Category Archives: Florida

The ATL for Yankees and Gator fans

Greetings to all Michigan Wolverines, Florida Gators,* folks who got on the wrong plane, and everybody else who’s bound for Atlanta and the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl! This is part of that delightful American holiday tradition where we celebrate with family, give to the needy, humbly honor the rituals of our faith, and resolve to be better people in the New Year, then scream ourselves into an aneurysm and throw bowls of clam dip at our brand-new mega-screen TVs when a “ref” decides a young man from Our School “didn’t get his foot down in bounds.”

I’m talking about college football bowl games, approximately 8,395 of which are played every year, including the aforesaid Peach Bowl, which pits the Universities of Michigan and Florida against each other (again!). As an Atlanta resident, a U-M grad, AND an official Florida Man with a home on the Panhandle, I am uniquely qualified to answer all the Important Questions for visiting fans! Like these here:

Q: Is the traffic in Atlanta as bad as everybody says?
A: That’s just fake news. It’s worse! Think Midtown Manhattan and I-94 in Detroit are hellish caverns of misery? Down here we have the Perimeter, which winds around the city like chicken wire, is under construction 24-7 / 365, and moves at the speed of a dying garden slug. If Sherman had taken the Perimeter during his march, he never would’ve made it to the sea; the South would have won the war while he was stuck at the exit to I-20 East. By all means avoid the conflation of interstates we call Spaghetti Junction, which also resembles a nest of rattlesnakes but isn’t as friendly.

Q: What is the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl?
A: First and foremost, it’s not to be confused with any of our myriad** “Peach” and “Peachtree” names and places. Buckle up and listen, ‘cause we got us a Peachtree Street, West Peachtree Street, Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, Peachtree Battle Avenue, Peachtree Corners, Peachtree Circle, Peachtree Plaza, Old Peachtree Road, Peachtree Millennial, Peachtree Pothole, and PTSD, Peachtree Stress Disorder. This game is also not to be confused with a playoff game but we already knew that!

Q: Where will the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl be played?
A: At Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Q: Why would anyone who drives a Mercedes-Benz eat at Chick-fil-A?
A: They got lost over on Peachtree and couldn’t find a Waffle House, though there’s one on every corner. Lest y’all think we get by on grits and hog parts, we also have restaurants where delectables like sustainable catfish, hakurei turnips, and evoo are on the menu.

Q: Huh?
A: “Evoo” stands for Extra Virgin Olive Oil. However, if I were a server and a customer told me to “hold the evoo,” I’d call the vice squad. And how is the catfish sustainable if you’re going to devour it?

Q: Are grits groceries?
A: Boy Howdy! If you don’t believe it, just ask Little Milton or maybe Wet Willie, who were from Macon, GA, not to be confused with Makin’ Whoopee down on Peachtree, or more likely on Piedmont Road. (Note: the patrons of this fine establishment aren’t actually “Gentlemen.”)


*Over the years there’s been a lot of chatter on sports-talk radio about how “Gator fans never call.” Since I never listen, I have no idea if this vague rumor is true. But using my regular standards of accuracy and integrity, I’m going to assume it is! So Gator guys and gals, please continue this practice and DON’T CALL ME to complain about this article, ask for directions etc.
**Greek, Middle French, and Late Latin for “godamighty, that’s a big ol’ mess of ‘em.”

Advertisements

Southern overexposure

A problem facing writers like myself is establishing an identity. It helps if one’s homeland conveys gravitas (which sounds cool even if it’s a buzzword) and by default plants you in the same ballpark with giants like William Faulkner and Eudora Welty. So by virtue of the fact that I’ve lived way down below the Mason-Dixon for a while, and have absolutely no shame about self-promotion, I hereby do proclaim my humble self a Southern Writer.

(Please don’t be put off by this topic. I know that writers who write about writing are sometimes way past running on fumes and in desperate need of a Literary Inspiration Tow Truck. But this post is a voyage of longing, self-discovery, and angst about my place on this earth, all of which are SOUTHERN to the core. Don’t click away!)

Lest y’all think it was easy, I will have you know I’ve struggled to adapt since I came down from Up Nawth. I no longer get weepy and misty-eyed from watching blizzards on the Weather Channel, and I’ve learned that a “Meat and three” is not a rock band. However, I still don’t know or care what a “restrictor plate” is, except that it’s not what they serve your meat and three* on at the meat and three. I sure haven’t morphed into one of those noxious noodniks who still haven’t figured out they lost the Civil War.

Lots of real-life stories have a Southern tinge, like the one in which a cat caused a lady to lose control of her pickup, which “traveled across the west bound lanes of Lafayette Street, onto the side walk and into a utility police.” And nowhere but the South would you hear about the amorous couple who used a fish farm as their lovers’ lane and ended up, uh, sleeping with the fishes.

Unfortunately, the phrase “Southern writer” still calls up an image of a man (why always a man?) in a Panama hat, white shirt, and suspenders, sitting on the veranda under a ceiling fan with a typewriter, a glass of hooch, and a cigar. This guy probably wrote Southern Gothic stuff, hilariously satirized by James Thurber in “Bateman Comes Home,” in which old Nate Birge sits “watching the moon come up lazily out of the old cemetery in which nine of his daughters were lying, only two of whom were dead.”

The New York Times recently posed the question, “What Is a Southern Writer, Anyway?”, pointing out that the genre is changing along with the region. As novelist Lee Smith put it, “It is damn hard to put a pipe-smoking granny or a pet possum into a novel these days and get away with it.”

Oh yeah? Well, one of my relations once had a cat named Possum and I’ve heard of another Southern gent who kept an alligator named Kittycat in the bathtub of his mobile home. So here’s the first sentence of my next book: “Grandma got drunk on Cousin Junior’s moonshine and threw her pipe at Possum but instead hit Kittycat, who jumped out of the tub and chased Grandma, who was nekkid, plumb out the door of her doublewide and all the way down Dead Confederate Mountain.” Am I Southern or what?

*Vegetables. Including fried okra, macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes, field peas, butter beans, cabbage, corn on the cob, creamed corn, green beans, turnip greens, fried green tomatoes, baked beans, Brunswick stew, potato salad, and onion rings.

Alternative Dave

“A top aide to President Trump said the new White House is using new metrics to assess the size of Trump’s inauguration:’ alternative facts‘” – USA TODAY, January 22, 2017.

In the spirit of bipartisanship and cooperation with our new president, I humbly offer these alternative facts about myself:

I possess a full head of striking blonde hair with nary a trace of grey. I also have the physique of a young god and a set of dazzling blue eyes that are often compared to those of the late Paul Newman.

I am a Pro Bowl tight end for the Super Bowl-bound Atlanta Falcons.

My short story “The Fourteenth Pelican,” shattered sales records and led Carl Hiaasen to quit writing fiction about Florida. “This guy’s too good. I’m done,” said he.

I’m the first man in history to climb Mount Everest naked. (Got to use that physique for something!)

I graduated from college in two years flat with an unprecedented quadruple major: nuclear physics, philosophy, sports writing, and music performance, with the focus on being the world’s first punk-rock oboist. I still have Johnny Rotten’s phone number.

No matter what you heard about Bob somebody winning the Nobel Prize for literature, I am the actual winner! I delivered my acceptance speech by streaming video from the driver’s seat of my BMW M3 GT2 while competing in the 24 hours of Le Mans, which of course I won, while setting a new course record of 21 hours.

I don’t like to brag. I’m a humble, reticent Midwesterner, reflecting my roots on the great prairie of Kalamazoo, Michigan, where I lived with my parents and eleven brothers and sisters.

As a boy, I could plow 100 acres in a single afternoon. With just my fingernails!

I usually know when to stop writing.

The armies of life

It’s nearly Labor Day and the dragonflies are back, zipping over the deck against a bright blue sky. Somewhere south in the Gulf of Mexico is a storm that might (1) give us some rain and wind, (2) miss us altogether, or (3) come ashore as a full-on hurricane that would send us running for the hills.

This kind of uncertainty isn’t fun, but it’s a pretty good metaphor for the life my wife and I have been leading for months now. Fifteen years after moving from Washington, DC to Atlanta, we decided to move again: to sell our house in the Atlanta burbs, buy a smaller one in Birmingham, Alabama, my wife’s hometown, and divide our time between there and the Florida panhandle where we are now.

Sounds like a snap, right? Seniors embracing change like youngsters, living life to the fullest,  being mobile and flexible, and all those other well-known ‘Murican buzzwords (sorry, I mean “values”).

Let me be very clear: I’m not complaining. I know we’re lucky we can manage this financially, and a lot of people would love to have our problems. But this much change takes effort, will, creative thinking, optimism, and plenty of energy, both physical and emotional. And we’re 15 years older than last time. It’s tough.

We started by clearing out our house and giving away many things we’d no longer need. Then we staged the house for sale, making it look like a model home where no one actually lived. I missed my big, comfy recliner in the den, which we turned into a Potemkin dining room. Then we moved out – which, due to mistakes and neglect by the people we hired to assist us, turned into a horrible last-minute scramble. We felt like we were being evicted from our longtime, much-loved home.

Next came the trying process of searching in a different city for a house that retains the good qualities of the old one – location, location, location, trees in the yard, and a living room suited for music. We found a place but are far from settled.

The new home and new city are good things. They’re things we wanted. Why does it all feel so hard, like perpetual PTSD?

A phrase keeps running through my mind, from Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” his elegy for Lincoln: “The living remain’d and suffer’d, the mother suffer’d, And the wife and the child and the musing comrade suffer’d, And the armies that remain’d suffer’d.”

I don’t know how much weight we’ve lifted, how many miles we’ve driven, or how many hotels we’ve slept in, usually badly. It’s not over. I still sometimes think I just can’t do this for one more day. It’s still tough.

What’s kept us going and will get us through to the end is each other. If you have any sense, you don’t go swimming in the ocean alone or head into the desert without loads of water, so you don’t attempt something physically and psychically earthshaking without a strong partner.

For 16 years and counting, we’ve been together until death do us part. Backaches, U-Haul trucks, hot and cold running contractors, and Matterhorns of boxes will not us part. Our possessions are scattered across three states, and our emotions at any given time are less predictable than that storm, but our hearts are still as one.

There’ll be a house with music and friends again. It’s not even officially ours yet but it already has love.

Frog follies part 2

Tadpole in water on pool cover.

One of our guests (blurred to protect identity – of photographer)

Coming back from a beach vacation is never pleasant, especially when you start wondering and worrying about what might’ve befallen the house while you were away. My wife and I got home from one blissful, relaxing Florida trip to find our A/C had conked during a sweltering June. Another time, a pinhole-sized leak in a pipe drenched the basement. This summer, the place stayed cool and dry. We just had a bumper crop of tadpoles in the backyard pool.

Yep, those frogs are after us again! Not content with swimming in the pool and serenading us every night, the nervy little critters commandeered the place as their personal Plato’s Retreat and maternity ward. I tell you, friends, if I weren’t such a placid, unflappable, Zen type of guy, I’d be going off on frogs like Newman on dogs: “They have no place living among us! Vile, useless creatures…”

Backyard pool with cover.

The frog farm

Of course, they’re not really useless; among other things, frogs eat mosquitoes, which at the moment are upon us like a Sharknado. The tads weren’t born in the pool itself either, since we’d left it covered, but were in the rainwater that collected on top.

When we first got home, the water seemed ALIVE! with them, probably dozens, wiggling their little tails and darting frantically all over the place. It reminded me of certain, uh, male anatomical scenes from one of those old sex-ed movies we watched in school. (I know, I’m dating myself again. Did I mention the movie was in black and white and was made on something called “film?”)

The population shrank considerably in the next few days, probably becoming a weekend brunch for the birds. I would’ve let the survivors hang around until they grew up, but when I did a little research to refresh my high-school biology, I found it might take 3-4 months, and I figured by that time they’d probably croak.* So this morning, I scooped the remaining taddies into a bucket of water and dropped them into a creek where they might have a chance. Did any of them bother to thank me? Humph.


*One benefit of being older is the freedom to employ bad, overused puns without irony or explanation. Got a problem with that, pilgrim?

Dragonfly days

Blue dragonflyAs long as you don’t have to go home, Saturday morning can be a great time in a beach town. That’s when all the rental places turn over, with the last batch of summer people checking out and the next crowd not arriving until afternoon. This gives us long-term beach bums some precious peace and quiet: no loud pool parties, amateur fireworks shows, golf carts buzzing up and down the streets, or Atlanta-like backups on the highway and in the grocery store.

You can set up your beach chairs wherever you please and walk the white sand without dodging boogie boards. Or you can take your coffee out on the screened porch if you’re lucky enough to have one, listen to the waves and the songbirds, and watch all the dragonflies that appeared in the last couple of days, this time of year being one of their peak seasons.

For me, and I suspect, a good many people my age, life seems a lot like one of these mornings, but not always in an idyllic way. I recently left one career behind, and though I’ve published a couple of short stories, my first novel and my career as a fiction writer are still at an early stage in the countdown. Other people may have children who’ve moved out, graduated, or gotten hitched, but aren’t having grandchildren yet.  And if you have aging parents, your life is always as uncertain as theirs.

Intellectually, I knew this would be a transition time. Emotionally, my attempts to “be here now,” as Ram Dass wrote, are up against the feeling that my life is in the fourth quarter (and sudden death doesn’t include overtime). My body isn’t helping, as it still wants a daily caffeine blast that could waken a dead volcano, and gets crabby when I try to do something important like reaching for a pillow  without getting out of my recliner.

But here by the sea, if you can just open up your senses, the natural, wild world becomes the best medicine. Walking the shoreline, it’s clear that the saying, “It’s never the same beach twice” is the truth, and the new, with long sandbars and higher waterlines, is as beautiful as the old. You realize what miracles those big* dragonflies are as they swoop around the houses and trees, magically hover for a split-second, then dart away.

At night, you go back to the porch and over a few weeks watch Venus and Jupiter move toward each other in the sky, appear for a moment to be almost joined, then pull away again. Things change, and we will too. We always have.

 

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

*How big are they? The other day, one touched down at Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, tanked up on jet fuel, and took off for Dallas before anybody figured out what it was. (That’s the kind of joke I’d usually save for a small child, but since none are around, y’all will have to do.)

 

Announcing…my first fiction!

pelican4_v2

Pelecanus occidentalis

As much as I love blogging, I’ve got another kind of writers’ itch that demands a scratch. And now…”The Fourteenth Pelican” is live and ready to read!

If you’re a fan of Carl Hiaasen, Tim Dorsey, or Garrison Keillor’s Guy Noir, you’ll like this short, tongue-in-cheek detective yarn. The hero is an intrepid (?) private eye named E. Z. Green who specializes in environmental cases. In this one, he’s trying to untangle the mystery of some slightly addled shorebirds and save the beautiful beaches of Florida’s Emerald Coast (or as some of you may know it, the Redneck Riviera).

Not since “The Maltese Falcon” has the detective genre witnessed such a gripping tale of lust, greed, and — ornithology!

I had a lot of fun writing this. I hope y’all enjoy reading it too.