Blog

… and a cat named Pepper!

Went to the South Carolina DMV this afternoon to get a new driver’s license and plates for the BMW.

Left without the driver’s license.

Left without the plates.

Turns out, I was missing one of the 323 items I needed to prove my identity.

The state wanted the following:

A valid out-of-state driver’s license

  • An up-to-date passport
  • A birth certificate
  • Your first born child
  • A cat named Pepper
  • An elephant tusk
  • The molar from a Great White shark
  • Three robin’s eggs
  • A 10-speed Schwinn
  • 14 gold bricks
  • The Crown Jewels
  • The last 10 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues
  • A self-published novel (hey, I got one of those)
  • 2 dozen chicken feathers
  • A lock of hair from Kim Kardashian
  • Four pounds of toenail clippings
  • One pound of bellybutton fuzz
  • A … we’ll be here all day.

And I was. Four hours after arriving, a disembodied voice announced  “Now serving D 4,000 at counter three.” I staggered up from my chair and shuffled to counter three where a woman with a beehive hairdo that went out of style in 1952 put out her hand and said with a smoker’s rasp, “License.”

She took it, looked at my photo.

“This doesn’t look like you,” she said. “You used to be fat. Don’t get me wrong, you’re still fat, only not as fat as when you were really fat. Come back when you look like the fat guy on the license.”

I rushed out and downed a couple hundred chocolate covered Twinkies. I came back. Waited another four hours. Got up to the same counter, same clerk.

“This doesn’t look like you,” she said. “You used to be skinnier.”

I broke down, falling to the floor and curling into a fetal position.

“Gimme your required items,” the clerk said, as I sobbed uncontrollably.

“My cat’s name is Benny, not Pepper,” I said, holding up my spitting tabby, who was none too happy being on a leash. “That’s OK, isn’t it?”

“Gotta have a cat named Pepper,” she said.

“But it’s a cat,” I implored. “I don’t even like cats.”

She pressed a button under her desk and the disembodied voice said, “Now serving D 4,562 at counter three,” and a disheveled man lurched up and, wiping chocolate from his face, elbowed me aside.

Fine, I thought. I’ll just go get the plates.

“You can’t get plates here,” said another clerk. “You have to go to the treasurer’s office first, and pay property taxes on the vehicle.”

“Where’s the treasurer’s office?” I asked.

“‘Bout 100 miles north,” she said.

“Property taxes?”

“You’re car’s property, isn’t it?”

“Well, it’s my property, but I don’t live in it? I have a house for that.”

“That’s great. You can pay your property taxes on your house while you’re there.”

Signing, I asked, “Then what?”

“Then you come back here.”

“For what?”

“To get your license. Can’t get plates without a license. Just remember to bring all 323 items to prove your identity.”

Sorry my love, I need a new model

This is going to come as a shock to the woman who shares my life. No doubt it will hurt her. Maybe she’ll even cry.

But this has been a long time coming. It’s been building inside me, like a mushroom growing in a deep, dark place.

I’m not even sure how I can put it into words. Truth is, I can’t tell her face-to-face, so I’m going to do it right here. Right now.

I need a new model. Something newer with more … um, more  … oh, let’s just come out and say it, accessories.

I’m talking about a new car, of course.

What did you think I was talking about?

Anyway, it’s a sad fact that I suffer from car envy. Six months after buying a new car, I get the itch. Sometimes it’s less.

And not just any kind of car. A sports car.

I’ve owned sports cars all my life. Mustang. MGB. Camero. Z3. Z4. 350Z. 370Z. I like any car with numbers and letters in its name, especially the letter Z.

I adored my Z cars. They were sleek. They were fast. They were … me.

I was doing just fine until the day came when I realized that I needed a forklift to get out of the car.

They’re low slung, and the older I got so was I. Sometimes, it could take me half a day to get into the thing and another day or two to get out. There were times I was tempted to just sleep in the car because it would be less trouble than exiting the vehicle.

So, a few years back, I did the grown up thing and put away my sports car dreams and bought a Nissan Juke.

Perhaps you’ve never heard of it. That’s because Nissan only sold two of them. One to an Uber driver in Zimbabwe, the other to me.

The Juke is, let’s be honest, bug ugly. If you saw something that looked like it crawling across your living room floor you’d step on it.

But I manned up and bought it anyway. By the time I drove the 15 minutes from the dealership to my house, I was ready to trade it in.

I suffered for a year. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep. Well, that’s a lie. There’s nothing that keeps me from eating. But I couldn’t sleep. That part’s true. I’d lie awake, dreaming of Porsche Boxters, and Chevy Corvettes and Dodge Vipers.

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and I begged the woman who loves me to set me free. She relented, but said enough with the cars I couldn’t get into or out of.

“You’re not 18 anymore,” she said, and let me tell you that came as a surprise.

Still, I took her advice and I bought a used – USED!!!!!!!!! – BMW 128I convertible. It’s a nice car, but … it’s 7 years old!!! Seven!!!!! Usually, I’d have owned 3 maybe 4 cars in a seven-year span.

I so much want to ask, beg, plead, beseech, entreat her to let me fly again in a brand new, oh, say, Mazda Miata.

Unfortunately, she has stopped working full-time and has announced that from now to the end of my days we are on a budget.

“No more eating out, no more movies,” she has decreed.

“Uh, what are we going to do then?”

“We’ll sit at home, on the couch together and watch episodes of Call the Midwife.”

“And my car?”

“It’s a perfectly fine car. And it has the added bonus that you can actually get out of it.”

I suppose she’s right. It’s a fin … excelle … okay car.

It just isn’t a Boxster, or Corvette, or Viper.

Faster than a speeding bullet … mostly

I started the day with this thought: Get out of my way, Usain Bolt.

Yes, I often think about Mr. Bolt, the “supposed” fastest man in the world. I say “supposed” because Mr. Bolt has never seen me run. I am, to borrow a phrase from my favorite TV show as a kid, faster than a speeding bullet.

No, I’ve never competed in the Olympics. Because I have nothing to prove. I know how fast I am and that’s all that’s important.

I could, if I cared to, smoke Mr. Bolt. And if he were perchance to dream of challenging me, this would be my reply. “Usain? Ucrazy!”

Now, I admit in my youth, I was somewhat of a slowpoke. I think I was timed in the 100-yard dash in two and a half minutes. Maybe it was three.

But I worked hard on my quickness and speed and there came a time nobody, and I mean nobody, could beat me from the car to the front door of McDonald’s. I left skid marks on the pavement I was so fast.

Anyway, I woke up today as I do most mornings thinking Usain ain’t got nothing on me.

Then I went to the gym.

I recently joined a rec center owned by Beaufort County here in beautiful South Carolina. It has an indoor walking track that I normally own. Normally as in I’m normally the only person on the track. But still.

Today started like most days, with me motoring around the track so fast that the breeze I created was pushing the hat off my head.

Then something remarkable happened. A young woman sauntered past me. When I say sauntered I mean she was, um, sauntering. Ambling. Moseying. Meandering.

She wasn’t walking fast. More like, slow. Very, very slow. Kind of, uh, sluggish like.

I picked up my pace. She wasn’t going to pass me, no sir. About five seconds later she was out of sight.

OK, maybe I’ve slowed some. I just turned 70 after all.

But, I told myself, you’re still a speed demon.

And then an old woman sped past me.

Pushing her walker.

She has an advantage, I thought. She’s so bent over her nose is touching the ground, helping her inch along.

Unfair, I shouted. Cheater.

Everybody looked at me. Looked at her. Looked at me. And burst out laughing.

I was never so humiliated.

Ever heard of Usain Bolt? I asked the guffawers. He’s scared of me.

I picked up my pace. I was going to catch that old woman, obviously a relative of Usain’s, if it was the last thing I did. I became a blur. She became a small dot on the horizon.

By the time I finished, I was sweating and winded. Back to my car, I slunk. Took me 10 minutes to get into it, but once there, you can’t believe how fast I was in getting to the nearest McDonald’s.

Take that Usain.

The bike, the ground, and standing still

I fell off my bike the other day.

Saying I crashed my bike would sound manlier, but the truth is I fell off the bike.

While standing still.

Now this is no easy feat. You’re standing, waiting to cross the road and … and … and then you go boom. On the ground.

I wrote the other day about going for a ride and 6,386 degree weather and forgetting my water bottle and turkey vultures that just wanted me to die and donate my organs to the TVFK – the Turkey Vulture Food Kitchen.

What I didn’t mention is falling off my bike.

Because, you know … embarrassment.

My bike pedals have cleats, which means I can lock my bike shoes onto them, which theoretically gives my foot and ankle a greater range of motion than traditional push pedals, or even stirrups.

That is if you’re not older than dirt and have ankles that are frozen as solid as the tundra in Green Bay.

So anyway, I’m clipped into the pedals. Every time I come to a road, or driveway, I usually give a little twist to my right shoe and unclip it so that I have one good leg to stand on.

I did this very thing as I approached a crossroad. I came to a stop. Stood there for a moment. Or should I say, leaned there. Against a street sign.

My left foot is still clipped into its cleat.

Now a smart man might have freed both feet, but, you know … stupidity.

I wait for cars to pass. And wait. And wait. Suddenly, my weight shifts. To the left.

I go to put my left foot down to steady myself , but you know … dead brain cells.

Suddenly, the ground is rushing up at me. Suddenly, it greets my derrière with a thump. Suddenly, I’m rolling around in the dirt. Suddenly, I can hear the guffaws of drivers in their cars as they whiz by.

Slow as a grizzly rousing itself from deep hibernation, I rise, dust myself off and am thankful I see no bones jutting out from my skin. I take a step and nearly fall from a pain in my groin that is unprecedented in the history of the world. The pain, not my groin. No jokes, please, about my groin.

Couple of years back, I had a hip replacement, and since then, I’ve had a knifing pain on the inside of my left thigh. I thought maybe it was a hernia. How I might have developed a hernia while in surgery, I didn’t know, but I had no other explanation.

I went to another doctor who did a bunch of tests – X-rays and MRIs and poking – and told me that it was likely that something was pinching a nerve ending. And not in a good way.

“To replace the hip, your surgeon had to lift and move a bunch of nerves. They’re like spaghetti. Did you ever pick up spaghetti and put it back on the plate? It never goes back the same way.”

“I don’t put spaghetti back on the plate,” I said. “Whatever comes off the plate goes in my mouth.”

So the pain is always there and my falling off the bike made it worse. Much worse. Much, much worse.

Still, because I’m a man, I continued the ride and it was later I discovered I had no water and that I was going to die.

Somehow, I survived and that night I told my life partner what had happened. I was, of course, expecting sympathy. Some cooing. Some sweet murmurs of compassion.

What I got was, “What the heck is wrong with you? You don’t have a leg to stand on.”

Well, at least, that much was true.

When it’s 6,386 degrees, never go riding without … !!!!!

I decided that it was time for me to finally ride my bike.

As all three of you who read my blog are aware, I recently moved to South Carolina, where the sun shines brightly every day, except on days when there’s a hurricane.

Free of gale force winds this day, it was the perfect opportunity to hit the road. This was around 11 a.m., right after I finished my part-time job. (Yes, I’m retired and thought I was done with work, until the person who insists she loves me said, “Wanna ever take a vacation? Go back to work.”)

Anyway, at 11:01 I put on my bike shoes, my helmet and went outside to the garage, where I removed my bike from the standing rack and proceeded to try and put air in the tires, which were flat because I haven’t ridden in three, maybe four years.

The air and the tires refused to cooperate. I have skinny tires. They usually take one look at me and go, “No, nope. Not gonna happen,” and refuse to accept any life giving nitrogen, oxygen and argon, otherwise known as air to you non-scientific types.

Now, in a garage, at the start of summer, in South Carolina, is like crawling inside an oven and closing the door. Within seconds, I was sweating. Seconds later, I was swearing. Seconds later, I was sweating and swearing at the same time.

But, I refused to give up and two hours later, the skinny tires had enough air to carry my considerable bulk and I headed out. I’d gone about three feet when I realized it was hot. I stopped and asked Siri how hot it was. Siri knows everything. Even how hot it is.

“It’s freakin’ hot is what it is,” Siri said.

“Yeah, but how hot?” I asked.

“Six thousand, three hundred, eighty-six degrees,” Siri said.

Siri is never wrong.

“Wow,” I said, “that’s hot.”

“Go back inside, you idiot,” Siri said.

I’m not one to let my iPhone assistant push me around, however, and I again set out. I rode, and rode, and rode until I decided it was time to turn back. I stopped. Reached for my water bottle. Came up with nothing but a clenched fist.

Oh, I thought. My water bottle is back home. On the kitchen island. With a post-it note saying, “REMEMBER TO TAKE WATER!!!!!” with 5 exclamation points!!!!!

Hmm, this is bad, I thought. It’s 6,383 degrees and I have no water. I’m going to die out here in the desert.

Then I saw a piece of cardboard. “Gadzooks! Eureka! Forsooth, a solution!” Yes, I said, “Gadzooks” and “Eureka” and “Forsooth” because I am a cultured man, even when I am dying of thirst.

With the cardboard, I thought, I can wet my finger, rub it in the dirt, and make a little mud and write, “Left my water at home Water bottle on the kitchen island along with a reminder note!!!!! Need agua!!!!! Please help a dying man!!!!!” with 5 exclamation points!!!!!

Excited, I put my finger in my mouth, but my mouth was dry as sand. As dust. As a bone. As … you get the idea. Had no spit. Not a single drop.

This is bad, I said.

“You’re darn right,” Siri said.

“I didn’t ask for your opinion,” I said.

“Well, I’m giving to you anyway, you big dummy.”

Grim faced, I climbed back on my bike and started back home. A couple of hundred yards in, a turkey vulture flew over my head. It looked down, saw my distress and obviously thought, “Lunch!!!!!” with five exclamation points.

It kept circling, lower and lower until I thought I could hear it say, “Die already you flabby sonavagun. I could feed the whole family for an entire year on your carcass!!!!!”

I took my phone out again and asked, “Siri, how much farther?”

“Too far,” Siri said. “You’re going to expire any minute now. We should have gone back inside.”

Determined not to let Siri or the turkey vulture win, I pushed on until, Gadzooks, Eureka, Forsooth, I made it home.

Where I promptly collapsed on the front lawn. I came to when felt the turkey vulture nibbling my earlobe.

I crawled inside. Reached the kitchen island. With great effort I rose up and grabbed my water bottle. It was empty. Fluttering down to the floor was another post-it note.

“BEFORE YOU GO, FILL YOUR WATER BOTTLE!!!!!”

With 5 exclamation points.

Tarzan and the quicksand of advertising

Recently, I received an email from my publisher, KDP, inviting me to a webinar on how to promote my most recent novel, “My Grave Is Deep,” and I were so inclined, the two previous books in the Noah Greene series, “Tears in the Rain” and “Tears of God.”

A nice woman led a throng of us writers not named John Grisham, Lee Child or George R.R. Martin, through what only can be described as the swamp of KDP advertising/marketing platform. I say swamp not in a derogatory way. I only mean that if you venture in, you’re likely to get sucked under in the quicksand of details on what it takes to set up a KDP ad campaign.

There are keywords to come up with, bids to make on those keywords to be competitive with other keyword bidders, metrics, dashboards and advertising cost to books bought ratio.

By the time she was finished, I’d gone under, like the nasty villains (is there any other kind?) in Tarzan and the Amazons, in which a bloated Johnny Weissmuller looks as if he swallowed an actual Amazon.

Of course, like Kirkus, which favorably reviewed “My Grave Is Deep” and the New York Review of Books, which saw that favorable review, KDP wants money for me to do, um, ALL THE FREAKIN’ WORK!

I can understand Kirkus and NYRB because they aren’t the publishers.

But KDP IS the publisher and, as such, takes a healthy cut of every book that gets bought. So healthy that if my last name was Grisham, KDP would look like Tarzan in the aforementioned film.

Sure, KDP built the advertising tools, dense though they are, but to ask an author to pay for the right to advertise a book they’re already making money on is taking a second, third and fourth bite of the Amazon … uh, apple.

I can set a budget for the ad campaign and decide how much my keyword bids are. (As a side note, KDP recommends at least 100 keywords for the campaign so that when readers do a search they can see your ad. 100? Beyond “mystery” and “please” and “buy” I’m having a hard time coming up with 10 keywords. “Starving?” “Broke?”) Based on sales, my budget for a one-month campaign would be about, $1.

Truth is, I’ve calculated how many books I’d need to sell to afford Kirkus, NYRB and KDP ads and it comes out to about 6 million.

The next sound you hear is me yelling “Tarzan! Throw me a vine!”

My “Interesting” author interview

I’ve be AWOL (Absent Without Leave for you youngsters, all two of you) for several weeks because I’ve been busy.

We’ve just moved to a new home in the South, and my loving partner cleverly left me alone to make ALL the decisions, which as we men in the crowd know will be changed the minute she arrives on the scene. Anyway, her excuse was she wanted to continue to work.

“How long?” I asked.

“Oh, you know,” she said. Translated that meant “Until all the work on the new house is done, boxes unpacked, everything put away, contractors finished with their work, all loose ends tied up.”

So, I’ve been here as a parade of contractors came through and fixed what should have been fixed the first time around. And, of course, they give you those windows of time that force you to wait on their arrival.

“We’ll be there sometime between tomorrow and 2022.”

I’ve also had computer issues. My Mac did NOT want to connect to my network. I’ve discovered that I now lead such a connected life that one blip leaves me cowering in a corner, in a fetal position, crying and slobbering all over the brand new carpet, for which I need to get a carpet cleaner who will give me a time window of several months between the hours of 3 a.m. and midnight.

But things are looking up and suddenly, this morning, my computer said, “Hello, where have you been?”

During my time away, I also did an author interview. No, really. I was interviewed by Tony Eames of NFreads.com, a general interest website with an emphasis on featuring interesting authors of both fiction and non fiction. I’ve never been called interesting before. Well, once, in high school, when a girl told me I had interesting eyebrows. “The rest of you, not so much,” she said with a smile.

Anyway, the interview is up on the site and can be found here.

Meanwhile, sales of “My Grave Is Deep” is picking up. Got a royalty check for two figures! Two!

Two figures here, two figures there and pretty soon, I’ll be able to buy lunch.

Of course,, I won’t be able to go out for lunch because I’ll still be waiting on the carpet cleaners.