Sunday, October 20, 2013

Musings of a Cigar Smoking Man

This is your man in Clearwater, reporting live from the front lines, with a keyboard and a kindle and a cigar and a cat. Three months now I've been officially a citizen of the Sunshine State - not just one of those supercilious snowbirds - and like my associate J.T. Dockery says, lately I've been too busy leading the life to write about it. I spent the first two months on a tour of duty in Jacksonville, but during that time made many jaunts and expeditions to points like Neptune Beach, Ponte Vedra, Tallahassee, Ocala, Bradenton, Sarasota, Tampa, Ybor, Palmetto, St. Pete, Pass-a-Grille, Gulfport, Gainesville, my beloved St. Augustine, and my home base on Perico Island.

I've also begun taking on a whole raft of new business opportunities and responsibilities, which is needless to say biting off far more than I can chew but I'd rather throw 1000 rusty darts at the carnival balloon than two sharp ones. I don't have any tattoos, but I did, I might get Han Solo's "Never tell me the odds" rendered on my bicep. Some of it is related to PR work, some of it the ignoble pursuit of law which I find myself sucked back into no matter how hard I try to disengage, some it relating to theatre, the JSH Book Club and my any-minute-now-wait-for-it Tiki Bar concept, The Pulcova Club. Most of the rest is classified but you can easily obtain security clearance by buying me a Mai Tai at Roy's.

Many theories have been put forward about what makes Florida so special. Some say it's the fragmentary diversity of its people, others say it's simply the fact that so many Floridians are not actually originally from here and the resultant morphic field is always in flux. Me, I think it's something far older, something under the soil, something that happened long, long ago in an unspeakably antediluvian age. But the "specialness" is real, it is palpable, it is even measurable by laboratory equipment. So here I am, wandering these swamps and sandy back roads, trying to define that elusive energy, in search of answers. Or at least smokes. I came to Interzone for the cigars, really.

As compared to back home, the cost of living in Florida is equally fragmentary. Some supermarket items are exorbitant compared to what I would have paid at my old Middletown Kroger, while others are astonishing in their inexpensiveness. And the staggering variety of exotic foods here, even at the most mundane grocery, makes you realize you're not in Kentucky anymore, Krampus. And recently at the farmers market portion of the Beach Blvd. Flea Market in Jacksonville, my appropriation of William S. Burroughs' term "Interzone" to describe Florida (he used it to describe Tangier) seemed all the more apt with its scores of vendors of Vietnamese, Chinese, Russian, Indian, Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Honduran, and Arab extraction all talking over each other, beckoning to passersby, hawking all manner of mysterious goods day in and out. It was here I recently scored some mamey fruit from an Asian woman who corrected my pronunciation (it's meh-MAY) and showed me which specimens were the choicest. "This one, you eat tomorrow", she said, ever so slightly applying pressure to the fruit as she held it in her hand, and "this one another week", tapping a firmer one with her long paisley enamel decorated fingernail. Other vendors sold products I couldn't even identify, and still others sold such exotica as Santeria paraphenalia and live giant snakes and lizards; presumably for pet purposes, we hope, and not for eating.

Meanwhile, the next installment of the JSH Book Club, the science fiction epic Solar Station A, was supposed to come out "in late summer", then was pushed to September. October's nearly over and the book, you may have noticed, has not yet appeared on Kindle shelves worldwide. One of the good things about calling the shots of your own book distribution is the ability to extend your own deadlines infinitely, or even just throw up your hands and say, "you know what? It'll be out when it comes out." The book is turning out to be a lot longer than I'd originally intended (for those of you who said they wished my previous novels were longer, be careful what you wish for) and so I'm taking my own sweet time on baking this biscuit till it's brown. Therefore, the other novel I've been working on, a story of boxing and voodoo set in the 1920s entitled The Alternation of Night and Day, will come out this winter, pushing the book originally scheduled for December, Matilda Heron, to next year. Unless I end up packing up my ukelele and moving to the Dry Tortugas or Bimini or something and disappear into a cask of rum for tax purposes. But even from there, I'll tweet you a copy of the report.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Chart House Jacksonville

I know, I know, the Chart House is a chain, but by golly, it's a darn good chain and it's not exactly something you find in every strip mall. Jacksonville is unfortunately so hard-up for decent local restaurants, whenever I'm there I take what I can get where I can find it. (Notable exceptions are Bistro AIX where Anthony Bourdain recently made an appearance, and the European Street Cafe in San Marco.)

Each Chart House is laid out differently, and the 50's-style Googie architecture of the Jacksonville location (overlooking the riverwalk) makes me wonder if this wasn't originally built as some sort of suave Tiki Bar back in the day. This is no flip-flops and t-shirt joint, these are serious people, chief. About as swanky a place I've dined at since the grand productive Louisville days of Vincenzo's, Morton's and Jeff Ruby's.

I had the New York Strip and a mojito. Both were fine examples of their genres. I had a date that night but I can't remember what she had. I don't think she was as impressed with the glamour and the splendor and the power and the glory as I. Me, I think I deserve nice things and I think you do too, dear reader. Deserve nice things, I mean.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Jim Morrison in Clearwater

If you'd asked me day before yesterday what the connection was between Jim Morrison and Florida, I would have probably said the infamous incident in 1969 wherein the Doors frontman exposed himself to the audience at a show in Miami. But last night, the datum came across my desk that JM actually lived in Clearwater - twice, no less - during his crucial formative years.

Six months after Jim was born, he and his mother moved in with her husband's parents in Clearwater, Paul and Caroline Morrison, for a time while the father went out and about on his duties as a Naval Officer. Later in teenhood, Morrison's rebellious nature so exasperated his parents that he was sent to live with his grandparents again. He attended St. Petersburg Junior College in 1961-62, then transferred to Florida State University, where he studied acting until Fall 1963. Interestingly, among his classes, he took a course in "Philosophy of Protest", where he got a B.

It was on at Pier 60 on Clearwater Beach that Morrison met his true love and soulmate Mary Werbelow. They sat on a beach blanket together beside the pier and played the game Matchsticks, just like in Last Year at Marienbad. As part of a wager made, Jim agreed to get a haircut when he lost the game. That afternoon they had a picnic on the Clearwater Causeway, and that night they went to the movies together to see West Side Story and officially became a couple by the evening's end. Things moved fast in 1962.

When Jim moved to California to attend film school in the summer of 1965, Mary followed him. But his erratic behavior soon led to a breakup. This same summer, Jim began playing music in bars with Rick & The Ravens, a jazz/blues combo that had already made quite a name for itself locally but soon morphed into The Doors.

The old Morrison home, at 314 N. Osceola Avenue, just down the street from where I am currently residing this month, no longer exists, having been demolished in 2005. But the persistence of memory imbues reality.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Nomonotoshimosagotagotoopaloborvado Lake

If you happen to land right about here on Google Maps, somewhere between Ruskin and Palmetto, a mysterious thing occurs: you're confronted with a body of water labeled, and I quote, "Nomonotoshimosagotagotoopaloborvado Lake." (Seriously? Nomonotoshimosagotagotoopaloborvado?? That can't be right. Let's see here, nope, nope, that's exactly what it says; Nomonotoshimosagotagotoopaloborvado.)

Curious to learn more about this cockamamey lake - honestly, where do you people get these names? - I googled it. And found, exactly.................. nothing. How on Earth is this possible in a world where even Honorificabilitudinitatibus has a Wikipedia page? Is this some sort of practical joke committed by an errant troll in Google's employ?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Bird Island

Almost universally overlooked by locals and tourists alike, the obscure Bird Island is located in the intracoastal waterway between Clearwater and Clearwater Beach.

Just how obscure is it? A search on Google Maps for it brought up Bird Key instead, and Bing Maps brought up a sand bar off the coast of Jacksonville also called Bird Island. Trying to learn much about it is a bit like picking gnats out of pepper, as one of the few articles I found online notes:

You won’t find it on any chart, but most local seafarers know what you mean if you tell them you’re heading over to Bird Island.

Unfortunately, because it's a protected wildlife sanctuary, you can't actually land there and get out and walk around and drink a Hennepin or three. So, we drive by, we sail by, we circle and wonder. I took the above picture this morning standing on the causeway, sipping Starbucks, and pondering the Copenhagen interpretation.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Multi-Directional Signposts

If there's one thing Floridians love - besides rum - it's decorative and waggish multi-directional signposts. These were all spotted within the same hour, whilst I was cruising from Clearwater Beach through Clearwater and over to Dunedin. Some actually point to real places with accuracy, some are completely silly, and some are a mix of the two.

The most famous of such signs, of course, would be the one seen in every episode of M*A*S*H from 1972 to 1983, plus the original 1970 movie.