Thursday, January 31, 2013

Joycelyn…the Mysterious “J”

I want to take a little more time out from visiting some of the great New Mexico locales highlighted in THE BISTI BUSINESS to talk a little about the “J” who sometimes appears in my blog posts. She accompanied me on the trip to Valles Caldera, which was the subject of three posts in November 2012. 

I met Joycelyn Campbell in a writing class at what was then the Albuquerque Technical-Vocational Institute (now Central New Mexico College) in 2007. At the end of the class, the Instructor, Ruth Brown Jimenez, offered to meet with some of us on a regular basis to discuss our work. Once the group of three former students and our instructor was up and going, Ruth dropped out and left the rest of us to continue. Thus, a critique group was born. The group expanded, contracted, and eventually was left with two…Joycelyn and me. For those who wonder why I refer to her as “J” both in writing and to her face, let me simply say she is quick to correct anyone who calls her Jocelyn (as opposed to Joycelyn), so to avoid unforced errors, she instantly became J to me. Fortunately, she does not object to being referred to as an initial because her companion of thirty years was a man who went by R.C.

J is a woman of many skills. In the first place, she knows her own mind, which is not true of many of us. She is a better writer than I am, as well as a better critiquer (have I coined a word here?), so I get the better end of the bargain in that department. She is experienced in many different fields, including time as a substance abuse counselor and more importantly (to me, at any rate), she has been employed for a number of years in a private investigator’s office. Therefore, when BJ Vinson wanders off the field, she is quick to rein him back in.

These days, J prefers to devote her writing skills to blogging, and your experience will be enriched if you will check out the following:

  which explores the “Highways and Byways of the Enneagram”

  which she uses to explore creativity with the key words: Read * Write * Look * Listen * Create

  promoting “meaning in midlife and beyond.”

 – her commercial “hands-on help to get your Blogger or WordPress blog up and running” site.

J is responsible for what I consider to be the attractive and professional look of this Don Travis blog site. I highly recommend her to anyone who needs professional assistance in setting up either a web site or a blog.

Please, please check out some of her blogs so I can share this talented, creative, and interesting woman (I would say lady, but she would take offense) with my readers.

Next week: Back to THE BISTI BUSINESS. That's a promise.

New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Juxtaposition Abounds

A funny little incident occurred the other day that made me depart from my intention of taking a look at another of the interesting New Mexico sites described in THE BISTI BUSINESS and write this instead.

Every Monday, I co-host (it would be presumptuous to say co-teach) a writing class at the Bear Canyon Senior Center here in Albuquerque. In this and other such classes, we emphasize good writing must contain conflict to test the mettle of a story's characters. Conflict...stress...struggle. Without some element of friction, your story simply lies there, not going much of anywhere. In fact, the story line, itself, might become a struggle for the reader. It may prove so boring he or she casts the book aside and forgets about it. And tension is required , not only in mysteries, which I write, but also across the broad spectrum of literature.

But let's look specifically at mysteries. Whether it is Tony Hillerman's Navajo Cops, Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Officer Jim Chee;  James Lee Burke's New Iberia Deputy Sheriff Dave Robicheaux; J. A. Janice's Sheriff Joanna Brady; Stuart Woods's lawyer, Stone Barrington; or my private investigator, BJ Vinson, each and every one is mired in conflict. More often than not our heroes are battling evil. Occasionally, it is good versus evil, but more often it's Good versus Evil. Sometimes they are engaged in an internal struggle with these same elements we all have inside us. Burke's flawed hero fights that sort of war a lot. But let's face it, confrontation is a lot more exciting when the hero or heroine is seeking to put an end to the wicked machinations of nogoodniks. In mysteries, such friction can range from pitched battles of wit and will to outright bloodshed. And we all like a little bloodshed (not too graphic) in our lives...preferably between the pages of a good book.

Have you ever noticed how good and evil can sometimes blur the edges so that one almost bleeds into the other. How sometimes the hero or heroine will do something a little off-center that runs the risk of crossing an ethical line? Yet, the reader recognizes what our protagonists are doing is in the pursuit of the greater good and give them a pass.

Have you ever had a friend--or a relative--who (probably in your younger days) led you down the "trouble path" farther than you were usually willing to go? Come on, we all have had such an influence in our lives at one time or the other. I call that the juxtaposition of good and evil. It abounds everywhere, sometimes recognized, often not.

The incident I mentioned brought this home to me anew when I booted up my computer the other day. My system told me I had two spam messages. I always take a look at such messages to make sure emails from friends and associates haven't accidently ended up there. When I opened the spam folder this is what I saw:

            -Why Wait to Have an Affair with a Cheating Housewife
            -Join Christian Singles

Read that any way you wish, but to me, it says that juxtaposition abounds in everyday life.

NEXT WEEK: I'll try to get back to THE BISTI BUSINESS.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Great Divide in New Mexico

In Chapter 3 of THE BISTI BUSINES, BJ Vinson heads west out of Albuquerque on his way to the Continental Divide in search of the younger son of his new client, a Napa Valley, California wine mogul. Lando Alfano and his traveling companion, Dana Norville, have dropped off the radar while on a sightseeing trip through New Mexico. 

Guided by a cryptic note BJ finds in the boys’ Albuquerque hotel room, he’s going to The Continental Divide Bar at Chesty Westy’s Truck Stop just off Interstate 40. The Continental Divide is a fact of life, but both Chesty’s Truck Stop and the Continental Divide Bar, an Eagle type gay establishment, are figments of the writer’s imagination.  

The Continental Divide of the Americas, or the Great Divide, is the principal hydrological demarcation that separates the watershed draining into the Pacific and Arctic Oceans from those draining into the Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea. It begins at Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska (which is the westernmost point on the mainland of the Americas, in case you didn’t already know that) and zigzags south into Canada, crosses into the United States in northwestern Montana to ride the Rockies through New Mexico into Old Mexico, and continues into South America where it follows the Andes and ultimately ends in southern Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. 

Our intrepid PI climbs steadily up Nine Mile Hill and thence eastward to cross the Rio (River) Puerco (Pig), which is usually dry. He passes through Laguna Pueblo, (KAWAIK in native Keresan) which has been occupied continuously for at least 800 years. Laguna tradition has it they have lived there for the last 2,000 years. The pueblo is actually made up of three villages: Sky City or Old Acoma, a former stronghold atop an almost unreachable mesa, Acomita, and McCarty’s. Laguna is Spanish for lake, so called because of a lake on the pueblo. 

I-40 then skirts Cubero, an old trading post and passes south of 11,305-foot Mt. Taylor, the highest point in the San Mateo (St. Matthew) Mountains. This is one of four peaks sacred to the Navajo, who call it Tsoodzil, or Turquoise Mountain. Born in volcanic violence eons and eons ago, scientists speculate the peak once stood 16,000 to 18,000 feet tall before a series of Mt. St. Helens-type explosions reduced it to its present picayune size. 

BJ then drives through Grants, the County Seat of Cibola County, a town of about 9,000 souls. It was born as a railroad camp in 1880 when three Canadian brothers named Grant landed a contract to build a section of railroad. It was originally called Grant’s Camp, then Grants Station, and finally just Grants. In the 1980s it was dubbed the Uranium Capital of the World. 

Seven miles beyond Grants, BJ’s Chevy Impala skirts the long-abandoned hamlet of Bluewater, now marked by empty hulk of the Bluewater Motel. At Prewitt, he might have detoured to nearby Bluewater Lake State Park had he been interested in doing so. Shortly before reaching Thoreau (pronounced “Thru-ru” by locals) and its Navajo Co-op Store, he arrives at his destination…Chesty Westy’s. 

BJ lunches on excellent home-made Southern-fried chicken in Tia Maria’s Diner at the truck stop before crossing the arroyo to the huge gay bar known as the Continental Divide Bar. There he meets the manager, a mountainous black man named Sweetie, who looks like a bearded Old Testament patriarch in over-sized bib overalls. Sweetie tells BJ he doesn’t belong in the bar because he has a waistline; the Continental is a bear place. But BJ learns the two California men had been there. People remembered them because they had danced in their skivvies to the enjoyment of the crowd. The two young men had left the next day badly hung-over and nursing paper cuts in private places from all the money the bears stuffed down their briefs in appreciation of their inexpert yet enthusiastic performance. 

Then the case turns slightly ominous when BJ learns someone else has been asking about the two men. Or was it merely a case of curiosity about the bright orange Porsche Boxter that Lando Alfano drives?

Next week: More from THE BISTI BUSINESS.

New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

I Just Wanted a Simple Plug-in Lamp


I do not do things mechanical well. I have not mastered most of the electronic devices many people take for granted. And I recently learned I don’t even plug in lamps very well. Let me explain.

I have a very small space in which to work on my novels, novellas, and short stories, and proper lighting is a bit of a problem. For years, I’ve had a wall-mounted, plug-in lamp with a moveable elbow that adjusts back and forth so I can have light whether I’m slouching (as I am now) or sitting at the desk with proper posture (well, I’m doing that now, although it won’t last very long).

Some time back, I switched all my light bulbs from nice, soft, energy-intensive incandescent bulbs to those ugly, twisted luminescent, energy-saving monstrosities. The problem was, I had a three-way socket in the lamp, but a bulb that worked only at one setting. So for a couple of years, I’ve had to twist the thing-a-ma-jig that turns on the light three times before it came on. A year ago, it started requiring four turns. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps the lamp developed a fourth setting.

Then a month ago, I had to turn the switch six times before it lit. Well, you can guess the rest. Last week it didn’t matter how many times I turned the switch…no light. I tried the bulb in another lamp to make sure it wasn’t the problem. It worked fine. Ergo, the lamp was shot.


Too bad. I liked my lamp. It had served me faithfully for a long time. I had created and sold sixty short stories, a novella, and five novels by the light of that lamp. Now I had a problem, I had a deadline on another novel, so I couldn’t afford to go maudlin over a brass lamp I’d bought it for $20 from one of the big box stores. Man up, Don, and go spend another $20.

Yeah, right. I went to Lowe’s where I thought I’d bought the lamp years ago. Couldn’t find another one like it. The closest I came was a somewhat similar one that cost a heck of a lot more than my original $20. So I bit the $42 bullet…and then took a bigger bite. I paid $10 for a big, ugly, twisted three-way bulb. Problem solved.


Another thing I don’t do well is follow written instructions for assembling things. Anything at all. After I pulled everything from the box and tore open all the little pouches holding screws and bolts and other mysterious things, I noticed something sort of odd about one of the instructions. “TURN OFF ALL POWER TO THIS AREA BEFORE PROCEEDING.” Really? Just to plug in a lamp. Another thing, why did I need electrical tape to wall-mount a lamp and plug it in? And why didn’t my lamp have a cord?

Aw, crap! The store had sold me a lamp to be wired into a wall circuit. Didn’t the clerk know I just wanted to plug it into a socket? Come to think of it, I probably didn’t tell him.


I did what I should have done in the first place: I took a minute to think about my problem. Then I got out my phone book (yep, I still use them…they’re not electronic) and found a couple of retail lamp shops that also advertised repair work. I phoned the closest one, and a very nice woman asked some intelligent questions and said that while the shop had some new lamps similar to what I described for around $200, she suggested I bring mine to the shop for a simple socket change at a cost of $14.75 plus tax. When she added the repair could probably be done while I waited, I thought this was precisely the way to solve my problem.

I collected the useless new lamp I’d bought, found the receipt from Lowes, and raced over on San Pedro NE near Coronado Mall to the lamp retail and repair shop. I sensed a problem when I entered. There were a number of customers in the small shop, and they were all looking at $200 lamps, not a $14.75 repair job. Nonetheless, the woman who’d talked to me on the telephone took my lamp into the back to see what she could do.

Moments later, she reappeared, saying the lamp could be repaired, but it was a more difficult job than she had anticipated. The price would be the same, but she couldn’t promise my lamp before the day after tomorrow. Still under the spell of spending $14.75 plus tax versus $42, I told her to write it up.


I had no sooner pulled out of the shop’s parking lot than I came face to face with the reality that I wouldn’t be able to work on my novel for the better part of three days. How could I live with that? Conclusion: I couldn’t.

I headed straight for Wal-Marts, Targets, and a couple of other places in a vain hunt for an acceptable substitute before thinking of Home Depot. Maybe they had a lamp like my old one for $25.00 or so (to allow for inflation). Well, they had one (with a pewter finish rather than brass), but it came to $37.00, including tax. In my panicked mode, I bought the lamp.

After pulling out of their parking lot, I faced up to the fact that I had two lamps plus my original waiting to be repaired. And at this point, I had $93.75 invested in replacing a $20 lamp.

So I set out to correct the situation. Lowes accepted my return and gave me back $42. Then I raced home and dialed the repair shop. The same woman accepted the fact I’d sort of “found” a lamp (okay, so I lied to the nice lady and said a neighbor had given me one he wasn’t using) and agreed to tear up the repair order. Another $14.75 recouped. Now I was down to one lamp at a cost of $37 plus a big, expensive bulb. I glanced at my watch. And it had only taken me six hours to do it.


The woman at the lamp repair shop agreed to fix my old lamp at her expense and donate it to a charity provided I would bring in the rest of it (shade, wall mounts, etc.). Feeling very noble, I took them in the very next day.

However, the experience reminded me of another personal failing. I don’t repack boxes very efficiently. When I had returned everything to Lowes, it required the box the lamp came in plus a plastic bag filled with things I couldn’t stuff back in it.

I really miss my late wife. She could fix everything from broken dishwashers to balky dryers. Me, I just look at them and call a repair man. She would probably have popped out the old socket and sent me to the store for a $5 replacement. Of course, I would have come home with the wrong one and had to make two more return trips to get the proper one.

Think I’ll stick to writing.

Next week: Maybe we’ll take a look at some of the New Mexico locations featured in THE BISTI BUSINESS.

New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

How Men Fold Fitted Sheets

Perhaps I shouldn’t presume to speak for all men. I’m merely one guy who is admittedly deficient in the hand-eye coordination and motor skills required to perform complicated maneuvers, such as—folding fitted sheets. You women may assume I simply wad them up and toss them into the linen drawer, but this is a serious subject, and I am addressing it seriously.

The sheets in question are the first fifteen hundred thread-count, pure Egyptian cotton queen-sized linens I’ve ever owned. I’m not exactly certain what a fifteen hundred thread-count is, nor am I sure if Egyptian cotton is any better than say—Mississippi cotton. Such superiority could be fact-based or simply a matter of snobbery. Do Egyptians brag about their fifteen hundred thread-count, pure New Mexican cotton sheets?

My late wife taught me to launder new items before using them for the first time. In fact, all of my husbandly lore was acquired after I met Betty. It is nothing short of a miracle I survived my college years and my army service ignorant of such crucial information. Within six months of my wife’s passing, I had this housekeeping thing whipped. I could feed myself utilizing only a refrigerator, a freezer, and a microwave. I had acquired a passing acquaintance with a vacuum cleaner, a dishwasher, and a dust rag. However, my confidence slipped a notch when I discovered I’d been doing laundry with fabric softener instead of detergent for the past thirty days. Okay, my clothes were a little dingy but, man, were they soft. A few buttons fell off and a seam disintegrated on a jacket, but I’m not aware of any cause/effect relationship there.

At any rate, after removing my new sheets from the dryer, I buried my face in the still-warm bedding and inhaled the aroma of lilacs. Actually, it was only Resolve Spray & Wash stain remover. I folded the incredibly soft, ivory-hued top sheet and the four—count them four—fancy pillow slips. I hadn’t known Egyptians slept with one pillow at the head and another at the foot. It must be one of those different cultures/different customs things. As I placed these folded items into the bureau, I felt a bit ashamed. The only other things in there were common, ordinary bed sheets, not royal linens tracing their lineage back to the Pharaohs.

Next, I tackled the dreaded fitted sheet. After nestling two corners—one into the other—as I’d seen Betty do, I did the same with the other end pieces. Next, I grasped the four corners—now made two—and flapped the sheet to smooth it out. It settled gracefully across the plain white, plebeian mattress cover, but when I let go of the corners, it wadded up like last year’s discarded Christmas wrapping.

I repeated the procedure and brought all the form-fitted ends into one another, expecting to achieve a neat rectangle. Not so. That springy, stretchy cord sewn into the hem puckered into a pale imitation of a prune. Where the hell did their elastic come from? Not Egypt. It seemed more Teutonic in its tenacity.

Maybe the springy band needed stretching. I did the nesting thing again and pulled the opposing corners apart as far as my arms would reach. Anxious to see if this had accomplished the desired effect, I let go with one hand. The corners shot past my head and hit the lamp on the bed table. I grabbed it in time to avert disaster, but now my clean sheet lay in a heap on the floor. No big deal. My carpet wasn’t due for its semi-annual vacuuming for another couple of months.

The elastic was just too strong. It needed more stretching than the width of my arms. I may lack motor skills, but I do have a brain and the ability to think. I hooked one set of nested corners over the bedroom doorknob and held the other in my hand. I slowly backed across the room, pulling the elastic tighter and tighter in a celebration of the triumph of mind over matter. That up-tight cord was going to relax its grip enough to make the sheet behave.

At that moment, the fifteen hundred thread-count, pure Egyptian cotton fitted corners slipped off the brass knob and caught me flush in the left eye. The one I’d been babying ever since cataract surgery.

My respect for Egyptian nobility considerably diminished, I blinked hard a couple of times and tackled the sheet again. Ignoring the wrinkled hemlines, I folded them inward to bury their obscene ugliness beneath the ivory expanse of the unpuckered side.

By the time I laid the blessed thing in the drawer atop its companion pieces, the entire folding process had taken only twenty-five minutes. But you know, the damned sheet did sort of look as if I’d wadded it up and thrown it in the drawer.
Next Week: Don't have any idea mind hasn't caught up with my ambitions
New Posts published each Thursday at 6 a.m.

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