or even  Jake's dollar taco night, but because of Lucy Jupiter.

To say I was smitten with her would be an understatement. Every guy, married or single, in Luckey was smitten, including the mayor of Luckey, one Otis Pemberville - a rotund, balding grandpa, with three children and seven grandchildren and a mortgage - in other words, the typical good, fat, old-fashioned American senior citizen... and dirty old man.

The first day I met Lucy, Otis Pemberville was there in Jake's, drooling over her while nursing a frosted fishbowl. A frosted fishbowl is exactly what it sounds like -- it's a real glass fishbowl, filled with  PBR draft beer. I'm going to say a fishbowl holds roughly three-and-a-half bottles of beer - I'm only guessing -- but for two bucks it's a steal. The only thing better are the two-dollar 48-ounce pitchers you can get on Wednesdays.

As I so often like to say, "Only in Luckey".


Chapter Two

Comfort and routine: Essentially that's what keeps me here in Luckey, Ohio. I left an abusive husband back in California.  Jerald R Jupiter is his name and he flips flops between construction work and the county jail . I wasn't his first victim, obviously I wasn't the last. Right now he's doing another 60-dayt sentence for domestic abuse.

I was born and raised as Lucy MacDonald, and for reasons more related to my distaste for governmental red tape, I kept my married name; most people around here know me as  Lucy Jupiter.  MacDonald reminds me of a country bumpkin -- eee aye eee aye oh -- and all that.  But to work and survive at Jake's you can't be a bumpkin. Fantasy is what Jake sells. Old men who never look in the mirror and who have two chances of getting to first base with a woman: Slim and none. To work at Jake's, short plaid skirts pigtails, and thigh high stockings constitute the required accoutrements. It's all a charade anyway. My name is perfect for this phantasmagoric charade.

I am an intelligent woman and the feminist inside me is always at odds with my career at Jake's. However,  I really do like my job; not only does it afford me a living , it also allows me to practice a form of lay psychology. And I really do like Luckey - it is what small-town-America is supposed to be.  -  the Americana which disappeared in the 1960's lives here. Almost all of my customers are regulars. 99% of the time there are no problems. But for that 1% when the alcohol starts talking dirty or a misanthrope from out of town arrives,  I have good ol' Louie behind the bar.  Louisville slugger. 

I can take care of myself just fine, thank you.

The mayor of this small town is Otis Pemberville. I have always wondered why this tiny town ever needed mayor. I've come to realize that as long as Otis is alive, Luckey will have a mayor. Otis is a pretentious blowhard, a philanderer, and extremely brash. But every two years, he gets  re-elected with 95% of the vote. The last seven elections he has run unopposed.


Sometimes I wonder... It seems to me that most people complain of government sticking their nose where it doesn't belong. So why in the world would anyone CHOOSE it. Otis has become a wannabe Napoleon. He eliminated city council twelve years ago.  He runs unopposed in elections, and he's become a little dictator.  What was wrong with a village council?  Otis is a self-inflated, self-important, bag-of-wind; a womanizer, a cheat, a miscreant. 

Maybe I dislike Otis most of all, because he has the audacity to ask me to have dinner with him at his "secret hideaway", at least twice a week --  more if he gets to drinking heavily.

However, one thing I will say about Otis is that he is one of our best customers. He always sits in my section - or if I'm working the bar, he sits at the bar - and he always leaves very generous tips.

And Otis is a foreigner -- he has Roman hands and Russian fingers, but I cut his lasciviousness off quickly. I can handle myself without dashing his hopes too much. After all, it's the hopes he has that I will cave into his licentious desires that keeps my tips coming.No,  I am not proud of it, but I need the money. If that makes me a bad person in your eyes, oh well. 

Otis is one of my tickets to a college degree and I'm not ready to cash him in yet, capiche?

Jake's is more than just short skirts, $2.00 pitchers, and  cheap booze. We actually have some pretty amazing food. Our cook Saul attended culinary school after growing up lusting over Julia Child. 

A chef of his caliber, would have never ended up working in a place like Jake's unless he's running from someone of something. I wonder if he and Spike have more than that in common.

I digress --sometimes I hear him muttering under his breath impersonating his deceased culinary idol -Julia. None of the customers know anything about this. They think they're eating typical bar fare .


They could not be more wrong. Tonight  we are featuring beer-battered fish. Delicious Lake Erie perch dredged through an egg wash and Panko bread crumbs and served with hand-cut fries made from fresh Yukon Gold potatoes, lightly dusted with rosemary. We call the fries 'seasoned' knowing that if the guys and gals who eat here knew what was really on them,  they would call me a yuppie and refuse, obstinately, to eat here. We need their business so we do what we have to do. "Seasoned" fries goes over well with the pedestrian folk 'round these parts.

We also sell Chicken Marsala with gnocchi disguised as chicken and dumplings. Julia's Beef  bourguignon as beef stew.  Saul also likes to slip extra vegetables into the meals:  Cauliflower into the mashed potatoes, carrots and squash into the marinara sauce. It makes Sal happy and as puerile and as giggly as a school girl just knowing that he is making these hillbillies eat food from the upper crust -- no pun intended. You don't feed oysters Rockefeller to this cadre of rough and tough men - and stay in business. I  don't know if Saul does it to amuse himself or if he really cares about making sure these burly, uneducated men eat healthily.  One thing for sure -- if they eat here, Saul makes sure they get their daily recommended dose of vitamins and as much of the veggie portion of the USDA Food-Pyramid.  All of this is done clandestinely, in Saul's -- and I do mean SAUL's - kitchen.

Same old, same old. Same old routine, same old food  for the same old customers until he walks in. A stranger in an even stranger bar. Tall with a look about him that screams trouble.  He may be twenty-some years older than I and he may look like he's on the wrong end of three-week bender... but something's up with guy - he's no dumb hick, he's educated and smart, trying hard to fit in, but I'd bet this guy is running from something or someone...and in time I know he'll talk. 

When you're working bar, and serving the same customers day after day, most will take me into their confidence and tell me things they wouldn't dare tell their wives or husbands. It's the part of my job I relish most. I wasn't able to finish college because I fell in love, but it was not love, never could have been -- I was suffering from the love of love and from attention deficit... I wanted to be a psychologist, but never got past Psych 101. Working in this place gives me a chance to observe people and learn about them. After a time you learn that everybody lies and everybody is crazy, including me.

Good thing I have Louie. He's my sentry -- always at the ready to defend me should that need arise. And there have been a few times when Louie has come to my rescue.


Chapter 3


If I were ten -- or twenty -- years younger, Lucy would be the kind of girl I'd set my sights  on. Disregarding her uniform -- short plaid skirt and so forth -- she had the prettiest and biggest brown eyes I have ever seen. There are intelligent eyes; the kind of eyes that warned wary men like me that they're not dealing with the typical bimbo. Sometimes I get the feeling she's looking into my soul, which I, of course, quickly attribute to the cheap beer and redneck atmosphere.

However, I'm pushing fifty, my hair is falling out and my belly shows even in my carefully chosen big, loose shirts which I never tuck in. My eyes are usually red; I don't sleep well. I used to be an avid reader but now if I try to read a book I fall asleep which is quite an inconvenience when it comes to actually finish an entire book.  So now my reading is largely confined to newspapers and magazines -- and cereal boxes.

If you're thinking Luckey has its own newspaper, it does not. The local paper here is a poorly edited rag called "The Toledo Blade". The biggest claim to fame the "Blade" has is what it called "The Peach Section" - and I'm not kidding. The "Peach" section contains trivial stories about trivial things  such as the one that ran last week about a boy and his mom making $66 by selling lemonade to construction workers. This was not newsworthy, but this meandering screed took up a full quarter page. It was a yammering article written by some hick who got her degree in journalism from some online university. 

In this neck of the woods so few have college degrees that having one assures that you will get hired to do something - it's a ticket to a minimum wage job here in the sticks. And it's not that we don't have any real universities within a stone's throw. There are Bowling Green, The University of Toledo, Terra Tech (a trade school, everyone in these parts refers to as "Terrible Tech") and the ritzy, expensive, Defiance College. I've been to Defiance several times and I've never seen anyone who looked like a college student.  This is not true of Bowling Green which I visit frequently because it has a Wal*Mart. BG as it's called, is literally infected with college students doing things only college students could do --like falling face down on the sidewalk from alcohol poisoning, getting rushed to the local hospital, being treated and released all without consequence. Hell, if I did that, I'd be held on public intoxication charges and definitely strung up by Mayor Otis Pemberville, who besides being the Mayor of Luckey, is also the chief of police.

Before you go off imagining that Luckey's police force is a well-oiled juggernaut, let me assure you it is not. The police force consists of two cops and Otis Pemberville. We have one police car in Luckey and it's usually parked across the street from Jake's.

The two cops here are noted for talking on their cell phones while on duty, mainly because there are no donut shops in Luckey. One of the officers is jokingly referred to as Barney; his name is actually Steve Bensen. The other cop is appropriately named Wyatt Durbin - of course everyone refers to him as Wyatt Earp which gives some folks in town the illusion that they're living in the old west. If you ever walked down he main street of Luckey, you'd understand why. You can almost hear the echoes of horses naying and rag time music wafting from an old bar with sawdust-cover ed floors and swinging doors. 

Jake's has neither swinging doors nor sawdust-covered floors, but it does have decent food, cheap beer and Lucy Jupiter - not necessarily in order of importance.

I sit and watch, with a wrenching in my belly, Otis Pemberville leering at Lucy and I just want to go  over and bust his chops.  But the last thing I need is another run-in with the law and the law digging into my past which would end up with me in a distinctly awkward and uncomfortable situation.

Otis Pemberville is, from my observation, a truly disgusting egoist. He is always wearing a dark suit which always looks too small for him -- well, put it this way, he couldn't button the coat if he wanted to. He wears his pants pulled up to the bottom of his substantial man-boobs - in typical old-man style. His bald head reflects the fluorescent that line the ceiling. His fringe-hair is long and gray -- long enough that he could tie it in a pony tail if he wanted to. He's a father and a grandfather and a philanderer and in my opinion a real jerk.

He looks ridiculous with that long gray hair falling wildly over his ears and down his back. He looks like a cross between Benjamin Franklin and a retired Hell's Angel.

Worst thing about Otis? He's after Lucy and that stirs my chivalry -- I just want to help the damsel in distress -- or the damsel who I'm certain will soon be in distress if Otis ever makes his move -- which everyone in town is betting on. But they don't dare cross Otis - Mayor and Chief of Police. Everyone just talks behind his back.

Otis is not the only one leering at Lucy...

God...she looks so good in that skirt.


Tags: Fiction Essays Ducks Ohio Luckey


The Angels Come to Visit Us
Posted On 03/07/2013 21:23:53

“The golden moments in the stream of live rush past us, and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone” ~ George Eliot

Today I did something I try very hard never to do – I glanced over my shoulder and looked at the road behind me. I don’t like to do this because when what’s behind me is better that what’s ahead of me, it only makes me feel worse. I suppose we all get to a point in our lives when that’s true; the road ahead becomes narrower and shorter until it disappears into that mysterious good night. But that shouldn’t be happening yet.

But I did look back, and looking back I saw Darcy and me smiling and happy, because with our own hands — and thousands of hours of learning and work – we had built a business of which both of us were proud. I remembered how we used to surprise each other with new ideas for stationery collections and work on each one, sharing each new design with each other, before anyone else had seen it. I remembered when we held our collective breath each time we released a newsletter to our beloved stationery mail list. At one time there were almost 275,000 subscribers – and we loved and worked hard trying to please each one of them.

I saw the two of us, two very fortunate people, who worked hard and loved all the work they did. We were Cloudeight – we were happy and the work was always joyful and fun.

In 2009, Microsoft introduced Windows 7, a great operating system, but one that came without an email program. So the number of people using Outlook Express and Windows Mail (from Windows Vista) started drastically declining as more and more moved to Windows 7. As fewer and fewer used Outlook Express and Windows Mail, fewer and fewer used our stationery, within 18 months our stationery site had lost over 50% of its traffic. With the decline in stationery came an equally harsh decline in revenue, and coupled with the worst recession America had seen in years, it left us reeling.

My eyes, misty and sad, can’t look back anymore, so I look around in the present and see what is left. I’m scared, I don’t know what I will do if something happens to the business we built. I feel like a man about to become homeless, and dreading the cold nights on the windy, frozen street.

My discouragement shows in all I do, I think. There’s someone who I don’t thank enough, who I never give any credit, and these days, for whom I never have many encouraging or kind words — and that’s my loyal partner Darcy.

None of you know how much work she does. She does everything I do, and more. She makes sure that every email gets answered; she makes sure that every order gets filled. She’s the heart and soul of Cloudeight; she’s the reason we’re still limping along.

I’m the dreamer, the writer, the creator, and I’m the emotional roller coaster which which she has to deal every day. I’m a dreamer and not a doer but my bag of dreams is almost empty, the monster of discouragement has come in the night and eaten away at them; I tell you, there are few, if any left.

She didn’t want me to write this – she never asks for anything for herself. If Cloudeight benefits, that’s all she cares about — never herself.  She doesn’t want me to ask you for more donations, because she knows as well as I, that it’s always the same loyal friends who donate time after time after time, and it is just not fair to ask them for more.

If we hadn’t started Information Avenue, and InfoAve Premium, and more recently Cloudeight Direct, there wouldn’t be anymore Cloudeight. Darcy has to beg me to help make new stationery collections, but I do it kicking and screaming because I’m a dreamer, and not doer, and discouragement kills dreams. Because she has the kindest heart of anyone I’ve ever met, she gives Cloudeight 100%, 100% of the time.. It makes me angry with myself to think how I treat her sometimes. She believes in Cloudeight and she believes in our stationery; she still gives her best for the ones left on the stationery list — just a little more than 10% of what it was in our best years.

If it weren’t for Darcy, there would be no more Cloudeight. There would be no more newsletters, no stationery, no anything. I would have given up, becuase I’m just a dreamer, but she dreams and does — and that has kept us going.

One thing I can say for both of us – we really care about making sure you have the truth as we see it. We have lost literally hundreds of thousands of dollars by not giving in to the companies who wanted us to bundle our software with their bundles. We could have been financially secure, but to do that we would have had to trick all those who have come to trust us. We would rather have our little company fail than to live with the knowledge that we misled those who trusted us. And we have taken some serious criticism for standing up and telling the truth; we’ve even been threatened with lawsuits for telling our readers the truth.

So now, more than ever befofe, Cloudeight is in serious financial trouble, but we are never going to give in to these malware vendors or back down from telling our readers the truth as we see it – not ever. If we go down, we’ll go down with our heads held high – we do not go gently into that good night.

We have trimmed our expenses and our own incomes as much as we possibly can, and this has helped us to keep going. I don’t really know what the future holds for Cloudeight, but we won’t go down without a fight. Then, sometimes I think Cloudeight won’t be missed much, like the thousands of other niche sites like ours that have long since faded from the Web, we would just be another small business who couldn’t find a way to survive.

Darcy doesn’t want me to ask you for any more donations, she’d rather we do our best to sell our products and Cloudeight Direct Computer Care services. Cloudeight Direct was her idea, not the dreamer’s — and it’s been successful enough to keep us afloat. I still don’t think enough people understand what a fantastic deal it is for the little we charge for it. All our customers have to do is sit down at their computers, relax and watch as we fix it. And we only charge $59 for this – whether it takes us an hour or three hours.

Darcy is an angel and she’s come to visit you — she’s the one who keeps things going. Is George Eliot right when she says “The angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone.”?

And while I can blame myself for letting discouragement affect the things I do, no one has worked harder to keep us going than Darcy. She’s up most mornings at 4:00 AM and works most evenings until 8:00 PM or later. Day after day she gives it all she has, and tries so hard to bring me back to the way I used to be — she never gives up and she never gives in.

I’ve let Darcy down so many times, but the one thing I’ve not done is let our readers down – at least I hope I haven’t. I’ve always given them 100%, 100% of the time.

Darcy is the only reason Cloudeight still fights on. She’s the Angel of Cloudeight. Darcy is an Angel and she’s come to visit you. Is George Eliot right when she says “The angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone.”?

————————–

If you would like to help us, we have some special offers for you athttp://thundercloud.net/direct/spring/

Darcy didn’t want me to ask you, but I’m going to anyway, because she deserves better. If you’d like to donate, a couple of dollars or more, please go tohttp://thundercloud.net/donate.htm

IMPORTANT! We will do what we need to do to keep our business going. No matter what, we will keep The Hill going, Cloudeight Direct Computer Care going and our Forum and InfoAve Premium newsletter going. 

Tags: TC EB Cloudeight





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