Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Thanksgiving Story, or Searching for Danielle and Spencer


Like most of you, I come from a family that celebrates Thanksgiving with a laden table. Ducks, turkeys and chickens graced the table, with dressing that varied from a spiced cornbread laden with herbs to a fiery rice jambalaya with Cajun. sausage. For the record, in the old Confederacy, you "stuff" pillows and "dress" game.

I despise Christmas creep, commercialization and the urge that drives people to shop on days once reserved for family. Remember that time a woman returned a turkey?

Today, I rode my bike to Starbucks (1.72 miles). I take the pedestrian underpass (and manage not to tumble when taking that 180-degree turn onto the path under the bridge) and walk my bike up the slope by the hotel. What. You think I can pedal that?

I hear voices and think I'll wait to get back on the bike. Plus, I decide to not to try and cross there, since it is so busy. I walk past a group of German tourists who are super-excited that there are lights in the palm trees.

Just past the Bayfront Inn at the corner of Goodlette-Frank and US 41, I see a gray Honda with Hinds County, Mississippi plates. I play the license plate game sort of part-time, and plates from the two poor Gulf Coast states are rare. The driver waits for me to get back on my bike.

As I pass the vehicle, he rolls the window down and honks. A lost tourist who can't find the relative's house on Thanksgiving.

He's looking for Tamiami Trail North - and he has a quarter-fold sheet of paper with all sorts of directions scrawled on it. This guy is lost.

I tell him how to get there - go up to Central, turn left, look for the Mobil station and the Starbucks. That's Tamiami Trail - although I tell him that it will have several names on maps and street signs - like US 41, 9th Street North and Tamiami Trail.

He sighs and I wish him "Happy Thanksgiving."

Then, I make my fatal, fatal mistake. I decide to be "more helpful" and ask him what neighborhood he's looking for, or if he has a landmark.

"I'm looking for the Rooms To Go."

I tell him to turn right on 41 and then you can't miss the ugly glass palace on the right.

He drives off.

I'm…

I'm…

I'm…

Screenshot from the Roomstogo.com website on Thanksgiving Day.
I'm stunned. It is 9:45 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day. An individual 870 miles from home (at least according to his plates) is running around in a strange city asking directions of COMPLETE STRANGERS on the side of the road in order to by either a $250 "Danielle" platform queen bed in cherry finish. Or maybe he's after a $750 "Spencer Place" 5-piece microfiber living room set that includes a sofa, loveseat and three tables. It's available in three attractive colors: blue, green or beige.

Really people. Stay home. Eat some turkey. Almost nothing you have to buy is so important. I guarantee it is not at Rooms To Go. Shame.

On this Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for my friends. As someone who travels life's road without family, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

Each hug, postcard, cup of coffee and text at 3 am reminds me that I do have a family out there.

Hold tight your loved ones this holiday season, whoever they may be.

Header credit: fotokuchen.wordpress.com

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

All Glocks Down! Pondering the First & Second Amendments


I will admit to being a bit nonplussed the first time I drove past a local pawn shop advertising $499 Glocks on its billboard.

To be fair, you don't normally see pistols and handguns advertised on signs along busy thoroughfares. The thrift store down the block has "Fast, Free Pick-Up & Delivery" on its sign. "MENUDO," scratched in red spray paint, crawls off a sandwich board set in front of the dilapidated Cuban grocery next door.

"Wow. What has society come to?" That was my thought as I drove past. "Guns. Guns. Guns. No one needs all these guns. Much less the ability to pick them up at a pawn shop."

I drove on. The thoughts vanished.

Two days later, I passed the pawn shop again. "GLOCKS" screamed out from the billboard again.

"I need to get a photo of that," I thought.

The next day, I passed the billboard again. It was night and I didn't think I could get a good photo in the semi-darkness. But the message of "$499 Glocks" still beckoned.

This time, I started thinking.

Now, I'm a pacifist. I grew up around guns. My parents had guns in the house, behind the seat of every vehicle and pistols stashed in various places. Neither I nor my little brother managed to blow our heads off, shoot a playmate or fatally wound anything more than the local wildlife.

My grandparents kept two loaded rifles beside the front and back doors; these were used for critters and varmints - the four-legged type. Two generations of grandchildren knew better than to touch those guns for anything other than to move them.

I can't recall the last time I touched a gun. I'm not sure I'll ever touch another one. Firing hot lead out a barrel doesn't do much for me.

And to be honest, thinking that folks can pick up a Glock for $499 at a pawn shop in East Naples doesn't do much for me either.

But this thought kept running through my head as I pondered the sign. I just couldn't get it out of my mind.

"It is kind of a strange application of the First Amendment here. I absolutely don't like guns. But damn if I'm not grateful (and a slight bit amused) that I live in a country where we can advertise them on billboards."

Basically, I figure if I can have the first amendment, you get the second?

That said, the gun control debate in this country is ludicrous. The answer is not "take away all the guns." Nor is it "arm the planet." The solution is somewhere in between.

American citizens have a right to own weapons, be it for self-defense, pleasure or hunting. American citizens DO NOT have the right to own weapons of war; no intelligent, reasonable hunter or marksman would disagree with either of those statements.

No one is shooting a deer with a machine gun. You hunt one thing - and one thing only - with high-powered weaponry. And it shouldn't be available in this country - period.

But criminals will always get guns. Government can add background checks, databases and registries from here to Canada; if a bad guy wants a gun, he can get a gun.

I don't know the solution, other than to restrict the sale of weaponry to all but the most primitive armaments traditionally used in hunting or pleasure shooting. If you're caught with anything else, it is an automatic punishment - but not jail, the government puts you to work building infrastructure projects.

So, that's my train of thought that descends from a random pawn shop billboard.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Poseidon Adventure: Cruising for boys in Naples

Poseidon and I were totally cruised while out on our walk Sunday. Well, it might be more accurate to say that the pile of garbage NEXT to us was cruised. I should not flatter myself; Poseidon was cute though.

We were cruised by a dumpster diver in a battered old Jeep Cherokee. Our boy was more interested in what was in the trash heap on the side of the road than either of us.

Such is the life when you live equidistant between Fifth Avenue South and Bayshore Drive. High-priced women hang out along the corners less than a mile in each direction, but I live in a tiny little slice of paradise.

The furor around the royal baby, HRH Prince George of Cambridge, stirred an interesting train of thought as I walked. Naples has nothing near true royalty, but the very word evokes dreams of golden palaces, servants, elegant rooms and a "lifestyle" of luxury.

Canny real estate developers have been capitalizing on that ever since.

The most desirable portion of Naples sits along a peninsula at the southern end of the city. Port Royal, a neighborhood of ten-figure mansions, enjoys beaches, stately trees and its own security force.

Like grasping courtiers desperate to touch the golden hem of the monarch's gown, "royal" creeps into the name of several neighborhoods across the glimmering expanse of Naples Bay. Into these expanses spill Royal Harbor, Royal Arms and Royal Arms Villas.

My small apartment complex backs onto the farthest-flung outpost of the "royal" empire, a quaint grouping of modest homes known as the Royal Bay Villas. To describe these low-slung blocks of stucco as "villas" is an insult to the word's origins as a country house for wealthy Romans; Caligula retired to larger vomitoriums.

Sundays feature a roving parade of vehicles circling streets, eyeing trash bins or sizing up the condition of a sofa, end chair or some other oddity that catches their eye.

The boldest cruise in the hour before sunset, as homes prep for the night. Some mark finds, hoping to return under the cover of darkness. Others wait until after Sol descends so as to hopefully conceal their activities (or shame!) under the cloak of ebony blackness.

Headlights gleamed in the distance, tiny pinpricks of light that should herald an oncoming vehicle. The lights move slowly, sometimes not at all; beyond, in the well of ink brought on by the night and uncut by non-existent streetlights, we wait.

As our paths march toward each other, Poseidon and I on six legs, the vehicle on four tires, I edge closer and closer to the grassy verge. The car continues to slow; in my naiveté I believe the driver might be exercising caution so as to avoid us.

The drama unspools slowly. Unwilling to walk closer to an unknown object, Poseidon and I wait. The vehicle seems to drive ever slower.

As the headlights grow larger, the driver edges into the oncoming lane; this is not an issue on quiet residential streets at 10 p.m. Except when a neurotic greyhound and I are sharing that lane.

As the lights fix on us, I urge Poseidon to park his hindquarters next to a plastic tub filled with palm leaves and other fallen greenery. I step gingerly between fallen limbs; this driver seems intent on illuminating every inch of us with his headlights.

We wait.

The vehicle passes by. I can clearly see the driver's face. He's staring intently at the cans, hoping for antiques, used furniture of even building supplies. His eyes flit right over both the dog and I. He's clearly not interested in anything we have to offer.

My dreams of roadside romance dashed, I nudge the pooch back onto the road to resume our walk. "He was cute," I thought.

And I proceed to trip over the tree limbs stacked where I was standing.

Cruising. I'm doing it wrong.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Please pick up your Starbucks trash

I met a friend for a late coffee and an early dinner today.

Our plans were slightly derailed by an unexpected thunderstorm that broke over our part of Florida. We've had nothing but pure, beautiful tropical sunshine since before Christmas, so to wake up to 60 degrees and cold, grey rain on Valentine's Day was a bummer.

Mother Nature wanted to remind those of us in Florida not to make (too much) fun of those Yankees shoveling snow…

Anyway. We were supposed to meet at the Starbucks at a local shopping mall. An outdoor mall.

When the second round of rains came at 3 pm, every other shopper and all the tourists decided that Starbucks was the place to be.

The closest I can describe it would be Black Friday in miniature. The line didn't just double back, it tripled back, then snaked along the wall near the high top bar and stools.

Barely space to move. At first, I wedged into line, resigned to just get a hot drink and find some sort of seat somewhere.

Then I saw a woman slowly packing up her purse.

On the off chance she was leaving, I got out of line and stood by the chair. When she left I sat right down.

At this point, right after I sat down, I heard a barista apologize. Apparently, the store only had one espresso machine working. The other one was broken. And a store FULL of customers.

The coffee line got longer and snaked out the door. People looked inside and left. People looked in the glass, pointed and left.

Next to me, an Italian couple searched on vain for a second empty chair. Finally, the husband sat down and the wife sat on his knees. This didn't last long because his knees were bony.

Two hours we were there. No chair was ever empty for more time than it took for someone to lay eyes on it and put a rear in the seat.

You know what shocked me though? Just how filthy the place was. I mean, how disgustingly dirty THE CUSTOMERS were.

Customers would just leave their old cups and plates on tables or the high bar. The next customers would push them over, then leave theirs.

Nobody threw anything away. Baristas came out three times to change the trash bags because it was overflowing, but made no effort to at least get the visible detritus in the room.

I guess I can't blame the baristas. They were overwhelmed by people waiting 10-15 minutes for drinks.

But the lazy slob customers who can't throw away an empty paper cup? Ought to have your Starbucks card revoked. Drink that Folgers stuff that comes out of a coffee maker. See how you like it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tights are not pants. Tights are not pants. Tights are not pants.

Tights are not pants.

Tights are not pants.

Tights are not pants.

Tights are not pants.

Tights are not pants.

Tights are not pants.

Tights are not pants.

Tights are not pants.

Tights are not pants.

You are a fully functioning adult of the age where you have not one, but TWO children.

Gray ribbed tights and a pink shirt that does not cover your ample behind are not enough items of clothing to be considered decent.

Just because it is covered does not mean we cannot see EVERY SINGLE CURVE OF YOUR GLUTEUS MAXIMUS.

My God Woman. The ribs in those tights could be mistaken for the skeleton on a killer whale. You could drive a semi through that weave. Seriously.

Tights are not pants.

Tights are not pants.

Tights are not pants.

This public service brought to you by the Eye Bleach Centers of America.