Thursday, November 28, 2013


A reader recently asked me to identify my favorite passage in my novel, THE BISTI BUSINESS. After thinking for a few moments, I promised her an answer on this blog.

Since that time, I’ve given the question a considerable amount of attention. The real answer is that I do not have a single favorite passage.

I really like the interplay between BJ and Jazz Penrod. Although he is not about to compromise his relationship with his true love, Paul Barton (whom we first meet in THE ZOZOBRA INCIDENT), BJ is intrigued by the mixed-blood gay teenager who confidently moves on his own terms through a Northwest New Mexico community not known for its tolerance of either homosexuals or Indians.

I had fun with the easy way Jazz and his skirt-chasing, extremely hetero half-brother, Henry Secatero, worked with one another.

The Bisti Wilderness fascinates me, and descriptions of that other-worldly place would be high on my list of favorites.

However, I decided on the following as the answer to my curious reader’s question. The scene comes early in the book (Page 6) and shows BJ right after taking an after-hours call from a Napa Valley wine mogul seeking to hire BJ to locate his missing younger son. BJ’s office is located on the north-facing third floor of a downtown historic building.


After hanging up, I tapped my desk blotter with a gold and onyx letter opener fashioned into a miniature Toledo blade. I sighed aloud. The Alfano case had all the hallmarks of developing into a nightmare. Working for attorneys was easier; they understood the process. Private individuals had a warped idea of what a PI did, which was nothing more or less than gathering information. But I was committed, so I might as well make the best of it.

I returned to the visual meditation of the landscape outside my window. As nature’s glow dimmed, man-made lights came alive: amber lampposts, white fluorescents, flamboyant neons, yellow vehicle headlights reflecting off wet pavement, and far in the distance a tiny spot moving slowly across the sky—one of the aerial trams hauling patrons up Sandia Peak’s rugged western escarpment to the restaurant atop the mountain.

By leaning forward, I caught the faint, rosy underbelly of a western cloudbank, the lingering legacy of a dead sunset. Was that what had drawn Orlando and Dana to the Land of Enchantment? Spectacular scenery and surreal sunsets? Or was it our rich heritage of Indian and Hispanic art? The two were history majors, and Albuquerque had a long history. It was approaching its 300th birthday, while Santa Fe and many of the nearby Indian Pueblos had longer lifelines.

Beyond my line of sight, the city’s original settlement lay to the west where one- and two-storied adobe shops—some ancient and some merely pretending to be—hearken back to their Spanish colonial roots. Now known as Old Town, it was founded in 1706 by Governor Francisco Cuervo y Valdez as the Villa del Alburquerque—some say Ranchos del Alburquerque. In either case, the Spanish colonial outpost was named in honor of New Spain’s Viceroy in Mexico City. The second “R” of the Duke’s name disappeared in 1880 with the coming of the railroad to New Town, located two miles east of Hispanic Old Town, a signal the Anglos had successfully wrested the heart—if not the soul—of the community from its founders.

It seemed as though a similar battle was being waged between Dana Norville and Anthony Alfano for the heart and soul of Orlando. Papa Alfano had given me cell phone and pager numbers for his son. He kept his pup on a short leash—or tried to. Not only that, but the old man had checked Norville out at the first signs of a budding friendship between the two. I’d bet Alfano was accustomed to throwing his weight around, railroading or buying whomever he wanted, including his son. My instinctive dislike of the homophobic bully made me wonder how far he would go to “turn his son around.” Maybe Orlando went on the run to get out from under the thumb of his tyrannical patriarch.


Why did I pick this pastoral scene instead of some action-filled part of the book? Because it reveals something about the soul of not only my hero, BJ Vinson, but also the soul of this city that I love, Albuquerque, New Mexico. BJ accepts the assignment to locate the missing gay son of an apparent homophobe despite being revolted at the attitude of his new employer. He accepts the job because two young men may be in trouble.

The scene contains one significant fact that is sort of a throwaway. Confidential investigators have been romanticized in literature, in television, on radio, and in the movies so much that we lose sight of the real goal of these professionals: gather data for their clients. And I believe it is true most of them prefer to work for attorneys who recognize their actual role in the scheme of things.

And finally, as BJ seeks to tamper down his agitation at Anthony Alfano’s crude and bullying attitude, he does it by looking out the window and contemplating the past and the present of the second protagonist of the book, the City of Albuquerque, indeed, the great State of New Mexico.

At any rate, that’s my judgment. Hope you agree.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all. Please take the time to check out some of the other pages of this site.


Next week: It'll be whatever it be.
New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

More On Aging (Or: It Never Ends … Until It Does)

My ineptitude with tools (mechanical and electronic) is widely recognized among my kin, friends, and acquaintances, although I do wield a knife and fork with considerable dexterity.

I had a rather sickly childhood. At six years of age, I was diagnosed with tuberculosis and sent to a sanitarium for a long, lonely, and miserable three months. The point of this is that while my youth was rather uncertain, my adult years have been quite healthy. I joined the army weighing 100 pounds (they almost rejected me, and this was while they were still looking for bodies to send to the Korean Peninsula). I left the army at 134 pounds. Then I got married. As I think I have said before, my late wife, Betty, came from a family of ten, and she did most of the cooking. Our grocery bill the first year of our marriage was outlandish because while she was a very good cook, she only knew how to prepare for ten … at one sitting.

Well, you know where that led. Her cooking and my penchant for sweets inflated me like a balloon. Despite my weight gain, I was healthy as a horse … say a Clydesdale. Candy and cookies and cakes were on my menu for every meal save breakfast. As fate would have it, my poor wife (who did not eat sweets to any extent) contracted diabetes. Since she smoked two packs of cigarettes a day while I didn’t smoke at all, I always figured wry fortune would take me down with a heart attack or cancer. Alas, pneumonia took her first.

As is my wont … I digress.

Over the years, my excess tonnage caused me to develop a condition known as sleep apnea. The doctor sent me to a lab where they put more wires on my head than I had hair and told me to lie down and go to sleep. In a strange place. With a TV camera watching every move. With two attendants outside the room where I lay frozen discussing the misbehavior of one of their boyfriends. Result? I slept for only one hour, which didn’t seem enough time for an accurate diagnosis. Nonetheless, the result came back as severe sleep apnea.

That stark proclamation was rewarded with something called a CPAP. I can’t translate acronym, but I can tell you when you strap it across your face like some giant blood-sucking insect, you can say goodbye to a good night’s rest … for the remainder of your life. The first time I put the mask on, I tore it off feeling as if I were suffocating. That’s silly, of course, because the thing is blowing air down your nostrils. At any rate, for a couple of years I wore the monstrosity, always waking at 2:00 a.m. to tear it off in order to get some rest.

Then I entered a very fine program at the VA called MOVE, which is a healthy living regimen. I lost 102.2 pounds and reached my stated weight goal in almost exactly one year. Not only that, but I kept it off, varying only five pounds on either side of that goal. The results were amazing. I went off blood pressure medication and got rid of that damned CPAP.

At the end of July last year, I fell and injured my back, which resulted in surgery. The surgeon not only repaired the slipped disk between L4 and L5 but also reamed out the nerve channel and corrected a stenosis problem. Recovery was slow and painful … and continues. I couldn’t exercise during the early months of recovery, but I could still eat. You guessed it … my weight started to climb after six years of remaining steady.

During a recent routine visit to my doctor … excuse me, my primary health provider … I discussed several items that were niggling at me. I have trouble getting to sleep and don’t want to rely on chemicals. That sounded like sleep apnea to her. I woke up often. Sleep apnea. At times I’m a bit uncertain on my feet. Sleep apnea. My right thigh goes numb when I sit too long. Sleep apnea. The ingrown toenail on my right big toe is acting up. Sleep apnea. Just to make certain she wasn’t on remote, I asked her how her kids were doing. “Sleep ap… Oh, they’re doing great. Thanks for asking.”

Result? She sent me to Sleep Medicine at the VA. I sat through an interview with a very nice intern who wore a small jewel on the left side of her nostril. I’m not sure if it was a strategy for keeping eyes off her rather ample bosom or not, but it sure worked that way. I sometimes lost track of the conversation because I was studying that oddly-place little diamond stud.

But I did catch her comment when she concurred with my doctor’s suspicion that sleep apnea was ruling my life. When she mentioned a visit to the sleep lab, I put up such a spirited objection (although I was careful to say I wasn’t refusing to go … when you do that at the VA they tend to lose interest in you) she excused herself to go talk to her boss. A few minutes later, the senior doctor came in … ‘stache and pony tail and all … and said he had an alternative proposal, which I took to be an interim step before hauling my carcass to the sleep room.

They had a simple device to wear on my finger at night to measure my oxygen levels while I slept. This, he said (he was very nice and professional despite my jaundiced description of him), would give us a strong indication if apnea was a problem. I agreed on the spot.

Don’t worry, we’re getting to the punch line.

As I awaited the arrival of the oxygen-measuring device, I began to consider my options. The one that kept coming to mind was … to cheat. Well, I don’t know if it’s cheating, but it ought to improve my odds, at any rate. Breathe Rite Strips! Simple, right? They open your nares and you get more good, clean, life-sustaining, apnea defeating oxygen.

I’ve never used the devices before, but a friend gave me six of her strips for a trial run. And here is where such advanced technology and I parted company.

The first night, I was mindful of Bobbi’s instruction to bend the strips slightly to make them fit properly. Of course, I removed the protective tape from the thing first. Result. I got the strip stuck to my fingers. In fact, to the fingers of both hands as I used the second to free the first. So after passing it back and forth between fingers a few times, the strip went straight into the trash. On the second try, I got the bright idea of bending the thing before removing the protective strips. Okay, but I had to bend it back the other way to remove the damned things. Still, I managed to settle it over my nose in the proper way and oxygen flowed into me so well I wore it for an hour at the computer before going to bed.

The next morning, Breathe Rite was still where it was supposed to be, and I’d had a better night’s sleep than usual (although whether it was real or imagined, I cannot say with certainty). As I put the thing on my nose the second night, I didn’t like the angle and lifted one side to readjust the strip. Breathe Rite didn’t like that, so sometime during the night, the right side gave up and let go.

I was certain I did everything properly the third night and went to bed to enjoy a restful sleep. But I tossed and turned a lot and woke several times, as I usually do. When I went into the bathroom to clean up the next morning, there was a big dragonfly perched on the bridge of my nose. The damned strip had come loose on both sides and there it sat, wings spread wide, poised for flight.

The remaining two strips are sitting on the bathroom counter. And I still await the arrival of the oxygen-measuring device. What are the odds I’ll screw that up, as well?

Best to you all,



Next week: Your guess is as good as mine

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

Friday, November 15, 2013

On Aging

For the first time in 74 weeks, I missed a Thursday morning posting deadline (except for when I was in the hospital for my back surgery. I worked up the post, but forgot to go through the procedure to publish it. Another Oopsie, right? It fits into what I'd prepared and is presented below:


This is sort of a cross between an Oopsie and a Wowsie. You all know what an Oopsie is. I’ve been pointing out and making fun of my errors, mistakes, and lapses in this space for quite a while. This one started out as the former and ended up the latter.

I have a nightly routine upon retiring. After cleaning up (I’m a morning shower person), I turn back the covers, make certain everything is where it should be (my cell phone in case it rings at night, a hankie for my sniffles, etc.). Then I touch the top of the urn on my chest of drawers and say goodnight to my late wife, Betty, before turning out the light, settling in bed on my right side, and covering up. The other night, I followed my usual procedure. After a couple of minutes, I realized something was wrong. I opened my eyes, turned on my back, and looked around. It took about sixty seconds to identify the problem. I’d forgotten to turn off the light. I struggled out of bed, remedied the situation, and then laughed at myself before thinking about what had happened.

That’s when the thing turned for me. The fact that I’d left the light on that made it an Oopsie, but the fact I’d had to figure that out turned it into a Wowsie.

We all recognize that age brings changes to the body…sagging muscles, droopy skin, our frames expanding horizontally and shrinking vertically. We accept it even…with varying degrees of grace. But I wasn’t prepared for the mental changes I’m experiencing.

A few years back, I would have said “Dammit, I left the light on,” bounded out of bed, snapped
it off, reclaimed my place on the mattress, and gone to sleep. Well, I probably wouldn’t have left the light on in the first place, but that doesn’t make my point. That particular night, I had to figure out what was wrong and then clamber out of the bed.

To put a finer point on it, I seem to process stimuli in a different manner than in my salad days. In considering the situation, it is probably easier for us to accept the physical aging because we look in the mirror a couple of times a day and see what time is doing to our physical selves. But we can’t look inside the brain (without medical help and a lot of expensive technology), so it’s easier to discard or ignore what’s going there. We casually dismiss mental missteps with an, “Uh-oh, I just had a senior moment.”

I don’t know why this comes as a shock to me because my mother died a few years back (at age 97) from Alzheimer’s. No, I don’t think I’m going into Dementia, but does anyone know if there’s an earlier stage called Confusia?

Best to you all,


Next week: I have an idea, but it hasn't gelled yet.

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

Thursday, November 7, 2013

One Too Many at the Oak Barrel

Flash fiction is one kind of writing I’ve not attempted, so I thought I’d give it a shot this week. Of course, it depends on how you define flash fiction. The piece that follows is less than 1,000 words, but it sure wouldn’t fit into a 500-word category. Anyway, I hope you enjoy what follows:


One Too Many at the Oak Barrel

     Eric glanced at his watch as the hum of subdued conversation swirled around him, punctuated by an occasional laugh or exclamation when someone lost at dollar poker. Almost 2:00 a.m. Closing time. Ordinarily, he and his wife would be home in bed…with Myra’s smooth, round butt warming his groin.

     He signaled the barkeep for another draft and took a swig when it arrived. The Oak Barrel was a mini-brewery with a bar and a few tables. Dark wood everywhere. No garish neons, just a sedate, dimly lit place with a long etched mirror reflecting the small room behind him. Comfortable.

     The busy Friday night had quieted down over the last half hour. As Eric was the only patron seated at the bar, the bartender, a guy named Harry, an Afghanistan War vet working his way through Central New Mexico Community College, engaged him in conversation.

     “Where’s your better half tonight?”

     “Have to let her off the leash occasionally,” Eric said. “She went to Atlanta this morning to see her mother. Be gone a few days.”

     “Well, don’t let the Albuquerque Ripper get you while she’s gone.” Harry moved off to fill an order for the Barrel’s only waitress, another CNM student. He returned a moment later.

     Eric wiped foam from his lip and nodded toward the girl. “She’s more likely to be a victim than I am.”

     “Ever since the Ripper’s been on a rampage her two brothers come pick her up. Besides, the bastard don’t just stick to women. He took down two guys, you know.” The barkeep shook his head. “That don’t compute for me.”

     “Sure it does, if you remember rape’s about power, not sex. Besides, you’re no rapist.”

     A smile played over the other man’s lips. “Nope, cajoling them darlings into bed is the best part of sex. Well, almost the best.”

     When Harry got busy preparing to close up, Eric finished his brew, left some money on the counter, and took his leave. The autumn air was chilled, but not uncomfortably cold. He zipped his jacket to the throat and headed off, regretting he’d walked instead of driving. Oh, well…he liked to hike. And it was only a mile to his house.

     The night was quiet; the streets deserted. A wind brisk enough to kick up fallen leaves swirled around his ankles. His ears were cold. Shoulda worn a scarf. He tried to enjoy the night, but his mind kept returning to thoughts of the Ripper.

     The shadowy killer had shown up in the news two months ago when a woman was discovered on the Arroyo del Oso golf course…raped and hacked to death. A machete, the cops figured. A week later, an older woman in a diversion channel. Same situation. Then a young man under a pedestrian bridge spanning Tramway Boulevard. Raped. Murdered. Just a week ago, a man of about thirty…his age…found in his own home. The fifth, a matronly woman attacked and killed, also at home. Not more than a few blocks from his own house, as a matter of fact. A chill ran down Eric’s back that had nothing to do with the autumn night.

     It wasn’t until he cut through the pleasant little park just north of the community college that he grew apprehensive. He halted in his tracks and spun around. Nothing. The park was deserted. Bushes swayed and a squirrel chattered nervously. But all those cottonwoods lining the perimeter of the green could have hidden a dozen stalkers. A wave of goose pimples rolled down his back, bringing a sudden urge to pee. The hair on his neck rose.

     Eric exhaled slowly, willing away the creepies. He was an adult male perfectly capable of taking care of himself. He worked out; kept fit. Still, he wasn’t armed with a machete. Damn, he wished Myra were home.

     He picked up his pace east toward Juan Tabo. He left the park and started up the trail into the open, unimproved stretch of rough ground that led to the well-traveled street. No trees here, but it was hilly, blinding him to what lay over the horizon. A paved arroyo paralleled him to his right, just the kind of place the killer liked to dump a body.

     Stop it, man! Get those screwy thoughts out of your head. Psyching yourself into a panic.
     Nonetheless, he went south on Juan Tabo rather than scaling the John B. Robert Dam and walking the edges of the holding pond. Too secluded.

     Before he reached Manitoba, where he turned east again, he’d become so skittish, he was almost constantly looking over his shoulder. No one was there, but he kept hearing footsteps. Or were they just in his mind?

     His throat was dry. His bladder was about to give way as he reached his house. He ran up the steps, ready to thrust the door key into the lock. Footsteps. Now he was sure of it. He felt blood drain from his face as he glanced over his shoulder and saw a man. Bundled against the cold. Something in his hand. Something long. Almost at the edge of the yard.

     Sweating heavily, Eric fumbled with the lock. Despite clumsy, nervous fingers, his key went in, and the tumblers clicked. He shot through the door, slammed it shut, and snapped the deadbolt. He fought with the chain on the door restraint until it was secure. Only then did he take an easy breath and move to the window. Parting the drapes, he saw the man halfway up the street. Feeling foolish, Eric recognized the lumbering gait of a neighbor who walked with the aid of a cane. Cursing his foolishness, Eric snapped on a table lamp. He turned, and his breath caught in his throat.

     Harry, the friendly bartender, stepped out of the shadow of the hallway. A wicked-looking machete in his right hand.


I’m not used to all those broken sentences, but a verb saved here and an adjective dropped there add up. Anyway, I think it works. How about you? Let me know.

Next week: I’ll think of something.

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

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