Thursday, September 25, 2014


Time for some more flash fiction. Hope you can sympathize with Marvin Hoeckler and give him a little support as he breaks some personal news to his parents.


By Don Travis
Panic? Disappointment? Fear? Probably all of those, but mostly it was mortification at letting my parents down. I’d just done what I’d been struggling to do for the last three years. Confessed something close to my heart. Something that made me me.
Cheeks blazing, I cut my eyes to the left where my mother sat, head down, lips moving silently. Likely praying. Begging enlightenment for her profligate son.
My gaze swept across the old-fashioned kitchen table laden with hot fluffy buttermilk biscuits, steaming platters of bacon and sausage, and a tray of over-easy eggs with yolks like yellow eyes filmed with albumen cataracts. The heady aromas seemed somehow diminished by the situation. Maybe I should have waited until after we ate.
My father, filling up the chair to my right, glared at me through flared orbs made even bigger by thick bifocals. His face was as red as I imagined mine to be.
“Marvin Hoeckler, tell me you’re putting me on.” His voice hovered between anger and disbelief. “We’re simple dairy farm people. We don’t get mixed up in things like … well, like that.”
My insides shriveled as I realized he couldn’t even bring himself to say the word. I’d known he would take it hard, but this was worse than anticipated.
“Son, are you sure?” Mom asked, sounding as if she were just coming out of shock.
“I’m positive. I’ve known since I was fifteen.”
My father loosed an explosive snort, a sign he was really mad. “You’re my only son, and I won’t stand for it, you hear? You live under my roof and eat my food, you’ll live my rules. And those rules don’t stand for nonsense like that.”
“Now, Father—” my mother began.
“Don’t you take the boy’s side, Bertha. Don’t you dare! You know the plans we made, and they don’t include this kinda thing.”
I went defensive. “I do my share of work. I pay my way. If I wasn’t here, you’d have to pay a hired hand.”
“Don’t backtalk me, boy, or I'll take on that hired hand tomorrow morning.”
The skin on my back went cold and puckered. I hadn’t considered my father might kick me out of the house. Mortification abated as fear took a healthier bite of the apple.
“It’s not that big of a deal,” I said, unsure my tone supported my declaration.
“Not a big deal?” Dad didn’t even bother to snort that time. He let his rising voice do the job for him. His fork hit the empty plate with a clatter. “I never saw anything like that in you.”
“I dabbled at it now and then, but I guess I was good at hiding it.”
“It’s not every dairyman in the state who has to sit and listen to his son confess nonsense.”
“Dad, be reasonable. There are bound to be others who feel like I do.”
He rose and threw his napkin on the table. “I doubt that. Most sons would have the decency to keep such things to themselves?”
I shrugged my shoulders and held up my palms. “How? You’d know eventually.”
He stomped out of the room without bothering to answer.
My mother’s touch as she placed a hand on my arm drew me back to her.
“Be patient with him, Marvin. He’ll just have to come to terms with this in his own way and in his own time.”
“How about you? Are you okay with it?”
She sighed and withdrew her arm. “I’ll handle it. After all, you can’t go through life without an occasional clot in the cream.”
I winced. My confession that I wanted to be an artist rather than a dairyman had rendered me into a clot in the cream.

Poor Marvin. That was quite a confession. But when folks get fixated on something, it’s hard to make them see another point of view.

See you next week, same time and same place. Thanks for reading. Take a look around the blog site while you’re here.

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

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Does the “Do Not Call Registry” Mean Nothing Any More?

I don’t know about the rest of you, but years ago, I diligently listed both my telephone and cell numbers with the National Do Not Call Registry. Since then, I’ve updated the numbers by registering each of them again.

For quite some time, the precaution was quite effective. I very seldom was interrupted by an unwanted call. And on the rare occasion I was, I dutifully notified the registry of the violation. This past year, however, things seem to have changed. Calls from “blocked” numbers or “unidentified” callers are showing up with increasing frequency. In cases where the calling number is shielded, I have learned to wait patiently until a human interrupts the robocall to eagerly anticipate a live customer on the other end of the line. Once I determine the identity of the outfit calling, I inform the intruder they were being reported to the Do Not Call Registry.

I now see the scumbags (I really shouldn’t use such hyperbole for people simply trying to make a living for their families) have another trick up their sleeve. The last couple of calls I answered did not have the blocked or unidentified alerts. Instead,  the screen on my telephone was filled with a long string of numbers that defy identification. They are banking on me believing this was simply a software glitch and accepting the calls. It worked for the first two times, but now they stand revealed.

The most recent slew of calls have all started out in a similar way:

“Mr. Travis?”


“This is Alex (or John or Thomas or Steve) with Word. We see that you may have some problems with your computer.”

Yeah, right … Alex. Alex with an East Indian accent (and I don’t mean the Iroquois Confederacy in the Northeast United States). Stay with them long enough, and you’ll learn they want to sell you a not inexpensive service contract for troubleshooting your computer.

To be honest, I bought a contract from such an outfit a couple of years ago. Again, in the spirit of fair dealing, I must say that when I contacted them for help, they took remote control of my computer and managed to solve most of the problems. I had trouble reaching them at times, but worse was the difficulty of understanding what Alex and Tom were saying. They had the same problem understanding me apparently, as I usually had to state my problem multiple times. Sometimes my calls were automatically transferred to a number with a definite continental ring tone. More often than not, these were never answered. Needless to say, I did not renew, even though they had been relatively responsive and responsible.

For the last three months, I’ve had numerous calls from such outfits. These are not robocalls, and it is always Alex with Word or Alex with Microsoft on the line. They seemed to be fixated on the European name of “Alex.” But the heavily accented voice is not the same each time. I have now simply reverted to the tactic of saying I know this is a scam, and am reporting it as such before I hang up.

But my friend “B” has hit on a much more effective tactic. She told me she had a similar call last night. The man’s spiel was that he was Alex with “Microsoft.”

“For the past week,” this particular Alex said, “we’ve been getting a signal from your computer that it has a problem.”

B says she has no idea where her response came from, but it was right there. “Wait! Wait!”

“What?” Alex asked.

“You’re right. I hear it.”

“Hear what?”

“Hear it calling out.”

“You … do?”

“Yes, my computer’s saying, ‘Help me. Help me. Oh, please help me!’”

Alex hung up.


Well folks, see you next week, same time and same place. In the meantime, I hope you aren’t overwhelmed by people wanting to fix computer problems that don’t exist.

Thanks for reading. Take a look around the blog site while you’re here.

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

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Me and The Dragon

A couple of weeks ago I told you about my struggle with Dragon Naturally Speaking. Since then, I have done a lot of work with the program and found it both frustrating and rewarding. As a matter of fact, this post is being created using Dragon. It is the first actual work I have attempted with the program.

In preparation, I printed the better part of a 180-odd page operating manual and put it in a three ring binder for ready reference. My upstairs neighbor and mentor in all things electronic, Dr. Joe, was horrified. The manual was readily available on my computer as a part of the Dragon software. So why did I need to use paper and ink and put it in a book? I reminded him my mind does not work the same way his does. He lives out of an electronic machine; I live out of a filing cabinet. I am not certain whether this difference in approach is engendered by the four years difference in our ages or his many academic degrees compared to my simple Bachelors. Or perhaps it’s neither. Life experience is bound to play a major part. I am afraid of my computer. He tears into the guts of his with a vengeance.

At any rate, not satisfied with printing a manual, I sat down and created a document in Word called DRAGON OPERATING INSTRUCTIONS. I put every command Dragon would give me on how to perform specific tasks into the file. Of course, I printed that as well. Dr. Joe reminded me that I have virtually the same thing in the Dragon Learning Center, which appears on the screen as I work. That electronics vs paper thing, again.

Overlooking his criticism, I began dictating things extemporaneously to overcome my tendency to go mentally blank every time I attempt this procedure. I have to admit it took a great deal of work; however, the fact that I am dictating this blog indicates progress. Now I will get down to writing the real post for the week.




See the post of August 28 to make sense of the last three lines.


Well folks, it’s back to the beginning. See you next week, same time and same place. I hope you felt some of my frustration with Dragon Naturally Speaking. I also hope you sensed my hopeful optimism.

Thanks for reading. Take a look around the blog site while you’re here.

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

PS: I have to add that after I finished dictating “each Thursday,” Dragon gratuitously added the word “Eek.” I swear to you on the Dragon Naturally Speaking Operating Manual that this is true.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Another Look at The Zozobra Incident

Screwed up again, folks. Set it for PM, not AM, sorry.

This past Friday (August 29), the Burning of Zozobra described in my novel, The Zozobra Incident, took place in Fort Marcy Park in Santa Fe. This year, the puppet was larger, bare-chested, and went to his doom on the Friday before the opening of The Santa Fe Fiesta rather than the traditional Thursday night conflagration. The authorities used drones to overfly the park and take a count of the crowd. They came up with a record figure of 40,412. And that didn’t include some 2,000 police and other law jurisdictions. We’ve had a pretty good monsoon season, so the monster burned and fireworks lit up the sky without too much worry about resulting wildfires.

Martin Brown Publishers have been promoting the book on Facebook recently, and that plus this year’s burning made me take another look at the novel.

The following is the beginning of Chapter 2. BJ, our intrepid investigator, decides to look for Emilio Prada, the male escort believed to be attempting to blackmail Del Dahlman, at the place Del first met the gay gigolo.


     A little after ten that night, I squeezed my anonymous white 2003 Chevy Impala between two extended-cab pickups in the overflow parking lot across the street from the C&W Palace. The C&W on East Central Avenue was Albuquerque’s biggest country and western boot-shuffling joint. This was where Del originally met Emilio, so it was a good place to start after a database search failed to turn up current information on him. That was no surprise; the kid probably lived around town with friends and johns.
      I pushed through the heavy door and ran into a wall of cigarette smoke, deafening music, and shrill conversation that turned the interior of the nightclub into a health nut’s worst nightmare. Bluegrass doesn’t go down well with many opera fans, and I was no exception. My parents, both of whom had been teachers, had exposed me to plenty of Offenbach, Mozart, and Verdi, and it took. The Tales of Hoffman and The Magic Flute and La Bohéme had preserved my sanity during the long convalescence after the shooting. A country-western band was a world away from those old masters—maybe even a galaxy or two.
     My snakeskin cowboy boots and white Stetson were sufficiently western to allow me to skip the mother-of-pearl studded shirt and the tight denim pants. It was a matter of comfort, not snobbery. Cowpoke duds, especially trousers, were too restrictive for my taste.
     After buying a vodka-rocks at the long bar, I circled the massive barn-like joint, stopping occasionally to talk to acquaintances. The C&W was a hetero place, but there was enough eye contact to spice up the evening, even though I had no intention of making a connection. One slender, athletic guy twirling a pretty coed around the dance floor caught my attention. I invested a few minutes in watching him as I tried to figure out where I’d seen him before. Eventually, I gave up and resumed prowling. After an hour of jostling by clumsy drunks and out-of-control dancers, I was ready to call it a night when—bingo. There he was.
     Emilio Prada wasn’t making much of an effort to hide. He looked like a million dollars dancing with a well-stuffed woman who could have been his mother. That roomy bosom was probably where he intended to rest his head for the night. I thought of Emilio as a kid but knew from his APD jacket he was twenty-two. He’d come up legally from Durango, Mexico and had a record for petty stuff, nothing that would get him deported. He didn’t seem to be married, and it apparently didn’t matter to him which way he swung, just so long as the swing was profitable. I guess that earned him a “bi” rating.
     The handsome shit was dressed all in black, including a ten-gallon hat shoved rakishly back to expose dark, unruly curls. A scarlet hatband, a red belt, and a bit of crimson on his alligator boots added the only traces of color to his outfit. On him, it was dynamite. He danced easily, confidently; the same way he’d behaved while he was living in Del’s room in my house. If Emilio harbored doubts about anything, it wasn’t apparent. He counted on charming his way out of any trouble hovering over the horizon.
     When the number ended, he gave his partner a hug and a peck on her plump cheek before leading her away through the crowd. I scrambled straight across the dance floor as a twang of guitars and a bang of drums announced the next song. Trying to elude the grasp of cowgirls bent on dancing—or more likely desperate for a companion for the night—I lost the odd-looking pair for a moment before spotting Emilio holding out a chair for mamacita, like the gentleman he was not. Then he took one of two vacant chairs across from her at a long table filled with Hispanics.
     Now, I’ve got bushels of Latino friends and don’t admit to a prejudiced bone in my body, but just as there are whites and then there are whites, there are Hispanics and then there are Hispanics. These guys were the latter. Nonetheless, I took a deep breath and slipped into the vacant chair beside Emilio.


We’ll leave BJ walking into a dangerous situation. Hope he comes out of it okay.

Thanks for reading, and let me hear from you.


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

Blog Archive