Showing posts with label 1980s. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1980s. Show all posts

24 February 2019

Remembering Miami 1980


The Chinese have a saying that runs along the lines of "May you live in exciting times." For a guy who was 12 years out of Vietnam and had joined federal law enforcement, for the adrenaline, 2-1/2 years after the SE Asian tour, Miami became a very exciting time.

It was late summer of 1980 and Miami was pretty much an open city. Castro had emptied his prisons and mental hospitals of those who could get someone to pick them up in boats at the Port of Mariel. Other Cuban citizens bribed their way out to join the flotilla headed to Florida. These people soon became known as the Marielitos. Some of the ones who made it to Miami ended up being held in the Orange Bowl stadium, but with the beginning of football season, they were moved to Liberty City, a tent city under an I-95 overpass inside Miami. (Think Scarface with Al Pacino as a rising drug lord in Miami.) The noise under the overpass from constant traffic was relentless and overwhelming. Plus, tent city residents had trouble finding a sponsor to get them out of the place, and those that did had trouble getting jobs because they didn't speak English. Faced with depression and a bleak future, some of them would do almost anything to survive. Like the song says, it's the lure of easy money.

Meanwhile, the go-fast boats were coming in with their loads from the Bahama banks, the Cocaine Cowboys were in full swing moving their product, mother ships were coming up from Colombia, airplanes were dropping their loads in the Florida swamps where drug crews waited to retrieve the illicit cargo, and dealers were taking grocery sacks of U.S. currency to local banks after their sales. In the beginning, dealers merely weighed their money until they got their own counting machines. If a van carrying a couple hundred pounds of marijuana got in a wreck on the Interstate, the driver and shotgun rider simply walked away and disappeared into the populace. Drug dealers were shot by rival organizations who left the drugs and cash behind to show it was just business, a territory thing, not a drug rip-off. After a while, all that left-behind money with no one to claim it became a temptation to some of the responding homicide cops. Some of that money got split up and disappeared. Later, some of the left-behind drugs also got split up and sold instead of going into evidence. Nobody was going to claim ownership of the drugs anyway was the theory. When the time came there wasn't enough drug homicides to respond to, some of the dirty cops created their own. Honest cops weren't sure who to trust. One of the honest cops came over to us and later testified to what he knew.

With all that drug money to spend, Miami underwent a building boom. Money talked and some got richer. Others got dead.

The Miami Regional Director sent one of his agent groups south on an interdiction program to the Caribbean. To replace his lost manpower, he drew from other offices for a "special." I went down to Miami on a "special" op, along with agents from Minneapolis, the Arizona border, the Texas border, New Orleans, and other offices. We took over the duties of those guys gone off to the Caribbean program. Our new group worked with the U.S. Coast Guard on the northbound mother ships laden with tons of pot. Some nights, we found ourselves off the Miami coast with Customs, hunting in wolf packs to catch the go-fast boats coming in from the Bahama banks. We ran our own go-fast boats seized from previous smugglers. We conducted surveillance on clandestine landing strips in the Keys. We escorted tons of seized pot up to the incinerators in Orlando just to get rid of the massive inventory in evidence. It's a heady time, just keep your automatic handy. Bullet proof vests weren't in vogue yet.

We ate our suppers in Cuban restaurants and did our laundry down in Miami's Calle Ocho, the Cuban district, hoping no one recognized us from some of our excursions in the city or out on the water. There's a Latin rhythm on the streets and Mambo clubs at night, with Cuban beauties escorted by macho males in high Cuban-heeled shoes. It's a style, a culture, a living on the edge. Easy money and quickly spent. Miami Vice isn't far off.

Eventually, someone in the main office got the bright idea to "sell" some of the massive pot inventory in a sting operation. A few hundred pounds (after the court case is done) was transferred to a rental truck parked inside a rented storage unit. Marijuana brokers who are unaware they are dealing with undercover agents, go out and solicited buyers for our product. The broker and the buyer show up at the storage unit, money changed hands, the pot load was taken and they leave. The broker goes his own way. He isn't bothered yet because we need him to bring in more buyers, but a few miles from the site, the latest buyers are stopped and arrested. Samples are taken from each pot bale for evidence in court and the remainder is driven back to the storage unit to be "sold" again. Naturally, the buying money is seized for court and forfeiture. The recent buyers? They're going away for a long vacation in the grey bar hotel.

Then comes the alleged time when an unmarked police car pulls up to the storage unit and two men get out. One shows a badge, identifies himself as a plain clothes cop to the undercover agents and then draws his gun. The other guy checks out the rental truck and prepares to drive away with the pot. The cop with the badge is getting ready to kill the undercover agents until they identify themselves. Then it becomes chaos and paranoia. Badge guy beats feet for his unmarked cop car, but is quickly surrounded. The other guy tries to drive off in the rental truck. Surveillance agents descend on the scene en masse. One agent allegedly steps up on the rental truck's foot board on the passenger side and empties his .45 into the rental truck driver. He then steps down and the truck crashes into a tree. That's the end of the "sale" program.

Like the Chinese said, "May you live in exciting times." Yeah, I think I did. Hard to imagine all that was almost four decades ago, and yet some scenes and faces are as vivid as if they were just last week.

So raise your glasses to those who were there in a time gone by.

A toast to the old days now faded into history.

Exciting times.

13 November 2018

To Read or Not to Read: the Reviews of Your Books


From the truth in advertising department: I did this piece a few years ago at a different blog. I think it’s worth repeating. But the main reason I’m doing that is because I’m having major computer issues and it’s hard to work on my computer. I hope we have these issues worked out over the next few days. Believe me, I’m ready to CENSORED.

And I want to say that I hope everyone had a good Veterans Day and that we actually stopped to remember what it was for.

So, how do I react to negative reviews? 

I call up my friends in the Mossad and tell them to seek out and destroy all negative reviewers in the shank of a dark and stormy night. Oh wait, no, that’s what a producer said he was going to do to me when we got in an argument about a script.

Take 2:

Some people say never to read reviews and that’s probably good advice, and probably what one should do. But it’s hard not to. Why? Because, I’m sure, we all want to have our egos stroked. And we’re looking for the positive reinforcement that says we haven’t wasted our lives working on something that nobody likes. So our expectation—our hope—is to get good reviews for that and other reasons. When we don’t our egos are shattered. And those who say it doesn’t affect them, well, let’s just say I think they’re most likely doing that stiff upper lip thing.

I’ve been gratified by most reviews, whether by professional reviewers or consumers on Amazon and the like. But every once in a while...

Even big stars like to check their reviews. I was on the Warner Brothers lot (though it may have been called The Burbank Studios at the time, now it’s back to Warner Brothers [long story]) one day and saw Bill Murray leaning against a car reading a review of his version of “The Razor’s Edge” (1984) that had just come out (and based on my tied for favorite book along with The Count of Monte Cristo). It wasn’t getting rave reviews to say the least, but as I say above, we all want to be validated and maybe also get some constructive criticism as to what went wrong. And I remember thinking even Bill Murray, with all his popularity from “Ghostbusters,” etc. still must feel the sting of a bad review like everyone else.

Hell, even Bob Dylan doesn’t like the sting of being booed, as when he first went electric and rock from strictly acoustic folk music. Check out this YouTube clip. It’s less than a minute long:



So let’s focus on Amazon reviews because they’re there, for good or ill. I don’t like reading negative reviews, but how I react depends on the review. Not everybody can like everything. I get that. Of course, one is tempted to remind some reviewers what their mommies told them, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” But that isn’t the real world, is it? So for me, it depends on what the reviewer says. Does it seem like they actually read the book? Do they have an axe to grind? Are they offering constructive comments about what worked or didn’t for them or are they just off on some kind of tangent? Did they get what I was trying to say and, if not, is that my fault or theirs?

I got a couple of one star reviews for my short story collection “LA Late @ Night”. And they did piss me off. I had gotten some lukewarm reviews on “White Heat” and lived with them. But these two reviews for “LA Late @ Night” just didn’t make sense to me. These two reviewers, who seemed cut from the same cloth (literally), both hated the book and the stories in it. But their comments made little sense.

One said: “Uninteresting, choppy writing. No plots. I wouldn't waste my time reading this series of books as they are rambling writings.”

Where do I start? With the fact that it’s not a series. Uninteresting, well, that’s your opinion. Choppy, well that’s my style on some things. But each story had previously been published in a magazine or anthology, so somebody found them interesting. No plots, see previous response. Bottom line, I wonder if they even knew what book they were reviewing—But Wait: There’s More. The Kicker is yet to come. But First:

The other crappy review:

“Not that great of stories and the writing is stilted...I didn't even finish them all!”

Oh, where to begin: How ’bout them criticizing my writing as being stilted when their sentence is grammatically incorrect? So maybe someone who doesn’t know proper grammar criticizing my grammar is actually a compliment.

Okay, here it comes. Hold your breath. The Kicker:

Being a glutton for punishment, I of course had to check each person’s profile to see why they hated my book so much. What I saw were reviews for muffin pans, muck boots, kitchen gadgets, children’s books, religious/inspirational books and very few mystery books, and no noir or hardboiled books. So I wondered why they even bought my book…if they really did? Judging from their other reviews I could have told them they wouldn’t like it and would have saved them the time, aggravation and money.

It made no sense to me why they would even read a book like mine. So I had to assume there was an agenda going on. I called this to Amazon’s attention, asking them to remove these reviews, which they wouldn’t. I still think there was some kind of agenda happening here, though I couldn’t say exactly what the motivation is and these are the kind of reviews, totally baseless, that really piss me off. And I know authors are not supposed to say that, we’re not supposed have emotions or respond, but hey, we do.

And here are some other One Star Amazon reviews for your entertainment pleasure, only the names have been removed to protect the guilty.

Reviews from Amazon – yellow highlights and purple comments have been added by me.

Reviews of The Big Sleep: 

One Star, boring 
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase

"The book is a big sleep." (Paul’s comment: Well, some of us who liked this book must just be insomniacs.) 

One Star 
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase

"Dated."

Reviews of Crime and Punishment: 

One Star 
By Amazon Customer
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase

"Very slow & plodding." (Paul’s comment: That damn Raskolnikov, why didn’t he just get it over and confess? On “Law & Order” Briscoe and Curtis would have had him spilling all in 2 minutes flat.)

Too long 
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase

"Long and pretty boring I don't like the old timely language they use in this book I know it's translated from German or Russian maybe but I was bored to tears and there was never any payoff really just goes on and on."

Reviews of 1984: 

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I love a good dystopian but this was just such a ... 
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase

"I have always heard about 1984 being the father of all dystopian novels... I love a good dystopian but this was just such a hard book to read because in the entire story, there is no room for hope." (Paul’s comment: Maybe Katniss from “Hunger Games” should show up and rescue Winston and Julia from O’Brien.) 

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
...must be a book only an English teacher would like. I classify this a worse than "Catcher and ... 
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase

"This must be a book only an English teacher would like. I classify this a worse than 'Catcher and the Rye'" (Paul’s comment: Is that a new book, Catcher and the Rye, or is that something you get at Canter’s Deli (or Katniss’ Deli) – or maybe Canter’s and the Rye, or maybe Ham on Rye – h/t Chinaski.) 


~.~.~.

Damn! I’m hungry now. So, overall, you have to take both the good and the bad with a grain of seasoned salt, a quesadilla and some damn good and spicy hot sauce.

***



And now for the usual BSP:


I’m honored and thrilled – more than I can say – that my story Windward appears in The Best American Mystery Stories of 2018, edited by Louise Penny and Otto Penzler, which just came out this week. I wrote a blog on that on SleuthSayers if you want to check it out: https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2018/10/the-impossible-dream.html .

I’m doubly thrilled to say that Windward won the Macavity Award at Bouchercon a few weeks ago. Wow! And thank you to everyone who voted for it.



And I’m even more thrilled by the great reviews that Broken Windows has been receiving. Here’s a small sampling:

Betty Webb, Mystery Scene Magazine:  "Broken Windows is extraordinary."

Kristin Centorcelli, Criminal Element"Although it’s set in 1994, it’s eerie how timely this story is. There’s an undeniable feeling of unease that threads through the narrative, which virtually oozes with the grit, glitz, and attitude of L.A. in the ‘90s. I’m an ecstatic new fan of Duke’s."

"Duke and company practically beg for their own TV show."

John Dwaine McKenna, Mysterious Book Report:  "This electrifying novel will jolt your sensibilities, stir your conscience and give every reader plenty of ammunition for the next mixed group where the I [immigration] -word is spoken!"



Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website www.PaulDMarks.com


01 March 2018

The Dark Keeps Rising


It's March 1st, and there's been more than one trouble in River City, a/k/a the United States The Florida Parkland school shooting on 2/14/18 left 17 dead Back on 1/23/18, Benton Kentucky, a school shooting left 2 dead, 17 injured Back 11/7/17, Sutherland Springs, TX, a church shooting killed 26 people. So much safety So much safety…

Many people long for a return to the innocent heartland of America - family farms, playing children, hardworking parents, country cooking, and family values. And that's all true, along with feedlots (nothing like the smell of cow poop in the morning), lakes that are stinking green with phosphorus fertilizer runoff, and, sadly, home-grown terrorists:

Monson_mugscopy_WEB

The above five people were all arrested in Willmar, MN (pop. 19,610). Police search yielded methamphetamine, pills, cocaine, numerous firearms and ammunition. The firearms recovered included handguns, rifles, shotguns, and submachine guns. They also found homemade silencers, night vision goggles, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, and numerous items believed to be explosive. But wait, there's more! They also found books on incendiary devices and - my favorite item - a strap-on fake penis called a “Whizzinator,” sometimes used to evade drug tests. And yes, there was a concrete bunker and at least one minor child living in the home (Twin Cities Pioneer Press)

My favorite local blogger, Cory Heidelberger, looked these up people on-line, and found that Thomas Quimby of Willmar likes to express his Alex Jones, anti-Muslim, White Pride beliefs while Chad Monson likes to post lots of cute Minions memes about killing people (Dakota Free Press) And they weren't fooling: According to the criminal complaint, Monson had told someone that he had the addresses of a judge, a prosecutor and another attorney and intended to use explosives in or near their homes and vehicles.

Don't you feel safer knowing that this guy - THESE guys - had an arsenal?

636505918771903642 ARTIS KATTENBERG.JPGMeanwhile, our Willmar group isn't the only crazy around Meet Artis Kattenberg of Brandon, SD She and her son went to a church in northwest Iowa, where fellow churchgoers got nervous when they realized that the son was wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a gun into the sanctuary Eventually a Rock Valley, IA police officer called her to ask about it, and she told him that her son was an "Ethan Bot" (video game, Call of Duty Infinite Warfare), and that "he'd have to get a hold of the secretary of defense." There was also an intense encounter between the Kattenbergs and church elders, who asked them to no longer attend church A few weeks later, two of the church members were victims of drive-by shootings (No one was hurt.)
Some of the stash.
Courtesy Minnehaha County Sheriff's Office

At that point, the Iowa authorities contacted the Brandon Police, who paid a call on the Kattenbergs. They found a bunker, with 80 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Some of the weapons were fully automatic. They also had tactile vests, and high end optics that included nightvision, infrared, thermal optics. Captain Jason Gearman of Minnehaha County said, "They've been purchasing $3,000- $7,000 worth of weapons pretty, pretty continuously for every three to five months."

Now, being the naive young thing I am, I would have thought - I would have hoped - that buying that many guns and ammo every 3-5 months would have registered, somewhere, that something might be wrong.. But no... (I'm going to get into the 1986 Firearm Owners Protection Act in a minute.) My husband just asked, "where did they get all this money?" and so far no one's answered THAT question, either

Anyway, all were purchased legally, locally, at Gary's Gun Shop and Scheels The employees remembered the Kattenbergs, because they talked about being spies, hating the government, having microchips in their brain, and, of course, the fact that the son was actually a warrior from a video game You know, the usual stuff BTW, the guns were in the 16 year old's name (Argus Leader)

And, of course, the neighbors never saw anything "They were inside most of the time. The only time we ever saw them was their truck coming in and out of the driveway."

In case you're wondering, the charges against the Kattenbergs are: 2nd Degree Criminal Mischief/Aiding and Abetting, a Class “D” Felony: Reckless Use of a Firearm/Aiding and Abetting, an Aggravated Misdemeanor; and Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor, a Misdemeanor. Her juvenile son is charged with: 2nd Degree Criminal Mischief; and Reckless Use of a Firearm (Kiwaradio) That's it That's all they are charged with

Don't you feel safer knowing these two had a bunker, loaded with guns and ammo?

How long, O Lord, how long?


Meanwhile, if you need an AR-15 to hunt with, I hate to think what you're hunting And other Armalite manufactures Did you know that the AR-15 and AR-18 were the favorite weapons of the IRA during the Irish Troubles? They even had their own song - "Little Armalite" Believe me, if the Irish can disarm, or "decomission" as they called it, which they did in 2005, anyone can do it, even the United States of America (See "IRA Arms Decommissioned".)

Supreme Court Building
Anyway, to all those who claim that AR-15s are their constitutional right - well, they're wrong On November 27, 2017 SCOTUS refused to challenge Maryland's ban on assault weapons and assault-style weapons that included AR-15s, which means that SCOTUS agrees that none of these are covered by the 2nd Amendment (Reuters) Nor does SCOTUS see open-carry as a 2nd Amendment right Not only that, but back when District of Columbia v. Heller gave individuals the constitutional right to own private handguns, Antonin Scalia, perhaps the least liberal justice to ever serve, said:
"Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms...
We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. Miller said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those “in common use at the time.” 307 U. S., at 179. We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of “dangerous and unusual weapons...." (Heller)
Sorry, guys No, I'll take that back I'm not sorry at all I'm ecstatic that they're not a 2nd Amendment right I just wish they were also illegal They were, you know: The 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, banned the manufacture, use, possession and import of 19 types of assault weapons, including AK-47s and Uzis. It expired in 2004. The NRA has since successfully kept it from being re-enacted.

Can we talk about how the NRA is registered as a non-profit organization?
Can we talk about how Wayne LaPierre makes $5 million a year?
Can we talk about how much lobbying the NRA is doing, have done, and plans to do?
Can we talk about the way the NRA sends out letters to politicians and judges, asking them to provide - in writing - their stance on guns and the 2nd Amendment, saying, "If you choose not to return a position letter, you may be assigned a “?” rating, which can be interpreted by our membership as indifference, if not outright hostility, toward Second-Amendment related issues"? (Snopes)
Can we talk about how this is extortion, at the very least, and should be 1000% illegal?

Meanwhile, let's talk about gun laws Some people will tell you that we have plenty of gun laws, they just need to be enforced Yes, we do and they do, but the laws have also been either gutted or "allowed to expire" (See the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act above).

(1) There are laws that stop convicted domestic abusers from getting guns are strictly enforced BUT - there are loopholes! Oh, let me count the loopholes.
First, stalkers, boyfriends get a pass (you have to have been "intimate" with the victim).
Second, there's no clause about taking the weapons they already have away from them, so if they're already armed, they stay armed.
Third, the law doesn't apply during the temporary restraining order period, which is when most women get killed by their abuser.
Fourth, there's the HUGE problem that military, police departments, and other groups somehow keep "slipping up" on registering people. The convicted domestic abuser who killed 26 people at a Texas church back in November 7, 2017 never had his name put into the national database that would have barred him from buying weapons The Air Force - which had courtmartialed him for fracturing his baby stepson's skull - failed to enter it And, after the furor about that, the Air Force realized it "forgot" to enter almost 5,000 names of people convicted of domestic violence (NBC News)

Looking through microfilm at the
National Tracing Center - GQ
(2) There's a national registry of guns, and that should always be checked! Oh, my dears, there isn't one The 1986 Firearm Owners Protection Act bans states or federal agencies from building gun registries. That's right, the National Tracing Center is not allowed to have centralized computer data. What they have is on microfilm, without any index. Nada. (Seriously, read the GQ Article, "Inside the Federal Bureau of Way Too Many Guns", and meet Charlie. "They can use pictures of paper, like microfilm (they recently got the go-ahead to convert the microfilm to PDFs), as long as the pictures of paper are not searchable. You have to flip through and read. No searching by gun owner. No searching by name." Pretty effing useless, isn't it?

(3) Enforce the law felons don't get guns. Except - and you knew there'd be an exception, didn't you?
Exception #1: The 1965 amendment to the federal Firearms Act of 1938 allows felons who want to own a gun the ability to apply for "relief from the disability of not being able to possess a gun." Unsurprisingly in many states (ahem, ahem) they get them!
Exception #2: White collar felons aren't included in the ban And, of course, if a felon get their felony expunged, pardoned, etc., they're good to go.

(4) Make sure the mentally ill don't get guns Besides the argument that it's toxic rage, not mental illness, that's behind mass shootings (and I believe this about 99.9%), in order to be banned from owning a weapon, you have to be involuntarily committed - but if your stay doesn't exceed 72 hours (no matter how many times this happens), it doesn't count towards your ability to buy / own weapons So you could be involuntarily committed 20 times a year and, as long as you got out before 72 hours, you're good to go And Donald Trump himself signed an Executive Order repealing the (admittedly small) attempt Obama implemented to keep people who were getting mental illness disability from owning weapons.

(5) Background checks, background checks, background checks. We've all heard about the Brady Bill requiring background checks EXCEPT there's a couple of major flaws:
First Loophole: Immediately after it passed, the NRA launched lawsuits in nine states to declare the Brady Bill unconstitutional, and finally struck gold In 1997, in Printz v. The United States, the Supreme Court ruled that the provision of the Brady Act that compelled state and local law enforcement officials to perform the background checks was unconstitutional, so it's on a voluntary basis
Second Loophole: Gun shows and other private sales - including sales over the internet - are exempt from the Brady Bill requiring background checks and complete forms, sales records etc., since "any person may sell a firearm to an unlicensed resident of the state where they reside, as long as they do not know or have reasonable cause to believe the person is prohibited from receiving or possessing firearms" (Wikipedia)
Third Loophole: Background checks only work one way Thanks - again - to the 1986 Firearm Owners Protection Act, a firearms dealer can get electronic information about the purchaser, but the FBI and the ATF do not get electronic information in return to let them know what firearms are being purchased Or how many Or how often Which is why our local crazies Kattenbergs could purchase $3,000-$7,000 worth of firearms every three months and nobody got any red flags...

We have a lot of work to do to get sane gun laws back in this country.

And as for the idea of arming teachers.. Well, these memes say it better than I could:
Image may contain: 1 person, text Image may contain: 1 person, text Image result for meme teachers protect students don't get raises credit
Make that THREE deputies who froze Which is the point, because you don't know who'll freeze until it happens.
And the 18% is true See HERE
And if they arm teachers, will they have to buy the guns the way they have to buy classroom supplies?
















Another major meme going around is that all would be well if we just restored prayer in schools Look, if prayer is going to do the trick, then how come that white supremacist punk shot up a black church AFTER sitting through their prayer meeting? Or the November 7, 2017 shooting by the convicted domestic abuser in a Texas church which killed 26 people? And don't forget the 2006 shooting in an Amish school which killed 5 Amish girls All of these were places of prayer.

I believe in prayer I do a lot of it But I also believe that we need ungutted regulations and laws, because the dark never stops rising, and we have to fight it all the time.

Anyway, that's the latest from South Dakota, where I WISH we were the only ones who talk like Mayberry, and act like Goodfellas while the crazy just keeps on coming.



21 January 2018

Lost in the Eighties


Scarecrow and Mrs King
Nope, not touching upon the implications here.
Last week, I reviewed Gin Phillip’s Fierce Kingdom.

The protagonist makes several references to a mid-1980s television spy series, Scarecrow and Mrs King. I’ve spent decades without television, so the program was unknown to me. Gin Phillips managed to sufficiently interest me, I streamed the first (out of four) seasons.

The principals, Kate Jackson and Bruce Boxleitner, are attractive and humorous. John le Carré this is not, but it is fun, especially when housewife Amanda King cleverly thwarts baddies and their plots.

For those unfamiliar with the series, I offer this condensed version.
The Spy Who Came In From the Mall

June, 1983, Washington, DC. Intelligence Chief Billy Melrose calls an emergency meeting.

“A dastardly foreign-looking, culturally sophisticated attaché…”

“Culture, that’s suspicious,” says Agent Lee Stetson, aka Scarecrow. “And attaché… that seals it. Only foreigners use diacriticals.”

“Anyway, an undercover operative has stolen the last Galactic Man action figure in Washington.”

“Someone stole it?” Scarecrow asks.

“Well, not if you’re going to be technical. They used a coupon on top of a Toys-Я-Us diplomatic immunity discount card.”

“So what does that mean, boss?”

“It means I have to drive to Baltimore to buy another one for my nephew. The Soviets bought it as part of an incomprehensible kidnapping scenario. I’m foggy on the plot but their operatives, Putin and Pulitov, plan to sabotage national elections. That could never, ever happen, but we have to stop the kidnapping. I mean to send you, Scarecrow, but we need someone to pose as your wife.”

Scarecrow and Francine Desmond
Scarecrow and Francine Desmond
“Me, me! I can do it.” Agent Francine Desmond frantically waves her hand in the air.

Scarecrow’s handsome brow furrows as he stares off in space. “Who could do the job?”

Francine jumps to her feet. “Me, me! I’ve worked here nine years; I can do the job.”

“I don’t know who,” Melrose says. “Barbie’s pregnant and Paula’s on assignment.”

“Me, me! I’ve got two masters and a doctorate in spyology.”

Stetson snaps his fingers. “What about Petunia Oggleswort?”

“Out sick. The entire steno pool fell ill. We’ve run out of options, Lee. Who do you think, Francine?”

“Oh, Chief, I’m so glad you finally asked…”

Whump! The door swings open. Amanda King bouncy-steps in carrying a tray.

“Hi everyone. I brought fresh cookies.”

Francine mutters under her breath. “Oh, no. Go away, you b-b-bitc—.”

Chief Melrose brightens. “Oh hi, Amanda. I’m afraid we’re too busy to chat. We’re in the midst of a crisis trying to figure out who…” He stops and looks significantly at Stetson. “You thinking what I’m thinking?”

Scarecrow selects an oatmeal chocolate chip. “I’m thinking we need coffee with the cookies.”

“No, I mean the op. Right in front of our noses: Amanda! We use Mrs King! She could pose as your wife.”

“Oh no,” says Stetson, vigorously shaking his head. “Not a civilian.”

Francine nods. “Exactly. She’s just a silly suburban tw—“ She stops as everyone turns to stare at her. “… uh, twenty-nine year old housewife.”

Amanda distributes more cookies. “Twenty-six and no, I don’t want the job. I have to run home to head up the birthday party for my son, uh, whats-his-name and my other boy, um, er… His name will come to me too. And my mother’s babysitting right now although she’d rather be cleaning the refrigerator and I have to take my station wagon in for the twenty-two thousand mile oil change and visit the book store where we killed that mafia guy and grab lunch at the tea shoppe where those foreign agents shot at us and and buy vegetables although I can’t understand why people like broccoli or eggplant, and do my nails and watch my soaps and MacGyver and Cheers and I never miss Columbo so you see I’m very busy.”

“Hmmph. Busy seeking endless praise and admiration, you attention craving c—…” Francine suddenly realizes she’s mumbling aloud. “Er, I mean cunning manipulator, just too perfect for poor spies like us.”

“It’s settled then. Scarecrow, you and Mrs. King check into the resort as a honeymoon couple. Francine, see to the details.”

Francine throws up her hands. “Oh, no, no. I’m not covering for that skinny-ass—“ She stops. “… assiduously slender housewife. Okay, okay, I’ll do it. I’ll do it. Then shoot me.”


In his subtle silver Porsche 365 with NOT•A•SPY license plates to disguise the car, Lee Stetson speeds with Amanda to the Lake Coochy-Coo Resort. At the bar, he orders a ’78 Grand Cru des Saults Ste Marie.

Amanda sips a glass. “I’m afraid I don’t know these fancified wines and stuff. Now my mother loves colorful booze, pinks and pastels. I feel so outclassed. Really, that time you bought me steak tartare I thought it was raw hamburger, but that shows you my taste or lack of taste, as I’m sure you already know because I’m happy with Burger King where they cook the steak tartare and put it on a sesame seed bun with pickles and onions and…. Oh, look! There’s our quarry.”

“Shh, Amanda. Don't stare."

“But he looks so much like Francine.”

“It is Francine. She slipped into disguise to fool the bad guys. Let’s find our room and get some sleep.”

Once they unlock the door, Amanda protests.

“There’s only one bed.”

“Yes, of course. We share one bed in episodes 2, 20 and 33. Our cover is we’re on our honeymoon.”

“Not me, buster. I wasn’t raised that way. Maybe Mr. King said my notion of oral sex was endlessly talking, but that’s why he’s the ex-Mr. King ’cause he expected hanky-panky on our honeymoon and I’m not that kind of girl, I mean he’s still Mr. King I guess but I’m not his Mrs ’cause that’s not my sort of thing although you and I glow with repressed sexual attraction and everyone except McMillan & Wife has been bangin’ since the 1960s, well, 1920s and before, I mean look at the court of Louis XIV, but anyway I’ll take the sofa because you won’t fit, on the sofa I mean, or you can stay up and hide in the hallway closet– there’s a metaphor if I ever said one– and spy on the guy about to be kidnapped, anyway I think it’s wrong of the agency to put us together like this and… Are you snoring? Hey, are you awake? Well, I’ll just slip out and look for the kidnappers on my own.”


Next morning, Lee Stetson awakes to the sound of the telephone.

“Scarecrow, where are you? The kidnappers nabbed their victim along with Amanda. They made a run for the get-away limo, but they couldn’t unlock it. They’re headed for their escape chopper.”

“I’m on my way, now.”

Stetson arrives in time to see the helicopter start to lift off. Abruptly its engine chokes, coughs black smoke, and the whirlybird settles back to the ground as it backfires and dies.

The kidnappers fire several machine gun rounds before the doors burst open and the bad guys fall out, knuckling their eyes. Amanda steps down, holding a can of hair spray.

“Hi everyone! I haven’t been trained with mace, but I had my big-hair-spray can and let ’em have it. And I put fingernail polish in the limo locks so the bad guys couldn’t get in and I borrowed, well, purloined actually, maple syrup from kitchen and poured it into the helicopter gas tank. I didn’t know if it would work, but figured it worth a try, and it did pretty well, didn’t it? Didn’t it?”

“Congratulations, Mrs King,” says Chief Melrose. “I’m sure the President wants to award you another secret commendation.”

Francine stares daggers. “Why you scheming, sleazy, slu…” She stops under the glare of Melrose and Stetson. “I mean sultry, sultry and silky Mata Hari.”

“Matty Harry who? I’m just a simple suburban housewife and mother of uh, two, I think, let’s see… one… yes, two, and I’m so pleased I could stop the bad guys and speaking of stop, I should be at the bus stop to pick up my kids, no wait, maybe Mom will pick them up or they can walk. But any awards should go to Lee because he’s the best secret agent ever and I’d do him if we didn’t work together and I love Francine who alerted the bad guys we were on to them spooking them with that innovative disguise that put them on the run. Anyway, I promised to make meatloaf for next week’s royal heiress episode.”

“You’re adorable,” says Stetson.

“Winsome,” Chief Melrose says. “Isn’t she a darling, Francine? Francine?”

“Uh-oh! Francine’s choking,” cries Amanda. “Quick, I learned Cub Scout CPR.”

30 June 2016

Kids These Days....


So, about my day gig.
I teach ancient history to eighth graders.

And like I tell them all the time, when I say, "Ancient history," I'm not talking about the 1990s.
For thirteen/fourteen year-olds, mired hopelessly in the present by a relentless combination of societal trends and biochemistry, there's not much discernible difference between the two eras.

It's a great job. But even great jobs have their stressors.

Like being assigned chaperone duty during the end-of-the-year dance.

Maybe you're familiar with what currently passes for "popular music" among fourteen year-olds these days. I gotta say, I don't much care for it. Then again, I'm fifty-one. And I can't imagine that most fifty-one year-olds in 1979 much cared for the stuff that I was listening to then.

And it's not as if I'm saying *I* had great taste in music as a fourteen year-old. If I were trying to make myself look good I'd try to sell you some line about how I only listened to jazz if it was Billie Holiday or Miles Davis, and thought the Police were smokin' and of course I bought Dire Straits' immortal "Makin' Movies" album, as well Zeppelin's "In Through The Out Door" when they both came out that year.

Well. No.

In 1979 I owned a Village People vinyl album ("Go West," with "YMCA" on it), and a number of Elvis Presley albums and 8-track tapes. I also listened to my dad's Eagles albums quite a bit. An uncle bought Supertramp's "Breakfast in America" for me, and I was hooked on a neighbor's copy of "Freedom at Point Zero" by Jefferson Starship, but really only because of the slammin' guitar solo Craig Chaquico played on its only hit single: "Jane." And I listened to a lot of yacht rock on the radio. I didn't know it was "yacht rock" back then. Would it have mattered?

But bear in mind we didn't have streaming music back then. And my allowance I spent mostly on comic books.

Ah, youth.

Anyway, my point is that someone my age back then may very well have cringed hard and long and as deeply if forced to listen to what *I* was listening to at eardrum-bursting decibels, and for the better part of two hours.

That was me on the second-to-the-last-day of school a week or so back.

Two hours.

Two hours of rapper after rapper (if it's not Eminem, Tupac, or the Beastie Boys, I must confess it all sounds the same to me) alternating with "singing" by Rihanna, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, etc.
Thank God we got some relief in the form of the occasional Bruno Mars song. Bruno, he brings it.
And through it all, the kids were out there on the floor. Mostly girls, and mostly dancing with each other.

 One group of these kids in particular caught my attention. Three girls, all fourteen, all of whom I knew. All wearing what '80s pop-rock band Mr. Mister once referred to as the "Uniform of Youth."

Of course, the uniform continues to change, just as youth itself does.

But in embracing that change, does youth itself actually change? Bear with me while I quote someone a whole lot smarter than I on the matter:

"Kids today love luxury. They have terrible manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love to gab instead of getting off their butts and moving around."

The guy quoted (in translation) was Socrates, quoted by his pupil Plato, 2,400 years ago.

And some things never change.

Getting back to the three girls mentioned above, their "uniform of youth" was the one au courant in malls and school courtyards across the length and breadth of this country: too-tight jeans, short-sleeved or sleeveless t-shirts, tennis-shoes. They looked a whole lot like so many other girls their age, out there shaking it in ways that mothers the world over would not approve of.

In other words, they looked like thousands, hell, millions of American girls out there running around today, listening to watered down pablum foisted on them by a rapacious, corporate-bottom-line-dominated music industry as "good music", for which they pay entirely too much of their loving parents' money, and to which they will constantly shake way too much of what Nature gave them–even under the vigilant eyes of long-suffering school staff members.

Yep, American girls. From the soles of their sneakers to the hijabs covering their hair.

Oh, right. Did I mention that these girls were Muslims? Well, they are. One from Afghanistan. One from Turkmenistan, and one from Sudan. At least two of them are political refugees.

You see, I teach in one of the most diverse school districts in the nation. One of the main reasons for this ethnic diversity is that there is a refugee center in my district. The center helps acclimate newcomers to the United States and then assists in resettling them; some in my district, some across the country.

So in this campaign season, when I hear some orange-skinned buffoon talking trash about Muslims, stirring up some of my fellow Americans with talk of the dangerous "foreign" *other*, it rarely squares with the reality I've witnessed first-hand getting to know Muslim families and the children they have sent to my school to get an education: something the kids tend to take for granted (because, you know, they're kids, and hey, kids don't change). Something for which their parents have sacrificed in ways that I, a native-born American descendant of a myriad of immigrant families, can scarcely imagine.

(And it ought to go without saying that this truth holds for the countless *Latino* families I've known over the years as well.)

I'm not saying they're saints. I'm saying they're people. And they're here out of choice. Whether we like that or whether we don't, they're raising their kids *here*. And guess what? These kids get more American every day. Regardless of where their birth certificate says they're from.

Just something to think about, as we kick into the final leg of this excruciating election season.
Oh, come on. You didn't think this piece was gonna be just me grousing about kids having lousy taste in music, did ya?

(And they do, but that's really beside the point.)

Blessed Eid.

28 April 2014

The Story of a Story


IN THE EIGHTIES

Once upon a time, a writer of magazine articles and promotional materials for entertainers read about a seminar being held at the local university.  Several big name fiction authors including James Dickey were featured speakers and would serve on panels to consult with attendees about their work.  A short piece of fiction or the opening fifteen pages of a novel could be submitted for a contest.  The writer sat down, wrote her first short story on a portable Underwood, and sent in "Positive Proof" with her registration.

Did she win the contest?  No, but an interesting thing happened.
On the last night of the conference, one of the "big" names sought her out.

"I was one of the short story judges," he began.

Being more in awe of successful authors back then than she is now, she replied quietly, "Yes, I know."

"I wanted to tell you that I fought for your story.  I thought it should have won first place, but I was outvoted."  He smiled.
"For some reason, they went with that usual southern memoir kind of story."
Fran Rizer in the Eighties

"Thank you," she replied and thought no more about it.  Her first fiction was no more 'southern memoir' than what she writes now. It was about the Kennedy assassination.


The writer continued selling pieces to magazines and really had no desire to delve into fiction again.  "Positive Proof" lay dormant for several years.  I am that writer, and the story of "Positive Proof" is my story.


IN THE NINETIES

After my divorce, I joined a writers' group at the local B&N.
Every time I took in nonfiction or even magazines with my articles printed in them, I heard, "Oh, that's fine, but fiction is a different ballgame.  It's a hard nut to crack."

One night the man I thought of as "the guru" (I had private nicknames for each member of the group), passed out brochures about the Porter Fleming Fiction Competition, sponsored at that time by the Augusta, GA, Arts Council.  (The contest is now in its twenty-first year and sponsored by Morris College.)

That's the first and last time I ever paid anyone to read something I've written, but I dusted off "Positive Proof," wrote a check for ten dollars, and entered the contest.
The nineties

No, I didn't win first. That went to George Singleton, an already successful short story writer from the Greenville, SC, area whose fiction had been published in Playboy. 
George won $1000. With my prize came $500 and an invitation to read the story at the Arts Festival. I accepted both.

The reception and readings were a wonderful experience. To make it even better, George came up to me at the end and told me he liked my story and was positive I could sell it.

I sent the manuscript to only one mag, which was a big mistake because it was a mystery magazine, and that story isn't a mystery. Devastated when I received a personally written rejection letter stating that the story wasn't suitable for them, I put "Positive Proof" back in a bottom drawer. My magazine features always sold first time out. Why should I inflict this self-induced agony of rejection on myself?


IN THE 2000s

A few years after my retirement on disability in 2001, I ventured into fiction again.  In 2006, I contracted with Berkley Prime Crime for the first three Callies.


Early 2000s

In 2012, I realized that much would be made in 2013 of the fiftieth anniversary of JFK's assassination, so I pulled out "Positive Proof," updated it a bit, and sent it off to Strand in plenty of time to be considered for publication in 2013.
I still haven't heard from them, so I assume they didn't want it.
The Fran Rizer who sold
"Positive Proof"

On a whim, I sent that story somewhere else a few months ago.  I am pleased to announce that "Positive Proof" has found a home and will be published next month.  Check back in two weeks to see who is publishing it and where you can read it.

Until we meet again… take care of you.

02 February 2014

Two Anniversaries


by Leigh Lundin

Fact: Less that 0.002% of American males will be reading this article instead of watching the Superbowl. Nevertheless, we press ever forward with our own take on entertainment including a part of Superbowl history.

In the past few days, a couple of entertainment anniversaries came to my attention, one a film and the other an advertisement.

An ad?

Yes, an advert that appeared only once, but oh, what a work of art by none other than that master filmmaker known for Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, and Hannibal: Ridley Scott. It was an ad run just one time thirty years ago during the Superbowl.

By now, you know I’m referring to Apple’s 1984 introduction of the Macintosh. Go on, watch it again; you know you want to.



I surmise the author of the article that reminded me of the Mac’s anniversary is quite young, not realizing the cycles of history. Without irony, she writes “The ad follows a popular theme of that era; that ‘Big Brother’ is watching you.”

Julia, Big Brother IS watching us like never before. Here in the US, we’re debating the rôle of the NSA and exactly how many of our civil liberties we’re willing to forego in the pursuit of, er, liberty.

The UK has grown more heavy handed. After misusing an anti-terrorism law to jail at least one reporter, David Cameron’s government ordered its spooks over to The Guardian to oversee the destruction of hard drives and computers (including *gasp* a beautiful MacBook Air!) containing Snowden files. So much for freedom of the press.

Visiting this theme of governments and misleading their citizens brings us to another landmark film by another superb filmmaker, a man who brought us such classics as 2001, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Barry Lyndon, and Eyes Wide Shut: Stanley Kubrick.

Of course, I’m talking about Dr. Strangelove, which came to the screen fifty years ago. You’ve noticed I possess a dark sense of humor and awareness, but for personal reasons, that’s a film I can’t watch.

Baby Boomer

Events that happen in early childhood can effect a person forever after. When I was quite little, my parents attended a talk about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I’ve never witnessed anything as frightening as that presentation with its graphic slides and descriptions of atomized citizens flashed into the sides of buildings. That was the first time I learned that people not only killed other people, they could do it on a mass scale.

After the talk, audience could meet the speaker and look at his exhibits. One was shiny metallic pellets from a Japanese bomb site in, of all things, a baby food jar. When I looked closer, the presenter joked, “Don’t drop it or it’ll explode!”

Thereafter when I was supposed to be sleeping and heard a large aeroplane overhead, I worried it might drop bombs. I’m convinced Strangelove is a great film, but for me, it was the wrong movie at the wrong time, the reason I’ve not been able to bring myself to view Dr. Strangelove.— yet.



Now, fifty years later, we learn that Dr. Strangelove portrayed the truth much more accurately than our government, which pooh-poohed the notion of an out-of-control military officer starting a war on his own but secretly knew it was all too true. The actual situation was far more volatile and dangerous than anyone imagined, not just on our side, but also the Soviets.

Do I hear Clydesdales?

Back to Superbowl Sunday. I’ve read that modern sports are bloodless (usually) reenactments of war. That might make non-sports fans look more kindly on football.

Now about those cheerleaders…

28 October 2013

More of the Favorites


More of the Favorite Mysteries of the Century

In case you've forgotten, the 100 favorites were chosen by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association.  The book was published in 2000 and edited by Jim Huang.









1960-1969

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
A Stranger in My Grave by Margaret Millar (1960)
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John le Carre (1963)
The Deep Blue Good-Bye by John D, MacDonald (1964)
The Chill by Ross MacDonald (1964)
In The Heat of the Night by John Ball (1965)
Cotton Comes to Harlem by Chester Himes (1965)

1970-1979

Time And Again by Jack Finney (1970)
The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo (1970)
No More Dying Then by Ruth Rendell (1971)
An Unsuitable Job For a Woman by P.D. James (1972)
Sadie When She Died by Ed McBain (1972)
Dark Nantucket Noon by Jane Langton (1975)
Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters (1975)
The Sunday Hangman by James McClure (1977)
Edwin of the Iron Shoes by Marcia Muller (1977)
The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley (1978)
Chinaman's Chance by Ross Thomas (1978)
Whip Hand by Dick Francis (1979)
One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters (1979)

1980-1989

Looking For Rachel Wallace by Robert B. Parker (1980)
Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Caudwell (1981)
The Man With a Load of Mischief  by Martha Grimes (1981)
Death by Sheer Torture by Robert Barnard (1982)
The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes by K.C. Constantine (1982
 "A" Is For Alibi by Sue Grafton (1982)
The Thin Woman by Dorothy Cannell (1984)
Deadlock by Sara Paretsky (1984)
Strike Three You're Dead by R.D. Rosen (1984)
When the Bough Breaks by Jonathan Kellerman (1985)
Sleeping Dog by Dick Lochte (1985)
When the Sacred Ginmill Closes by Lawrence Block (1986)
Tourist Season by Carl Hiaasen (1986)
The Ritual Bath by Faye Kellerman (1986)
Rough Cider by Peter Lovesey (1986)
The Monkey's Raincoat by Robert Crais (1987)
Old Bones by Aaron Elkins (1987)
The Killings at Badger's Drift by Caroline Graham (1987)
Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow (1987)
A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George (1988)
The Silence of the Lamb by Thomas Harris (1988)
A Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman (1988)
Death's Bright Angel by Janet Neel (1988)
Black Cherry Blues by James Lee Burke (1989)

1990-1999

Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard (1990)
If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O by Sharyn McCrumb (1990)
Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley (1990)
Sanibel Flats by Randy Wayne White (1990)
Aunt Dimity's Death by Nancy Atherton (1992)
Booked to Die by John Dunning (1992)
Bootlegger's Daughter by Margaret Maron (1992)
The Ice House by Minette Walters (1992)
Track of the Cat by Nevada Barr (1993)
The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King (1993)
Child of Silence by Abigail Padgett (1993)
The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly (1994)
The Yellow Room Conspiracy by Peter Dickenson (1994)
One For The Money by Janet Evanovich (1994)
Mallory's Oracle by Carol O'Connell (1994)
A Broken Vessel by Kate Ross (1994)
Who in the Hell is Wanda Fuca? by G. M. Ford (1995)
Vanishing Act by Thomas Perry (1995)
Blue Lonesome by Bill Pronzini (1995)
Concourse by S.J. Rozan (1995)
Darkness, Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane (1996)
The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte (1996)
A Test of Wills by Charles Todd (1996)
Dreaming of the Bones by Deborah Crombie (1997)
Blood at the Root by Peter Robinson (1997)
On Beulah Height by Reginald Hill (1998)

 I know some of you might complain that your favorite author isn't listed.  Please remember this list was compiled by the mystery bookstore owners or managers or staff. The bookstores were all members of the Independent  Mystery Booksellers Association. And the selections were not necessarily best-sellers. These were the favorites of each store and some members picked on the criteria of "what books would I want to have if I were stranded on a desert island." Sometimes, if the author had a continuing character, then the first in the series was listed, when that author had repeats from more than one store. Another criteria was an author or book was one the bookseller recommended to their customers most often. That was one of the fun things for me in our bookstore...when a customer asked for a new author.  New to them, although the book might have been written years ago. Most mystery readers enjoy an author who had a series and naturally they wanted the first book in the series.

This was a fun project. We owe Jim Huang a big debt. For getting the IMBA members to compile this list and publishing it.

Okay, class, how many to you know and/or have read?