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?
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.
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…
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.
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.
[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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m standing at the window of our hotel in New York City watching the snow blow upwards. Fifty-two floors below, whatever snow survives melts quickly on Fifty- fifth street or perhaps Broadway. Winters in Manhattan are infamous for the wicked winds that gust in from the Hudson and clash with the bluster through the cross streets. The top floors of the high rise office buildings are invisible in the low clouds. Heavy coats do nothing to lessen the biting slashing winds that can cut through your outer layer like a sharp scalpel, like a razor or a saber honed to the width of several microns. These winds can turn your Burberry umbrella into fodder for a trash can. February in the City can be deadly to The Little Match Girl.
But I digress.
About 11:45 am on Tuesday, February 15 I will be lying on a table in the Operating Room of Mount Sinai Hospital. Most of you, my followers and curious readers, are well aware of my history living with and dealing with my lower back pain. It’s not a secret. I’m open to this revelation because I’ve discovered one thing that set me on my journey to Upper Manhattan. Simply put, I have a very hard time walking. I lean on Mariam as if she were a well-grounded oak tree. (This is not a good thing because she has a very painful right shoulder…but that’s another story or another blog. When I walk I shuffle like someone who just finished a bowl of gluten free Quaaludes for brunch.) But the most surprising aspect of my story is that I found out that I cannot ride a bicycle. Back in Rainbow Lake I tried to get on my bike only to find that I can’t raise my leg high enough to get seated. I would up with a mouthful of Adirondack sand. This was not a small inconvenience because I love to ride a bike. Every street in my hometown of Owego, NY has been peddled by me.
So on Tuesday I will lie on the surgical table. Doctors and nurses will check on me. I will get an Oxygen tube down my throat, an IV and a blood pressure cuff. The anesthesiologist, I’m told, will insert a catheter. Upon hearing this I will make an attempt to reach the door. The very thought of the catheter sends fear, horror and apprehension to my…. .
But by that time, it will be too late.
“I’ll be gentle” he whispered. “And besides you will be totally under.” I, hopefully will be wandering in the world of general anesthesia. What most amazes me about surgery this serious is the speed at which the anesthesia works. I’ve tried before to experience the drifting away thing and even counting down from 100 like it’s done in the movies. I stare at the clock on the wall. I stare at an entirely different clock in a room I don’t recognize. Who are these people dressed in green? Where am I?
I ask the first nurse that appears and ask her when the operation will begin.
“It’s all over, hon,” she said. “You’ve been asleep for about three hours.”
God bless modern medicine.
I’ll end this narrative now. There’s not much more to say. If it all goes well, I shall be able to feel like a normal human once again. If, for some reason the results are not too successful, I have a back-up plan:
There he is, leaning against his Electric Blue 2017 Honda Fit. He is confident and casual. This is a man of many talents. You should get to know him. Along with his many talents he is a 3-card Monte champion and well known in Monte Carlo, certified 747 pilot, world renown diesel mechanic, first human to descend to the bottom of Lake Okeechobee, presently of the Stephen Hawking Chair in Astrophysics at Cambridge, discoverer of the J/psi meson, Master Sommelier at Ricardos Restaurant in El Paso, TX., author of over 75 novels that follow Chief Inspector Olaf Gorhagan of Oslo, Head negotiator of all mid-East conflicts, Chief Resident at Mass General Hospital (headed up a landmark study of STD’s in former science teachers), All-star QB for the Seattle Seahawks leading them to twenty-five Super Bowls, Author of JAMA articles that are following the breast implant surgery on 429 starlets from Van Nuys, California. Please note that this only a partial listing.
But I digress.
Now I know what it’s like being a woman. It’s a well-known fact that women are more conscience of what they wear than men. Several evenings ago we went out to dinner. Earlier in the day I got one compliment about my shirt. It’s green and sports about fifty images of avocados. At our favorite restaurant a bunch of young women went crazy about my shirt.
Avocados. Who would have thought that a tiny fruit can be such a chick-magnet.
I know better now. It isn’t Corvettes or horses with manly cowboys. It isn’t likenesses of James Dean or Sean Connery. It isn’t stylized wrenches and hammers.
It’s a lonely little Avocado. Who needs a Track & Field Trophy when there’s a great produce section at Walmarts.
I did something this afternoon that I haven’t done in a long long time. I took off my fleece jacket and walked across a parking lot. Now, I’ve been in countless parking lots in my adult life so I wasn’t shy. Feeling a bit naked, I kept my fleece vest on. Normally I remove my fleece jacket for only certain special occasions like going to bed taking a shower and certain surgical procedures. This time I stripped off the jacket because it was warm weather. Well, maybe not warm as most people would define the term. Perhaps the more appropriate phrase would be mild. But I was happy to finally cross the lot (which was about the size of an Amazon warehouse).
But I digress.
The reason I’m sitting at this very functional desk at the Residence Inn Charleston Riverview and writing this piece is to inform my friends, followers, fans and readers that we are on our way to our new little cottage in Fort Meyers, Florida to spend our first winter snow-free and warm. Normally we’d be visiting our friends in Dorset, England…but things aren’t normal right now are they.
Please be assured that you’re not losing me as your favorite blogger and storyteller. I will continue to report on life from the Deep South as I see it. The future blogs are already germinating, the ideas are already taking shape and my adventures are just beginning.
We are in Charleston, South Caroline at the moment. I just finished a fantastic plate of Blackened Chicken Pasta. Mariam nearly completed her portion of Fried Oysters on a Caesar Salad.
So, stay tuned, my beloved friends and have a very Happy Holiday Season.
[Note: If anyone out there still takes the time and trouble to send a real greeting card made of paper (instead of pushing a button) my address until sometime in April is:
Cardiologists and others (who live on Long Island) have said that shoveling snow can be beneficial to living a healthy life. People over 55 however should limit their shovel time to a reasonable level. For me that time limit is roughly 43 seconds. Over the years I’ve moved a lot of snow from the walkway and the access to the garage. There were times when the drifts got so large I feared that I would end up like TheLittle Match Girl instead of the beautiful Nancy Kerrigan or the alluring Tanya Harding. Since I have very little of importance to say to anyone and my wife loves to read cozy mysteries, I was afraid I’d be forgotten until 3:30 am and Mariam would wake up and find my side of the bed empty.
“Oh, he must be having such fun he wants to play in the snow until dawn.” Meanwhile, hours earlier (after the last interesting story on CNN} I would have turned into a lump of gray flesh with a plaid coat and L. L. Bean’s rejected gloves that were made out of the thinnest cotton available.
But I digress.
The time has come to throw my fake fur away and trade it in for a straw cowboy hat. We’re finally moving away, away from the Frozen North, away from the land of Nanook for the winter. We bought a little cottage in Florida and I shall be practicing the doggie-paddle in a solar heated pool.
In truth, I can’t wait for a walk in an outdoor mall with the palm trees beautifully decorated with red and green lights, with Bing Crosby crooning over the PA system, while all my friends who haven’t moved south yet are standing and shivering to meet Santa in a Walmart parking lot.
I will, of course, still have issues to deal with but a dose of SPF 45 will take care of that. No more cans of deicer to unfreeze the car door that went solid after the first bag of groceries were put in the kitchen.
I will also have to do certain things if necessary. When they close off half the pool so the old folks can play volleyball, I’ll need to locate a beach chair that has at least some shade, and stretch out to listen to the murmur of the waves of the Gulf of Mexico a mile or so away. There I can also listen to the motor boats from Venezuela taking drugs to Alabama.
It’ll be a winter of warmth and quiet. I’ll better myself too. I will continue to improve my sailing skills, I’ll comb the beaches for shells, learn to play Shuffleboard and Bingo.
If you follow my blogs, don’t worry. They will continue as I learn about alligators and snakes.