Beach Bitch

(Zach: Susan Kelly, an old friend and author of great detective fiction and true crime graciously offered to write this week’s column while I worked on the final revisions of TIES THAT BLIND. I’ve known Susan since the early nineties when the two of us hung out at Kate’s Mystery Bookstore. So thanks Susan for pinch-hitting. Very much appreciated.)

by Susan Kelly

 I hate the beach. I can’t tell you how much I hate the beach.

It feels so good to say that.

Yes, yes, I know. All red-blooded Americans are supposed to love going to the beach. And being at the beach. It’s part of our heritage. (The Pilgrim fathers and mothers landed on the beach, right? Whatever.) We even have an expression to describe a chore or duty that was unexpectedly easy to perform: “That was a day at the beach!” Conversely, when we suffer through an unpleasant experience—a tax audit, rush hour on Route 128, a visit to the DMV, any degree of exposure to Justin Bieber—we say: “That was no day at the beach!”

Not I.

I cannot see the appeal of lying on sand for hours at a stretch basting in your own body fat. It’s unhealthy. Worse—it’s boring. Insanely, terminally, unspeakably boring.

I’m not complaining just about the kind of beach where you can’t distinguish the sand from the spread towels, where you have to keep your arms tight to your side because if you scratch your nose you’ll poke the stranger lying six inches away from you in the eye with your elbow. Nor am I complaining just about the kind of beach with pristine white sand, azure sea, and scantily-clad beautiful people running hand in hand through the surf, where every fifteen minutes some grotesquely underpaid employee of the resort or club brings you a drink with a teeny paper umbrella and a skewer of fruit whether you want it or not.

Far Tortuga or Far Rockaway, it makes no difference to me. I hate it when there’s nothing to do but lie and fry.

I should note that I’m writing this from Florida, where, because of a series of events too stupid to explain, I’m spending a week at the beach. But not really; the nearest beach is about ten miles away. There is an allegedly alligator-infested canal just behind the house where I’m staying. The house is in a residential neighborhood, only there don’t seem to be any residents. Every morning around 7:30 I go for a walk, and I’m the only person on the street. No one’s taking the dog for a stroll. No one’s jogging. No one’s running. No one’s riding a bike. No one in a bathrobe is scampering out to the driveway to retrieve a newspaper. In four days, the only animate beings I’ve encountered are a few geckos, plus some buzzards that have an unsettling tendency to gather in my wake and then circle overhead. Where the hell is everyone? Were all the people in the neighborhood victims of a mass alien abduction? It’s the Twilight Zone with palm trees.

Then again, maybe everybody’s…at the beach. Maybe they never leave…the beach. In which case, why do they bother to have houses here, if they stay at the beach?

What I think is that I’m not alone in hating the beach. There are more like me out there. (You know who you are.) It’s just that they’ve been brainwashed into believing that going to the beach is the ne plus ultra of human experience. And they’re afraid to say, “Aw, you know, I’m not all that crazy about the beach.” Because if they did, everyone would accuse them of being nuts. Or un-American.

(In fairness, I should note that Europeans are even goofier about the beach than are Americans. Just try and pry a Scandinavian off a sand spit. Just try it. And these are people who live in the Land of the Midnight Sun. How much more of it do they need?)

You’ve seen the bumper stickers, t-shirts, coffee mugs, and, for all I know, condoms with “Life’s a beach” printed on them. Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that “Hell is other people.” He was probably at the beach when he wrote it.


by Kent Ballard

I accidentally came across a strange subject while researching another article recently. It was the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. I thought it was odd that the writer was still talking about it in the present tense. Damned stupid writers anyway. What do they know, I asked?

Quite a lot, in this case. I read a few lines and the more I read the weirder things got. I thought I knew all about the story but came to discover I knew almost nothing. I knew that legend was a big deal in the past, but figured everyone had sobered up by now and that we all looked back and laughed about the tiny blip it made on the American conscious a hundred years ago.


 Did you know there is an entire industry build around that legend? Do you know an estimated eight thousand people every year–most of whom have no business wandering around in a desert–still search for that bloody mine to this day? People have killed total strangers over it. They’ve dropped big rocks on them from above, set booby traps, or just shot them in the back and let them die face down in the Arizona sand. The only ones who have found untold riches so far are the dead people recovery teams drag out periodically.

I figured most of that nonsense went on over a century in the past. Nope. They hauled Jesse Capen out boots-first just two years ago. He’d told coworkers that he was going to spend another weekend hunting for the Lost Dutchman’s Mine and never reported back to work. The sheriff’s department searched for him, then a few relatives looked for him when the authorities gave up. Both parties asked all the other folks who were in the vicinity risking heat exhaustion, looking for the same mine. No one had seen him. It was around two years after his disappearance (when a professional rescue team was called in to helicopter yet another would-be billionaire to a hospital) that somebody finally found Jesse. His body was wedged into a crack running down the side of Superstition Mountain. The only way he could have gotten there was from above. They saw no reason to think foul play was involved. Apparently Jesse got tired of tramping around the mountain and decided the entrance to his mine was surely up along the side of it somewhere. He was not an experienced climber and did not have the proper equipment for it. They find people like Jesse every few years.

The article went on to explain that the legend of the Lost Dutchman’s Mine was just that to most of us, but for a certain percentage of the population it’s a curse. Because some people can take an interest in the very real Dutchman—his name was Jacob Waltz and he was actually German—and that interest will grow within them like a cancer cell. They want to know more. They read about Adolph Ruth and Dr. Thorne and the Peralta family and the more they read, the more fascinated they become. They read there are several maps in existence, all claiming to be the correct one, and they read over and over the verbal directions Waltz supposedly gave a nurse, and they come to believe not only does all that gold really exist, but that they alone can find it. Like any obsession, nothing can stand in its way. Divorces, broken homes, abandoned children, real fortunes lost, even the threat of death itself will not stop them.

A doctor once told me there are some simple rules in life. Never become too bored or too angry or too lonely. That’s pretty good advice. To that I would add never become obsessed—by anything. An obsession is not a keen interest. Many skilled modelers have built ships in bottles, but none have starved to death doing it. Or spent the family fortune. Or became unable to feed their own children.

Psychiatrists would argue there’s a great difference between an addiction and an obsession. But at some point that becomes immaterial. To my way of thinking they become the same eventually. We all know what a homeless street addict will do for his next fix. Anything. In darker moments we learn (and try to forget) that addicted soccer moms and upstanding businessmen will do exactly the same if need be. Unless they’ve seen it first-hand, most folks don’t realize the power gambling addictions have over people. I certainly didn’t until I met a man engulfed by one. What happened to him—and his family—wasn’t pretty.

Obsessions are damnably wicked, and on several different levels of wickedness. They can strike without warning and their victims never understand they themselves are being consumed by one. Most are temporary obsessions, like the guy at a party telling everyone over and over about “the best damned movie I ever saw in like, forever.” Yeah, sure, okay. In two months he won’t be so hyper about it. But other people will develop obsessions that will last the rest of their days.

I like most impassioned people. But a passion for a thing is not an obsession. An obsession will cloud a human mind to reality. Burt Rutan and Chuck Yeager are passionate about flying. Richard Feynman was impassioned with physics and his bongo drums. But the killers at the Charlie Hebdo offices were obsessed with images of Mohammed. The difference is not the strength of their feelings and convictions, but in the power of our own minds to warp themselves beyond reality and into the wastelands of vicious inhumanity. If you start dwelling on a subject and seeing things in it that no one else can see, it may be time to fall back and reexamine your beliefs. It’s possible you may be a pioneering genius but it’s far more likely you’re becoming a fanatic, especially if the idea of using force to make others see things your way becomes logical to you.

The prospectors searching Superstition Mountain as you read this are not terrorists, but I wonder what their families could tell us? Not all of it could be good. I’m sure there are folks who picnic on that mountain and laugh about Jacob Waltz’s legendary mine, but how many others have gone around that invisible bend where they can no longer see home? Or care about it and those they walked away from? Gold has always been mildly interesting to some people and a form of crystal meth to others. But unlike the faces of meth addicts, we can’t photograph people’s hearts and minds. We can’t see the gradual derangement over years, sometimes slow, sometimes with terrible speed.

There are worse obsessions than gold fever. Not many, but a few. Some obsessions are dangerous to everyone now. Hate and stupidity can travel at the speed of light thanks to computers and smart phones. If you don’t think it’s possible to lose intelligence, ask Jesse Capen what he was doing up there on that cheap rope before it snapped. Everyone said he was a nice guy, a warm and friendly man, a good co-worker. A guy just like us. He wasn’t born stupid.

He simply became obsessed.


By Zachary Klein

It’s that time of year when your intrepid pop culture reporter slogs through the worldwide tweets that strike his fancy. Perhaps you believe this is a simple walk through the words, but I beg to differ. I will, on your behalf, watch E’s Red Carpet show *and* the Golden Globe Awards until the back of my head explodes. During that bout of masochism I’ll also subject myself to the general public’s bon mots and share them with my loyal readers.

Comments are welcome, but a simple “thanks” will suffice. Now, onto the…


A.D.A.83 ‏@doyinspeaks  It’s so great to see @KellyOsbourne hosting again!! She looks great.

(Zach: I’da preferred Ozzie.)

@jjbrun48 have you started drinking? is it red carpet time?

(Zach: Yes and no.)

Leslie Lamont ‏@FabuLeslie: Anyone want to dress up for the #GoldenGlobes so excited!!

(Zach: I am. Sweatpants, sweatshirt, and fleece socks and slippers. Told you this wasn’t gonna be easy!)

Lindsay O. ‏@adifferentface: Hearing from @redcarpet that Emma Stone’s last fitting was at 10pm last night makes my stomach flutter!

(Zach: Makes me think someone played binge/purge.)

ADAM BEXTEN ‏@ADAMBEXTEN : E! begins it “Live Countdown to the Oscars!” Coverage tonight 90 minutes after the #GoldenGlobes!

(Zach: Shoot me now. Please, please, please!)

Rosie ‏@rosie_trujillo: My whole day is going to be devoted to the #GoldenGlobes

(Zach: Apparently so is most of mine.)

FiftyShadesOfBW ‏@fiftyshadesofBW : They just mentioned Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson as the most anticipated couple on the red carpet tonight!

(Zach: Wow! Now, who the hell are they?)


Carrie Cornish ‏@CarrieCornish: People are already on the red carpet and I don’t have my foil ready!

(Zach: You’re welcome to use the one perched on my head.)

Sarah Blodgett ‏@sarahblodgett: So great that Roseamund Pike is walking the carpet in spite of needing a sling for both boobs.

(Zach: You’re on your own with this one.)

Aurora ‏@CitizenScreen : The way they’re describing momentous #RedCarpet moments coming up I feel I should have a cigarette ready.

(Zach: Smoke ’em if you got ’em!)

shauna ‏@goldengateblond : Giuliana Rancic is wearing a diamond ring that weighs more than she does and has eaten more recently.

Jane ‏@criticjane: I think I just lost 20 IQ points, listening to Ryan Seacrest.

(Zach: Just twenty?  My I.Q. just hit bicycle seat status. )


@MichelleSaunds ‏@MichelleSaunds #RobinWright And #BenFoster: Spark Reconciliation Rumors

(Zach: My world is spinning!)

Beth Ellis ‏@FillmoreGirlSF: What. Did. Kevin. Spacey. Do. To. Himself.

(Zach: Nip & Tuck.)

NY Daily News Gossip ‏@NYDNgossip: While we wait for the #GoldenGlobes to begin, here’s a look at the show’s most shocking wardrobe malfunctions

(Zach: They call it ‘mal’?)

ATWYSingle ® ‏@ATWYSingle: Love host Ryan nearly pushes Channing Tatum down the steps to get to Clooney.

(Zach: Seems right to me.)

Miriam Ramirez ‏@MiriYum: If the gloves don’t fit you must acquit. #mrsclooney

josh lewis ‏@thejoshl: jennifer aniston just slapped kate hudson’s ass. the party is underway.

(Zach: “Let me in wee ooh, wee ooh!”)

Twenty York Street ‏@20YS: New category? =) which will win “Most Undernourished”? Going to be a lot of competition in this category.

jennifer ?@afterxjennifer the Transparent people mentioned Leelah Alcorn in their thank you speech aw  #goldenglobes

(Zach: Very cool!)

Abby B ?@1AbbyRoad: John legend looks like a baby. But a hot baby. #GoldenGlobes

(Zach: If you like hot babies. I think they always look like old men.)

RTunes ?@RTunes68
Why are award winners always out of breath? Doesn’t seem like much of a cardio workout from their seats to the podium onstage.

(Zach: Hey, I’m heavy breathing just trying to keep my eyes open.)

Kate Monto ?@KMontoPronto: “Now there’ s my kind of guy– he brings his drink on stage.” -My 90 year old grandmother, referring to Ricky Gervais at the #GoldenGlobes

(Zach: My kind of woman!)

Kiara Provenzano ‏@Kiara_Pro: The fact that these celebrities can drink during the awards really makes this show worthy 3 hours.

(Zach: For them maybe. )

Harneet Singh ‏@Harneetsin: And Jesus made Jared Leto because he couldn’t be in Hollywood on all days.cake

Casey Bellerose ‏@CFBellerose: Jeffrey Tambor’s dedication to the transgender community was truly beautiful. Much respect, Bluth.

(Zach: Trudat!)

Christine Beidel ‏@msseriously: Is the AC busted in the ballroom? Or is it too much booze? Everyone is fanning themselves!

(Zach: Fan me, please! I’m fainting.)

“You have the globes too.” JAJAJA oookkkkkk  (Re: J, Lo)


Nilsson Garcia ‏@NilssonGarcia: “Finally someone said something about my boobs” – J.Lo after Jeremy Renner’s comment.

(Zach: Yep.)

Melinda Green ‏@greenmelinda: I like Hollywood awards shows because they make being a woman your mid-40s look like, the most gorgeous best thing EVER

(ZACH: They ARE!!!)

ConsiderOurKnowledge ‏@ConsiderOurKnow: Clooney is just a class act. But his fly was open.

Zach: Well, the Bulldog below says it all. Six hours of this mishigas deserves an award. If any of you have tweets, something to say, or just want to beat the press, please feel free. If some of you smiled, well, the six was worth it. And remember, I *will* don my fedora for the Oscars. Goodnight and good luck.

Couldn’t stay up for the end.


by Kent Ballard

I read an article a couple of days ago about a study done on NDEs, near-death experiences. You know the stories some people have said. Looking down on their own body, being yanked through a tunnel towards a brilliant light, seeing dead loved ones, a flash review of their life, and all that stuff. This has been reported by agnostics, atheists, and devout people of all religions.

What the study concluded was there were too many people who came back when resuscitated, telling precise accounts of what went on around them after they died, where people had stood, what they said, what they did, the kinds of noises that medical machines make, to completely ignore. Science doesn’t know how they do this, but it’s now apparently irrefutable some small percentage do. I have a reason to give such articles a moment of attention.

I died in January, 1973. No this isn’t a Halloween story. It’s true.

With the typical perversity of the way things go in my world, I went in for a simple surgery to remove a cyst. I’d had one removed a few years earlier. That time the doc said a couple of shots of Novocaine would handle the pain and I would be conscious for a simple out-patient surgery. Once he started cutting, it turned out the “surface” cyst had wickedly grown much deeper into my body than he realized. Soon things started to hurt. Then hurt badly. More shots followed. Eventually the doc looked into my eyes and said I had to make a choice. I was bleeding out the Novocaine faster than he could shoot it into me. They could either slap a temporary patch on me and finish up the next day in surgery with me unconscious, or—if I could just hold out about ten more minutes—he’d be finished. It was my call.

I was fifteen and there were two cute young nurses assisting him. Naturally I had to be a hero in front of them. It would not be the last time attractive women led me to disaster. When he finished twelve minutes later (yes, I timed the bastard) I hadn’t made so much as a peep, not a whimper, but I was laying in a pool of my own blood and tears.

It gave me a much greater respect for survivors of Civil War surgery.

Nothing like that would or could happen today, but this was over forty years ago in a small one-hospital rural county. I’d had the same doctor all my life. He was our family doctor and knew us all. Medicine had its rough edges then, but there was also an intimacy that medical practice will never have again.

Four years later, another cyst developed and I had the same doc. Neither of us wanted to risk that awful experience again, so he scheduled me as a regular surgery patient with 20th Century advances like real anesthetics and not having to feel that scalpel cut through my living flesh. Cool, I thought. This will be a considerable improvement over the last time. Better living through chemistry.

I was cheerful and joking with all the staff in the O.R. when the anesthesiologist came up and asked, “Ready to take a nap?” He held a syringe in one hand and the tube already in my arm in the other.

Sure. Let ‘er rip. I was looking forward to that warm feeling everyone told me I’d have as the anesthetic coursed up my arm. As he slowly injected me, I thought something was wrong. Everyone said it would be warm, that it would feel good. I felt as if my vein was turning to ice. It hurt. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I could actually feel the pain spreading up my arm and into my shoulder and he’d already told me as soon as it got to my heart that within two or three beats I’d be out. “Excuse me, guys, but I think something is wro…”


We never would have found the truth about what happened had it not been for a woman my mother barely knew at church. She was a registered O.R. nurse and that day just happened to be assigned to help in my operating room. It was two weeks before she called Mom, and even then pleaded with my mother never to tell anyone where she got this information. She could lose her job, but she thought our family should know the truth. The doctors had killed her teenage son.

One minute for them, all was a normal minor surgery on a healthy young man in the prime of his life. The next was pandemonium. The EKG alarm shrilly gave off that long unending beep. My blood pressure dropped to zero. Another alarm went off indicating I had stopped breathing altogether. The surgeon had not yet picked up a scalpel. They first poked a few buttons on the machinery, wondering why they all malfunctioned at once. Then someone said, “Jesus, he just had a heart attack!” The surgeon started pressing my chest, almost lifting himself off the floor. Small town hospitals in ’73 had no defibrillators unless they thought they might be needed. They were the size of refrigerators and horrifically expensive. The anesthesiologist had a tank of oxygen, but not intended for me. He rolled it to my table, then found a hose and connected one end to the tank, the other to some kind of pipe he found laying around, and jammed the pipe down my throat trying to force raw oxygen into my lungs. Someone, the nurse said, pulled open my eyelid and shined a light. “No dilation!” One nurse was told to hold that pipe down my throat while the anesthesiologist went around the other side of the operating table, taking his forearm and leaning forcefully into my belly, causing me to exhale. When he let up the air pressure from the tank partially refilled my lungs. Someone took over for the surgeon and began hammering on my chest for all they were worth. He gasped, “No history of cardiac problems. He’s nineteen years old. Great condition. We’re losing him.” The surgeon and anesthesiologist looked at each other as if for ideas. The man leaned heavily into my abdomen again. A pause. Then again. My mother’s friend could not say how long this went on. She said it was too long and she could feel the others giving up hope. Someone shut off the alarms that were driving them all nuts.

The anesthesiologist yelled at my mother’s friend to take his place shoving in on my belly. When she stepped forward she looked at whatever monitors they had me hooked to. Still no heartbeat, and my body temperature was dropping. The anesthesiologist ran to a cabinet and began filling a syringe with something. Manual respiration, even with pure oxygen, was not working. Chest compressions were not working. She said my fingers and nails were a dead gray-blue and my and face was turning dark as she watched. She remembered me going to church with Mom a couple of times and felt so terribly sorry for her…

My mother later told me she was sitting at my bedside in the hospital the next day. She said I raised up, looked at her and winked, then my head fell back into the pillow. I don’t remember that. When I eventually came around again, my girlfriend was there. She said something and I tried to reply. Good lord! What was wrong with my throat? It felt as if I’d gargled a chain saw. The more conscious I became, the more I hurt everywhere. What was this? Why did I feel as if I’d been in a train wreck? I pulled the sheet down and my chest was one large bruise. More were on my abdomen. None were near the cyst, which apparently had not been touched. It was a little like waking up in a hospital at the beginning of a zombie film, confusing to say the least.

When the surgeon showed up, somewhat sheepishly, he explained the anesthetic given me was sodium pentothal, commonly used in those days. No one (including me) had any prior knowledge that I was among the roughly one in fifteen hundred people who were deathly allergic to that drug. I might experience some “discomfort” from the breathing “device” they used on me. Any danger? No, no, of course not. But they did want to wait a couple of days before knocking me out again, this time with something a bit different. And then he was out the door.

They might as have well have pumped me full of Mop-N-Glow. Boom. Gone. Wink of an eye.

The anesthesiologist knew he could do no harm at that point, so he played on a hunch. He shot me directly with an antidote to sodium pentothal, refilled the same syringe, and gave me a gorilla’s worth of adrenaline. The surgeon was still pounding on me. Several people had been by then. CPR is damned exhausting when you do it correctly.

Beep. A heartbeat.

Everyone looked at each other. Presently, beep. Another one.

A few more seconds and I coughed, choking on that damned pipe they’d jammed and scraped down my throat. Beep…beep…nothing. C’mon, kid. Come on back. Beep…beep…beep-beep-beep.My mother’s friend said she literally watched me come back to life. My color began to change. Blood pressure started to rise. Body temp was still alarmingly low, but they saw it gain a couple of tenths. I don’t know where I’d been but I wound up back where I’d started, and with the same nasty problem too.

When I found all this out I thought of myself as lucky. Looking back, I think I was cheated. I mean, if you’ve gone to all the trouble of dying and scaring the hell out of everyone, shouldn’t you be allowed to float around watching them pound on your dead body for a while? Is an audience with the Creator too much to ask at a time like that? I don’t recall the tunnel ride, but I paid for the ticket. I didn’t even get booted back into my body by an angel. Never saw any dead relatives, no brilliant white light called me, didn’t hear so much as a note on a harp. Bummer. Your average run of the mill death.

The next time I die, I’ll ask for the “A” ticket. Dead relatives, beautiful lights, the whole nine yards. Next time, I want the whole grand tour. Next time I’ll probably stay and not come back. But with my deranged luck I won’t make any bets. The next time I might wind up waking with a sore butt. Who knows what medical wonders they’ll come up with tomorrow?

Me, I don’t care to find out. If I have to pay for the ride, I want to take it. I intend to go careening through space and time and slam sideways into eternity, dust myself off, and have a look around. It sounds like a dandy place. I’ll probably see you there eventually. Look me up and we’ll go have a cold drink. Living through this life was problematic enough. Eternity will take some planning.