My 600th Blog: Lat. 24 N./Long. 81 W.

[Ernest Hemingway’s typewriter. Located at the Hemingway House Museum, Key West, Florida. Photo is mine.]

Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be.

~~Ernest Hemingway

I am sitting in the air-conditioned Monroe Country Public Library (Key West Branch). It’s quiet, cool and has a WiFi that takes no prisoners. I chose this place to celebrate the posting of my 600th blog. (Confused? See Title.)

So I posted my first real blog on July 18, 2012. It was an excerpt from my first published novel Standing Stone (2012). I was totally unsure as to whether I had the energy and ability to write real content. In truth, only a year before I had very little idea what a “blog” was. I’m still learning. If my math is correct, that’s close to eleven years ago. I was sixty-four years old. When I’m sixty-four, I probably thought at the time, where will I be in eleven years from now? It wouldn’t be telling lies if I said that in my most dazzling dreams, I’d still be pounding on the keys of my laptop (actually, today I’m using my iPad) and trying hard to amuse and inform and entertain. Time will tell if I’ve succeeded.

What follows is a short list of the various places and topics I’ve written about in the years after 2012. They are scatter-shot…in no particular order. Just a quick look back:

I’ve told you stories of Adirondack Trolls, my frustration with snow, ice and sub-zero weather, thermometers that never run a battery down. You’ve heard of the joys and hardships of living in Big Bad New York City. I’ve reposted a true story of my father’s youth, “Coal for Christmas” every December (does that throw my count of posts off??).

I shared my joys of visiting my daughter, Erin and her husband and my only grandchild, Elias from Orting, WA. You’ve read numerous complaints about my bad back and the health issues I’ve had (including my diagnosis of leukemia).

I wrote of my love for the desert and our wandering in Death Valley and the Mojave. Numerous tales were written from England, Ireland, Portugal and Paris. I told you how I celebrated several birthdays in recent year (i.e., when I turned sixty-eight, Mariam and I walked sixty-eight steps along the nave of Wells Cathedral and paused to kiss).

Sadly, I wrote too many posts of sad farewells of my family…and my very best friend of over sixty years, Greg Stella who passed in July, 2022. Rereading those posts still make me cry.

I’ve concocted outrageously silly stories of the demise of or moral failure of our favorite cartoon characters like Popeye, Dennis the Menace and Mr. Peanut.

I’ve shared ghost stories and posted ghost photographs (leaving you to be the judge of the real and the fanciful).

I wrote numerous recollections of my childhood sweetheart, my family home in Owego and my time-warping walks down Front Street in my aforementioned home town.

I described how, on a beautiful autumn afternoon (or was it in the spring?) of helping a cemetery caretaker dig a grave for a woman I never met.

There are many posts that told you of my love of the poetry of Bob Dylan. I even wrote a pre-death eulogy for him.

I’ve tried to celebrate my love for my wife, my children and my grandson. I told you how sad I got in Bruges, Belgium, Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris and along a footpath in England.

I have played with different writing styles like noir and meta fiction. I’ve written short short stories.

And I did it all for you, my readers. I never wrote anything cruel, hateful or boastful. I was honest with you. I respect those of you who took a few moments out of your busy lives to read my efforts. Scrolling this page, I see that there are too many “I’s” and not enough “you”. I apologize.

I will close this rambling post with a photo and a microscopic story:

[The famous Key West Kapok Tree. Photo is mine. Taken by Mariam Voutsis.]

Legends about about the Kapok (native to Indonesia) Tree. One belief: The Devil entrapped a unwary carpenter inside the tree because he had the temerity to carve out rooms in the ginormous trunk. Another: The Tree is said to grow into the heavens (it is known to grow up to ten feet a year).

The Tree has many uses. It is soft so artists use the wood for carvings. It is used for dugout canoes and…caskets.

Good-bye for now. The beach beckons.

Be kind and never let anyone to be lonely or forgotten or be invisible.

Paradise Lost

[Sculpture from the MET. Photo is mine. Sadly, I failed to record the sculptor.]

No matter where you’re going it’s the wrong place.

~ ~Tobe Hooper

[BEFORE YOU CONTINUE: This blog post is not, in any way, an attempt to denigrate any staff, employees or anyone else who made every effort to make our short vacation enjoyable. Further, from Big Mama (that’s what her name tag read), to the housekeepers and food servers, they were more than helpful, friendly and eager to please. Any negative comments that follow are directed at the physical facility and the misrepresentations by the Travel Agency that apparently ran the raffle, that I won, that got us to the Bahamas. Think of this post as a kind of Yelp review.]

It’s a good thing I wasn’t even thinking about marijuana when I passed through Customs upon our arrival at Freeport in the Bahamas. I would never had made it through. But I wasn’t so I did. Once we stepped outside and into the warmth, I was very tempted to cross the taxi lane and peruse the souvenir booths. I had my eye on a “Tropical Shirt” or “Hawaiian Shirt” that had a color that made my eyes water. Your gaze needed to rest on the coconut trees to get any relief. Without even a chance to haggle the woman dropped the price to $25.00. I was sorely tempted, trust me. But I already own a respectable collection of those ‘retro’ shirts back home in New York. So I kindly declined and went back to where Mariam was guarding our luggage. I looked out at a few rusting sailboats and fishing boats. But before I knew it our taxi was pulling up to the curb. The taxi was loaded to capacity and we were off to our Resort hotel.

[Yet another stamp in my passport to brag about. Photo is mine.]

We stood for more time than I would have liked to get our room key. Then across the lobby to Big Mama’s desk. She was the concierge at the Taino Beach Resort & Club. I was handed the ferry schedule that would take us to Port Lucaya, where the shops and restaurants were located. We had a restaurant on the property but after being informed of the hours (11:00 am to 7:00 pm, with the last orders taken at 6:30. Lights were out at 7:00 pm.). I haven’t eaten dinner at 6:00 pm since the late ‘50’s, so it would mean stocking up on junk food from the hotel lobby to see me through the night. The hours the shop were somewhat unclear, because every time I went down to grab a bottle of fresh water, I was often met by darkness and locked doors.

But to return to Big Mama and our check-in and orientation: She keep telling us and everyone else about the necessity of having bottles of water. That was all I needed to hear. The red flags went up. I recalled a very good friend and former teaching colleague telling me about how he (even after many warnings) ordered a gin and tonic in Istanbul, Turkey with ice. He developed a case of Giardiasis. Let just say it was a nightmare for him and something that stuck in my mind.

So I mansplained to Mariam that it was only to be bottled water, even to wet a toothbrush while we stayed. It was only after a Google search to the World Health Organization that I learned that tap water in the Bahamas was safe.

Next, Big Mama snapped a wrist band on the two of us. Since there were only a relatively few people around, I wondered why the band? I thought of the following reasons:

—Glass Bottom Boat Excursion

—Deep-sea fishing

—Snorkeling

—Ocean swimming

—Capsizing

On that level it all made sense. But the band reminded me of the last overnight stay at a hospital. Wearing it around the Resort, I felt like an escapee from Bellevue.

[The infamous band. Photo is mine.]

I’m now looking at my watch. It’s 4:14 pm on Tuesday. We’re in a Marriott Courtyard in Fort Lauderdale and I so want to get to the roof-top pool and bask in the 82℉ and read.

So, I’ll speed things up a bit.

We arrived at Room 210. We opened the door. We saw what was essentially two single beds…not true singles, but not double. There were no beach/palm tree paintings on the wall. In fact, there was nothing on the wall. I went into the kitchen and flipped on the light. I opened the cabinet that contained one wine glass, one bowl, one coffee cup, two plates and zero utensils. I checked the bathroom. The water was loudly dripping into a tub with no stopper. I saw my soaking bath fly out of the Venetian blinds. I was momentarily conflicted. Should we accept this and tough it out or should we try to locate another room…or another hotel? I thought: We seasoned travelers and we are adaptable. The the housekeeper left. I flicked the switch on the wall. Nothing. There was no light in the living area. I even pulled the chain on the ceiling fan thinking there was a light up there. There was indeed a light, but the bulb was dead. I ran after the housekeeper who, after looking my panicked eyes, went to another room and returned with a table lamp. I hope the occupants of that room weren’t as needy as I was concerning light.

It wasn’t long before Mariam and I discovered that we were in WiFi Limbo.

Mariam: “I think I remember Big Mama saying that the WiFi was only available in the office, by the pool and in the restaurant. We did have a signal but it was so weak, a slight breeze would blow the WiFi signals out through the Venetian blinds.

We made two trips ($16.00 r/t) to Port Lucaya. The ride was a tediously unbearable six minutes long. On Sunday evening, we visited Port Lucaya for the last time…mostly for two reasons: To have dinner at a civilized late hour and to mail three postcards (one to a friend in the City and one to Brian and one to Erin). We’ll be back home planning our next trip before they get their cards.

So that’s about it. Our voyage back to Florida on the Margaritaville-at-Sea went uneventful save for last night howling nightmare I had. But that’s another story for another time.

I did love the beach at our Resort. Beautiful sand and that sea color I’ve never seen on any artist’s palette. I just wish the Travel Agency had been a little more honest about what we were getting into. Their descriptions were not outright lies. Rather they were grossly misleading and overstated.

We saw a young couple standing outside the office on our second day.

Me: “Enjoying things, so far?”

The Man: “We saw our room. We’ve booked another hotel.”

Me: “Really?”

The Man: “It’s a case of I worked too hard to settle for this.”

I took his point. But I lacked the energy to move out of a house that was very slowly burning down.

[Taken a few hours ago in the lobby of the Marriott Courtyard on N. Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale. I have no idea what it means but I’m sure it has to do with sex. Photo is mine.]

Balmy Latitudes

I’m sailing the summer wind

I’ve got whiskers on my chin

And I like the mood I’m in

As I while away the time of day…

~~Gordon Lightfoot “Christian Island”

You’ll have to move your stool closer, Gloria. I need to multitask right now. I’m making notes on a new blog and, while talking to you, I have to filter out the ‘music’ being piped in about six feet above my head. I will never understand why piped-in music doesn’t include a Nocturne by Chopin or a long movement by Scriabin. I’m not sure what it is I’m listening to. There is a bit of Island music, some beach songs and “Wasting Away Again in Margaritaville ”, all twenty versions. To make my meager efforts even more difficult, I’m going to write the blog on my iPad…something I’ve been able to accomplish only twice before (well, maybe three times). This is not an easy task since my iPad is probably older than my son, who is slowly making his way to middle age. My apologies, Brian but July is your thirty-sixth birthday. Gloria, do me a favor and find the bar…it’s behind the potted palms and order me a Diet Tonic with an ample slice of Lime. I need my Vitamin C. You can order yourself a Double Lime Ricky. Put it on my tab. Oh, and don’t forget four bags of Cheez-its. I’ll need the Polyunsaturated Fats (1.5g) to get me through this blog…not having my laptop at hand.

But, I digress.

I’m sitting on the deck of Level 11. We’re abroad Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville Cruise Ship, the Paradise. My Apple Watch tells me it’s Breezy and 82 F. That’s a far cry from 36 and rainy back in New York City. I’m not a Cruise-Guy, so you, my dear readers, might be wondering why I’m on this boat, (which will depart around 5:00 pm and will be setting our bearing for Freeport in the Bahamas. What I will relate is not a long story so you still will have time after reading this to order in a pizza and a dozen donut holes with Chipotle sauce.

I guess it’s time I got down to the real writing…

Please do not misconstrue this blog as a faintly disguised attempt at bragging. I’m not a braggart in anyway. In truth, I despise those who feel the need to embellish their barely tolerable lives by making the little simple things more than they are. I simply feel the need to make my barely tolerable life interesting by doing the right thing and telling you the truth.

So, here’s the truth…

It started last April 21, 20022. Mariam was having PT after her shoulder surgery in February. We were in Fort Myers, Florida. I always met her after her sessions and we would go somewhere for lunch. Our usual Cafe was closed and a sign in the window directed us to their sister restaurant…a Greek place on San Marcos Avenue. It was very warm so we elected to eat outside, in the shade of a large umbrella. After finishing my cheeseburger and Mariam polished off her salad, we went inside…she headed to the cashier and I for the restroom. She was waiting outside in the sun as I walked to the door. Something on a card table caught my eye. It was a clear plastic box with a slot on the top. The placard behind the box had an enticing image of sandy beaches and Palm trees. I don’t remember even reading the message, but I instinctively knew it was a raffle. The only time I ever entered a raffle was in the late ’70’s. I think I won a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon. This time I took a few minutes to fill out the slip of paper. I folded it twice and pushed it into the plastic box. What can it hurt, I thought?

Yes, you guessed it. A few months later I received a call from a man who said I had won a raffle. By that time, I had totally forgotten about the plastic box and the slip of paper. Of course, I immediately had suspicions so I cut to the chase.

“It’s a Time-Share thing isn’t it?” I said.

“Nope.” He said.

“Be honest with me sir, I’m nobody’s fool. I’ve been around the block. I’m a senior but you can’t intimidate me because of my grey hair” I said.

He said: “No strings, sir.”

“Nothing is not without strings” I said, quietly questioning my grammar.

“So I’m not going to end up selling my car to a guy named Pogo behind a used car lot in Boca?” I said.

“You have my word.” He said. “Now, let’s talk about your trip.”

“Okay.” I said.

He said: “There are port fees and a few other monetary details to go over.”

There always are, I thought. There always are.

~ ~ ~

So, by time you, dear readers, will get around to reading this, we will be on our way to The Fins Restaurant where we have an 8:30 seating. It’s not a long cruise but we will be passing near The Bermuda Triangle. So if we get sent through the portal into a parallel universe, I certainly hope you enjoyed my blogs. You can always click ‘LIKE’ in memory of all I’ve done for you.

It’s been great.

[Me, I hope. Soon. Photo: My picture from the hallway of Level 6.]

[Last evening in West Palm Beach. Photo is mine.]

Into The Woods

[The Adirondack Forest. Photo courtesy of Brad Brett]

“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness of other people.”

–Carl Jung

In the rearview mirror of the last three weeks of my life, I see I’ve left behind many things and added many memories. I’ve left behind the heat and sand of Florida, the peaches and boiled peanuts of Georgia, a friend and his wife in North Carolina, the breathtaking vistas and overlooks of the Blue Ridge Parkway and later, Skyline Drive. Mariam and I sat in a restaurant in Lebanon, Pennsylvania and played music bingo. We passed Carlisle where my daughter went to college so many years ago. We drove apace with the trucks and cars across New Jersey and plunged straight into the Holland Tunnel.

The Grateful Dead: “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

Once we were settled in a generous friend’s apartment, we began to search for a place of our own. Both of us want to come back to New York City to live. But it’s proving to be harder than we expected. One place is too small, another lacks outdoor space. One might be a walk-up. I can’t do four floors as well as I once could. No, not now.

Why move? you might ask. You have waterfront, kayaks, canoes, snowshoes and bikes. The answer is simple and complex at the same time. We love the quiet woods. We love the sound of our paddles as we glide along on Rainbow Lake. But, so much of what the ‘dacks provides are activities that are fit for a younger man (I speak here for myself). We miss people. The quiet can be overwhelming sometimes and brings with it the loneliness of the North Woods. As a person who has struggled with insomnia since childhood, I dread the dark nights, those dark nights when the wind shifts in strange ways and the moon struggles to peek out from behind a dark cloud.

I don’t want to shovel another millimeter of snow. I don’t want to get into my car just to get our mail. I want something of a social life. I want to be able to order in Mexican or Chinese food. I want company.

Bob Dylan: “I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea. Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, at times it’s only me.”

With the exception of my mother (she never took to the camping), my entire family had strong ties to the Adirondacks. They made Eighth Lake, Raquette Lake and Long Lake special places. But these people have passed on. Around every corner I turn, behind every tree, on any lake, along any trail…there are ghosts lurking…not to harm me, but to remind me of the many great times I had among the mountains. One spirit, however, follows me. He was a good friend. I took him on his first trip to the High Peaks. On a chilly November night…I remember the gibbous moon…this friend died, not in my arms but very nearly so. I’ve told this story before. His presence, his souI and his life have followed me for forty-eight years. My memories of the night he died are dark and are the stuff of my nightmares.

Gordon Lightfoot: “Like brave mountaineers, we aren’t bothered much by time.”

I’m heading headlong toward a milestone birthday…and I am fearful. There are so many years behind me and not very many left to me. I accept that. But I don’t have to like it.

I’m not done yet.

I can only hope.

But, in the end, I will never totally forget my love of the mountains, even though they are now beyond my grasp.

‘There is beauty in everything. Even in silence and darkness.”

–Helen Keller

The Peanut

[Source: Wikipedia]
[source: Photo is mine]

Georgia, Georgia

The whole day through (The whole day through)

Just an old sweet song

Keeps Georgia on my mind.

—Hoagy Carmichael (1930) (Source: LyricFind)

Yes, we’ve left Florida and are now trying to survive in the oppressive heat of Macon, Georgia. For the last 100 miles or so I’ve had peanuts on my mind. I happen to enjoy a good peanut now and then. And who doesn’t like the taste of some organic peanut butter, spread unevenly on a piece of miniature pancake from Costco?

[Source: Wikipedia]

The simple legume, the peanut (Arachis hypogaea), has a complex nature. It can be very good for you (as a source of proteins) and at the same time be the death of you (high saturated fat). It took George Washington Carver (1864-1943), (the first African-American to earn a B.S.) to discover the varieties of products that can be derived from a peanut.

[Source: Wikipedia]

It all reminds me of a song we used to sing at Camp Barton, near Ithaca, when I was a Boy Scout:

“Found a peanut, found a peanut…

It was bad, it was bad…

Ate it anyway, ate it anyway…

I died.

Those Boy Scout leaders sure knew how to get an adolescent male’s juices flowing. But the song does highlight the fact there is a shelf-life for peanuts (1 month at room temperature).

The peanut goes by several different names: Groundnut, Goober, Pindar and Monkey Nut. I prefer the simple moniker of peanut. I know some places in New York City where if you asked the person behind the counter for some Monkey’s Nuts, you’ll get a small bag of something…I’d rather not go there.

As we made our way north on I-75 from Fort Meyers, Florida, I had my mind set on buying a small quantity of boiled peanuts, but all the billboards kept pushing were Pecans. I’m reminded of the time when I went to college in Louisiana in the 1960’s. I was talking to my roommate about how much I liked Pecan Pie. I was a Yank and I pronounced the word: pee-can. My room mate lost no time in correcting me: ”It’s pick-on”, he said. He went on describe what a pee-can was. I’ll leave it at that.

So, I see the temperature has dropped into the upper 80’s. I can bear going to our car to get something. In a few minutes I intend to venture out and retrieve a heating pad. All those hours in the car has made my back feel as though Ethel Merman just spent an hour dancing on my L2 and L3 region of my lower back while singing ”Everything’s Coming Up Roses”.

I’ll sit with the heating pad and watch another episode of The Blacklist on Netflix. I will rest assured that all is well in the world (it really isn’t) because in nearby Atlanta is the location of the National Peanut Board.

[Source: Photo taken by Mariam at 73 miles per hour]

My Florida Pastels

Did I ever mention how much I liked pastels. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York I tend to spend more time in the galleries of watercolors and oils by the Dutch Masters and Turner. There’s not a great deal of high art using pastel colors. The exception at the MET is an Cobalt Blue Rhinoceros (Cobalt Blue is a pastel color to me. If any of my readers happen to have a Master’s of Art or is an artist themselves, I’m not in any mood to argue. Don’t ruin a good story with facts.)

But I digress.

When setting up a household in Florida one must, repeat must utilize the pastels in every room and on every wall. The large tricycles are pastel colored as are a few golf carts. The pool lining is blue. Overhead, the sky is often blue. I made attempts to purchase a light blue pair of ear plugs to prevent swimmers ear. I had to settle with a dark blue, much to my dismay.

For my money, Aquamarine is the only color to add to your list. I can often be found sitting in my blue beach chair in our kitchen and sitting quietly admiring the tea kettle (Aquamarine) and our wall clock (Aquamarine). In the interest of Full Disclosure, the clock was purchased at Zabar’s in New York City, a tiny fact I can live with. The only snag in this set up is that I have to get up and move the chair every time Mariam goes into the bedroom or bathroom. But its a small inconvenience. Sometimes I bring my Blog Idea Book (which is brown and can be seen in the photo below).

Outside the wind has picked up. The blue sky has turned pink. I’m told Hurricane Season is just around the corner.

Right now, I’m happy staring at the hands of our Zabars clock. If I get tired of this, I’ll find something useful to occupy my time until dinner is ready.

I’ll go into our lanai and sit in the comfy beige and flowered overstuffed chair and get back to picking the bar code sticker off the blade of my wife’s spackle blade.

[A creative writer at work]

[All (both) photos are mine]

The Migratory Habits of Cockle Shells, Birds & Yankees

[Recent snow storm near Owego, NY. Photo courtesy of my friend Mark Mendelson]

[Author’s note: I would like to dedicate this humble blog to my friends and loved ones who, through no fault of their own, were caught up in a Late-Spring Snowstorm. No wonder many of my classmates from high school moved to the south or mid-south after graduation. After a winter in Fort Myers, Florida, I totally get it.] Now the blog:

All Things Must Pass–A George Harrison album name.

[A palm frond. Down and out at winter’s end. Photo is mine]

We are taking our late afternoon walk down Cuarto Lane. One must wait until after 6:30 pm for such a stroll. Otherwise, it’s so barking hot the sun will melt your polyester toupee, it’ll bleach your already grey hair and sear your retina unless your wearing Ray Bans. I’m not wearing Ray Bans. I’m wearing cheap Walgreen’s sunglasses. I can feel the plastic rims get soft. That’s why 6:30 is our cut-off time.

But I digress.

On our walk yesterday I snapped a photo of a palm frond, on the grass, beside the Lane waiting to be picked up by the Resort maintenance crew. I saw it as a symbol of a season’s completion. Just like the leaves in Autumn in the mountains of the Adirondacks or all of New England. The frond spoke to me. It was lamenting the fact that it was done with contributing any and all Oxygen to the atmosphere. No more photosynthesis, it said. I stopped to answer back but my wife, Mariam tugged at my arm.

“Don’t! The neighbors are watching.”

But I got the point. All things must pass, even palm fronds. And even Snowbirds like us. Soon we leave this little bit of paradise and go north. Back to our home on Rainbow Lake and the very real possibility of a freak mid-June snowstorm. Think I’m kidding? We once sat at the bar of Lake Placid’s Mirror Lake Inn. It was May 31, my birthday, and we were have a quick glass of wine before a lovely steak dinner at the Adirondack Steak & Seafood. I spun around in my bar stool to look out at Mirror Lake, but it was snowing…no, it was blizzarding. I saw the fronds as a metaphor for our eventual departure. But, there’s more:

This blog is about travel, migration and departing. Here is something of interest:

[A Bar-tailed godwit (L. lapponica. Photo: Google search]

The bird shown above happens to hold the record for longest migratory flight yet discovered. The Godwit has been found to have the ability to fly 6,800 miles without any layovers. (Think of it as Jet Blue with feathers). Now, I don’t know what impresses you, my reader, but 6,800 miles is one badass flight. In doing the research necessary to bring you this post I also found out that some long-term migratory birds can do awesome things on their journey. One species has the ability to eat, fly, sleep and mate while on the wing. My brain short circuits when I think of humans doing these sorts of things. Myself? I can barely drive along a country road for a country mile while eating a cheeseburger.

Well, so much for the avians. Time to discuss Cockle shells.

[This is a Cockle shell. I found it and a zillion others on the beach this very afternoon. Photo is mine]

The Cockle shells litter the edges of the beach…where the waves wash up and then back into the sea. Whole shells, bits of shells…shells of all kinds are found in the sands of Sanibel Island. I find pleasure in picking one from the knee deep water and holding it for the iPhone camera. But, like everything else along a shoreline, the waves and currents are constantly moving the shells along only to replace them with newer ones. If I were to stand at the exact same spot on the exact same beach at the exact same time next year, I will reach into the sand beneath my feet and find another Cockle shell…exactly like the one I found today. I’m not sure what the point is about all this, but it does remind one of moving along, going away, traveling and replacing one environment (the beach) with another (the Adirondack lake shores). Some of my readers will say:

“A place in the Adirondacks? You have waterfront? Kayaks? Canoes? A screened-in porch? A quiet place in the playground of New York State? And you’re not satisfied? Are you playing with a full hand?” The truth is that I enjoy the Adirondacks very much, but not like I used to. As a little boy I played in sands of many of the most popular beaches in the ‘dacks. But I’m not a boy. I’m not a healthy fit young teenager who would climb any peak at the mere suggestion of doing it. Two of my three brothers were Adirondack oriented men. Both are no longer with us. I have found that around every bend in a trail, every curve in the road and every paddle stroke I make to round an island, I see the ghosts of my brothers. I’m tired of seeing ghosts, both figurative and real.

I love the night sky and the Adirondack air is fairly free of light pollution. The stars tumble out in numbers that are not humanly countable. I’ve slept on mountain peaks and counted the stars. I gave up after reaching 3,000 points of light. But our house is surrounded by trees and my patch of sky above our house can be covered with one open hand.

I want to see for miles while standing at sea level.

Which brings us to Yankees. Sorry, but this is not about the Bronx Bombers. This is about snowbirds who flock to Florida for the winter. I’m one of them. A yankee? In one sense, that is the definition of anyone living north of the Mason-Dixon Line. But what about my one-time sailing partner here in Fort Myers? He was from Toronto. Well he’s a yankee too, by my definition.

I’m lonely and I’m restless. How many years do I have left to see the world? Only a seer can answer that kind of question.

[This not my car. Mine is cobalt blue. Photo: Google search]

So take heed, take heed of the western wind

Take heed of the stormy weather

And yes, there’s something you can send back to me

Spanish boots of Spanish leather

–Bob Dylan “Boots of Spanish Leather”

Late Night Thoughts on Connie Francis

Spring and summer were still weeks away, although summer seems to permanently exist here in Florida. But still…

I was sitting in the lanai making notes on developing and writing and publishing a blog about music and the importance of Connie Francis. We had just been to the beach and my head was full of Beach Boy songs. I asked Alexa to play a few more when we returned home. But, I knew there was more to summer and sand music then Brian Wilson & Company. Out of the blue it came to me. I stopped making notes and picked up my iPhone and went straight to Spotify. There they were. I downloaded (or is it uploaded?) several songs by Connie Francis. I sat back and played Where The Boys Are. Her sweet alto voice rising and falling stopped me in my tracks. This was the music of my youth, those halcyon days of bikes, pools and buzzing cicadas.

Where the boys are, where the boys are, someone waits for me…

I look around me. I’m fourteen again. My towel is damp from three hours in the pool. I sit on the steps of my childhood home and talk to my neighbor Craig:

“What do you wanna do today?”

“I dunno, what do you want to do?”

“Beats me, what do you want to do?” Our days were carefree and full of Beach Boys, Tommy Sands, Neil Sedaka and Connie Francis.

In the crowd of a million people, I’ll find my valentine…

[Our helpmate Alexa]

Our thoughts turned to the movies: “Let’s go to the movie tonight,” Craig would suggest. “They’re showing “Beach Blanket Bingo”. This was just after “How To Stuff a Wild Bikini” ran for two weeks. Before that the marquee read: “Dr. Goldfoot” (I’m not making this up.). The next feature was slated to be “Muscle Beach Party”. One could get a shoe full of sand just watching these classics. Many starred Frankie Avalon or Tommy Kirk and, of course Annette Funicello. All the guys around our age, and I suspect a few fathers just adored Annette as a star of the Mickey Mouse Club. And its no wonder. Annette had the biggest…..head of black hair than any other Mousketeer.

And then I’ll climb to the highest steeple and tell the world he’s mine.

Later in life, sad things befell Connie and Annette. It saddens me.

Thank you two ladies for some of the best music of my teenage years.

Now, sitting in the Florida warmth, the ceiling fan whirring above my head, I can feel a bit of the exuberance of youth. Even though I’ve come to fully accept the limitations of age, the pains, the aches, the regrets and the triumphs, I can still appreciate the songs written for the Young At Heart.

But that’s another story for another time. And besides, perhaps inside my worn body beats the heart of a hopeful young boy.

Thank you, Lord, for Spotify.

Down By The Sea

[Photo is mine]

I knew the man’s story. I had read his many blogs but the campfire was the place where he untied his cachet of stories. There would be no campfires in Florida, not this time of year. Instead, I would have to find shade beneath a palmetto palm to study his photograph. I stretched the screen of my iPhone. Yes, it was him. I compared the picture to the one he sent me seven years ago. It was the same lighthouse over and behind his right shoulder. The mask and snorkel were the very same. His bracelet was different. The cheap ones he was inclined to buy had been replaced many times over. His pale shoulders were the same, no sign of a slouch. His beard seemed a tiny bit grayer as did his hair.

We all had been caught in the great Pandemic but he seemed to be emerging from its shell like a newborn chick. A new wrinkle? Sad eyes? I couldn’t get a good look because of the snorkel but I suspect they were present on his face. After all, it had been seven years since he stood chest deep in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Some things change with terrifying speed. Some things never change Some things change so subtly that it’s hard to see the years.

I knew him well enough to see the partial smile on his lips. He was happy, happy for the first time in years. At least seven years anyway.

He failed to notice me behind the palm observing him. He thought he had sent the photograph to someone distant friend but I was usually physically closer to him than he knew. I noticed his head turn toward the twenty-something in a toxic pink bikini. Ha, I thought, he still remembers some of the important things in life. I saw him turn to his wife as she handed him the bottle of ice water. He smiled in his contentment. He looked westward toward the horizon and stared for many minutes.

He rises and walks to the water’s edge.

He thought himself Poseiden, but he was really just an old man standing on the shore.

Nefarious Paperclips

[This is not a ‘regular’ size paperclip. It’s a ‘large’ size paperclip. Note the distinct shape.]

As part of our post-surgical life Mariam likes to take a walk down our narrow street, Cuarto Lane. “It’s all part of resetting your muscle tone and strengthening the lower back,” Mariam tells me. “Okay, but I can only go to the house with two flag poles,” I said before our first such walk. I was able to lengthen the walk a few houses more, to the stop sign. The first half of our stroll was great but the return to our house at #319 put us directly facing the setting sun. Even with the best cheap drugstore sunglasses the glare was playing havoc with my vision. I began to see small pink Flamingos standing motionless in the tiny front yards. I felt like I was in a John Waters movie. It was at this point that I recalled the fact that we have two plastic Flamingos (pink) in our own yard. Even so the sun proved to be a challenge so I lowered my eyes and focused on a point about three feet in front of me. I was busy studying the crack in the pavement that seemed to run on for half the length of the street. I looked ahead. I looked behind me. I had this sudden feeling that this was like living on the San Andreas Fault. Were there plate boundaries in this part of Florida? Were earthquakes just another fact of life in The Sunshine State along with hurricanes and alligators? We just became friendly with the woman across the lane and I really didn’t want to increase the distance between her front door and ours.

It was a walk like all the others when I first noticed them. Imprints in the cement made by a paperclip. On subsequent walks I intensified my search for these marks. I knelt down for a closer look. I asked Mariam: “What do you think of these impressions?”. Mariam just stared at me. There, imbedded like a dinosaur footprint in Montana shale, was the tell-tale shape of a paperclip. The one shown in the lead-in photo above is that of a “Large” size clip, but I was seeing the mark of a “regular” size clip. I don’t have any of those average clips to show you so I chose a “Large” one instead. This is the only time I’ll ask you to use your imagination.

[Clearly solid evidence.]

It began as just another couple of marks on an otherwise smooth cement surface. Then I saw more. I lost count when I reached sixteen paperclip marks. I made a comment about the shoddy efforts that were used when the cement was poured. I became very anxious and fearful of the quality of the workmanship. I made up my mind to investigate this odious affair…to dig deep into the history of Cuarto Lane and uncover those responsible for the now overwhelming number of paperclip impressions. I asked at the Main Office if I could have a look at the blueprints used during the laying of the cement.

I was deeply absorbed in going through the files when I noticed a small crowd gathering in the Common Space near the pool. The crowd grew steadily as I furiously made notes. The crowd grew larger. There were angry murmurs from some of the oldest people in the crowd. The crowd continued to grow. I began to panic. Maybe there was something I wasn’t supposed to see? Perhaps a secret buried deep in the files. An overdue bill. A compromising photo? Then, just as I thought things were going to turn ugly, a man appeared with a heavy keyring. He unlocked the door and the crowd surged into the dancehall. It was only the Bingo crowd. As the group rushed inside I watched as an 87 year old woman with blue hair jab the key holder (a convicted felon on parole) in the sternum and said:

“You’d better open on time next week or I’ll have you singing like a counter-tenor, sonny boy,” she said in a voice heavy with venom.

Back at our house I looked over the notes I had taken. It seems that three “engineers” were working the cement pouring that day…so many years ago. Here’s what I took away from my researching:

Directing the operation was Dr. Elroy Cistern, Road Construction Engineer on loan from the University of South Florida. He was on a retainer from the Siesta Bay people. (His per diem alone would choke a horse). I studied the margins of the blueprint. He had made copious notes with a dull pencil. After reading his self-memos I had to dismiss him from the list of suspects. He had the names of two local strippers and their phone numbers, a note about not forgetting a package of clothespins from Publix, a few scratchings about how hot it was in August in Florida and some notes-to-self about the odds in the third race at Pimlico. The guy was clearly a genius…certainly not one who litters wet cement with paperclips.

Then there was Rachel Rowbottom, Cement Truck Driver. I found a small diary she had left behind. Some of the entries got very personal. Apparently she moon-lighted at a Nail Salon. I didn’t see her as one who cares very much about paperclips.

The guilty person, according to conclusions I had made was one Michael Messerschmitt, Cement Smoother Technician. It seems he was going through a rough divorce and was carrying at least half a ream of paperwork from his ex-wife’s lawyer. Now nobody loves paperclips more than a lawyer. And she was taking the poor sod to the cleaners. Reading between the lines, I realized that the golf cart was the main bone of contention. Eyewitnesses to the cement pouring mentioned (to their children and grandchildren) seeing the “smootherer” kept dropping a paperclip into the wet mixture as he went through the list of the lawyer’s demands.

So, I can now rest easy at night. The small impressions, well I’ve learned to keep my eyes looking forward as I walk. Keep focusing on the horizon. Even in the intense sunlight.

[Cuarto Lane.]