Monthly Archives: January 2011

Parking Close

Unlike many cities in the country gripped with a recession and suffering from a decrease in retail sales, San Diego continues to thrive. Just venture out to a shopping mall, restaurant, or the local Costco Wholesale, and you’d think they were giving stuff away. 

Given the fact that most retailers and restaurants offer plenty of parking—except for the Christmas season when you can’t even buy a parking spot—why is it that most people (and I’m not referring to handicapped folks), are obsessed with parking as close to the structure as possible? 

I can understand wanting to shorten your walk when it’s minus 20 degrees in Saint Paul, or 110 in Fresno, or you’re stuck in the middle of a torrential rainstorm in Houston, but on a beautiful, seventy-degree-day in Southern California, what motivates people to fight for close parking spots?

Haven’t they heard that walking is actually healthy?  It’s not as if they had to schlep their purchases to the car. Most retailers do provide shopping carts. 

I really don’t give a damn where anybody parks, or how hell-bent they are with parking close. For all I care, they can fight over that first parking spot for the next millennium and it wouldn’t bother me. However, when some clown in his BMW X5 sits in the middle of the aisle, blocking traffic, talking on his cell phone, signal flashing as a warning to anyone that he has dibs on the soon-to-be-vacated parking spot, and I’m log jammed behind him, then yes, I have a problem. 

It all comes down to common courtesy—a lost art. There is no easy solution to this problem short of a fist fight, but I do have what I feel is an effective way to handle it. Mount a rocket launcher on your hood (you can actually buy one on the Internet), and have a trigger installed on your steering wheel. The next time you get stuck behind some dimwit gumming up the works with his big-ass SUV, blow your horn and give the knucklehead 30 seconds to find a different parking spot. If he doesn’t comply, aim carefully. You wouldn’t want to hurt an innocent bystander.

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Mandatory Tipping

My wife and I love to dine out. Like most people, we have our list of favorites, but we rarely, if ever, go to what I call “fancy” restaurants. In fact, even if I was a millionaire, there are many restaurants that are sinfully overpriced and I would never consider dining there. I have a real problem with getting ripped off. It’s not a matter of money; it’s a matter of principle and value for the dollar. Frankly, I don’t think there is a meal anywhere on planet Earth worth $100. I mean, just how good can the service, setting, and food be to justify such an outrageous price? And just to set the record straight, ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you that I’m anything but cheap. In fact, friends and relatives have told me that I can spend money like a drunken sailor. 

In most cases, unless the service absolutely sucks, I am a generous tipper. My wife and I debate this issue all the time. She’s a fair tipper, but I have a tendency to over-tip, particularly if the server provided exceptional service. But there is one thing about tipping that drives me nuts. It’s what I call “Mandatory Tipping.” 

Dine at just about any restaurant with a party of six or more, and you don’t have to worry about calculating a fair tip, because the restaurant will be kind enough to do it for you by adding an 18% gratuity to the bill. How kind. They will also factor in the tip if you participate in a buy-one, get-one-free promotion. Now don’t get me wrong. Most servers work their tails off and deserve to be fairly compensated. Waiting on whiney, demanding customers is no easy task. But hey, aren’t tips voluntary? Is it my obligation to supplement a server’s wages because the employment laws allow restaurants to pay them below minimum wage? 

One restaurant my wife and I frequently patronize even calculates the gratuity on the tax. On the tax! I won’t, of course, stop dining out because of mandatory tipping. But the practice will continue to annoy me. 

Have you noticed that lots of things piss me off?

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Death Sentence

Back in September and October of last year—just before the elections—I saw a news clip of Jan Brewer at a press conference when she was campaigning for governor of Arizona. Watching her avoid answering nearly every question, and appalled by the few answers she did provide, I thought to myself, “No way will the voters of Arizona elect this fruitcake to the governor’s office.” Guess what? She won. But it wasn’t just her sidestepping questions that struck me; it was her facial expressions. I saw something eerie behind those beady eyes. 

It didn’t take very long for Governor Brewer to confirm my initial feelings about her. She’s not only a fruitcake, she’s a monster. She recently spearheaded legislation to cut Medicaid benefits to nearly 100 people waiting for organ transplants. Governor Brewer has literally sentenced these people to death. Two have already died and if nothing changes, more deaths are looming.   

Granted, Arizona, like many states across the nation is faced with enormous budget deficits. The lawmakers have to make painful cuts in spending for social programs and other essential services. I can only imagine how difficult it is to decide which programs to cut.  But hey, it’s one thing to trim after-school programs for kids, or to make cuts to public transportation, and quite another issue altogether when these cutbacks jeopardize lives. 

Here are two facts that help substantiate the absurdity of this decision. First, Governor Brewer claims that transplants do not extend lives. She believes that transplant recipients do not benefit from transplants, so why spend the money. What? Is she a physician? Does she have medical training that would support her position? Now bear in mind that dozens of healthcare professionals have come forward and disputed her claim, pointing out that transplants do, in fact, extend lives. Second, this entire program costs less than two million dollars. And when you talk about government budgets, two-million-dollars is chump-change. 

What really surprises me (well, maybe it doesn’t), most Republicans support Governor Brewer’s “death panel”. To the best of my knowledge, no Republicans have come forward opposing this insane legislation, or at least have not made their position newsworthy. Aren’t there any conservative politicians out there with a conscience? How could anyone with even a grain of common decency or moral responsibility support this horrific legislation?

Issues like this make me ashamed to be an American. And please don’t insult me with the “love America or leave it cliché.” If supporting legislation that kills people makes me an American, then  I would gladly give up my citizenship. I hear Canada is nice.

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Holding My Breath

Well, after eight months of taxing my brain, working six or seven long days every week, and tossing and turning every night with plot ideas and twists and turns, I’m happy to announce that Resuscitation, the sequel to They Never Die Quietly, is completed, edited, and in my agent’s hands. 

Now, as you might imagine, comes the most agonizing part of writing: Waiting. The way the book-publishing business is today, volatile and uncertain, particularly for “brick and mortar” bookstores, the birth of E-Books and print-on-demand has changed the whole landscape of book publishing. For newcomers like me, the competition for publishing contracts is ferocious. New writers face a perplexing catch 22. Without a track record (a strong following and above-average sales), it’s nearly impossible to get published. But if you aren’t published, how do you establish a track record? All I can do is hope that some acquisition editor out there falls in love with my manuscript. 

Another issue a novelist faces after completing a book is a profound sense of disconnect. Think about this. For eight months, I literally lived with my characters; not just when I was writing, but nearly every conscious moment. These are people I created with multi-dimensional characters. They felt happy, fearful, regret, love, anger, vulnerable, sad, confident, and confused. I had a relationship with each and every one of them. And now they’re gone. It’s as if they all boarded a plane and it crashed in the Pacific Ocean. They can’t move forward, grow old, get married, find a new career, or chew a piece of gum. They live in my memory, but they stand frozen in time, held hostage by the words on each page of the book. Even I, the writer, wants to know what happens next, but there is no “next” unless they live on in another book. It’s an eerie feeling. Perhaps that’s why many novelists like James Patterson write a series of novels focused on the same hero, like Alex Cross. Guess I have to chew on that for a while.

Maybe Detectives Sami Rizzo and Al Diaz will live on.

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The Hypocrisy of Friendship

I’m not exactly a spring chicken, therefore, I have had a good number of friends come and go throughout my life. A handful—very few indeed—never fade away or sabotage the friendship in any way. However, at the risk of sounding cynical, I can count on one hand (three fingers to be exact), the number of friends that have hung in there through thick and thin. To be clear, I’m not referring to casual acquaintances, work associates, neighbors, or people I run into at the grocery store or church. I’m talking about people with whom I have an intimate relationship; the type of people I can count on, share my innermost thoughts with, and not ever worry about them judging me. People who accept me for who I am, and don’t try to mold me into their way of thinking. 

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no bargain. Quite to the contrary. In fact, I can be a real pain in the ass. I’m brutally sarcastic. I’m extremely opinionated, and often impatient. I expect my friends to take the initiative with phone calls and e-mails. I am often quick to criticize and slow to forgive. And if you really piss me off, I can hold a grudge for decades. Aside from these unsavory characteristics, if you can put up with my idiosyncrasies, I’m as loyal as a Golden Retriever. Call me at three a.m. with a flat tire, and I’m there. Ask me to float you a couple hundred till payday, and I’ll hand it over, no questions asked. I’ll even cut your lawn if you pull a muscle. 

I have lost two dear friends recently for reasons I cannot comprehend. One of them has completely written me off because I write novels about diabolical serial killers. She’s never confronted me; she simply vanished from my life. I guess she cannot separate my creative mind from the real me. To her, they are one in the same. She doesn’t care about how much I give to charities, or that I sponsor three orphans in Tijuana. All she’s focused on is my serial killer novels, and for some reason, she believes they define who I am. 

The other friend dissolved our relationship because we have different viewpoints on a number of controversial issues, and during the course of debate, I stepped over a few sensitive lines and seriously offended her. She hasn’t officially announced that our friendship is terminated, but when she removed me from her blog mailing list and deleted a link to my web site through her blog roll, well, I think that’s a pretty clear message. 

So I guess the point I’m trying to make is that friendships—no matter how solid they appear—are fragile. And no matter how secure you feel, you might be only one comment away from losing a friend you believed would stand by you forever.

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