Monday, December 12, 2011

Stopping the Buck

Last month, I had a short, yet horrifying retail exchange with the owner of a local nationally-branded hardware store.  Not horrifying fiscally, mind you, but rather for the social and ethical implications.  I’ve only just now settled down enough to write about it, and in life’s macroscope (regards to Mr. Anthony), what happened is relatively inconsequential.  I will live comfortably with the resolution to never patronize that particular store or any other merchant wielding such grimly leveraged policies.  The establishment will no doubt continue as a going concern due to the economics of demand.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


While the post-publishing euphoria slowly subsides, I’ve been locked away Cantina Minor (the name of my office/studio) conversing with Emily Miller and making other music.  The multitask season is upon me!  Okay, I did take a little rest.  That’s okay, right?  Before I get started on the discussions de jour, a word or two about Bolita.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bolita - On Sale NOW!

Get a collectable hardcover or Ebook edition at Lulu!
Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Feels Like the Right Day to Publish a Book

Today is my father’s birthday.  Given his nature, he wouldn’t much care for my announcing this over the internet, but this one is special and I want to tell you about it.

Many decades ago, Alex Taylor exited the Air Force and entered Tampa’s police department.  He quickly worked his way through the chain of command, eventually gaining the rank of Sergeant Detective and later chairing the department’s Criminal Intelligence Unit.  Those were the folks that investigated organized crime in tandem with the FBI and other federal agencies at the highest levels.  He was highly regarded by his peers and even respected by those he incarcerated.  My father was enjoying his perfect career while raising his young family.  Only one problem—it was the 1970s.

Mob activity and internal corruption abounded in nearly every major city across the United States.  Tampa was no exception (see Bolita’s prologue posted earlier).  My father and countless other policemen became entangled in a power struggle within their own department.  Investigations were often thwarted, entire departments shuffled, and honest cops were fired on manufactured charges.  Even so, the mob-influenced public officials couldn’t seem to shake a few of the “implacables”.  That’s when they resorted to the most drastic of violent measures—contract murder.

Reportedly, five men’s names were hastily scrawled on a notepad one afternoon sometime in the summer of 1975 at a popular (and still in business) Cuban restaurant in Ybor City.  Beside each name was a six-digit price.  My father believes his name was on that hit list after a good friend in the FBI briefed him about a missed attempt at the New Orleans airport.  After failed attempts at other marks, the (now considered) inept hitmen set their sights on one of Tampa’s most unrelenting and productive detectives—and he didn’t go quietly.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is where Bolita begins.

The story is an adapted intertwining of my father’s anecdotes and accountings of that ruthless era, combined with the story of a contract killing as told by its victim.  I talked at length with the actual sons of that detective.  As they painfully conveyed their very real and personal tragedy, it made me realize how incredibly fortunate I am that my own father survived.  I never took his presence for granted, and I certainly won’t now.  After almost two years of research, writing, and editing, Bolita is finally here.

 Happy Birthday, Dad

Bolita - The Prologue

     By autumn of 1975, the city of Tampa, Florida was in a state of near chaos.  Fresh from the Vietnam War, Watergate, the Civil Rights Movement, the pe­troleum crisis, high unemployment, and rapidly rising inflation, Tampa had yet another war to sort out.

     Although coexisting for decades, the Cracker Mob was practically on the way out while the Italian families were ever on the annex.  Drug smuggling, prostitution, gambling, racketeer­ing, extortion, contract arson, and murder-for-hire were not uncommon for both organizations.  Earlier in the 1960s when Castro destroyed their legitimate enterprises in Havana, the exiled Italians returned in full force and continued capitalizing on their existing operations.  Through the illegal lottery known as “bolita”, mafiosos had entirely taken over Florida’s gambling rings.  By the ‘70s, different mob factions mostly learned to work together under the direction of Giuseppe Cantonello, Tampa’s local don.  The only sticking point remaining was the matter of who controlled the local nightclubs.  The “Lounge Wars” raged on with numerous cases of contract arson and contract murder.

     Robert F. Kennedy’s legacy, the 1970 Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO, drafted by G. Robert Blakey), gave law enforcement organizations sharp teeth in which to pursue the mobsters.  Little did the newly empowered law enforcement organizations know, their war was not only with the criminal families infesting Tampa, but also from every agency level within their own corrupted institutions.  This war culminated around the contract assassination of a controversial street detective named William “Bill” Brume.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Spendthrifts, a New Resolution, and GM Did What?

Did any of you happen to catch THIS article last month? 

I honestly don’t know where to begin.  IF (and that is a big all-caps IF) the article’s figure is accurate, it reflects everything that’s wrong with the current budget crisis in Washington.  With all the talk of cutting entitlement programs and raising taxes as grand solutions, nobody seems willing to address the mastodon in the room—runaway contract spending.  Sure, I’m one of those patriotic Americans that believe our troops deserve the best of everything, as do our professors, police officers and other government employees—even you, Mr. Garbage Collector.  No argument here.  But why is it that politicians insist on using this straw man-ish argument to finance the absurd or worse, their corporate-lobbied pork projects? 

$20 billion dollars spent on air conditioning some of the most climate-inefficient military structures in Iraq and Afghanistan.  As the headline states, this is more than NASA’s entire budget!  Another article posits that the amount is also more than BP spent on the Gulf oil disaster, and more than the G8’s budget for developing economies in Tunisia and Egypt.  Incredible.

You might have read THIS one too.  By law, congress insists on minting unused and extremely costly dollar coins until the full production run is complete…in a few years.  They are doing this to the tune of a cool $1 billion.  Waste discovered; yet no action.  But then there was the headline a couple of weeks ago that our country withheld nearly $900 million in financial aid to Pakistani intelligence.  “Well, that’s a tidy savings,” you think to yourself…and then it hits you.  “We were planning on giving almost a billion dollars to help Pakistan’s intelligence bureau?  After the OBL debacle?  Absurd!”

These aren’t the first instances of government waste, of course, and not likely the last.  It makes one wonder just how, exactly, wasteful our government really is, and why there isn’t any real oversight.  No, my fellow citizens, we don’t have a revenue problem, and we don’t need to give away our entitlements in which we’ve invested dearly.  We have a spending problem—a big one.  It’s as though the kids in congress have stolen their parent’s American Express card and ran to the shopping mall.  Someone needs a spankin’!


Inevitably, someone laments the pace of technological change.  The last grumble I overheard concerned replacing DVDs with Blu-ray discs.  Well folks, I believe the corporate marketing gurus at Sony and other glacial-speed conglomerates, as well as the FCC Gods of Resolution, will keep us in 1080p and broadcast 720p “High Definition” for several more years.  What you may not know, however, is that many movies have been shot using higher resolution cameras from Red and Sony for a few years now.  Red’s latest marvel has 5K resolution, and they are working on a 28K version that filmmakers say is better than 65mm film.  Impressive!  And, they are developing a player for these resolutions too—RedRay.  That leaves poor old broadcast HD pretty much in the dust, but really, how much is enough?

I don’t think there is an end to it, frankly.  I saw a Sony 4K screening of 8MM at an old IMAX venue last month and it was astonishing.  Extremely crisp picture, little if any noise, no flicker, and no reel changes.  Forget nostalgia, I’m sold!  Alas, I still see room for improvement.  Even at four times the resolution of Blu-ray, 4K still isn’t a match for the human eye.  I suspect 28K won’t quite do the trick either, but once camera and digital storage developers achieve the 50-100K mark with frame rates sufficient for slow motion work…  Oh forget it; the resolution chase won’t end until we sit inside an infinitely zoomable, 3D spherical screen—and then there’s the discussion concerning the actual media storage device.  So, you may wish to wait before rebuilding your collection, or ax the idea entirely.  Me?  I’m happy with streaming HD, or using my “old” DVDs and a good upscaling player…at least, for now.

More Cars

Cars, again?  Okay, I’ve been helping my daughter select a compact sedan she hopes to purchase in the next couple of months.  I’ve got cars coming out of my ears.  If you want to know the interior hip room of a Honda Civic, sadly, I probably know it.  The young lady’s test driven her fifth model now and remains undecided.  This is mostly due to the fact that the car she likes most (for the moment!) is unavailable in her favorite color.  Figures.  We still have a few more to go, and I’ll post the results afterward.

While helping her research online, some interesting news came out of Detroit…

GM, yes, the behemoth that gladly accepted billions of your tax dollars in an epic bailout, has apparently put your money to good use.  “What?”  That was my first thought upon hearing the news of a brand new Chevrolet subcompact called the “Sonic”.  At first, the name threw me.  Right—they named it after a failing hamburger drive-in; it also conjured up painful visions of the world’s coolest commercial jetliner, Concorde, shuttered after that frightful crash.  Worse, it reminded me of that dated video game.  Sonic.  Oh dear.

Ah, but then the actual details about the car emerged and I soon forgot about the name.  It didn’t matter.  What the car represents matters most—and I’d like to tell you about it. 

This article from the New York Times excellently describes what GM has achieved, and this is something I’ve griped about for years.  Innovation.  In short, GM has done something that would make Fredrick Taylor proud: complete an old-school efficiency study, and totally reconfigure the entire manufacturing process of an idle plant.  New and improved robotics, streamlined processes, and a radically downsized labor force now working for half of the typical union salary.  Behold!  An American company now competes in a segment lost over 25 years ago.  Sonic represents the first subcompact car manufactured on American soil by an American company since the (ugh!) Chevette.  Hundreds of new jobs have been created and likely thousands more in support sectors, all due to some basic managerial thinking.

Way to go, GM.  Lady Justice should award your board by bringing certain congressional spendthrifts into your chambers for a televised grilling.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fathers, Convention, and Redemption

Yesterday was Father’s Day, and, like a large portion of you, I spent a few minutes on the phone with Dad, catching up on everything from the excessive family dinners I missed, to drought-stricken lawns in central Florida.  A few hours after that happy heartfelt call, the phone rang once more.

Perhaps you have been curious as to why Bolita hasn’t made the presses yet.  The book has been on a temporary hold pending feedback from one of the principle characters whose history gave inspiration to the story.  After a two-month wait, that call had arrived…kind of.  I made an earlier Facebook entry referencing a letter to the widow of a detective murdered by the mob.  I thought writing that letter was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.  I had no way of knowing it would incite the detective’s eldest surviving son to call and pour his emotions into the wires for about two hours—describing the anger, the frustration, his quest for answers; that seemingly nobody cared to help, and how his boyhood was lost the moment they placed a folded flag in his hands—and he called me on Father’s Day.

Suffice to say, the experience was surreal.  It was as if I was listening to a book on tape, except it was live and interactive.  Two hours and we finally hung up, drained, completely out of gas.  Epic.

Back to the book itself, Bolita will see a small touch-up over the next month, which will undoubtedly garner a few edits.  What I can now predict is that the text should see the shimmering lights of the internet retail stores sometime in August.  Look for it! 

Motor Heads and Tales - Follow-up

With the price of petroleum receding from plaid to ludicrous, the relevancy of fuel consumption may take a temporary reprieve—or so goes conventional perception.  Not by my standards!  After the discovery of continental disparity in the previous, “Motor Heads and Tales” entry, I hadn’t given it much more thought until the very, very, very, fine folks at Top Gear posted a blurb about a new Jaguar XF 2.2L diesel boasting 8-second 0-60 times and over 50 MPG.  Grrr!

This prompted another quick look into manufacturer’s offerings and current endeavors for clean diesel in the States.  A new XF for us?  Nope.  Infinity promised one of their crossover-SUVs in a diesel last year, but soon shelved it for the US and gave it to western Europe instead.  Still nothing mainstream from the Big Three…or is it Four now? (Toyota)

 I read a few articles plainly stating that manufacturers had two main reasons for the lack of diesel offerings in the USA.  First, they say there is a hefty development cost for meeting the EPA’s emission certification standards, specifically “Tier 2”.  Second, they cite that there isn’t quite enough demand to justify the development expense.


All right.  I’ll buy the first excuse, perhaps.  I had no idea we wasteful, porky, un-green Americans could possibly have tougher emission standards than Nanny Central.  Sarcasm aside, the second reason is pure poppycock.  Not enough demand?  Oh, the tirade one could install in this very paragraph!  I just don’t have it in me today, however.  Rather than fill line after line with the most acerbic vitriol, I’d rather recall a few consumption champions such as the VW Rabbit, Golf, and Jetta, Mercedes Blue-Tec, and…oh.  That’s it?  Grrr!

At least the Germans love us.

The Congressional Redemption

If you happened to catch the last rounds of the US Open last week, you witnessed a gargantuan comeback.  I'm talkin' 'bout 2011 Masters whipping post, Rory McIlroy.  Just two months ago he blew his last round lead so ridiculously, Greg Norman likely poured a bourbon and toasted his monitor.  Except, Norman never really came back after his Tin-Cupper.  Rory, on the other hand, decided to get back on his thoroughbred and give it the whip.  At the end of the tournament, McIlroy scored an Open record—a full four strokes better than the previous record set by Tiger Woods.  What a performance!

Golf, I think, has a new narrative. 


Friday, May 20, 2011

Moonlighting as a Food Critic?

Um…no.  Not really.  I do get sidetracked by outstanding restaurants on occasion; and by “outstanding” I mean either the definition of excellence or something completely pathetic.  In either instance, I feel that the experience is worth taking an extra minute or ten to scrawl something relevant on one of the more popular consumer travel review sites.  Some may consider this a complete waste of time, but I don’t.  For me it’s all part of the “pay it forward” concept that in this case actually works.  I’ve used these sites to find excellent eateries and lodging while avoiding the mediocre.  Well, mostly.  In kind, perhaps my words will help someone find Foodtopia.  Here’s a review I surreptitiously drafted for a spot in Ybor City that knocked it out of the ballpark; “The Laughing Cat”…

This is one of *those* places. You know the kind... the one you'll be talking about for at least a week afterward. The one you'll tell your friends about until they wished you'd just shut up. The one you wish you had eaten at instead of the Columbia before a long flight back to the U.K. (Nothing against our famous icon!) Yes, the reviews are right. This is not a case where the company's internet review boffins shill something from nothing, no, this is the real deal. It's one of those slightly off-the-beaten-path hole-in-the-walls you hope stays around forever. There is no hint of elitist pretension; there are no famous paintings on the walls; there are no uniformed millenials running around exuding their sense of entitlement. Instead you have three servers -- a younger man, a middle aged man, and a middle-aged manager named Sue -- all casually dressed as if they were just out running errands. There was also a middle-aged '70s-looking Italiano chef helping with those duties.

We were lucky, arriving on a Thursday night just after 7pm, not knowing what to expect. They asked if we had a reservation. Oops! No, we didn't, but it was only me and my wife. They had an empty table and accommodated us without delay. +1 for service!

The servers immediately brought two fresh goblets of filtered ice water, menus, and shortly after that, a basket of scrumptious toasted bread. My wife went for the Marsala chicken because that what she always orders at a new Italian stop. I selected a veal piccata dish until I saw an adjacent table served the Chicken Yolanda. They caught me staring. Well, to be honest, *everyone* was staring at that dish. An entire crusted chicken breast stuffed with Italian sausage, coated with red peppers, provolone, caramelized onions, tons of mushrooms, and drenched in a sherry sauce that made the next 20 minutes waiting for my own dish complete torture.

What the Laughing Cat did right:

- Service. Sue was excellent, attentive, and an obvious pro. She gave excellent recommendations to first-timers, and never once gave the impression that she had anything else to do but make you happy.

- Food. Tampa, like Miami, New York, and Chicago, is blessed to have one of the best restaurant selections in the country. If you are from out-of-town, there are places you must go (Bern's, Columbia, etc.) and places that are simply Tampa's best. The Laughing Cat is now in my Top 5. The Chicken Yolanda was, of course, exquisite. My wife said her Marsala was the best in town, period.
- Location. It's at the corner of 8th and 15th...heart of Ybor.
- Wine. Not an overly abundant selection, just a GOOD selection. The two $9 glasses we had were perfect; nothing under-aged or over-described.
- Water. Not too many reviewers mention this, but I think it has become important lately that a restaurant's water not taste like the local tap, or worse, like a garden hose. TLC's water tasted filtered (if not bottled).
- Portions. This is important with respect to the pricing. Sure, you're paying a *slight* premium over, say, Carraba's or Macaroni Grill, but please -- they are not in the same ballpark. At TLC, you're actually buying two meals...maybe three. Unless your last name is Creosote, you will be going home with leftovers. We had two full entrees, two glasses of wine. Plus taxes and tip it came to just under $75. It was worth every penny...and I don't say this often.

What they did wrong:

- Nothing. Look, if I really wanted to nitpick, the finest 5-star could suffer a mark or two in some regard. I could complain that a straw wrapper had been missed and left on the window sill. I could whine about the one little gnat that somehow made it into the front entrance and flew back out. I could gripe and say their windows needed to be spotless. I could say that the kitchen staff shouldn't take their smoke breaks just outside the kitchen's sidewalk exit. But if the place was perfect, it wouldn't be...perfect.

I highly recommend The Laughing Cat and look forward to trying everything on their menu over the next several years. Go -- you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Pre-release SALE!

Bolita is at the spa having a back rub and pedicure before its big reveal.  In the meantime, I offer big savings to anyone interested in picking up my first novel, Dust.

Get the collectible hardcover edition at 30% OFF on Lulu.  List $34.95 NOW only $22.46.

The paperback version is also on sale at Amazon’s CreateSpace.  Previous List $13.95, NOW JUST $7.99!! (Use special discount code “T7KDAZWD” during checkout)

Use an e-reader?  Get the Lulu eBook PDF version or the Kindle edition for your reader.  Now only $3.50  A novel for the price of a gallon of gas!

And the sequel?  I’m setting a tentative release window around early summer 2012—plenty of time before the apocalypse.

T. Nelson Taylor | Official Site | DusT | Bolita