Adventures of Cactus Jack

Cactus Jack at the ”Impeach Trump Rally”.

I looked up just in time to see a colorful blur disappear into our rest room here at the store. The familiar odor of tobacco, whisky and sweat hung in the air. Nome was standing at the counter with a disgusted look on her face. “Who the hell was that?” I asked.

 “Who the hell do you think it was?” she grimaced.

 By the look on her face and the tone of her voice I knew it had to be Cactus Jack.

 “It smelled like Cactus Jack” I said, “but it looked like a parrot, what was he wearing?”

Before she could answer Jack stepped out of the bathroom snapping up a set of day-glo orange suspenders. Jack is a scoundrel and Nome can’t stand him. He owns “The Rainbow Computer Emporium” in the dry ranch country a mile East of Rainbow. Jack’s usual attire is dirt caked jeans and boots; a cowboy shirt with leather vest and a sweat stained crumpled Stetson. Today in addition to those suspenders, he wore Ho Chi Min sandals, khaki wash pants and a tie-dyed shirt. His scraggly yellowish hair hung out all around a red bandanna that covered his head and tied in the back. With his sun blasted face and tobacco stained beard he looked like Willy Nelson on a bad hair day.

“Where are you going in that outfit?” I asked with a grin.

“I just pulled an all-nighter at the Impeach Trump rally in Hillcrest and I ain’t had time to change my clothes” he puffed. "I’m headin back home to Rainbow and just stopped by to use yer crapper."

“Those impeach Trump folks hate greedy capitalists Jack, and you’re  the greediest capitalist I know. I’d figure that’s the last place you’d be.”

“I don’t think them folks care nuthin about corporate greed. Dang near every one of em had an i-phone, i-pod or i-pad,” said Jack. “Ain’t Apple the most profitable company in the World?”

“I think you’re right Jack. So why’d you go.” 

“I figured it’d be like Woodstock and Woodstock was a whole bunch of fun” said Jack with a far off look in his eyes.”

“You were at Woodstock?”

“Yep, I was a roadie for the Gypsy Sun and Rainbows Band.”

“Wow, that was Jimi Hendriks’ band. So was “impeach Trump” much like Woodstock?"

“Nope” said Jack shaking his head sadly, “them people is just an aimless herd hangin out with no real focus. At Woodstock, we had a common purpose and we spoke as one voice for a whole generation, we changed the world.”

“You mean Woodstock was all about peace, love, anti-establishment, anti-war, and don’t trust anyone over 30, right”?

“That ain’t what Woodstock was about” snarled Jack, “Woodstock was about sex and drugs with background music. Them “impeach Trump” folks got no idea how to throw a good party. That bunch in Hillcrest looked more like the crowd at Wal-Mart the day welfare checks come out.”

“Sorry it didn’t work out for you Jack,” I said as Jack headed out the door.

“I ain’t givin up on finding a good party yet. Since I went to all the trouble of diggin out my party duds I’m thinking of headin up to Berkeley for “Earth Day” weekend. Wish me luck.”

And I did.

Jack's New Fiddle.

Last Sunday we drove up to Rainbow for breakfast at the Rainbow Oaks. As we neared Rainbow on Rice Canyon Road Nome began to fidget.

“You took the back roads so you could stop by The Rainbow Computer Emporium and see Cactus Jack didn’t you.” She said pointing an accusing finger at me. I shot her a surprised look.

“Why I hadn’t thought of it but that’s a great idea.”

Nome looked disgusted. “ I don’t understand your fascination with that drunken old reprobate, he reeks of tobacco and whiskey, never bathes, he’s rude, crude and profane, has no respect for women, cheats his customers and you can’t believe a word he says.”

Nome was right of course. Jack is all those things and more, but to today’s domesticated males, Jack is a throwback to the days when men were men. A wild mustang free as the air and not a care in the world. It is hard not to be just a little envious. Nome continued but her voice trailed off as we turned into Jack’s parking lot. There were over twenty cars on the gravel and a half dozen more on the grass.  Jack was rocking on the porch.

“I’m not getting out of the car” grumped Nome, arms folded tight “hurry up, I’m hungry.”

Jack squinted wordlessly as I climbed the porch steps and took the rocker next to his. “Howdy flatlander” he said with a tobacco stained grin. He took a swig on his Jack Daniels bottle and passed it over; I honored his hospitality with a two swallow tug and passed it back remembering that real men never wipe the mouthpiece when sharing

“You got a lot of cars in your lot today, whose taking care of the customers inside” I asked.  

Jack grinned “.Them ain’t customers, them's employees. Welcome to PARTNERSFERPROFIT.COM” Jack waved his hand toward a maze of phone lines drooping from the road to the top of his store. “We done just passed FARMERSONLY.COM as the third biggest matchmaking site on the Internet. Jack pointed through the window into his store where rows of men and women babbled into headsets in the bluish glow of computer screens. “I done cleared out all my computer inventory and chucked em the barn. Don’t reckon I’ll ever need it agin.”

I stared through the window at the frenzied activity. “Who are you matching up?” I asked.

Jack hooted, “The hottest thing goin, same sex marriages.”  

I stared at Jack in disbelief, “I had you figured for a homophobe Jack, and now you’re arranging gay and lesbian weddings? 

“What,” said Jack, “are you crazy. I don’t care nothing bout them homos. They get hitched for love, sex and stuff like that. Our couples marry for money; it pays better and lasts longer.” Jack laughed at my puzzled expression, took another swig out of the bottle, wiped his mouth on his sleeve and passed it over to me.

Cactus scooted his chair closer to me and said “Charlie and George is a perfect example of how it works. Charlie was an 85 year old widower with prostate cancer and a year to live. He worked in construction all his life, his Social Security was two thousand dollars a month. Charlie had a few things on his “bucket list” but with no savins, he couldn’t do em. George never could keep a wife or a job. He got $250 a month Social Security when he turned 62 and his kids figured they’d have kick in at least a thousand dollars a month to support him for the rest of his natural life. It could cost em near a quarter million if the critter lived another 20 years.”

“OK” I said “they both got a problem. How are you going to fix it”

Jack put his hand on my shoulder. “Last year ole President Buttcrack Obummer done fixed it for them and me both. He told them Social Security folks to start treatin same sex marriages just like all the normal marriages. Now I match em up and get rich in the bargain.”

Jack continued his explanation. “Social Security survivor’s benefits allow the surviving spouse to keep their own benefit plus one half of the deceased spouse benefit. We married Charlie and George over the Internet last year.” 

“I can see how that would be great for George but why would Charlie do it.” I asked?

“Money” said Jack “George’s family was happy to pay $50,000 up front to guarantee that they would not have to support him for the rest of his natural days. Half went to Charlie and half went to PARNERSFERPROFIT. George got a lifetime guaranteed income, Charlie got the money for his bucket list and we got $25,000 fer doin a good deed

An employee handed Jack a stack of papers. “Wedding licenses” Jack belched, “I witness every one of em and it gits me an extra $25 fer every weddin.”

“That’s an amazing story Jack. Did everything work out for Charlie and George” I asked.

“Better’n anyone imagined” grinned Jack. “Turned out that the last thing on Charlie’s bucket list was skydiving. He never even opened his chute and went clean through the roof of a chicken house. They say he was laughin all the way to the ground.”

Cactus Jack and Bob Filner?

“Cactus Jack” owns the Rainbow Computer Emporium in the back country East of Rainbow. Cactus has no redeeming qualities. He’ll lie to your face, cheat you if he can. His sun blasted face is twisted into a permanent cynical scowl. He smells of tobacco, whiskey and old leather. With his sweat stained Stetson, dusty denims and dirt caked cowboy boots, Jack looks more like a down-on-his- luck prospector than a computer store owner. Jack makes a living by abusing his computer store customers and selling computer related stuff. He comes into town once or twice a month to dumpster-dive at Fry’s. He salvages Apple logos and pastes them onto old phones, tablets and computers then sells them at swap meets. Jack say’s “folks that buy Apples ain’t got a lick of sense.” He claims he once sold a broken etch-a-sketch with a pasted on Apple logo to a high school art teacher for $300.

When Jack’s in town he often drops by our store.  Nome despises Cactus Jack and usually manages to hide in the bathroom till he’s gone. Last week when Jack walked in Nome was reading the paper and didn’t notice him until he was standing across the counter smack dab in front of her. “Hey sweetheart, c’mon out and give ole Cactus a big hug,” he thundered. Nome nearly jumped out of her skin. When she recovered her composure she spat out “hello Cactus.” It sounded like Jerry Seinfeld’s “Hello Newman.” Cactus Jack knows that Nome despises him but he just doesn’t care.

Nome had been reading the latest front page story on San Diego Mayor Bob Filner’s problems. “Them folks in San Diego must be stupider than a butt full of buckshot” Jack mused looking down at the paper.

“Why, because they elected Filner mayor?" Nome asked.

Jack snorted derisively. “Naw, they was right to elect him, they’re stupid fer wantin to git rid of him.”

Nome’s stared incredulously at Jack. “You think they are stupid for wanting to get rid of this arrogant, lying bully who sexually abuses women?”

“Oh come on sweetcakes, everybody knowd all that stuff bout Filner before they elected him. It come out in the campaign that he beat up a lady baggage handler and then he said I’m a congressman and can do anything I want. Hell, that ain’t arrogance or bullyin, that’s just being self-confident, telling it like it is, and not takin crap off nobody. That’s the main reason folks elected him.”

Nome looked stunned. “What about all those poor women he offended.”

Jack slapped his knee and hooted, “offended my ankle! They ain’t nuthin but a pack of hypersensitive cougars who want everybody to think that they still got it. Nancy Pelosi and Gloria Allred is the ones that got em all stirred up. I figure  the only reason they got cranked is cause Filner never made a pass at them. I don’t blame him either. Shows he’s got some common sense.”

“I don’t care what you say Jack” said Nome angrily, “Filner has to go.”

Jack smirked, “I hate to tell you this cookie, but Filner ain’t goin nowhere. You got to remember he’s a Dimocrat. By the time he gets back from rehab them folks is goin to forgive and forgit. Remember that guy who cheated on his wife, seduced a girl barely out of her teens in the oval office, lied to everyone about it, lied to a grand jury and got hisself impeached and disbarred? Now he’s the grand old man of the Dimocrat party, they love him. If they can forget what Clinton did, how hard’s it gonna to be to forgive ole Bob Filner for squeezing some butts and tryin to steal a kiss or two? Bob’s biggest problem is he don't  know that he’s an old man and uglier than a three day hangover.”

“So you want Bob Filner to keep his job?” asked Nome wearily.

"Heck no. I hope they do fire him. I’d offer him a job right off. Him and me would make one helluva tag team sellin used computers at the swap meet.” Said Jack wistfully.

Cactus Jack’s “Rainbow Rental”.

Last weekend we took the scenic drive up to Rainbow on Rice Canyon Road.  The road twists and winds its way north from hi-way 76 through the back country to Rainbow. We stopped for dinner at The Rainbow Oaks Restaurant. To us it is the best comfort food restaurant in San Diego County.

After a great meal with homemade pie Nome seemed quite mellow, so I took a chance. “I wonder if Cactus Jack is open today” I asked innocently”. Nome glared at me across the table.

“You know darn well he’s open. He lives in that rat-hole computer store of his. Where else would he be?”

“True” I said cheerfully, “and since we’re in the neighborhood perhaps, as a professional courtesy, we should stop in.”

Nome snorted, “Professional and courtesy are two words that don’t fit Jack.” She paused “If you really want to see Jack, buy me another glass of wine and promise me that I won’t have to get out of the car or talk to that snake.”

“It’s a deal,” I said.

I do understand why Nome doesn’t like Cactus Jack. He drinks, cusses, chews tobacco and bad-mouths everyone. He’s unethical, lies right to your face and will cheat you every chance he gets. I think it’s the fact that Jack has no redeeming qualities whatsoever that makes him so interesting. I like him.

Jacks store is a couple of miles East of Rainbow at a dusty crossroads. We pulled into the dirt parking lot at the Rainbow Computer Emporium. Jack was in a chair on the porch of the old bunkhouse that is his home and place of business. 

Nome pretended to be asleep, snoring loudly with her mouth wide open. “Hi Jack how’s business” I said as I climbed the steps. Jack pushed a whiskey bottle into my open hand.

“Take a tug on this and have a seat. I’ll tell you somthin that’ll blow yer mind,” said Jack excitedly. I hesitated but I figured the alcohol would kill any germs that Jack backwashed into the bottle so I took a long pull and handed it back. “So what’s up Jack”?

Jack wiped the bottle top on his shirt and took a swig. “I’m in the equipment rental business and makin a fortune,” He grinned.

“What kind of equipment” I asked.

“Stereos, TVs, sound stage amplifiers, computers, tablets, kitchen appliances, camping equipment, you name it, I rent it”

I turned my head and looked through the open door of Jack’s store. It was nearly empty. “Where’s your rental equipment inventory? I asked.

“That’s the best part of all,” said Jack “I don’t need no stinking inventory.”

“I don’t get it Jack. How can you run an equipment rental business without any inventory?”

Jack leaned toward me and lowered his voice as if he were sharing a dark secret. “Most of them big box stores like Fry’s and Best Buy has 15 day return policies right? I nodded. “ When folks rent stuff I go buy it, rent it out and when they bring it back I return it and git my money back.”

What if they keep it for more than 15 days? I asked.

“No problem, Jack cackled, “my rental contract says if they keep it past 10 days they own it. I already got their credit card number so I charge em 20% mor’n I paid fer it.”

With that Jack stood up. “I gotta git this notebook PC back to Fry’s afore they close. Rented it to a feller for a business trip, he paid $25 a day for 10 days. I got $250 from him and now I’m gittin back the $495 I paid fer it from Fry's. Easy money.”

Jack headed for his pick-up and I got back in the car. Nome asked, “what was that all about?” I said, “you don’t want to know.”

Jack Meets Steve Jobs.

Last month, Rainbow Computer Emporium owner Cactus Jack won a contest for computer store owners that include an all expense paid trip to Apples headquarters in Cupertino and a face-to-face meeting with Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

As usual Jack arrived smelling of strong drink and tobacco. Mr. Jobs didn’t seem to mind as he welcomed Jack with a big hug. He seemed to be in a particularly jovial mood. “It’s probably my new medication but I feel fantastic” said Jobs. “Ask me anything.”

Jack sat down across the desk from Jobs and shot a stream of tobacco juice into the wastebasket.

“Fer starters,” said Jack “how can you call yerself a computer company when yer main products ain’t computers at all?”

“Excellent question Mr. Cactus. Can I call you Jack?”

“Sure, if I can call you Jobs” growled Jack

“ Call me anything but late for dinner” cackled Jobs. “You are correct, Jack. As a matter of fact, we changed the name of our company from Apple Computer to just plain Apple back in January of 2007, personally, I don’t even like computers, just give me an ipod and shut the door” he giggled.

“Then why bother sellin em at all?” scowled Cactus. “You ain’t even got 10% of the market.”

“Maybe we don’t sell a lot of PCs but we do make a lot of money on the ones we sell.” smiled Jobs.

“That’s somthin I’ve been ponderin" said Jack scratching his chin, "Apple computers used to be completely different from Windows PCs. Now days you git your computers at Foxxcon in China just like all the rest. You git the same parts as all the rest and Apples cain’t do nothin any other PC cain’t do. How the hell do you get away with sellin the same thing for three times as much as anybody else?”

“It’s called target marketing Jack. We don’t try to sell to everybody. Our strategy is to sell only to people who fit our demographic model. We call it “Right is Right” We target “right brain,” types only. That’s only about ten percent of the population.” 

Jack brightened “Now I git it. You target the dumbest ten percent, right?

Jobs smiled condescendingly. “Not at all Jack. The right side of your brain is the emotional and artistic side, the left is for reason and logic. Most people have a balance between the two. We know Apple computers won’t appeal to those who use logic so we don’t even try. Our entire marketing effort is directed toward eliciting a positive emotional response within our target demographic. Since our product’s value is emotion based, we really don’t have any competition. All the other computer companies compete on the basis of features, function and price. We don’t need to worry about any of that stuff”.”

Now Jack perked up. If Apple has a way to sell products for three times what they’re worth Jack wanted to know about it. “How do you go about doing this target marketing stuff?” Jack asked innocently.

“Pretty easy actually” said Jobs “We target people who have a need to feel special. People who perceive themselves as different from the hoi polloi. Artists, musicians, actors, political activists and assorted narcissists are our meat and potatoes. College kids are easy money. They’re image conscious, herd driven and haven’t yet learned to think independently. Did you know that over 50% of left-handed people prefer Apple? That’s because the right brain controls the left side of your body.”

“Well don’t that beat all” said Jack. “How do you appeal to them “right brain” types?”

“We never compare ourselves to others. We never talk facts and figures. We just maintain a kind of anti-establishment aura, look cool and try to appear above it all. That’s why I dress like this. If you can’t afford a really cool car you can make a statement by carrying an Apple laptop. You can feel “in” like Oprah, Michael Moore or Tom Cruise.”

Jobs stood up and looked at his watch “Well I’ve enjoyed meeting you Jack but I have a staff meeting in five minutes do you have any more questions?”

“Just two”, said Jack. “That PC on your desk with an Apple logo is really an HP. Why is that?” Jobs looked surprised. “For heavens sake Jack, this is a hundred billion dollar company, you don’t we could run it on Snow Leopard do you?”

“I suppose not,” said Jack. “The other thing is that you don’t seem to me to be one of them thar “right brain” fellers. Are ya?

Jobs smiled “ No I’m not. We don’t have “right brainers” here on the fifth floor. This is senior management only. If you’d like to meet some right brainers though, I’ll have my secretary give you a tour of the Graphics Arts and Human Resources departments.” With that Jobs poked his head out the door and said “Bruce, give Mr. Cactus a tour of the basement.”

The Microsoft Vista seminar.

Cactus Jack called me last week. “Pick you up in five minutes,” he said.

“Five minutes! Where we going Jack?” I asked.

“Microsoft’s havin a dog and pony show for PC sellers at Lake San Marcos Resort.”

 Cactus Jack owns Rainbow Computer Emporium in the back country south of Temecula.  He looks and talks a lot like “Yosemite Sam” but with dirty white hair and a tobacco stained mustache. Jack treats his customers with utter disdain and he’s meaner than cat crap. Nome can’t stand him but I kind of admire the purity of his total lack of any redeeming qualities. Jack is a man’s man.

“I never go to those Microsoft seminars,” I said “they’re boring PR drivel. I’m surprised you go.”

“Hello,! there’s free food and booze and all them yahoovers from Geek Squad, Fry’s and them other computer stores will be there. Just gittin to laugh at them bozos is worth the trouble of goin all by itself.”

I looked at my watch. It was nine thirty. Jack usually doesn’t get drunk until early afternoon. It seemed safe.

“Hold on and I’ll see if Nome will let me go”. I turned to ask her but she was already waving at me “I heard, just go” she said “Wait for Jack in the parking lot, I don’t want that stinky man coming into the store.” 

The presentation had already started when we arrived. Jack interrupted the speaker and tried to get him to open the bar. He told Jack that the bar opened after the presentation not before and asked him to please find a seat. Jack grumbled and the kids from Geek Squad giggled. 

The speaker was explaining that Vista was an excellent operating system that had been sabotaged by a devilishly clever misinformation campaign led by Apple and some other anarchists. He asked the group if anyone had a suggestion as to how Microsoft might improve Vista. Jack raised his hand.

“Yer first mistake is naming it Vista,” he drawled.

“Why is that?” asked the Microsoft speaker.

“Because Vista ain’t a half bad place to live.” Jack hesitated for effect. “You shoulda named it Tijuana.”

The crowd went wild. It took several minutes to restore order.

The Microsoft speaker composed himself and continued “ Vista is a thing of the past anyway. The new age will dawn on October 22nd when we introduce Windows 7”.

At that point a huge roar went up from the Fry’s sales team. “Wonderful” said the speaker excitedly, “That is exactly the kind of reception we’ve been looking for”

It turned out that the Fry’s sales team had been playing team "Angry Birds" on their iPhones. The outburst was in celebration of a two-point victory over Team Geek Squad.

At this point The Microsoft rep decided to open the bar. I had a sandwich and a couple of drinks. By then the Fry’s sales guys were arguing among themselves over whether or not they could sell extended warranties on bottled water and the Geek Squad had started a drinking game that involved ping-pong balls and plastic cups.

Jack bribed the bartender into giving him a full bottle of bourbon and sat quietly enjoying the spectacle between swigs.

I decided to walk back to the store.

Cactus Jack sues Microsoft.

I spotted his dusty red pickup as he pulled up in front of our store. Nome looked up when “The Eyes of Texas” blared from the twin horns mounted on the cab’s roof.

“Oh my God it’s him” she screamed “I’ll be in the bathroom, tell me when he’s gone," she shouted over her shoulder as she headed for the back. Nome can’t stand Cactus Jack.

Jack owns “The Rainbow Computer Emporium” located in the back country east of Rainbow. He keeps irregular store hours and abuses his customers every chance he gets. They keep coming back because he’s the only computer store in the area. We’ve met Jack on several occasions over the years. Nome detests him but  I kind of admire the way does things his own way and gets away with it.

Jack stepped through the door and looked around “whar’s yer woman” he asked warily.

“Oh she’s working in the back room,” I said.

“Just as well” he mumbled.

Short and stocky, Jack wore scuffed cowboy boots, and grubby Levis with a Navaho beaded belt. A cowhide vest covered most of his dirty “wife beater.” Jack’s sun blasted face was twisted into a permanent scowl. His salt and pepper mustache drooped to a red neckerchief. An oversized sweat stained ten gallon rode low on his brow barely above his squinty eyes. The not unpleasant aroma of liquor, tobacco and sweat preceded him by several paces. Jack is a man’s man.

“What brings to our humble store” I asked pleasantly.

“Mostly my prostate” said Jack “whar’s yer crapper”

When he returned he thanked me and said “I gotta git me a solid state hard drive from the junk store across the street”

You mean Fry’s? Aren’t they a bit pricey”?

Jack cackled, “Not the way I do it. I buy one, take it out in the parking lot and, tear it open, then take I it back and say it don’t work. They give me my money and I go back outside. I give em ten minutes. By that time they've got done got it shrink-wrap, knocked 20% off the price and stuck it back on the shelf. I go back, buy it and do it all over again. When they git it down to half price I take it home”

“You sure know all the angles Jack,” I said.  Are you building PCs with Microsoft Vista? I asked.

“Yep, all of em. Its cut my warranty expense down to nuthin. When my customers have a problem I just tell its a Vista problem  and to call Microsoft’s customer service. I never hear from em again”

So you don’t like Vista either? I smiled

“Don't like it? I love it.” Jack shouted, “ Vista is gonna make me a wealthy man”

“How do you figure?” I asked   

“I’m putting together a class action lawsuit on behalf of every city in America that’s got Vista in its name. There’s over 200 of em. We’re suing Microsoft for slander.”

“I don’t understand”

“What if somebody started packaging pig manure and labeled it San Marcos or San Diego, wouldn’t that put a knot in your skivvies? 

"Yes I suppose it would" I replied

Well just how do you think them people that lives in Vista feel about bein associated with a pile of crap like Microsoft Vista?”

“I guess I never thought about it that way” I said.

“Neither did Bill Gates but he’s about to now.”

Jack slapped me on the back and said "Gotta go. Meetin with the Vista City Attorney for lunch, This time next year we'll be fishin from my yacht and fartin through silk.”

Jack’s cab-top horns blasted a rendition of “I Wish I Was In Dixie” as pulled out of our lot. Nome yelled from the back, “Is he gone yet”

Cactus Jack’s Tea Party.

When I heard that Cactus Jack’s Rainbow Computer Emporium was a major stop for the Tea Party Express I had to see it for myself. Nome said that if Cactus was involved in it there had to be some kind of angle but she agreed to go if I would treat here to the buffet at Pala Casino afterward.  

We pulled into Jack’s dusty parking lot right behind two Tea Party Express buses. As we parked,, an enthusiastic crowd filled the plastic chairs lined up in front of the porch that ran the length of Jack’s computer store, an old converted wooden ranch-hand bunkhouse.

Nome grabbed my arm. “We can see and hear what’s going on just fine from here,” she said. “I don’t want that old reprobate to know we’re even here.” Just then Jack stepped onto the porch and strode briskly to the podium. We couldn’t believe our eyes.

His sweat stained cowboy hat was gone, replaced by a wide brimmed white Stetson. His long scraggly yellowish hair and tobacco-stained mustache were neatly brushed and snow white. His stained “wife beater”, tattered vest, filthy levis and dusty scuffed boots exchanged for an immaculate white suit complete with vest, tie and a gold watch chain. Nome snickered “he looks like the bastard son of Col. Sanders.”

Jack held up his hands for quiet. “Ya’ll are here cause you don’t like what’s goin on in California, right?” The crowd roared assent. “How many of you folks are on welfare or git your paycheck from the Govmint?” A lady in the back put her hand up. “What do you do Maam” asked Jack. “I’m a school teacher” she replied. “Might I ask what the hell you’re doin at a Tea Party Rally?” asked Jack. She looked angrily at the man next to her and hit him on the arm with her purse. “My husband told me this was a wine tasting tour”. The crowd roared.

Jack continued, “the problem is that Califonia Govmint has got so big it’s squeezing the life out of us folks”. Several in the the crowd yelled amen. “You’re madder’n hell at all them greedy teachers, firemen, cops, lawyers, politicians and other simple serpents with their outlandish salaries and pensions aintcha.” Another roar. Jack paused and looked out over the crowd. “Well you ain’t no better than them.” There was a stunned silence.

Jack continued. “Folks work to put beans on the table and to save up for when they can’t work no more. If someone come up and offered you all that without havin to work for it, you’d probably take em up on it in a heartbeat. As it is, most of us gotta provide some kind of service or product that’s worth enough for folks to pay us for it. It’s called "free enterprise" and that’s why we gotta bust our butts to make a livin."

“It ain’t the same with folks working for govmints. They don’t have to worry about competition or doin a good job. They just worry about making more and more money for less and less work. No matter how bad they are they can't be fired. They got unions to pertect em. Them unions slide piles of money to the politicians who use it to keep their jobs. In return the politicians keep the unions happy by raisin pay and benefits and makin more union jobs. Then they raise your taxes to pay for it all.”

“They’ve chased thousands of companies and millions of jobs outta California. They keep raisin your taxes and fees. Campground fees, red light cameras, building permits, business licenses, sales tax, automobile registration, workman’s comp and on and on, but it still ain’t enough. They still can’t pay their bills so they keep commin after you for more every year.”

Jack pulled out a white hanky and wiped his brow. “Don’t you blame them teachers, firemen and cops. You woulda done the same as them if you’d been offered the same deal as them. Don’t expect the elections to change anything either. Republican or Democrat, it don’t matter. All them laws, regulations and union contracts are protected by the biggest strongest union there is, the lawyers. They run two thirds of the Govmint and control everything else. Your vote means nothing. One liberal judge can cancel the will of the people with a single swing of her gavel. You are powerless.”

Jack leaned forward and stared hard at the now silent crowd. “It’s too late to save California, years too late. You had your chance and you blew it. Now you have two choices. You can stay in California and watch California follow Greece down the toilet or you can get the hell out of Dodge and go where the sweet smell of freedom still hangs on every breeze.”

From the back of the crowd a voice shouted “where’s that Jack”

Jack stood up tall “I’m glad you asked m’ boy. It just so happens that I do know such a place. A place where you can ride your cycle without a helmet, you don’t need a permit to put in a water heater, the police chief moonlights to make ends meet, the only lawyer in town is on food stamps, there’s no teacher’s union, the fire department is volunteer, they lynched their last pedophile in 1956, the mayor owns the local honky-tonk and the only two homosexuals in town are the best hairdresser in the county and the gal that coaches the state champs girls high school basketball team.”

“What town is that?” yelled the voice from the back.

“That town is Red Rock City in Bowie County, Texas,” said Jack proudly as he removed his hat and held it over his heart.  And now my associate Mr. Rowdy will now pass among you with a map and a contract showin how you too can become the proud owner of a one acre home site in the fastest growing rural community in the Southwest. Sign up today and git 10% off.”

I started the car and as we drove out I felt Nome looking at me. “You never learn do you” was all she said.

Cactus Jack’s “sweet success”.

“Cactus Jack” Trosper, owner of the Rainbow Computer Emporium and weekend prospector recently completed negotiations with Chinese candy giant SJI&T (Shantou Jinnanhua Industry and Trade Co, LTD) for the mineral rights to his claim in the Cleveland National Forest south of Lake Henshaw on the Santa Ysabel Reservation.

It all started in the spring of 2007. “Cactus Jack” was gold prospecting in a remote area of the fifteen thousand acre San Ysabel Nation Reservation. Working his way up a creek in a deep canyon he spotted a large white boulder partially submerged in a pool of water. The boulder had fallen from a gleaming white outcrop near the top of the canyon wall. The outcrop looked like quartz and quartz can contain gold veins or gem pockets. As Jack approached the boulder he saw that it was buzzing with bees, wasps, butterflies and other insects. Several hummingbirds were also flitting about occasionally swooping in to drink from the pool. The mineral seemed to be melting. It was like nothing Jack had ever seen. He took a test sample.

The following week Jack took the sample to CSUSM geology professor Dr. Yip. Dr. Yip immediately recognized the sample as mineral sugar. He was skeptical that the sample had actually come from California since this extremely rare mineral form of sugar was known to occur in only two locations, both in China. When Cactus Jack assured him that the sample was indeed local, Dr. Yip became very excited.

Mineral sugar is used in traditional medicine throughout much of Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe and sells for over $10 an ounce. Jack’s five-pound sample was worth well over a thousand dollars on the Beijing exchange. The two men agreed to form a partnership. Cactus Jack negotiated mineral rights with the San Ysabel Reservation Tribal elders, Yip discretely made contact with the owners of the mineral sugar mines in China.

Mineral sugar forms in a unique manner. Millions of years ago a freshwater dessert marsh formed in the bed of an ancient dry salt lake. A reed-like plant, much like sugar cane, covered the marsh during wet winter seasons and died out during the dry summers. Year after year the winter storms buried the dead reeds in a layer of sand that prevented bacteria from consuming their sugar. Over millennia the sugars mixed with salt and percolated through the soil to the bedrock where the salt and sugar solution became trapped. The salt and sugar separated into distinct layers, dried out and, over time, became buried under hundreds of feet of sediment hardening into two distinct strata with the mineral sugar being the bottom layer. As the land uplifted and eroded, ground water carried most of the salt layer away leaving behind only the layer of solid mineral sugar.

The Reservation Elders agreed to share the mineral rights equally with Jack and Dr Yip. A Chinese survey team determined the fifteen to twenty foot thick deposits covered nearly twelve acres. The total amount of mineral sugar in the San Ysabel deposit was four times the known Chinese reserves. The value of the San Ysabel mineral sugar reserves at current prices is estimated to be over six billion dollars.

SJI&T will not begin extracting minerals at the San Ysabel mine site until the two mines in China become too costly to operate. They will continue to control the production keeping prices high, much like the DeBeers once controlled the diamond trade.

In late March this year the checks for the first quarterly installment of the several million dollar a year mineral rights lease payments were formally presented at a private gala held at “The Eagles Nest”, (San Ysabel Nations Casino and Resort) in the mountains overlooking Lake Henshaw. “Cactus Jack”, Dr. Yip, the Tribal Elders and the representatives from SJI&T celebrated long into the night.

“Cactus Jack” said he plans to keep operating The Rainbow Computer Emporium for the foreseeable future although he and Dr. Yip have already started a new venture. “We bought two hundred acres of vineyard east of Temecula” Jack told our reporter. “We’re tearin out the grapes and plantin commercial grade marshmallow trees,” Jack continued. “They grow them standard size and cocktail marshmallows just about everywhere but the only place they can grow the commercial size marshmallows ( average size ten pounds) that bakeries and candy makers use is in the Maya Mountains of Belize. The soil and climate in our Temecula vineyards is identical to those in the marshmallow groves of Belize. We start plantin this spring.”

Don’t bet against “Cactus Jack”.

Miracle on Mulberry Street.

I happened Christmas Eve three years ago and it would just kill “Cactus Jack” if he thought we knew what he did.

Jack’s white Ford 350 pick-up was sitting in front of our store when I returned from the bank. A Santa suit was draped over a large Fry’s box on the front seat. On the hood Jack had two huge chrome “foghorns” and between them was mounted four foot wide set of Texas Longhorn horns.

Cactus Jack owns the “The Rainbow Computer Emporium” East of Rainbow. Jack is a cranky, profane curmudgeon with a weakness for Bourbon. A sun wrinkled, squinty-eyed scowl is permanently etched on his face. The droopy, tobacco yellowed mustache, sweat stained Stetson and dusty, worn cowboy boots make Jack look more like a hard luck prospector than a computer store owner. Jack was pouring himself a coffee when I walked in the door.

“Hey Cactus, what brings you to town” I asked cheerfully.

“Sure as hell wouldn’t be this rotgut coffee of yours” Jack grimaced. “I come to git me one of them 28 inch Viewsonic flat screen monitors at Fry’s. They’re practically given em away and I got the last one.”

“I saw it on your front seat Jack. Also noticed the Santa suit. Did you get yourself a part time job?” I teased.

Jack let loose a stream of profanity. “I’d go naked in a snowstorm afore I’d wear that faggy elf suit. I just picked it up from the cleaners for my nephew. He wears the dang thing Christmas Eve and his kids is stupid enough fall for it every time. Makes me sick just thinking about it”

Nome called out “ we have a problem over here.” Jack and I walked over to Nome’s workbench.

“Here’s the story,” said Nome. “Mrs. Pintera brought in this old PC that she bought for $10 at a garage sale. Their notebook PC broke and the kids need a computer for schoolwork. Mr. Pintera hasn't been able to find work and now he’s down with the flu, the family car is in the garage and they’ve got no money for Christmas.”

Nome continued. “Mrs. Pintera had put aside $100 for the kids Christmas presents but they'll need a computer for school more than Christmas presents. She asked me if we could fix this one up for $100. I told her I was sure we could fix it up for less than that.”

Cactus Jack was squinting into Mrs. Pintera’s PC. “You couldn’t make this thing into a computer for $500. It’s got Windows 95.” Jack looked at Nome and snickered. “You just might of bit off a mite more’n you can chew, sweetheart.”

Nome ignored Jack and turned to me. “I figure we give them one of the refurbished computers, load it with everything and tell her that all we had to do was put her parts in a used case. We tell her it costs $10 so she won’t think its charity. They live in that old green house on the left side of Mulberry so we can drop it off after work tonight and save her a bus trip.” 

“Sounds like a plan, lets do it” I nodded

Jack slapped his knee and hooted. “Where am I? Brother Beno’s? You saps are easier than a two-dollar hooker. If I fell for every phony sob story I’d be out of business in a week. I’m getting out of here before I break out in tears.” Jack headed for the door.

Nome yelled after him, “ I sure hope you have Merry Christmas“Cactus Scrooge.”

Jack hesitated at the door. “  I”m gonna snuggle up with a bottle of Jack Daniels in front of my brand new 28-inch Viewsonic monitor and order me a shiny new 357 magnum off’n E-Bay. Merry Christmas suckers, Ho Ho Ho.”

We knocked on the Pintera’s door just after six on Christmas Eve. A radiant, smiling Mrs. Pintera opened the door and invited us in. A beautifully decorated Christmas tree spread its branches over a pile of expensively wrapped gifts. Happy children scampered about the house. Cactus Jack was right? We got conned?

Mrs. Pintera saw the look on our faces and blushed. “I don’t know how it happened or what’s going on but about an hour ago three men just marched in with all this stuff. They didn’t say a word. They set up the tree and brought in all those presents and then they left. I guess it must be a church or something”

I put the computer on the floor. “I’ll go out to the car and get your monitor”

“Oh we don’t need one” she said, “They brought us a really nice 28-inch Viewsonic flat screen monitor”

Mrs. Pintera’s four years old tugged at my pants leg “Santa brought it, we saw him. He had a white beard and everything,” he said seriously.

His older brother added, “his beard was white but his mustache was yellow and he wore cowboy boots”

I bent over and asked the little guy, “did Santa have a sleigh and reindeer?”

“No sir, he had a white pick-up truck, but it had antlers.”

Cactus Jack’s customer service.

I smelled him before I saw him. Nome was out running errands and I was on my knees stocking a display when I was overwhelmed by the pungent blend of whiskey, tobacco, leather and sweat. “It’s been a while Jack, what brings you to town?” I asked without looking up. “Business” he said. “ I’m Gitten some refurbs over at Fry’s.”

“Cactus Jack” has a computer store at a dusty crossroad in the backcountry east of Rainbow. He calls it “Rainbow Computer Emporium”. I stood up to shake his hand. Cactus Jacks face is the color and texture of a catcher’s mitt. His sweat stained, misshapen Stetson was pulled low on his forehead, his pale blue eyes barely showed through the scowl he uses for a smile and his tobacco yellowed mustache drooped to his chin. “You haven’t changed a whisker in the last three years Jack” I said cheerfully.

“Cut the BS, course I’ve changed, everybody does. I’m a helluva lot richer than I was three years ago”. Jack shot a stream of tobacco juice into the foam coffee cup he was holding. “ Well I’m happy for you Jack” I ventured, “I heard you closed your store and went to law school”. Jack waved his hand like he was shooing a fly. “Naw, I only closed down for the two weeks it took me to get my law degree. Cost me $800 but it was worth every penny”. “So you have a law practice now,” I asked.  Jack shook his head emphatically “Hell no, there’s not enough money in lawyerin to make it worth my time. I just hang my diploma up behind the cash register. It stops folks from suein me”.

Jack wheezed and scanned the store. “Looks like you folks are still runnin your business by tryin to please everybody” He shook his head sadly. “I can’t believe you greenhorns have made it this long.”

“Well what are you doing to make yourself so rich Jack?” I asked with a trace of irritation. Jack put his hand on my shoulder. “Look, I like you folks but like I’ve told ya before, you’ll never get rich tryin to make your customers happy. Ya gotta think about number one”. Ya gotta play like the game like the big boys do. That’s what I do. Learn what makes em rich and I do it ten times better”

Can you give me a couple of examples?” I asked. “Sure can. here’s one I learnt from Fry’s. Remember them $199 PCs they sold” I had to laugh. “I sure do, those thing were pure garbage”. Jack pointed his finger at me “But do you remember what brand name they used?” “Oh yeah” I snickered “they called them Great Quality. What did you learn from that?” “Plenty,” Jack continued. “I buy the cheapest stuff I can find and put my label “The Best There Is” on it. Stuff sells like hotcakes”.

“Impressive”, I said. Jack leaned close enough for me to smell the Jack Daniels on his breath. “That’s nothing compared to what I learnt from Dell?” “I’m all ears” I said. Jack took a deep breath. “It’s my technical support 900 hotline. I only charge 25 cents a minute”. “That’s pretty cheap” I said. “you can’t be making much on that” Jack winked “here’s the way it works.

“First I keep em on hold for 45 minutes. Then I route em to my telephone tech support boiler room in San Ysidro. I got a deal with the Immigrant Detention Center Work Release Program. They only give me non English-speaking Asians with a speech impediment. They can't even understand one another."  

"And you got that idea from Dell’s Tech support hotline in India? I asked.

“That's right" said Jack

Just then Nome walked in. “Who's got that Escalade pickup truck with the cow horns that’s parked in front  – oh its you.” She said icily. It’s no secret that Nome doesn’t share my admiration for Cactus Jack . Jack knows it but he just doesn’t care. “Hello darlin, my goodness but don’t you look nice all gussied up and all.” Nome brushed on past in her jeans and sweatshirt without a word.

“You know Jack, there is something that I always wondered about” I said.

“Ask me anything, I’ll be happy to help you with a little friendly advice.” 

“It’s about the way you run your business. At least half the people that know you must think of you as an unethical, ornery, cheating, lying skunk.

"That sounds about right" nodded Jack.  "What's yer question"

"How did you learn to keep that from bothering you"

Jack shrugged is shoulders and said "Same way as i learnt everything else. By watchin and learnin from the very best at it. Ever heard of a feller by the name of Bill Clinton?"

Return to Cactus Jack.

We were taking a Sunday drive and happened to wind up in Rainbow. It had been nearly two years since we first visited the Rainbow Computer Emporium and its cranky owner “Cactus Jack”. “Why don’t we drop in on Cactus Jack to see how he’s doing”

Nome glared at me. “If you stop at Jacks, I’m not getting out of the car” she snorted. Nome can’t stand Cactus Jack. She says being around him is like watching your house burn down. I kind of like him. There is something refreshing about his complete absence of virtue.

Rainbow Computer Emporeum sits in a dusty scrub oak grove on a dusty crossroads East of Rainbow. The store is a weather beaten old bunkhouse with a corrugated roof. A wide wooden porch runs the entire length of the building. The sign over the door read, “If I ain’t got it, you don’t need it” Cactus was rocking on the porch.

Nome sat in the car with her arms folded and stared blankly out the window. I got out and walked up the steps. I started to introduce myself but Cactus Jack cut me off.

“I know who the hell you are. You’re them flatlanders that’s got a computer store down in San Marcos. Why ya here?”

“Well neighbor”, I said cheerfully, “we were in the area and thought we’d drop by to see how you’re doing”.

Jack pushed his sweat stained Stetson back and squinted. “ I’ve got bad knees, hemorrhoids and a prostate the size of a grapefruit, but other’n that I’m doin fine. Business ain’t never been better”.

“That’s great Cactus, did you hire some help?” I asked.

“Help” Cactus snorted, “I got plenty of help. I got Gateway, Dell and Compaq building junk for me to fix, I’ve got thousands of idiots writing virus and spy-ware for me to dig out of folks computers and everybody seems to have a brother in law or computer genius nephew willing to screw up their PC for em. I’ve got more help than I need.”

“So the repair business is good, are you still building new PCs?” I asked.

“Nope”, said cactus, “If one of my customers wants a new one I buy one of them $199 “Great Quality” computers down at Fry’s. I just paint over the name, charge em $600 and tell them it’s the latest thing”.

“You must be joking Cactus” I said in disbelief, “Those things are garbage, you actually lie to your customers?”

Cactus slapped his hat on his leg and hooted, “ well la-ti-da, welcome to the computer business,” Jack continued, “Intel found a cheap way to make CPUs and called it the Pentium IV. Did they bother to tell folks that Pentium III was faster? No they didn’t. Dell tells folks they got“award winning customer service”. Do they tell you it’s somewhere in India? I don’t think so. Fry’s calls their ultra cheap PCs “Great Quality.” Bet they’re still laughing about that one. Don’t even get me started on Microsoft.”

I must have looked stunned because Cactus looked almost kindly as he stood up and put his hand on my shoulders. “Look here, If you two greenhorns are gonna make it the computer business, you gotta know rule number one. The one who tells the biggest lie makes the most money”.

We drove in silence for a few miles. Finally Nome said, “I don’t know how that man sleeps at night”. “Yeah, yeah, whatever” I said, “How about we stop in at Fry’s on the way home”?

We meet Cactus Jack.

Nome frequently chides me over my tendency to bash the competition. She says it is tacky when I talk trash about Gateway, Compaq, Dell and the rest of the “package” computers. She also thinks I should lighten up on computer stores like Fry’s, Comp USA and the rest.

One day a customer overheard Nome chewing me out over a comment I made about Dell’s lack of customer service.

He said, “If you think Paul is bad you should hear “Cactus Jack,” up at Rainbow Computer. Paul can’t hold a candle to “Cactus Jack” when it comes to bad-mouthing the competition”.

Nome decided then and there that we should pay a visit to “Cactus Jack” at our first opportunity so that I could see how unattractive competition bashing really is. “A dose of my own medicine” she called it. The following Saturday we drove up to see “Cactus Jack”

Rainbow is ranch country community off highway 15 south of Temecula. Cactus Jacks computer store was at an unmarked cross roads about a mile east of town. The sign said “RAINBOW  COMPUTER  EMPORIUM -- If I ain’t got it, you don’t need it”. We walked up the steps and across the wooden porch through the door. “Cactus Jack” scowled at us from where he sat behind the cash register.

“What the hell you want, can’t you see I’m eatin my lunch”.

He waved a half empty whiskey bottle at us and belched. He was a short stout man with a drooping salt and pepper mustache and a sweat stained, misshapen cowboy hat. I knew right away that I was going to like him.

Nome whispered, “Be quiet and listen, I’ll do the talking”. 

“Hello Mr. Jack”, she said pleasantly,  “we’ve been computer shopping and want to know how your computers compare”.

Jack squinted at her suspiciously, “compared to what”.

“Well” she hesitated, “how about compared to Gateway Computers”.

Jack rolled his eyes. “Them meadow muffins wrapped in cowhide don’t deserve to be called computers. We call em “Gate Crashers.”

Nome blinked and took a step backwards, “What about Compaq”.

Jack leaned forward and smirked, “Compaq’s you say? I hear the folks at the factory in Texas call em “Comebacks”. They say every one of em gotta comeback to the factory at least three times before they work right”

Nome met his smirk with an innocent smile. “And Dell?” she asked.

Jack snorted “They sure knew what they was doin when they named it to rhyme with Hell. You cain’t even get the case off’n one of them hogs without bustin somthin loose, Then  there’s nothing worth lookin at inside of em anyway”.

Nome continued, “How about IBM and HP?”  Jack stood up and leaned forward across the counter toward Nome. His pale blue eyes barely showed through his squint. “Whar I come from if a man ain't proud enough to go by his rightful name he ain’t considered to be much force. Don’t never trust nobody that goes by initials.”

“Well” said Nome, “the people at Fry’s said” –

Jack interrupted “That second hand junk store. The only thing they know about

is sellin service contracts.”

What about Comp USA?” Asked Nome.

Jack spat into a coffee can on the counter and wiped his mouth with his sleeve “You mean Comp Mexico? Them buzzards is owned by TeleMex. If you want to get a computer at one of their stores you better hurry up. They aint gonna last another year.”

Nome shot a triumphant glance at me. “So I gather that you would recommend we buy a Computer made here at your store.”

Cactus Jack glared at her. “I don’t know why you’d jump to that conclusion. We ain’t no better than anybody else. Here lately I’ve come to think we might be worse than some.” With that Jack belched again and sat down hard in his chair. He was winded.

Nome started backing toward the door. I told her to go ahead and I’d be out as soon as I said goodby to Jack.

I joined Nome in the car a few minutes later and as we pulled out of “Cactus Jack’s” parking lot she said, “what on earth could you possibly want to say to that terrible man”. I looked in the rear view mirror. “Cactus” was standing in his doorway.  “I just had to kneel down and kiss his ring. We were in the presence of greatness”.