“Single Striper” Review

3-star rating
"Single Striper" book  cover

Having read some of Steve Smith’s previous work, I was looking forward to a wild and wacky account of the first part of his two year hitch in the post-Korean War Army of the late 1950s. That expectation was only partially met.

My overall impression is that Smith was deeply disappointed in this part of his Army experience. Rather than a time of adventure and challenge leading to wisdom and maturity, he found it to be a time of boredom and drudgery, interrupted by pointless meanness, sometimes bordering on cruelty. It’s not clear when he adopted the draftee’s cynical distrust of officers, sergeants, and “lifers” generally—that is, the soldiers who were serving beyond their initial enlistment—but it’s clear that he did.

That’s not to say that this distrust was unearned. In his view, most of the officers were distant, lazy, and cared about little except advancing their careers. The non-commissioned officers (NCOs) were often worse: petty tyrants and martinets, intent only on making the lives of the draftees under them as miserable as possible. There were a few who did not live down to this low standard, but they were the exceptions.

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“Notes from Bisbee” Review

4-star rating

Bisbee, Arizona, is one of those towns—every state has one—that gets called “unique.” Or “colorful.” Or “quirky.” Which can be a polite replacements for other terms. As it turns out, Arizona is blessed with two such communities: Bisbee, in the southeastern part of the state, and Jerome, half-way between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon. Both are former mining towns that had to reinvent themselves when the mines closed. Both became havens for artists and folks who didn’t quite fit anywhere else.

Of course, no town would function if all the residents fit that description, so there are plenty of people in Bisbee who are simply more flexible and forgiving of the quirks of the more unusual residents. Debrah Strait is one of that latter group.

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“Too Close to Home: The Samantha Zaldivar Case” Review

5-star rating

It’s hard to say I “enjoyed” this book. After all, how can one “enjoy” a book about the real murder of an eight year old girl by her mother’s boyfriend? Indeed, at times there were tears in my eyes.

That said, there’s a lot to like—or maybe “appreciate” is a better word—about Too Close to Home. Let me set the scene first.

Cover and photo by Jesaro Photography. Used with permission.

Samantha’s home life was anything but easy. Her mother, Rachel Stra, had been divorced by Samantha’s biological father. Samantha and Rachel had moved with Rachel’s boyfriend from Florida to western New York to “get a fresh start.”

Angel Colon, the boyfriend, was no angel. He’d been involved in drugs and crime in Florida and Georgia, and was abusive with Rachel and Samantha. Despite that, he and Rachel had had two more daughters together, but Samantha became the odd girl out in the family. To top it off, Rachel was not the best of mothers: inattentive almost to the point of neglect.

Then one day in February of 1997, Samantha didn’t show up for school, although Angel claimed he’d put her on the bus that morning. She didn’t come home that night, and her classmates reported they hadn’t seen her. The search began. By the time a week had passed, suspicion began to focus on Angel and the possibility that Samantha was no longer alive.

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You Have a Face for Radio

Being a writer has taken me into some interesting situations.  Last February, poet Dick Bakken and I were invited to be interviewed on Bisbee radio station KBRP (impossible not to think of it as K-Burp).

Dick was to be the poetry presenter at the Cochise Community Creative Writing Celebration about six weeks later. I had opened my big mouth and told Leslie Clark, who was on the Celebration committee, that the one thing lacking was an open-mic reading. She instantly volunteered me to set up a couple of them to promote the event.

The military folks among our readers will recognize my tactical blunder. Isn’t “never volunteer” a military mantra?

I hadn’t been on radio before and felt nervous when we went on the air live. Dick had been on lots of times, though, and our DJ hostess, Chris Dowling, had everything under control. Between them, I started to feel at ease and have some fun.

Too much fun, apparently. Chris had asked us to bring our own poems to read. I had practiced mine at home with a micro-cassette recorder, working on just the right inflections. Never did I dream that there were still words you weren’t supposed to say on the air. It was 2011, after all.

By the time I caught sight of Dick’s and Chris’s faces, it was too late. That four-letter gaffe had already gone out my mouth, through the microphone, and over the airwaves.

Afterwards, I apologized profusely and said that if the FCC gave them grief about it, they were to call me, and I’d take the blame. It was my fault, after all. What about re-broadcasts? Chris’s engineer was able to suck that word right out of the digital recording. To people who heard only the replay, that verbal no-no never happened.

As Dick and I left the studio, I caught sight of a poster: You have a face for radio. I thought it was delightful, accepting. I don’t have a face for television or movies, never mind the figure, but here I had found someplace where I fit, just the way I was.

Except for my mouth. I was glad, at that moment, that relatively few people recognized my face.

Writing, with Parrots – Part 2

Four little free-flying parrots violate the first

imperative of writing: create a situation quiet,

calm, and insulated. The youngest thumps

onto my desk like a feathered rock, rips up

an eraser, fat-foots the computer keys

until the monitor spasms and seizes up. While I

huff and run a finger down the manual’s index

toward Troubleshooting, she wriggles

down my blouse, punctuates my concentration

like a possessive apostrophe.

This, as the unattached male squabbles

like a fishwife with the pair over leftover brunch.

He lights on the back of my chair, drops a sticky

tidbit of waffle onto my white shirt, scrambles

after it. The other two land in my lap and wipe

their egg-smeared beaks on my clean jeans.

A sharp-shinned hawk cruises the wild-bird feeders

at the fence line, and the parrots scream, launch,

orbit like comets trailing colorful tails. Down the hall

they wing to who knows what mischief, perhaps

a tasty snack of closet molding, curtain cord, or,

in a moment of better taste, the delicate,

Bible-like pages of Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems

and a Song of Despair.

Writing, with Parrots

I was surprised at our last meeting when Terry said she had a computer question for me. Ross, after all, is our Computer Guru, our King of Ones and Zeros (binary code).

Terry asked what to do when your parrot (in her case, an adorable cockatiel whose ancestors hail from Australia) pries the keys off your keyboard.

The question garnered more laughs than any answers we could come up with.

Nevertheless, this is what I’ve done over the many years I’ve shared my life and computers with parrots:

  •  Tried to grab the key back, only to have the parrot either drop it and bite my fingers or fly away with it and let it fall behind the desk, dresser, or washing machine.
  • Replaced the missing key with one from the number keypad. I learned to type on a typewriter and use the number keys at the top of the keyboard, so it works to have a keypad 5 become an S. I touch type, so it doesn’t matter what the key says.
  • Purchased a defunct laptop and taken all the keys off the keyboard, put them in a plastic bag, and stored them safely away in a desk drawer as spares.

Peaches, Maggie, Willie, and Sunny have taken turns played hob with my computers over the years, marching across the keyboard to type what may be psittacine wisdom but looks more confusing than Greek to me. Usually in the middle of an important document. (Do I ever type documents that are unimportant, at least to me?)

When I was living in Los Alamos and freelancing out of my home as Business Mom, things like this would appear on the monitor: Third quarter earnings /l;koj787645–thanks to Maggie, whom I had touched on the shoulders with my favorite ballpoint pen and dubbed my administrative assistant. I’m sure he put that job experience on his ré sumé when he applied for the position of Willie’s mate.

As I mentioned at the meeting, the wildest thing the birds have ever done to my computer involved Sunny’s Charleston on the keys. I have no idea what combination she fat-footed, but the results were unforgettable. The screen went blank, and when it came back on, the document had turned ninety degrees. I got a kink in my neck, trying to read it.

I tried everything I knew to get the screen back to normal, then called a computer-savvy friend in New Mexico, then called Lawanna at Two Flags Computers in Douglas. No luck.

Fortunately, a customer who happened to be in her office knew what to do: Right click anywhere on the desktop, click on Graphics Options, then Rotate, then Normal. His fortuitous presence was the only thing that kept me from having to figure out how to prop my monitor up on its side.

Writing, with parrots certainly keeps my life interesting.