Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sweet Surprise

Despite a brown thumb, my garden sometimes forgives and rewards my intention, if not my ability. Thank you.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Rat (Island) Race Awaits Beyond The Morning Mist

A misty morning on the marsh - a portend of the morning.

It is written, in the book of "Murphy's Law".

The wind shall desist on the date of the annual Decanter Challenge Regatta -- organized by the Palatka, Rat Island Yacht Club -- and, preferably, competitors will face an incoming tide the length of the 24-mile course before dropping the hook for a dutch treat dinner, a crystal decanter and a handshake.

And so it came to pass, Saturday, October 23, 2010 as 18 sailboats maneuvered for position near the starting line between market #48 and the committee-boat.
Yachts tacked and turned, spilling what wind their was from their sails to avoid a false start, before the sequence of colored flags and air-horn warnings marked the moment...they were off!

Slightly faster than the speed of growing grass, with more hot air passing between kamikaze crews (as hulls passed each other with barely a gel-coat thickness between them) than the apparent breeze, they headed for the unseen finish line.

The St. Johns River has the distinction of being the only north-flowing river in Florida. People in this hemisphere seem to think going South is downhill (tourist drivers heading North after their vacation, tend to lean forward). However, the St. John's connection to the Atlantic Ocean near Jacksonville, a major US Navy seaport city, allows for a tidal-flow which influences the waters more than fifty miles up/downstream.

“Stink-Pot” and “Rag-Bag” are some of the kinder words exchanged between power boat operators and sailors, especially when fishermen pick up the scent of a fish kill and pour on the coals to get to where they want to go – while a white-knuckle yacht-helmsman who has strategically placed his crew to achieve a delicate balance to maintain a wind-slot and make his rhumb line, blocks his way – and a rooster-tail followed by a mountainous wake throws everything akimbo.

At those times, the air can match the blue of the sky!

There's nothing quite like messing about in boats.

Especially, on a weekend.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Shuttle's Last Launch Sparks Many Memories

Sometime soon the last shuttle launch into space will fire off from Cape Canaveral, a couple of hundred miles south of here.

I'll wave as it goes my backyard just before the separation of booster tanks from rocket in a sequence we all, now, think of as being routine.

An earlier daytime launch seen from my backyard

But back in the days building up to its first launch of Columbia more than a quarter of a century ago, (April 12, 1981) the World was still excited about the race into space. A decade earlier (1969) Neil Armstrong became the first man in (known) history to step onto the moon's surface. I'm willing to bet, very few Floridians will forget where they were when THAT happened. One of the better “I remember when...” memory moments.

Due to its proximity and frequency of flights over the years, we became blase about launches from the Cape, until that dreadful crisp October morning in 1986 when Challenger exploded killing all seven astronauts aboard..

I was at a West Palm Beach marina helping a good friend (now departed) and skipper of a 54-foot corporate yacht top up his tanks when there was a commotion on a nearby boat.

“The goddamn shuttle just blew up!”

A guy hurled himself from the cabin of the sleek Rybovich sports fishing boat on the next dock, scrabbling for his binoculars.

He didn't need them.

Seemingly just north of overhead the bright clear blue sky was marred by a cluster of white vapor trails expanding outward from a dark central cloud. Miniscule black objects rained down, leaving faint trails behind, like the world's largest Fourth of July rocket exploding in daylight.

It was the world's largest rocket – to carry human beings on its back into space.

Disasters before and after that date have marred the unbelievable 20th Century exploration of outer space during my lifetime. No doubt further progress will leave more memorable milestones behind.

Hopefully the final launch of Discovery and recovery will merely be a sigh of relief at safely marking its date in history.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Creating Character Traits and Banishing Brainstrain Blues

The fellow holding the floor at last night's writer's group is a brain trainer. He makes a comfortable living instructing folks of all ages and abilities how to get rid of brain flab and turn those little grey cells into a lean, mean thinking machine.

As a fiction writer who spends a lot of time getting into the mind of my characters – before they take over and run me – Matthew Barrett showed short-cut brain exercises to tweak the thought process so the cut-to-the-chase “caveman” mentality does not override creativity, with practicality.

Physically Matthew, who directs kids and corporate clients to train thier brains to retain information by skewing basic logic patterns, is not a powerful dominating figure. He later admitted to having an innate fear of meeting people on a face-to-face basis. But, by training his brain to be accept he knows more about his subject than his audience, he is confident enough to control and hold center stage.

It was one of the many exercises he explained and espoused during an hour-plus talk and interactional session conducted during the dinner hour at the noisy McAlsister (Scottish/Jewish?) Deli in Fleming Island, just south of Jacksonville, Florida.

He cajoled, teased and tested his audience with facts, fables and riddles before setting them up for a “writerly” task; create a cast of characters for a story which may never be written.

He distributed sheets of paper containing a dozen pre-printed blank data files with the following sub-heads:

Notes:(i.e.)loud,Walmart Greeter,.......
Kleptomaniac, Hooker...etc..............

Names were selected at random from a telephone book (which pegged an instant image in many minds) and, by working the room, additional data was extracted from writers present – and that's when the fight started (joke).

The cardboard characters created by names began to take on “living” persona as they acquired layers of personality. Mini-groups within the gathering humorously or dolefully created and voiced their own soap-opera versions of actions/reactions likely amongst the make-believe cast presented.

Within the space of twenty minutes or so a gathering of writers were discussing, some quite heatedly, the life stories and styles of figments of their collective imagination.

All the brainchildren of a mild mannered brainiac adept at teaching CEO's how to control short-term memory loss so they can remember – where they put their reading glasses.

For more info check


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sack-Races Granny Never DREAMED About...

Just when you think you've seen it all...

I don't think the Florida “Cracker” Cowboy has changed much since being recorded in the Charles Russell and Frederick Remington era. But the games we played as kids, have certainly been tweaked into “Extreme Sport” mode.

Who ever would have though the innocuous-sounding “Sack-Race” could be cranked up a notch or two into the sort of exhibit I saw today at a St. Johns County rural event.

Yeeeehaaaw !

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Wish I had This Sign at the Old Book Shop

As a former bookshop owner I firmly believed children of a certain age and disposition should be parked outside the shop, or allowed to play in traffic, before entering my Old Book Shop (note the little kinder clambering up the shelves in window-painting)

Along with a sign on the door reading: "Open by Appointment - or Chance" I had another which told callers: "Buyers Welcome, Browers Tolerated, Children @#!!$". Most parents got the message and sent the potential book-destroyer and shelf-mountaineer,(think Richmal Crompton's WILLIAM) off with their other half.

Except the fairly distinguished chap who entered one day with a child who had the control of spit on a skillet. I lasted an agonizing 23.01 seconds before cornering and confronting the Young Master and told him unless he treated my precious tomes with respect, he would be ejected. Asking what he was interested in - cowboys, war,seriel-killers, I selected an appropriate book, and seated him on a stool across from my desk.

Papa, poking around somewhere in the stacks in the back, emerged a while later with a puzzled frown, glanced at his wide-eyed son clutching a book, thought better of it, paid for his puchase and left - hurridly.

Years later, said gent and his college-age son returned to my Palm Beach shop. The youth nodded briefly then quietly browsed the stock. Papa smiled and said, before dissapearing to rummage amongst the stacks: "Thank you. He's never forgotten his last visit here."

That was the last time I ever saw the former Canadian Inspector General, and his son.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dang Paparazzi -- Again!

A quiet, innocent conversation in an out-of-the-way cafe between yours truly and Rick Sapp, prolific author/editor of things that go BANG! were captured on camera by enterprising Gainesville's WUFT student roving reporters looking for copy.

If they'd only known...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Pubit! puts it in (digital) Print - soon...

In a "test-drive" of Barnes & Noble's new entry into the E-publishing world, I submitted my short story (part of a proposed book with the tag "The Day...[Fill in the Blanks])

It ain't pretty in the preview, just basic typewritten copy, until I figure out the tweaks/program/method needed to navigate the space/indent/format the typeface protocols BUT - it should appear in a NOOK near you - sometime in the next day or so!
(see below)

Bela Lugosi - in the FLESH! is on its way!
Check back in 24-72 hours to see it available for sale on
To make changes to this title after it goes on sale, visit the My Titles tab to access and edit your eBook.

Hmmnnn...if that had been my "Great American Novel" it'd be "on-the-shelf" in time for the Holidays ;^))

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Bela Lugosi – In the FLESH!


Halloween masks depicting Dracula cannot match the real thing - on the fright-scale.

This is not a tall tale but a true story (would I lie?) about a misadventure half a century ago when it seemed like a good idea to play hooky from school.

Today, the prank would probably land me in juvenile court. At the time (1951) my absence from the assigned classroom desk on a Wednesday afternoon, barely raised an eyebrow.

Traditionally shops in Britain closed for a half-day Wednesday.

It was part of the long established retail custom of creating as much confusion and inconvenience to customers as humanly possible. Shops closed at lunchtime to avoid the annoyance of interruptions by the rest of the population, trying to buy food or clothing between the hours of 9 am. and 5 pm.

Sundays, everything was closed all day.

Home Economics classes at the nearby girls’ school concentrated more on plans of attack and ploys to shop for groceries, than actually cooking any food obtained. Which probably created a correlation between classes taught and the quality of meals served at home. Usually “something” on toast!

The poorer plodding relatives in our extended family group were all in the retail sector. Our rich relatives, who had homes with telephones and cars in the driveway, were stage, film and sports personalities.

My retail-working mother, whose brief high-kicking days in the chorus line of “No, No Nanette” were doomed when it was discovered she had two left feet, was totally star-struck.

Routinely I’d be hoiked out of school Wednesday afternoons to meet a “visiting relative”, at a matinee stage or movie performance somewhere. I never knew – to this day – which of the figures in films shown on the big screen were “real” uncles and aunts.

Names like Ida Lupino and Bonar Colleano didn’t sound very English to me, but I was told they were stage-names of relatives. It made sense, at the time. My mother regularly used four created first names of her own - and she only sat in the audience.

One of my ukulele-playing uncles, who appeared on the same bill as a well-known music-hall black-face comic, told me the comedian was traveling to London to meet his first agent but hadn’t settled on a stage name.

It was an inspirational journey. When he got off the train he’d adopted the stage name Nosmo King from the stern British Railway’s notice he’d spotted in his Third Class carriage, “No Smoking”.

Occasionally diminutive copies of the giant faces and physiques I’d seen on the movie screen would appear at my grandmother’s for dinner. The only one’s I was fairly sure were blood relatives would be those I’d seen on-stage and in their dressing rooms.

And, when they were “resting” between engagements at our house. The strain of performing must have been harsh. Some “rested” at my grandmother’s for several months at a time.

The modus operandi established by dear old mum suddenly jelled in my mind’s eye when, instead of trying to solve an algebra problem at school, I developed a ruse to see Bela Lugosi in the flesh performing his classic role as “Dracula”.
Convincing a stuttering friend - who had little ability to express his doubts - it would be an educational excursion, we slipped away from school during lunch break.
Most of the matinee audience at Eastbourne’s Devonshire Park Theatre, fortunately, was too stiff of limb to clamber up three flights of concrete steps to the gods. The dark and foreboding stairwell was dimly lit by old-fashioned sputtering gaslights.
We had the section all to ourselves and plunked down in balcony front-row seats just as the house-lights dimmed.
Ages before the Beatles long locks style arrived in the USA, most UK schoolboys either looked like short-sighted sheepdogs peering through a mop of hair, or wore the pudding-basin-cropped model.
During Lugosi’s chilling performance mine, I was assured, looked like I’d put my finger in an electric outlet. It could have been a prototype for an Afro as Dracula, the personification of evil, commanded the stage just an outstretched hand away.
My mate, naturally tongue-tied, sat enthralled and agog throughout the performance. [He was so impressed at seeing a live performance he later took elocution lessons and speech therapy. His on-stage delivery is now powerful enough to blow a fuse in devices used by the hard of hearing.]
Courage flowed back into our veins as Dracula was dispatched with a stake through the heart. An almost visible tension ebbed from the audience as the curtain dropped.
Time was flying if we were to leave the theatre and merge with the school letting-out crowd to successfully complete our escapade without discovery. We inched toward the exit sign, clapping all the way as performers stepped forward to take their bows.
Lugosi moved toward the footlights, bloodied lips curling back on his pale death-mask face acknowledging the ovation. The curtain closed behind him. He held up his hands, silencing the applause.
His heavy Hungarian accented tones, mimicked into mockery in a multitude of movies, echoed throughout the theatre.
“Ladies and Gentlemen!” he said pleasantly. ”Just a word before you go. We hope the memories of Dracula and Renfield won’t give you bad dreams, so just a word of reassurance.”
We hovered at the exit, loath to miss a moment. One foot on the concrete steps, the other on theatre carpet. “When you get home tonight, and the lights have been turned out, and you are afraid to look behind the curtains,” his voice became somber, his face screwed into a snarl. “And you dread to see a face appear at the window...why, just pull yourself together and remember that…”
He pulled his cloak around himself bringing his arms up toward menacing fangs. House-lights dimmed, the spotlight emphasizing his hypnotic eyes.
“… after all there are such things… heh, heh, heh…” he flung his arms wide, displaying the crimson lining of his cape, cackled and…
A blinding light burned into my retinas as he disappeared in a puff of smoke.
The audience shrieked.
But not as loud, or as long, as two terrified schoolboys plunging headlong into wavering shadows cast by flickering gaslights screaming all the way down three flights of stairs and still running way, way, into the parking lot.
Scary Halloween masks?
They’re nothing, compared to Lugosi – in the flesh!

One of many chapters recalled in the forthcoming book
“The Day...The Cat Sneezed Its Nose Off”

Monday, October 4, 2010

A pre-paparazzi "piss-off" picture

Martha Parish was surprised at my response to society photographer the late Mort Kaye, when he snapped this pic of us in the Celebrity Room at the Royal Poinciana Theatre, while Ted Kennedy was holding forth nearby. But it wasn't the reason she fired me at the end of the season.

Years later, after she married Nixon's psychiatrist and I worked for her ex-husband Pat, we mused about the woman who had screwed both of us!

Mort, who I clashed/joshed with over the decades, gave me some sound advice before I bought my last boat - DON'T! I should have listened to him. This was a guy who showed up for his shooting gigs - in his own Rolls-Royce.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Contrasting Writers II

Two disparate writerly events bracketed a Saturday outing, each inspirational for seperate reasons.
First on the agenda was the family-style lunchtime launch of a quartet of youngish writers calling themselves “The Rogues Gallery Writers”. The mug-shot of Michael Ray King, Tracy McDurmon, Rebekah Hunt Scott and Jeff Swesky shows a villainous Central Casting group of Al Capone characters posed for posterity.
They are all contributors to an anthology of disparate short stories built around the book title “Writing Is Easy”, It ain't, as each of the stories explains with an explanation behind the inspiration – and a short Q&A post-script.
The premise of the book is to encourage writers of any genre or level to tweak their work into print asap – following critiques and reviews by peers.
Many feedback folk attended the launch in a tucked-away family operated “Taste of Portugal” restaurant in a (comparatively) new community of Palm Coast. The buffet-style lunch for the launch did NOT contain a single sardine, but a family helper smiled widely at the recollection of days gone by when Portuguese fishing fleets spanned the Atlantic seaboard, filling their holds with finned silver.
Book sales, signings, readings, seated around tables sharing a meal and shop-talk gossip – and the latest antics of kids – gave the launch a sense of a familial gathering far more so than most writerly events. To soon to say whether the contents live up to the promotion, but there's a taster of things to come via
Later in the day, under the lengthening live oak and Spanish moss shadows of a brief Florida twilight, art and SciFi aficionados gathered at the Bellamy Road Gallery venue in the historic community of Melrose, to hear from Joe Haldeman.
The Nebula and Hugo award winning writer of a couple of dozen books, some translated into 20-plus other languages and his opus “The Forever War” now in its 35th year of continuous publication, held forth on the links between art and writing.
His address launched a series of programs planned by the gallery, beginning with next week's “Other Worlds” opening Oct, 9.
Using slides from many book and magazine covers, some from the lurid era big-breasted, scantily clad heroines of the pulp-fiction era, he held his audience captive for an hour or more.
Each of the illustrations had a story behind it; some were the genesis of a contracted story ordered by an editor; who's arty girlfriend may have pressed to have published. Others were fought or wept over when the finished item was presented in a fiat accompli – before Joe's literary clout was taken into account.
His lynchpin work which eventually won him recognition – and a handy teaching gig at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) – was rejected by 18 publishing house, he said.
Eventually printed by an empathetic publisher, the low-key, un-SciFi cover of worlds as grains of sand running through an hour-glass, fooled the critics who read the contents for its literary heft.The book eventually got rave reviews and a four-page spread in the (late) New York Times Literary Review.
Joe showed some of his working journals and, under the watchful eye of wife Gay, some of the full-frontal ladies captured in pen, ink and watercolor at art-classes he sometimes attends.
During the Q&A session the inevitable query was posed:
“What was your inspiration?”
But he didn't say whether it was a hunger of the stomach – or the soul.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Contrast of Writers

Today should be one of contrasts between a new author's first book launch and a master writer's lecture. Separated by a 100 miles or so of Florida's rural hinterland, their common thread is the written word.

Jeff Swesky, a real-life computer programer and part-time writer is launching a collection of short stories under a lurid cover showing a cut vein spilling blood to spell out the title “Writing Is Easy” between 11 am. and 3 pm. at “A Taste of Portugal” restaurant in Palm Coast's Staples Shopping Center. Its a few miles north of NASCAR addicts place of worship – the Daytona Beach Speedway.

Now you know as much about the book as me, so we shall see. Last year Jeff, formerly bossman at the St. Augustine Ancient City Writers (think I've got that right), won an award for his manuscript, “Flight From Fear” the (ghosted) autobiography of Rabbi Samuel Cywiak, a Holocaust survival story, currently being printed.

Viet-Nam Veteran Joe Haldeman, a real-life writer and part-time astronomer, is taking a weekend break from teaching science fiction at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). It will be a return home for him He lives half-an-hour away in Gainesville, so it will be a chance to meet-up with writing, star-gazing and painting friends and family. He's due to talk about “The Art of Science Fiction Writing”, which will launch the Bellamy Road Gallery's “Other World's Science Fiction and Fantasy” themed art show

But with Joe, one never knows. He is a dab hand at wielding a pen, pencil or brush himself. His journals and writing-pads used to create stories, are records of his thinking-process between brain and book. He could launch into art mode!

Both events should be interesting, for a Saturday in the “sticks”.

If I could just get that Willie Nelson tune, On the Road Again, out of my mind.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Last Bloom Of 2010?

A "cool" wave moved in following a tropical depression which grazed Florida earlier this week. Slept WITHOUT the A/C last night - can Winter be far away?

Notes from America - A Pebble in the Pool

I don't know if it was the result of a prank, or payback, but the suicide death leap from New Jersey's George Washington Bridge by a gay Rutgers student has shaken residents of shock-proof New Brunswick and sent reactionary ripples around the world.

The campus is one of the state's notable colleges. Its student body is a mosaic of the hustling polyglot population, reflected in the background of its prime participants.

The dead victim, an 18-year-old White boy, an Asian roommate and his Oriental girlfriend.

According to national and local news reports and online buzz, the fiddle-playing youth had sexual liaisons with another male friend. Unknown to him, his roommate, using a hidden webcam hooked-up with his girlfriend's computer, recorded and streamed the resulting action online.

A few days after revealing their actions, the fiddle-player left a cryptic note on his Facebook page: “Going to jump of Washington Bridge – sorry”.

Police found his body several days later. The roomie and girlfriend faced privacy invasion and broadcast of lewd acts, then were released on bond.

However, the campus is a seething mass of protests by both gay and straight students. The governor of the state (a replacement for a married predecessor who publicly confessed to his homosexual affair)is “shocked, saddened and dismayed”. The victim's parents are devastated, and his accusers parents lives will never be the same.

This is Week One of a saga which, based on previous media performances, promises to become a three-ring circus. The ripples will keep expanding – until the next pebble is thrown into the pool.

One final footnote in a bizarre succession of events. The oldest building on the historic campus, dating back to the 1776 beginnings of the American Revolution, is nicknamed after the original seat of learning – Queen's College.