Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Durango, December 2012

Michele, Frankey, and I enjoyed a long weekend in Durango, Colorado, last week. We left on Thursday morning and arrived in Durango in time for lunch—an easy, scenic 4-hour drive.

The first order of business was to go to Maria's Bookshop, one of our favorite independent bookstores. It's dog-friendly, and Frankey was a little star. She got skritches and cookies. Michele and I picked up . . . um . . . a few things. A stroll around the vibrant downtown completed the day.

We stay at the Doubletree by Hilton because it welcomes doggies and is right on the Animas River. This image is from the hotel's website.

Then it snowed. We had planned to drive to Dove Creek on Friday to buy some yummy beans at Adobe Milling, but the highways were snowpacked. We had all those new books, so we settled in for a peaceful day of reading.

Thursday had taken a lot out of Frankey, and she was one tired Gaucho. Good thing she had her blankie for comfort.

Here is the view of the river from outside our room.

Some gnarly guys were fishing in the river near the bridge on Friday morning, but I didn't get my camera in time.

The mountain was socked in by fog for much of our visit. That's okay: I didn't want to climb it anyway.

We left Durango at 9:00 on Saturday morning. Travel through the snow was slow; it took us two hours to go the 60 miles to Pagosa Springs. For about half that time we followed a snowplow, and the driving was comparatively easy. From Pagosa Springs to Chama, 45 miles, took us about an hour and a half. Heading out of Chama, we traveled on clear roads all the way home.

You have to stop at Bode's in Abiquiu for cookies, lest the Republic fall. Frankey likes the peanut butter cookies best.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

What I've been doing--with pictures!

A Last Hurrah
Before the store closed, I went to the annual conference of the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association in Denver. As a way of repaying MPIBA in a small measure for everything it had done for the store and for bookselling in general, I volunteered to do anything they needed.

The trade show, featuring publishers, authors, and vendors of sidelines for bookstores, is always a highlight of the conference. You can get a lot of freebies, and nonbooksellers often try to sneak in and grab some swag.

One day's worth of swag from 2008
Hence the need for security to ensure that only registered participants in the event can get in. The guy who promised to do security at the trade show never showed up, and Kathy, the project manager for the association, was beside herself. I said that I would help with security. She said, "You have to be tough." I said, "They don't call me 'Knuckles' Durbin for nothin'." From that moment, everyone at the conference called me "Knuckles." At the cocktail party before the banquet, I introduced myself to a fellow bookseller: "Hi, I'm P-Doobie." "Oh, Knuckles! I'm so glad to meet you," she said. I even made the MPIBA newsletter.

P- "Knuckles" Doobie from Otowi Station Bookstore and Science Museum Shop in Los Alamos, New Mexico, graciously agreed to be our Opening Reception security as well as our registration greeter, and declared she had never had quite so much fun!
Now We're Cookin'
Michele and I took a class in high-altitude cookery at Los Alamos Co-Op Market. Our friend Liz discussed the chemistry and physics of high-altitude cooking, and then everyone in the class got to help make the dinner: Santa Fe bean soup, cornbread, and chocolate chip cookies. We helped chop, slice, and dice the ingredients for the soup.
There's nothing like a sharp knife, and this is nothing like a sharp knife.
Small Business Saturday
Flicker was out of cat fud, so on Small Business Saturday, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we went to Pet Pangaea to get a bag. And naturally I agreed to show my support for small business.

Coming up: why I don't smell so good

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Two Inacdotes

Ina and the Los Alamos County Fire Code 
Ina came into the store a few weeks ago, and her eyes were shifting, her head swiveling, her ears pricked for eavesdroppers and spies. She beckoned me closer so that she could whisper without being overheard (although, because she wasn't wearing her hearing aids, she spoke in a whisper you could hear in a sawmill).

"I see the Southwest history section doesn't have many books in it," she said. "I can help."

Against my better judgment I asked, "How?"

She explained that she had two tall bookcases full of books on the Santa Fe Trail. "I could bring them all in, and you could display them in the Southwest history section. Then if someone wanted to buy one, you could say that they're not for sale, but you could order whatever the customer wanted." I said that her offer was very generous from friend to friend, but really bad business for us to showcase books we couldn't sell.

As you know, she hears only what she wants to hear, and she continued, "The fire department came by the other day. They said my two tall bookcases were in front of the windows and had to be moved. I guess it has to do something with the fire code—they have to be able to get into the house somehow.  And I have to replace the windows, too. Anyway, I while I'm bringing my house up to code and getting new windows, I thought you could display the books that are in my bookcases."

Yes, why pay for commercial storage when you can warehouse your books for free at a bookstore?

Ina and a Great Medieval Tradition
Back in the Middle Ages, books were a rare and expensive commodity. Practically the only book available to the general reader was the Bible, and churches often chained their Bibles securely in the churches so that those who could read could use the books, and those who couldn't read could be read to or could just look at the illuminations. In modern times, we display the rare and desirable books in glass cases or sometimes even on the shelves in rare and antiquarian shops, where book thieves can snag them and people like Ken Sanders bring book thieves to justice.

If I were a stealin' kind of woman, which I ain't, I might be tempted to snag a signed first edition of Cormac McCarthy's Suttree or Stella Gibbons's Cold Comfort Farm. My soul is worth more than $15,000, however, so I would just give thanks that the book is here in the world with me, and move on. I am not likely to steal a $7.00 book.

Ina has a new book out, yet another pastiche based on the works of her favorite author. And of course she thinks that it is desirable. She gave us a copy to display with the books for sale. It will discourage theft.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

You do know the cape doesn't actually allow you to fly, right?

We've all heard about the weird warning labels on seemingly innocuous products, or the "well, duh!" warnings that a can of tuna contains tuna or a jar of peanuts contains peanuts. We've heard about the classic warning on a Batman costume: "PARENT: Please exercise caution--FOR PLAY ONLY: Mask and chest plate are not protective: cape does not enable user to fly." And you may have seen a warning not to allow the dog to drive or operate heavy machinery after taking his medicine.

Some of our toys display warnings or disclaimers. For example, one of the cool science toys we sell is the Top Secret Kinetic Mystery. You spin a little top on the platform, and the top will spin for days. Is the toy really top secret? Does it prove that perpetual motion is possible? Is magic involved?
Nope. It's all science, as the Top Secret folks explain in an enclosure inside the box.
The "Top Secret" consists of a spinning top with a radially oriented magnetic field and an associated base that houses a conductive coil. When the top spins past the center of the base, its changing magnetic field induces a current in the coil which momentarily opens the switch to the battery resulting in powering up the electromagnet. The electromagnet then delivers enough torque to the spinning top to allow it to speed up and spin away from the center. Since the electromagnet is only engaged when the top crosses near the center of the base, one 9 volt battery can last for over a week of continual use!
Unfortunately, one of our customers from Arizona was not impressed.
Enclosed, please find your Product advertized as a --"Top Secret Perpetual Motion"
--"A Kinetic Mystery"
--"Mystery in Motion"

But it is no more than a top powered by a battery. I feel disappointed and taken Advantage of. I expect a full Refund.
We sent him his full Refund with an explanation the top is not a perpetual motion machine. As for his feeling of being taken Advantage of, I suggested that he write to the company that produces the toy.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Indian Market 2012

Michele and I made our annual trip to Indian Market, and this time we had the pleasure of Chuckie and Jerry's company. We started, of course, with breakfast at Tia Sophia's at 7:00 a.m., and after burritos and French toast, we were off to the Market. Walk along with Michele and me, and if we get separated, meet at the Spitz Clock every hour on the hour to check in.

Let's look first at the jewelry that folks wore. As always, the philosophy was, "If a little is good, a lot is better." Click on the images to enlarge them.

This woman wore her earrings, necklace, bracelet, rings, and concho belt. The hand is probably on her shoulder not as an affectionate gesture but as a way to help hold her up.

A couple necklaces are always nice.

We named these guys Scrimshaw (left) and Dinner Plate (right). Scrimshaw had a concho belt, cuff, and bolo tie with images of famous Native chiefs done in scrimshaw. His jewelry was beautiful but excessive. Dinner Plate was posing for photos with his rings, cuffs, concho belt, and bolo tie—all the size of dinner plates. He was pretty, and very strong to be able to carry all that metal and rock.

This woman had an interesting bolo tie with inlaid stones and a cool cuff.

Here is the poet Joy Harjo, whose tattoos are unmistakable. I wanted to go up and shake her old cow hand, but Michele was shy, so we didn't.

What is the stylish man or woman about town wearing this season at Indian Market? Let's take a look.

Colorful skirts are always appropriate.

I see by your outfit that you are a cowb—um, never mind.

A raspberry hat and matching water-bottle tether touched off with chile anklets will give other visitors a fright if nothing else. 

Not enough jewelry? Don't despair. Just wear every bit of camera gear.

In the middle of the most exciting and important market of the year, some people are elaborately blasé and seemingly oblivious to what's going on.

The ATM at the bank was as popular as the booth for Best in Show.

Dogs aren't allowed at Indian Market. Apparently that means "dogs with their feet on the ground and walking around are not allowed at Indian Market." But Bears are allowed.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

We have a winner!

I have written here many times about some of our local self-published writers. They figure that if they run their prose through the spell-checker, it's good to go. Story editing? Forget it. Audience analysis? Not for them. A well designed cover? They have Microsoft Paint and aren't afraid to use it. Illustrations that support the text? See "Microsoft Paint," above. A price point that will move books? They have to recoup their investment from the publisher (or the local copy place), so they charge $16.95 for a 32-page children's book.

After seven years in the book business, I think we have a winner, Dipsy. Dipsy's agent brought in four books, which are so unrelievedly awful as to be worthy of display in a glass case with bits of string and dead mice.

Contrast these two passages, one from Jonathan Edwards, the other from Dipsy. They're both about the same length (85 words vs. 82 words). But notice how Edwards, in his famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," uses vivid, frightening images to convey the ideas of fear and dread. Kathleen Norris would say that such language is incarnational; that is, the language relies on imagery to convey meaning at multiple levels.
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.
The sentence, though long, is easy to follow because of the imagery and construction. Contrast it with Dipsy's account, which apparently made sense to her.
The glass was a barrier for the billowing clouds of steam pumped by machines at the rear, which like projectors in a theatre, streamed images on the stage set, shutting out the billows of the Image Chamber, as it was called, closed as  it would be on a stage set, shutting out the billows before the next ones formed, giving the viewer time to figure out what he had just seen, an imaginative world made of steam no less, wet and changeable.
Cover art should not provoke a reaction opposite the one the illustrator had in mind. Consider the cover art, which Dipsy did her own self. A lot is going on. It apparently is a preview of everything in the book.

However, nobody on the staff at the bookstore could get past the gray thing in the center of the illustration. Alan started choking on his lunch and had to be patted on the back. Ellen said, "Well, great. An erect penis in the kids' section." I told Ellen that the book was for young adults. She replied that no young adult reader would be caught dead with a book featuring an erect penis, a clown, and a giant reptile. Michele asked, "What's that red stuff? Is it flames or blood? And did the guy climbing the building just poop out an s?"

When a book causes reactions ranging from numb bemusement to dry heaves, we won't carry it—but I'll hang on to it for show 'n' tell.

Monday, July 9, 2012

I needed a key for a ham can: the mammogram

After my mammogram I just rolled those puppies up and put 'em back in the bra. The results were normal.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

My appointment for a mammogram

I get my annual mammogram in late June or early July, so I called the radiology folks at the medical center to make an appointment. Naturally, I did not get a human being, although my call was very important to them. But I listened carefully, as their options had changed, and dutifully did all that the voice of the little dolly said. That was Monday.

By Thursday I hadn't received a call, so before I took myself to breakfast and then to work, I went in person to the medical center.

Registration person: May I help you? 

Me: Yes. I need to make an appointment for a mammogram.

Registration person: You need an appointment?

Me: Yes. For a mammogram.

Registration person: You need an appointment for a mammogram?

Me: Yes. A mammogram. An appointment.

Registration person: Ohhhhh! An appointment! Go down there a little ways. Sort of around the corner. There's a little room by the pharmacy. You know where the pharmacy is? It's down there a little ways. Sort of around the corner. Go in the little room by the pharmacy.

So I went down there a little ways, sort of around the corner, to the little room by the pharmacy. The dolly-in-charge was on the phone with a patient and motioned me to have a seat. No! Not that chair! The other one. I parked it.

 She returned to her call. She was very thorough, asking the patient whether he had had any surgeries, had any implants such as metal stents, joints, or shrapnel [!!], and what medications he was on. "How do you spell the name of that drug?" Lengthy pause. "Well, if I don't get it right, I'll just write something else." [!!!!!]

I waited for a long time inhaling the fumes from her perfume marinade and listening to her interrogation of the patient. Eventually another dolly came in, uttered no greeting, made no eye contact, and disappeared behind a second partition. I could hear her tapping on the keyboard in her cubicle. After a while she peered around the corner and asked, "Have you been helped?"

"Not yet," I said.

"Do you need to make an appointment?" she asked.

I thought, "Unless I miss my guess, the sign reading 'Registration' outside the door indicates that anyone in this room would indeed need to make an appointment. However, that is not the case with me. I just enjoy sitting in hospital waiting rooms to catch up on my Good Housekeepings from 2004. Continue with your tapping, my good woman." But I said yes, and presented her with my insurance card and doctor's orders, which documents she was obviously familiar with, much to my surprise.

I was out of there and at my regular table at Ruby's only 30 minutes from when I started.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Shoe Family

Here is the Shoe Family. Shoe is checking her phone for messages from her clients. She is one busy Gaucho!

And here are Kevin and Emily. What a handsome and charming couple. They crack me up.

Where's Annette? She's at work or sleeping after a late night at work. So I'll just pop in her own photos of Annette entertaining herself while stuck in traffic.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Inflation and where we sat

When Cousin Rick and I went to the Dodgers game in 1964, we sat in Section 151 (marked with the black arrow on the stadium map below). Tickets then were $3.50, which, according to an inflation calculator, has the same buying power as $25.95 today. When we went to the game last week, we sat in section 126 (marked with the orange arrow). The tickets cost $65.00 instead of $25.95, because you have to pay Albert Pujols' $12 million salary somehow.

The experience both times, however, was priceless!

Tickets: 48 years apart
Where we sat

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Take me out to the ballgame at Dodger Stadium

The first live Major League Baseball game I ever attended was June 8, 1964, with cousin Rick, who taught me how to keep score, and Uncle Dave and Dad, who chain smoked and talked. Sandy Koufax and Maury Wills faced the Reds and Frank Robinson and won 2-1. And the second game at Dodger Stadium came 48 years later, thanks to Shoe and the Shoe Family. We saw a game in the "Freeway Series" between the Dodgers and the Angels, which the Dodgers won 5-2.

It was a hoot to see Albert Pujols, Andre Ethier, Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter, and Mike Scioscia in the flesh. It was Mike Scioscia bobblehead night. (I saw him with the Albuquerqe Dukes back in the day, along with Davey Lopes, Ron Cey, Steve Garvey, and Tommy Lasorda, among many others.)

Getting the honor of throwing out the first pitch was Ret. Army Col. Bea Cohen, 102, California's oldest living woman veteran. She threw a wicked slider.

A true Orioles fan, I was the only one who sang, "O's!" during the National Anthem.

Right fielder Torii Hunter batted second.

Albert Pujols was in the three spot.

Andre Ethier agreed to a five-year contract extension earlier that afternoon. He went two for four with one run scored and a run batted in.

Traffic in LA is scary for me. The parking lot at the stadium was a Boschian anthill as we were coming into and going out of the parking lot. Fortunately, Shoe is a fearless driver, while I, who regard a brief wait behind two cars in Los Alamos as a traffic jam, thought about crouching on the floor and getting all Catholic again by doing laps around a rosary.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The doppelgänger of the water filter

For years we've had a Brita water system for our drinking water and have changed the filters religiously (that is, we put on a hat).

Michele said this morning that the electronic filter indicator had crapped out and would not flash either green, to show that the filter is working, or red, to show that we need to replace the filter. Without the light, how would we know when to replace the filter? What if we became overchlorinated? What if there was a sudden surge of residual copper or cadmium? The speculations gave me pause. A filter generally lasts two or three months, so Michele changed it today. Then she announced, "I've turned into Jack."

Monday, May 21, 2012

Tidy boyz in the 'hood

Our neighbors are very tidy guys.

For example, we know when Paul's girlfriend is coming for the weekend, because he always does a thorough cleaning.

When Michele came home from work this afternoon, she asked quietly, so as not to disturb the process, "Did you see what Mark is doing?" I told her I hadn't and asked what he was doing. She said, "He's washing his car." I'm glad he could repurpose a commercial-grade tool for home use.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

"Your life story would not make a good book. Don't even try."--Fran Lebovitz

Is it just me, or have the self-published authors been coming out of the woodwork lately? (Oddly enough, Ina is the only one who does her homework, markets her books aggressively, and gets someone to edit her work.)

How did you get this number? Where? Why?
Last week we got a phone call from an independent author who wanted to know how to get on our bestseller list. Linda, who answered the phone, said, "You sell a lot of books in our store." The man said that the book hadn't been published yet (street date of May 15), but he was doing some preliminary planning. We're generally interested in books with a local connection, so Linda asked what the book was about. The man said that he had been imprisoned for a crime he did not commit and had written a book about his time in prison and corruption in Louisiana politics (always a hot seller in northern New Mexico, which redefines "corruption in politics"). While Linda took that in, he asked, "Where are you?" Linda told him that we are at the corner of 15th and Central, right next to the Bradbury Science Museum. "No," he said, "I mean what state?" Linda said that we're in New Mexico. After he complimented Linda on how well she spoke English, he asked whether we were the bookstore at 109 East Palace in Santa Fe. She told him that there's no bookstore at that address and that we're in Los Alamos. He told her he was in Louisiana, complimented her again on her excellent command of English, and rang off, presumably to continue working down his list of every independent bookstore in the country.

You'll lose money and credibility, but can I do this anyway?
A local independent author has just published a six-volume series of mystery books for middle readers. As free ebooks. Available only on amazon.com (or, as we call it, "the great Satan"). He wanted to know whether we'd promote the books in the store and have an event for him.

Advice for poets
If you're going to attempt Parnassus, do not use the ode or the sonnet to announce that it's going to rain tomorrow because your corns are shooting. Your overwrought, febrile, portentous free-verse musings on the virtues of single-payer health insurance may be profound to you, but they're hilarious to the rest of us. You do not want to descend into bathos at a public event. Trust me.

Everyone I know is interested in my book, except my immediate circle of friends
When a local independent author wants to do a signing or reading from a book we've taken on consignment, I always ask for a list of at least 25 email addresses so that I can send invitations to the author's friends. One author gave me the mailing list of the Unitarian Church. Another author said, "I don't know 25 people who would be interested in my book"; further comment is superfluous.

Would you proofread this for me?
I will read your manuscript for a price. I will edit your manuscript for an even higher price. I will consult with you on how to market your book for an even higher price than I charge for editing. You can't afford me.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The silence of the Kool-Aid stand: the Rock Fight

Of that ingenious heroine who travelled to the end of the street and ruined the Kool-Aid of David J. and his sibs, sing Heavenly Muse. Sing, O Muse, also of the one who ended the fight, the one who did not throw like a girl but like Achilles hurling the arrows of death from his silver bow.
In fifteen minutes, David J. and his minions had assembled at the south end of the dirt service road behind our houses. We ourselves gathered near the water tank. The rules were clear: get the rocks, continue the name-calling, and then start throwing. Silence reigned in the woods as both sides gathered rocks in preparation for the battle to come. After a few minutes we had our piles of rocks at the ready.

Because Bobbie had done our bidding with the dog-doo, she was allowed the honor of the first epithet.

"Fart face!"

The silence of the woods was immediately rent by the bitter, malicious names we hurled at each other.

"Poop head!"

"Booger brain!"

"Puppy breath!"

"Wait!" Beth turned to the kid. "You can't call them 'puppy breath.' Puppy breath is nice. It smells really cute, like the puppies. You've been over to see Lulu's puppies at the Jennings's, haven't you? Didn't you smell their breath? It's nice!"

"Hey, you wanna go over to the Jennings's and see the puppies? We could smell their breath! Hey, Kenny, can we go pet Lulu's puppies and smell their breath?"

"Pay attention, you guys! Get some rocks! You can see the puppies after the battle."

"Well, what can I call those creeps? They just called me 'booger brain.' What are my options for a retort?"

"Anything but 'puppy breath.' How about 'fatty' or some other term that describes what they look like?"

"Yeah! FATTY!"

"Potty mouth!"


"Pooter scooter!"

Someone from David J.'s side threw a piece of tuff. The battle was joined.

Throwing tuff is a lot like throwing potato chips: you can do it, but the rock lacks sufficient heft to go very far or inflict much damage. After five minutes, a cairn began to grow between the two armies. We continued to hurl tuff and insults. It was easy to dodge the rocks that did make it to our lines, because they fluttered and whiffled and piffed like dying knuckleballs. At this rate, the rock fight could go on for days and not injure a soul.

I had to take action. I left the lines and ran behind the water tank. Hiding myself behind the trees and circling through the woods, I was soon even with David J.'s line. From behind a tree I picked up a heavy piece of rhyolite, stepped out, and let it fly. It bounced off Paul's head. He started crying, and David and his minions raced toward home. We won! We marched in triumph down the road from the water tank to the street.

Someone decided that we should rub a little salt in David J.'s wounds, so we headed down the street to gloat. When we got just past the Kirkpatricks' house, we saw David and his sibs standing in the front yard. They saw us. Paul immediately fell to the grass, and Jackie began pouring water on his head. "You knocked him out!" she bellowed in her deep, guttural voice. David looked around for an avenue of escape. The fir tree! He'd climb up and hide in it. Assuming a position like the Russian letter Ж, he leaped up and grabbed a low branch. He swung for a moment and then dropped to the grass beside his brother.

It was pitiful, just pitiful. They weren't worth gloating over. They were a pack of sissies. We turned and went back up the street. Kenny said, "You wanna go see the puppies? We can smell their breath!"

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The silence of the Kool-Aid stand: the Catalog of Epithets

We watched as Bobbie trotted down the street with David J.'s paper cup in hand. David and his sibs seemed to be relieved that they were getting their cup back and stepped forward to receive it with thanks. But when she got back to the punch bowl, she announced, "Your lemon Kool-Aid tastes like potty. In fact, your Kool-Aid looks like potty." And she upended the cup, which contained a large piece of fresh dog doo, into the punch bowl.

The J siblings looked in horror at the turd floating in the Kool-Aid. Paul, the youngest, began to gag. Bobbie laughed, and she was off! David and Jackie ran after her, leaving Paul to guard the punch bowl from further violation, apparently by sitting on the front steps and gasping with his head between his knees.

Jackie and David skidded to a halt as soon as Bobbie crossed the demilitarized zone. The air became blue as we hurled vitriolic epithets at each other.


"Doo-doo head!"

"Booger brain!"

"Toe jam eater!"

"I'm gonna kick you in your B-U-T!"

"Zoo breath!"

"I know you are, but what am I?"

"Piddle pants!"


"Poot toot!"

"I'm rubber and you're glue! Whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you!"

The two enemy camps faced each other in front of the Kirkpatricks' house. Only the width of a sidewalk square was between us. Only the width of a sidewalk square stood between a peaceful summer day filled with the innocent laughter of children and an entire neighborhood going up in flames. "You owe us for a whole bowl of Kool-Aid!" David screamed.

"Yeah, well, come get your money then," someone on our side taunted.

"Give us the money!" Jackie roared. She had a deeper voice than David did, and she meant business.

"Come and get," we repeated. "If you want it, meet us on the service road in five minutes."

"We need more time to get more people," David explained.

"Fifteen minutes," we said.

"Fifteen minutes," David said

It was on.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The silence of the Kool-Aid stand: the Opening Salvo

There's a lot to be said for cherry Kool-Aid: everyone loves it; you can eat the powder plain at recess; it's red, my favorite color; it's refreshing in the summer; you can color your hair with it; you can buy from the neighborhood kids on a hot day and realize too late that they've sweetened it to Kid Taste, and then feel the enamel sliding right off your teeth.

When we were kids, about the only way to earn a little money was by selling Kool-Aid. We'd pester our mom ("Who's going to pay for all the supplies? Sugar isn't free, you know!") until she finally relented. We'd dump a 5-cent packet of cherry Kool-Aid into a pitcher, add a scant 3/4 cup of sugar, add water and ice, and mix. Mmmmm! Then we'd set up in front of the house with a metal can from frozen juice concentrate to drink from, and a pan of water to rinse it in when our customer was finished. (Even back then we were good stewards of resources.)

"Kool-Aid for sale! Five cents a glaa-aaa-aaassss! Three cents a half a glass!" Usually the neighborhood kids and Seferino the letter carrier would come buy from us. But one day business was down. Did I say down? I should have said nonexistent. What was the problem?

The problem, as it was so often in the neighborhood, was David J. He and his sibs were selling Kool-Aid on the same day! The little jerk was taking all our business! But why? How? What made his Kool-Aid so special? We had to find out. We needed reconnaissance.

When you need somebody to do something without question, to follow instructions exactly, to risk life, limb, and being grounded in perpetuity in pursuit of another crack-brained scheme, and to keep her mouth shut afterward, you get Bobbie.

We gave her a nickel and told her to go buy some Kool-Aid from David J. and his sister Jackie and brother Paul. She was to learn as much as she could about the operation while she slowly sipped her Kool-Aid. When she was finished, she was head back to the house.

We watched her as she completed the transaction at the end of the street. Suddenly she turned and ran, a paper cup in hand, with David, Jackie, and Paul in hot pursuit. Bobbie beat it past the Kirkpatricks' house, which marked the demilitarized zone between the south side of 48th Street, where the losers lived, and the north side, where all the cool kids lived. David and his sibs screeched to a halt.

"Give us back our cup!" they screamed.

"You want it? Come and get it," we sneered. Bobbie waved the cup to taunt them. They took a step toward us. Our friends Lynn, Kenny, Ralph, John, Susie, Doug, Mike, and Gail closed ranks around us, and we took a threatening step toward the interlopers. David and his posse high-tailed it back to their house like the pale, rabbity little cowards they were.

Bobbie reported that David was selling the new lemon-flavored Kool-Aid. He presented it in a punch bowl with a ring of ice and had a stack of paper cups. David would daintily ladle out a cup of the brand-new flavor and present it to customers with a flourish.

Son of a—

We needed a plan. We conferred for several minutes and agreed on our next step. We called Bobbie over and whispered the plan to her.

"Okay, Bobbie, here's what you do. Go back to their Kool-Aid stand with the cup. Only this time, wspppsh shssh spshwhsp whsp shhspwhsp."


"Be quiet! And when you get there, wspppsh shssh spshwhsp whsp shhspwhsp, then wspppshshssh spsh whspwhsp shhspwhsp really fast, okay?"

"Got it." She went into the back yard with the cup for a minute, then set out toward David's Kool-Aid stand.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Grammy winner in our store!

Back in 2008, I wrote about meeting Sasha Cooke, the mezzo soprano, who was singing Kitty Oppenheimer in Doctor Atomic at the Met. Well, Doctor Atomic won a Grammy for Best Opera Recording!

Here is Sasha with her Grammy.

And here's a clip from Dr. Atomic.

I am so happy for her!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Auteur without a premise

Hilarity ensues. Or not.

I have written before about how many of our local authors call their works spoofs as a precaution against criticism from readers who might otherwise say, "This is pointless, dull, and really, really dumb." "Well," the authors reply, "it's a spoof of Melville, Oates, Asimov, or Hemingway [but they'd better be damned good]. It's funny!" To which the critic, reverting to the dynamics of a kindergarten recess, replies, "Ha ha. It's so funny I forgot to laugh."

Now Ina, who has long fancied herself the next incarnation of her favorite author, has assumed a new mantle: that of the next great female auteur, Jane Campion (I was going to say Leni Riefenstahl, but the ick factor in her documentaries is way over the top). Ina has created a "humorous" yet unenthralling movie trailer to test the waters for funding, casting, or producing a movie based on her most famous novel. Watch it yourself. Did it lead to a certain level of mirth, but for all the wrong reasons? For me it was the kind of thing, like a bullfight, that I'm glad I saw—but never want to experience again.

She recently entered the trailer into a contest in Santa Fe, where her main competition was high school film students. The winner, to be determined by the votes of the audience, would get a bunch of cool video equipment to further his or her career. Naturally Ina rounded up all her friends, who voted for her trailer, won the contest, and made scores of much more talented, deserving, and needy young filmmakers angry and resentful. But all is fair in auteurism and war, so, as they say, neener neener neener.

Is you is or is you ain't my agent?

Ina has been shopping her books to various literary agents in the hopes that they might be picked up by a major publisher, and incidentally, get all those cases of unsold books out of the living room. She told me that she's heard from only one agent, who said, "None of your books has any premise." So here's what she said she's going to do. She's going to rework her books by adding a character named Premise into each.

To be fair, which is not my intent, I admire Ina for her self-confidence, her obliviousness to her lack of talent, her relentless self-promotion, and her belief in a loving God, a servant heart, and a senior discount.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The willing suspension of disbelief? But why? It's all true.

In justifying the the use of fantastic or nonrealistic elements in literary works of fiction, Coleridge wrote in Biographica Literaria ". . . my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith."

The willing suspension of disbelief? We don't need no stinking willing suspension of disbelief in the book biz.


We always get requests for donations to various worthy causes and projects. The latest was for some books that could be offered at a silent auction for a school fund-raiser. Ellen, the children's book buyer, and I pulled some books off the shelves and bagged them up for the requester, who came in the next day to pick them up. After giving effusive thanks to Ellen, the requester said, "Could you write a couple sentences about each book for me? That way I can tell people what they're about without having to read them." Ellen, for whom sweetness and light do ever reign, said, "You can probably come up with some sentences yourself by reading the dustjackets and back covers."


At Christmastime, a scruffy guy with a bad eye came shambling into the store looking for a job. He was obviously what Northern New Mexicans call an inocente. He wanted to take out the garbage, sweep, vacuum, whatever we needed done. I told him that I would call him if we needed extra help in those areas. He said he didn't have a phone, but I could write to him in Española. I took down his contact information, and he left. He came into the store last week and again asked for work while filling his pockets with the cookies left over from the previous night's signing. I said again that we'd be in touch. He asked for Sundays off. I told him we'd never ask him to come in on a Sunday.

Yesterday he came in again. I gave him a broom and asked him to clean out the rubber walk-off mat outside the door, because it was full of sand, dirt, and junk. He set to the job. I looked up and a cloud of dust was billowing in front of the store, and suddenly Geronimo, our landlord's maintenance foreman, emerged from the cloud. I asked him whether they were hiring. Geronimo said they might have something in the spring.

Meanwhile, the dust outside had settled, and I saw that the handy guy was vigorously sweeping up the parking lot, so I went out and asked him to sweep the sidewalk instead. He took his broom and started sweeping eastward. I figured that if I hadn't stopped him, all of Central Avenue to the intersection with Canyon Road would be spotless. When he came in to return the broom and dustpan, I gave him $10 for his efforts. He bought a handful of Tootsie Pops, shook my hand, and assured me that he would do anything for me.

I hope Geronimo can use him.


Shortly after Christmas a young man—let's call him Fred—came in to return a purchase, a high-end model of a helicopter. I saw on the receipt that a credit card had been used for the transaction, so I asked him for the card so we could credit the account. He gave me the card and went off to browse while our notoriously slow returns system churned away.

When he came back I gave him the receipt for the return, and he said that he wanted cash. I told him that our point-of-sales system wasn't set up that way, and to reduce fraud, it allowed us only to credit his card. He asked, "Well then, I don't want to return the helicopter. Can I have it back?" I said, "I'm sorry. No. You just returned it. If you'd like to buy it, I'll need your credit card again." He said, "It's not my card."

Oh, boy.

It turned out that his friend—let's call him Bill—bought the helicopter using Bill's own card, then gave Fred the card to make the return. I explained to Fred that using someone else's card, even if you're friends with him, could be interpreted as fraud in many quarters and I was merely looking out for his interests and those of Bill. He left in a huff.

A few minutes later, Fred's mother called and asked what I was trying to pull. Her son was honest as the day is long, and Bill likewise was of virtue unimpeachable. I said that I understood, but I didn't know either of them, and the rules is rules when it comes to protecting our customers and ourselves from fraud. She asked what I was going to do about getting Fred the helicopter back. I suggested that Bill call the store with his credit card number and buy the helicopter. "But Bill is out of the country and will be back in school in Durango!" she howled. I said, "I'm sure Bill and Fred can work out something together. I'll hold the helicopter for Fred so that nobody else buys it."

After about 15 minutes of variations on a theme of "You should have known Fred's a teenager and isn't aware of money issues!" and "This is now an issue between Fred and Bill," the mother calmed down and said she'd talk to her son about how credit cards work. The helicopter is still waiting for Fred.

I miss Fred.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Street fund and books 2012

Here's my annual summary of my street fund, money I found on the streets, in parking lots, and on floors, and of the books I read in 2011.

Street fund
In 2011 I found 70 pennies, 14 nickels, 18 dimes, 11 quarters, and a 5-dollar bill, for a total of $10.95, which brings my total for the past 15 years to $336.47. I am going to invest it in steel mills when I retire.

In 2011, I read 108 books in the following genres
  • 3 biographies,
  • 10 children's books,
  • 1 epic,
  • 8 collections of essays,
  • 28 graphic novels,
  • 12 histories,
  • 14 memoirs,
  • 22 novels,
  • 4 plays and
  • 6 books for young adults
These are my favorites for 2011.
*My top favies