Saturday, December 10, 2011

Theater of the Unlikely

Seeking to bolster the illusion that we are social sophisticates, Judy and I ventured out last week to a community-theater rendition of Mister Roberts.  Before we took our seats, we bought the obligatory little plastic cups of wine.  The wine came with plastic lids and tiny straws, since open containers are banned from the seating area.  And for good reason, it turns out.

The highlight of the evening should have been the actor playing Capt. Morton and channeling James Cagny with all his heart and soul, and pretty effectively at that.  But the good Captain was upstaged before the curtain even went up.  By the guy sitting in front of us.

He was regaling the lady next to him with photos of his recent trip to an exotic location he had long dreamed of seeing:  eastern Maine.

Lenny - that's what the lady called him - apparently started his visit in Portland, because that was his first photo.  "This is a guy posing in front of the Portland Light," he reported.  Who was the guy?  "I don't know, but I thought he looked pretty good posing like that."  Judy stifled a giggle, but poorly.

"Here's one of me and Lucille-somebody."  The photo showed Lenny and a large, ornate granite tombstone.  The lady emitted a tiny gasp.  Lenny moved on quickly.

With Lenny, it's not just all about the strangers, because he also shot lots of pix of a comely young woman holding up a big lobster.  "I don't know who she was, either - I was looking at the big lobster."  That was when Judy snorted wine out her nose.

Luckily Judy was drinking pinot grigio and the lid stayed on the plastic cup, so clean-up was easy.  I covered for her deftly by exclaiming, "Gesundtheit!"  

After a time, the travelogue resumed.

"Here's a picture of me standing on the 49th parallel, exactly halfway to the North Pole."  The didact in me ached to correct him - assuming he started counting his parallels at the Equator -  but he was so pleased to have been to that magical location, I remained silent.  Actually, Judy and I have been there too, and we remain very proud of that.

"Next is a picture of Canada.  Over that water, there.  This was taken from Lubbock."  For the record, Lubbock is in Texas.  Lubec is in Maine, and the locals say it "Loo-BECK."  You can't see any of Canada from Lubbock.  Luckily, Lenny didn't visit Pennamaquan or Mattawamkeag, but then you can't see Canada from either of those towns.

Lenny finished up just before the curtain rose, with a dramatic shot of a brightly lighted L.L. Bean store in Freeport.  It was surrounded by profound darkness.  "I took this at 3 in the morning to show that it really is open all night."  Judy excused herself and stepped out to powder her nose.

The play was very good, too.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

It's the Glottal Stop

If your name is Newton and if they nicknamed you Newt, you have some immediate problems and one unexpected headache.

It's hard enough to introduce yourself as Ev Newton - everyone says, "Hi, Ed" - or Everett Newton - everyone says, "What?"  But you can never, ever introduce yourself as Newt Newton.

There are sound linguistic reasons for this prohibition.  The name Newton has a "T" in the middle, as proficient readers of English will recognize right away.  But when the word "Newton" is pronounced casually and out loud, it invariably comes out as "New - in."  As in "uh-oh."  That little break in the middle is a glottal stop, which, for the hopeless pedants among us, is also called a voiceless glottal plosive.  The glottal stop is that little catchy thing you do with your throat when you say "Hawai'i" (which used to be pronounced "Huh-why-yee," but we are more sophisticated these days).  It's science.  People whose names are Bob Johnson have no idea that this lingual circus is in town. 

So my immediate dilemma is whether to introduce myself as Newton with the correct and formal "T" sound, which by the way is a voiceless alveolar plosive, or with that lazy but comfortable glottal stop, which is what I say to myself when I am pondering how noise comes out of my face Got that?  Good, 'cause now it gets complicated.

The name "Newt," spoken aloud by itself, ends with the aveolar plosive "T".  That remains true if "Newt" is followed by a fricative, like "Newt snores" or "Newt farts."  So if my name were Newt Harris, I would not be paddling around in this murky linguistic backwater.  But if "Newt" is followed by a nasal alveolar, like "N," the brain/mouth connection breaks out in a sweat and a glottal stop ensues.  Try it: "Newt Newton."  Your frontal cortex wants to put a hard "T" in both slots, but your tongue and your glottis become entangled and you can drown in your own spit trying to pronounce the combination correctly.  Anyone who has ever tried to speak German or Welsh understands this.

After walking around the bridge club with a name tag reading "Ev Newton" for a year or so, I decided to drag my nickname out of its phonetic closet.  Not wanting to subject everyone to the double-glottal-stop torture of "Newt Newton," I had a name tag made up that reads simply, "Newt":

You can probably see where this is going.

Enter Newton Leroy Gingrich.  Remember that headache I mentioned in that first sentence?  "Newt Gingrich" has no glottal stop to muck up the lingual works.  But walking around in public these days with "Newt" on your chest is an open invitation to ideological engagement.  There are no glottal stops in the words "philanderer" or "pompous narcissist" or "walking embodiment of current Republican demagoguery."  The name slides out like poop through a goose.

Except this is the Deep South, even during Snowbird Season, and the median age at the bridge club is about 84, so everyone there wants to shake my hand and declaim over the evils of Barack Hussein Obama, whom we all know was born in Togoland with a Commie flag clenched in his tiny satanic fist.

Aw, crap!  I've gone off political again.

Well, it's not my fault this time; Newt started it.  Anyway, I have ordered a new name tag that reads, "None of Your Damn Business, That's What."


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Are the Gods Poking Fun at Me?

If the truth be known, the wry portrait of me over there --------->
is a bit out of date, and some excess avoirdupois has collected around my midsection and nether regions.  Quite a lot, in fact, since we're telling the stupid truth so religiously here.  Anyway, I have been living for the past few months on dried twigs and carrot juice, hoping that my belly goes away before my teeth fall out and I die from lack of chocolate and beer.  Especially beer.

So far so good - let's not descend into tawdry specifics - and I console my poor deprived palate with a weekly visit to my favorite restaurant.  The Cajun Cafe on the Bayou is located nearby in fact, but its heart and soul reside in N'awlins, where les bon temps roulent.  Invariably, I sit out on the quiet deck over the bayou, often alone while Judy plays bingo or some such.

So I'm sitting there tonight, brooding.  Brooding, I think, is one of life's true luxuries.  The temperature dips to the low 60s - cold enough if your blood is thin and hungry.  I order a cup of gumbo and a green salad with a little salsa instead of salad dressing.

I'm freezing to death in the dark, eating roughage and three tablespoons of soup.  Next thing I know, the Dalai Lama appears over the bayou, hovering in full regalia.  It's much colder in Tibet, I suppose, so His Holiness looks comfy here in homespun robes.  Not to mention scrawny, but I may be losing perspective.  He wants to award me the Laughing Buddha Award for Pious Virtue. 

I'm pondering my acceptance speech when Steve the Smartass Waiter interrupts: "Will there be anything else, or are you content to sit there sucking the stains out of your napkin?"  I used to tip Steve quite generously.

"Yeah.  Bring me a 20-ounce prime rib, medium rare, and a chocolate cake."

Steve snickers and drops my $9 tab on the table.  The Dalai Lama chuckles quietly, and I leave a $3 tip.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Something for the Ages

We had a nice Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant in Clearwater Beach with Judy's folks, Bill and Florence Flaherty.  Nothing unusual about that except this year the folks were celebrating 70 years of wedded bliss.

We had such a great time, we agreed to do it again every 70 years.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Farewell to Bloodwort

I mentioned recently a Dearest Relative ("DR") in Gainesville who faced moving to some manner of assisted living arrangement.  Swell fellow that I am, I have been trying to help smooth the transition.  All went predictably enough until we addressed "What to Do With Bloodwort?"  Bloodwort is my DR's aging cocker spaniel.  (DR loves flowers and thinks "Bloodwort" a perfectly responsible spaniel name.)

Anyway, no sufficiently accommodating relative or friend came forward to claim Bloodwort, and dogs could not go where DR was bound.  Dear Reader, if you are of a sensitive nature, please move on to Moody's Notebook or something genteel like that.

You were warned.

With Bloodwort well past the age of likely adoption through the local SPCA, and with no other options in evidence, it looked grim for Bloodwort.  Reluctantly, DR concluded that Bloodwort would likely need to be - um - put gently to sleep.  Sigh.

But DR is a novice in these matters, and his previous pets had had the good grace to expire of natural causes.  So DR had never before had to take an active hand in the matter. The decision process was long and properly tearful.

Finally, DR stood tall and announced, "I'm going to have Bloodwort cremated."

Cremated.  Cremated.

Mind you, Bloodwort was still among the living.  I allowed as to how it might be well to have some humane ministration - an overdose of doggie barbiturates or the like - at the caring hand of some pet professional.  Discreet and humane, however sad and seemingly unavoidable.

"No."  DR stood his ground.  "I'm going to have Bloodwort cremated."

At this point, you might understand why DR was headed for protective custody himself, but he didn't really seem that far around the bend.  Except for the cremation thing.  "Think on it tonight," I said, "and I'll be back in the morning."

The warm Florida sun rose as scheduled the next day, and a new day always brings new promise.  Not so fast, Pollyanna.  Cremation was the final word, and cremation it was going to be.  I rehearsed the likely conversation with DR's long-time vet.  "When did Bloodwort pass away?" Dr. Friendly would naturally ask.  And DR would respond, "Oh, he's not dead.  That's why I want him cremated."  I stopped thinking about it.

Enter - thankfully for Bloodwort - Janice.  Janice is DR's letter carrier, who conveniently lives in pastoral Archer, some ten miles west of DR's place.  In Archer, Bloodwort would have lots of land, the company of other dogs - dogs with perhaps more euphonious names - and an owner not apparently headed for assisted living.  Janice would love to take Bloodwort home. 

"Excellent," said DR, "I never wanted to cremate him anyway."




Saturday, November 5, 2011

Boggle With Me

Think you've seen it all?  HAH!  Here is a door in a nearby strip mall:

So what, you ask?  Here is the sign next door:

           Wait for it . . . 

           Are you sitting down?

Both offices are currently empty.   I'm thinking the occupants annihilated each other, like matter and anti-matter.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Last Unbillboarded Lawyer

Eye of Newt was privileged last week to land an exclusive interview with Gilbert T. Pardee, Esq., the last lawyer in Pinellas County without his own billboard.

Eye:  Mr. Pardee, thank -

Pardee:  Please - call me Gil.

EON:  OK.  Now I understand you do not have a billboard anywhere with your picture and phone number.

P:  That's correct.  Not even one of those side-of-a-building jobbies.

EON:  Why not?  I mean, every other lawyer has a whole string of billboards.

P:  I know, I know.  I guess I'm just a late bloomer.  My mother says I was not potty trained until long after all the other kids my age.

EON:  Which was . . . ?

P:  Two years ago.  But we're not here to talk about -

EON:  Right, right.  But why don't you put up a billboard now?

P:  Well, first of all, all the good spots are taken.  The bail bondsmen grabbed up all the spots near the criminal courts, and the personal injury guys got the juiciest street corners.

P:  Also, I've been trying to set myself apart from the crowd.

EON:  How about a referral service?  Can I find you through 1-800-ASK-GARY?

P:  Actually, no.  They, uh, asked me to leave.

EON:  Really?  Why?

P:  I don't have a billboard.  You see, Ask Gary makes referrals by checking out the billboards.  The billboards closest to the 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheater in Tampa get first dibs.

EON:  And . . . ?

P:  The closest spot not already advertising lawyers was in Savannah.  I'm not admitted in Georgia.

EON:  So, now what?  How are you gonna sell your soul to the devil if he doesn't know you're for sale?

P:  I have one brilliant word for you:  naming rights!

EON:  Uh -

P:  I thought of it when I saw that New York's Times Square is now Discovery Times Square.  I thought, "Man, that is so COOL!"  So I've just finished negotiating for the rights to our most precious asset.

EON:  I'm afraid to ask.

P:  You got  it:  The Gil T. Pardee 1-800-I-Object Clearwater Beach.  Signs will be appearing soon.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Flashing to Gainesville

My much-loved but somewhat tattered BMW is in the shop as the result of my embarrassing indiscretion with a curbstone.  The loaner they gave me is 8 years newer - sweet! - but the interior layout is generally similar to my own.  Except for the cruise control, which has celebrated the new decade by migrating from the steering wheel to a stumpy little stalk under the turn-signal-cum-high-beam lever.

So this morning I embarked in the little white loaner to visit an elderly and beloved relative up near Gainesville, about 130 miles from here.  Now, I'm a big fan of cruise control, and this particular cruise control is set up cleverly so a forward tap on the stumpy stalk bumps your speed up 1 mph; a rearward tap drops 1 mph.  A simple formula.   Need to slow down 4 mph?  4 taps.  In practice, of course, you just start tapping away as you approach a car in your lane until you match speeds, hopefully settling in a respectful distance behind the overtakee.

You've done that; you know you have. 

Oddly, since this is a new car, I keep finding myself tapping away to no effect whatsoever.  In this next picture, I'm closing rapidly on the Honda in front of me.  Tap.  Tap. Tap-tap-tap.  Taptaptaptap.  Oh crap!  Brakes.

I hate to brake on the highway.  It's unprofessional and wasteful.

Right.  I was tapping the high-beam stalk instead of the cruise control.  That explains why the cars I was coming up on - this was not just that one Honda, I'm afraid - anyway, my co-drivers on this highway of life were reacting rather testily.  Fingers appeared out windows.  Hondas scattered awkwardly out of my lane, apparently discomfited by the berserker in the white BMW closing fast with strobing brights.  It was daylight!  How was I to know I was flashing?  Did I mention the high-intensity laser-quality high beams on my loaner, the ones designed to vaporize small animals at short range?  Someone could probably construct an interesting social experiment from this.

There is no universal hand signal for, "Oops, sorry."

Anyway, I finished my visit and later spent an hour alone scouting a potential retirement facility that might be appropriate for my relative.  (Ah - if you happen to know the relative in question, would you not mention this?  He thinks he will never need assistance with much of anything.  He may be right.)

So I'm getting the tour from an overly effective marketing guy, and he's introducing me to a succession of impressively satisfied residents.  Big Bad Charlie has just bowled his fourth 300 game on the community Wii, and a lady named "Nancy Pickles" is at the bulletin board admiring her picture taken next to the '55 Chevy that won the parking lot classic car contest.

Finally, we come to an old-timer walking through the dining room.  He turns, and his eyes say, "I. Am. Really. Old."  He's leprechaun-ish and affable. I quiz him about the food.  "Not bad," he says, which I take to mean, "Not particularly good."  We chat for a bit.

Inevitably, he asks how old I think he is.  Diplomat that I am, I suggest, "a well-preserved 73?"

"Nope.  Higher."  He pumps his thumb and hops from foot to foot as he reels in the fish.



I say, "78?"  "81?"  This is kind of fun, and my new old friend is working it.


"No," he says, "and you better go by fives or we'll be here all day."

When I stop laughing, I guess "90?"  I know I'm getting closer.  So rather than continue creeping up on the likely right answer - about 94, I'd say - I make the leap to the absurd.


His eyes get big, as I expect, and he exclaims, to my gaping amazement, "How did you know?"

One hundred and five years old.

On the way home I flashed another dozen cars into flaming hulks in the drainage ditches.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Long As I Got a Dime, the Music Won't Never Stop

I went to college in the 60's and 70's.  Okay, and most of the 80's, to boot.  So my personal period of intellectual immaturity lingered a bit longer than those of folks with more linear game plans.  One effect of my protracted university sojourn was sustained and enervating overexposure to Bob Dylan.  And Neil Young.  As well as - and I'm not proud of this - Donovan.

Now, if you're a Dylan/Young/Donovan fan, I can understand that.  I was there, man.  But I'm here now.  Enough.

Being retired, I can finally do with my time as I damn well please, and it pleases me to have music blasting for about 15 hours a day.  So that's what I do.  Provided I can master the technology, I mean.

Music delivery systems have been rolling over faster than Beethoven delivering the news to Tchaikovsky.  When first I came to sunny Geezerland, I kept a couple hundred vinyl records that I couldn't bear to part with.  As for my tattered collection of Dylan, Young and Donovan - especially Donovan - I happily let them go for two bits a record.  But the blight of obsolescence hunkers over my surviving platters, for needles wear out and turntables grunt and roll over.  Try to replace a Denon moving coil cartridge, which was the state of the art 30 years ago.  Ma foi!  No matter - the album art is still nice.  My Springsteen five-record set will likely remain in pristine condition long after The Boss is reading Tchaikovsky the headlines.

Oh, I'm no hoarder.  I pitched out my 8-tracks and audio cassettes decades ago.  Most of them.  Today I have more invested in CD's than in my retirement account.  I once figured laser-read music was for the ages.  Nah, not really, as it turns out.

So I signed up for Sirius in its first year and still own the only two coal-fired satellite radio receivers still in existence.  But for all its gazillion stations, Sirius is spiraling precipitously toward the lowest common denominator in each of its music genres.  Bor-ing.

I haven't bought a dedicated MP3 player yet.  I'm not exactly an early adopter.  Nevertheless, I have a couple thousand bootlegged (by someone else) tracks on my clumsy old Blackberry.  I'm sure I won't have enough time to fill a whole big iPod with iTunes before that medium also kicks the technological bucket.  (Um - I was being sarcastic when I drafted that last comment, but I read today that Apple is swearing to God that it is not discontinuing the iPod.  No siree, Bob.  Does anyone else hear the death-knell knelling?)

So now I've signed up for Pandora's premium on-line service. 


What an outstanding concept.  Pandora feeds me the music I ask for, and then kicks in some stuff I didn't know I needed.  I plug in John Prine, and Pandora opens its box and spews out not only Prine, but - whoa! - a trove of artists that Prine certainly loves: Steve Goodman and Guy Clark and David Bromberg (who can out-Neil-Young Neil Young) and the transcendent Dan Reeder.  Oh, and Dylan, Young and Donovan.  Oops.  Nothing's perfect.

I ask Pandora for Leonard Cohen and also get John Hiatt, Tom Waits and Townes Van Zandt.  Yee-hah!  But ... Dylan/Young/Donovan creep uninvited into that mix, as well.  Okay, I say, try Phoebe Snow.  Out pops Emmylou Harris and Madeleine Peyroux.  Oh, and D/Y/D.  Crap.  Louis Armstrong begets a very cool mix of Eric Bibb, Keb' Mo', Dr. Michael White and Coleman Hawkins.  And D/Y/D.  Yikes!

All right - I get it.  Dylan and Young and maybe even Donovan did some seminal stuff.  But c'mon - Coleman Hawkins?  My guess is that plugging in J.S. Bach would generate D/Y/D on amplified harpsichord, but let us not tempt Fate.

Which brings me back to the 60's, where I started.  I'm living here in a trailer park full of even riper old farts than I.  Sometimes I push my walker around the block in the quiet of the evening.  The peaceful, abiding silence.  Ahhh.  Interrupted only by a dozen stereos cranked up to deaf-defying volumes by other doddering old coots kicking out Chuck Berry, the Beatles, the Stones .   And Dylan, Young and Donovan.



Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Descending Into Politics: A Pop Quiz

What, if anything, do the following events have in common?

1.  Republican Congressman Joe Wilson yells, "You lie!" while Obama is addressing Congress.

2.  Presumably adult audience cheers, "Yeah!" when Wolf Blitzer asks Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, M.D. whether Americans should let another American die because he lacks health insurance.  None of the candidates object.

3.  Young students chant, "Better off dead!" at memorial dance for 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer, who killed himself after chronic bullying because he was gay.

(We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.)


Sunday, October 2, 2011

An Undignified Little Rag

I love the St. Petersburg Times like I could never love the Hartford Courant, even though I sweated out a living in that sweet city for so long.  You see, when a Hartford sports team wins a big game, the Courant publishes a nice, dignified story on the front of the sports section, laying out the full and factual account of the game as though it were a labor negotiation.  Very fair.  Wholly unbiased.  Professional.  Dull.

On the other hand, when the Tampa Bay Rays (who play, by the way, in St. Pete, not Tampa) win big, the Times splashes ink all over its front page:

in the biggest type that fits. And after the main blast of glory on Page One, the Times prints, not merely a sports section, but a whole damn RAYS WIN! section, with foldouts and three-color diagrams, trumpeting every statistic and scene from last night's astounding game that could possibly be celebrated.  Followed by interviews with Matt Moore's mother and the guy who polishes Kelly Shoppach's cleats.  It's the swingingest lovefest you can buy for 50 cents.

And when the Rays win the next big one, by God, there's another over-the-top, dignity-free headline and another special section.  On those joyous occasions when the Bucs and the Rays both win, the Times prints two front pages and two special sections.  If, heaven forfend, the home team should not prevail, as it did not last night, the headline - and still on Page One - offers that this is not easy:
Easy? This isn't a team that does things easy.

The St. Pete Times does every day what the Courant (and a lot of other corporate newspapers) cannot conceive of doing:  it cheers - long and lustily - for the home team.  The local sports coverage in my new home town is biased and blatant.  The Times leaves no doubt: it is proud to be here, proud of its teams, proud of its people.

I love this place.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

For the Birds

Lesson 1, wherein we learn that one must not feed the birds:

That's a snowy egret on the left.  The old-grandfather-looking birds on the right are wood storks.  Want to see some up close?  Of course you do:

Aren't you sorry you asked?

Don't feed the birds.  It makes them poop.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Bargain Shopper

As oyster season approaches here on the Gulf Coast, I have begun my annual quest for the best prices for my favorite aphrodisiac.  A local seafood joint priced them last week at $7.95 a half-dozen, or $15.95 a dozen.  I ordered two half-dozens.  The server had probably seen stranger requests than mine, so she just shrugged and put in my order.

Maybe it's the climate here.  This morning's paper advertizes Target's annual Dollar Days.  Of course, nothing's on sale for an actual dollar, but lots of stuff is priced at some even multiple of a dollar.  Like men's athletic socks.  I buy these occasionally because it nourishes my delusion that I am still an athlete.  Athletic socks are 6 for $5 this week only.  Just my luck.  I just bought a half-dozen socks last week.  They were $4.95.

Anyway, driving home from Connecticut last month, we stopped for lunch at Tart's 50's Restaurant in the barely-there town of Dunn, North Carolina, just off Chicken Farm Road and convenient to I-95.  More or less. You have to be a little lost to find it.  Prices are always cheap at Tart's, and the food and decor are straight-up 50's diner fare.  Sweet.  But two $1.95 burgers later, backing out of a parking space, and stone sober, I swear, I pranged the old M3 into an invisible, altogether too-damn-tall curb and lightly crunched a tailpipe.  Crap!  "Another $100 bill," I thought.  As if.

The muffler shop guy back home took a look at the muffler and snickered.  "Y'all see here where yer muffler is kinda twitched up and these brackets here is shifted leftwards?"  Yeah.  Gulp.

"Whulp," he says, "yer gonna need some dealer work here 'cuz we tried t'get a used muffler onct for one of these BMW cars and it cost $700, used."  Crap.  "And they wooden promise it would fit, neither.  You got insurance, right?"

Hell, yes, I got insurance, but it's one of those $1000 deductible jobs, so I've never used it, except maybe for that sorry incident at the race track a long time past.

So I drove it to Bert Smith's BMW shop and asked, "How much?"  $2346.38.  Crap.  Lucky my deductible is only a grand.

That $2346.38 is to replace a muffler that works just fine and doesn't fart or hang down or anything but just looks a little cockeyed from the back.  Oh, and there's this tiny little scratch in the bumper paint.  "Nossir," says Matthew, my Bert Smith Service Concierge, "we gotta paint the whole bumper.  You got insurance, don't you?"

After the usual administrative waltz (turns out Travelers couldn't find Dunn, NC on its map), the adjuster, Donna G, emails me.  "Great news," she says, "Bert Smith has offered a price of $1909 for the job.  Less the $1000 deductible, of course."

Lucky indeed.  Instead of costing me $1000, the whole job is only going to cost me $1000.  Hell, at Target I could get it done for $999.95. That's two for $1995.95. Unless it's on sale, of course. 


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

All-Purpose Felicitations

A curious convergence of happy events swirls around my family on September 13-14 each year.  So, to save a few bucks on cards and postage, let me just say

Happy Birthday, Darling Daughter!

Happy Anniversary, Mom & Ray!

Amy!  Hi and Happy Birthday from Uncle Newt and Aunt Judy!

Happy Anniversary, Kathy & Bob!

Happy Birthday, Steve.  Enjoy 58 while you can - 60 is looming.

And finally,

Donna and Terry.  Happiest Anniversary!

With love from your father, son, uncle, and older brother (times 3),


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Winter of Our Discontent

We simpering souls - we who have spent the summer simmering in steamy Florida  - hunger and thirst each year for return of the gloriously temperate days of fall-winter-spring.  Perhaps it is the brotherhood of The Long Sweat that makes us look askance upon the annual influx of ... The Snowbirds.

Fully half of our trailer park manufactured home community neighbors are Snowbirds.  Nice folks, most of them, but real Floridians - we year-rounders, that is - and The Snowbirds enjoy that same stuttering love-hate relationship that haunts every other seasonal tourist Mecca.  (Here in Tampa Bay, at least, we need not suffer the annual pilgrimage of plump, white-bearded old farts pretending to be Ernest Hemingway.)  No, this is OUR Paradise, and only reluctantly do we share its joys with the infidels from Michigan, for instance. And Delaware.

Florida has never really signed on to the U.S. Constitution's promise of freedom to migrate from cold places like Ohio and Indiana to our Sunshine State.  Much less Canada.  If ever there was any moral foundation for the War Between the States, it is this: Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Winter.  We don't come shovel your snow; why do you come sift our sand?

Constitutional issues aside, there is, I suppose, a certain perverse entertainment value to the annual Snowbird hadj.  Like a tawdry rolling carnival sideshow, these ragged refugees from Carolina or Connecticut arrive in their overloaded SUV's and Caravans  They pause en masse at the state line, gulp down a draught of our warm, liquid air, and cast off all their clothes. There is more white skin here in December than at a Limbaugh family reunion.

Hello, pasty sojourners, and welcome to the Sunshine State.  You might take note that our natural sunlight is imbued with enough ionizing radiation to cook a Thanksgiving turkey faster than a Viking oven.  A dermatologist waits on every street corner, eagerly anticipating autumn.  For the love of God, put your shirt back on!

Now don't get me wrong: The Snowbirds invariably arrive with cash-stuffed pockets, and a little cash makes a lot of friends in this land of the forever unemployed.  Retail citrus shoppes that lie fallow and forlorn all summer explode into joyous bloom after Labor Day.  Kids conduct car washes in front of every school.  Police adjust traffic signal timing from "languid" to "frenetic."  After all, in a few short months, The Snowbirds must fly north once again.  So little time; so many T-shirts to buy.

Posted on every beach and beachfront eatery hereabouts are warnings against feeding the birds. Watch as the newly arrived beachgoer misunderestimates the cunning and derring-do of the average herring gull. See him venture onto the beach with craftily cradled french fry basket, longing to loft bits of oily potato gently into the heavens to nourish God's winged creatures.  Yee-hah!  These are Florida birds, folks, sporting considerably larger frontal lobes than their foolish fry-flinger prey, and they dart in from where our hapless neophyte is not looking, swooping over his shoulder to snatch his pitiful hoard, scattering fries over acres of beach. Watch him slink back to his car, fryless and slimed with seagull poop.  Seagulls poop most copiously when excited by the sight of food in ballistic flight.  It's Pavlovian.

Welcome as the sweet winter season may be, we the real Floridians will come to long for April and May, when once again the Snowbird tide will ebb, and life will return to that long lazy simmer.

And so it goes.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Hold the Green Stuff

A close family member who shall remain nameless is a dedicated fan of Hooters - the restaurant, that is. He says they make great wings. Apparently he has not noticed that the winsome lasses who serve the wings wear very little in the way of clothing. He and his darling and longsuffering bride brought us to Hooters during our recent visit to Connecticut and, by Jesus, the wings were good!

Hooters Girls are a curious breed. I'm pretty sure they are all freshly minted in the back room before each shift, faces and uniforms sprayed on using the signature Hooters template. A few ounces of paint go a long way. The effect is like grinning Stepford wives with cleavage. Lots of cleavage.

When you order Hooters' Tater Tots appetizer . . . yeah, I know, but just ASSUME you were to order Tater Tots . . . they arrive garnished with slices of green onion. Personally, I like green onions, but my host for the night eschews vegetables in any form. Especially if they are crunchy. (This has been true since he was a little boy.) So he always asks for his Tater Tots with no onions. The problem is Tater Tots don't come with green onions. Right there on the menu, if you look closely, it says Tater Tots are garnished with chives. There's a picture.

But my host has been here before and he knows his green onions.So he orders his Tater Tots without green onions.

"I'm sorry, sir, they don't come with green onions. They come with chives."

"But I've had them before, and those are green onions. I don't like green stuff."

"Oh, no, sir. See the picture? Those are chives."

Wait for it - - -

"You'll have to have your Tater Tots without chives."

Since then, my host has compromised on "no green stuff," adroitly sidestepping the chive debate. If it were me, I'd stick to my guns just for the entertainment value. The Tater Tots were pretty good, by the way.

But they need chives.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sell the Sand

A highlight of our Connecticut visit last month was the vegetables. Yellow corn, with kernels so fat they pop noisily when you bite them. And honest-to-God tomatoes, heavy ripe tomatoes that squirt juice down your shirt when you bite into one. Tomatoes that taste so sweet and acidy and tomatoey that your mouth aches with the pleasure of it.

You would think that the miraculous Florida sunshine would favor brilliant red-fleshed tomatoes the way it produces brilliant red-fleshed tourists. You would think it, but you would be wrong: Florida tomatoes suck. In fact, scientists have recently proven that all the Florida tomatoes sold at Publix are carved out of styrofoam and painted red.

So how can Connecticut, with its long, crappy winters and puny growing season, do with tomatoes what Florida can't? Answer: Connecticut has the one essential that Florida lacks: soil. Florida has no soil whatsoever. It has sand. No offense intended to Florida or to sand. Sand really dresses up Clearwater Beach, for instance, but you wouldn't want to grow anything in it.

My thought is that Florida could harvest the deep sand off all its tomato farms and export it to Singapore, which happens to be the world's largest importer of sand. Singapore is building a bigger Singapore out of sand. (Good luck with that, by the way.) With the money Florida makes selling sand, it could go up to Connecticut and buy soil - black, loamy topsoil with earthworms and other living things in it. Then Florida could build real farms by spreading the soil around where all the sand came from.

And grow tomatoes in it.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Damn the Scenery, Full Speed Ahead

In another life, I congregated with various automobile enthusiasts and similarly disreputable people.  After I bought a BMW M3 early in the millennium - I was, after all, a lawyer - I joined with like-minded individuals in the BMW Car Club of America (Connecticut Valley Chapter) and found them a great deal less, um, you know, than I expected.  A bunch of them even became friends (perhaps until they read this....)

So here's a picture of the car, taken during the irresponsible behavior described herein:
                (Photo credit Xtreme Sports Photography  No Commercial Use Allowed)

Anyway, the M3 is a very special car, even eight years later, and I still love to drive it fast whenever I can. I recently had a chance to flail away at some outstanding roads in Tennessee and North Carolina.  Here is the story of that ride, written from the perspective of the adrenalin junkie that lies within, for the benefit of some special adrenalin junkies that I left behind in Connecticut. I guess that makes the rest of you adrenalin voyeurs. Welcome to an especially peculiar corner of my world.
It was high summer in sweltering Tampa Bay, so what to do?  Drive Judy’s Accord for two miserable days up I-95 to mooch off unsuspecting Connecticut relatives? Or take five days motoring up the Appalachian Mountains in the old M3? Oh, wait! I retired specifically so I could do this. Mooch off relatives, I mean. And drive the M3 to unsuspecting places.

I changed the oil and kicked the tires, and we lit out on a soggy July Monday morning, northbound on I-75 as far as mid-Georgia, where the real road trip commenced. We meandered around the North Carolina outback until we fetched up against the village of Deal’s Gap, which by no great coincidence is where the Tail of the Dragon begins. If you don’t know the name “Tail of the Dragon,” shame; stop reading now and spend an hour on Google. Short version: 318 hairpin turns in 11 miles of well-maintained pavement. Yee-hah!

As best we could tell, there is precisely nothing in Deal’s Gap, North Carolina but the southern terminus of the T/D and about 500 motorcycles doing burnouts in the local iron-monger’s parking lot. We cinched down on the luggage and assumed the position.

Reputedly, the local constabulary surveils the Tail of the Dragon via radar and the like, but it quickly became apparent that simple word-of-mouth would make surreptitious surveillance supremely unsuccessful. Boldly we proceeded, and at a spritely pace.

As a practical matter, the Tail of the Dragon is so thoroughly corkscrewed that exceeding the 30-35 mph speed limit* is not easy to accomplish, except maybe on the short straights that knit the corners together. The road is well-banked, even on left turns. That’s a good thing because rule number one is DO NOT cross the double-yellow. This sweet road goes both ways, and more than once we found ourselves in mid-hairpin, suddenly face to face with an oncoming biker dragging his knee into the same blind turn, separated from us by only those sacred yellow lines.
* Okay, I'm a little fuzzy on the exact speed limit because I was too busy breaking it to take notes. But it was somewhere in this ballpark.
Did I mention that the entire T/D is completely public? It forms a colorful and hair-raising part of US 129 between North Carolina and Tennessee. There are civilians out there. Bewildered civilians.

Despite the ranks of bikes at Deal’s Gap, the Tail of the Dragon itself was not crowded. Numerous turnouts allow slower traffic to get the hell out of the way, and most users readily comply. Especially the bewildered ones. Rarely was our ride impeded for more than a few hundred yards.

Squealing tires and loaded suspensions were the order of the day. Think “11-mile autocross” with soft, deep shoulders. And trees, lots of trees. Nothing focuses the mind like soft, deep shoulders and lots of trees.

                (Photo credit Xtreme Sports Photography  No Commercial Use Allowed)

Footnote:  Some details that the car nuts in Connecticut will notice in the two photos above other, saner folk might miss. For instance, in the photo at the top of this article, there is a pair of fuzzy dice in the windshield. A gift from my daughter - get over it. But you might notice that the dice are hanging at a peculiar angle. That's because the car was engaged in an epic right turn when the picture was snapped. The windshield glare hides the driver - that would be your humble scribe - grinning maniacally. Only the dice are left to tell the tale. In the second picture, notice that the right rear tire is barely in contact with the ground.That's about as hard as this car will corner with street tires. Okay, end of footnote.
After slaying the dragon (as it says on the T-shirts), we holed up in Gatlinburg for the night to let the adrenalin subside.

Now, the Tail of the Dragon is a wonderful road for removing excess rubber from your tires, but it doesn’t really get you any closer to Connecticut. For that, you'll need the Blue Ridge Parkway. The BRP begins just up the road a piece from Gatlinburg, in Cherokee, TN. Like a long, laid-back version of the Tail of the Dragon, the BRP snakes along the eastern continental divide for 469 eye-popping miles to Front Royal, VA. Scenery like none other in the U.S. competes for the driver’s attention with what may be the longest pure driver’s road in the country. Yee-hah!

Oh, I already said that. Sorry.  Anyway, there are stunning vistas everywhere, most of which the driver never sees because he’s busy calculating the best approach to the next curve. Judy tells me it was lovely.

Spend a few days in the Carolina mountains and you begin y’all-ing this and y’all-ing that, just like the local folk. We stopped somewhere near Buck Creek Gap one day for lunch and some unsweetened iced tea.

“Y’all ain’t from here, are y’all?” speculated the young lady with the order pad.

“Um, no. Why?” 

“Honey, we don’t say ‘iced tea’; we say ‘sweet tea.’”

“But we wanted UNsweet tea.”

“Rahht,” she purred, “that’ll be two unsweet sweet teas for y’all.”

We enjoyed the people as much – well, almost as much – as the roads and, as I understand it, the views.

A number – a really small number - of B&B’s, gas stops and other, generally simple accommodations lie just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, but the parkway itself is unspoiled along its entire length; if you want T-shirt shops, billboards and Days Inns, you’ll need to avail yourself of I-95, located a million miles east of the Appalachians. We don’t recommend it.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Praying About Dogs

Despite not owning a pet, I live in the "pet section" here in Sugar Creek Mobile Home Park.  Owners in this section are allowed to have dogs - little dogs, that is.  On leashes.

Now I don't mind that these little dogs pee on my mailbox post and poop on my lawn near the sidewalk.  But lately, little dogs have been leading their owners into my side yard and up to my front windows where they proceed with their doggie business.

So yesterday, I'm sitting in my lanai - yeah, that one - when an owner follows his dog up to the window next to my La-Z-Boy.  The dog poops; the owner scoops and scoots.  "God," I pray quietly, "damn them!"

To my considerable surprise, there's a peal of thunder, and a biblical Voice booms, "WHY?"  Oh, crap!  It's God.

Me (after gathering my wits):  Whaddaya mean, 'Why?'  That little dog was way up on my lawn.

God:  Little dog?  Is it cute?

Me:  I suppose, but . . .

God:  Wait, cute dogs are the Wife's department.

Me:  What?  I didn't know . . .

Mrs. God:  What's the matter, dear?

Me:  Um, it's that little dog walking away from my place.  He just . . .

Mrs. God:  Oh, isn't he cute!

Me:  Cute or not, the little darling just pooped under my front window!

Mrs. God:  Oh, We didn't know that.  I don't do poop; that's My Husband's responsibility.  Dear?

God:  What now?

Me:  That little dog just pooped on my lawn.

God:  Well, why didn't you say so in the first place?  Are We supposed to know everything?

Me:  Actually . . .

God:  Don't get smart with Me, boy.  It's not always easy to keep up.

Me:  Sorry.  But can You just send that little dog and his owner somewhere besides my lawn.  Maybe somewhere warmer?

God:  Dogs don't go there.

Me:  But owners do, right?

God (sighing):  All too often, boy, all too often.  We had to add a special wing down there.  Do you know what brimstone costs at Hell Depot?

Me:  So that settles it?

Mrs. God:  If We do that, who will take care of that cute little puppy?

Me:  Oh, I didn't know You were still there.

God (interrupting):  Do You want another puppy, Pumpkin?

Mrs. God:  Oooh!

God:   All right, that does it.  But You have to walk him, Sweetie.

Mrs. God:  Luckily, We don't live in a trailer park. 

At that point, the little dog and his owner disappeared around the corner.  I haven't see them since.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

My Deadbeating Heart

I love what Mayo Clinic did last year for my syncopated heart.  Every morning now I wake up to that sweet lub-dubbing that says that this day will be a pretty good one.  Cardiac electrophysiology (gosh, I love saying that I have a cardiac electrophysiologist on call) is Mayo's strong suit.  Billing accuracy, not so much so.  (Gosh, I hate the coolly ubiquitous phrase "not so much."  This linguistic bastard is one word short of idiomatic English.)  But I digress.  (I had a perpetually frustrated mentor once who erupted into foaming incoherence whenever he caught me indulging in parenthetical commentary.  Sorry, John.)

Anyway, I have this great health insurance plan that pays for everything after I surpass a near-astronomical yearly out-of-pocket maximum.  Since my darling Judy is a conspicuous consumer of all things medical, we routinely exceed that threshold before St. Swithin's Day each year.  Accordingly, when Mayo worked its electrophysiological magic on December 27-28 last, the entire -- wait for it -- $75,000 was covered.   So I thought.

Mayo thinks I still owe it about six grand.  That in itself is enough to pump a few extra lub-dubs into my personal mix.  God help me, I have entered into that twilight menage-a-trois that exists at the unhappy intersection of me, my insurance company and my hospital.

Once a week at dinnertime, "Gladys" phones me from Mayo, calls me a deadbeat, and demands that I pay up or return all those rhythmical cardiac contractions that so brighten my mornings.  This nearly always pisses me off.

Rushing to my aid, Ironically enough, are those annoying HIPPA laws -- the ones that generate all those moronic forms you have to sign before a doctor will unsheathe his stethoscope.  You see, before Gladys can talk to me about my specific consumption of medical services, she always has to ask for my date of birth.  Now, I am pretty sure that Gladys knows my DOB and does not need me to confirm that information.  So when I admit who I am but refuse to provide my DOB, Gladys is beyond flummoxed.  The balance of our conversation occurs only in some legal state of limbo, since Gladys cannot verify that someone with the same phone number as me is not for some nefarious reason pretending to be me.  You would think anyone nefarious enough to answer my phone could find out my DOB.

Why isn't my insurance company handling this? you might ask - - Lord knows, I have.  When I call the insurance company to inquire, I get "Lucille," who swears to me that I do not owe Mayo a thin dime and insists that I not pay them.  "Could you call Gladys," I ask, "and tell her that?"  That's where it gets dicey.

Now let's face it - "Gladys" and "Lucille" are made-up names for a couple of guys sitting in some third-world boiler room chewing khat or molesting small animals. For all I know, they sit in adjacent cubicles.   Whatever it is they are doing, however, seems to interfere with routine cerebration.  To confound matters even more, you can never talk to the same Gladys twice.  Calling to ask for Gladys or Lucille by name is a Marx Brothers exercise in runaway absurdity.  What's more, it should be obvious to even the casual observer that asking Gladys to phone Lucille raises the stakes to Laurel & Hardy levels.

Lest you were born in a pumpkin patch sometime in the past twenty-four hours, let me assure you that my current predicament is the norm and not the exception.  Someone still owes me $168 from the first time the kind folks at Mayo put their collective ear to my chest a couple years gone by.  Gladys swears that that someone is Lucille.

Lub-dub, lub-dub, etc.,


Monday, May 16, 2011

Lift Off Endeavor

Hurray and huzzah for the launch of the second-to-last Space Shuttle, which is the last launch for Endeavor and the second second-to-last launch after NASA decided that the last last launch would not in fact be last.  If the last second-to-last launch is any indication, this will not be the last second-to-last launch at all.  We will need to wait several months, I think, after the last launch to be sure that that launch is not also the second-to-last launch.

With apologies,


Saturday, May 7, 2011


Florida has nothing if not critters.  Alligators, of course - splashy, fun and pretty good diced, battered and fried.  I wasn't in the state but a short time before I fetched up against the Palmetto Bug crisis of 2009.  Like any self-respecting Northerner, I took this personally.

Then came the wretched armadillos.  I'm not even getting into the love-bugs fornicating on the grille of my Honda because by now I am a resigned Southerner.  But of late there has descended upon Castle Newton a plague of rodents the likes of which has not been seen since the Middle Ages.  I check myself daily for buboes.

It's not just the mouse, for what man's hickory-dickery castle has not had the odd mouse lurking?  A chocolate-shot-looking turd here; another there.  I set one of those fancy plastic better-mousetraps that promises to shield your sensitive eye from the putative corpse-to-be.  The mouse left it baitless and forlorn three consecutive nights.  Four bucks wasted.  Not to mention several dollops of peanut butter.  Conventional traps, HAH!  I even filed down the trigger on one of those spring traps so it fired off if I so much as farted in the general vicinity.  No mouse.  No peanut butter either.

Glue traps?  Forget it.  My exterminator-- yeah, Floridians have exterminators like Northerners have snow shovels -- gave me a big commercial glue trap, which stunk like hell and trapped only a thick carpet of those tiny winged no-see-um gnats that are the state bird of Florida.  I folded another glue trap into a hollow box-like affair (insert Tab A into Slot B) with the glue inside, and I slathered it with yet more peanut butter.  The Skippy folks have sent me a nice thank-you note.   My mouse crapped on top of the box.

Last week, something started gnawing on my air conditioning duct. It only comes out at night.  Could be a rat or a possum or an overachieving chipmunk.  I tucked three large traps -- one dangerous looking spring-loaded affair and two big glue traps -- into my duct-work.  That was three days ago.  The peanut butter/cheese bait has gone bad.

And I have already whined enough about the squirrels.  Today I bought a medium Hav-a-Hart contraption, baited it with breakfast cereal (shredded wheat, miniatures, unsweetened) and set it out under the oak tree.  Screw the peanut butter; the critters don't care a whit about peanut butter. I sent the note back to Skippy. 

I keep sneaking over to the window to peek under the oak tree.


Monday, May 2, 2011


Dear God:

If You're out there and if You're listening, thank You.



Sunday, April 24, 2011

My Caulked-Up Lanai

In response to popular demand (OK, one guy with questionable judgment), I am pleased to present the long-promised photos of my completed lanai ("luh-NYE," rhymes with - uh -  nothing, really).  The caulking adventure took place about 30 inches above the painting on the wall.  Here's the view looking west:

And east:

And a detail shot of the dining area:

Yes, those are little ceramic birdies on the chairs.  And a hard-to-photograph shot of Judy's neon flamingo:

The neighbors are especially fond of that last one.

And the caulking job?  Well, the roof still leaks, but only during tornadoes.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Land of Steady But Foul Habits

If you follow this blog long enough you discover that I fritter away an inordinate amount of my life sitting outside Panera with coffee and a bagel, growing increasingly distraught at the human condition.  The human condition had its way with me again this week.

Like most states, Florida forbids smoking indoors at places of public accommodation.  Such as Panera.  But we're Republicans here, on average, so they can't stop outdoor smoking.  This morning, this perfectly reasonable-looking gent sat down at the neighboring sidewalk table and promptly fired up one of Fidel Castro's finest.  Jaysus!  The good side of this is that all the mosquitoes in Pinellas County have now departed for the Everglades where God meant them to reside.

Now it turns out, as I was packing up my bagel for a a strategic retreat, that the dude with the stogie was not quite the insensitive brute that I had silently labeled him.  If fact, when the lady on his upwind side whipped out her cell phone and launched into a diatribe about her ex's manifold inadequacies, the stogie-stoker rose in disgust and departed in a swirling blue cloud for his pickup truck, muttering obscenities.  I continued my retreat nevertheless while preparing a diatribe of my own.

The rule to take away from this interlude is that crude behavior can be loosely defined as any conduct that you yourself are not currently engaged in.  Like when you drive on the highway, and half the idiots on the road are going too fast and the other half are crawling along like snails on Valium.  I tell you, it's enough to ---

Wait, where are you going?


Monday, April 18, 2011

Stuck in the Vernacular

Hast thou ever noticed that if one writeth in the sacred language of the ancients as hast thy humble scribe in his past two missives, it quickly becometh impossible to breaketh out of the habit?  It's like a siilly tune that won't leave your head or like talking to an Englishman for a couple of hours, which leaves you tut-tutting, cheerio-ing and boiling your meat.  Blimey and forsooth!

Okay, I'm much better now.


Friday, April 8, 2011

The Last Book of Judith - The Waters Are Parted at Last

And it came to pass in the land of the trailer-dwellers that the new huffing beast fulfilled the prophesy.  But no praise was due the dissembling Lord Apria, for the Messenger who gave truth to the prophesy appeared to Judith and her Consort as in a dream and revealed that he was called "Bud" and was sent not by Apria but by its handmaiden, the vassal Praxair.

The Messenger Bud told how it came to be that Praxair was betrothed to Apria by a stock-swap merger and acquisition with protected voting rights.  Further it was revealed that Praxair had not yet learned the foul methods of Apria.  And the Consort upon hearing this news rent his clothing and prostrated himself before the Messenger and spake his regret for thinking the Messenger a sniveling bastard, for he was not.

Thus was the fair Judith delivered from evil and joy returned to her bedchamber.

And the Consort gave thanks, but further he shall not speak.


Monday, April 4, 2011

The Second Book of Judith

And a Messenger of the Lord Apria appeared at the appointed hour bearing a new huffing beast, as foretold by the Sarah the Liar.  But Judith and her faithful and long-suffering Consort did observe that the new beast bore a strong resemblance to the old vomiting beast and they raised a hue and cry to the Messenger, who thrice denied knowledge of any deceit.  But he was only the Messenger, so they did not slay him.

And verily the new huffing beast spewed waters into Judith's nose just as did the old, and the fair Judith continued to castigate her Consort and anyone else within 40 cubits, for she had not slept in peace lo these many fortnights and had become cranky and morose.

So the Consort called upon the Angel Jon the Ambiguous, to whom the Demon Sarah owed allegiance and her weekly wage, and castigated him as he had been castigated.  And the Consort, innocent of the ways of the world, was amazed to hear Jon the Ambiguous blame the Messenger.  And the Consort knew he should have slew the Messenger.

But Jon spake a new covenant, that there shall appear in thy bedroom this very night yet another huffing beast with magical powers to calm the rage in Judith's heart and part the waters in her snoot.  And the Consort was skeptical at last.  But though he scenteth the sweet vapors of bullshit once again, he relented, and - Shazam! - the new huffing beast did arrive as foretold yet again.  And the Consort taketh the opportunity to castigate the Messenger upon his wondrous return. 

But the new beast bore no common countenance with the old vomiting beasts, so he hoped that it was good. And the Consort dwelt in the house of apprehension and frustration lest the night cometh and all hope be dashed upon the jagged rocks of eternal celibacy.  And he prostrated himself in thanks before the Lord Malted Barley for the ale locked safely in his larder.

The Consort

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Book of Judith and the Demon Sarah

From the time of the last millennium, the fair Judith was beholden to the great pulmonologist Bimalin, who prescribeth a huffing beast to sleep by Judith's side each night.  And the huffing beast guardeth her and  pumpeth the very air into her lungs to defeat the evil scourge known as Apnea.  And the Lord Insurer, who vouches to hold harmless its loyal though disgruntled subjects, saw that it was good.

After many years, the huffing beast grew weary and, after a brief illness, went to rest forever in the arms of the Lord Recycler.  And, lo, it was the custom in those times that the Lord Insurer made his vassal Apria to assign a new huffing beast to battle the scourge, and Apria reaped a vast empire of wealth from the purses of the Lord and of Judith and Judith's Consort.  But though the new beast huffeth and puffeth, its air was of the desert and caused Judith's tongue to swell and thrash in desiccated agony.  And Apria said, "Thou shalt have a humid-maker for thy huffing beast, and the Lord and thy Consort shall pay through the nose for it," for they had exceeded the Lord Insurer's policy limits for durable medical equipment.

Soon, the prophesy of Apria came to pass and, alas, the humid-maker made the sea to flow into Judith's nose, and she awakened each night amidst much snorting and foofaraw, and Judith's Consort came to know misery and suffering.  And Judith spaketh thus, "The huffing beast maketh my soul to drown and castest me into the waters of the damned.  Maketh this Apria son of a bitch to fix this huffing beast or thou shall not lie with woman."  Never has man seen such fury, and he was gravely vexed by his return to a state of chastity.

Judith and her Consort visited the Angel Rob, whose trade was to tame the huffing beast but who was not the vassal of Apria, and Rob interveneth on Judith's behalf, saying to Apria's sales-vassal, "Thou shalt not sell huffing beasts in my province without thou release the damsel Judith from her torment."  And the sales-vassal vowed that it would be done.

But the sales-vassal was a lying bastard and he sent the Demon Sarah, who donned the fleece of the weasel whose name was Customer Service.  And the Demon Sarah spake unto Judith that the waters in the nose would ceaseth with the dawning of Summer, for the humid-maker vomited water only in Winter.  And Judith spake, "Hast thou taken leave of thy senses?  This be Florida, thou condescending ass."  And she spake the name of the Lord, but she spake in vain, and Judith's torment prevailed for long nights.  Long chaste nights at that.

After some days, the Angel Rob burned the sales-vassal at a stake and made him to dispatch the Demon Sarah once again.  And Sarah again spake soothing words, not, however, to the drowned Judith but to her suffering Consort, who longed for the pleasure of Judith's charms.  And the Consort saw that it was bullshit and spaketh so to Sarah.  But Sarah did not relent readily and she called forth the Virtues Patience and Perseverance and some other stuff that the Consort in his rage could not long remember.  And the Consort spake at length about those who begat the Demon Sarah and about her knowledge of dogs, and thus was the Demon Sarah scandalized.  And the Consort held her fast in his goodness and fury, though she writhed and gnashed her fearsome teeth, until she was defeated.

Thus conquered, the Demon Sarah pretended to be the Angel Sarah, who vouchsafed that she would "to be honest with thou," and she revealed that the Lord's vassal Apria was lying through its rotted teeth and indeed sat upon the right hand of Satan.  For the huffing beast harbored a secret which Sarah spake to be a "known problem," and it would be made good under the writings of the Lord Warranty.

And thus the angelic Demon Sarah prophesied the appearance of a new and improved huffing beast with no known problems.  Tomorrow between 3 and 5 p.m.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Another Thing You Don't Often See in the North

The Florida legislature gathers altogether too often in Tallahassee to consider new ways to deviate from the mean.  A debate is raging there today, as it has for the past three years, over whether to outlaw sex with animals.  It took the unfortunate death by accidental strangulation of a sweet young goat named Meg to bring this issue to light.

I swear I am not making this up.

I suppose I should say something clever, like how the supporters of sex with critters are being led by Meg's husband, Billy Joe Jim-Bob, but that would be wrong.

God, how my muse loves this place.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Snowbirds, Rednecks and Crackers - An Appreciation

Despite wave after frantic wave of snowbirds, Florida remains, at its heart, a southern institution.  If you think not, consider a locally bottled beer that says it is "like a California pale ale, except made in America."  I wish I'd thought of that line.

You can tell how far south you are by the local expression for "you" (plural).  If you live in the North, you say "you," and southerners are folks who say "you all."  If you all say "you all," southerners are folks who say "y'all."  And if y'all say "y'all," southerners are folks who say "all y'all."  Real native Floridians are few, but they all say "all y'all."  If all y'all are real native Floridians, however, southerners are those who say "all y'all" while barefoot.

Motorcyclists who get old and retreat to Florida promptly buy 3-wheel bikes.  Old farts on tricycles are more common down here than old farts in new Corvettes, although not by much.  I saw a Harley-Davidson the other day that looked like a 3-wheeler.  Well, it happens, embarrassingly enough, that Harley does make such a bastard machine.  But this guy had modified his 2-wheeler by adding a pair of outrigger wheels.  Yup, training wheels on an H-D. I was embarrassed for him.

Speaking of embarrassed, I've always wanted to crawl into a hole when members of my supposed profession trumpet how great they are.  One of the far-too-many such legal clowns down here - we'll call him "Peter Ticktin ," because that's his name - calls his website ""  You could look it up

Hereabouts, there is a hybrid retail industry that combines the ubiquitous gun shop with the ubiquitous pawn shop.  I'm trying to think of something to say about this that won't piss off the wrong people.  That probably wasn't it.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Writing Through Tears

I meant to compose a light romp through the vagaries of Florida life based on some curious things I have seen here lately.  But as I checked into the Internet, I clicked again on the news and again got caught up in the hundreds of images of devastation in Japan.  As much as I would like to get back to my carefree lifestyle here in my dotage, I just can't look away from the painful pictures.  Today's estimates of 10,000 dead must be pitifully low. 

In other news on the same website, this headline: "Users complain iPhone clock bungles time change."



Saturday, February 26, 2011

Tinkling on My Lanai

Despite temps in the low 80's and balmy breezes off the Gulf, despite my indolent lifestyle and occasional over-indulgence in just about everything, this Florida retirement gig is not all it's cracked up to be.  You should understand, for instance, that as I sit here on my new lanai, slaving over a hot keyboard, the vicious Florida sun is shining in my eyes.  Really, it's hard to make out the screen.  But I persevere, mostly as an exercise in persistence.

Here are a couple of Florida facts that will warm the toes of northerners who just got whacked with another half-foot of white and sparkly.  First off, my lanai is under a live oak tree.  No, not the opposite of dead oak, but a nasty species of oak that seemes eternally confounded by the fine weather.  Northern oaks know enough to shed their leaves in the fall with a thud, so you can rake them and haul them away in a single outing.  Maybe two.  Okay, red oaks, maybe a little cleanup in the spring.  Still, that's a civilized way to run a forest.

The flummoxed oak in what I jokingly refer to as my front yard tinkles leaves constantly, all year.  Or close enough.  They tinkle on my roof, the roof of my new lanai.  My lanai where I celebrate my indolence with a cold glass and keep sunglasses handy.  Tinkle.  Tinkle.

The roof of my lanai, like everything else on the property, is made of aluminum, except of course for the wide expanses of bathtub caulk that hold the place together.  If you have not heard oak leaves tinkling on aluminum, then you have no firm grip on the concept of annoyance.

To say nothing of acorn season, which lasts six months.  Acorns don't tinkle on aluminum.  They clang like Big Ben on Ritalin.  Do you know how many acorns fall from a good-sized live oak in heat?  I do.

The oak trees are not the only airborne threat to my peace.  My aluminum-clad lanai provides a runway for rutting squirrels taking off and landing.  Squirrels, like oak trees, are in rut all year long.  A bonding pair of half-pound squirrels hustling over aluminum can be deafening. Like living in a giant squirrel-powered snare drum.

My father-in-law down the street came back from the war (The Big One, W-W-I-I), with a small arsenal of portable weapons of localized destruction.  I know where he keeps them.  Push me hard enough, damn squirrels, and I might just start blazing away. 

So, Gentle Reader, before you move to Tampa Bay, mull over the cacophony you might face on your lanai.  Tinkling and clanging and snare-drumming, I must tell you, are crappy conductors of indolence.  And then there's the possibility of a rain of shell casings pinging off the roof.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Risen from the Ashes

OK, the bleeding has stopped, and I'm out of bathtub caulk.  Siding on the front porch (say "luh-NYE") is up, the wiring done.  OK, twice on that last:  I put a nail through a wire the first time and blew a fuse, but that was just one of those random things that even we experts sometimes encounter.  Furniture is purchased and placed.  Anticipating unprecedented public demand, I'll post pictures as soon as the artwork is done. (Betsi Burgess, where ARE you?)

So, what's wrong with this picture?  I can't even entertain on the lanai this week.  Why?  Because my 9-year-old granddaughter Katy insists on sleeping out there on an inflatable bed.  Sweet.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Where Were You When I Needed You?

Today's mail brought the glossy, 60-page Graduate Report published periodically by my favorite law school and alma mater.  My classmates are pictured running for governor and guiding major international corporations.  I am delighted to report that I, too, made the cut.

For 20-odd years I have waited with patience and humility for UConn to take note of my many legal triumphs.  I mean, I once wrote a riveting brief arguing that the U.S. Constitution does not prohibit the state from monopolizing the garbage industry.  Few cared.  Another time I engaged in extended one-on-one colloquy with the Chief Justice of the State of Connecticut trying to persuade her that the word "environmental" includes matters historical.  Did anyone notice?  Hell, no.  It's not my fault she didn't buy the argument.  Although I did get a nice footnote in the decision.

I thought someone would flag my ground-breaking interlocutory (deal with it: I'm taking to lawyers here) appeal to the Supreme Court that took unblushing advantage of the fact that the sitting Chief Justice and his second in command were both disqualified from the case at hand.  Nope.  Damn.

Okay, I'm being unnecessarily modest here, because I did once have a judge stop me in a courthouse hallway to tell me that the job I did on a trial was, in his words, "somewhat adequate."  I asked him to put that in writing, but he just wandered off.  You'll have to take my word for it.

So, as you see, I spent my legal career in genteel obscurity, pleasing a few unusually discerning clients and generally avoiding malpractice suits and disbarment and the like.  Eventually, professional stardom having eluded me, I bailed out of Connecticut for sunnier climes, here to pursue important matters -  my bridge game, driving aimlessly around the lovely countryside, and searching Tampa Bay for a decent glass of beer.  That sort of thing.  I have accomplished much in these endeavors, I might add.  

But wait, there's more!  Just when I thought I would live out my remaining days in blissful irrelevance,  there I am on page 50 of the latest Graduate Report, with name spelled correctly and all.  Right there in the same pages where an earlier graduate gets the library named after him and another becomes the chief legal bottle-washer at Wesleyan University.  Heady company indeed.

Which of my numerous achievements, you may ask, so grabbed the imagination of the university that it thrust me onto this illustrious stage?  How does one become famous enough to make the grade?  It's not easy, my friends.  I did it the hard way.  I am honored to accept the University of Connecticut's recognition of this crowning achievement.

No, really, THIS crowning achievement.  This blog, Eye of Newt.  No doubt, the editors of the estimable Graduate Report have concluded that I am unlikely to do anything more significant than this, so it's best perhaps to recognize me now and be done with it.  Anyway, Eye of Newt will live on in perpetuity, rules against such notwithstanding.  (Another crummy lawyer joke - sorry.)

Lesser persons would celebrate by booking passage to Disneyland, but I instead scrambled to make sure my old articles had no egregious spelling or grammatical errors.  I thought of deleting the trailer park articles and that unfortunate bit about the palmetto bug.  But, no, I am who I am, and my erstwhile peers will just have to take me the way I am.

In closing, I would like to take this opportunity to ask all who noticed me in the Graduate Report to send me a dollar or two.  If everyone did that, I could probably spruce up this blog a little.  Social Security really isn't what it's cracked up to be. 


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

On Becoming Illiterate

It was 77 degrees Fahrenheit here today, and I planned to make my family and friends in Connecticut (where it's about 7F) aware of that fact.  But then the tornado watch hit the national news, and I thought that might spoil the effect.

Still being a bit of a newby here, I scouted out convenient storm shelters and found none.  I thought maybe a basement somewhere, but this is Florida, the Land of No Basements.  That's because the water table lies only three inches below the surface.  Golfers complain because divots fill with water faster than they can be repaired, and sand traps have to be elevated.

I went to the library to find a book to read in the shelter, should I find a shelter, and discovered with some consternation that I am becoming illiterate.  I, who grew up reading the Hardy Boys and Lucky Starr & the Moons of Jupiter (written pseudonymously by Isaac Asimov), was unable to find a book I could read.

Admittedly, I only looked in the "new books" section, but I get to the library often enough that new books ought to be sufficient.  Except it wasn't.  For the first time in recorded memory, I came away empty-handed.  Bookless.  Illiterate in fact if not in theory.

The library's new books included hundreds of volumes, all involving vampires.  I found Blood Lies and The Vampire Rides at Midnight and Vampires Paint the Town Red.  I pulled a book promisingly titled The Betrayal, but it began, "She didn't recall when she began to hate werewolves."   (There may be some fine distinction between vampires and werewolves, but does it matter?)  A biography of Tom
Hanks begins with his death. 

I think the dearth of decent books is Ronald Reagan's fault.  When he told Mr. Gorbachev to "tear down this wall," he unwittingly destroyed an entire genre of Cold War thrillers.  (Some argue that he did a lot of things unwittingly.  Not to be confused with half-wittedly, which seems to describe recent presidential history.  Okay, enough of that.)

Anyway, as a result of some dubious unfettering of most of eastern Europe, thriller writers are lately consigned to writing the same book over and over.  To wit: Stuart Woods just wrote the 14th volume in the Stone Barrington series.  Fourteen!  Will & Ariel Durant's Story of Civilization required only eleven.  I like Woods, but I stopped reading somewhere around volume 6.  Tom Clancy wrote the classic Hunt for Red October and has since written nothing readable.  In fact, he now rents out his name to others who write drivel that would embarrass Danielle Steele.


So I may as well be illiterate for all the good it does to drive to the library.  If I find a storm shelter before the big blow levels Tampa, I will have nothing to read.  Pity.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Triumph of Uncle Bud

If you haven't been reading the past few posts, this will make little sense.  Serves you right.  Synopsis to date: in remodeling the lanai, I discovered a leak in the roof..  Preparing to install a patch, I learned that dear, departed Uncle Bud had slathered the area in question with bathtub caulk.  Uncle Bud slathered everything in B.C., probably including his breakfast toast.  A dear man, really.  So you shouldn't take my obscene outbursts too seriously.  I have done some genealogy in the past, so I know - in some intellectual sense - that Uncle Bud did indeed have a father.

I dynamited all the old caulk off and patched and applied a bit of  fresh caulking compound according to enlightened roofing protocol.  Blood flowed.

It rained yesterday,  The freaking roof still leaks, albeit not so aggressively.

So I climbed back up and slathered an entire tube of B.C. over the patch.  Screw it.

Bud, you were right.  Rest in vindicated peace.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Blood on My Hands

The leaky roof is plugged.  I think.  I cleaned the surface until I got tired, cranky and bloody, then slapped on a coat of exterior primer paint.  "Dries in an hour."  Fat chance.

But that's over.  I peeled and stuck the Peel & Seal, but in much smaller pieces than I had planned.  That's because a nice flat sheet of very sticky roofing stuff does not fit very well into the joint where the roof goes ^ and the side of  the house goes |. Kind of like trying to wallpaper the inside of a basketball.  So I chopped the stuff into wedges and jammed them into the parts that go < and > and ~.

 Then, taking my cue from good ol' Uncle Bud, I squirted bathtub caulk all over the whole mess and went inside for a beer.

A couple of years ago I was shopping in some auto parts mega-store, and they were practically giving away hand cleaner.  (Stay with me; I'll link this up in a minute.)  So I bought a couple of buckets of GoJo Cherry goop with Pumice.  I knew that someday I would need to get a whole lot of bathtub caulk off my hands.  (See how neatly that links up?)   I want to focus on the word "Cherry."  The stuff is red - blood red - and smells like King Kong poop after a three-day cherry binge.  I rubbed it on my caulky hands anyway.

GoJo Cherry doesn't actually remove bathtub caulk from anything.  It just moves it around into a thin film of poopy goop - waterproof poopy goop that lasts forever.  Plus, my hands were now covered in pseudo-blood.  Very convincing pseudo-blood.  No matter how much you rinse, some goop and some pseudo-blood always remain.  Think Lady Macbeth.

None of this was much of a problem until I wiped my hands on one of my wife's clean towels.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Handyman Rides the Roof

Unlike unmown grass or  low tire pressure or even the curse of dandruff, a leaky roof cannot be ignored for long.  Especially when you're decorating the space under the leak.  Especially when family is visiting in three weeks.  Specifically, your wife's brother's family.  So onto the roof I did climb this afternoon.  I discovered that Uncle Bud had set the modern-day record for abusing industrial-grade bathtub caulk.

I wasn't originally going to use hand tools for this nasty job, but after I humped the electric drill and wire brushes onto the roof, I learned that the electrons that were entering the extension cord down by the carport were not making it out the business end of the cord.  I looked for a bulge in the cord where they might be piling up, but gave up and attacked the job with box cutters and an old wood chisel.  The extension cord that I bought in 1974 had failed me.  I knew it wouldn't last.

It wasn't enough for Uncle Bud to caulk the bejesus out of the joint where the lanai joins the house, but he went and laid styrofoam over the caulk, then caulked over the whole mess. Like a petrified stack of plastic pancakes.  I know it's not nice to speak ill of the dead, but no host of angels would convict me: I just went off on poor Bud and hoped No One was listening.

Removing the old, dried and twisted ropes of caulk resulted in only one scrape on my hands.  Well, actually six, but only one of them is bleeding badly enough to require direct pressure.  Damn Coumadin.

Tomorrow I learn whether a roofing product called Peal & Seal actually works as advertised.  This is so going to bugger my Wednesday bridge game.


Monday, January 17, 2011

The Handyman

I have never earned my living with my hands.  We would have starved.  Now I am remodeling the lanai (northerners: that's Florida-speak for "porch").  I have always been able to wield a hammer equally well with either hand - badly, that is - slamming thumbs often but only occasionally striking nails even a glancing blow. I swear a lot.

If you haven't been following this blog with religious ferocity, you may not know that I bought a mobile home that once was owned by Judy's Uncle Bud.  Bud was a true believer in bathtub caulk - a regular vinyl acolyte.  Install enough bathtub caulk and you get 77 virgins when you move on.

Bud laid down thick ropes of vinyl everywhere. Every crack and joint in the place is securely plugged with once-pliable plastic goop.  So I was not terribly surprised when I went to strip the vent covers off the soffits on the lanai to see that each one was carefully sealed into place with caulking compound - so they wouldn't leak.  Uncle Bud, wherever you are now, these are VENTS: they are supposed to leak.  Old caulking is really, really difficult to scrape off.

I roughed out the wiring in preparation for installing a false wall to hold paneling and banged up a bunch of furring strips to hold up the panels.  I planned to lay in a stereo wire to a headphone jack so I could sit out there and listen to music while I napped.  But the Internet advised me that you can't just wire the output from your stereo to a headphone jack.  You need an attenuation circuit or else John Prine or Justin Townes Earle will produce enough raw current to blow your eardrums to hell.

In theory, an attenuation circuit is just a couple of resistors and switches that send excess electrons off to their ethereal reward.  Luckily, I hold an Advanced Class Amateur Radio License, which I earned back in the 1970s by sending Morse Code at 20 words per minute and knowing what resistors do.  I still cling fondly to the illusion that I know what I am doing.   But after 35 years, memory fades, technology moves on, and the guy at Radio Shack never heard of a resistor ("but we have a great sale on 4G cell phones").  Screw it - I'll run headphones from the jack on the amplifier and just string it around the door jamb.  Problem solved.

Today it rained.  Hard.  The freaking lanai roof leaks!  It didn't do that last time it rained.  The leak lines up perfectly with the electrical wiring I am installing behind the paneling.  Crap.  Visions of electrocution swirl through my conscience.

More later.  But this looks kind of grim.