LOL. Dang it, MS3FGX! Thanks for the reply but I can't try your suggestion right now.
I hung around for awhile using Puppy then booted back up with my XFCE install to see if the kernel modules are the same. They are.
It's a Linksys usb device that uses the rt73usb kernal module (and supporting modules). All that looks good.
I had worked up a simple manual startup script that goes:
ifconfig wlan0 up
iwconfig wlan0 essid linksys #yes: it is "linksys"
iwconfig wlan0 key off
iwconfig wlan0 mode managed
This worked fine in XFCE to get me up. Then I got wicd and was good to go.
ifconfig -a in XFCE install gives info for lo, wlan0, and wmaster0-00. As I recall it was only giving me lo in the LXDE install.
Thanks again. Still scratching my head...