Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Murderer at the Next Pump

Zestful Blog Post #212

The other day while shopping at the drugstore another customer passed by me, and he gave me the deep creeps. Instead of avoiding eye contact or turning away as I usually do, I took a better look. He seemed not to have taken particular notice of me; it was just the vibe. This guy’s aura was dark and flat.

He was an older guy, stubble, carelessly turned out for the day. Often when I see guys like that I figure them for alcoholics or maybe porn addicts—you know, more pathetic than dangerous. But this one had a dense stare and just this opaque malevolence about him, a hatefulness.


And I was reminded of the fact that many crimes, many murders, go unsolved, and murderers walk among us. Murderers buy groceries and gas up their cars and go to work and the movies. (I keep baby wipes in my car’s console, for cleaning my hands after gassing up, specifically because I don’t want murderer molecules to stay on me. You laugh. But you’ll be lookin’ at your hand different now, when you put that nozzle back, won’t you, my pet? Yes, you will.) No doubt most of us have come into contact with murderers without knowing it. Sometimes we get closer than that.

Marcia’s cousin was murdered, the crime and subsequent cover-up arranged by the cousin’s estranged husband. (Everybody got nailed, but it took a lot of time.) One of my brother’s buddies played pickup basketball in the late 1960s with John Norman Collins, who was soon apprehended for the torture killing of at least six young women and girls. A co-worker of mine had a college roommate who went missing on her way to class and was never found. They both routinely hitched rides to campus… 1970s…

A guy who played the trumpet in my marching band at college turned out to have murdered his mother and girlfriend by running them over (separately) with his car. I remember that guy as being weedy and odd, turning out for practice in dress pants and black leather street shoes, while the rest of us ran around in jeans and sneakers. I could easily have suspected him of obsessively collecting bottle caps, but not killing anybody. Cannot remember his name, or would have Googled him for any recent info.

You may have similar stories. David Buss wrote a fascinating book on the subject,  'The Murderer Next Door'. The point is, human life is so profoundly layered. My purpose today is to remind us writers, especially us little liberal arts majors who have never been arrested, let alone shared a cell with convicted felons (for instance), to be open to the vibes that swirl around us. We tend to forget, and maybe even deny, human evil. It’s not just in TV shows and true-crime books. Our observations inform our work. Good, evil, see it all and feel it all. Occupy your place in the world deeply.

What do you think? To post, click below where it says, 'No Comments,' or '2 Comments,' or whatever. [photo by ES]

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Five Quickies

Zestful Blog Post #211

Writing in the Basin
I’d never heard of the Permian Basin Writers Workshop before they asked me to come and be on their faculty this year, but having minored in geology, I actually knew what the Permian Basin is, so I was like, sure. The event will be in Midland, Texas from September 15 through the 17th. I’ll be doing my workshop called “How to Write a Dynamite Mystery or Thriller That SELLS” on Saturday the 16th. Coincidentally, fellow Writer’s Digest personality Chuck Sambuchino will be doing a boot camp there on the 15th. Anyway, if you live in the general area of West Texas, or even if you live in someplace like Stuttgart, consider joining us for a non-grueling, lively series of presentations. I’ll be doing my longer version of that workshop, over two sessions instead of one, and participants will be able to do a bit of real live writing to test out my ideas — and theirs. Productivity! Yes. Gonna wear my custom cowboy boots, made many years ago in the nearby town of San Angelo. (’nother coincidence.)


[I designed them, too, with my initials done the same way as I sign them. Boots by Rusty Franklin Boot Co. These are peewees, but he made a standard pair for me too, black and cream in color. This is not my first rodeo. Photo by ES.]

Update re: ZB 210
Remember the Cuban restaurant I wrote about last week? Marcia and I decided to go there for dinner that night, only to find it closed. A staff member at the other location said the closure was permanent.

A Nasty Problem
But speaking of restaurants and visibility, I’m reminded of how dueling signage nearly ruined the business of a Chinese restaurant in a small town Marcia and I used to live in. When we were new there, we drove around to familiarize ourselves. We stopped at a light and noticed a restaurant and its large sign that said, nasty chinese restaurant. Why on earth would someone call their restaurant that?, we wondered. Let’s not eat there. Some days later, I was walking along that same street. I looked at the restaurant from a different angle, and saw that its name was really dynasty chinese restaurant. A traffic sign obscured the first part of their sign when viewed from directly across the street. Now, the sign didn’t really almost ruin their business, but it did have an odd impact. You gotta love language.

p.s. re: Jay
I was gratified that so many folks enjoyed the recent post about my friend Jay, his typewriter business, and his budding interest in photography (Zestful Blog post 209, “A Blind Man Sees It”). I just wanted to add one more thing about Jay: always smiling, always enjoying the moment — and being fully present.

Say it Loud
I’m dictating this post using Dragon Naturally Speaking software, premium version 13. After a friend alerted me to a post by Scott Baker about Dragon on Mark Dawson’s blog, I decided to give it another try. I had purchased and used the software a few years ago in advance of shoulder surgery, when I feared I’d be unable to write or type for a while. I didn’t take to it very well, so I did not continue with it after that. However, I’ve been having a lot of trouble handling all my projects and responsibilities and obligations. So I got hold of a newer version of Dragon and gave it a go, with more commitment this time, and I’m happy to report that it’s working pretty well. I use an inexpensive usb headset as recommended. I did have to correct Dragon on Chuck Sambuchino’s name, which came out “checks and Chino.” But barely a week after starting back using Dragon again, its accuracy is pretty good; Chuck’s name was one of only a few corrections I’ve had to make so far, and the only serious one. The first time I tried to dictate 1,000 words of original story, it took me three hours, what with having to make corrections as well as relearn the commands for dictation and navigation. But after just two more sessions, I dictated 1,000 words in an hour. I would imagine I can increase that to 2,000 without a whole lot of trouble. (And possibly much higher, given that a normal speaking pace is about 130 words per minute. 130 x 60 = 7,800.) The key is having what you want to say in mind, and then letting it flow without worrying very much. And don't be daunted by how much you don't know about it. If you just get the thing and follow the directions, you'll be fine. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes for me. Plus I can slouch in my comfy chair and work at the same time. Sip champagne and have my nails done.

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Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Pounding Power of Publicity

Zestful Blog Post #210

A few years ago, a neighborhood friend invited me to lunch at a tiny Cuban restaurant nearby. The food was fabulous, and reasonably priced too. The place could have done with a good scrubbing, but no matter: Every table was full and customers were waiting to get in. My friend introduced me to the owner, who talked about how incredibly busy he’d been, ever since a ‘guy’ with a popular TV show did a segment on his place.

I learned that before the ‘guy,’ business had been terrible. The owner opened a second location across town with hopes of improving his cash flow. But that failed, and he was facing having to close the original location too. His staff and friends got together and convinced the TV guy to check this place out. Guy came, he saw, he ate.

The morning after the show aired, the owner decided he’d better get to the restaurant extra early to do more prep work in case it got busy when he opened. When he arrived, a long line of customers had already formed, and the restaurant wasn’t going to open for two hours yet. And ever since then, the place had been super busy, and this was a couple of years down the line. Great Cuban dishes, great staff.



But then the owner got slapped with a health code violation. Roaches and dirt, yeah. It seems he didn’t take it very seriously. The next inspection, he got closed down. Customers mourned. According to my sources, the owner refused to do what the health department required, so they kept him closed. Then, sadly, the owner died unexpectedly.

The owner of another Cuban restaurant in town bought the place, cleaned it out (he told me it took his team two weeks to do a thorough job), renovated it, and opened under his own name. The food is just as marvelous. But guess what? Hardly anybody goes there. You can always get a (nice clean) table.

The pounding power of publicity. A very simple lesson for anybody who wants to sell anything. Followed by a very simple lesson in common sense: Mop up or else.

What do you think? To post, click below where it says, ‘No Comments,’ or ‘2 Comments,’ or whatever. [Photo by ES.]

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