Thursday, October 29, 2015

How to Get Banned from Smiths Food and Drug Stores

My life seems to lurch from one incident to another foible to an outright oopsie. If you don’t know what an oopie is, you’re too young to be reading this blog. I’ve already confessed many of my goof-ups, lapses, and the like on this site. My trials and tribulations with a new computer. My disgust with the Do Not Call Registry. Battling Dragon Naturally Speaking. Embarrassing mistakes with a new washing machine. Brain creep (and not in a good way). A lost driver’s license. The feckless search for just the right digital atomic clock. Playing skip-a-rope with a gas hose and a host of other foolishness.

Now I have learned how to get banned from Smiths Food and Drug stores. A month ago, I told you about falling in Smiths parking lot while failing to mind my own business. Well, this week, I made another trip to the same store. All I wanted was some bread, a little can of peanuts, a package of candy to hand out on Halloween Eve (yeah, right!), and some distilled water. I did my shopping and started looking for a cashier. All busy. Too many in line. So I went to the self-check-out stand. Great. No waiting.

I swiped my Smiths Rewards Card and started scanning the items. Distilled water, 97¢. No problem. French bread, $1.79. Great. It registered just like it was supposed to. But I didn’t want to put the bread in the same sack with the water, so I moved the bag with the water out of the way.

Wrong thing to do. A computerized-voice informed me in an accusatory tone (real or imagined) to remove the last item from the bag and scan it. I couldn’t, of course. Moving the water after scanning the bread had made the device suspect that I was trying to sneak something past it. And the device wasn’t about to get snookered like that.

I called the attendant, a pleasant young lady, over. After checking my bags and the number of items scanned, she scolded the computer and put it in its place. Then I tried to scan the package of Three Musketeers. It wouldn’t scan. After trying four times, I called for aid again. The same young lady came over looking  a little grimmer this time and ended up having to manually put the bar code into her little scanner thingy. That done, she went about more important business.

And then the biggie. As I took out my clip and removed money to pay the final tab of $7.74, a bill flew out of my hand and slipped right down into the hairline crack between the checkout computer and the sensitive platform that keeps tabs on how many items you put into your bag (and sometimes lies about it). Had it been a dollar, I would have slunk off without uttering a word. But it had been a five-dollar bill. Now, I’m not poverty-stricken, but five dollars is five dollars. So I looked up this same young lady and told her what had happened.

She didn’t actually say a dirty word, but each one she uttered had some filth hidden in it somewhere. “You dropped it where?”

“Right there. It went between the machine and the bench. (Highly technical terms, I know, but I made her understand by pointing.)

“You’re sure?”

“Yes, right there.” Then I did the bit about if it had been a dollar bill …

She didn’t seem impressed. “I’ll have to disassemble the whole thing.”

I couldn’t think of a proper response, so I kept my mouth shut.

She began the process with absolutely no trace of that pleasant young woman I’d first seen in evidence. A moment later, she ordered me to hold the end of the stainless steel bench-top she’d lifted. The thing actually complained when I laid hands on it. It let out a prolonged, agonized beep. I felt no sympathy. It had falsely accused me, hadn’t it?

Five minutes later, she had enough of the steel and plastic out of the way to feel around for my money. She found the fiver and handed it over with a sour look on her formerly pretty face. For some reason, she failed respond to my sincere “thank you.”

When I started to leave after paying for my groceries, I realized that all I had left in my pocket was the same five dollar bill the clerk had just rescued. Not good. You see, I wanted one of those dollar lottery tickets … Scratchers, I think they call them. After hesitating a long minute, I turned back and asked the attendant for change.

She complied while managing to keep a false smile painted on her lips, but she also took out her telephone. I don’t believe the picture she took was a selfie. But was it to show her friends the boob she’d encountered at work that day, or did she intend to post it on the wall alongside shoplifters and other miscreants as a warning them to keep off the premises under the penalty of prosecution?

I guess I’ll learn the answer when I run out of milk this weekend. On the other hand, there’s an Albertson’s not far from my place.

Thanks for indulging me. Please give a “Like” or a “Comment” or a “Schmuck.” I’m always pleased to hear from readers.



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

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Dermatophyte, a Short Story

How about another short story this week? We’ve all been humiliated at some time in our lives, and it looks like Toby Gannon is in for his dose – self-inflicted, I might add. Let’s see how he handles it.
After two chicken-outs, Tobias Gannon successfully navigated the threshold of the campus cafeteria with his heart going crazy in his chest. “Keep on walking, man,” he mumbled beneath his breath.
It was a set-up, pure and simple. Damn Lem Holt and his screwy bets, anyway! Toby had no idea what prompted him to get involved in Lem’s shenanigans. Well, yeah, he did. Lem was one of the few he considered a friend. Besides, Toby was salivating over the prize, a rib eye steak from the Roundup he’d never be able to afford on his skinny budget.
After a quick glance at the northeast corner table where Lem grinned like a Cheshire cat anticipating Toby’s coming mortification, he shifted his attention to a particular table in another corner. They were all there: Betsy Moss, Monica Hardy, Rick Wolsey, Hardy Marks, and Linda Helpstrum. The Snob Mob.
“Hi, guys.” His voice came out in a strangled squawk. Not a very auspicious beginning.
“Gannon. What drug you in here?”
“It’s dragged, Wolsey. Unless you’re talking about chemicals, which might be the case with you.”
“Watch your mouth, kid!”
“I just wanta talk to Linda.” His upper lip started itching like crazy, but he wasn't about to swipe it.
“Me? Why?” Disdain, disbelief, and a tiny bit of curiosity edged her voice.
Understandable. He was not, and never would be, a member of this hoity-toity clique. He didn’t even want to be. Most of the guys at Tres Lomas College would have jumped at the chance, but he wasn’t so sure. What was Lem’s position on the matter? Screwed up thinking, Gannon. Concentrate! He hoped the sweat collecting in his armpits didn’t stain his shirt.
“I … uh, could we talk a minute? You know, in private?” He motioned to one of the big windows looking out onto a gloriously verdant quadrangle, empirical evidence of the waste of precious irrigation water in this high desert New Mexico locale.
“These are my friends. Whatever you have to say, you can say it in front of them. But you’d better hurry; I have to go to class in a few minutes.”
“Well, I was wondering…” He paused as his knees threatened to give way. He tried again. “Do you have a date for the prom yet?”
“A date? What’s it to you?” Her voice was sharp, cutting.
“Uh, I thought you might like to go with me,” He almost heaved a sigh of relief. He’d completed his part of the wager.
“Toby Gannon, what makes you think I’d go out with you?”
He felt his ears go pink. The odor from the dregs of a hamburger on Wolsey’s plate reached his nose, making him want to gag. Nonetheless, he plunged ahead. “Why not? This is a classless democracy, isn’t it?”
Linda’s voice turned imperious. “This isn’t a voting matter.”
“Sure it is,” Hardy Marks put in. “We’ll vote on whether you go out with this putz.” Marks was the local tennis star. He also had a name on the soccer field.
“I vote no,” Betsy Moss, the prom queen, rejoined. Monica and Rick quickly raised their hands. They were class president and basketball standout, respectively.
“That makes it unanimous,” Linda announced with a nasty smile. “That’s democracy at work for you.”
Toby knew he oughta leave it at that; he’d won his steak. But resentment overcame good sense. He spoke through a dry throat. “What’s the matter with me? I’m as good as you are.”
Linda’s nose twitched as if she had caught a whiff of something rancid. “I’d prefer not to get into that, if you don’t mind.”
“I do mind!” That came out louder than he intended.
“Let’s just say you’re not my kind of people, and leave it at that.”
“What, I’m not snobbish enough? My folks don’t have enough money? I look like an oddball? What?”
The girl with long, blond tresses stood abruptly. “I have to go to class.”
“Not until you answer me! What’s wrong with me? I have two noses or three eyes or something?”
“Very well, if you insist. You’re a nobody. A nothing.”
“I’m a living, breathing human being.”
“You sure about that?” Wolsey put in. “I like that oddball part you mentioned. You seem kinda odd to me. You know … odd!” The basketball star gave a limp-wristed wave.
Linda had apparently reached her limit. “I don’t know what it is, but there’s something wrong with you. You’re not like the other guys. You’re different.”
“You mean like having brains instead of muscles? And different is wrong?” he kept at it despite the quivers running down his spine.
“Like now,” Linda added. “You’re not being a gentleman. I tried to be nice, but—”
His voice got away from him and rose alarmingly “Nice? I’m not your kind of people. That’s nice?” He grabbed a breath. “Well, for you it probably is. As nice as a snob can be.”
The cafeteria had gone deathly quiet. The heavy odor of food and the cloying aroma of perfume and toilet water rose in the silence, making him nauseous.
Linda’s face turned an unhealthy and unattractive crimson. “If you want to do the name-calling thing, then let’s have at it. You stalk around the campus like a disease.”
“Way to go!” Wolsey cheered.
“You don’t play sports, join the clubs. You don’t do anything except take up space.”
“I study, pass my classes, and mind my own business.” A chip in the Formica tabletop seemed terribly interesting all of a sudden.
“And contribute absolutely zero, Toby. You’re nothing but a ... a virus, a fungus on Tres Lomas’ hide. You’re like that TV commercial. You’re a nail fungus. What do they call it? A dermatophyte. That’s it, a dermatophyte! Something under your nails that you can’t get rid of without a heavy dose of medication. That’s what you remind me of. Now get out of my face.”
“I simply asked you for a date, Linda.”
“A date with you?” she asked in a steely voice. “I’d rather date an actual dermatophyte.”
“That’s a good name for you, Gannon. Dermatophyte Gannon. We’ll call you Dermy for short. Has a good ring.”
“Dermy!” This from Betsy.
“Oh, come on, guys. Just because he’s funny, doesn’t make him a fungus.” Monica tossed in her two cents.
“Naw, more like odd! Course that’s kinda like a fungus, isn’t it?”
The rest of the group rose as one and prepared to parade out the door, probably in lock-step. From the depths of his mortification, Toby grasped for something to preserve at lease some shred of dignity.
“Thanks, guys, you played your parts perfectly,” His voice rang throughout the cafeteria.
“Huh? What?” Wolsey asked. He forgot to close his mouth when he finished speaking.
“Yeah, I bet Lem Holt that I could prove to the whole school what hopeless snobs you are.”
“Hey, wait just a minute—”
“That’s all right, Marks. You’ve said everything you needed to say. Go on to class now like a good little jock.”
For a moment, Toby thought he’d gone too far. Marks’ face turned red and he clenched his fists. He shifted into an aggressive stance. Sweat popped out on Toby’s forehead.
Then Len stood and started clapping. In moments everyone in the cafeteria, including the servers were applauding and cheering loudly. The Snob Mob’s bravado collapsed as if it were a balloon punctured by sharp wit. They turned and slunk out the door as a single organism.
         That rib eye was gonna taste real good!

In the end, he gave as good as he got, thanks to his quick wit. Wish I could think fast enough to turn the tables in the moment. I always walk away and only later think, “I shoulda said …”

Thanks for reading. Please give a “Like” or a "Comment." I’m always pleased to hear from readers.



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

Thursday, October 15, 2015

My Most Recent Trip to the NM Motor Vehicle Department

New Meico State Flag
My New Mexico Driver’s License required renewing this month, so I planned a trip to the nearest Motor Vehicle Department office in order to complete the process. Over the past few decades, a visit to MVD had been a time-consuming, patience-eroding, thoroughly unpleasant experience.

But in the past few years, the department has reformed itself and streamlined the process. The last two times I was at MVD, my task was accomplished in no more than thirty minutes. In and out with my mission successfully accomplished. Of course, that pleasant surprise was somewhat marred by dropping my new license two years ago somewhere between the agency’s front door and my car. I didn’t discover the loss until I was home, and by then it was too late. But I stray from my purpose.

I have learned that the key to such a benign experience at MVD is to get there early before a whole host of citizens clamoring for attention and assistance overwhelm the fragile system.

Accordingly, I rise early Tuesday morning in order to arrive at the nearest Motor Vehicle office before the 8:00 a.m. opening hour. Not too bad. I am the ninth person standing before the as yet closed and locked door. Now, some people will argue this constitutes standing in line to avoid waiting in line, but that’s their viewpoint, not mine. I figure an investment of a little time to avoid a larger investment of time is time well spent. (My writing class would shudder at the use of the word “time” thrice in one sentence. Note the neat way I avoided using it twice in that sentence?)

At five minutes past eight, the door opens. When I receive my number from the machine that spits out numbers, it is … appropriately … Number Nine. I take my seat and wait to be called. Within ten minutes, an electronic voice calls for Number Nine to report to Window Four. I lurch to my feet (okay, I crawl to my feet) and nearly run over a woman who looks a lot older than I am (but probably isn’t). Window four handles my application quite efficiently, hands back the appropriate papers, and instructs me to take a seat again and wait to be called to Window One for a photo and to complete the process.

I take a seat convenient to Window One and am only two numbers away from being called when some fellow with an officious voice comes out and announces the system has crashed. All over the city. In fact, all over the state. And that includes the private places that -- for a hefty fee -- provide such services on roller-skates. The longest period of time spent on their premices is taken up by writing your generous check to them.

System down. Computers not working. And I’m in the middle of the process. I can wait an indeterminate period of time for the nerds to correct the situation or leave and start the process all over again at another time. In other words, I can get up very early two mornings in a row to accomplish one morning’s worth of chores. Inasmuch as I do not have an early Wednesday appointment, I opt to wait.

The MVD staff apply themselves to decorating the office for Halloween with stuff that looks like spider webs (complete with spiders), jack-o-lanterns, and what-nots while I settle back to view my surroundings. As the wait becomes longer and longer, our crowd of forty or so people begins to dwindle. Other things to do or patience expended, people leave, including the fat, blustery loud-mouth who’s not shy about announcing in stentorian terms he’s never seen a state as disorganized, bungling, and … well, lousy as New Mexico.

The remaining crowd of around twenty includes one Native American and two Blacks, with the remainder about evenly split between Hispanics and Anglos. Why is that significant? It isn’t, but it’s what is, so I notice. Most are forty years of age or less, and the majority are overweight (ahem, including me). Two of the younger guys wear their trousers down around their hips, and I kept expecting them to lose the battle with gravity and head for the floor, but miraculously, that doesn’t happen.

At one point, I notice eight of the score of people have phones out with thumbs working overtime. I figure five are texting while the other three are playing some sort of game. Four more are actually talking on the phone. These are four people I understand. My little flip-phone doesn’t play games, and I don’t text. So it stays in my pocket.

Two hours and thirty minutes later, the system comes alive again, and guess what? We all have to draw new numbers. So I start all over with a new number. Thirty minutes later, I head home with my license renewed.

Oh well, I can sleep-in tomorrow.

Thanks for reading my blog. Please consider giving it a “like” or a comment. I like comments … even when they’re not so complimentary. I’m just pleased to hear from readers.



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

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Has BJ Found the Kidnapped Duck in THE CITY OF ROCKS?

In my novel, THE CITY OF ROCKS, BJ Vinson can’t quite take his newest investigative case seriously. It involves the stealing of a duck, of all things. But this is a valuable duck with a large insurance claim riding on her fate. Still, he has trouble keeping a straight face while asking questions about a kidnapped bird. Until the thief dies under mysterious circumstances, that is. In the opening of Chapter 3, he’s located a friend of the murdered Liver Lips Martinson. Together, BJ and the man named Lopez decide to go search through Martinson’s small shack and see if the woman BJ saw there earlier is still on the premises.

Lopez surprised me by agreeing to go check out the mystery woman. Within two minutes we were at Martinson’s front door. No one answered our knock. Lopez fished around underneath a rock beside the step and came up with an old-fashioned skeleton key. You wouldn’t catch me sticking my hand down there. Might find something beside a little scrap of metal.
The two-room shack was deserted. Liver Lips apparently had done his furniture shopping at the local dump. The sofa was ripped and worn. Dingy, once-white stuffing spilled out of both pillows. The threadbare arms were ten shades darker than the rest of the couch. A sagging chair and an ancient boom box on a listing, unpainted table completed the décor. There was nothing on the bare planking of the walls other than a big calendar still turned to last December.
The bed was the only piece of furniture in the other room. At first, I thought the mysterious woman was hiding under the covers, but the lump proved to be the mattress piled with a jumble of old clothes.
While I looked for something that might tell me why the late Liver Lips had stolen a duck, Lopez searched for something else. After a few minutes, he stood in the middle of the almost bare living room and swore in Spanish. Then he turned to me.
“Ain’t no woman here. Sure you seen her?”
“Talked to her standing right there in the doorway. What were you looking for?”
“Liver always had a little weed stowed away.”
“Maybe the woman took it.”
“Dammit, I coulda used that.”
I didn’t associate emaciation with pot smoking. Liver Lips and Lopez both looked more like meth users to me, and I told him so.
He cut his eyes at me. “No way.”
“I don’t really care. I need to figure out why Liver Lips would steal Mrs. Muldren’s duck.”
Lopez gave a mirthless laugh. “That what this is about? Old Mud Hen’s duck? That’s rich.”
At least, someone besides me saw the ridiculous side of this affair. “Why would he take her?”
“Who said he did?”
“He did. Told me that yesterday afternoon. Said he’d given her to somebody who wanted to play a trick on Mud Hen. But it scared the hell out of him when I asked who wanted him to steal the duck.”
Lopez’s nod was almost imperceptible. “Yeah. That sounds right.”
“Does that mean you know who put him up to it?”
“Don’t mean nothing. Nothing except Liver Lips was afraid of his shadow.”
“I hear Mud Hen’s a tough old bird, but he wasn’t afraid to go after her prize duck.”
“Look, man. What you want from me? I don’t know nothing about it. He stole her, that’s his business.”
“I just want to know what you can tell me about him.”
“Me’n Liver hung out some, you know, to smoke now and then, but he done his own thing. And I don’t know nothing about no duck stealing. Now I got to go. You coming?”
“Yeah. Nothing else here. Unless….” I glanced through a filthy window. There was an unpainted shack at the rear of the property. “Unless you want to check out that shed.”
“Might’s well. But he didn’t never use it.”
The shed was a bunch of boards thrown together and placed on the bare ground without a foundation of any sort. It was empty except for a block of wood with an axe imbedded in it. Nonetheless, Lopez was wrong. Liver Lips or someone had used the place recently. There were white chicken feathers on the ground near the blood-stained block. At least, I took them to be chicken feathers.
“Well, shit.” Lopez grinned. “Guess you found old Mud Hen’s duck. Leastways, what’s left of her. Good eating, I bet.” 
Good Lord! Is Quacky Quack II done for? Plucked and eaten before the story even gets underway? One thing you can be certain of is that this mystery taking place down in New Mexico’s Boot Heel
country isn’t over.

Thanks for visiting my blog. Please consider giving it a “like” or a comment. I’m always pleased to hear from readers.



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

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Albuquerque’s Long Main Street

Central Avenue at Downtown
Photo courtesy Wickipedia
Those of you who have read this blog for a while know I hold my adopted State of New Mexico in great esteem. Albuquerque is my home of choice. Nothing defines the city’s past than the long main route through the center of the town. The following scene from Chapter 4 (starting on page 30) of THE ZOZOBRA INCIDENT gives us a glimpse of the venerable old gal. BJ Vinson, our protagonist, is heading up the long steady hill from the “valley” section of town to the heights. Let’s watch and listen.


In need of distraction, I glanced at my desk clock. Although it was almost ten, it wasn’t too late for the crowd at the C&W Palace. Things would just be heating up over there. I threw on a windbreaker against the night’s chill and headed for the Impala.
I picked up I-25 South and exited at Central Avenue, turning left up the long, steady climb to the heights. Central was once touted as the world’s longest main street and had been a stretch of the famous Route 66 before Eisenhower’s interstate highway program did it in. Now lined with one-story brick and stucco antique shops, cheap motels, bars, and adult book stores, Central was well past her glory days, but she still put on a flashy show of neon lights by night. Inevitably, the morning sun exposed her timeworn wrinkles and sagging frame.
I had intended to use this time to think. Instead, I found myself examining the venerable old gal. The impressive campus of Presbyterian Hospital showed signs of recent construction, but then it usually had something underway. The University of New Mexico was a beehive of activity. Apparently, some sort of musical performance at Popejoy Hall had ended, and cars were now spilling out of the side streets. The trendy Nob Hill Mall with its boutiques and outdoor cafes in the Mid Heights area drew college students and young adults from every walk of life.
I motored past the sprawling and aging New Mexico State Fairgrounds where a weekend flea market, in-season horse racing, and daily casino operations attracted gamblers, drunks, touts, and prostitutes of both sexes. Back in the days when I was a street cop, this area and the rabbit run a little farther to the west had dealt me more trouble than anywhere else. I’d faced down a distraught family man who’d gambled away the mortgage money at the racetrack and was determined to commit suicide by cop in the parking lot, but thank goodness my partner and I had talked him out of it. I’d pinched more than one thief trying to sell his loot in the flea market.
Way back when Centrat was old Route 66
Photo courtesy of

A few blocks east of the fairgrounds, I pulled into the C&W’s parking lot and found a spot directly in front of the joint. I locked the Impala and walked to the front door, mentally preparing myself for the blast of humidity and humanity that would greet me. I wasn’t disappointed.
My only reason for making this passage my post of this week is to provide the reader, especially those who might not be familiar with the city, with a moment in time on the historic old route.

Thanks for taking your valuable time to read the post. Please give it a “like” or a comment. I’m always pleased to hear from readers.



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

Blog Archive