Ned Cantwell, State Columnist
A reader asked recently whatever happened to my friend Barney from New Jersey. I told him Barney and I had a falling out of sorts.
Barney is this couch-potato guy who spends all his time reading newspapers and magazines. He finds out what he thinks is wrong with New Mexico and calls to jab me about it.
After several years of his verbal abuse, I had a bellyful, ordered caller ID, and made myself unavailable. The question about Barney’s whereabouts got me to feeling guilty, so I called my New Jersey critic.
“Hey, Barney,” I said, “long time, no talk.”
There was a silence while Barney got his bearings. “Well, if it’s not the poor man’s Art Buchwald,” he opened. “Still selling words a penny apiece? New York Times hasn’t come a calling?”
I told him the Las Vegas Optic hasn’t come a calling.
“Well,” Barney warmed up, “I see you folks in New Mexico still have your priorities straight.”
Oh, oh. I knew something was brewing, but took the bait anyway. “How’s that, Barney?”
“View from here is that New Mexico is about to ante up 4 million bucks so your governor can fly around in a posh new airplane, but you still let your poor people get screwed.”
“Hold on there, Barney,” I shot back heatedly. “First thing, Bill Richardson is not a bad guy and we can’t have him saving the world in a worn-out plane.”
“Good guy, bad guy. That’s not the point. Let him take the bus. You New Mexicans need to start caring about your poor people.”
I let him run on.
“Take that payday loan scandal, for heaven’s sake. Do you know that of all the states, just two, New Mexico and cheese-for-brains Wisconsin, allow shyster loan companies to commit unarmed robbery of needy people?
“Do you know that even a lawyer who was representing one of these loan companies told the judge he had seen interest rates as high as 4,000 percent?
“Do you know that in your fine state a guy can borrow 200 bucks from one of these strip mall financial geniuses and if he can’t come up with the $25 interest every two weeks, after a year he owes about $1,300 on the $200 loan? And do you know in New Mexico that is completely, totally legal?”
I knew I was in trouble but nonetheless decided to mount a defense.
“Has it ever occurred to you, my goody two-shoes liberal breast-beating buddy,” I said, “that those folks aren’t forced at gunpoint to visit the payday loan offices? They can always go to the bank.”
“Oh, boy,” he shrugged. “You’ve spent way too much time in the sun at White Sands. The banks aren’t interested in loaning you money unless you have money. Here’s a news bulletin for you, my poor excuse for a columnist friend — there are people who just need a little help to pay the rent or feed their kids.”
It was time to take the conversation elsewhere. “At any rate, Barney, New Mexico has come a long way since last we talked.”
“Sure has,” he said. “Now it is just you guys and those Rhodes Scholars over in Louisiana that still allow cockfighting.”
I hung up on him.
Ned Cantwell is a retired newspaperman living in Ruidoso. He welcomes comment from everywhere but New Jersey. Contact him at: