Thursday, June 25, 2015

Foot Vs Feet

I recently became aware of a personal prejudice about two very common words. On some level, I’ve always known it existed, but only of late have I addressed the truth head-on. So I thought I’d share my opinion on the subject with you.

I have a thing about the human foot.
No, not the kind of thing you’re thinking about. Foot provokes a mental image of a calf tapering to a slender ankle before curving into a smooth heel which gives way to a high arch, succeeded by a ball, and culminating in long, graceful toes. Something altogether appropriate for display or discussion in polite society. It is an immensely serviceable – indispensable, even – part of the human anatomy.
But feet? Ugh.
Maybe it’s my Oklahoma upbringing, but the word feet conveys a pair of big appendages of dry, cracked and flaking skin with yellowed, twisted claw-like nails growing awkwardly on the bottom of an individual's legs. They are things that constantly get caught on furniture or in the door and often carry an odor ranging from faint to offensive.
For example, the mention of a young lass sitting with a foot trailing in the water is pleasant, pastoral … idyllic, even. A woman with both feet in the water is more like a crone trolling for minnows with ten wiggly, wormy toes.
The thought of an amorous foot inching up your thigh in tender moments is exciting and erotic. But two feet planted in your crotch loses some of the romance.
I’m beginning to think my prejudice may be shared by more people than I originally believed. A look in the dictionary shows the word “foot” is followed by some thirty-nine references with foot as a part of the word or appended to another word. A check of “feet” revealed none. Think about the following examples.
·       Football or feetball. Who’d want to play with a feetball?
·       Footpath vs feetpath. I’d walk on the verge to avoid all those stinky prints.
·       I love a foot-long hot dog, but a feet-long dog? I don’t think so.
·       I live in the foothills but wouldn’t be caught dead in the feethills.
·       When meeting strangers, a six-footer is impressive; a six feeter, frightening.
·       Footmen means something totally different from feetmen, or so I would imagine.
·       Underfoot certainly conveys something dissimular from underfeet. (Briefs or boxers?)
·       I’d salute a brave foot soldier, but I’m not sure a feet soldier deserves the same respect.
·       Would a footlight be the same as a feetlight?
·       I enjoy a good footstool but don’t believe I’d use a feetstool. Well, maybe. If I called it an ottoman.
·       Sometimes I lose my footing. Not even certain I’d search for my feeting.
·       And surely foot loose is not the same as feet loose.
I could go on, but by now you surely follow my reasoning. So I’d like to suggest we expunge the word “feet” from dictionaries, thesauri, spelling books, literature, and general conversation. Instead, I suggest we substitute the following terms:
To refer to a foot as a duo, how about “a pair of foots”
To denote more than one foot, let’s try “footsies”
After all, who could possibly conceive of footsies as being the least bit smelly?

Hope you got a chuckle or two out of this. Otherwise, it was just a case of jumping into a situation footsies first. Thanks for reading. Be happy to hear from you.

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

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Black Hole Canyon from THE BISTI BUSINESS

On August 8, 2013 I published a post on this blog called We Meet Jazz Penrod Again, in which the junior detective told our hero, BJ Vinson, he and his brother Henry Secatero had discovered a lead: A car parked out on the Navajo Reservation where it had no business being. Let’s accompany BJ and Jazz as they check out the situation. The following passage comes in Chapter 17 of THE BISTI BUSINESS, beginning on Page 139.
This is not really the red rock part of New Mexico, but the massive, wind-carved sandstone shelves—some the remnants of ancient barrier reefs—glowed red and orange, striated with layers of black and yellow and brown and white. I identified feldspar and hematite, quartz and dark-brown calcite, degraded coal and gypsum embedded in the host rock, all deposited eons ago when the shallow marine sea retreated with the upheaval of mountains in what is now southwestern Colorado. Volcanic eruptions had spewed fire and ash over the entire area. As the water retreated, sand dunes consolidated into cross-bedded Entrada Sandstone. Over the ensuing ages, the ceaseless battle between wind and rock and water had chopped the terrain to pieces, creating the present landscape.
The Shiprock monolith, which lay in the distance ahead of us, was the throat of a volcano that had died long ago. The terrain around it eroded and washed away, leaving a 450-foot pile of black basalt towering over the Navajo Nation.
Long before we reached Shiprock, Jazz had me turn south on a rocky dirt road. As we began climbing. I kept a wary eye on the gas gauge Throwing the car into low gear to make it up and down the steep inclines of the washboard landscape was eating up the fuel. The rental sedan wasn’t made for this kind of country, and I was about to give it up as a bad venture when he pointed left.
“Take that road there.”
“What road?”
He laughed. “It’s a road down into Black Hole Canyon. Or at least a track. The car’s not far now if I understood Henry right. If it’s still there, that is.”
With more than a little trepidation, I followed his directions. My stomach fell along with the road as the earth dropped sharply. To our left, there was nothing but open air. The narrow ledge supporting us hugged the wall of the canyon—and it was a canyon, not a big-assed arroyo as he'd described it earlier. We dropped farther down the uncertain trail while tons of mudstone leaned outward above the car, threatening to shove us into the abyss. My knuckles turned white on the steering wheel.
“This is the worst part,” Jazz said. “The trail curves to the right just ahead, and there’s an overhang. That’s where Henry said the car was parked.”
“Like someone wanted to hide it,” I rasped, desperate for the sound of my voice once last time before we ran out of road and pitched over into oblivion.
“Yeah, like that. Me and Henry used to come out here when we were kids and hunt jackrabbits and rattlesnakes.”
I grunted. It was supposed to be a laugh but didn’t come out that way. “I thought you Native Americans were into preserving the environment, not killing anything that moved.”
“I’m half white. I guess that part of me’s a killer.”
The cryptic remark would have earned him a glance if I hadn’t been concentrating on keeping the car on this pitiful excuse of a scree-littered burro trail. “Your brother doesn’t have white blood, does he?”
“No, but the family ate the jackrabbits. Guess they ate a little snake now and then, too.”
We inched around the curve, and I tapped the brake. A car blocked our progress—a brown four-door Ford sedan.
We didn’t need to get out of the car to know what had happened, but we did it anyway. The stench was overpowering. Something—or somebody—was dead. Without touching a thing, I peered through the windows and determined no one was in the passenger compartment. The odor seemed to come from the rear of the vehicle, so the body was in the trunk. Was it a confidential investigator called Hugo Santillanes or a kid named Lando Alfano?
Hope you’ll be motivated to get a copy of the book. Thanks for reading. Be happy to hear from you.

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

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Bonehead Rainwater

Let’s try a short story this week. Not really a story, rather a slice out of the life of an angst-ridden sixteen-year-old obsessed with a particular girl.
I don’t exactly remember when I got the name “Bonehead,” but I recall how. One day in grade school, Margaret McAllister got fed up with me teasing her and lashed out with what she probably considered a cuss word. Bonehead. Before long, that was my moniker, and the rechristening was so thorough that hardly anyone remembered my real name was Harlsgood Rainwater. Nobody – including me – had ever liked that handle, so I was usually Harlie or Goodie, except to my maternal grandmother. That had been her birth name. All things considered, I preferred Bonehead.
The name had another advantage. Upon meeting someone new, the jasper figured I was thick-headed or stupid. That set low expectations in everyone from teachers to preachers, and I took full advantage of it until they got to know me.
That served me well all through my childhood, but when I grew up and reached sixteen, things began to backslide. That same blonde -- green-eyed Margaret McAllister -- wouldn’t have anything to do with a guy called Bonehead. And I wanted to pester her again … big time. In a totally different way, of course.
“But you’re the one who gave me the name,” I said the afternoon I finally found the courage to talk to her.
“I didn’t give you a name,” she said in a reasonable tone of voice. “I called you a name. There’s a difference.”
“I’ll go back to my own name.”
She didn’t actually say, “Ugh,” but her expression did. “You mean Harlsgood?”
“That’s a way better name,” I said.
Margaret's expression clearly read: Not really.
“Harlie,” that’s a good name, right?” I was quick to suggest.
“For a guy or a motorcycle?”
“Well, you can call me Goo …”
“Don’t even go there. I’m not going to call a guy Goodie. All my friends would ask if I’m still going with Goodie-Two-Shoes or Goodie-Goodie, or something.”
“Are you going with me or with your friends?”
She stood up from the park bench. “I’m not going with either one of you. And you better not be telling around that I am.”
I backed off. “Do you even like me?”
She twirled the small yellow parasol she carried to protect her fair skin. “You’re one of the less obnoxious boys around, Bonehead.” She drew in her breath. “But that name!”
I opened my mouth to say she’s the one who gave it to me but reconsidered. “Who do you want me to be? You named me once. Name me again.”
“Fagan. I always liked the name Fagan.”
I felt my eyebrows reach for my hairline. “Fagan! What kinda name is that?”
“Or Osgood. And that’s close to your real name. I could call you Oz.”
“Okay, from now on I’m Oz.”
And I was, but it didn’t come without a cost. I got into three fights and paid with a fat lip, a black eye, and bruised ribs. But those scrapes got my point across. I was serious. Within three months, I was Oz or “The Wizard” to almost everyone except my teachers and relatives. I was Mr. Rainwater and Harlsgood to them. But no more Bonehead. My campaign also chased away a few friends, but at least I was going with Margaret now. That is to say, we dated once in a while, but she insisted it wasn’t a commitment. Not a steady thing. Nonetheless, I had the privilege of taking her to the Junior Prom.
After that magic dance, I sensed things were beginning to go wrong. Maybe not wrong, but different. For one thing, I wasn’t so taken with Margaret once I got beyond the peaches and cream complexion and the startling green eyes and the budding breasts. Fact was, she was sort of bossy.
Her attitude changed, as well. At least in subtle ways. She didn’t sit with me as much in the cafeteria. She walked to class with her girlfriends. Finally, I asked about it.
She brushed an imaginary speck of dust from her sweater sleeve. “Maybe we weren’t supposed to get together. You don’t seem so broken up over it.”
“Over it? Over what?”
“Over our break up.”
“We’re breaking up?”
“I’m thinking of going out with Hershel Marshall. Hershel. That’s a nice name. Has a good strong sound to it.”
I sputtered. “You go out with a name? What about the guy? And what’s the matter with Oz? I thought you liked that name. Isn’t it strong enough for you?”
She flipped her blonde locks. “But everybody calls you Wizard or Wiz, and I don’t like that. So I guess we’re through.”
I had my mouth opened to remind her once again that she’d been the one to change my name, but that would just send us racing around the carousel again. Instead, I shook my head and walked away. I wasn’t about to play that game a second time with Airhead Maggie, boobs or no boobs.
Besides, there were lots of boobs around. Some nicer than Airhead’s.
I think our boy showed some maturity there at the end, don’t you agree? I remember those days, but give thanks that they’re over now. But maybe it would be better if they weren’t so far in the past.

Thanks for reading. Be happy to hear from you.

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

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Meet Liver Lips Mortenson from THE CITY OF ROCKS

In my creative writing class, I advise against giving a detailed a description of the major character in order to allow the reader to see the individual as he or she wishes. The artist doing the cover for THE ZOZOBRA INCIDENT originally came up with the figure of a bearded man representing BJ Vinson, my series protagonist. I told her he was clean shaven, and she came back with: “How was I to know. You never described him.”

However, as you’ll see in the passage that follows, I often paint some of the minor players in detail to give them life and character. I did that with Emilio Prada in ZOBOBRA and with a character named Richard “Liver Lips” Martinson in THE CITY OF ROCKS.

In the following (abbreviated) scene in Chapter One of ROCKS, BJ has his first meeting with a man suspected of stealing some valuable property from a ranch in New Mexico’s boot heel country. BJ is having trouble taking his job seriously because he can’t wrap his head around the “kidnapping” of a duck. Nonetheless, his client insists he accept the assignment because the bird was insured for a quarter of a million dollars. With only an ill-conceived idea of what’s really happening, BJ rushes to the UNM Emergency Ward where he’s told the thief is being treated.

I had no trouble locating Martinson in the waiting room at the hospital. Liver Lips. The young man's nickname described him perfectly. His thick, purple-hued oral projections drew my eye like a magnet. It was only later I noticed he was skinny, seedy, and carried a generally disreputable air. Gray eyes darted here and there as if he were constantly searching for a bolt hole. The man’s scalp glistened through thin strands of frizzy blond hair. Whether talking or listening or simply idle, his dark tongue periodically snaked out to wash those heavy lips. Seldom had I been so thoroughly repulsed by another’s physical appearance.
He looked at me blankly after I handed over my card and introduced myself. “A private eye, huh. What you want with me?”
“I need to ask you a few questions.” I nodded at the bandages covering his forearms. “What happened?”
“Had a fight with a thorn bush. Frigging bush won.” He went for humor, glancing up through thin, colorless lashes to see if it had worked.
I pointed to the red veins snaking up out of the white bandages just short of his elbows. “Thorn bushes didn’t give you that infection. That’s blood poisoning. You want to tell me about stealing a valuable…bird.” If I’d said “duck” I’d have burst out laughing.
“Don’t guess I know what you’re talking about.”
“I don’t think the Sheriff of Luna County would have sicced me on you if he was just guessing.”
“Hidalgo,” he blurted.
“Sheriff of Hidalgo County.”
“Okay, now that you’ve admitted you know all about the theft, tell me about it.”
“Didn’t admit nothing.”
“You know where the abduction…uh, theft took place. Stop wasting my time. What did you want with a prize duck named….” I stopped, unable to call a bird by that ridiculous name.
“Quacky Quack, the Second,” he said. “That’s what old Mud Hen calls her. Ain’t that a hoot?”
“Mud Hen?”
“Millicent Muldren. Everbody calls her Mud Hen.”
“Why’d you steal her duck?”
“Who says I did?”
I improvised. “About everybody in the countryside. Police chief, sheriff, Ms. Muldren. There’s a warrant out for your arrest. Talk to me, and maybe I can do something about that.”
Old Liver Lips wasn’t as dumb as he looked. Those blood-suffused appendages quivered a couple of times before he squared his thin shoulders. “Ain’t nobody gonna arrest me. Who’d press charges on something like that?”
“Well, Mud Hen for one, and the insurance company for another.”
“Insurance company?”
“You didn’t know the owner had insured her property.”
“Shoot, I guess there ain’t no insurance company in the world that’d insure a frigging duck.”
I didn’t know much more than he did, but I couldn’t let up on him now. “Then you’d guess wrong. They’ll insure soap bubbles if you pay the premiums. You give me what I want, and I can take care of the warrant.”
“Like what?”
“Like what have you done with Qua…with the duck?” His eyes slid away as he opened his mouth and licked his lips. I held up a hand. “Don’t bother to deny it. You’re caught flat-out. Man-up and admit it. Where’s the duck?”
Liver Lip’s shoulders twitched. He did that rapid blinking thing and twisted his neck to loosen it up. A bead of sweat worked its way through thin tendrils of blond hair and trickled down his forehead. It looked muddy by the time it reached the corner of his eye. “I give her to somebody that wanted to play a trick on Mud Hen.”
“Who was this somebody?”
“If I give up his name, he’ll get me in trouble. And he can do it, too.”
“So can I. A world of trouble. You’ve already given me enough to report to the insurance company. You’re the chicken thief, Liver Lips. And they’ll come after you hard. You have any idea how far they’d go to keep from paying out all that money?”
“How much money?” His attitude changed. If Liver Lips had a crafty side, this was it.
“More than you can ever repay in your lifetime.” I built on the fiction I was spinning. “They’ll see you prosecuted for grand theft. What does your record look like? Probably penny-ante, right? Well, you made the big time with this.”
“For stealing a duck?”
I stared at the raunchy-looking man and wondered if this was an act. “Answer my question. Who hired you to steal the duck?”
Jeez. The guy hadn’t even been paid. He’d done it as a favor, or else someone had leverage on Richard Martinson.
“Who told you to take the duck? Who’d you give it to?”
“It’s a her. The duck, I mean. Quacky—”
“Yeah, I know. Who’d you give her to?”
Liver Lips crossed his arms over his chest and hugged himself tightly. “Oh, shit! I hurt, man. They supposed to be getting me something for the pain. And the infection, too. I gotta go check on it.”
“Okay, we’ll go together. Maybe I can help.”
“I can do it.” It came out as a whine. “I ain’t no kid that needs babysitting.”
Despite his objections, I trod on his heels as he walked toward a counter. They’d made some big-time changes at the UNM Emergency Center since I was here last. It was now housed in a new building called the Pavilion. But I was pretty sure this wasn’t the outpatient pharmacy. Liver Lips was getting ready to make a move. He did, but it wasn’t the one I expected; probably not the one he anticipated, either.
He turned a corner and bumped squarely into a burly Albuquerque cop. Back-pedaling, he held out his hands. “Sir, this here guy won’t leave me alone. Can you make him stop pestering me?”
The six-foot-two officer transferred his irritated look from Liver Lips to me. His shoulder unit belched static, but he ignored it. “What’s going on?”
I took a quick peek at his nametag. “Corporal Hines, my name is Vinson, and I’m a licensed PI. I’m going to reach for my ID, okay”
I whirled as the outside door crashed open. A man and a woman rushed inside with a little girl nursing a bloody hand wrapped in stained towels. Hines brushed by me to see if his help was needed. When I turned back to confront Liver lips, he was nowhere in sight. I made a quick sweep of the hallways, but he had disappeared. Maybe Liver did have a crafty side, after all.


Thanks for reading. Be happy to hear from you.

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

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