Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Memorial Day

By Rob Watson

Every Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and other times as well, veterans are asked to identify themselves. Almost always, someone or some few will pat me on the shoulder or shake my hand and say "Thank you!" I am truly humbled to be so recognized.

Usually I will pass it off with some form of "Aw, shucks. It weren't nothing." In my soul, I truly feel it was really nothing. I worked, mostly in an air conditioned shop. Was paid a fair wage. Learned a trade that became a significant component of my life's work. Came out with a good record that lead to good jobs. Yes, I feel I earned vastly more than I paid out.

I signed the same contract as all the others. That being a blank check, payable to the United States of America, for anything of myself, up to and including my life. I took the same oath as all the others... to protect and defend... against all enemies foreign and domestic...  I still feel bound by that contract and that oath.

Some of these others paid a little, time from their lives, small injuries, pain. Some others paid a lot, lost limbs, mental problems. Some had to pay the whole contract with their lives. Me? I paid nothing.

Words cannot express, pats and hand shakes, cannot convey, the gratitude I feel toward those who paid something on that contract. I am also exceedingly grateful for those, like myself, who willingly sign the contract and take the oath. Because, it takes all of us, plus taxpayers and citizens together, to make and keep the nation we have.

I am highly honored to claim and be called a veteran. With confidence in John Milton, "They also serve who only stand and wait." In gratitude and humility, I accept your pats on the shoulder, hand shakes, and kind words.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Delivery Issues

By Rob Watson

The last two weeks I have been having delivery issues with Big Delivery Co. It brought back to mind one of my favorite stories from the Gun Store Era.

I had a customer buy a 10ga double barrel shotgun. He wanted it shortened  to the legal limit (16"). This takes a special operation... separate the barrels, shorten them,  re align, re-attach. So I sent off the gun to a shop that specialized in that operation. I was promised to have the firearm back in 10 days.

In my Electronics Sales Period, I sent and received tens of thousands of packages via Big Delivery Co. Not once in five years did I, or my customers, have a lost package, or late delivery. So when the Specialty Gunsmith said he had shipped my customer's gun and it must have gotten lost, I knew he was not telling the truth. I actually got the gun three weeks later... shipped three days before date of receipt.

The amusing part of the story comes later. Customer was a big man, 6'6" or better, all muscle. 275 pounds. He rode around his ranch on a beautiful draft horse 18-20 hands at least. Now he has a huge double shotgun.

It seems he was having a property access dispute with a neighbor and the county. A lawyer, also my customer, went to see Customer and relates this story...

"I went out to Customer's property and was stopped by a locked front gate. As I stood there considering what to do, I see, off in the distance, what appears to be an average size man, on an average size horse, carrying an average size gun across the saddle, riding toward me. When the distance closes, I can see there is something wrong with that picture. When Customer arrives, I see it is a huge man, on a huge horse, with a huge double barrel shotgun... very intimidating." (which I suppose was the point all along)

Federal Agents

By Rob Watson

I know I have written about my gun store and my encounters with federal agents before... Wherever it is I cannot find it, So here I go again.

If you are a federal agent, you should know I have the greatest respect for you. I know that your job is sometimes dangerous and always thankless. I rank you along with the combat soldiers who do, or have, put their lives on the line for me and my country. No exceptions.

My encounters with federal agents began when I became part owner, then owner, of a gun shop in Colorado back in the '90's. These people I will describe may come across to you as complete idiots. What I think they were is educated, highly trained, federal agents, acting like complete idiots, in the hopes they would catch me being a complete idiot. (I know it is a near thing in my case, but I am not always a complete idiot)

The first encounter began on a slow business day. In the beginning there were a lot of slow business days. A man and a woman walked into the store. Neither could be said to be TV quality federal agents. The woman picked out the cheapest pistol in the store, threw her drivers license on the counter and walked out. The man took the license and began to fill in her information on the "Yellow" sheet. (the federal form that is a permanent record of a firearm sale.) "NO, NO, No" says I, "She wants the gun, she has to fill out the paperwork." (Federal Law) We tear up that sheet. He starts to fill out a "yellow " sheet. Every blank on the form is filled out wrong. We tear up that sheet. For the third "yellow" sheet I tell him to describe what he wants to write before entering it. I tell him how to write it correctly. Then he wants to buy the gun picked out by the woman. "No, No, No," same reason as the first time. (one person cannot buy a firearm for another person... Strawman sales are against federal law). Woman comes back and they decide to leave without the pistol.

Some months later I get a phone call, The caller wants a machinegun. "Sure" says I, "one of my business associates is a 'class 3 dealer."

"No, No, No," says he. "I want one under the table." "

"You, Sir are crazy, I do not have that information, and if I did, I would go to jail for passing it along" (those who know me in unguarded moments, will recognize I cleaned up the original statement.)

He hung up.

A year or so after that, another phone call. "Do you know how to make a bomb?"

"Well, yes. I have a degree in chemistry and books on the subject." (chemistry, not bombs)

"Would you teach me how to make a bomb?"... my response was very similar to the one above.

The last encounter demonstrates what I call the dual personality that most federal agents of my acquaintance seem to have. This young man stomped into the store and demanded to see my "yellow" sheets. I showed him the four foot long drawer full of them. The chip on his shoulder was so big his coat did not fit right.

After an hour of his shuffling through the several thousand sheets, I wandered over to watch him. He had a small scrap of paper and was apparently looking for a match to the name written on it. "I have that all on my computer, if you can tell me what you are looking for." He handed me the paper and asked if I knew the man. "Well, yes. he has been a customer for years, but he has gone back to England... You have his name spelled wrong" 

When I went to the computer, typed in the correct name and brought up the numbers of the customer's yellow sheets, You could hear the chip fall off the man's shoulder. (Treat them like human beings and sometimes they change into one.") I pulled all the sheets and the agent inspected them.

"Did you sell this customer a Colt Python?"

"No, That would have been my partner, before I got this computer."

The British police checked his firearms when he got there. The Python came up stolen... sometime before you sold it to him. They asked us to check the man out. I explained the customer was a good, honest, business man as far as I knew.

The agent then asked about the customer's sidekick. I looked up that customer and pulled his yellow sheets. In these few minutes the agent and I became fast friends.

If you do not know, removing the serial number from a firearm can get you 10 years in federal prison. Possessing one caries the same penalty. I asked my new friend what I should do with one that had come into the store before I realized its defect. (if he had still had his chip, he could have cuffed me right there and hauled me off to jail) He suggested I strip all the usable parts from the gun and toss the serial numbered part in the lake... I did exactly that.

All of this was brought back because I am selling a rifle on line. A question from a potential buyer asked why I insisted on following the rules strictly. The answer, of course, is They are everywhere watching every one. You want free room and board, free medical care and be a male wife... just screw up once.

An Add-on... Sept 2012...
On my recent travels, I stopped at a rather large gun store. In conversation with the owner and son, the topic of federal agents came up. It seems that on a recent inspection, done by the ATF when a gun store renews its license, the agent in charge came with friends and inspected every single item in the store, storeroom, and warehouse. Each item not properly documented was subject of a lot of yelling and lots of paperwork. The agent in charge had a bone to pick with the owner and son. It seems that as a new agent, Owner and son had great sport at her expense when she came for her initial inspection.

In contrast, when Wife and I got our Federal Firearm License (FFL) we were visited by a new agent.. He sat with us, answered our questions, and was pleasant in all respects. We were pleasant, respectful, and cooperative. Three years later, when this same agent returned to do the inspection for the renewal of our license, he made a brief inspection of our paperwork, engaged in a short pleasant conversation, and went on his way.

I could have told Owner and son about my experiences, but I didn't. Instead I silently recalled a quote from Mark Twain: "A person who will pick up a cat by the tail, will have a lesson he can get in no other way." (or something like that.)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

France for the Novice.

By Rob Watson

First Wife and I had a few extra dollars, so we decided to spend them visiting my brother in Spain, by way of Merry Old England, Scotland, Belgium, and France. People in each of these, other than France, were courtious, friendly, and helpful... Well, there was one old gentleman in London who was somewhat put out by my driving on his side of the road.

In each of England, Belgium, and Spain, people spoke, or tried to speak English when speaking with us. Later visits to Germany, Denmark, Singapore, and Mexico  people tried the same. France, not so much. My feeling while in France was that many of the people understood me fairly well, and pretended not to understand at all. I am told the French will loosen up some if one tries to speak their language. At the time I only spoke and understood one word "thanks" and I still cannot spell it. Later I learned "I cannot speak French" and " enter, if you please". At times "Go to Hell" would have been something I might have used, but I doubt it would have been helpful.

We arrived in France on the ferry. After renting a car and driving a ways, we decided to stop and eat. The place was a small cafe in a small town. We and a group of, apparently, locals were the only customers... mid afternoon. We were given a menu, which I could not read. First Wife had taken French but she could not read it either. I noticed the locals got what appeared to be a huge bowl of french fries and fish. It is fair to say I did not then, nor do I now, know the words for "Yes, I agree". I am sure, however, the French for "NO" is very similar to the American word for "NO".

When the waiter returned, entirely in French, he asked what we wished to order... I think. I pointed to the table with the locals and said, in English, "WE want that" The waiter entirely ignored me and said the French words for "Steak and Fries" (I recognized those words from an article about France which advised never order "steek and frees" pronounced with long "e".) First Wife (A self explanatory term) recognized the words as well and also ignored my insistent No! No! No! and kept saying Yes, yes, yes in English. (Now if the guy could understand YES in English, why could he not understand NO in English?) The end result was a few french fries and 8 ounces of round steak, fried to shoe leather, for the princely sum of $28 each. ( back when $9.95 would have bought you a fine Porterhouse in any fancy American restaurant)

We drove to Brussels (then and now, the most expensive city in Europe) and began to look for a place for the night. In the first hotel, the clerk addressed me in French. to which I responded with "Uuh". He then switched to perfect English. ( perhaps uuh is French for DUH, or more likely, " I am a dumb American, in way over my head") I inquired as to the price of a room and was told $120 (when $20 would have gotten you a nice room in Holiday Inn) I thanked the man in English and left. We went a few blocks along the same street and stopped at a hotel whos external appearance was not as sharp as the previous one.

When I entered, the clerk addressed me in French. (I don't think I look French, two grandmothers and one grandfather are mostly of German stock, and a bit of Scotch Irish) "Uuh" was still my only utterance. The clerk immediately switched to perfect English. His rooms were $140 a night. As I left "I'm going the wrong way down this street." escaped my lips. We went back to the first place, where the clerk welcomed me back in perfect English.

Next day, after wandering around a bit and unsuccessfully looking for well hidden relatives, we headed for Paris. At the French border, there were numerous road signs explaining... well, I don't know. First Wife could not read them either. (Next day at breakfast, before I discovered the car had been broken into and everything except our money and passports had been stolen, First Wife points to the wrapper from the butter and says "See this says there is salt in the butter." I admit I was very wrong to reply "I can taste the salt in the butter, what I want to know is what the road signs say")

I thought our next task should be to report the theft of our luggage. Our desk clerk told us to go to the American Embassy, and gave directions... In English, no less! At the embassy, the gates were closed and locked, A holiday in France or the US... I found a bell and gave it fits. After a bit A marine in his dress blues (I love that uniform) came to the locked gate. He carefully explained the embassy was closed for the holiday. We could not come in, we should come back tomorrow. Inside me things were starting to boil. I stuck my head into the gap between the bars, looked the young man in the eye, and in a firm voice said "Son, I watch the news, I know these gates can be scaled, let me in or I will climb over!" He took me at my word and found someone to let us in, the easy way.

The Marine and one other person were all we saw there. The other person was talking on the phone, apparently to American Express. At directions from the phone, he tossed several thousand dollars in American Express Travelers checks into the trash. His reaction and mine were the same, complete astonishment.

The embassy man turned to me and patiently listened to my story. At the end he said he could not help me. He suggested we find a police station and report to them. Outside, a few yards from the embassy gate, we found one of those quaint little 2 foot square guard houses. Inside was a French policeman (Yes, I know they have a special name but I can't spell it either).  He eventually made us to understand there was a police station a block away, but it was not the place to report crimes. He did not know where the correct station was. I can say, without fear of contradiction, he was correct, and among all the native born French I met in that country, He is a hero and the most friendly and useful Frenchman I met there. Truely!

None of the other French police we met for the next six hours knew half so much as he knew. We got a first class walking tour of the main street there (NO, I can't spell it either) Along the way we took in the famous tower and the famous art museum (spelling). The flower gardens along the way were spectacular. I bought some film for my camera, $10 for a $1 roll. While resting outside the famous art museum, we met some other Americans who were also resting. They listened to my tale of woe. At the end the subject turned to prices there. The man concludes "It is one thing to have your stuff stolen, and entirely another to buy something and know you have been robbed."

Late in the afternoon, we were trying to quiz another policeman, and getting the same wrong answer, when an American businessman injected himself into the conversation. After translating both ways, he came to the same conclusion as I had. He suggested we go to our hotel and ask the clerk there. Back at the hotel, the clerk gave us proper direction to the correct police station. (I guess, if you ask the right question, you get a useful answer.)

At the police station we were lead to a detective's desk and he took our information and listened to our story. His English was good and he was pleasant and helpful, under the circumstances. At the end First Wife asked what were the chance we would get our luggage back. While the detective considered his answer,  I surmised "A cold day in Hell." The detective looked positively crushed.

We went to our airline office, conveniently located on the main street there. They suggested we should stay in Paris for another week before they could get our tickets replaced. ("Cold Day in Hell" came back to mind but I did not say it.) After a short discussion, I determined the tickets could also be replaced in Spain, where lodgings with my brother would be less expensive.

Next morning we took off driving for Spain. On this trip I learned that potatoes were "pomes de terre" and ham was "Jambone" or something like that. I could now order a ham sandwich. Near the end of the day I realized we would be traveling through Spain at night and had no Spanish money. We pulled off the super highway into a small town. I went into the nearest bank and asked the cashier if he could take my French Frank travelers checks and give me Spanish money. His reply "Of course I can". I signed over all my travelers checks. He started counting out french Franks. "Hey" says I, "You said you were going to give me Spanish money." His reply, "I can't give you Spanish money." Things were about to boil again, but he was out of reach. I stomped out of the bank and went across the street to a small bar. I didn't know the word for Beer but I got a ham sandwich, which was pretty good.

It was dark, we were approaching Spain. I was very unsettled over the money problem. A gas station appeared and I decided to solve one problem at least. After waiting several minutes for service, no one else was there, I pumped the gas myself. I made a note of the amount and took it out of my large cache of French money. After a few more minutes, the attendant came out, cleared the pump and spilled about a gallon of gas on the ground. I held out the money in my hand. he took it then began yelling in French. I decided getting in the car and driving off would be a bad idea so I just stood there while the attendant yelled, not talked, yelled. This went on for a minute or so until an American Businessman came rushing over. He asked, above the yelling from the attendant, what the problem was. I explained, above the yelling, what had happened. "This man wants you to pay for the gas he spilled on the ground". Well, he could have said so... I looked at the pump, counted the French equivalent of a dollar or so and all was peachy. I thanked the businessman, climbed into the car and headed out into the unknown.

So far in this story, I have been the victim of my own vast ignorance and social mistakes. For the rest of the story, The mistakes keep coming, but I get to be my own hero.

When we got to the Spanish boarder there was a huge plaza and several glass enclosed booths, like a set of toll booths on an American Highway. It was late by now. there was one attendant, and one car ahead of us. That car showed his papers and pulled ahead about 50 yards then stopped. I pulled up and showed our passports. The attendant inspected the passports, handed them back, smiled big, and waved us on. I knew we were on a toll road. I tried to explain that I had no Spanish money. Big smile, big wave.

In the meantime, the other car had been surrounded by half a dozen heavily armed police. The occupants were removed and the car was taken apart. Spare tire came out, seats came out, door panels were removed... I began to wonder how I would be able to put my car back together after my "Turn".

Several minutes went by before one of the police turned and looked at us. He frowned and angrily waved us passed. I hit the gas and didn't look back... onto a toll road, in the middle of the night, in a country whos language I could not speak. and with out a single paseda (worth about 1/4 of a cent).

Time was on my side. As we drove along there were service centers... food... gas... shopping... bars. Ah Ha!! Bars! Drunks will do anything for money! Next service center, I pull in, find the bar and wander inside. Two People. Bartender and drinker. All the lights are on. I walk up to the drinker, hold out a 100 frank note and say "Peastas" (The name for Italian money, I later discovered) The drinker looked at me as if I were nuts. But he appeared to be willing to give me another chance. I pushed the frank note in his direction again and repeated "Peastas" again. After about the fourth time he looked over at the bartender to see if he could make out what I wanted. The bartender shook his head then brightened. Clear evidence of another smart man. He said a single word "Pasedas". "Si, Si" I exclaimed, and handed him the 100 frank note he handed me 1500 pasedas (the correct exchange was 1900, I later learned. For reasons I hope you understand I have never begrudged this man his commission.) $25 was not going to go very far so I held out another 100 Frank Note and said "Pasadas". He nodded and counted out 1500 more. After two more exchanges I thought the $100 accumulated would buy food, gas, and tolls to Madrid. Fortunately I was right.

In all ways, England, Scotland, Germany, Denmark, Singapore, and, except for the cost, Belgium, were delightful places to see, visit, and tour.   It is clear to me, if you go to France, you should either learn the language, or take an American businessman. To end the tale, I must tell about the tickets.

When we arrived in Madrid and made contact with Brother, we went down town to find clothes. Three, going on four, days was long enough for the only things we had on our backs. We decided to eat first. In the restuarant there were several items of various prices. I chose a less expensive item. The most expensive would have cost about $20. When we went to buy clothes I got jeans, a shirt, T-Shirts and underpants. If I had known three pairs of underpants were going to cost $20. I would have gotten the expensive dinner.

Next we contacted the airline. They would be happy to re-issue the tickets if we could supply proof we had paid for them. They said someone in the US would have to send them the proof. I called my boss back in Texas. "Say boss, you want me back to teach those computer classes? Well, you have to call the Airline and get them to call the folks here to verify I have paid for those tickets" Boss deligated that task to Co-worker. Co-worker eventually spoke to the president of Airline. Promises were made.

Each day, after being grandly entertained by Brother and family, I would call the airline. I was told to come to the airport on the morning of our original reservations. First Wife and I arrived an extra hour or two early, to be sure all the paperwork was OK. We were met by a very pleasant woman, who had been handling our problem. She informed us she had not yet received the final confirmation but expected it momentarily. She then went off to check. She had gone down a nearby hallway.

Now, I don't know a single curse word in Spanish... well maybe one... But, as the lady was walking back toward us I could tell she was exercising her vocabulary of choice words. When she exited the hall, she was all smiles and apologies. The confirmation of payment for Madrid to New York had come. All Airline had sent was confirmation of reservation from New York to Texas. No confirmation of payment.

In response to her repeated apologies I said "Madam, I cannot swim from here to New York, but if you can get me that far, I can walk to Texas." She printed tickets to New York. In New York, Airline, after hearing my story, (and checking their computer) printed tickets to Texas.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


By Rob Watson

Over the years wife and I have gone to several "Tax Sales". If you are not familiar, the local government offers, for sale, a lien on real property, to cover the unpaid taxes on that property. Eventually, the real owner comes along and pays the taxes plus penalties plus interest. As the holder of the lien, I will pay the taxes and the penalties. When the owner pays up, I get all my money back and the interest. The local government handles all the paperwork and sends me a check. Some places just offer the liens to a local bank and regular folks don't get the chance for them.

In the rare instance that the owner actually abandons the property, I would pay the taxes due for the period, usually 5-10 years, then get a tax deed for the property. After some court costs and lawyers fees the property becomes mine. I have actually gotten a property... beginning in the tax year 1997... next year (2013) I may have full ownership rights... 120 acres stuck off in the Wyoming mountain wilderness.

Here in State, the process is different. County will not offer property for sale, for unpaid taxes, for ten years. They apparently hound the original owner for their money for those ten years. At the tax sale you bid on the property. The highest bidder gets the property, and after the county attorney processes the paperwork I become the owner... no hassel, no additional paper work, no courts, no lawyers.

"The Ranch"

Five years ago, Wife went, unsupervised, to a tax sale here in Town. Her goal was to buy three city lots at the corner of town, a total of nearly 3/4 of an acre. (which she accomplished for the paultry sum of $1,000). Most of the properties went for $50 to $100. This was sold so high because the owners of the house next door bid against her. Those who follow me on Facebook will recognize it as my pumpkin patch and my current wheat field. For an additional $657 she bought a small house. ( $600 bid and $57 processing fees) And, therein lies the story.

One of my regular readers complains my stories are too long, so... to be continued.