Stockton: a true multipurpose city

I’ve been a frequent visitor to Stockton in recent months and I’ve found that this sometimes neglected gem of California’s Central Valley has a lot to offer if you’re looking for a true multipurpose retail experience.

Remember when “Food & Liquor” stores were new on the scene? Everybody shook their heads in wonderment and said “Gol, what a concept. Food. Liquor. Food and liquor. That’s, like, two thirds of your basic daily nutritional requirements, right?”

Businesses in Stockton, however, have kicked the 21st century into high gear by going the old “Food & Liquor” stores one better.

Just about anywhere you drive in Stockton, you’ll find retail businesses improving their commercial appeal by combining a variety of unlikely services and-or products for maximum appeal to people in the market for, er, lots of unrelated stuff.

I first noticed this somewhat unusual approach to marketing as I drove into town one morning and saw a restaurant advertising “Cocktails. Lunches. Dinners. Tattoos.”

Hey, it doesn’t get any better than this, amigos.

Pop in for a two-cocktail lunch, wolf down a pastrami sandwich and get a tattoo of a flaming skull with a rose in its teeth on your left hip while you’re waiting for dessert.

Maaaaan, talk about a power lunch…

A few days later, I was driving through greater downtown Stockton when I saw yet another multipurpose retail outlet offering happy hour handymen “Liquors – Hardware.”

This, my friends, is what home improvement is really all about.

Oh, sure, you can crawl under your house with a pipe wrench and a prayer in an attempt to fix some leaky plumbing, but that job’ll go a lot easier if you fortify yourself with a couple of brewskis before you enter the spider-infested darkness.

Face it, pal, once you get down there you probably won’t have the slightest idea of what you’re doing anyway, so you might as well do it in a relaxed state of mind.

And if you’re doing some much-needed roof repair, it goes without saying that you need the right tools and the right liquor.

Never, for example, try to reshingle your leaky roof while consuming Yukon Jack or Wild Turkey.

Stick with a well-chilled light beer or an insouciant little chardonnay.

Really. You’re hearing from the voice of experience here, fellow home-improvement fanatics.

Perhaps the most eye-catching multipurpose Stockton business I ran across, however, was the California Street Adult Video and Valentine Headquarters.

Is this a great combination or what?

I guess it’s no big secret that the fastest way to your girlfriend’s heart is presenting her with a colorfully wrapped adult video.

Next to tools, cocktails and tattoos, it’s hard to beat “Debbie Does Dallas” for thoughtful seasonal gift giving.

And this time when your sweetheart says, “Oooooooh, you shouldn’t have!” chances are she really means it…

Originally published March 2, 2003

Welcome to Dallas, double vision and all…

If you like your serial killer murder mysteries served up with a double shot of bourbon, a dash of bitterness and a chance for redemption, drop everything, head for the supermarket and get yourself a copy of Howard Swindle’s high octane paperback “Jitter Joint.”

This feisty Texas tome, complete with rich playboys, down-and-out homicide cops, lots of dead folks, giant cockroaches and the detox blues, is an obvious candidate for Best Alcoholic Supermarket Paperback Murder Mystery of 2000.

Take it from me, amigos, “Jitter Joint” (2000, St. Martin’s Press, $5.99, 260 pages) simply has no peer on today’s supermarket shelves.

I should also point out that Mr. Swindle’s two-fisted tale is “SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE STARRING SYLVESTER STALLONE!”
(Hey, it says so on the cover …)

“Jitter Joint” is the sometimes disjointed story of veteran Dallas homicide detective Jeb Quinlin, a police officer with a lot of problems, most of which seem to emanate from the nearest thirst emporium.

He, er, drinks.

A lot …

And he’s just gotten an ultimatum from his estranged wife and his superior: Sober up or lose both his marriage and his badge.

After consulting with concerned colleagues over a judicious number of Wild Turkeys at the seedy Probable Cause tavern, Jeb saddles up and heads less-than-steadily for the Cedar Ridge Hospital Substance Abuse Unit, informally known as the “Jitter Joint.”

Does it take very long for things to start getting weird?

Not long at all …

The Detox Unit is filled with colorful characters, starting with the sadistic and confrontational Dr. Wellman Bergoff III who has just a bit of a problem with lipstick.

Then there’s Zoe Zowie, an alcoholic amphetamine fancier who tries to drown a fellow patient in a vat of steaming chicken a la king over a perceived slight during a therapy session. And a swimsuit model and a missile systems engineer and a computer software designer …

And then they start dying, one by one, each of them tagged with one of the Twelve Steps we chemically challenged folks follow to help us maintain our balance.

Man, talk about stress. Sobering up is tough enough, but when you’re a recovering alcoholic homicide detective and somebody starts methodically offing everybody on the ward, we’re talking some major anxiety.

And just to keep the mystery in our murder mystery, the best forensic minds in Dallas can’t seem to figure out exactly what is being used to drastically shorten the lives of Jeb Quinlin’s ward mates.

Before long, the police captain who was threatening to toss Quinlin off the force is telling him he’d better get to work and corral the phantom of the detox unit before any more lives are lost and the police department is left with a black eye.

Unfortunately, our industrious Twelve Step killer has already taken his act on the road and is leaving victims scattered throughout Dallas, dropping appropriately labeled bodies in mortuaries and topless bars with giddy abandon.

Is Quinlin up to the chase?

Are you?

The answer’s about four aisles over from the tortilla chips and bean dip. Just steer clear of the Wild Turkey, pilgrim …

Originally published April 09, 2000