Into the Fear of the Unknown

The flight home from Indianapolis to L.A. was half empty. Everyone on the plane wore masks, scarves, or respirators. No one spoke. No one dared to cough, much less clear their throats for fear of causing alarm from someone seated next to them. Masked passengers, like nervous bank robbers in their getaway car, dotted the seats in the dimly-lit cabin. Everyone was eager to make their way home. COVID-19 USA version was just getting started.

I was sitting in an upgraded, First Class seat on a mileage award, and unsurprisingly, no one in First wanted food or beverage service. The flight attendant seemed relieved that she didn’t have to spend too much time, up close and personal.

We were flying through a modern version of the Twilight Zone and into the unknown. For me, the experience underscored what surreal really means, by its very definition: “seeming like a dream or fantasy.” A global pandemic, certainly felt like a very bad dream, one seemingly conjure up by a writer’s creative mind in a Hollywood fantasy.

In case you are grappling with the concept of surreality, this should help: Surreal is a tsunami that engulfs parts of Japan and causes a nuclear disaster. Surreal is Mount Saint Helen’s erupting, and blanketing 250 homes in molten hot lava and ash. Surreal is watching a space shuttle, with living/breathing astronauts in it, fly to a place in the sky, and explode. Surreal is the 1989 San Francisco Earthquake leaving a pancaked Bay Bridge in its wake. Surreal is also finding yourself smack dab in the middle of a global pandemic where it’s not only socially acceptable, but mandated, that you wear a mask into a bank, and no one hauls you away, in handcuffs, when you do so.

Two months ago, I got off that plane, drove home from LAX in a daze, and joined my family already on lockdown. The date was March 17, 2020, and I won’t ever forget it. I was 1989 San Francisco Earthquake shook.

Once I arrived home, I discovered my husband was already sick with symptoms that matched COVID-19. We’ve been married 26 years and nothing, in all those years, took him down quite like that. We didn’t quarantine from him, or he from us, and he turned out to be sick for almost three weeks. When I say sick, I mean DOWN for the count and lethargic, check his pulse, and see-if-he’s-breathing-kind-of-sick. I’m pretty sure he had “it,” and he tried to get tested to confirm our suspicions, but he was turned away.

This thing was still too new.

I’m pretty sure I also had “it” back in January after a trip to Vegas when a tele-doctor diagnosed me with the flu. (I later learned that someone traveling into McCarran from Wuhan, on the same day as me, was hospitalized. And, many people in my industry reported a strange “Vegas flu” after returning home. My symptoms began with a sore throat, with some stomach upset in the first couple of days. What followed was lethargy, rolling fevers, and a mad cough. I didn’t have a runny nose, or nausea. But, I was knocked down and rolling in and out of fever for two solid weeks, with THAT wicked cough. Our industry trade show also had legions of attendees flying in from China. Plus, “The Woz” was our industry’s guest speaker, and he claimed he was the first American who brought the virus to the U.S. as patient zero. People laughed at the joke, but it was reported that he was so sick, during his talk at the PPAI Show back in January, he had to sit down on stage to catch his breath. Yah. By then Vegas was crawling with “it.” And, as you know, Vegas is already a cesspool of disease and regret.

I’m pretty sure my son got “it” from me by early February when he was coughing so hard, he was retching blood. His doctor said he had bronchitis. My doctor said I had the flu, just 10 days earlier. By March, my husband became ill, and my son and I were both on lockdown with him, but we both never got sick with whatever my husband had. We assumed that’s because perhaps my son and I already had “it?” Three people were living under the same roof, over a two month timespan, and each of us were diagnosed with separate, although seemingly the same, illnesses. We had the same symptoms, but different responses. My son’s cough was the worst. My husband’s lethargy was the worst. My fevers were the worst.

Have we each already had COVID-19?

So, let’s assume for a minute that all three of us have had it. That’s three people living in the same house on lockdown. Each of us has the propensity to help drive the economy back to where it was in some way. I own a couple of businesses. My husband is a partner in a mutual funds company. And, my son is a student. If all three of us have had COVID-19, and I realize that is a big IF, shouldn’t we be with other’s like us back out in the world, helping to rebound the economy?

That got me thinking about how important the Antibody test is to our nation’s economy. The Antibody test shouldn’t only be about finding the cure to this deadly disease, it should be about putting members of society, maybe even entire households, back into the workforce as soon as we have answers about the likelihood of the possibilities of contracting the disease more than once, or catching a newer, rogue strain.

Since I can’t be sure that I had COVID-19 back in January, I forked over the $129 to Quest Diagnostics to get tested for antibodies. The rest of my family may follow suit. I simply gotta know!

Positive results won’t make me feel impervious from catching it again or resistant from catching a new strain, but it might give me courage to join civilization again, as a front seat driver in this economy, with the proper heath mandates put in place.

Here’s hoping the Antibody test also becomes as readily available as the COVID-19 test has become. Perhaps through it, we can jumpstart the economy again by putting people with antibodies, one-by-one, back out into the workforce and into schools, while we continue to fight the disease.

In any case, I miss my old optimistic self, so I’m going long on my Moderna stock. I incidentally bought in at $39.89 a share, back when they were just one of the numerous potential vaccine players in a sea of possibilities. If I sold today, I’d be a winner, winner chicken dinner. I don’t know about you, but it feels good to invest in hope, even if I lose my shirt. I’m going long! Goooooo Moderna! See us clear through to the finish line and end this pandemic.

A Lesson in Songwriting while Grappling with Grief

Earlier this year, I received a series of calls I hoped would never come. My younger brother, who had just turned 43, had been taken by ambulance to the hospital. To make matters worse, I was also under doctor’s care with an extreme case of Post-concussion syndrome after a freak accident playing with my dog. My brother was in bad shape, and I was prohibited from flying home to be with him. It hurt my brain to process my predicament, but I knew I was no good to anyone with a brain injury. My mind wasn’t clear, but the bandage had been ripped off my deeply rooted grief, and old, stifled emotion resurfaced for the brother I had already lost, long ago, to alcoholism. As the days progressed, the updates continued…

“He is in liver failure.”

“His organs are shutting down.”

“He is hallucinating.”

“He is terribly jaundiced.”

“They are putting him in a medically-induced coma.

“His situation is dire, you need to come home.”

Five days passed, and I finally flew back home to Indiana, post-concussed brain and all, but only after my doctor gave me a prescription with his nod to travel. By the time I arrived at my brother’s bedside, I first noticed how much he had aged in the year since I last saw him. He no longer looked like an alcoholic in his forties. He looked like a very sick and dying man, in his sixties.

After several long days of serving as my brother’s advocate and medical liaison to a highly trained team of doctors and surgeons in Indianapolis, finality came from one of them in just three swift sentences, “Your brother has been committing suicide for a very long time. If he didn’t want to die, he wouldn’t be in this position. There’s nothing more we can do.”

Grieving the sudden death of someone you already lost long ago isn’t easy because it means grieving again. After dealing with the business side of things at the hospital and with my family, numbness ensued. That welcomed absence of feeling suffocated my grief on my flight back to California, and I felt, if only for a spell, better. But, feeling better is not the point of grief. You have to reckon with grief through its stages or you will never be free from it. Grief is like a book that simply must have a beginning, a middle, and the part that reaches you to “The End.”

Days passed, and I still wanted nothing more than to remain in the place where I thought I had swallowed my grief whole. But, I knew I had to confront it head on; there was a lump at the bottom of my throat and a literal heartache in my chest that was so prevalent, I considered checking myself into the hospital. I knew I had to turn the key to my grief, unlock it, open the door, and let it out. I finally forced myself to do what I always did, back when I was child growing up in rural Indiana…a child in need of services…a ward of the court…an eventual fifteen-year-old foster kid.

I wrote.

I wrote to unlock those feelings rooted inside the core of my being. I wrote to find that creative outlet that once saved me from irreparable damage when I was a child. I wrote to move past the beginning and to search for the middle of my grief.

I wrote. I wrote. I wrote.

Until I broke.

From all that teeth gritting and soul baring composition came, amongst other things, a heart-wrenching story, composed with a tragically beautiful melody, sung and produced by a man whom I am now honored to call a friend. Our friendship is, at the very least, now bound to perpetuity by a singular song titled, “Little Rose.”

Fred “Doc” Gortner is the founder and lead singer/songwriter of a local, Southern California rock/blues band called “The Pits” (Find them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @ReallyThePits). Doc and I have been loosely connected for years, and it was only a matter of time before our chance meeting when we’d become friends.

By day, Doc works in private equity. By night, he ditches his suit, dons one of his collectible guitars, bypasses the status-quo garage, and riffs from his backyard guest house with his band from his custom studio built with help from legendary studio designer, Charlie Bolois. “The Pits” aren’t your average run-of-the-mill “Dad Band,” nor is Doc your average dad. But, Doc is humble with his own description of himself along with his not-so-misfit-band-of-melody-makers, “We’re just a bunch of dads with day jobs who love writing, jamming and sharing our music.”

Recently, Doc and his band released a song on Spotify, and he asked me to check it out. I tuned in, and I was impressed. I told him I always wanted to “Try my hand at songwriting, particularly since I fancied myself as a bit of a poet,” and he simply replied, “Would love to see what you’ve written.”

My concussed brain and my heavy-laden heart was in the perfect place to try something new with the written word. And, I was writing.

I dug up an old poem I wrote years ago called, “Little Rose.” Somewhere in the bowels of my prose, I knew there was a path that would lead to the story I ultimately wanted to tell…one that wouldn’t underscore the finality of my brother’s death, only its inevitability. In my original handwriting, on a lined sheet of paper, I had written beneath its title, “A song.” So, I typed it up, poured new, open-wound grief into an old, closed-wound story, and sent the newer interpretation of my poem/song to Doc. And, while his feedback didn’t come swiftly, it came remarkably back in paragraphs that not only commended the lyrics, but with a thorough education in songwriting. (By then, I was beginning to figure out how Fred earned his moniker, “Doc.”)

Turns out, Doc couldn’t put the initial lyrics to “Little Rose” down, and he began composing the melody at first in his head, and then with his voice and his guitars. Over the next few weeks, after our workdays wrapped, Doc taught me everything he knew about songwriting, and I soaked up the education. I wrote some more and added additional stanzas at his prompting, although he educated me earlier about word choice, concise lines, and shorter song length. Somewhere along the way, Doc deviated, and asked me to add stanzas, and “Little Rose” grew bigger and bigger…like almost “American Pie” by Don McLean BIGGER. He asked me to dig deeper, and I did. After all, this wasn’t a short story or a novel that could take you on a journey across multiple pages. We had minutes to tell, through a song, the burning story that would rid myself of the lump in my throat and the pain in my chest that wouldn’t go away.

Through Doc, I learned how single words could impact the “sing-ability” of the song, and how certain words in poetry can be pure magic, but be tragic when they are sung. I learned how to scratch words Doc didn’t like, and to defend the ones I loved. I learned that certain poetic devices may not work in songwriting, and how rhyming can be imperfect and flexible, along with length of lines and stanza. But, ultimately I learned that songwriting is similar to writing poetry because the overall musicality is found within a strong voice. I learned how to accept his single word changes along the way, because another word of his choosing might sound better flowing from his mouth to his fingers strumming on his guitar. Towards the end, when we almost had the final lyrics in front of us, Doc and I were having long discussions about single words. Yes, single, solitary words can impact the direction and gravity of the whole song. I learned how to really listen to each and every word that came out of a singer’s mouth when I got each of his rough cuts by email. And, I was asked to critique the cuts as if I were an actual living and breathing songwriter in real life. 

And while I call myself a creative, this particular creative process was especially cathartic for me, because I was struggling with grief. I was engrossed and learning under Doc’s tutelage, and once I finally got the words out, the healing process began for me. But, Doc absorbed them. He told me he couldn’t get through singing the song without breaking down. If music is meant to evoke feeling then I had, at least to that point, done a pretty good job with writing the lyrics. “Little Rose” could quite possibly be one of the saddest songs you’ve ever heard, and I’m truly sorry about that. 

I simply cannot express enough thanks to Doc for taking me, and this song, under his wing. “Little Rose” went live across various music outlets this week. While all this technically makes me now a bonafide lyricist, I remain a frustrated songwriter that doesn’t know how to read music or play an instrument. But, I do have two brand new Taylor guitars arriving this week. What can I say, I’m now addicted to the process of songwriting, and I hear that learning an instrument is good for my brain as I age.

I still have so much to say on the subject of alcoholism, and its long-term and lasting impact on family and friends, but my brother didn’t die from alcoholism. He died from early childhood trauma at the hands of another alcoholic who likely also suffered through early childhood trauma, and that likely continued “on down the line” as they say in country music. But, I will talk about that more in another blog post. But, first you have to listen to our song because, like with all stories, you’ll need a beginning before the writer gets you to the middle, and then finally moves you on to “The End.”

Introducing, “Little Rose.”

Less Rules

Two Cutie-Pies with my book, Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore

Adults are imposing too many rules on what constitutes age-appropriate reading levels for young children. The books we serve-up to our children should push them outside their reading level and into an uncomfortable place that challenges them. Authors are taught to talk “at” children, at their level, and to not lean into where a child “could be” in their learning development. As parents, we all want our child to learn beyond their current capabilities without pushing them too hard or too fast. Children learn best when they are challenged. Books can be boring for a child that is ready to push past pre-defined reading levels. When books become boring, we can’t get our older children to read.

We need to stop imposing so many rules on reading and, instead, put books in front of children that challenge their young minds and how they think in this digital age that has parents scrambling to catch-up to our where our children are. For years, we couldn’t figure out why our son wasn’t reading books, but was still doing exceptionally well in his English classes. By the ninth grade, we finally figured out he was using his online time consuming math and physics articles and watching similar YouTube videos. His vocabulary and reading comprehension wasn’t based on reading books at all; he was literally consuming online material in the written and spoken form from content presented by scholars online.

As a parent, I used big words with my kids when they were little and both of my children spoke in complete sentences by the time they were two. And, that’s why I used bigger words than I was advised to use when I wrote Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore. An agent once told me, “Seagulls soaring above mocking in flocks,” is too vague and broad a concept for a young child to understand. As it turns out, kids love that line for its alliteration, musicality, and the imagery it conjures up in their minds, and the illustrations clearly depict what all that looks like. Plus, that’s what moms and dads are for. We snuggle in bed and explain concepts to our kids that teach them the world as the author intended them to see, while imposing our own ideals along the way. Mocking is also another word for bullying, and if we want to build a strong vocabulary in our youth, authors need to stretch our word choices beyond a child’s current level of reading comprehension.

And, all that brings me to word count. As an author, we are told to limit word count to keep a young reader interested and engaged. But, as an adult we sit down again to books that we didn’t finish the day before. Why would we teach a child that a book has to be short and has to be finished immediately?  Kids always say, “read me the part where…” What they are telling us is they are quite capable of picking up again in the middle, but we don’t listen to them. Rather, authors are instructed to cut down word count to address both exorbitant publishing costs and our assumption that a child needs to be immediately rewarded by a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Interestingly enough, my picture book is loved by children small enough to speak and memorize rhyme, all the way up to middle schoolers who like it read to them in a big, epic voice. Still, I was told by the publishing community to age grade it.

And that brings me to my final thought:

Big words and vivid illustrations lead to concept learning. Through children’s books, hate can be squelched. Cycles can be broken. And, it all starts with education. Early. Our educators have a real opportunity to seek out books that point out social injustices, give them a name, and work to squelch them. Books should be used to talk openly about our nation’s current affairs to readers, even at an early age. Maybe it’s time we broaden the scope of regularly scheduled school and library literacy programming, and add bigger words and broader thematic content into the mix. I know it’s a problem these days getting kids to read. Using real life scenarios may help parents come up with ways to encourage our students to dig into books, and online reading content, voraciously.

Compelling Reasons Why This Book Should Be in Your School Library

Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore Book Cover

Put Me In, Coach!

Children’s rhyming picture book, Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore, tells the adventurous story of Sam, a tenacious land and sea fiddler crab who finds himself on the sandy shores of an idyllic island named Corte Magore. He wants to stay there and live there forever, but he’ll have to overcome obstacles to accomplish his dream. This book teaches children about courage and tenacity – to stand up to bullying and to fight for what they believe in, while also teaching them the importance of dreaming. Sam’s story is told in one big epic poem. This book is geared towards children ages 4-7, although all young children seem to enjoy it. Here’s why: 

The book is written in rhyme. Rhyming verse aids in early-development learning and recall. The British Council writes about teaching children English:

“…playing with the short texts of rhymes, children explore the mechanics of the English language. They find out how language works and become familiar with the relationship between the 44 sounds of English and the 26 alphabet letters – information which helps them when they begin reading to decode the sounds that make up words. The value of this type of language-play with rhymes in early learning is both underestimated and undervalued.”

The book utilizes many different poetic devices – typically difficult to teach children –such as alliteration, point-of-view, stanza, meter, repetition, assonance, personification, and my personal favorite, onomatopoeia. Poetic devices are used to take the reader to a different time or place and helps with imagery. Education Portal says:

“Poetry can follow a strict structure, or none at all, but many different types of poems use poetic devices. Poetic devices are tools that a poet can use to create rhythm, enhance a poem’s meaning, or intensify a mood or feeling. These devices help piece the poem together, much like a hammer and nails join planks of wood together.” 

Books Written in Prose May Be a Dying Art. Authors like Seuss and Silverstein paved the way for poetry in children’s literature, yet it’s hard to find new children’s books today written in prose. Carol Hurst intimates why it’s best to not let this great art die in the following excerpt taken from Hurst’s article on the website:

“…along came Shel Silverstein. He wrote poems about picking your nose and selling your baby sister and adults (some of them) winced and kids guffawed and kids’ poetry was changed forever. Now we’ve got the gamut of emotions and subjects in kid’s poetry. Poetry, of course, be it for child or adult (and the distinction is not always clear) is very much a matter of perception. Poems speak to the individual, even more than stories do, and some are not speaking to you — at least not right now. The rules of poetry selection are the same as for the selection of any kind of literary material that you’re going to use with your kids. It must speak to you as the living breathing adult you are before you can help it speak to kids. If it’s supposed to be funny, it should make you laugh or at least smile. If it’s supposed to be sad, it should choke you up a bit. If it’s a description of a thing or a feeling, it should help you see it or feel it in a new way. So, which of all the books of poetry will you choose for your classroom? Every one you can afford.”

Erin Koehler writes, “The more picture books I read, I start to notice the ones that catch my interest the most, and the ones I end up re-reading several times in a row, are the ones that feel the most poetic. By that I mean that even though the language may appear to be “simple” the language is actually rich in complex diction, syntax, and imagery–not to mention attention to rhythm, sounds, and pacing. Sound familiar? Like a poem maybe?”

Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore is published in more formats than the average book. In addition to hardcover, softcover, an audio version, and a soon published Spanish translation (being published for the Finding Corte Magore project) did you know this literary gem is also available in a picture book app available exclusively for the iPad? The iPad version, for all you tech-based schools, boasts interactivity, professional narration, full animation and an original musical score produced by Nashville singer and songwriter, Robby Armstrong. (Hint: Sam is a “fiddler” crab.)

Finally, have you ever heard of SpongeBob SquarePants? Of course you have! Kids love sea creatures! What we all admire most about the television series are the unique characters, setting and bold use of color. When one of my good friends told me her brother, a Storyboard Director for SpongeBob SquarePants would be interested in working on the book, I knew I had found the right art director. “Mr. Lawrence” -who incidentally is also the voice of Plankton, then brought in his colleague, another SpongeBob storyboard director, Marc Ceccarelli, to produce the original character art and many of the final illustrations.

So, as promised, these are succinct, definitive reasons why this book should be in a school or public library, despite my newbie authorness and utter lack of literary famelessness (I’m a writer, I get to make-up words.)

As always, thanks for the ear!

Tonia Allen Gould, Author

Click here to Order Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore on Amazon.

Politics, #PPEshortage, and Profiteers

On March 19th, the state of California was placed on lockdown after news that the novel and deadly virus, COVID-19, was spreading like wildfire, crippling the nation’s hospitals. Just days later, other states followed suit. While families stocked-up on food and basic necessities, they then raced home to hold their families close, fearing what was to come. Across the nation, business owners were forced to close shop if their services or goods were deemed non-essential by the government, and their employees were quickly shuffled to work-from-home status. While everyone was defining their new normal, something equally sinister was lurking and spreading as quickly as the virus itself.

Modern day conmen, using a tactic known as spear phishing, began targeting both buyers and sellers of in-demand, and lifesaving, Personal Protective Equipment known as PPE, due to a nationwide shortage. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines PPE as “equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses.” Everyone from the U.S. Government, to hospitals, retirement homes, nurses, patients, and everyone else, needed PPE Masks, but there was no stockpile beyond profiteers’ warehouses and garages; it quickly became obvious the nation was in short, accessible supply. On Friday, April 10th, Los Angeles County instituted a WEAR MASK order into law to protect both store clerks and necessity shoppers from the deadly virus.

Respirators, sometimes referred to as face masks, soon became the most widely requested item in America, second to hand sanitizers and toilet paper. And, the Phishermen, as I like to call them, were lurking and ready to phish in a very large pond, with millions of dollars to gain. I happen to know, because I spent the larger part of a week, unraveling the scam.

I am the owner of a twenty-five-year old consumer promotions and marketing company called Tagsource, LLC (AKA TAG!)  I sit on the Board of Directors of the Specialty Advertising Association of California (SAAC). My company is a long-standing member of the Promotional Products Association International, a member driven organization that services a $23.3 billion-dollar industry with more than 3,500 supplier companies, 30,000 distributor firms, and together we comprise some 50,000 American jobs. Distributor firms have been playing in the field of PPE (like hospital gowns, shoe coverings, FDA approved masks, uniforms, etc.) because we already service the medical community with branded merchandise. Together, with our suppliers, we have well-vetted, consistent, and reliable factory relationships. We understand product and factory compliance, fair practice and pricing, licensing requirements, government regulations, safety testing, and labor standards.

When medical supply companies couldn’t meet the demand to service the current wave of PPE requests, procurement officers came to us, or we went to them. Our industry rose to the challenge as a secondary source to solve the nationwide #PPEshortage. But, like everyone else, we were struggling to keep up with the ever-evolving COVID-19 FDA regulations, CDC guidelines, state and federal rules, and new border restrictions that could prevent our products from getting through to our buyers and their end-users. We were learning as quickly as we could to keep up, but new middlemen began to proliferate the marketplace, and they were learning the ropes. From pop-up brokers, to fly-by-night organizations, small businesses looking to diversify, Amazon profiteers, to millionaire investors:  Everyone wanted to get in on the sale of face masks due to increasing demand, and they began to inundate call centers nationwide.


Special Report: The Mask Middlemen – How pop-up brokers seek big paydays in a frenzied market

Enter Trump vs. 3M, creating a perfect storm for spear phishing.

Trump, 3M clash over order to produce more face masks for US

President Donald Trump said Friday his administration will try to stop “profiteers” from exporting medical protective gear, shortly after picking a fight with manufacturing giant 3M, a major producer and exporter of face masks used to protect health care workers from the coronavirus.”

3M argued that blocking exports will raise “significant humanitarian implications” abroad and lead other countries to retaliate by withholding much-needed medical supplies from the U.S.

Middlemen, in most cases, were trying to help solve one of the greatest potential humanitarian crises of modern times, while justifying making some money along the way. 

And, the “Phishermen” pounced.


In the wholesale world, a company needs a buyer and a seller of goods to do business. For me, this all started with an email from an importer whom we’ve worked with in the past. The Phishermen work the supply chain until they get to the buyer. (As far as I can tell, my importer is just another spoke in the wheel on the bike ride to get to me, and through me, hopefully get to any one of my buyers.)

We have a failed order available for 3 million n95 masks, see pics and license attached, goods are available fob china at $2.50/pc for immediate pickup? Thanks!

My interest has peaked. I open the email and inspect the documents, and they look off. I ask standard questions, and for more documentation, because remember, I’m working with someone I should trust here, and so I engage.  (As far as I can tell, my importer is innocent in the scam.) And, I respond to the email:

The documentation provided is for “child masks.” Please confirm that they are adult masks and please supply accompanied documentation for those. Also, why aren’t they marked KN95? The documentation as supplied won’t work.  Also, we’re learning PPE products are being seized at the ports. There are also US mandates against price-gouging. These normally sell for $2.00 domestically?? Please advise any/all information you can supply. 

My importer emails his contact, tells him I’m questioning docs, and probably discloses I have a big potential buyer on the hook waiting for details.  At this point, I don’t know who he’s feeding my info to, only that normally he’d be working factory-direct. I have, by now, given him the CDC list of respirators approved under standards used in other countries that are similar to NIOSH-approved N95 respirators. At this point, I’ve questioned docs on products that have been offered for sale, and I’ve stated what I’ve seen from him doesn’t conform to CDC guidelines, let alone my own scruples. Then the importer offers me the product repackaged and relabeled to get them through the border and gets a thorough reprimand from me for even suggesting it.

The purported Phishermen now know the deal they offered me through my importer has to change because none of it passes my cursory inspection to this point. The deal does change, and it gets even bigger and BETTER!

150 million 3M N95 8210 for $4.35 each, landed anywhere in the free world. Coming from China with 50 million shipments.  1 now, 1 in a week, and 1 in 2 weeks. 35% with the PO for each tranche in the escrow account, balance with bill of lading. All instructions in the Purchase order.

Holy flippin’ cow! I’ve hit the mother load! I found those 3M N95 8210’s that 3M vs. Trump prevented from getting into the country! So, I donned my Superwoman cape and declared, “Don’t worry world! I’m here to save you!” Just kidding. I know something’s up. And, drop ship promo business was slow; I had extra time on my hands. I simply had to follow this through. 

Meanwhile, in addition to our normal clients on the mad dash hunt for PPE, I’ve got a pop-up broker now in my ear because I tweeted about the purported stockpile leaving China, just in case a miracle was about to unfold, but also to see what turned up. Someone tweets me back, and asks me to take the convo to WhatsApp, where I learn he has a 40 million unit order on the hook for a major healthcare company in dire need, as well as a solid book of other million unit buyer leads. We have an hour long Zoom meeting, and he seems legit, if not overtly opportunistic, and it’s all too promising not to follow through. And, since his purported buyer is in the news about their own PPE shortage, I now have no other choice but to follow all this through. Me and my big tweeting mouth. Still, I’m proceeding with extreme caution with both the buyer and the seller.

I’ve been in business a long time. These high volume numbers are surreal, but “the population of the United States of America is 330,594,690 as of Wednesday, April 15, 2020, based on Worldometer’s elaboration of the latest United Nations data.” My family needs at least three masks to get us through a month of necessity shopping and that’s with continuous reuse. I can do the math.

I wait for the preliminary documentation I requested from my importer.  I get something, which in my mind, is the most important thing. It’s an SGS DOCUMENT on the products being sold. SGS offers “world-leading certification services enabling you to demonstrate that your products, processes, systems or services are compliant with national and international regulations and standards.”  I’ve been given documentation, purportedly on the production contract on actual goods being offered for sale. So, before I go any further, I upload the doc to SGS to verify its authenticity, but it’s Good Friday, and I know I won’t hear anything back until the following week, and I am on the race to the finish line to potentially land the deal of the century or figuring out the scam and getting back to my old sequestered workday life. I have to keep the bicycle in perpetual motion.

My purported buyer and I work together on a list of docs he wants to see. He seems very familiar with the doc list, which is surprising from someone who is a pop-up broker with potentially big buyer leads. But, his doc list is extensive. And, that’s what’s weird to me.  He’s operating like a seasoned and savvy procurement officer would at Walt Disney Company. Or, maybe he’s FBI? Or, maybe he’s already been around the block with distributors like me. I don’t know, but our hour long conversation on Zoom was enjoyable. He sends me his requests:

  1. Background story
    • How did you get the goods and what is your relationship with the seller and/or 3M?
    • Have you sold any deals yet?
    • Are all 150M units available in about a week at the seller’s airport in the US? What state are they arriving?
  2. POL
    • Past References of buyers (Bob, do you have references, as well as the seller? We’ve already supplied ours.)
    • Past Bill of Landing (redacted fine)
    • 3M Contract (redacted fine) 
    • Past SGS inspections
    • Is there a SGS Certificate of approval on the goods?
  3. LOI/PO – addressed to who? 
    • Business name
    • Address
    • Telephone
    • Email
  4. Escrow terms and bank information
  5. Payment terms
  6. Location of goods and the date of arrival
  7. Lead time
  8. Price quoted was landed US and includes delivery to buyer, correct?

Later the purported buyer asks me for: Business registration, Proof of Authorized 3M Distributor, Current SGS Certificate, Certificate of conformity, ISO Certification, NOAH Certification, Nelson Lab Certification, Production Contract and Escrow Docs. Could the buyers and sellers be somehow interlinked in one big scam? He doesn’t suspect that I may suspect him, and by now he’s admitted he’s aware of scams, and likely could suspect me as a scammer as well. And, I’m thinking maybe he still could be a legitimate broker looking to land a 40 million unit deal, a deal of his lifetime, and frankly, of mine.

Since my purported buyer packaged his list of requested docs for me, I sent it to my importer, as if I wrote it myself, and told him what I needed.

Minutes later, I received this from the importer: 

150 million 3M N95 8210 for $4.35 each landed anywhere in the free world. Coming from China in 50 million pallets shipments  1 now, 1 in a week, and 1 in 2 weeks + R and E. 35% with the PO for each tranche in the escrow account, ours or yours, balance with bill of lading. Put all instructions in your Purchase order. Attached is a SGS report. Two failed PO’s without POF. Make Purchase Order out to:

<Gives name > Wire Instructions: The Seller uses a former Attorney General to set up the Escrow account. <Gives account number, routing number, Chase bank address in San Diego and swift code> Once the Seller receives the PO and POF, they will issue a Video and a current SGS report and an invoice and send you Escrow information. Now the buyer may talk to the seller. Once all the funds for the first shipment are in Escrow, they will ship 50 Million Now; 50 Million in a Week, 50 Million in 2 Weeks. Once the funds are in Escrow, the first 50 million masks will be shipped by air freight to the airport of your choice at the Seller’s expense. Gown/mask/cap combo. Cost is $5.60. Ventilator Model # YH-830Bi pap.  CIF $17,500. Made in the USA. See attachments. 

Now, I’m really perplexed. They won’t supply docs until I show them proof of funds. I create a stir with the importer and say no one would operate under these conditions, and I need to see the docs before the buyer will submit a PO, POF, and certainly before they send a 35% down payment on a multi-million dollar order. The importer has a vested interest in closing a big deal, so he gives me the information of his buying source, and get this, it’s an 84-year-old Vietnam Vet who has spent his last ten years in medical sales here in Southern California. I speak to him, but only after scouring the web to see what dirt I can drag up on him, and I discover at least one scam alert from a purported shady deal, sometime ago. He’s as sweet as can be, and tells me about his past wives, and how he’s tied into a Canadian factory that is an authorized Distributor of 3M products, and that factory has the pulse on all twenty-two, 3M factories worldwide. Although he has a scam alert, I believe he believes this is true. The dude is 84. I cut him some slack for one deal gone wrong. (You’d understand if you were on the receiving end of a phone call with a veteran telling war stories and commiserating about his late wife dying from cancer.) And, in the back of my mind, I think maybe my seemingly nice Veteran, who deals in medical sales, could possibly have the legit pulse on a bonafide 3M production contact. If he does, and I have an authentic healthcare buyer, I can get the 3M masks through the border legally, the only way I would touch any deal. He tells me his supplier has stock and they can get me whatever I need. The Vet then sends me the longest, most carefully drafted, NCNDA I have ever seen in my life. I tell him I’m not signing it because it prevents me from selling anything, like ever again. It’s been drafted by lawyers. Really good ones. Somewhere around this time, I advise both the importer and my Vet that 3M vs. Trump is making me think nothing is getting in without government seizure. They communicate that, I’m guessing, to their Canadian partners. 

What follows is this from the importer: 

Hi Salespeople Reps and Brokers: We are now a sub-distributor of 3M masks. The procedures are relatively simple, we get the purchase order (PO) which must include the buyers name address and phone number along with the product that he wants and any additional instructions. That purchase order goes to the attorney for Interways solution Canada Ltd. the attorney then takes over by calling the buyer arranging for the Deposit to be put into the escrow account. They are sent out at that point the contract and all documents including the invoice. You will receive copies of that. They have a Paymaster to pay the difference of actual cost and the overage which is commissions to us. Currently I have not received the first set of documents as the attorney took Friday off and Sunday, however I’m just giving you an update. I expected Copy that my first transaction within the hour or so. We are extremely comfortable with the process and dealing with a distributor of 3M products. Hold your questions until I send you copies of documents sometime soon. Thank you.

Here is where the PO’s are addressed: <Gives Address> Our new pricing for all Masks. Note we can not ship 3M products into the USA, ordered by Trump. Pricing for 3M anywhere else. N95 1860 $4.15.  N95 8210 $4.55 Minimum is 10 Million CIF. KN95 in stock at LaGuardia NYC, $3.15 landed at the buyers airport. KN95 coming from China $2.45 CIF, any country. 

By now SGS, has gotten back to me to confirm my suspicions and with this, I’ve had enough of all myself and all my sleuthing: 

Dear Tonia, Thank you for submitting the attached documents for authentication. Unfortunately, we are unable to verify this document as part of the format has been removed / hidden.  This document is thus of no value whatsoever and we advise you to not rely on it for any purpose. As you can understand, SGS takes very seriously any attempt to alter the appearance of our documents.  We would appreciate any assistance you can give us in tracking down the source of this altered document by completing the attached form. Best Regards, Corporate Security Team. 

I finally email the importer and let him know he’s potentially involved in a scam of EPIC proportions. I want to copy my Vet, but I don’t have the heart, and I notify the purported pop-up broker/buyer/FBI Agent/procurement officer that the deal is a bust, and that given everything going on with 3M vs. Trump, I’m out. I don’t disclose much further. He responds and says, “So was it a SCAM?” I tell him about the N95’s I can definitely procure from a tried-and-true factory where I can get him three million units of masks, every 3 weeks through my conventional channels. Something still isn’t sitting quite right with my buyer, but I never could connect all the dots. And, I still think he’s a really nice guy.

But, it doesn’t end there:

The importer emails me back with desperate attempts to save the deal that probably had him booking his flight to Aruba. Is he involved in the scam? I really don’t know, but I don’t think so. The Vietnam Vet takes one last crack at documentation, and I let him down as nicely as I could, outlining plain facts that he’s potentially caught up in a spear fishing scam. He asks me to kindly destroy the documents. Is he involved in the scam? I don’t know. I hope not, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he woke-up to find his bank account emptied. He said he had a successful transaction in progress.

Enter New Guy, a purported Distributor principal, like me, who claims he’s been out of our industry, but jumped back in to service old clients on some face masks. Says he’s interested in buying masks from my Vietnam Vet, and my importer told him that my Vet has been vetted by me, and I could confirm he’s legit.  I fill New Guy in on what I believe to be was a scam. New Guy’s text came in literally seconds after I announced any deal with me was a bust. New guy definitely seems involved in the scam. He tells me he has two PO’s for 100M KN95’s, and he’s gotten his own attorney involved with his own escrow account, and that I should trust him. He asked me to let him know about legit sources for domestic products to fulfill in 7-10 days. He’s got a buyer on the hook and the deal is about to go bust. But then, in the next sentence, he tells me if I don’t mind waiting 7-10 days, he can get me all the products I need, in the states or from China (as a broker), and through his own network. This totally refutes his first statement that he’s deadlocked and can’t get anything done. He sends me his promotional products distributorship’s website, which is fake. I clicked the link, and it’s a screen capture of a website with nothing linking out. He mentions SAAGNY and how he used to sit on the BOD. I ask him to tell me people in industry he knows, just for fun. He tells me he doesn’t know who I know, so he doesn’t name anyone. He then begs me for legitimate documentation so his deal doesn’t go bust. I tell him to go away. He doesn’t give up, tells me I should believe in him, and he sends me more links to companies he’s an investor in, all with websites built in 2020, and with links to barely built websites. I tell him he’s a crackpot, and he reminds me to be careful. I ignore him forever.

So this is what I know after that long, sordid tale:

  1. The scammers need something from us, and they are desperate to get it.  They need all this legitimate documentation that buyers would ask for, to make their scam work. If we provide it, we are feeding it into the hands of devils with phishing poles. Likely, it’s already been handed to them in some capacity. With documentation, Phisherman can prove legitimacy of production. I literally loathe Phishermen. Get them out of our pond!
  2. The promotional products industry is ripe for the picking because we have buyer/distributor/supplier/importer/factory relationships. We are one industry that has the full supply chain in our back pockets.  
  3. Fake brokers/buyers may also be looking for documentation to make a scam work. I’m not sure, but I think the buyers and sellers may somehow be connected, even if unwittingly. I’m not saying my pop-up broker is a scammer, because he’s so nice and all, but definitely some things are not lining-up. It’s weird how the first message on WhatsApp from the pop-up broker, matches some of the last details from the seller. Either he’s caught up in the same scam, legitimately trying to source product, or he’s connected to the same scam in some devious way. (If he’s reading this, I want to remind him that I want to believe he’s nice.)
  4. Nothing lined up. Altered docs. The wrong docs. Not enough docs. Nothing presented was enough to satisfy my buyers. Be wary of deals where too many middlemen are involved, and demand documentation before disclosing anything. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it could be wolf in sheep’s clothing.
  5. It’s possible these massive buyers and sellers are all a ruse, and the only thing they are trying to do is get is the importer’s, the Vet’s, and my bank accounts which is required to commission us on the back-end of a sale.
  6. Fake brokers could also be creating fake demand and targeting the promotional products industry specifically. Creating fake demand puts us all in a buying and selling frenzy, hoping we forget standard protocol, and that alone could also be perpetuating the fear about the #PPEshortage that may or may not truly exist on such a grand scale. 
  7. Never mess with a sequestered woman who is trying to diversify during a worldwide pandemic, and who just happens to have some extra time on her hands.

This whole write-up needs to be reported to the FBI.


Shot while living in Ventura, CA on the Pacific Ocean for a Year

A malevolent cloud wrestled the sky, merged with it

Now a looming black denizen over the vast sea.

The cloud challenged the sea’s omnipotence

and asked of it,

“Who is greater, now? You or me?”

The sky knew the answer,

but still wanted to be told.

The sea was strangled, choked with silence.

The sky cast his shadow even wider over her, controlling her,

Mutating her waters, and turning her rolling waves thick, and dark, and dense as ink.

The sun, anchored far above, witnessed the sky’s malice.

She watched as he continued to enshroud the sea

with his prowess, blanketing her with his enormity.

The sun stood idly by no more, she edged, and elbowed her way,

into the sky, and consumed him, swallowing him whole, with her hopeful rays,

And the sea resurrected her spirit within her mighty tidal waves.

T.A. Gould

…And Sixthly, I Need To Be As Creative At Selling My Book As I Was To Write It

…and Other 3:00 A.M. Preponderances.

It’s late and I’ve not yet mustered enough energy to wiggle my way beneath the covers where I get to enjoy Night #2 of Belgium linen sheets from Restoration Hardware. I’m restless. Feeling stuck. Inert. That could be thanks to Diesel the Cat; he’s wedged so comfortably and close to me on top of the blankets–I haven’t the heart to remind him that he’s my daughter’s cat and I’m actually a dog person. And my dog, Bogie, would love to occupy Diesel’s prime real estate on the bed next to me. Except the dog’s afraid of you, Cat-with-your-claws-still-in-tact, and maybe I am a little bit too. 

And that’s not why I’m really feeling stuck.

I don’t often feel like this, so on top of the covers I sit, while my husband snores (despite the funny snore gizmo his dentist fitted for his mouth, coupled with my swift sock in his arm to get him to roll over). I’m both restless and rejoicing in the fact that I’ve finally found time (that’s a compressed paradox if I’ve ever heard one) to READ, errr…SKIM…mindlessly through newly pressed blog posts hoping to find clarity in my own lackluster writing as of late. My narrative dribble has been a slow, steady, stream of spit. 

For months, like all other attention-seeking first-time authors, I have been trying to get you, the parents of my demographic, children aged 4-8 to notice one tiny little meteor of a factoid. H E L L O. Knock knock. I mean, come on! How obvious do I need to be? I wrote and published a WHOLE darn book over here. Doesn’t that account for something? 

I’ve waited…and waited patiently in angst for the clouds to part and to hear those glorious angels belting their angelic refrain in my literary honor. But, the sky is quiet and dark. And, while my books are certainly selling, I somehow expected…I don’t know…more.

No one told me, at the very same time I published my book, so did one trillion other authors who dreamt too, their whole lives through, of publishing their FIRST book and that I would be competing for space on your child’s bookshelves, let alone their hearts and minds.

Okay. You got me. Maybe I am feeling just a tad bit sorry for myself. Maybe I have set my expectations way too high. Maybe I am questioning whether or not I’m doing anything right over here. For the consummate optimist, who forges ahead for the sake of sheer will and determination, that’s saying a lot about where my head is tonight. And since wallowing in wee-hour self pity is just plain silliness, and not my thang, I think we all can agree we’re glad that’s over. 

I wouldn’t be me without some newfound clarity here. I do realize I have learned a thing or two about publishing a first book along the way. (Find the good, Tonia. Find the good.) 

So here it goes:

Being an author, in and of itself, is no longer unique. Everyone’s an author these days, and I still have to figure out how to break out above the noise to get me and my book noticed. That’s a challenge. I like challenges.

My book is what makes me unique as an author. But unless I get you to notice it, and share my terribly good news about it with the world, my career is still in its infancy as an author. I like that. There’s no mad dash to the finish line here. I’ve been in a hurry my whole life. It’s okay to take things slow. And, thank goodness I still have a day job that warrants my attention at the bank on payday.

One trillion people are trying to get your attention in the exact same way I am: So even as an experienced marketer, with 21 years of marketing under my belt, I may still FAIL to get your attention. (Hopefully that doesn’t actually make me suck as a marketer.) When things aren’t working, it’s time to explore new things. I need to continue to try new things to get my demographic to notice me.

As a person with a never say die mentality and a fair amount of book sales already under her belt-given her first time authorship-I need to give myself a pat on the back and thank my supporters. I’ve accomplished more than most. I get to say I’m a published author, because there aren’t really one trillion authors who published a book at the same time as me. 

I’m probably not going to sell many books to you on Twitter. Or Facebook. Or LinkedIn. Because everyone in the world is hocking a book through social media. If everyone is doing something the same way, then maybe we’re all doing it wrong. (But, WordPress is fair game. I’m going to politely ask you to go to Amazon and buy my book and DO IT NOW. Wait. Just kidding. That would be presumptuous and rude of me to bark an order like that.

And sixthly, I need to be as creative at selling my book as I was to write it. I also need to check and see if “sixthly” is even a word. (Clearly it should be, since it chronologically eventually follows firstly, secondly, thirdly, etc.) I think most written thoughts taper off after the third point anyway to avoid checking to see if “fourthly” and so on even exists in the dictionary. But, I digress because I’m punchy and I’m anxious to enjoy these new sheets.

Anyway, thanks for the ear, but that’s all the clarity I can muster-up in the wee hours for now. I’m tired and I’ve got to dislodge a demented cat from my ribcage.