Search This Blog

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Vicious Circle

Since my hook didn’t make it through the Ethernet to Snark central, I’ve been hesitant to comment on the Crapometer (it was my E-mail glitch, not the Snark’s). Having read what most of the pulp fiction type hooks received in the way of comment, I would have probably been lucky to get a ‘yawn’. Many pulp fiction hooks were dismissed out of hand because their theme was too familiar, yet bookstores are filled with formula westerns, romances, thrillers, young adult, and horror novels. They sell. People love ‘em. The problem of writing for the market, or writing what you enjoy, comes up on writing blogs all the time. I think a more immediate problem is literary agents ignoring the market place, and slushing manuscripts because they go against their literary or political tastes. I realize the publishing world employs many of the most leftist kooks on the planet in positions where they can make an enterprising agent’s life miserable, but it’s still unfathomable as to why. Money is an underlying thread, which entices publishers, editors, agents, and writers. We can all write about the art and love of words; but let’s face it, money, or the potential of it, plays a big part in igniting ambition.

When I fix a vehicle, I do it for the money. I can tell you I love working on cars and trucks, and I’m really good at it; but those are just words, whether they’re true or not (they are by the way). The measure of how good I am is that I make a living at it. I love my writing, and it goes beyond passion; because it also works as a cathartic outlet for my everyday frustrations, and even world opinions. Until my writing makes me money like my day job, the measure of how good I am at it is irrelevant. I have similar tendencies to the publishing world, in that I only work on American and Asian vehicles, just as an individual publisher or agent only handles certain genres of literature. The difference between what I do for money, and what publishers and agents do, is I don’t turn away work from customers just because they hold views, political or religious, which are contrary to mine. I believe agents and publishers have begun to allow their personal preferences to interfere with a very real marketplace. Instead of making money with marketable goods, they try to force the market to change by preventing what they believe to be trashy fiction from reaching the book racks. Television is exactly the opposite. If something hits big, they feed the market until the market is no longer there (CSI shows for example).

Another thing I found out beyond anything else in reading the hundreds of entries in the Snark’s Crapometer is I don’t ever want to be a literary agent. :)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


I came into the shop today, fresh from four days off, only to find my Auto Shop business sign waving at me in gale force winds. The adhesive my painter had fastened the large sign to my building with had let go on one half. He put up the ‘guaranteed for life’ sign a year and a half ago. Little did I know when I called him, my sign’s life guarantee was up. Literally not having a moment to spare on his tap dance as to why he had no intention of coming over to fix it, I said I’ll take care of it, and hung up. After a harried search for metal anchors, bolts, masonry bit, and air drill, I propped my elongated, feeble sixteen foot ladder precariously against the loose part of the sign to keep it still. Before I could head up into the still gale force wind to start drilling, my phone rings. It’s my old buddy, the painter.

“I get the feeling you’re blaming me because the adhesive didn’t hold,” he states in that annoying tone of voice people use when trying to make things they’re responsible for, someone else’s fault.

“Don’t give it a second thought. It’s my fault. Now, I need to get off the phone before my lifetime guaranteed sign flies off my building, and either cuts someone in half or causes property damages more expensive than the four thousand dollar paint and sign job you did.”

“I did everything in my power to do what you wanted done,” he continues, acquiring the proper amount of building outrage. “You seem to think I can just drop everything and…”

“Enough,” I cut him off, peaking out at my very heavy ladder actually trying to walk off the wall with Mr. Wind’s help. “I have to go. Think what you want. That’s your problem. Bye.”

I hung up on him, wondering how I missed him explaining the choices between anchoring the sign in some other way, or having the wind blow it off after eighteen months. Thankfully, I’d under-booked my first morning back, and I had about an hour until my first appointment arrived. Climbing the ladder with Mr. Wind trying to make me into a party favor made for a little more excitement than I needed: just another reminder I wasn’t thirty anymore… or forty… or hell, fifty. Clutching the ladder while drilling holes in first the sign with a metal bit, and then three more in the wall with a masonry bit, all while allowing the bit to cool and measuring depth for the anchor, made for an invigorating exercise. Mumbling incoherent prayers for a post Christmas miracle in which I didn’t end up going splat on the sidewalk, I completed my task after only three trips back down for small things I neglected to remember. Having completed what safety dictates, I think I’ll wait for the winds to die down before anchoring the still fastened side. The Auto Repair business this morning will seem like a walk in the park now. :)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Comic Shop Time

I finished by noon, having under-booked so I could open the comic shop for a few hours and do some writing. The neighborhood kids, who follow a couple of titles (and at these cover prices, all any kid could do is follow a couple) have yelled in at me to open up the comic shop. They then laugh and run off. They know I’ll let them in to look around even if the front entrance isn’t open, while I continue working in the repair garage; but I think they feel uncomfortable doing it. I sell most of my comics to steady adult customers, who browse around while I’m changing their vehicle oil and filter. The Christmas lights are up, and I’m in a good mood, because I sold one of my self-published novels to a customer picking up a car yesterday. Only a few more to be sold for my self-publishing savings to be up to the mark, and I can bring the next manuscript forward from rejection hell into the light. :)

The Miss Snark Crapometer has been an eye opener. Not so much because I’m surprised at writers having a hard time coming up with a hook, but because there are so many demon and angel manuscripts. Although I didn’t get a number in the Crapometer, the hook I sent in was for a book I’ve had pages requested for from agents already. Usually I call it a day when I hit somewhere between twenty and thirty rejections, depending on when I get the vanity press kitty up to speed. My son has suggested I might have to die, and then my books could hit the big time. Smart Ass…

Oh look, here through the door of my beloved comic shop entrance come a few of the 38th Avenue gangsters. They’re okay with me though, because they know I have Mr. Smith and Wesson with me. They usually just look around and leave, because they hate it when I make them repeat whatever it is they ask me at least four times, or until they say it slow enough for me to understand. They have a ritual when wanting to take a shot at me. One of them will walk up to the shelf with my self-published books, and thumb through one of my books, cackle and then put it back up on the shelf while giving me what I think is a knowing look. If they knew how really thick my skin is, they wouldn’t waste their time. My writing has been insulted by experts. Writing this while they’re browsing is making me smile, and one of them has noticed. He’s walking toward me, with a head bob warning he wants to ask me something.

“Hey, grandpa, I got a car question for you.”

I am a grandpa, and boy can I answer car questions. So far, so good, and in English.

“I’m here to help you with anything I can,” I lied.

“That’s your old Buick out there in front, ain’t it?”

“Yes, it is.” Oh boy, there go my windows and tires. Mr. Buick gets parked inside the shop from now on.

“How much you want for it?”

“Five thousand dollars,” which is my stock answer. It’s a beater, but it’s my beater, and that’s the only price that’ll make me feel good about selling it.

This evokes much hilarity from the three young men.

“You crazy,” the asker says, shaking his head. “You can’t get five thou’ for that clunker.”

No, really? This kid is quick.

“It gets me where I’m going,” I say instead, “and I didn’t ask if you wanted to buy it. You asked me how much I’d sell it for.”

“Okay, ol’ man, I get you.”

The three turned to leave.

“You guys forgot your free comic, and poster,” I shock them, and they walk up to the counter again. I gesture at the large selection of promotional comics I have left over from free comic book day, and the stack of folded posters I get from the warehouse free. “Pick out a couple of anything you want from the samples.”

Fifteen minutes later, and they’re walking out with their comics and posters. Freebies: the universal language. They even replied to my ‘Merry Christmas’. Maybe Mr. Buick can stay outside after all. :)

Monday, December 18, 2006


Monday morning in auto repair always provokes dread in me, in spite of already facing nearly eighteen hundred of them. From the moment I park my beater out in front, to the final security door lock opening, an indescribable chill always gives me pause, even in a summer heat wave. No heat wave today to warm the chill. My handy-dandy AC-Delco antique thermometer reads a frosty thirty-seven degrees. Poor me, right? A cold Northern California morning, which will probably warm to a sunny sixty by noon.

I open my roll-up front door, and my eight o’clock appointment hasn’t arrived yet, so I turn to walk back in the office. A voice sounding three octaves higher than mine, and older (if that’s possible) calls out to me from the sidewalk.

“Young man!”

I like that. Wrong, but from her point of view, probably accurate.

“Yes, Ma’am, can I help you?” I asked sincerely, noting this thin woman, bundled against the cold, could have been any age from seventy-five to a hundred and five.

“Do you make house calls?”

Ugh! No, I silently tick off all the reasons I can’t jump into my beater with a pair of pliers and a hammer, and race over to her house for a quick magical repair: I’m a one man shop and would have to close the operation down to go; two, no matter what tool I took with me, it would be the wrong tool; three, I’m too old for house calls, and although I occasionally write about them, I am not a magician. Even ‘House’ doesn’t make house calls.

“No, Ma’am,” I answered with real regret. “I’m the only one here, and I have to be here for…”

“I’m sure it’ll only take a minute,” she interrupted me with surprising vigor. “My neighbor came over and looked at it. He said it’s not that serious.”

Oh boy, second guessed before I even get started.

“Uh… no offense, but why didn’t your neighbor fix it for you?” I asked with my best concerned look.

“He would have, but he has a bad back,” she explained.

Mine ain’t exactly what it used to be either, but it would seem like I’m piling on to mention that now.

“He doesn’t like Hondas either, and mine’s a 92 Honda Accord.”

“Come on in the office,” I requested, holding the door for her. “I have the heater on, and you can tell me what kind of problem you’re having with the Honda.”

“It won’t start,” the woman said succinctly, waving out at a young woman parked in front of my shop to wait for a moment.

“My daughter brought me over,” she explained, as she entered the office and sat down on a chair near the heater.

“Here’s what I would suggest, Ma’am,” I began reasonably, sitting down at my desk. “Have the car towed over, and I’ll do a diagnostic check to find out exactly what’s keeping it from starting. Once I find…”

“It’s the starter,” she interrupted once again, with added vigor, and a hint of impatience. “My neighbor already told me what’s wrong.”

If that were true, I thought to myself, as I counted backwards from ten, I’d have really wasted a trip, if I did house calls. My days of driveway starter replacements were definitely in the past.

“Why don’t you tell me exactly what happened when you turned the key in the ignition to try and start the car this morning,” I urged with another award winning smile.

“The key wouldn’t turn, so I don’t know,” she informed me.

Monday, Monday… can’t trust that day, I sang internally, hoping she didn’t hear the sigh, which escaped me before I could clamp my lips shut. I cough gently to cover my faux pas.

“I have good news for you then,” I offered enthusiastically. “You probably won’t need the diagnostic check. The ignition switches go bad on those, and do exactly what you describe. I’ll bet the key has been getting stiff to turn for a while.”

“Yes,” the lady said, contemplating my news speculatively, “but I thought it was because of the colder mornings. “Why would the switch go bad?”

“Sometimes just age,” I explained. “May I see your key? It may be worn.”

When she took her key ring out of her purse, which was the size of a small suitcase, I instantly understood what put the final nail in Mr. Ignition Switch’s coffin. This lady had more things on her key ring than Mr. Jing-a-Ling: keeper of the keys. I was doing it a disservice calling it a key ring. This multi-link chain may have been assembled to open the Pentagon, but now was relegated to holding a complete pewter collection of indeterminate miniature unicorns or something. She handed it to me, and I figured the weight at just over five pounds. Only incredible manufacturing could have kept Mr. Honda Ignition Key turning so long. After a lengthy explanation (thankfully my eight o’clock was running late) I collected her phone number, and promised I would call her with an exact estimate.

My phone rang just as I hung up with the dealership after checking the cost of a Honda ignition switch. My eight o’clock, and nine o’clock, had just pulled up together. Oh goody! I answered it in a superlative business like manner as usual, and then quickly held the portable away from my ear.

“What the hell’s wrong with you, you crook!!?” An extremely outraged male voice screamed at me. “Why the hell are you ripping this lady off!!? It’s the starter that’s bad, you moron!!!”

“Have you tried turning the key, Sir?” I called out from about a foot away from the phone, as I smiled ingratiatingly at my waiting customers.

“I had her turn the key to start it, while I watched under the hood, stupid! It ain’t working and the headlights are bright, which means the battery’s okay!”

“You try and turn the key, Sir,” I called out, and hung up the phone.

My new customer just called to get her Honda towed in. I should add a five dollar surcharge for being called a crook, idiot, moron, and stupid all in the same call.

Ahhhh… Monday. :)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Shop Item

Owning an auto repair shop in the demilitarized zone of East Oakland affords me the opportunity to cross paths with a varied assortment of fellow humans. While working on the undercarriage of a muddy 1999 F250 Ford truck, with rainwater dripping coldly onto my exposed body parts, I heard the shop’s motion detector go off. It has been a few years since I’ve been able to leap off my creeper (rolling travois for accessing underneath vehicles when one is too cheap to get a lift) so it took a moment for me to roll my aging carcass out from under the truck. Blocking my shop entrance, with engine running; and something in the Rap genre of music actually shaking my overhead fluorescent lighting, idled a mid eighties Buick POS (piece of s**t). Fortunately, the Buick owner shut the engine off; and with it, the sound system. I work on all American and Asian vehicles of any vintage, so I struggled gamely toward the car, allowing the kinks to work out of my joints, and the rainwater from the Ford to trickle icily down the back of my neck. When I reached the Buick, my ears ringing from the Buick’s now quiet sound system, I saw a young man of indeterminate age sitting in the driver’s seat with the cursed omnipresent cell-phone toggled to his ear.

“May I help…” I began, when what to my wondering eyes did appear, but the index finger of his extended left hand, jutting toward me in the universal wave off, can’t you see I’m on the phone gesture.

At that moment, the only thing keeping the young gentleman from being pulled through his driver’s side window was the comforting knowledge no matter what he said, or what he offered in payment, the chances of my ever touching his POS hung in the category of ice-cubes in hell. After a moment of suspended animation, where I bit the inside of my mouth hard enough to draw blood, the fellow told his caller to hang on, and then graced me with an irritated raised eyebrow look.

“When can I get a tune-up, and how much will it cost me?”

I gave him the wait one gesture, and went into my office, pretending I was in search of an appropriate estimate for his request; which in a way, I was: an astronomical one. I returned to his Buick with a polite smile and gave the gentleman the quote. His now bored expression turned immediately to outrage.

“You can’t charge that much for a tune-up,” he informed me.

I looked confused for a moment, and ducked outside, looking up at my building sign as if confirming something. I returned again to his driver’s side window.

“You are mistaken, young sir,” I explained, as his face reddened like a ripening tomato. “This is still my one-man shop, and I’m the only one quoting prices here, so if you want a different price, you’ll need to ask at a different shop. Have a nice day, and thanks for stopping.”

I turned away from him, and walked to my awaiting Ford truck. As I slid stiffly under the vehicle, I dislodged the last cooling raindrops from the undercarriage, my bare neck reaching out for them like a magnet. I heard the POS start, and felt the floor vibrate from the Buick’s blaring music system. The Buick owner pealed out of my shop driveway in a cacophony of sound. All was again right with the world. :)

Tuesday, December 5, 2006


The young woman looked up from the crop field she tended.
In the distance, a roan stallion trotted where the horizon ended.
From its back she glimpsed a grim hunched over shadow there.
Swaying unsteadily, this roan's burden, she saw with wary stare,
Guided the stallion down the hillside towards her furrowed land.
She looked fearfully back at the little girl with straw doll in hand,
Playing near a small pool of muddy water, their dog at her side.
Sniffing the air, the great black streaked cur ran with easy glide,
Low to the ground, past his mistress, pausing near the roan horse.
Tilting his shaggy head, he turned to squire the stranger's course,
Down towards where his mistress stood with ax in hand to greet,
What she had no doubt would be more ill misery for her to meet.
Her man, dead now these many months, she waited for their fate,
To find them in this vicious land, she and her daughter only bait,
For whatever new scourge would roll down towards her tiny lair.
She shivered as she felt her little girl clutch her leg in Fall's air.
The stallion stopped before her, as the dog nudged the little girl,
Provoking a giggle, which stirred the mounted Warrior to uncurl,
To look at the trio blearily from his swaying perch without guile.
His blood flecked sun burnt face crinkled into a weary wry smile,
As the little girl hugged the huge panting cur, innocently unaware,
Not feeling the strain pulsing within her ax wielding Mother fair,
Watching the chain-mailed giant slide slowly from his still mount.
His slate gray eyes scoured the small farm for any enemy to count,
Returning finally to the wary shivering woman, gripping her ax,
Well aware of what fate in this hostile land drew in way of a tax,
On a woman alone with child, their lives cast up in any ill breeze,
Blowing down from the hoary North, with warring tribes to seize,
The unprotected before them, to pillage all within their evil sight.
An arm, with writhing tendons, reached out from this dread blight,
To proffer a small gold coin in the scarred bloody Warrior's palm.
'I mean you no harm,' he said through cracked lips, seeking calm,
'Only a bit of water and food do I crave,' his deep voice droned.
She searched beyond him for a moment, where wind now moaned,
Down off of the hill, where she imagined his grisly horde now hid,
'Where be your men Sir?' She, in wavering feather soft voice bid.
'Both my enemies and friends lie together on battlefields now cold,
Across wastelands where since my youth I thought wars made bold,
All who trekked the Warrior path with bloody blade and steel nerve,
Could journey on to Valhalla, if first the War God they would serve.
Those visions be dust now lass, like the army at my back you seek,
I be alone, with need of provisions, rather than to maim the meek.'
She put down her ax, refusing his payment, beckoning him to come.
The little girl nestled in his gentle grasp, later, by the fire with rum,
And the dog dozing at his feet, the Warrior told of mystical places,
Of exotic women and kings, of golden thrones, and chariot races,
Until only the woman sat quietly awake, looking deep into his eyes,
'We need someone Sir,' she admitted, no need now for hidden lies.
'I have not much to offer one who has witnessed so much in his life,
But my daughter and I will be dead before long in this place of strife.'
The Warrior leaned forth to cover her hand with his, hope in his face.
'I never sold my sword ever for such wondrous reward as this place.
Take my oath I will never leave you and the little one until I am dead.'
Nodding, the woman gently stroked his face, 'then come Sir to my bed.'

The Lighter Side Of Growing Old

If only body, mind, and soul agreed,

To all go together by common creed.

Think of how lovely human life would be,

If memory, strength, and stamina agree,

To function smoothly till death do us part,

Then quality would persist from the start.

No more urges lacking locomotion,

Or locomotion lacking a notion.

No memories of what life provided,

But still an ache where desire resided,

Or memories of incredible needs,

With complacency growing like wild weeds.

Does pain finally make us wish to die,

Or lack of coherent thought to say goodbye?

We laugh now at what we once did in bed,

When we should be doing it till we are dead.

We obsess longingly over life past,

Trying to make dour longevity last.

Forgetting quality made life worthwhile,

We blindly pursue length instead of style.