Showing posts with label Leigh Lundin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Leigh Lundin. Show all posts

10 June 2018

Uninsured Caribou

by Leigh Lundin

Here in Gunsmoke, eastern Arizona, temperatures plummeted to a Pleistocene low of 104°F (40°C). Residents claim it’s not real hot yet, but Tripod, the town dog, got stuck peeing on a Jeep tire. Folks now call him Bipod.

Part of Gunsmoke’s Main Street started bubbling. Hot asphalt seeped like syrup into the canyon floor, revealing a full-grown Triceratops or perhaps only a 1927 Ford pickup. No one’s sure because the local fire & ladder truck sent to rescue it sank into the tarpit, providing some sort of metaphor.

Last Drop in the Bucket List

Lest you think Arizona is one huge, silicon-to-glass furnace, it does offer varied terrain. With that in mind, I opted to visit the Grand Canyon. It was then I became a killer.

After pumping a tankful of petro-chemicals, I crossed the San Carlos Apache reservation and threaded the switchbacks to connect with Arizona 188. About 3am with my Hawkeye Pathfinder GPS locked on Flagstaff, I headed north into the Tonto National Forest, where the deer and the antelope play.

Deer and elk were plentiful. I slowed for a doe and fawn here, a couple of yearlings there, and numerous adults. Think of elk as a cross between deer and moose. Bull elks average 700 pounds and top 850 (320/340kg). Cow elk weigh in about 500 pounds and max out at 600 (230/275kg). I mention this because…

There in my side of the road stood a doe. I shifted to the left lane and slowed to 40… 30… 20… As I was about to pass, she leaped dead center into my path, taking out the grill and shattering the windshield.

In the headlights of the car, I got out, knelt, and inspected her. She gave a confused little bark and lay quietly. She had to be in great pain. From time to time, she tried to struggle to her feet, not understanding when her hindquarters didn’t cooperate. She was beautiful and brave. My heart broke for her.

elk
photograph courtesy Layna Fields

My rough ’n’ tough, not-so-little brother Glen would have murmured soothing words to her, stroked her, and held her head in his lap, telling her it was okay to let go.

While I'm good with animals, I'm no match for him. Me, I squatted and talked quietly, keeping a healthy distance from elk teeth in case she misinterpreted my words. I needn’t have worried as she poured out her story.

As young bucks are wont to do, her boyfriend had left her. Despondent, she’d thrown herself in front of the train, or rather lacking a railroad, in front of the nearest car.

A couple of hours later, a Coconino County deputy arrived. He combined a good mix of empathy, sympathy, professionalism and practicality. He put down the girl with a solid-slug shotgun. He dragged the elk from the road and down an embankment. “Good meat,” he said regretfully.

The Deerslayer

Following him, I limped toward Flagstaff as daybreak dawned over the forest. A couple of dozen more elk emerged from the woods to glare accusingly at me.

“Damn,” said a friend. “That’s Rambo Bambi.”

“Her name tag said Bambo.”

“My bro asked about the meat, as if a rooftop could carry a quarter-ton elk.”

Providing no night or weekend service, Bo’s Insurance Agency was smaller than average. When finally connected, much parlance ensued about the top priority, glass replacement.”

“Why exactly do you need a new windshield?”

“An elk went through it.”

“There’s no elk in it now?”

“Nope.”

“So it’s not a real emergency since you don’t no longer got an elk in your front seat.”

“The deputy said not to drive until the window’s replaced.”

“Oh. Our job would be a lot easier if police didn’t offer advice like that. I reckon you got to take it to a glass shop and get an estimate.”

“What about a come-to-your-door windshield replacement company?”

“They have those?”

“Sure enough, Bo.”

“You don’t got deer insurance. That’s a $500 deductible.”

“Thanks for reminding me.”

“Listen, you find a game butcher to cut up the meat?”

Without mentioning minor details about the previous car, I rented a another. At Williams, Arizona, I took the train to the Grand Canyon.

Elk of all ages wandered through the Canyon village. They gathered around me and unnervingly stared. Spooked tourists cautiously backed away.

“What’s with you and the deer, buddy?”

“Elk,” I said. “I killed one.”

“He killed Bambi!” screamed a child.

“What calibre you use, buddy? Them’s good eatin’. Where do ya dress the meat around here?”

To my surprise, my phone picked up Virgin and AT&T cellular signals, all the more satisfying when those smug Verizon customers scratched their heads in frustration.

My friend Thrush had suggested I visit Sedona. After four days of waiting for a windscreen, I was free to leave Flagstaff. Knowing its lonely AT&T cell tower would fade at the city limits, I phoned to let him know I was on my way south to Yavapai County. I told him about hitting the elk.

“Don’t ask me about meat,” I said.

“I was just gonna suggest…”

Sedona blew me away. Is it sacrilegious to say its craggy red cliffs and chimneys of Sedona impressed me more than the Grand Canyon? Ignoring all the touristy stuff, God put on a great show. For once, I was able to get elk out of my mind.

The Verde Valley disappeared in the rearview mirror. I turned southeast into open desert toward Gunsmoke in Holyshiteitshot County in the southeast corner of Arizona. Evening set in. While fueling up, an RV owner eyed the car, still with tufts of fur.

“Bear?” he asked.

“Nope. Elk.”

“They make good jerky. What did you do with the meat?”

03 June 2018

Hot Spot

by Leigh Lundin

I’ve fallen off the grid. Unintentionally. No T-Mobile, No AT&T, no Virgin Wireless, no voice mail, no cell phone. Also no email, no web, no internet access. Neither of my phones nor my computer work. Both fruitlessly scan for radio signals, not picking up even a blip, not even alien static from distant Roswell.

phone, no bars

I didn’t plan it this way. I’m spending five weeks in Arizona. Tomorrow I visit the Grand Canyon, but here in the town of Gunsmoke in Holyshiteitshot County in eastern Arizona, the telegraph bypassed the town, never mind Pony Express and the telephone. When I enquired about a hotspot, bemused residents said, “It’s 109°F in May. How damn hot do you want it?”

109°F… Here F, usually preceded by a plosive ‘holy’, stands for a word other than Fahrenheit, usually heard when sliding into a rental car seat. I never knew leather could melt. Steering wheels appear inspired by paintings of Salvador Dalí. Truthfully, the steel door handle of a downtown restaurant is wrapped with pipe insulation and electrical tape, presumably after a few people involuntarily left skin samples.

Century Link is establishing a presence in the county seat. When I enquired, they said, “Congratulations, you qualify for high-speed internet.” They went on to define ‘high speed’ as 3Mbps, the approximate walking speed of a one-legged dog. Computers think data rates that slow mean the internet is broken. Compare 3Mbps to my suddenly much less despised Spectrum/Brighthouse ISP at 100Mbps or even optional 1000Mbps if that’s too slow.

100-1g Mbps

At 3Mbps, news can take a long time to crawl through copper wires. Folks asked about rumors a black man had been hired in the White House. They seemed politely dubious when I said more like a weird orange.

As for my computer, I plugged it into a socket. The wiring exploded with a shower of sparks, barbecuing my power supply. This is what we call a ‘challenge’.

Knowing I had a SleuthSayers article due, kind people came together to help out. One lent an old laptop. When connected to the internet for the first time in eons, it launched into mass Windows 7 updates taking most of a 24-hour day and burning through the data allocation of that person’s telephone hotspot. At that point, another person stunned me by buying a new cell phone to provide a fresh hotspot. Folks are asking around for an old cell to lend me. Life is good.

But wait, there’s more.

FedEx delivered a new computer power supply. As before, neither of my phones can pick up a signal, this coming from a guy who for years refused to own any phone. The nearest AT&T tower is thirty miles in one direction, fifty in another. An internet solution remains questionable, but I’m not yet out of options. SleuthSayers’ Dixon Hill has invited me to stop in, and Scottsdale definitely has internet and phone service.

Life is good.

20 May 2018

Crime Song

by Leigh Lundin

My brother Glen never met a music genre he didn’t like. He came by it honestly, learning brass and reeds as a kid while he tinkered with a marimba. Glen went on to learn guitar and keyboards as I messed with percussion. We’ve attended rock concerts, symphonies, and baroque chamber orchestras. We’ve enjoyed progressive rock, hard rock, fusion, and blues. He’s gone on to embrace electronica, trance, industrial, rap, and world music.

Recently he sent me a link to a familiar early 60s Mersey band, The Hollies, one of the few British Invasion bands still performing. As well as they were received in the US with The Air that I Breathe, Bus Stop, He Ain’t Heavy (He’s My Brother), and numerous other songs, The Hollies grew even more wildly popular overseas.

One of my favorite tunes was the echoic Long Cool Woman, but I’d never listened closely to it. Glen’s link contained lyrics and I suddenly realized it’s a crime song. I found it easy to imagine RT Lawton penning a ballad like this.

Take a listen. Here’s Long Cool Woman:


… and here find the lyrics:

06 May 2018

Manuscript Mechanics II

by Leigh Lundin


Inspired by a conversation last evening and John’s article yesterday, a few additional thoughts struck me. John’s article explained what do do, I’ll explain how to handle a handful of circumstances.

As John mentioned, use whatever font an editor requests, typically Courier or Times. Why? Your publisher will almost certainly choose a different type face, but these fonts, especially Courier, allow an experienced editor to eyeball the text and quickly estimate how much room a story will take in the pages of their publication.

Some authors write extremely dense manuscripts jammed with lengthy sentences and thick paragraphs, word crammers who begrudge a pica of paper uncovered with ink. Others split verbiage into many short paragraphs populated with digestible sentences, profligates seemingly unaware of trees that died to donate beautiful white space. I’m afraid I belong to the latter category.

In cases like these, simple word counts won’t provide an accurate estimate of the number of pages consumed by a story. On the other hand, a good editor can glance at a page and rapidly calculate where to fit a story in.

Old Dogs, New Tricks

A number of would-be writers and even some established authors have complained of age discrimination. I can’t do much about that, but I can offer suggestions that don’t signal publishers and agents that, like Velma, you’re of ‘a certain age’.
  1. Avoid using double spaces after sentences. From audible groans in the audience, I hear some of you harbor a couple of hundred-thousand word novels containing sentences carefully demarcated with two precious spaces. If you were born in 1939 or 1959 or 1979 before the age of the personal computer, your touch-typing muscle memory drops in two spaces without a second thought.
  2. Avoid double hyphens. Let me guess, your 100k opus contains more than a few of those. Worse, at least a sentence or two breaks between those hyphens, leaving one at the end of one line and another starting the line below.
  3. Understand ellipsis, the … showing a break in thought or missing words. Perhaps you depart from the three-dots to four philosophy or you prefer dot-space-dot-space-dot. However, if you’re old enough to know what a telegraph is, you’re probably telegraphing your age to the world.
No problem, Grasshopper. Let’s deal with them one by one.
Those Double Spaces
You’ll find this so easy: Use Find/Replace under the Edit menu to search for two spaces and replace with one. You just hacked twenty years off your perceived age.

      Edit ➧ Find ➧ Replace…

— (hyphens)
Mac users can type variations of option - (hyphen). To obtain a medium length n-dash, enter option –. To create a long m-dash, try shift option —. (Stop gloating, you Mac users.)

option
optionshift

Windows users can type alt 0150 for an n-dash and alt 0151 to obtain an m-dash. Within MS Word, writers will find them a bit easier if they have a numeric keypad. Type cntrl num - for n-dash and cntrl alt num - for m-dash, where ‘num -‘ refers to the minus sign on the numeric keypad.

cntrlnum-pad minusalt0150
cntrlaltnum-pad minusalt0151

If you have a laptop or other keyboard without a numeric keypad, use the Insert menu to find the appropriate characters:

      Insert ➧ Symbols ➧ More Symbols ➧ Special Characters
            — or —
      Insert ➧ Advanced Symbol ➧ Special Characters
            — or —
      Insert ➧ (varies by version)

Note: None of the above are typographical minus signs (−), slightly longer than a hyphen but shorter than a dash. Similarly, an ordinary x is not a true typological multiplication sign (×).

… (ellipsis)
Macs have had the advantage of typographical symbols at their fingertips. The option key on the Macintosh turns many characters into other, often related symbols. For example, option : generates an ellipsis …

optioncolon

When Windows came around to allowing keyboard entry of characters, it allowed users to type alt 0133. If you use newer versions of MS Word, it gets easier: Type cntrl alt . (dot, fullstop, period) Some word processors will convert three typed dots in a row to ellipsis.

cntrlaltdot, period, fullstopalt0133
Blank Line Separators

But wait, there’s more! John mentioned on-line publishers who prefer single-spaced paragraphs separated by blank lines. Sadly, our SleuthSayers program works that way, a typological mess. But dealing with it is a must. I’ll teach two methods depending upon your needs.
Simple Space
Replacing one paragraph separator with two works for straightforward manuscripts. If you’re not using MS Word, place your cursor at the end of any paragraph (except the last), hold down the shift key, tap the right arrow once and then copy. This puts a carriage return in your clipboard.

shiftright arrow

In your Find field, paste once. In your Replace field, paste twice. Depending upon your word processor, you may not be able to see anything, but if you then execute the Find/Replace command, extra spacing should appear between your paragraphs.

carriage return MS Word offers an additional variation. In the Find field type ^p and in the replace field enter ^p^p, and then run Find/Replace.

Complex Space
What if you’ve used blank lines to separate recipes or pages of jokes or stanzas of poetry? It simply takes a little forethought, especially if you wish to use blank space to separate your poems or rave reviews or whatever. In the following, I’ll use MS Word’s ^p to mean one paragraph marker, but you can copy and paste paragraph separators as above.
  1. In the Find field, enter ^p^p. This will select any blank line already separating paragraphs.
  2. If you now wish use a different separator, say three asterisks, type ^p***^p into the Replace box.
  3. If you wish to retain extra spacing, enter an unlikely character combination, say $$, into the Replace field.
  4. Run Find/Replace. Those blank lines will temporarily disappear.
  5. Now enter ^p in the Find field and ^p^p in Replace.
  6. Run Find/Replace.
  7. If you chose extra spacing using $$ above, then you need one last step. Enter $$ in the Find box and ^p in the Replace field.
  8. Find/Replace will now give you one blank line between paragraphs and extra lines where you want them.

“Larry, Moe, and …”
Another mark of professionalism is to use so-called ‘curly quotes’, inward curving quotation marks and apostrophes. What if you prepared an entire manuscript without them?

Step one is to turn on ‘curly quotes’. You may have to run a series of thought out Find/Replaces to fix manuscripts. I’ve done that, but if you’re using MS Word, the oft maligned Microsoft product contains a clever feature.

Bring up Find/Replace:

      Edit ➧ Find ➧ Replace…
            — or —
      Edit ➧ Find ➧ Advanced Replace

Type a ' (single quote) into both the Find and Replace boxes. Execute the Find/Replace. All of your single ' quotation marks have magically turned ‘curly’.

Type a " (double quote) into both the Find and Replace boxes. Execute the Find/Replace. All of your double " quotation marks have magically turned “curly”.
Next Time

In two weeks, international tips.

22 April 2018

Kranky Kalls
Telemarketing Tales 2

by Leigh Lundin

Last week, Elizabeth wrote about a New Jersey telemarketer phoning Hawaii at 3am to sell siding. Her comment presaged my own brush with wall-to-wall telemarketers.

As mentioned previously, I worked nights but was responsible for answering a business tech support line any time of day. I had little patience or mercy for phone solicitors. When the calls came, the games began. A handful of Disney cast members suggested I write up the dialogues.

Kustom Kottage Kolouration and Kraftmanship

With a stucco house, siding should mean nothing to me, but when awakened, surprising opinions surfaced.
Judy Hopps © Zootopia
Zootopia • Judy Hopps © Disney
“Good morning, sir. Kustom Kraft would like to tell you about our Salubrious Siding products, each government approved by HUD, FHA, FTC, FAA, and PTA. Today only, we can make available our entire product line at 63% savings for fine customers like yourself. How does that sound to you, sir?”

“Timely, yes, timely. I’m grateful you called. I’ve been thinking about siding after a visit to the Southwest.”

“Thousands of happy customers from the American Southwest love our Salubrious Siding. All our products use patented, copyrighted, trademarked, UL-underwritten, GSA-approved Elastomeric©™ technology. We can provide any kind of siding, any kind at all.”

“That’s great news. I want cowhide.”

“Wuh? Did you say cowhide?”

“Of course. In Arizona and New Mexico, you see all these dwellings wrapped with hides. One quonset building sticks in my mind with beautiful tan and white cowhide. I made up my mind I wanted that look.”

“But sir, cowhide?”

“It has to be the right color combination, kind of a golden tan, not too brown and certainly not black. My wife will want to see samples. Is this afternoon suitable?”

“But sir, I don’t think we can purchase cow side hiding… I mean cow hide siding.”

“That’s a brilliant play on words, but let’s get this moving. When can you meet?”

“Sir, I’m not certain…”

“Am I sensing hesitation? If a customer gives you the business, you shouldn’t judge them.”

“No, no, but…”

“You can’t back out now. You claimed your company has extensive coverage in the Southwest, so you can obtain hide siding much easier than I can.”

“I… I’m gonna have to call you back.”

“I suppose if you must. Are we still on for this afternoon when my wife returns?”

“No, no sir. I have to run this past management.”

“I appreciate it. If you can sell me so easily, I bet you’ll impress your managers. You got my number, right? Hello?”
According to the YouMail Robocall Index, Americans receive in excess of 100-million unwelcome solicitation phone calls a week. This number is verifiably close to the FTC estimate.

Krafty Katalogue Kallers

Officer Judy Hopps © Disney Zootopia
Madness runs in the family. My brother Glen contributed the following examples.
“Hello Glen. How are you today?”

“With whom am I speaking?”

“I’m with your friends at Krafty Kunning Katalog Kompany and my name’s Patty.”

“Hello, Patty. How may I help you?”

“I’m calling to tell you about our latest promotion, an offer only our best customers can take advantage of.”

“Tremendous, Patty. What is your surname?”

“My… er, what?”

“Your last name.”

“I”m not sure I’m supposed to give that out.”

“Patty, you know my name and as you said, we’re all friends.”

“Well… okay, it’s Peón, Patty Peón.”

“Thank you, Miss Peón. What is your address?”

“Our company is located at…”

“No, no, your home address. You have mine, don’t you? You said we’re friends.”

“Er, yes, but I’m not allowed to give out my address.”

“Okay, what is your bank card number? That’s sixteen digits, plus the expiration date and the 3-digit code on the back.”

“What do you want that for?”

“You know my financial details, it’s only fair I know yours, seeing how we’re such good pals. Companies call it a reciprocal relationship. What is your home phone number?”

“Sir, I’m not giving that out. People I don’t know might harass me.”

“Irony isn’t one of your strong suites, huh? Patty, we’re such close friends, don’t let something like this spoil our relationship.”

“Sir, I’m not giving out personal information.”

“Sounds like sensible advice.”

*click*
Telemarketers hide behind ‘spoofed’ numbers, often appearing to originate in your area, but deriving from obscure corners around the globe.

Klogged Kolon Kleanser
Officer Judy Hopps © Disney Zootopia
“Sir, this is a courtesy call to inform you about the advantages of Kustom Kleanse Kolon deKlogger, the latest, space-age product to relieve those embarrassing symptoms of…”

(Glen with bored, condescending monotone) “Your billing info?”

“Er, that would be Burp-o-Lex Corp.”

“B-u-r-…”

“As I was saying, Super Kolon Kleanse brings you the latest innovation scientifically formulated…”

“-o-l-e-x, right? Your account number?”

“Er, what do you mean?”

(impatiently) “Your account number or a credit card number will do.”

“What? Why?”

“For billing $3.95 per minute or fraction thereof. The first four digits please?”

“I thought this was a private number?”

“Why would you think that? Anyway, we’re two minutes and nineteen seconds into the call. I’ll also need the credit card’s expiration date and CSV.”

“I don’t understand. What have I reached?”

“Sylvia Slattern’s Slinky Sex Salon, We do phone sex right. If you prefer Rod’s Leather and Chains…”

“You’re not actually billing me, are you?”

“Of course, $3.95 a minute. Remember, Slinky Sylvia Slattern puts the oral in immoral. Now if gay is your way…”

“I’m not gay.”

“Don’t feel embarrassed, Queer Vibrations is only $3.95 a minute. Your credit card number, please?”

“I’m not gay and I’m not paying for phone sex.”

“Sir, billing started the moment you phoned. Remember, you called us, we didn’t call you. In the absence of a credit card, we shall directly bill your phone number.”

*click*
What are your favorites?

Kold Krafty Kallers will return.

15 April 2018

Kranky Kalls
Telemarketing Tales 1

by Leigh Lundin

Judy Hopps © Zootopia
Zootopia • Judy Hopps © Disney
My phone rang at 08:01 this morning, waking me up. In my house in Florida, 8am qualifies as ‘middle of the night’, but more about that later.
“Hello?”

“Hey, is Diana there?”

“Nooo…” I say cautiously. “Diana won’t return until tomorrow.”

“In that case, maybe you can help me. I’m with the First Responders Philanthropy Foundation, and we’re collecting for police and firemen in your area.”
In three sentences, he’d told me three lies. His question about ‘Diana’ had thrown me off. The real Diana is my housekeeper who doubles as den mother. His ‘Diana’ was of course mythical. So was his phony soi-disant charitable foundation and collecting for rescue officers. According to telemarketing reports, the vast majority of police ‘charities’ and all but one military assistance organization vary from fake to fraudulent.

Notice the salesman’s generic use of “in your area,” instead of looking up where his targets lived. All said, he’d actually committed four deceptions. His caller ID number was faked, or in internet parlance ‘spoofed’.

I’d fallen out of practice. If I’d been on my game, our conversation would have gone something like this:
“Hello?”

“Hey, is Diana there?”

(sharply) “Who are you and why are you using this line?”

“Maybe you can help me. I’m with the National First Responders Philanthropy Foundation, and we’re collecting for police and firemen in your area.”

“This isn’t funny. Get off this line immediately.”

“Sir, I can assure you I’m collecting for our fine first responders…”

“Sure, sure. You thought it would be funny to screw with an op. Where are you located?”

“Kansas City, but…”

“Your fake caller-ID says Jacksonville. You think interfering with federal surveillance is funny?” (muffled aside) “John, trace this idiot, find out where he’s calling from.” (back into the phone) “All right, clown, what’s your name?”

“Sir, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’m hanging up now.”
Asleep at the Switch

This ‘story-telling’ began long ago when I designed software packages. Typically I worked nights when all was dark and quiet, I could concentrate, and I had Westinghouse’s computers all to myself.

A substantial part of our business came from Europe. As part of the deal, I had to be prepared to take phone calls from overseas and the Americas during the day… my sleep time. As a professional, I had to instantly snap awake when the phone rang… I’m still pretty good at sounding awake… even when I’m not.

That wasn’t the downside– the real bane was telemarketers. Post-Millennials who encounter phone solicitation only every week or two might not believe we endured multiple calls a day hawking encyclopedias, dubious diamonds, water softeners, and religious donations.

Telemarketers were the phlegm of phones, the bunions of business, the hemorrhoids of humanity. They interrupted family dinners, high school homework, television dramas, tender love moments, and possibly a romantic proposal or two. One day I fought back.

I had fallen sound asleep for the third time one fateful morning when yet another call came in. I snapped awake, prepared to deal with a tech problem in Sacramento, Senegal, or Switzerland, and I heard the following…

Kustom Kleaning
“Good morning, sir. We’re Kustom Kleaners and we’re offering to clean three rooms, yes, three rooms of your choice for only $29.95, and additional rooms for only $19 more plus tax, a real bargain. What do you…”

“How dare you.”

“Huh?”

“How dare you. Let me guess. You saw the news and thought calling would be funny? Have a giggle while others listen in? Record this for a laugh with colleagues?”

“Sir, I have no idea…”

“Sure, right. The blood isn’t even dried and you thought you’d have a yuk, you and your so-called Kustom Kleaning caper, right? Never gave a thought to the victims, not even buried yet, eh?”

“Sir, I assure you…”

“You sick bastards, trolling families in their time of crisis, blood still everywhere, my wife sobbing, you sacks of…”

“Sir, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I won’t bother you again, I won’t. I promise.”
I settled back to sleep until…

Kustom Kaskets
“Good morning, young man. I’m Fred of Fine Funeral Financing. Have you thought ahead about your loved ones, their grief at your final passing? That’s why we offer prepaid-burial services. Mega-Mortuary membership allows you to choose every nuance of your funeral arrangements, paid in small monthly increments until your passing. No detail is overlooked by our fine professionals. How does that sound to you?”

“Every detail? I pick out my own casket?”

“Of course, sir. We carry a fine line of hand-crafted Kustom Koffins, highlighting hand-rubbed lacquered woods, polished brass or even precious metals. Each vessel to the beyond is lined with the most comfortable of satin or other exquisite materials. How does that sound?”

“Wonderful. If I may ask, is it possible to purchase caskets with crosses on them?”

“Right you are, sir. Crosses are among our most popular adornments for one’s heavenly crossing.”

“This is really important to me. Can you mount the crosses upside-down?”

(long pause) “Sir, why would you want to do that?”

“It’s part of my belief system, an inverted cross is really important to me. Let’s write it up now, I’ll grab my credit card. Can you take the first installment over the phone?”

“Uh, sir. I’m not sure I can do that.”

“Why not? You said your coffins are the finest woods and the crosses come in brass. When the time comes, I need your guarantee each cross will be positioned upside down, one on each side and one on the… do you call it a lid or pop top?”

“I’m uh, I don’t think we can…”

“Can you ring up the total?”

“Uh, I’ll have to call you back, sir.”

“Okay, you have my number. I’ll be waiting.”
Kranky Kraftmanship…

Each evening, I related these tales to my girlfriend who worked for Disney. At lunch, she shared my phone misadventures to a growing audience. A fan club of sorts developed. Disney artist Mark Chichiarra suggested the Kasket salesman would have really freaked out if asked to bury a buyer face down. Mark said, “Leigh thinks fast on his feet, doesn’t he.”

“On his feet? Probably not. Flat asleep maybe…”

Still the calls rolled in.

Coming up, a cottage industry of …

Kold Kalls

18 March 2018

The Digital Detective, Banking part 3

by Leigh Lundin

bank vault
This continues a series of articles about computer fraud. Originally I practiced a career of systems software design and computer consulting, but I sometimes came upon a more shadowy world, that of computer crime. I seldom sought out fraud but I sometimes stumbled upon it, picking up undetected clues others missed.

This episode doesn’t deal with crime, per se, but it includes a con, minor as it is. The scheme required a little ‘social engineering’ and, though the word might be Yiddish, no one can schmooze like Southerners.

The story came to my attention while consulting for banks, this one deep in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. My landlord for part of the stay was an eccentric but colorful codger. He talked about a neighbor who leased farm land from him but failed to pay his rent. Outsiders might expect he pulled on a jug of rye whiskey as he talked, but all he did was lean back in his recliner, sip beer, and twirl a never-lit cigarette while a cheerful woman less than half his age clattered in the kitchen. I jotted down his story long before I became a writer, so kindly forgive error and stylistic issues as I strove to capture his dialogue.
corn picker
1950s era corn picker
Damn Ernie. I hounded that man all summer long for the rent. Finally last fall, I hooked up my corn picker and started up the corn rows. Now a corn picker ain’t a quiet machine, and lo and behold, neighbor Ernie come dashin’ out of his farmhouse yellin’ and cursin’ that I’m stealing his corn.

I said to him I couldn’t possibly be stealing corn off my own land, unrented land at that. He steamed and stormed and said the seed and planting labor had been his, and anyway he was just a little late with the rent, three or four months, maybe four or five, weren’t nuthin.

I told him that I was just going to keep picking corn for myself until someone showed up with rent money. He dashed off like banshees themselves chased him. Pretty soon he comes back waving his checkbook.

I said, “Ernie, are you sure there’s money in that account?” Oh yes. He told me twice there was, so I said there’d better be, and he said he wanted the corn I’d picked. I told him to consider the already picked corn interest and collection fees. Fact is, I finished the rest of that row, which he just hated.

So the skinflint S.O.B. hustled off to hitch up his combine and wagon, and I find myself a few bushels better off than I was before. I cleaned up and headed in town to the bank, right past Ernie who’s racing his machinery through the fields.

At the bank, I always get in Molly’s line. She’s a sweet, buxom lass, and I’d been thinking about asking her out.

Anyway, I get up to her teller window and she said the account’s a bit short to cover the check. I asked her exactly how short, and she said she wasn’t allowed to tell me that.

So darlin’, I cajoled, is this check completely worthless, or did Ernie at least come close? Looking at her computer, she said he was purty close.

Well, I says to her kind of reflectively, I want to tell my neighbor Ernie how much he needs to cover my check. Like would he have to deposit only $10? No, she said, ten dollars wouldn’t cover it.

Well, says I, would $20 or $30 do? No, she smiled at me, it’s not quite enough.

Hmm, says I, I wonder if $40 or $50 would suffice? Um, she said to me, that first amount ought to cover it.

Thank you, I says, I’ll tell that rascal he needs to put $40 in the bank. By the way, sweet thing, can I have a deposit slip? And you think maybe I can call you up? For, uh, you know, maybe dinner Saturday?

So I walked out of there with a bounce in my step, a deposit slip and her phone number. I was feelin’ purty good. What I did was get in my car and circle around through the bank’s drive-thru. I already had Ernie’s account number on the check, so I just filled out the slip and shot it through the air tube with two $20 bills. Sure enough, the receipt came back showing $1002.39. Good on Molly.

But wait, I say, I almost forgot to cash a check. I send over Ernie’s $1000 check and this time I got back a thousand dollars.

Fair enough. I probably had $40 in shelled corn and a lesson I ain’t gonna rent to Ernie no more.

Ernie got stupid, though, and instead of being grateful I didn’t bounce his worthless ass along with his worthless check and turn both over to the sheriff for collection, he raised holy hell at the bank yelling someone manipulated his account.

I took Molly to the horse show that Saturday. Now I tell you personal like, you want to get a lady in a receptive mood, bein’ around horses will do it. Something about women and horseflesh– just a word to the wise.

Anyway, Molly, she confided the bank said it was apparent someone had taken liberties, but they couldn’t blame the girl who took the deposit and they couldn’t blame the teller that cashed the check. They just gave everybody a stern reminder warning.

Ernie wanted to call the authorities, but the branch manager explained Ernie’d be the one in trouble for writing bad checks. He didn’t mention Molly could have gotten in trouble if they’d figured out her role.

Molly said she knew I’d manipulated her and wanted to know if I’d asked her out from obligation or guilt. I said I didn’t want to sully a relationship thinking I used her. She needed a lot of reassurance about that, and so Friday nights and Saturday nights we just get romantic and I give her plenty of reassuring. Been about a year now. Figure we can go on with this for a long, long time.
And he winked at the cheerful lass in the kitchen doorway.



Commonly in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, ‘out’ sounds are pronounced like a Scottish ‘oot’. Thus he really said, “I’d been thinking aboot asking her oot.”

25 February 2018

Bad Good Guys ~ Good Bad Guys

by Leigh Lundin

Noting that bad guys can be more interesting than good guys is neither new nor profound. Why else would Dantean classics courses consistently teach Inferno rather than Paradiso?

Colonel Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya)
From Russia with Love
Even as we aspire to the light of goodness and grace, often darkness muddies our thoughts and actions. Our limbs stretch toward the heavens but our roots point toward hell.

So it is with story-telling. Bad guys make or break a tale. Take the James Bond series. The best films feature the evilest of the nefarious. Huge and hulking may frighten, but sheer terror runs deeper.

Take a little five-foot-nothing Russian named Rosa, played by Lotte Lenya. Bring to mind Colonel Klebb with her spiked sensible shoes, and you touch the stuff that gave 007 nightmares. (Lotte Lenya’s husbands died– all of them– just sayin’.)

Bad guys must possess the potential to overpower the good folks. Take the battle of David and Goliath.
“It’s ESPN Sports Night here at the arena where the Philistines face off against the Israelites.”

“That’s right, Bob. The crowds cheer wildly here in Elah. The reigning champion, Golly G, is warming up and eating a… is that an ox leg?”

“It sure is, Dan. Looks like a mere buffalo wing in those massive paws. His masseuses, all ten of them, are working him over, broad shoulders to feet the size of sleds.”

“Bob, in fairness, we should turn our attention a moment from the big guy to his opponent, little Davy ben Jesse. He hails from Bethlehem, known for steel in its sinews. Young Dave’s oh-for-twenty-seven, but due for a break.”

“And a break he’ll find, Dan, if Goliath gets his hands on him. Gol’s real problem, same as Jordan has, little guys ducking beneath the legs and wreaking havoc.”

“The Israelites claim they’ve a real secret weapon in their Dave. Manager Saul says they’re prepared to kick Philly ass, and that’s a quote.”

“Dan, they’re pulling off the robes and I got to admit, not an ounce of fat on little David.”

“Nor muscle either, Bob. The big guy’s rolling his shoulders and… there’s the bell!”

“Two strides out of his corner… and Golly winds up his infamous ring-dat-bell strongman move and… Splat? That’s it?”

“What just happened? The highly-touted Davy is nothing but a little greasy spot on the canvas?”

“Two-point-two seconds, Dan. That’s got to be some kind of record.”

“Cut! That’s not sporting.”

“This has been ESPN’s coverage of the match here in Elah, sure to be a disappointment in the record books not to mention holders of those ninety-schekel tickets. Wrap it, boys. Can we still catch the bus to Jericho?”
We love it when an underdog wins. If Goliath had wiped out David, no one would have recorded the event.

Take the Fantastic Four movies. It’s hardly fair to pit four against one, no matter how fearsome that one bad guy is. It’s just not cricket. Michael Chiklis, yeah, he was pretty good in the original version, but it’s not enough to maintain attention. You’d have thought Marvel would have learnt its lesson in 2005, but ten years later, they made the same mistakes… only worse.

Day of Wrath / Game of Swords
Hungarian Historical

I came across an obscure adventure mystery movie making the rounds of internet television video distributors, presently on FilmRise and CoolFlix. Titled Day of Wrath, it appeared difficult to track down until I discovered it also went by the name Game of Swords.

IMDB awarded Game of Swords an unimpressive 5.6/10, whilst Rotten Tomatoes stamped Day of Wrath a hostile audience rating of 24%. Fortunately I knew nothing of this before watching.

“Fortunately” I say because overall I liked the plot, setting, and cast except for one key character, which I’ll return to.

Set in 1542 Spain during the Inquisition, the story follows a sheriff as he investigates the murders of nobles. The deeper he digs, the more he puts his and his family’s lives at risk, until he suspects some connection between his family and the conspiracy he’s chipping away at.

Lukács Bicskey
Lukács Bicskey Lukács Bicskey

The story line proves devious but neither contrived nor overdone. The thought-provoking plot wraps up with a couple of satisfying twists. The writers deserve high marks. As for cast…

The town is rife with bad guys, some you hate, some you loathe, and others… not so much. I introduce Lukács Bicskey who plays the part of hired gun, Miguel de Alvarado. His character translates as complex and nuanced, his glacier ice-blue eyes continuously appraising, evaluating. Meeting Bicskey is like coming across a wolf in the forest, one who knows its own prowess, utterly fearless, consummately lethal, and yet…

John Floyd Bad Guys Award
He’s dimensional, more than meets the eye. The Hungarian actor projects the same chill don’t-ƒ-with-the-psychopath as Lee Van Cleef and is maybe just as underrated. He won’t be making any more movies– he died in 2015– but in this one performance, I’d nominated him for the John Floyd Best Bad Guys Ever Award.

If the plot is great and most of the cast is superlative, why the low ratings? My conclusion traces the problem to the film’s star, a hero about as vibrant as Valium, looking like Fabio on a lank-hair day.

Who? American actor Christopher Lambert. He’s appeared in a string of US and European movies since 1980. He often assumes action röles such as Tarzan, Beowulf, and Connor MacLeod in Highlander. In this film, he plods through the part as if we interrupted his nap time. The man’s performance subsumes sole responsibility for extinguishing one or two stars from critics’ ratings.

Setting Lambert aside, I liked this underrated film a lot. Despite verbiage about American World Pictures, the movie is a Hungarian-British enterprise. The Hungarian actors performed well, certainly better than our hero.

For a well-plotted story with one of the most interesting bad guys in filmdom, see it. As mentioned earlier, it’s free right now on FilmRise channels like CoolFlix. Definitely worth the price.