On the crazy streets of St. Petersburg, not far from the panda statue, there's this old coin-operated Flipper children's ride. But was green really its original color, or have one of these "shabby chic" antique dealers overstepped the boundaries of pop culture curation once again?
Saturday, January 31, 2015
You can't go anywhere in Florida without seeing these things attaching themselves, like barnacles, to everything in sight. They're Tillandsia, which is a genus of approximately 540 species of rootless evergreen, perennial flowering plants in the family Bromeliaceae.
They were originally native to the Central and South America, but of course, sooner or later all things eventually find their way to Interzone, take root, and thrive in the sunshine. Though colloquially called "oxygen plants" and "air plants" because of a general belief they survive on mere oxygen, they actually absorb water and nutrients from the air and from surfaces to which they attach, not the oxygen itself. Like all green plants, they give off oxygen, not feed on it.
So-called "Spanish Moss", also ubiquitous in Florida, is a species of Tillandsia as well.
Thursday, January 29, 2015
What this island was originally called, I do not know; I'm trying to find out. Back around 1900 it was known as Raz Island, so named for the family that settled there. Then it was sold and renamed Idle Bay Isle by its new owner. Then it became "Riles Island" for a while.
In 1965 Walt Disney purchased the island (and all other land in the vicinity) for the purposes of building Walt Disney World. Ol' Walt called it "Treasure Island", apparently not caring that there was already a very famous Treasure Island in Florida. Disney's Treasure Island opened to the public on April 8, 1974 as a sort of wildlife retreat - but, you know - one of those wildlife retreats where hordes of tourists were allowed to go tromping. The last Dusky seaside sparrow died here in 1987 and was officially declared extinct in 1990.
After achieving classification as a "zoological park", Disney officials made the decision to change the island's name yet again; this time to Discovery Island.
But this didn't last long. For reasons that are still vague and sketchy, Disney abruptly closed the island in 1999 (On April 8, in fact, the same date as its opening in 1974.) But then, weirder still, it continued to operate privately until July 9, 1999, whereupon all the animals were evacuated from the island and moved elsewhere. This has led to rampant speculation about the goings-on here, including concerns about outbreaks of deadly Naegleria fowleri... or something even worse.
Fueling the conspiratorial rumors is the fact that the adjacent attraction, the "Disney's River Country" water park, also mysteriously closed.
According to Modern Day Ruins:
"A boat skipper during a Wishes Cruise told us that the last time Disney folks were on the island removing the last of the useable equipment from the buildings they encountered a gator and a VERY large snake. (He was the boat driver that took them over). The place is now 100% totally abandoned. There was a light that was on during the cruise and I asked about it. He said "notice how it is next to the ground". It was your standard street lamp. It had gotten knocked over during the hurricanes and apparently a wire short circuited and that's why it was on. In my two Ft. Wilderness visits since then, I have not seen the light on any more, so they have now totally cut power to the island."
And so, the question still beckons: why do Disney officials keep this island in a state of abandoned disuse and deterioration? There are still many buildings on the island; you'd think Walt Disney World would have put them to some sort of use.
What do they know that we don't?
Monday, January 26, 2015
There are so many great Italian restaurants and pizza joints in Naples, and I'm trying to hit 'em all but I just can't keep up. And they're all so great. One name that does keep recurring again and again is Cosmos Café & Pizzeria, where the bacon cheese fries appetizer are practically a meal in itself.
The pizza is the real reason to be here, though. Jump in anywhere, it's all good. Especially the "Grandma" pizza (a thin pan pizza with marinara sauce) and the "Meat Lover's", which lays on bacon, sausage, pepperoni, ham, and.... meatballs. Yeah. Oh yeah.
Sunday, January 25, 2015
It was a charming little near-the-beach cottage I'd rented last Spring in Gulfport. The perfect place to sit in quiet repose and get some writing done, or so I'd thought.
The little-old-lady landlord began to show up in my yard, however, almost every day. Often many times a day. Puttering around tending to plants that didn't need tending, raking leaves every time five of them fell. She showed up at my door just to chit-chat, and to show me things she'd bought at yard sales. It began to feel like she was a roommate and not a landlord, to the extent that maybe she should start sharing the rent since she was always there.
The concept of personal space did not exist to her, and it's part of a greater pattern I've found wherein the concept doesn't exist to many Floridians.
It didn't stop there. Her minions started hanging around in droves.
There were a husband-and-wife yardwork team she employed that arrived randomly without warning, doing more yardwork that didn't need doing. They arrived on beat-up old bicycles and were always arguing loudly with each other, screaming obscentities and completely oblivious that I was sitting on my porch trying to work. The woman (who was always barefoot and clad in a dirty halter top and tiny shorts that showed more of her sun-fried leathery body than I needed to see) often ended the domestic squabbles by speeding off on her rickety bike in a huff. As often as not, she would return about half an hour later, with her demeanor completely changed, now utterly mellow and in some sort of fog.
I watched as the woman operated a leafblower and proceeded to blow leaves, rocks, and debris directly at my car. I went over and stopped her, and she stared dully at me, like an animal, unable to comprehend why I was concerned. That some people try to take care of their cars was as alien a concept to her as the neutrino. Without speaking, her hollow sunken feral eyes telegraphed to me, "Wow, you're really, like, uptight, dude. Chill out."
She nodded, mumbled "okay", and carried on blowing crap at my car exactly as before. I gave up on trying to communicate with her and moved the car instead.
A successive series of complaints to the landlord about this and many other malfeasances, became more and more fruitless each time, and she increasingly suggested I just needed to lighten up and not be so serious about such things about privacy, property, safety, you know, silly things like that.
This cognitive dissonance is the fundamental dynamic at play, I believe, that causes most of the friction and weirdness in Florida (well, besides hydrogen sulfide).
For many who wind up here, there's a notion that because we are in an alleged tropical paradise, all rules of conduct are now null and void. We normally think of teens misbehaving on Spring Break in Florida, letting off some steam because they're far from home and since everyone else around them is also a tourist, who cares what we say or do, right? But Florida has the same effect on adults as well, and not just tourists but lifelong residents.
It only snowballs from there. People become complacent and numb to the daily onslaught of obnoxious antisocial people, and in turn become obnoxious and antisocial themselves - either as a defense mechanism or a "when in Rome" attitude. The crazies, when confronted with roadblocks to their slacking, dig in their heels and resolve to keep on doing whatever it is they're doing - or not doing.
One guy at a bar, mistaking me for a local, ragged on and on about how Gulfport would be a much better place if only we could just get rid of all these damn northerners and snowbirds who just don't "get" how Florida is "supposed to be".
I went to a restaurant that is infamous for its long lines, surly service, and painfully long waits to be served. It's become almost like those places you hear about where the whole gimmick is to be served atrociously for novelty's sake. As a way of getting ahead of any complaints, when you arrive you're greeted with happy colorful painted signs instructing you to relax and be happy, and to not, not, not be impatient because now, and I quote, "You're on Florida Time."
This is classic cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance has been called "the mind controller's best friend" and with good reason. Presenting a human being with repeated contradictory stimuli has been shown in studies to have the effect of keeping the subject in stasis, their mind continually spinning its wheels trying to deal with it. People - some people, anyway - simply cannot help but try to make some sense of their surroundings, and this keeps the attention focused on the dissonance when the sane thing to do is to simply walk away. For this reason, it's a popular tactic in sales and marketing (I've been known to use it too) and in the seduction tool known as "Fractionating".
Back home in Kentucky, a bad restaurant is simply a bad restaurant. But here, it's wrapped up in the mythology of Florida the same way an evil politician wraps himself in the flag, and you're presented with the data Congratulations, you are now in Paradise and Paradise is a place where you take it easy and relax even as you're simultaneously presented with things that aren't optimal for you to be relaxed about. You'll either adapt, or you'll have a psychotic episode.
I placed my order at the counter. A sullen woman, refusing to make eye contact, took it down quickly and grumpily, with the weariness of someone who has dealt with so many tens of thousands of people that she no longer regards it as an act of human interaction; it's merely something unpleasant one has to do and get done as fast as possible, like cleaning a toilet bowl. I smiled and warmly thanked her and dropped the change in her tip jar. She clearly found my cheerfulness disgusting.
I looked around at my fellow luncheoners; though the view was beautiful and though we were surrounded by crudely painted signs with positive Floridian motivational quotes (mostly involving exhortations to drink alcohol), everyone looked uncomfortable and miserable. Some made a noble effort to feign excitement, not wishing to bring down their vacation partners, but their faces couldn't conceal the sadness and irritation. Like victims of an assault who stare at a fixed point in the distance and try to disassociate, we each picked out a palm tree, a heron, a boat, and stared intently at it, trying to leave this Florida for a more private, mythical one of the mind.
Meanwhile, back at the cottage, I soon found another down-and-out husband-and-wife team in the landlord's employ, screaming at each other while spending months doing daily unannounced renovation of the outbuilding I'd been using as my painting studio. And when they weren't shrieking at each other and acting on the verge of a physical fight, they were blasting modern country music from their truck and operating chainsaws, hammers and drills as early as 8am. The landlord, who by now recognized me as the un-mellow troublemaker that I was, curtly recited some city statute that she claimed permits construction work to begin that early. Never mind such concepts as courtesy and privacy. These things are mere trifles in her idea of how Florida is "supposed to be".
By the time things had degenerated to the point where the landlady's manchild son made threats of violence against me in full view of the landlady herself and she didn't bat an eye, I knew it was time to get the Hell out of Gulfport before their zombie virus infected me. That's not a metaphor. If you hang around lazy and crazy people, you will eventually start to become lazy and crazy yourself. Choose your people wisely. They will gradually, imperceptibly, dissolve you like saltwater corrodes copper and saliva breaks down sugars and carbohydrates. If you find yourself stuck in a situation where you are forced to consort with lazy and crazy people, get out of it. By any means necessary.
Thankfully, I did. The story so far has a happy ending, and it's at the end of the line for the Gulf Coast: Naples.
The city of Naples (and its satellite, Marco Island) seems designed with the specific goal of breaking from this ignoble tradition. Naples is a safe haven for sane people, an oasis of civilization smack dab in the middle of a dangerous alligator-infested swamp, acting as a W.P. Mayhew levee to keep the waves of manure from lapping at your door. (And yes, the irony that this, too, is cognitive dissonance is all too sweet.)
Is it a little bland? Yes, but I've come to prefer blandness to chaos. Not so much because I'm a senescent old man, but because, if you'll permit me to make a second Barton Fink reference, I'm trying to work. I've been here long enough now to call myself a Floridian, and this Floridian's telling you we didn't all come down here to get stoned. My productivity has been through the roof since transferring here, and my faith in my fellow Floridian, despite what you may think after reading this blog post, remains strong. If you're coming to Florida for the peace and tranquility promised in the postcards, let me recommend Naples. (Close runner-ups: Clearwater, St. Petersburg, and St. Augustine, all three great places to live, work, and play!)
Sunday, January 18, 2015
Hey, kids, break open those piggy banks! There's a whole raft of new JSH merchandise available, and much, more coming on the way!
The one I'm most excited about is the set of The Bartender poker chips. You could stock up on these and play an actual game with this handsome poker chip created by Chip Lab in Tampa, Florida, but we prefer to think of them as currency for the next civilization, or one of those "commemorative minted medallions" you used to see on TV offers. Display them in your man cave as an Objet d'art, have one matted and mounted as one would a rare coin, put them away in your safety deposit box for hard times, or keep one in your pocket as a good luck charm when you hit the casino or strip club. This limited edition chip is anointed with J. T. Dockery's striking artwork for the book's cover, and is sure to increase in value over time.
Then we're offering playing cards bearing that same Dockery cover art. You can play some high-stakes poker with them (using, of course, our Bartender poker chips), treasure a framed one in a place of reverie and contemplation as one would holy icons, perform acts of divination with them as if they were Tarot cards, or invent your own Pokémon/Magic Cards style game utilizing them.
Then there's the Toulouse-inations travel mug, bearing the graphics for the original stage production's theatrical poster:
And the Toulouse-inations t-shirts, available in both "men's" style and "women's" slim cut:
Like my good friend Gene Simmons of KISS, I'm an unabashed fan of over-the-top merchandising and marketing. As the great man himself once said, voicing disregard for the portions of his fan base who disapprove of aggressive salesmanship and showmanship: "I think it's cool to see my face on a lunchbox. It's fun. I'm doing this for me. You don't have to buy one."
If you buy any of this stuff, contact me and I'll reward your diligence to the cause to which we are all so devoted, by gifting you a FREE JSH Book Club e-book of your own choosing! (Send me a pic of yourself holding said item and I'll even tweet about what a High Grand Super-Double-Titanium Meritorious monster you are!)
Saturday, January 10, 2015
When in Tampa, I love to stop in at Fruti Cuba Coppelia on Kelly Road, for an authentic batido made from Mamey. They have plenty of other goodies, too, but since I'm a confirmed Mamey junkie, I never try anything else.
The fruit of the Mamey tree, aka Zapote, aka pouteria sapota, is popular in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and Florida. But for some reason, this open-secret ingredient is hard to come by everywhere else. Mamey is usually eaten raw and is often made into milkshakes, smoothies, and ice cream. (It's also widely considered in the Latin-American world to be an aphrodisiac.)
When I lived in the San Marco district of Jacksonville, I was walking distance to this enchanting little grillery called Mezze. Although I enjoyed coming here and was a regular purchaser of their margherita pizza (pictured below with some Green Room IPA), it only takes one bad experience to sour me on a place.
I had the misfortune of ordering their parmesan cheese fries, which was a plate of plain fries with three or four tiny melted globs of cheese amongst them, rather than evenly covering all the fries. When I explained to the waiter, and in turn the manager, that cheese fries are supposed to be fries covered in cheese, they looked at me as if they genuinely had no idea what I was talking about. No, they explained, our cheese fries are supposed to be just a plate of fries with a couple tiny pieces of cheese stuck on top of it.
In an grudging half-hearted effort to placate me, they took the plate of fries and promised to put more cheese on it. When they brought it back, it was absolutely no different than before. I thanked them, paid the bill, left without eating the fries, and never returned.
But, dear friend, do not let the high standards of your humble Walkout King discourage you from visiting here and having some of that fine margherita pizza. Just avoid those fries, and don't get into a prolonged argument with them.
Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Awhile back, the Internet was abuzz about an alleged "UFO" seen hovering over a pool in Naples. Others, perhaps of a more Lovecraftian bent, preferred to think of it as the appearance of some kind of interdimensional creature that blipped in to visit our world.
Me, I think it's obviously a raindrop on the lens, being blown and contorted by the wind. But you can see for yourself here.
Off of Florida's Nature Coast, near Cedar Key, you'll find Atsena Otie Key, a charming little island whose claim to fame - as far as I'm concerned anyhow - is having been mentioned in Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. (Historically speaking, it was also instrumental in the first and second Seminole Wars, in the Civil War "Battle of Cedar Key" and the taking of the USS Somerset, but, well, we each have our frames of reference.)
Though its heyday is over (it once was home to a thriving community), the 'ghost town' remains of the settlement linger on - along with a fishing pier, toilet facilities, and a walking trail to a 19th century cemetery.
The Burmese python is native to Southeast Asia, but in the last century they've somehow taken a foothold in Florida and are thriving. How did they get here? No one is certain, but it's speculated that, like most other invasive species, they were brought in as pets and then either escaped or were released.
Originally the pythons were confined to the Everglades, but in recent years they're spreading. One was captured in Sarasota in 2009, and one in Bradenton that same year. How far they're capable of spreading is anyone's guess; it wasn't expected they would make it as far north as they have. Florida's Hurricane Andrew made the problem worse when it wiped out a python breeding facility and freed many specimens into the wild.
And with the discovery of tegu lizards in Ocala in 2010, officials are worrying that the ecological applecart has already been tumped over, and no turning back. Survival of the fittest and all that.
Time to start to develop a taste for python jerky. (Yes, it does exist!)