Saturday, March 29, 2014

Wendy Christy's Tiki Masks

I bought this handmade Tiki mask from local artist Wendy Christy, who crafted it from the hard wood-like base of a fallen palm frond, of which there are skidillions laying around everywhere in Florida. Originally I thought of it as just a delightfully garish gee-gaw to decorate my place with, but I'm starting to think Wendy tapped into something powerful when she fashioned this one. Now I need more.

Morris the Casino Cat

Behind the Gulfport Casino there's a tribute to Morris the Casino Cat, whose ashes are interred inside the stone post supporting his miniature statue.

I mistakenly thought the popular "Morris the Cat" TV commercials didn't appear until the mid-1970s, but I checked and learned that the 9 Lives ad campaign began in 1968, so it seems likely after all that this Morris was named after the cat food Morris.

Pixie Is Present

Walking in Gulfport, I looked down and saw something tiny at the base of a large tree, something so small only shoegazers and children might have a chance of noticing it. I got down on my knees to examine it, and it's a tiny green door with an even tinier doorknob. And a tiny handpainted sign nearby reads, Shhhh! Pixie is present & is sleeping. Quiet please!"

I didn't open the door. Who am I to disturb a pixie?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Bob Heilman's Beachcomber

Bob Heilman's Beachcomber is a delightfully snobby restaurant in Clearwater Beach. When you pull into their rear parking lot, someone is sitting out there waiting to make sure you are going into the restaurant and not wandering off somewhere else. The snooty waiter was as haughty as a stereotypical French one in some bad movie, and yet even though that normally would make me walk out immediately, it's all part of the experience and the ambience here. And besides, the food is terrific. Try the gumbo!

I gotta say, though - if you're going to name-drop Ernest Hemingway and then misspell his name in two different ways, you're not as high-toned as you think you are.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Masked Screwball Parade

I don't know what this "Masked Screwball Parade" hyped in this ad (seen in the Miami Herald, I forget the date but it's the 1960s) is all about, but it sure sounds damned interesting, doesn't it? And I like how the clip-art woman's head seems to interject itself from above, like a Goddess looking down on her creations.

A quick glance at the Googles brings me no closer to solving the mystery. Absolutely nothing, zippo, goose egg, comes up in a search for the phrase (except now, of course, my blog will be the phrase's sole query response) and neither could I glean anything about Miami's mysterious Rainbow Inn. Nor its former incarnation, the Rainbow Club.

Some secrets, it seems, should remain secret.

I did determine that the former location of all this wackiness is now Bill Seidle's Suzuki Miami dealership. I wonder if there remains any evidence of the Rainbow Club or its doings, hidden in some crawlspace under the floorboards, waiting, like a larva in a cocoon, to see the light of day?

Sign With Shirts

Observed in a not-very-good part of town in Saint Petersburg: two perfectly good t-shirts, on hangers, hanging on a street sign.

I had an abandoned clothing tag on my old Unusual Kentucky blog, and it appears reinstating it here on this one is in order.

Vina Del Mar Island

There really isn't much reason to visit Vina Del Mar Island if you don't live there. It's entirely taken up by residential streets, with no beaches and not even the tiniest of parks or lookout points. You can get an amazing view of the Bayway if you trespass in somebody's back yard but I can't advise that.

Vina Del Mar is in close proximity to two of my favorite areas on the Gulf Coast, though - Pass-A-Grille and Don CeSar. Which would make VDM a splendid place to call home, if I truly called anyplace home and I don't.

Little Free Library

So, I've seen three of these little wooden kiosks full of books on street corners in residential areas in Gulfport, and I thought, wow, what a great idea someone had around here. Little did I realize it's actually a worldwide thing.

Remind me to stick some of my own books in these things sometime; though I'm not often disposed to giving them out for free, it's a good cause.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


Well, one way of getting ahead of the curve when it comes to bad PR is to jump right out of the gate declaring yourself "the wurst place on the beech," as Mahuffer's sign proudly announces.

I've imbibed beer at Mahuffer's, but never eaten their grub, so I'm not entirely sure whether or not to go along with their slogan. I do know, however, that their Mahuffermobile out front is splendid. Next time I'm in Indian Shores I'll probably stop in again and try their BBQ.

Tennessee Williams

Then there's playwright Tennessee Williams, known for such works as The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Orpheus Descending,, Small Craft Warnings, The Red Devil Battery Sign, and Sweet Bird of Youth. Though he was born and raised in Mississippi and lived most of his adult life in NYC, he got a little place in Key West and spent his happiest times there. Today the Tennessee Williams Theatre in Key West pays tribute to him.

Throughout his life, Williams was very close to his sister Rose, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. In 1943, as her behavior became increasingly out of control, she was subjected to a crude lobotomy by barbaric doctors and shrinks, and the results were (as you can expect) disastrous. She was subsequently institutionalized for the rest of her days.

The one enduring romantic relationship of Williams' unhappy life lasted fourteen years: one Frank Merlo, who became Williams' gay lover and personal secretary, provided a period of happiness and stability as well as a balance to the playwright's frequent bouts with depression and the fear that, like his sister Rose, he would go insane. Soon after their breakup, Merlo was diagnosed with cancer and Williams returned to Florida to take care of him. He died on September 21, 1963.

As he had feared, following Merlo's death Williams descended into a period of near-catatonic depression and drug use, which eventually led to insanity and commitments to mental health facilities. He got injections of increasing amounts of amphetamines from the infamous Dr. Max Jacobson – known as "Dr. Feelgood" – and combined these with prescriptions for the dangerous Big-Pharma sedative Seconal to relieve his insomnia. Williams' mental state, always fragile, became a full-blown mess after these mental hospitals and quack medicos got ahold of him.

And just as with Ernest Hemingway, the "treatment" Williams received not only failed to improve his condition, it made it far worse, resulting at last in a massive pharmaceutical overdose that some believe was a suicide. Another version of his death scenario states that he choked to death on the cap to a bottle of eyedrops, but Williams' friend Scott Kenan believes that someone in the coroner's office invented the bottle cap story to cover up the role prescription drugs played.

The Mount Dora Ghost Walk

Usually, a "ghost tour" in any given city consists of a tour guide walking you or driving you around the city, showing you locales with haunted legends, and giving a dry discourse of specious details like "On this site in 1877, Annabelle Eglon's headless body was found in the garden with one of her shoes missing, and they say at night you can see her ghost walking the garden, looking for her lost shoe, if not her lost head." Really, you could stay home and look at the internet and save yourself the bother.

Not so in Mount Dora. There, the tour guides are actors dressed in period costume, and have woven an elaborate unified-field-theory of local paranormal legends, creating a fascinatingly theatrical mythology of how all the incidents are linked together by the characters they portray. Not only does their ninety-minute performance involve comedy, storytelling, improvisation and parlor magic, it concludes with a marionette theater show. These people are nuts, and God bless 'em.

The show's founders, Andrew Mullen and Hector De Leon, declare themselves the pioneers of the exciting new field of "Cracker Gothic", in much the same manner as when I coined the term "Appalachian Voodoo" in the 1990s to describe a number of overlapping cultural phenomena in my home state of Kentucky. The show's plot posits a rather Steampunk-ish man-made gateway in space and time, known as the Keyhole Vortex. This vortex, according to the story, teleports humans and ghosts back and forth between points on the time track and beyond. The vortex, they say, is the cause of all bizarre events throughout history, with Florida as its epicenter.

Hell, they've got me totally sold on the concept, but not as a fictional one.

Zodiac Lounge

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, at a time when the Zodiac Killer was on the minds of everyone in America, I can't believe this cheesy St. Petersburg strip club didn't change its name. Moreover, I can't believe they had a crossed-line motif in their logo which reminds me of the cross-in-a-circle symbol used by the serial killer. Some theorists even believe the Zodiac Killer may have had some victims in Florida.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Bob Seger

Hey, I just found out that Bob Seger lives in Florida, at least as a snowbird; he spends half the year in his winter quarters in Naples, which is a heck of a town. I wonder if he goes to my pal Rocky Patel's BURN cigar lounge there? I must loiter on the streets of Naples sometime, and try to catch him buying bananas at the supermarket (as I did with Hulk Hogan in Clearwater) or riding his sickle along the Alligator Alley.

But honestly, can I confess something? Growing up in the 1970s, my friends and I all hated Bob Seger. I mean we really, really hated Bob Seger.

For me and a lot of my middle school hipster friends, he symbolized everything that was generic and boring and hippiefied about "rock". He wasn't heavy like Grand Funk Railroad or Black Sabbath, he certainly wasn't crazy like KISS or Ted Nugent, he wasn't artsy and innovative like Mike Oldfield or Rush, and he wasn't deep and lyrical like Bruce Springsteen or Tom Waits. He wasn't even pop in a trad way like the Bay City Rollers or the Raspberries. He was just nothing, taking up valuable space. He was someone that the older kids liked, but even to them he seemed like a second-tier artist, someone you might go to Rupp Arena to see in the cheap seats and not buy a t-shirt.

Years later now, flipping across the radio dial brings me little else but unlistenable modern crap, and I often remark aloud to whoever's in the car with me: "My God, it's come to this. Modern music has gotten so awful that I actually feel comforted when Bob Seger comes on the radio, by comparison." Same goes for a lot of bands that I used to disdain in the 70s but who, with the passage of time, seem perversely like friendly old acquaintances now - stuff like Joe Walsh and Jethro Tull. But there's something in particular about Bob that, in hindsight, makes me want to apologize to him and admit we were all wrong about him. His music sounds better today to my ears than it did back in the day.

Though he had his share of sappy ballads, many of Seger's rockin' songs are standard I-IV-V blues changes like "Betty Lou's Gettin' Out Tonight", "Katmandu", and of course, "Old Time Rock and Roll". Listening back now, I wonder why these didn't appeal to me. Doubly so since he and Peter Criss share a virtually identical vocal style, and I'd listen to Peter Criss sing the Tallahassee phone book.

And then you dig a little deeper and learn that Bob Seger, with his old Bob Seger System group, was a honest-to-gosh garage band that recorded an amazing song called "2+2=4" in 1968, and that his previous band, Bob Seger & The Last Heard, recorded a savage distortion-laden low-fidelity number called "Persecution Smith" in 1967. Had Seger packed it in early, singles like these and "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" would be coveted by hipster scum today, and endlessly bootlegged on comps like Pebbles and Back From The Grave. Just goes to show ya, most people's first record is good.

So here's to you, Bob. Sorry I couldn't dig what you were puttin' down back in '76. I'm drinkin' this caipirinha tonight in your honor, dude. We've got tonight.

Reclaimed Water

One of the things about life in Flo-land that still sticks in my craw - like, literally - is its penchant for abundant usage of reclaimed water. If you don't know what that is, you will the moment you smell it. It smells like sewage.

Why? Because it is sewage. Sewage that has allegedly had all the filth removed so that only the "reclaimed" water magically remains behind. But any simpleton with the cognitive function of a doorknob knows this can't be true, because duh, it still smells like freakin' sewage. Scientists and mayors and city councilmen all assure us that there's no possible health danger from it.

As we all know, anyone is free to type whatever gibberish they like into Wikipedia, including those aforementioned simpletons and those aforementioned city councilmen. So it doesn't really surprise me that parts of the Wikipedia article about the subject read like they've been cut and pasted directly from shill central:

Reclaimed water is highly engineered for safety and reliability so that the quality of reclaimed water is more predictable than many existing surface and groundwater sources. Reclaimed water is considered safe when appropriately used.

And if having human sewage (which contains far worse things in it than mere poop) isn't bad enough, there's a groundswell of concern nowadays about the cumulative effect of pharmaceuticals that end up passing through the human digestive system as waste and having a cumulative effect in our drinking water, groundwater, etc. Lakes and rivers have tested positive for wacked-out Big Pharma drugs like Prozac, and the problem is only growing worse with each passing flush of the commode. Most municipal wastewater filter systems aren't equipped to remove them.

If you don't own a water purifier, may I recommend one?

Nail Me Good

A nail salon/spa called "Nail Me Good", seriously? Hmmmmmmmmm.

Follow That Dream

There's an Elvis for everybody, it seems. There's the skinny Elvis, the fat Elvis, the spy Elvis, the cowboy Elvis, the military Elvis, the Hawaiian Elvis, the Arabian Elvis, etc. And of course, there's a Florida Elvis.

In July 1961 the movie Follow That Dream, set in Florida and starring Elvis Presley and Anne Helm, began shooting on location in Ocala, Tampa, Inverness, and the Inglis/Yankeetown area. And in a colossal juxtaposition of cosmic happenstance, it was here that Elvis met a young 11-year-old boy named Tom Petty, who, some say, went on to be a musician himself.

Follow That Dream was already the ninth in Elvis' mixed bag of 33 films, and the descent into mediocrity from early strong films like King Creole and Loving You had already begun. The plot concerns a family of vagabonds who run out of gas in a desolate stretch of an unfinished road along Florida's Nature Coast, and decide to just homestead there. From there it devolves into typical early-sixties hijinks with casino mobsters, government bureaucrats, and of course musical interludes.

The Follow That Dream Parkway in Inglis commemorates Elvis' time here. You can scope it on Google Maps here and plan your pilgrimage accordingly.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Robinson's Pecan House

As an enthusiast of primitive roadside vendor signs, I just had to do a u-turn and pull over when I saw Robinson's Pecan House leaving Tallahassee yesterday (in a small community called Lamont, or Capps, or Monticello, depending on which map you consult).

You might not think they'd get many customers out here, but clearly those in the know come from all around to seek out Mr. Robinson's wares - there were four customers already here when I arrived and three more (from Quebec) showed up while I was shopping. Pecans are apparently his forte, but Mr. Robinson also has candy, oranges, grapefruit, sugar cane syrup, peanut brittle, Tupelo honey, hot boiled peanuts, onions, smoked sausage, and six kinds of what-have-you.

This snack stand was founded by Willie Robinson many decades ago until his passing, and now his brother Arthur keeps it going. And I'm glad I stopped in - I ended up buying a bag of chocolate-amaretto soft shell pecans that are out of this world. Now I want to go back and get me some of his Mayhaw jelly.

Paciugo Gelato

I was down by the shore in St. Petersburg the other week, getting some fine tea at Hooker Tea Company, when I decided to scope out the gelato joint next door, just for kicks. It was breakfast and I wasn't really in the market for ice cream that early but when I saw that the place - Paciugo, it's called - had violet gelato, I scrambled for the wallet.

Violet gelato. Do you hear me? Violet gelato. If you fetishize, as I do, those old 1940s violet candies that somehow still exist to this day (you may have seen them referenced on Mad Men) then you have to get down here and try this. They have other flavors. I can't think of any right now. They're fine, I'm sure. There's a list of them here, in fact. But dude. Violet gelato.

Vincente Martinez Ybor Statue

This statue of Vincente Martinez Ybor stands in the city he founded, Ybor City, annexed by Tampa by 1887. Ybor, in addition to making Florida the cigar capital of the world, achieved many great civic wonders and innovations improving the lives of citizens.

Sexy Siesta Key Salt Shakers

Stay classy, Florida.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Overlooking Florida

It's entirely fitting that one of my favorite movies of all time, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, also involves Florida. If you have only a passing familiarity with the film, you may be unaware that in recent years it's been lauded as being a far deeper and complex movie than the 70's-slasher-flick it's generally thought of as. You can read some out-there analysis of it here and here, and you can find my own musings on the movie's puzzling evidence here, here, and also here.

In a nutshell, my take on the film is that the "haunted" Overlook Hotel in which the main characters reside is trapped in a sort of timespace warp in which everything is constantly shifting and rubbing up against parallel universes and alternate points on the time track. The multiple "mistakes" in the movie that some might ascribe to sloppy filmmaking are actually, I believe, deliberately placed as indicators that reality is constantly moving around in the hotel. Kubrick was infamous for his meticulous attention to detail, and that he could have had so many continuity errors in one of his works is inconceivable.

And, of course, this fits right in with the idea of Interzone, aka Florida, which I just happen to also posit as harboring a similar spacetime anomaly, but for real. So it's par for the course that the film's character Dick Halloran (played by the great Scatman Crothers, who I know as a great jazz-blues singer but you may know as the voice of Hong Kong Phooey) is from Florida. Halloran has psychic abilities (which he calls "shining", hence the title) and halfway through the picture we see him reclining in bed in his Miami home. He's watching Newswatch on Miami's WPLG-TV with anchorman Glenn Rinker, who was a real Miami newsman and not just something contrived for the film, which is a nice touch. Interestingly, Halloran's television set switches on by itself, yet Halloran is holding no remote. Among the imagery Halloran views on the TV is a lighthouse and a Pan-Am jet plane, which you may or may not find some meaningful symbolism in.

There are a lot of people running around Florida with psychic powers, extrasensory perceptics, remote-viewing savvy, and enhanced abilities, and I think the placement of Halloran here was a deliberate nod to this. Or maybe I've been sipping too many blue things. I dunno. Go watch the movie. Even if you've seen it before, look again.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Giant Neon Chianti Bottle

Even more exciting than the neon liquor bottle spotted somewhere between Largo and Pinellas Park, here's a sign with a smashing neon chianti bottle in Ocala.

I've never eaten at Lorito's Italian Kitchen. I probably will one day. But somehow the greatness of the sign, right now, is enough. I also need to creep out there after dark and see it hopefully all lit up.