Monday, December 28, 2009

The Weather Is Fine Today

I moved to Florida for the weather.  There were other reasons, but I forget what they were. In case I forget to mention it, it's sunny, 68F and balmy here in the Tampa Bay area on this Monday after Christmas.

For the first few months after I left Connecticut - I left in mid-October 2008 - I began most phone calls back north with the weather report.  "Hi, it's 78 and sunny here."  The first few times I did that, I garnered the desired expressions of envy, tempered with shared joy at my sweet circumstance.  Of course, that soon changed.  I have learned that short-term pleasure at the good fortunes of others rarely survives serious snow.  Eventually, the bloom falls off the rose, and people start to snarl.  I started getting responses like, "Shut your pie-hole. My car is in a snow bank."

Being the sort of guy who is sensitive to the plight of the less fortunate, I eased back on the weather routine.  "Hi," I'd say, "How's Fido?"

And my Northern Correspondent would reply, "Fine.  I suppose the weather is great where you are?"

Not wanting to lie too blatantly, I replied, "Um, it's nice, I suppose."

Silence descended.  I could sense the battle raging in my NC's soul.  Eventually, perhaps inevitably, unable to stifle the fatal question, my NC would crumble and ask, "How nice?" 

"74 and breezy."

"Shut your goober-trap.  Fido froze his thing to the fire hydrant last night and we needed the fire department to free him."

"Gracious!" I would exclaim, as sympathetically as I could.  "I hope he's OK?'

"Well, he'll never be a father again."

Eventually, I learned to temper the truth for the benefit of the bereft.  "Oh, it's cold and grey down here," I'd say.

"How cold?"


"Shut it.  My nose hair iced up while I was jump-starting the car this morning."

There really is no adequate response to that.

To help my northerners heal, I called often last summer to report the weather.  "94 and humid as hell," I'd say.  My NC invariably felt comforted that it was only 85 in Hartford.  I always neglected to mention that I was at the pool with a pina colada and that everything here is air conditioned to a fare-thee-well.  "Just miserable here," I'd say. "Be glad you're up north."

So here it is December again.  Life is so sweet.  But don't tell that to my NCs.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

When Blogging Infects the Ego

Sitting at a computer blogging about whatever I happen to be thinking this morning is undeniably an exercise of ego, an electronic form of mental masturbation -- fun to do but not much fun to watch.  Personally, I like it.  Blogging, I mean.  I have decided to do it more, even if I go blind.

Each opening day of a certain law school class in Connecticut, a learned professor  began with the question: "How many of you intend to pursue a career in professional writing?"  Thirty fresh faces, as yet unscarred by the horror of what they were proposing to do for the rest of their lives, routinely came up blank.  The still-human folks behind the faces no doubt wondered whether they had signed up for the wrong course. Silence begets fear of grade deflation, so the wise professor sat silent, waiting.  Tick-tock.

After enough tick-tocks, one student, reliably and timorously, always raised a hand.  About shoulder high.  Emboldened, others followed, until the whole class finally tumbled to the idea that all of them were in fact planning a career in professional writing.  Lawyers write.  They get paid to write.  Some think before they write; others do not.  Some write well, others do not.  The ones who do not write well beget lawyer jokes and deservedly so.

So, yes, I'm a lawyer (DISCLAIMER ALERT - whoop, whoop, whoop!) but not here in Florida.  I practice law in Connecticut.  Ask me for legal advice here in the sunshine state and plan on being politely brushed off.  The local bar casts interloper lawyers into dungeons and chains.  So I don't interlope.  Even my Connecticut practice is becoming an occasional thing, ever since I came to my senses and bagged it for this sunnier clime.

But I arrived with a lifetime of writing prejudices and nowhere to park them.  Well, technically, it's not a lifetime yet.  Just a little hyperbole there; so sue me.  Anyway, I used to teach baby lawyers how to write like professionals.  Short, simple declarative sentences, strong verbs, active voice, that sort of thing.  Some got it; others will write about the party of the first part, being subrogated to the rights of the party of the second part, for the rest of their regrettable lives.  These issues are no longer my concern.

But I come here with a few firmly held beliefs:
  • "Legal writing" is a euphemism for "crappy, unintelligible writing."   My friend Mark Dubois, who still teaches baby lawyers in Connecticut, will steal this line for his next class.  I hope.
  • Good writing is universal.  It is sufficient to writing about the law, about what I did on my summer vacation, about an old man and the sea.
What I have been doing here in Eye of Newt has mostly fallen into the "summer vacation" essay genus.  Somewhere in another venue, I am writing about old men and the sea.  And Lord knows I have written enough about the law, although, like Vicodin, that last is hard to put down entirely.  Still there remains, what to do with the teaching gene that has so disrupted my life.

Enter Shaking the Writing Tree.  Yup, another blog tossed upon the blog-o-heap.  SWT differs from my earlier teaching experiences in that it does not seek to tell others what to do.  I admit to a little regret in this regard.  Teaching law students was sweet in that, if students failed to do what I told them, I flunked their asses and ruined their pathetic little lives.  My readers - if I ever develop any - will be made of tougher stuff.  I hope.

Instead, SWT discusses why I do what I do.  The subjects will range from "Arrant Pedantry Up With Which I Do Not Put" to "Why Adverbs Stink."  Responsible opposing viewpoints will be encouraged.  I hope you enjoy it.  There are links to Shaking the Writing Tree elsewhere in this blog, and here's another one:


Friday, December 25, 2009

Santa Visits Kuwait

Santa isn't just for those of us who I hope are at peace. I received this from my son, Erik, who is with an army helicopter maintenance unit in the Great Sandy (See Army of One, August 2009).

Merry Christmas to all


Saturday, December 19, 2009

I'm Staying Here

I met with Susie and Bill today to learn how to make my blog work for me. Susie has the advantage of being much younger than I, so she naturally understands blogs and twits better than I. Actually, I understand twits all too well; it's tweets that leave me puzzled and forlorn. Bill, on the other hand, is nearly as old as I, so understands virtually nothing about this crap. I find that endearing. It's not hard to tell who's who: see Susie's blog at See Bill's at . Susie, of course, is also considerably better-looking. (Don't ask me why one website is linked to this post and one is not. I have no freaking idea. Neither does Bill.)

Now, in violation of the peculiar sensibilities of the on-line community, of which I am now a de facto member -- I say "de facto" so my old lawyer friends will see that I can still talk the talk -- anyway, I've probably outed Susie by mentioning her name in the same sentence as her Harley May blog address, so let's pretend I just made up the name "Susie" for this post. You with me, Bill?

I came home from our meeting fired up by my observation that makes it much easier for readers to post comments and subscribe to its blogs than does blogspot, which is where you are reading at the moment. If you try to comment on this site, I'm afraid, you will face the Medusa that calls itself Google. Only by leaping through bewildering hoops -- much like my SSA hoops in the preceding post -- can you actually leave a complaint about the various inanities you find here. Now that I think about it, that's probably a good thing.

I set up a proto-website at webpress and immediately sank so deep in the geek-mire that I couldn't reach my beer. I am humbled. Well, I'm further humbled, I suppose, since I have been humbled so often before. In any event, you won't soon find me on webpress. In fact, I can't find the site myself. It may or may not still exist.

Once this is posted, I'm going to go sign up for a twitter thingamabob. God help us all.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009


First, it's been a month since I have posted anything here, and I'm a little embarrassed at my general indolence. Understand, however, that I came to Florida for the express purpose of being indolent. I count the last month as a measure of success. So fuck it, let's get on to something useful.

I visited the Social Security Administration office in St. Pete today to jump through hoops. Understand that I am an educated fellow, with three different degrees in hoop-jumping. Different genres of hoop-jumping at that. And for the past twenty-three years since that third sheepskin, I have jumped through hoops at the professional level. I'm inexplicably proud of that. None of this prepared me for the hoop-jumping that the SSA requires of ordinary people.

I took a number and waited in a room with no clocks. I melded into the congregation of supplicants, all of whom - well, most of whom - were entitled to some form of government benefits after having paid their hard-won money into the system for years or decades. Some were supplicating due to age, some due to physical infirmity, some due to other more depressing incapacities. Supplicant No. A-496 looked as though may have fallen into all three grim categories.

"A-495," came the call from the clerk behind Window No. 1. "Yo!" and A-495 strolled victorious to Window No. 1, where he commenced to doing whatever business he came to do. I was evidently in another queue, waiting for E-210. Whatever happened next was no skin off my nose, you know what I mean?

A-495 eventually rose from his chair at the window, vaguely disappointed, as - down deep - we all expected to be, and wandered off. The clerk behind Window No. 1 called, "A-497."

An old gent sporting a beige suit with soup stains, onyx skin stretched tight over prominent facial bones, and slicked-back white hair, stepped forward. He was tall and spindly, and he walked like a praying mantis or one of those other stick-bugs you sometimes see on the National Geographic Channel, slow, graceful and particular where he put his feet. "Excuse me," he said to the lady behind Window No. 1, "but you forgot to call A-496."

"Did not," said Window No. 1. "Go back and wait your turn." The old gent blinked in confusion, but turned back to his seat. It took him a while. I was pissed on his behalf at the petty rudeness, but he himself did not portray any outward sign of pissedness. Someone bearing the lucky A-497 ticket slid up to the window and was seated.

I had read the sign on the government-green wall: "You may not be called in strict numerical order because not all clerks are trained to handle all cases. You may need to wait for a specialist." I understood the system - that's the benefit of all this education - but the old gent probably did not.

Another lady, this one behind Window No. 2, called, "A-498." The old gent stood up, blinking again. He walked in his stately and deliberate gait to Window No. 2 and said, "You forgot to call A-496." Wisely, he betrayed no outrage. This was, after all, the Government he was dealing with. In a quiet corner of the room, watching, stood a big man wearing one of those uniforms that are worn by people who always wanted to be police. I could not tell if he carried a sidearm. Let's assume so. The Window No. 2 lady said, more gently perhaps, "No, you will have to wait." The old gent walked his stately walk back to his chair, chagrined and perplexed.

Folks, there were only three windows in the place. It took no great leap of logic to see that the old gent's expert must lurk behind Window No. 3. He, of course, didn't get that. Sad.

Finally, the call came. "A-496."

It was the lady behind Window No. 1.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Uh-oh - Political

I don't do political here. I don't do much political anywhere. But I have a son in the Army, serving honorably in Kuwait. Sometimes, political fits.

And I quote:

Civilian attorney John Galligan said Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan told him that he had no feeling in his legs and extreme pain in his hands. Hasan, who was shot four times by civilian police officers, said doctors told him the condition may never improve.

End of quote.

I cannot think of a stronger argument against the death penalty. Life served while immobile and in pain. Sounds good to me.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Will Write for Beer

Some months ago, I wrote lovingly about The Cajun Cafe on the Bayou (see Best Eatery Ever, July 2009). After one of my recent weekly visits, I emailed the Cafe to comment on its new website design ( and mentioned that I had slobbered over the restaurant and watering hole in an old blog item. By God, didn't Paul and Rebecca Unwin - the owners with the New Orleans roots, at least on Rebecca's side - didn't they comp me tickets to last weekend's beerfest at the Cafe. Yesss! If I had known that was going to happen, I would have plugged them even more shamelessly.

Anyway, Judy and I beerfested for a couple of hours on Saturday night to a pretty good Cajun brass quartet - tuba, trombone, cornet-looking horn and keyboard. The beer selection was outstanding, as near as I could tell. I am not entirely sure about the breadth of the selections because the headline beer of the fest was a keg of Dogfish Head 120 Minute Ale. This wonderful beer is so malty and hoppy you could eat it with a spoon. And oh, what hops! Not only did the 120 come equipped with outrageous hops in the first place, but towards the end of the keg the kegmeisters began pumping the product through an outrigger hopback, a container jammed with fresh hops designed to supercharge the beer with hop aroma. I am a hop whore, make no mistake, and this was the pinnacle of hop whoredom.

Not incidentally, the 120 is also alcoholic enough that you need to imbibe on your knees if you're at all afraid of falling down. I kept bringing my little 3-ounce cup back to the well, passing by the other 100 or so selections, some of which would have been the stars of any show that the 120 did not attend. It was like serving lobster at a shrimp fest. I was powerless to resist. That's why my sweet, beer-averse spouse attended - to squeegee me back into the car at the end of the night.

But wait! There's more! The Cafe served sample portions of its fabulous jambalaya, red beans & rice, sausage and gator bites. The always-friendly and knowledgeable staff outdid themselves serving a never-ending line of moderately inebriated Cajun foodies. Designated drivers, thankfully, attended for a nominal fee, and there were lots of them in the room, recognizable by their bewildered look, for the most part, as their designated drivees reveled in beer heaven. But don't feel too bad for Judy - I was charged with bringing back something succulent every time I went for something hoppy. Far better than anything my mama - or Judy's mama - used to cook.

I have given short shrift to all the great non-120 beers in attendance, and the truth is that I did taste a bunch of them. Widmer brought an excellent IPA, hoppier than I expected from a house that makes such a wonderful trademark hefeweizen. Sierra Nevada had its spectacular Harvest Ale, among a dozen or so other choices to which I could not begin to do justice. (Sierra Nevada has recently gone into collaboration with the Dogfish Head folks to make a huge 10-percent dark beer they call Life & Limb. O frabjous joy! Unfortunately, not yet available here.) Unibroue brought a big selection of its ass-kicking modern Belgian ales, but I opted for a nice Corsendonk Brown Ale triple from the booth next door to the Belgian powerhouse.

Also notable was Mike's Homebrew. Mike is a friend - and apparently a very devoted and slightly demented friend - of the Unwins who brought along a half-dozen Corny kegs of his prodigious array of homebrews. I drank his Kolsch - close as I could get to a pale ale - and it was right on the mark for this beer, light, hoppy and refreshing - as best I could tell after the 120 ransacked my so-called palate. I have brewed for 20 years and have never considered giving away 30 or 40 gallons of my best. Paul and Rebecca, take good care of this guy!

Well, there were a lot more beers, but they disappeared into the alcoholic haze that characterized the end of the evening, and I can't say much about them. I met the nice folks from the Dunedin Homebrew Club, who claim that it is indeed possible to brew in this heat, and I may attend a meeting soon to see if they tell the truth.

Paul and Rebecca, thanks for the free ride. I would have said all these nice things even if I had to pay to get in.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Something to Confound Rush

I sat in the waiting room, waiting. For the bill. Parts had again fallen off my old car, and when the dealer went to replace them, he found oil squirting out of places it ought not squirt. So I read Women's Day or some such while a clerk added up columns of numbers for me.

Not normally an eavesdropper, I couldn't tune out the two men waiting across from me, one a pale, 60-ish snowbird newly arrived, perhaps from Michigan, the other a 50-ish Latino, maybe Cuban, maybe South American: an alien, presumably legal, although that hardly seems the presumption these days.

The two men talked thoughtfully about cars, weather, generic politics. The Latino punctuated his opinions repeatedly with the phrase, "That's what I love about this country...," and rattled off some commonly overlooked virtue - cars with a history, northern winters, retribution that eventually visits crooked politicians. He seemed to love everything about this country. I was proud.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

On Being a Main Dish

Now that I am a Writer, I suddenly need many things I never knew existed. Not just a computer and a bookshelf full of thesauri and synonymicons, but organic things, support groups and lobbying organizations, maybe a ticket to the odd book fair or writers’ conference. I look differently now at the First Amendment, even though I try to write things besides dirty books. I joined the Tampa Writers Alliance and PINAWOR, which stands for something literary that I cannot at the moment recall. I might join the Florida Writers Association so I will have Florida writers to associate with. (Perhaps they can teach me not to end a sentence with a preposition.) I retired to Florida to write and avoid meetings. Now I go to writing meetings. Life is one big irony contest.

Let’s face it, writers as a group are no more socially stable than engineers or lawyers or people who do bra fittings for Macy’s. In groups of two or more, they flail away at small talk, then retreat into shop talk when they discover that all they have in common is a passion for – or against – dangling participles. “Did you hear that Juan got an expression of interest from an agent at the conference last week? Lucky bastard. I didn’t think his stuff was all that good, quite honestly.” Don’t try to tell me that the people in your profession don’t do the same thing – I’m a Writer now; I understand the Human Condition.

Writers have evolved a social construct that does not appear elsewhere – the Critique Group. Every writers’ organization has one or two of these tucked away in its sub-basement. CG members’ sole purpose is to gather in a room and tell each other what’s wrong with the last thing they wrote. CGs range from ineffectual grammar police (“You split two infinitives in that opening paragraph”) to plot Nazis (“Come now, there were no such things as 'Letters of Transit'" or "Edsels were never manufactured in hot pink.”) Attending one of these sessions can be like going to a cowboy barbecue and volunteering to be a main dish. You can be flayed and filleted before your manuscript hits the table.

In principle – a greatly overvalued commodity, by the way – CGs are dedicated to improving the product of their members, whatever that product may be. In one recent CG, a member was writing nonfiction about the reasoning powers of marmosets, while another had written a space opera set in the nineteenth dimension, where everyone spoke a dialect that scanned a lot like Sarah Palin on a bender. I looked in a while back – oh so briefly – on a CG whose members were all writing bodice-rippers and Dreams of the Everyday Housewife.

Recently, I have been invited to join a CG that exists as a shadowy splinter group schismed off its parent mainstream CG. I take this as a signal that either I have Arrived as a Writer or that the group was down a quart on live bait. This CG within a CG is like a secret society, likely peopled by misfits and pseudonyms wrapped in enigmas, Dan Brown stuff. I haven’t gone to a meeting yet but am hoping they cast spells and runes. They meet over dinner. I’m bringing a nice grouper ceviche. Fava beans and a nice Chianti may be more fitting. We’ll see.


Friday, October 23, 2009

How Did This Get to be My Fault?

A woman I know ran out of gas in our - I mean her - car today. I went to bail her out - I mean pick her up - and she said the car couldn't be out of gas because the low fuel light had just come on yesterday. I tried starting the car for her, and it made some of those discouraging out-of-gas noises and would not start. She said no, it had been doing the same thing for the past couple of weeks and she knows she told me - I mean told her husband - about it then.

Before she could call AAA, a police car pulled up behind us, and the nice officer tried to start the dead car. Yep, he said, out of gas for sure. He called AAA for us - I mean for her. While the cop was there, I asked if he was going to arrest the woman for blocking traffic. He said no, that wouldn't be necessary. I asked him to reconsider, but he refused. I told him I knew the woman must have done something wrong, but the cop continued to be nice to her.

I loaned the woman my car so she could take her mother out for a manicure, and I waited with her car under the insistent Florida sun until AAA arrived. It cost me $6 for the gallon or so of gas the guy put in.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Practicing My New Craft

Cards and letters have been pouring in complaining that I have not been posting new items often enough. Well, the truth is I have been busy writing good fiction instead of these fact-intensive essays. For the curious, I am enclosing the opening page or so from my new novel. I hope you like it.


Incident at a Motel

Police Sergeant Richard J. Pickles, feared throughout the community of criminals as “Big Dick Pickles,” was glad he had worn his Blackjack StormTrooper™ boots today. He had bought them for stomping protesters when he worked in Chicago, but now they complemented the Tampa uniform rather nicely and helped him feel better about washing out of MPS, Florida’s famed Motorcycle Patrol School. The boots made short work of the flimsy motel door. Inside, the room looked like someone had dropped a cherry bomb into a punchbowl full of cherry Jello™. Congealing red globs dripped lazily from every surface. But this was no Jello™ explosion, he sensed instantly from the familiar iron tang filling the air and the headless corpse still sitting on the bed.
He saw no perp in the room, but the bathroom door was closed, and he intuited that more trouble may lie within. Drawing his Smith & Wesson Thugstopper™ .45, he splashed quickly across the room and laid waste to another door. Even Big Dick was taken aback to find yet another headless corpse sitting in the tiny room filled with entirely too much blood. Clearly someone had declared open season on heads. Big Dick meant to find out who and, as was his sworn duty, put a stop to it.
He quickly checked both bodies for a pulse and determined that first aid would be messy and probably fruitless. From the more advanced stage of clotting, he could tell that the corpse on the bed was the first to become deceased. Holstering the old Thugstopper, Big Dick considered calling for backup but decided he could handle this one himself. He had recently passed the civil service Forensics III certification and, like a teenager with a new driver’s license, was anxious to test his skills. The carpet squished softly as he strode back across the room.
Heading for his Crown Vic™ Copolator™ squad car, he stepped gingerly around the broken door, which now dangled from a single hinge. The number on the door electrified him: 104! The radio report, he remembered now, had directed him to room 401. Damn. He had discovered the wrong crime.

To be continued ….

Friday, October 9, 2009

Good Food

My new friend Michael opened a little joint in downtown Largo. The sign says, “Gulf Coast Po' Boys - Good Food.” His food is good. Real good. You gotta respect honesty in advertising - or just in naming your business. GCPB Good Food sells (mostly) po’ boys, which – for food heathens like I used to be – is a Louisiana way of saying “hero sandwich” or “grinder” or “sub.” Except in Louisiana they load ‘em up with grilled or fried shrimp or andouille sausage or “dirty” roast beef or fried oysters. Well, hold off on the oysters, ‘cause GC Good Food doesn’t do oysters, at least not yet.

“So, Michael, when you gonna do oyster po’ boys?” I ask, early in our budding relationship.

“Soon as I’m sure my customers aren’t gonna leave ‘em in a hot car in the sun,” he says, “Maybe in the fall.” (This is Florida. “Hot car” means egg-fry hot. Ptomaine hot. Fall starts in December.) I can’t wait for fall. He needs to do gumbo and jambalaya. That’s coming, too, he says.

Gulf Coast Po' Boy Good Food (boy, that's a mouthful, but so are the sandwiches) is a bright and airy hole in the wall, with outside tables and umbrellas, a great place to watch people go by. The sort of place where the food is cooked in front of you and you bus your own dishes. Except Michael won’t let you bus. He runs in and out. I think he’s checking to make sure you’re loving his cooking. The first time Judy and I eat there, we leave a couple, three bucks as a tip and head out. (The good food is a bargain. Both of us can eat well on fifteen bucks. I gotta talk to Michael about a beer license….) So I’m fiddling with my car keys when Michael runs up waving my money. “No tips! We don’t do that here. We’d rather you spend your money on lunch the next time you come.” I just stand there like a goofus with my jaw hanging open.

GCPB Good Food means shrimp that's floured up and fried on the spot. It takes a few minutes for the po' boys 'cause Michael toasts the rolls on a slow grill and, besides, you can't grill the andouille too fast or you'll miss that sweet spot where the juices still run but the sugars have caramelized just right. I'm not sure what he calls that mayonnaise-y sauce, but it lands midway between a mild aioli and a raging rouille. It's going to be heaven itself on that oyster po' boy come fall.

I go to GCPB Good Food as much to hear Michael talk as for the po’ boys. He purrs out the softest Louisiana drawl you can imagine. No noticeable hint of Cajun or Creole patois, but just that smoky liquid smoothness that so comforts the ear. “Where you from?” I ask recently, even though the food and the drawl already provide the answer.

New York,” he says. “City.”

Not wanting to be politically incorrect or anything, I slip back into my patented jaw-dropping, goofus pose.

“I lived in New Orleans till I was 15,” he continued, so I was able to close my mouth. It turns out he’s been cooking at some hot shot Louisiana kitchens in NYC for a bunch of years. He named a place on Lexington and another down near the Village, which only made me feel a little parochial. New Orleans has apparently come to New York in a big way since I last ate in the city, and that sounds like reason enough to go back. Except Michael has brought the simplest, happiest stuff to Largo.


Friday, October 2, 2009

Rate This Blog

Please read this blog carefully because you will have an opportunity at the end to heap praise on its author by answering a few simple questions.

My phone jangled at 8:30 this morning, flashing the message that my doctor was calling. "Swell," I thought, "they must be recalling my pacemaker."

It was Marci - or somebody with a name like Marci - at Dr. Shah's office, with just a few questions.

"Did the staff work efficiently in helping you set up your appointment?" I guess.

"Were you greeted cheerfully upon arrival?" Not exactly; everyone was in a meeting.

"Was the fish tank in the lobby bright and sparkly?" Actually, one of the clownfish looked a little peaked.

"Did the doctor apply enough K-Y Jelly before starting your examination?" Whoops! Not quite.

Have you noticed that everyone who sells you a service is now asking for immediate feedback on your satisfaction? The service manager at the Acura dealership sat with me after charging me $1400 to fix the power seat in my 12-year-old car. "I have something important to discuss with you, Mr. Newton." Uh-oh.

"You know that you will receive a follow up call in a few days to make sure you are happy with our service." No doubt.

"Well, the Acura people value your patronage" - I think he meant my willingness to be patronized, but no matter - "and they consider any service that was less than 'Excellent' to be tantamount to 'barbaric.'" Well sure, I whined, but you just soaked me $1400 for a freaking seat motor!

"We're talking service, here, Mr. Newton. You did notice that the intake manager" - intake manager? Really? - "smiled suggestively when you arrived and offered you your choice of sexual favors?" Now that he mentioned it, the young lady did seem unusually friendly.

The expected call came in a day later, and I responded enthusiastically that everything was "excellent, especially the sexual favors." The pollster never hesitated; she was obviously familiar with the sex part. "And would you recommend our service to your friends?" I explained that I am new to the area and have no friends. "But if you did have friends, sir, you would recommend us, wouldn't you?" Uh, yeah, of course.

You expect this sort of thing from car dealers, but the medical office follow-up is a little weird. Besides seeing Dr. Shah, we frequent an outfit called, not very creatively, the "Diagnostic Clinic," where Judy sees four or five doctors and I see three. We like them all, despite the feeling, eerie but probably accurate, that we are being passed around like a joint at a high school beach party. Between doctors and blood tests and a weekly shot that Judy gets, we visit the Diagnostic Clinic anywhere from 2 to 5 times a week, sometimes more. (Yikes! And we are not even sick. No wonder there is a crisis in health care costs.) The DC has a "concierge" (I swear - it's true!) who greets us, sometimes by name, when we enter the building and who, I suspect, alerts accounting that they can expect to make budget again this week.

Anyway, the DC has a computer that phones before each appointment to remind us to be on time and to bring money. You would almost think that a computer, being all about data manipulation and such, would clump these calls together to remind us that we have appointments on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, but, no, it makes separate calls for each appointment. Then this same computer - or maybe the DC runs parallel processors - calls us back after each appointment and expresses heartfelt thanks for our patronage (yes - patronized by computer - you gotta love it) and hopes with silicon sincerity that we were satisfied with the service on each visit. If we didn't like it, the computer rattles off a phone number we can call to lump it.

Altogether, the DC's computer phones us 10 or more times a week. Add in a couple of car dealers and the odd plumber, and the number of friendly "Hope you were satisfied" calls I get easily exceeds all the calls I get each week from family and friends. If I had friends, that is.

Now, if you wouldn't mind, I have a few simple questions to help improve the quality and attitude of this blog:

Were you satisfied with the title of this blog entry?
___ Yes ___No ___ Title? What Title?

Did you find the opening lines to be an effective "hook"?
____Yes ____No ____Didn't read that far

Were you offended at least once by something that was treated too cavalierly in the blog?
____Yes ____No ____ Constantly (counts double)

Did you achieve any of the following reactions to what you read (choose as many as apply)
____LOL ___Guffaws out loud _____Pity for author's lack of skill
____Embarrassment at having been caught reading this crap
____Intellectual orgasm ____ Any other physically satisfying response

Would you recommend this blog to the following:
Friends (if you have any) ___Yes ____No
Clergyperson ___Yes ___No ___ You must be joking again
Worst enemy ___Yes ___No ___ Gladly
___ I spammed everyone I know with a link


Monday, September 14, 2009

Peek-a-Boo Salvation

Contrary to misguided Yankee opinion, the Deep South has many people who are entirely literate, and we have libraries chock-a-block with books, just like the North. I was a talented reader before I came south, and I have carefully nurtured and maintained my reading skills in the face of invidious assaults on literacy by twitterers, txters, Sarah Palin and other idiots.

The Deep South also has religion in glorious excess, with churches outnumbered only by bars and strip joints. At the intersection of libraries and religion there dwells a phenomenon I have not observed in other civilized places - and that's saying a lot, since I have been to both Paris and Provincetown.

You will recall from your last library excursion that library books routinely bear little taped-on labels on their spine for those of us who lack the time to judge a book by its entire cover. (Some other time I will get to libeling library minions with hyperactive labeling glands who plaster over the book title or author's name. It is my thesis that compulsive labeling is a trait of the recently literate.) These spine labels drop books into convenient slots - B for biography, F for fiction, 793.734 for palindromes. Unless you're from around these parts, you probably didn't see a CF label last time you visited the New Books rack. I have concluded, based on a short sample, that CF stands for Christian Fiction. If this news does not set off little alarm bells in your head, this is probably not your blog and you ought to stop reading. There are swarms of places on the Internet labeled CB.

In the Largo Public Library, fully ten percent of the New Fiction section is labeled CF, much more than is devoted to, say, Danielle Steele bodice-rippers or Stephen King flesh-rippers. Heathen that I am, I like the CF label for the same reason I appreciate signs reading "Keep Out - Cholera." It hastens decision-making quite nicely. That brings me, however circuitously, to the topic of the day. CF folks have figured out that they are proselytizing to the pious, which is no way to pump up the population of paradise. To solve that problem, the pious are introducing a fresh new genre to the bookshelves: Stealth CF.

Stealth CF works like this:

Spine label: F

Title: "Deadly Target"

Author: Someone you never heard of

Book jacket synopsis: In 2015, world power has been seized by a fanatical religious cult bent on a return to the dark ages. To save civilization from intellectual dehydration, Jake Savage must penetrate a corrupt organization that . . ." Et cetera.

This is hackneyed socio-political thriller stuff for which I am a bit of a sucker.

Sure enough, as the story unfolds, the promised malevolent cult emerges. Hero Savage is a meat-and-potatoes Robert Langdon, laughing in the face of entrenched evil. Incensed at the malicious onslaught of the hyper-religious, hyper-hypocritical - if there can be such a thing - Church of the Apocalypse Now, Savage launches his one-man crusade to tame the excesses of the foul new regime and restore traditional morality - uh-oh - to the country, making it safe for every born-again Christian - uh-oh, uh-oh - to live a life in Christ and be baptized, not in the water but in the blood. A-a-r-r-g-h! Here I am 100 pages into a reasonably well-plotted page-burner when the Stealth CF alarm light finally flickers on. I am about to be saved against my will by a submarine Bible tract.

Several times now I have nearly been saved, but in each case have preserved my march to eternal damnation only by hurling the holy book into the flames of the library's all-night book drop. But the flesh is weak, and I will continue to read too much socio-political crap. From now on, though, I will read the last page first to make sure there are no legions of formerly heathen Newts marching triumphantly through the pearly gates.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Summertime Strolling

When I was a northerner, I took casual note of the fact that southerners move more slowly than regular people. I chalked it up to geographical inferiority and paid little mind to it. That changed in September 2008 when, quite unexpectedly, I landed here in Florida, apparently for good. For the benefit of northerners who may read this, September in Florida is still mid-summer. By then the dog days may have run through Great Danes and poodles, diminishing to Yorkies and Chihuahuas, but dog days they remain. It's damned hot.

Erik, my elder offspring, helped me unload the moving van. Exercising diplomacy inherited from his mother's side of the family, he pointed out, "Gee, Dad, you're sweating like a boar-pig in a sauna. I think you're starting to ferment." I oinked disgruntledly and trotted into the house with another box of crap I should have sold before leaving Connecticut.

"Besides," he said, "you're doing it wrong."

"Doing what wrong, son of mine?"

"Walking. You're walking wrong."

"I'm walking like I always walk, my child. What's wrong with that?"

"You can't walk like that when it's hot like this or you'll stink like hell."

Unaccustomed as I am to having offspring who know more than I do, I considered changing the subject. But at some time in the not-too-distant past, Erik had enjoyed a year-long sojourn in Iraq helping Uncle Sam fight the war that might be a quagmire. It is hot in Iraq. It is hot in Florida. Perhaps the kid was onto something. "So, Mr. Desert Fox, how do you suggest I walk?" And Erik proceeded to demonstrate the desert one-step.

"Walking where it's hot is a maneuver in four parts," he said. "One, increase pressure on the ground with your left foot. Two, lift your right foot vertically. Three, swing your right leg forward. Four, place your right foot gently on the ground. Then repeat with the other foot."

I looked at him with renewed suspicion that the apple indeed had fallen too far from the tree. "That's called 'walking,' I think."

"Nope." he said, "Walking is when you do all those things quickly without thinking about them. When it's hot, you need to think about each part of the exercise, so you do it much more slowly and deliberately. Watch again." He began to ambulate on a four-count beat, as if to a silent dirge. He was not just demonstrating in slow motion; this was live-action slo-mo. Bedouins and camels cross deserts with this measured gait, so I suppose the same southern saunter can get me across the street or around the block - in time. I tried it. Push, lift, swing, plant, repeat.

It is a new and strange skill, this Tampa toddle, this Dixie drift, this Florida footsie. I count myself an amateur ambler, with miles of moseying to go before I master the meandering art. But every so often while strolling the sugary sands, I stop, sniff and smile. Gosh, I walked all this way and I don't stink like a boar-pig.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Shuffling to Mecca

Doctors in beleaguered inner city hospitals refer to the Mayo Clinic and its ilk - not that it has many ilks - as "Mecca." It is where the privileged go, praying to survive what would surely kill them in lesser facilities. I went there this week.

I'm not dying, any more than all of us are dying, and I suffer from nothing that qualifies as more than a minor medical inconvenience, but I shared the Mayo Clinic with enough people in crisis that I felt some disquiet at consuming Meccan resources for piddling concerns like elevated blood pressure and the occasional fibrillating atrium. But it's my heart and I try to do what it tells me. My heart took a lesson or two before I left.

The Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville is a luxurious, sprawling park of a medical compound, with monumental landscaping and aggressively competent buildings and amenities. It has its own Marriott, for instance, and a good one, if you like that sort of thing. My consultations - I went for one and got three - took place in the Davis Building, which stands apart from the hospital and the research buildings and probably a lot of other features you don't see unless you are in a lot more trouble than I was. I started with Dr. Geoffrey Gates, an endocrinologist. His job was to decide whether one or more of my overambitious adrenalin glands are boosting my blood pressure and what to do about it. Describing Gates describes the Mayo Clinic.

Dr. Gates is the quintessential Mecca specialist - Mayo Clinic Med School, Harvard Fellow, good teeth. He made sure I knew all that in the most unassuming fashion: "Sometimes all we know, whether at Harvard or Rochester or anywhere else, is that adrenalin glands usually have lots of lumps by the time you get to our age." That last was a nice touch - Gates is probably 52; I'm 61. Oh, and "Rochester" is the code word I heard all week for the Mayo Mother Ship in Minnesota. Where I grew up, "Rochester" was Jack Benny's sidekick.

Despite Gates's endearing bedside manner - oops, just a figure of speech; I was never in a bed - he is so supremely confident that he is willing to share his uncertainty, and he does so in a way that imports that if he doesn't know the answer, then no one does. Every last denizen of the Mayo campus radiates that same quiet confidence and abiding competence, avoiding even the appearance of arrogance while in fact engaging in an arrogance that seems perfectly justified. I barely noticed how vaguely dissatisfying it is to come away from the Mayo Clinic with no answers, despite a promise that some testing in November will get us closer to one.

I squirted a lot of blood into tubes, let a machine monitor my O2 intake, sat with two more Dr. Gateses, and left convinced that I was the most important patient any of them had ever seen. I was wrong, of course. Waiting his turn in the lobby as I was leaving was a young man with one leg and the type of hairlessness that bellows "cancer." It's humbling to have your convictions erased so promptly after they are formed.

No doubt some of the other waiting room supplicants were, like me, there to resolve some puzzling medical inconsistency. But too many of them left divots in my emotional landscape beyond mere sympathy for victims of health catastrophes. I was struck by a couple in their 40's wearing Harley-Davidson colors, she a big-boned gal with an H-D swagger, he wheelchair-bound and weighing perhaps 100 pounds. I saw a younger couple walking so slowly, one matching the other's careful pace. So intimate was the couple's shared pain that I could not tell which was the patient and which the caring partner.

We stayed one night at the on-campus Marriott, claiming the special "Mayo rate" - $159. The hotel restaurant was located in the main lobby for the convenience of guests who needed wheelchair access or personal assistance with eating or with sometimes-bulky oxygen equipment. Families chatted cheerfully - after all, this is Mecca - and the atmosphere was curiously upbeat. I could not match the mood in the room, and we dined elsewhere, feeling somehow cowardly.

Not all the Mayo patients I saw were the children of privilege, although there were two Bentleys in line for valet parking when I dropped off my 12-year-old Acura. But there were no evident children of poverty, although it's damned hard to guess the financial wherewithal of anyone wearing his jammies in the daytime. Patients and family of color were exceedingly few. Privileged or not, I came away with a fresh appreciation for my relatively superlative state of health and a sense of having been at last to Mecca.


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Wallpaper Wars

I used to know how to hang wallpaper. It's simple, really: measure, cut, paste to the wall, repeat. There are rules for hanging wallpaper straight, rules for going around corners, both inside and outside types, and rules for getting paste off everything else in the room. I recall those rules quite clearly, and I followed them yesterday as I covered up my paneled bathroom - yes, paneled - that's how they put them together in the doublewide factory - anyway, that's how I set out to turn my bathroom into a showplace. Well, not really a showplace; it is, after all, a bathroom. But it needed some tile, some porcelain, some pretend-granite and some wallpaper. To the untrained eye, wallpaper would seem the least challenging of the materials I chose to install. That's why they call it the untrained eye.

Florida turns out to be the land of paneling and the land that forgot wallpaper. The wallpaper shops of yore are all dusty and bare, and the guy with the orange apron at Home Depot was struck dumb by the concept of gluing paper to a wall. Lowe's had a few books of patterns, including the ones with sailboats and hunting rifles and cartoon characters. I ordered something without sailboats, and it arrived in due time.

To stick my paper to the wall, my choices were Roman's Golden Harvest Pre-Mixed General Purpose Paste or spit. I considered spit, since the paper itself was pre-pasted - just add spit - but the pre-paste never works and would take too much spit anyway. I bought the Golden Harvest for $15. The price stuck in my craw, assuming a craw is what I think it is, because I know that wallpaper paste, at its core, is concocted of water and flour. It is just paste, in the purest, first-grade art project sense. I paid the man and left without telling him how consternated I was.

I arrived back home unjustifiably optimistic. I had already slobbered several pounds of spackle onto the paneling. Spackle is God's gift to people who hate paneling, proving thereby that even God hates paneling. I opened my first roll of paper and got to work. I measured - twice, of course - and cut the first stripe, patting myself on the back for recalling that wallpaper strips are called stripes. I cut this particular stripe half-an-inch short. Crap. Two bucks a square foot I paid for that stripe.

Hanging wallpaper is not like riding a bike. You forget. Not the easy rules - those you remember - but the neuromotor stuff that moves the bike down the road and moves the wallpaper from the roll to the wall . The hands refuse to do what the brain commands. I cut stripes of wallpaper too short, too narrow, upside down, and left-handed instead of right. I got paste in my ears. Belatedly, I remembered that some wallpaper is impossible to match. Matching is where you make sure the little sailboat on one stripe lines up with the little sailboats on the other stripes, if you were sensible enough to buy the sailboat paper. Anybody can line up sailboats.

I did not buy sailboats; I bought a roomful of overlapping colored blocks, all of which look like one another but few of which actually are like any of the others. Trying to match blocks from stripe to stripe resulted in a sort of geometric dyslexia. Wallpapering rules and formulas - and lots of sticky paper - lay in ruins on my bathroom floor. I coped - if you can call it that - by assigning a name to every block on the wall. I traveled from the bathroom to my work area muttering magic incantations for where to cut the next stripe. "Big-tan-block-above-small-greyish-block-beside-mid-sized-light-beige-block." I learned to incantate tan from two shades of beige. I made mountains of $2-a-square-foot scrap. I said some bad words that boiled the water on Clearwater Beach.

My bathroom looks swell, mostly because anything looks sweller than paneling. But the room is cluttered with the ruins of my self-esteem and the smoking wreckage of my neuromotor system. Now I know why Florida folks don't wallpaper. They have too much regard for their own sanity.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

You’re living in a WHAT!?

The voice of one of my lawyer friends comes through the telephone: “So now that you’ve relocated to Florida, where are you living? Did you buy a condo? A house?”

Me: “We bought a doublewide.”

Voice: “-------.”

Voice continues: “--------.”

Me: “You don’t know what that is, do you?”

Voice: “Not exactly.”

So I explain in measured, simple-to-absorb terms, that I live in a mobile home park in the Tampa Bay area with a bunch of other 55-plus-year-olds.

Voice: “A mobile … uh, a TRAILER??!!”

Me: “Yes, exactly, although the more delicately constituted of us refer to it as a manufactured residence.”

Voice: “-------.”

This is cognitive dissonance in its purest, most joyous-to-behold form. I spent my legal career – “legal” is not the only career I’ve had – hauling in what many would call big bucks, although I had friends at the rainmaking end of the rainbow who would have starved on my pay. I loved the law – still do – but had grown weary of the more practical aspects of the law business – schmoozing clients, drumming up business, worrying about generating cash flow – in short, all the perfectly honorable stuff that pays the bills. I admire those who are driven by the law because they are so deeply satisfied and because they make the very best lawyers. But I was never driven and did not want to continue plowing that field until I was 65 or 66 or, as some have done, until I dropped in the traces.

With my kids securely launched, my Connecticut home almost paid for, and a modest nest egg – shockingly modest, some would say – tucked away, my choices were retire in Connecticut at 66 with my then-current lifestyle or sell everything and retire to Florida at 60 to a life of genteel poverty. Or at least I hoped it would be genteel. The nuns who instilled in me my lifelong fear of religion and penguins preached to us 13-year-old boys, “If you think it, you have done it.” So, having thought it, I did it: off to the sunny south for me and Judy.

We live in a home made of metal and particle board. My lawyer friends do not live in metal homes or have substantial chunks of their homes fashioned of ersatz wood. They are – though most would never say so – appalled. I have waited all my life to appall people with impunity. In the past, fear of punity has always had its way with me.

Me: “Yes, it’s a trailer park, the kind that draws tornadoes and makes a mess on the front page of the Hartford Courant every hurricane season. Ours is a high-class trailer park, though, insofar as management does not allow junk cars to pile up in what passes for the front yard or chickens to peck around the back dooryard. But it is a trailer park. My house is put together with paneling and staples and bathtub caulk. I love it here.” In truth, I do not like the bathtub caulk, which sticks everything in the place to everything else, but that’s a quibble, and I am learning to cope.

Voice: “------.”

I have opted out. Neither an old hippie nor otherwise disaffected, I nonetheless live a simple existence that satisfies me and Judy. There is money to pay for whatever medical issues may arise in my dotage and for a few luxuries to boot. I write, read, volunteer, and sit on my ass to my heart’s content. I fly or drive north to see my grandchildren when I want, and I bring them here when they want. If I were to sink a suitcase full of money into a house, thereby freeing my lawyer friends from their rising state of appallment, then I couldn’t do those things that have quickly become so important to me. Instead I would stay home in my stucco hacienda, worry about mill rates, and tend what passes in Florida for a lawn

My tacky little doublewide is full of the stuff I have loved since Judy agreed to marry me 41 years ago. (This much-loved stuff does not include the two cats, but they make Judy happy.) Everything that was not much-loved when I left Connecticut, I gave to my kids or sold to my neighbors. Now, when I visit Connecticut, everything looks vaguely familiar. Oh, and I kept my 7-year-old sports car, which is where I store my masculinity. I still love that. The car, I mean. And the masculinity too, I suppose.

A curious coda is developing. Lawyers whom I had expected to one day drop in their traces have called to inquire, oh-so-casually, how I have done this – whatever “this” means to them. I tell them that there is life after law. I am living with that greatest of all treasures – impunity. In a trailer park.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

On a Boat

I don't believe in coincidence. The following happened for a reason. I just don't know what the reason is.

On Thursday, a friend sent me to an on-line video called "I'm On a Boat." I'll give you the link in a minute, but stay with the story line here. The friend is a big-shot lawyer at what used to be a white-shoe law firm in Hartford, back when lawyers wore white shoes with their summer seersuckers. Now the same lawyers wear combat boots scuffed up with ass prints. Anyway, the law firm is a place where you don't say "shit" or, if you do, you close the door first. I have a special place in my seersucker heart for this firm. So when I tracked down the link, I was somewhat jolted to find that the video is a full-on, in-ya-face rap tune whose lyrics consist almost entirely of "I'm on a BOAT, muthaf**ka, on a BOAT." That's right, he sent me to the bleeped out version.

I'm as rap-a-phobic as most pale males of my age, but this video is an irresistible masterpiece of overstatement with a catchy beat. Well, actually, it's pretty much the same beat as every other rap song, but this one's gut-thumping insistence is somehow - well - nearly tolerable. The song follows the story of two nerdy white boys who win a ride "on a BOAT, muthaf**ka, on a BOAT." Transformed into tuxedoed masters of cool, the no-longer-nerdy rappers rap on the front deck of a speeding 80-foot white yacht, impliedly, and probably actually, owned by an overdressed black rap star named T-Pain, who sings rather demurely in the background. It's fun to watch and is probably laced with lots of socially and racially significant metaphors and the like, all of which were wasted on me.

But I came to write about sushi.

Thursdays are Bingo night here in Sugar Creek. Judy takes her mom to sit amidst a sea of white-haired ladies waiting for their number to be called. Bingo takes place in the building next to the shuffleboard courts. People take being over 55 seriously here in Florida, and they are good at it. Me, being mired deep in denial, I still tear up the AARP solicitations that come daily in the mail. But enough on the philosophy of aging. On Thursdays, I'm on my own. When I'm not spending my Thursday evenings in church or in the Badda Bing Club down the street, I generally take myself out for food that Judy won't eat. I like sushi.

My local sushi favorite has followed the economy to hell recently, so I punched up the next sushi place listed on my GPS - sort of a culinary roulette wheel - and landed at Sushi Fune, about 2 miles away. Nice spot. The hostess and waitresses wear spectacular kimonos and the sushi is fresh and nicely prepared.

But actually, I came to write about sushi on a boat.

I sit at the U-shaped sushi bar, a 40-foot-long affair surrounding the chef and his usual counters laden with iced sushi ingredients, soy sauce and those clever wooden serving trays. Sushi Fune, however, also sports a moat. The moat is maybe a foot wide. It emerges at counter level through a curtain from the kitchen, circles the arena clockwise just in front of me and my sushi bar-mates, and wanders back behind the curtain and into the kitchen. I stick my finger in the moat water, and it's cold. This means it is refrigerated, since tap water in Florida is not cold. In fact, faucets here are labeled "Hot" and "Tepid." Drifting along with the flow of the moat, bow to stern, gunwales to the rail, gyring and gimbling in the wabe, are 30 or so ceramic boats. On the promenade deck of each boat is a little dish of something good to eat: edamame, iced octopus salad, California rolls, cold Soba noodles. It's Japanese fare, standard but well prepared and curiously presented.

Wait for it...

Your dinner at Sushi Fune is served on a BOAT, on a muthaf**king BOAT. You take what you like, or at least what you can identify, off the boat as it floats past, sampling whatever looks good - and it all looks good, except to Judy. Remember her? She's playing Bingo. As plundered boats return to the kitchen, the kitchen gnomes restock them with more foods that you don't recognize, but which you eat anyway, and they, too, are good. At the end of your meal, the waitress counts up the empty dishes, performs some calculations that lie beyond the ken of the western mind, and you pay the BILL, the muthaf**king BILL. I never said it was cheap.

This is where I should close with some profound statement about the role in our lives played by juxtaposition and the feng shui of serendipity. But you'll settle for the address for "I'm On a Boat," the unbleeped version. (You'll have to cut and paste, since I haven't found the "link" widget on this machine.) Crank up the speakers, but make sure there aren't any kids or adults around.

If you are so inclined, check out the tag line at the end of the page for Sushi Fune:

I'm not making this stuff up.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ghandi and the Bullshot

"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."
-- Mahatma Gandhi

Christians Praying for Money at Wall Street Bull

-Wonkette 8/22/09

I suppose I have just lost half my audience, but I guess we might as well understand each other up front.

Damn! I swore I wasn't going to do politics, but this was too good to ignore.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Hyphenated Cat

For reasons I don’t understand, we own two cats. Their names are Shut Up and Dickhead. I can’t tell them apart, but I’ve never really had to because I always speak to both of them at the same time. As a result, I think of them as one hyphenated cat. Shut Up-Dickhead lives on the lanai, which is Florida-speak for a front porch with delusions of upward mobility.

We have had Shut Up-Dickhead for some 14 years, which is easily 13 years too long. They don’t catch mice and I can’t get them to eat palmetto bugs. Our lanai is screened in, but it is egg-fry hot down here in August, and Judy does not believe that cats can stand the heat. So our lanai has been shrink-wrapped and I put in an air conditioner. Judy scoops poop once a day and the town poop truck comes twice a week to collect the scoopings.

Shut Up-Dickhead is a pain in the ass when we want to go somewhere for more than a few days. They expect to eat and drink regularly and become testy when they do not. When they are hungry or when they think they should be hungry, they make a considerable racket, which is how they got their respective names. Neighbor Dave next door hates noise of any sort, so extended cat howling while we are traveling would only lead to social unrest. Moreover, if you don’t scoop at reasonable intervals, your lanai fills with poop. We are waiting – or at least I am waiting – for Shut Up-Dickhead to die so we can do some extended touring, during which time the lanai will not fill with poop. I know that sounds heartless, but – well – never mind – maybe it is.

I have some uncategorized collectibles that share living arrangements on the lanai with Shut Up-Dickhead, things like Joan Baez records and my old fraternity paddle, things for which I have no further use but with which I cannot bring myself to part. (I put great stock in not ending sentences with prepositions, but sometimes that obsession leads to abominations like that last sentence. Find another blog if off is what that puts you.) To keep the cat fur off my treasures, we have been looking for one of those plushly carpeted Kitty Condos. We have been holding off because I am too damn cheap to spend a three-figure sum on accommodations for a hyphenated cat. Then, just last week, we came upon a recovering derelict on a street corner holding a cardboard sign reading “Kitty Condos – Cheap!” Beside him on the grass was a row of pouffy condos. We stopped. For $99 in carefully counted cash, we jammed a multi-level cat castle into the back seat and sped home. Our lanai now qualifies as multi-unit housing. Although it took a while for Shut Up-Dickhead to part with Joan Baez, they now sit proudly on the condo roof looking out on the world like Yertle the Turtle surveying his domain. Therein lies the problem.

Shut Up-Dickhead used to be boys, but we reorganized them when they were babies. For nearly 14 years they have been content to be sexless, sort of like Gumby with fur. Lately however, one of them – let’s assume it’s Dickhead – has had flashbacks, probably brought on by profligate behavior when he was in college. Anyway – cut to the chase – Dickhead has been mounting his brother. A lot. Personally, I have no issues with whatever two or more consenting adults do in the privacy of their lanai, but this lanai is not private. Mounted on the roof of the condo, they look like the hood ornament on Larry Flint’s Lincoln. They are scandalizing the neighborhood. Most of our neighbors have not been on the roof of the condo since the 1970’s and are unlikely to be amused by Shut Up-Dickhead’s in flagrante antics.

We have reluctantly started lacing Dickhead’s chow with kitty saltpeter. But you have to admire his pluck.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Return to Amarillo

With SSGT Erik on his circuitous way to sunny, sandy Kuwait, I thought you might enjoy the following video created in Iraq by Brits, whose government has since had the good sense to bring them home. This is not as entertaining as Erik in his pink feather boa, but it will have to do. Crank up the speakers.


Gut Check - Oh, Never Mind

The windstorm formerly known as Tropical Storm - and Hurricane wannabe - Ana has broken up and dissipated. Weather people call this "breaking wind." That is my last fart joke of the week. I am going back to Lowe's to return my duct tape. I expect to stand in line since we Floridians are quite frugal and cannot afford to stockpile duct tape for no good reason.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Gut Check

It no doubt started, as all hurricanes do, with the breeze from some butterfly flapping its little wings over the west coast of Africa. I knew damn well when I came to Florida that the state is a hurricane sink hole. In fact, Hurricane Ike was idling in the Gulf even as I was unloading the U-Haul last September. Of course, by that time, Ike had already glided harmlessly past Tampa en route to Galveston. Nonetheless, the state-run homeowners’ insurance monolith refused to sell me insurance while Ike was on the loose. I was not nonplussed in the least. In fact, I have rarely been so plussed. No hurricane has scored a direct hit on Tampa Bay since 1921. Even Hurricane Fay, which bounced around Florida last year like a fart in a bucket, never laid a finger on Tampa. So why, 11 months later, is the first tropical storm of the Atlantic season scrambling my eggs? Could I have been ill-advised in my plussage?

The seat of my discomfort may be all those hurricane supplies I saw stacked up at Lowe’s this morning. Lanterns and duct tape and rope and plywood and, right there in the aisle near the registers, a gravity-flouting Tower of Batteries. I came home after buying spackle - the kind that goes on pink but dries white - and counted my spare batteries (4 D’s, no C’s, 8 AA’s, 3 AAA’s and a 9-volt with terminals rimmed by an ominous excrescence of old battery). I don’t even know what most of these batteries go to, except that the six remote controls in my living room all take AA’s. When the big one hits, my survival plan has been to pillage the remotes. Since my spackle outing, however, I have had a few hours to contemplate the significance of Lowe's's none-too-subtle marketing strategy, and I am developing a potent craving to go back and buy too many of everything in the stack.

Tropical storm Ana is nosing around the Leeward Islands as I type this. One unheralded benefit of living in Florida is that its residents all know exactly where the Leewards are. No one in Connecticut has ever heard of them except one old salt at the Essex Yacht Club and the snotty weather guy on Channel 30. Well, surprise – the Leeward Islands is just an uppity way of describing the Virgin Islands, Anguilla, St. Kitts and sundry other paradisical places we all want to visit outside hurricane season. So named because they are downwind of the Windward Islands, of course. Sorry - I got carried away.

Ana is generating a measly 40 mph breeze right now. A zephyr, a sprightly freshet, a gentle flutter, a bit of a draft. But the Hurricane Experts have now sketched in the dreaded cone of probability, and – whoa! - guess where it targets ground zero. No, no - not Tampa. Key West. From Key West, however, Tampa is nothing but an eight-iron and a bad slice. Suddenly, 1921 doesn’t seem like all that long ago. I’m going out to buy duct tape.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Mad-Dashing for Bagels

Pinellas County is that thumb that sticks out of Florida’s west coast, without which there would be no Tampa Bay. People live and breed here in mind-fogging profusion, and most of them spend every waking hour – and some non-waking hours – on the road. Vehicular progress of any sort in Pinellas takes place – if at all – on parallel north-south and east-west arteries that crisscross the thumb at two-mile intervals. Between arteries lies a no man’s land of mobile home parks, strip malls and other cul-de-sac-y places that ultimately lead nowhere except to someone else’s mobile home or the local bagel shop. Want to take the back road to get somewhere? Can’t do it. The sole option – so it’s not really an option at all, then, is it? - is to drive from your own cul-de-sac-y maze to an artery, then to another artery – et cetera – then into the cul-de-sac containing your bagel shop. You might think this a simple process, but you would be wrong,

Pinellas’s crisscrossing arteries are, in fact, full-dress highways carrying eternal, torrential traffic. They are cloven by grassy – or what passes here for grassy – medians designed to keep southbound torrents from intersecting randomly with northbound torrents, eastbound from westbound. Our quasi-grassy medians are punctuated at terrifyingly frequent intervals by opportunities, for those willing to risk life and orthopedic integrity, to turn left across the onrushing torrent to get to that cul-de sac-y place that seemed important when they first set out. No traffic lights to help. No guts, no bagel shop.

Median lanes are hair-raisingly short and narrow, and this is where hair-raising turns to tire-screeching lunacy. The traffic torrent in each direction rips along at 55 to 70 miles per hour. That’s 5 to 20 mph above the speed recommended by the Pinellas County Sheriff. To turn left off an artery, the bagel shopper must dismount while moving at ambient speed and stick a landing at zero speed in that tiny chink in the median. This maneuver tests not only brake pads and guts, but coffee-cup holders and seatbelt anchors as well. Did I mention that some Bozo in the oncoming lane always wants to occupy that same little chink of median lane you’re aiming at so he can turn left into HIS favorite bagel shop? Now the available median lane is halved and your initial closing speed with Bozo can be a sphincter-cinching 140 mph. Cream cheese with that bagel, sir?

One more point, then you can get back to your Facebook-ing. The only way to get from the bagel shop back whence you came is to mad-dash your way back to the median chink, this time in perpendicular fashion. If geometry escaped you all those years ago, this means sticking your 17-foot-long Escalade into a 12-foot-wide lane. Chronic under- and overshooters are eventually – and regularly – scooped off the pavement and reassembled at the Global Mortuary (see my diatribe of August 13 if you’re fuzzy on what this means.) However heart-clanging this maneuver may be to the mad-dasher, it is worse for the poor Bozo approaching in the leftbound torrent at his usual 70-mph cruising speed. The highest heart rate ever recorded in Florida belonged to just such a Bozo caught in mid-cellphone conversation just as a mad-dasher began his mad dash.

You gotta love this state.