Friend upholds scrappy relationship

By Ned Cantwell: State columnist

My friend hasn’t been in touch much recently. Barney from New Jersey used to call quite often, our conversations normally ending with one of us slamming down the receiver.

Barney thinks New Mexico is a backward state and that I am a hick columnist.
It’s not too hard to understand why Barney has gone missing. New Jersey might like to think she is the Garden State, but there are thorns among her roses. I gave Barney a call.

“Yeah!” he barked. Barney never says “hello.” He yells, “Yeah!” as if he already knows the caller is a bill collector. In my case, he acted as if he would just as soon be talking to a bill collector.

“So, it’s you,” he said. “I check the Internet once in awhile to see you are still writing that two-bit column. What a waste. If New Mexico ever bans cockfighting, you’re screwed. You’ll have nothing to write about. You would think even your dumb state has more important stuff going on.”

I told Barney that was pretty much the position of the cockfighting crowd who say we critics need to shut up and leave them alone. It’s not going to happen.

“Sorry it bores you,” I told Barney, “but I am going to stick with it until cockfighting is history in New Mexico.” I told him just our state and Louisiana still permit the brutality and New Mexico does not want to become the nation’s punch line.

Barney switched courses. “You pulled another good one,” he said. “Where did you come up with the guts to predict Jeff Bingaman would beat Allen McCulloch in the Senate race? I’ve never seen such journalistic courage. What, next spring you’ll predict winds in April?”

Barney was getting under my skin big time, but I didn’t want to signal it. “Look,” I said in measured tones, “I didn’t predict anything. I was stating the obvious. Dr. MuCulloch is a good fellow, but this is not his time.”

What I didn’t tell Barney is that my McCulloch column inaccurately claimed his campaign had snubbed my request for a statement. That was not true. The campaign response came after I had left for vacation and far too late for inclusion, but nonetheless, it came. I apologize to the McCulloch folks for the “snub” remark with the hopes Barney doesn’t read this one. He’ll be on my butt forever.

“Talk about hypocrisy,” Barney snipped, “you carp about Bingaman’s $1.7 million campaign fund but forget to tell your readers your sister spends that much on shoes.”

OK. Now I was stumped. My sister? “Yeah,” Barney said, “that Maria Cantwell, the senator from Washington, aren’t you guys related?”

I should be so lucky. But the common name has been fun. I loved it when our governor, Big Bill, went to help her re-election campaign. “Richardson Stumps for Cantwell,” read the headline.

“Barney,” I explained, “those are the Northwest Cantwells. Maria bought her Senate seat in 2000 by spending $10.3 million of her own cash. We are the New Mexico Cantwells. We bought a patio chair at Wal-Mart for eight bucks.”

While he was pondering that, I got in one final shot.

“By the way, Barney, you know what people in Albuquerque say when told the city has a funny name? They say it could have been worse. It could have been Hoboken.”

This time it was Barney who slammed down the receiver.

Syndicated columnist Ned Cantwell welcomes response from 49 of the 50 states. E-mail him at: