Category Archives: Life In Florida

A Short Drive Around the Neighborhood

Which is pretty much the only kind of drive you can do around the neighborhood.  It’s pretty short itself, and dead ends.  There is actually more than one way in or out, but you kind of have to know that, otherwise you’ll be driving in an endless maze.  In some cases you will find yourself on a dead end dirt road, with big loose angry dogs and protective roosters at the end.  (Yes, this actually happened to me.) I was actually shocked.  There are dirt roads here?  I live a mile outside the city limits, for God’s sake.  How can there be dirt roads?

So take this little trip with me.  My street is about three blocks long.  So I went from my street to the next one, which is two blocks long, took a right, and then a left onto the “main” road into the neighborhood, and another three blocks to the convenience store at the corner of the main road and the real actual main road, Monroe Street, aka, U.S. Highway 27.  Yes.  I could have walked.

That little convenience store is also a Chevron station,  or primarily a Chevron station, which is a very popular destination, because it normally has the cheapest gas you can buy in Tallahassee.  Lucky me.  When I do buy gas (not often) I go there if I can.  Even I can occasionally be frugal.  The best investment I ever made was buying my current car.  I can go 50 miles on two gallons of gas.  I pretty much hate the car, except for that part.  But I digress.

The station/store is owned and mostly staffed by Africans.  By which, I do not mean African-Americans.  I no longer go there very often, but I’ve been a few times in the last year and never have seen my favorite convenience store clerk ever, whom I believe is from Nigeria.  He’s been studying to be an architect.  But he was there when I walked in today and we were both beaming.  He said, Where have you been?  I said, No, where have YOU been?  He said, in that formal English that immigrants use…I took some time off to concentrate on my studies, and I will graduate next month.  I said, I’ll come back before that month is over.  I’ll take him a present.  And I will find out his name, which sadly I’ve never done.  His circumstances remind me of the book House of Sand and Fog.  Which I hated.  Not because it isn’t a good book, but because it’s so gut-wrenching.

So now we leave the convenience store and travel three more blocks down the main highway to the liquor store.  (Yes, I could walk there too.) Normally I leave trips to the liquor store until Sunday, but I had a wine emergency.  So I walk in the store, and there are two clerks, one ancient guy and a very young woman.  They’re listening to the FSU/Florida game on the radio.  I said, So how are we doing?  The ancient guy says, well it just started and Florida has the ball.  The girl says, I thought you were talking to me.

I love these little random encounters.  Many people hate them and feel invaded by them.  Like, could I just go buy gas and wine and be done with it?  I had a whole conversation once with a guy who saw the book in the bottom of my grocery basket.  (I always take a book, in case I have to wait in line.) And with a different guy in the grocery store while wearing my little clip-on sunglasses that you can flip up.  He said, did you know those were invented by baseball players?

Now, on our short drive, we leave the liquor store and turn left.  We go three blocks and turn onto Cangrove Street, which I can never remember the name of after 12 years in this neighborhood.  I always want to call it Canberra Street.  From Canberrra, we jig left and then right.  We try to time it just right, because you can’t see around the corners.  There are way too many trees and shrubs around here.

And then we are home.  Having made a little tiny circle around the neighborhood.


Politics According to Fakename

First, Florida.  Do you think we could learn to hold an election here?  Palm Beach County, the largest in the state and home of the infamous butterfly ballot and hanging chads from the 2000 election, still hasn’t finished counting its votes.  Not that it really matters.  Obama won, and Romney has now conceded Florida, so let’s just get it over with, shall we?

On Thursday, two days after the election, Miami-Dade County finished counting its votes.  They blamed the delay on the number of “provisional” and “absentee” ballots they had to count.  So says the Supervisor of Elections for that county, who followed it up by saying, “Still, am I embarassed?  Yes.”  That was entirely refreshing.

Okay, due to Hurricane Sandy, many people in New York and New Jersey had to vote using provisional ballots (for my non-U.S. friends, this means you are voting in a different place from where you are assigned.  An absentee ballot is one you mailed in rather than appearing in person).  On election day, some people in New York and New Jersey were voting in tents, by flashlight.  And they called it.  So why hasn’t Florida been able to get it together?  There is a simple answer to that:  because it wasn’t as close in New York as it is in Florida.  It’s dangerous to jump to conclusions.  Once it got to a certain level in New York, the rest of the ballots were essentially unnecessary.  It isn’t whether Obama won, it’s by how much.  Not so in Florida, where we are a tidy microcosm of a divided country.

Much has been made of the fact that this year the Republican Legislature reduced the number of days you could vote early from 14 to 8.  Early used to mean two weeks before election day, which was November 6th.  And indeed, I’d say it caused problems.  Long lines for early voting.  I personally waited in line about 45 minutes, which is nothing compared to people who waited in line for 5 or 6 hours.  However, again, it’s dangerous to jump to conclusions.

Bill Cotterell, the now-retired political reporter for the Tallahassee Democrat, occasionally writes guest columns.  He pointed out the following facts:  We’ve known the number of days were going to be reduced for almost a year.  While the number of days were reduced, the number of hours were not.  The polls were open for 96 hours in both scenarios.  (Not really a good argument in my view, but it is a point.) 

Yesterday, political writer Paul Flemming had an article in the newspaper headlined “Lord have mercy, Florida voters are sane”.  He is referring to the 11 Constitutional Amendments put on the ballot by the (Republican) state Legislature.  Only three were approved, and they had to do with tax relief for wounded veterans. low-income seniors, and the surviving spouses of veterans and first responders.  As for the rest, Flemming says Florida repudiated the “cynical shenanigans of the Legislature”.  He was surprised.  Me too.  But happily.

Also in yesterday’s newspaper, I learned there is a serious movement afoot to amend the U.S. Constitution to overrule the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.  I think this will work.

And now for the Presidential election.  There is an amazing amount of hand-wringing and tooth-gnashing going on in the Republican Party.  Why did we lose?  Also in yesterday’s newspaper there was an editorial by Michael Reagan, son of the late former President Ronald Reagan.  Essentially he argues that Republicans today are not “real” conservatives like his father (well,that’s an arguable point), and that the campaign was a mess and focused on the wrong things (okay, no argument there).

One of the things he said was this:  “First they tore each other to shreds in a bitter primary, smearing their eventual nominee in debates as a rich, uncaring profiteer who put working people out on the street and shipped their jobs overseas”.  Well….?

He more or less concludes with this comment:  “But give credit to Obama’s Chicago Gang.  They ran a much better campaign–on the ground and in the air.  They got out his message of class envy and federal entitlements for all, without any trouble from his toadies in the media [more about toadies in a minute].

Now bigger deficits, higher taxes, and a stagnant economy lie ahead for as far as the eye can see.  And socialized medicine–which my father warned was coming to America 50 years ago–is going to soon become a reality via Obamacare.”

Um, no Michael, that’s not quite right.  Here’s what the deal is: we are breaking up with the Republican Party.  You know that awkward moment when you break up with someone, and you say, “It isn’t you, it’s me”?    In this case, it’s you.

What kept puzzling me throughout the election process was how certain conservatives were that they would win.  I just couldn’t see it,and thought they were wrong.  But I wasn’t certain.  Part of it is the tendency of the media to imply that all points of view are equivalent.  So fringe ideas get airtime or column space, and you never have a real feel for how many people actually agree or believe in ideas other than your own.  Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It forces you to come to an independent decision. But therefore, I really had no certainty of how the election would go, just an impression.

But there is a group of people who are married to the idea of only listening to other people who agree with them.  The people who invented the term “Mainstream Media”.  And now we are back to toadies.  The media people whose main goal was to keep their watchers/readers happy so they would keep coming back.   I leave you with this incredible article from The Atlantic.

Reading With Fakename: Angel City

This is an older book, published in 1978, by Patrick D. Smith, who is the best writer you never heard of.  In spite of the fact that neither you (nor I) ever heard of him, he was nominated three times for the Pulitzer and five times for the Nobel Prize in literature.  From what I can tell, he only wrote six novels, the last one being “A Land Remembered” in 1984, which I’d say is his masterpiece.

That was the first book of his that I read, after it was recommended to me by a colleague.  It’s a multigenerational novel about a family scratching out a living in central Florida by farming a little and capturing wild cattle and selling them.  It reads like a history of Florida.

The second book I read was Forever Island, which is more like a history of the Seminoles in Florida.

Angel City is about a migrant worker camp, which reads more like a horror story set in Florida.

A short aside here:  while Smith spent his entire work life in an academic setting, he was in Public Relations, not in teaching.  In this he reminds me of the poet Wallace Stevens, who did win the Pulitzer in 1955, and spent his career in the insurance industry.  It has always fascinated me that good writers can spend their lives in mundane careers.  I have this stereotype of writers as all being like Henry David Thoreaux, wild and crazy adventurers like Lord Byron, or tortured souls living in a cabin deep in the woods like the Unabomber.  Which is ridiculous, of course.  (That’s why it’s a stereotype.)

Angel City tells the story of Jared Teeter and his family–very pregnant wife Cloma, and his teenage children Kristy and Bennie.  For more than 100 years, Jared and his ancestors have been farming in the mountains of West Virginia.  But as Jared so eloquently put it, “Use to be a man could make it on a farm just by growin’ enough to feed his family and havin’ enough left over to get stuff such as flour and salt and shoes.  “Tain’t true no more.  Now the taxes and the machines and the gasoline and the stuff at the store takes ten times what a fellow can make.  The eggs ain’t worth the price of chicken feed, and the milk ain’t worth the cow feed.  Just ain’t no way anymore for a poor man to make it here.”

So he sells his land (except for a small plot where his parents are buried) and moves his family to Homestead, Florida, where they plan to pick fruit and vegetables for a while until they can save some money, get a home, and start some business or a farm of their own.  Along the way, they see fruit and vegetable stands and decide that will be their business.  The whole family gets excited about it and they eagerly talk about their vision of how it will be.  They can build a house behind the fruit stand!  They can buy some land behind the house and grow their own produce!  The children are anxious to see the ocean.  Bennie wants to fish, and Kristy wants a red two-piece swimsuit.

Once they arrive in Homestead, Jared discovers that finding work is easier said than done.  The farms all want experienced pickers, by which they mean automatons who can pick at the speed of light.  Jared’s experience of having his own farm is not good enough. At last,  Jared lies and is hired by a contractor named Creedy (could have been named Simon Legree).  He and his family are taken to a camp called Angel City, and their first uneasy clue that this might not be all they were hoping for is when they observe that the camp is surrounded by a chain link fence with barbed wire on top.  Once they are inside, they are locked in.  Jared eventually asks another picker he’s befriended why the camp is called Angel City.  The friend says, because the only way you’re getting out of here is when you go to meet the angels.

Jared is further educated after his first week when he lines up with the others to get paid.  Creedy tells him his total is $372.50.  Like all farmers, Jared is good at math, and says no way!  I couldn’t possibly have earned that much!  No, says Creedy, that’s what you owe me.

And it goes downhill from there.  Jared never stops struggling to free himself and his family.  There is a very dramatic and relatively happy ending, which I won’t describe, because I really think you should read this book.

The book is like a cross between Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Grapes of Wrath, Florida version.  It’s set in the early ’70’s, when we were under the illusion that slavery was over.  It is not.  Florida now has a task force on human trafficking, defined as “labor, domestic servitude, or sexual exploitation using force, fraud and/or coercion”.  Here is this from the Florida Department of Children and Families:

Human Trafficking

Human Trafficking is modern day slavery. Criminalized under both federal and Florida law, it is defined as the transporting, soliciting, recruiting, harboring, providing, or obtaining of another person for transport; for the purposes of forced labor, domestic servitude or sexual exploitation using force, fraud and/or coercion.   Find out more about Human Trafficking.

If you believe you are a victim of Human Trafficking or suspect an adult is a victim of human trafficking, please visit the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, or call them at 1-888-3737-888.  If you suspect a child is a victim, please call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE.

Angel City shows the futility of the victims.  How can they get away to ask for help?  They must depend on us.


Geography Lesson, Florida Version

On Friday, the local paper’s top headline on Page One was entitled “For The Birds”.  The story is about the purchase by Audubon of Florida of Lanark Reef.  I’d never heard of the place.  But it’s in the Gulf of Mexico about a mile south of Lanark Village.  And I do know Lanark Village.  You have to pass by it on Highway 98, between Tallahassee and St. George Island.  It has a much larger cousin, Dog Island.  Dog Island is 6 miles long and 1 mile wide.

It turns out that this place I never heard of is one of the most important sites for nesting, over-wintering, and rest stops for migratory species, for all sorts of birds. It has the largest rookery for brown pelicans out of only four in the state.  (What?  Only four?) So I guess this is not only a geography lesson, it’s also an ornithology lesson.

The article says the reef is 6 miles long also, but most of it is submerged at high tide.  It’s a sand flat, with mudflats at both ends, and the “dry” part can sometimes be submerged itself during high tide…or a storm surge.

So here is the absolutely hysterical part.  Since 1956, Lanark Reef has been in private hands.  In 2011 it was “acquired” by Premier Bank from a private developer.  One wonders what “acquired” means in this context.  Prior to that, the developer applied for a permit to build houses here, and was denied.  Duh.  You wanted to build houses on a SAND FLAT?  Only in Florida.  It sounds like something from a book by Carl Hiassen.  (Read “Sick Puppy”).

60% of Dog Island is managed by the Nature Conservancy.  The other 40% has private houses, and true story:  during Tropical Storm Debby this year, two large families who were vacationing together had to be rescued from Dog Island by helicopter.  Two large families and a dog, that is.  The basket that was lowered to the house could hold two people at at time–or one person and one dog.  They had a boat of course, because that’s the only way to get there, but there was no way they could have taken it anywhere safely.  The Gulf was churning like a washing machine.  It took the authorities a long time to find a helicopter.  All the ones in Florida were in use rescuing other people. I think they finally got one from Texas.

If that happened on Dog Island, picture what Lanark Reef would have looked like.  The people in those proposed “homes” would have drowned long before a helicopter could get there.

Audubon purchased it for $33,000.  Again, What?  That sounds like about $32,999 too much for a worthless piece of “land”, if you can call it that.  But we value land by whether or not you can build or grow something on it, and birds don’t count.

Now that Audubon owns it, they have a new rule.  You can’t set foot on it.  You can ride around it in a boat, and look at the birds through binoculars, but you can’t walk on it.

One of the birds that likes to hang out on the reef in winter is the American Oystercatcher.  Shorebirds love nesting on sand flats, and they love hunting in mudflats.

So another true story:  Once when Fakesister was visiting, we went to Bald Point State Park for a little fun in the sun and amateur birdwatching.  Bald Point is not that great as a sunbathing beach, but it’s good for birdwatching, because there are mudflats close enough to shore that you can almost see the birds there.  We were both armed with our bird ID books, and were having a friendly discussion about whether the birds we were seeing were sandpipers or sanderlings.  When what to our wondering eyes should appear but a Serious Birdwatcher, loaded down with a tripod and a camera with the largest zoom lens I’ve ever seen.  It would make a fatal weapon if you hit somebody over the head with it.

Serious Birdwatcher guy set up his gear very close to us, so Fakesister and I decided to ask him what the little brown birds were.  We were a little hesitant to interrupt him, but decided to be brave.  He turned out to be incredibly friendly and completely willing to share his passion with us.  And he asked if we wanted to look through his zoom lens at the mudflat he was trained on.  We did.  And there, for the first time, we saw American Oystercatchers.  I had never heard of them, speaking of ornithology lessons.

Here is a picture of one, and this is exactly how we saw them.  Feet submerged.  Bright orange bills, poking and snapping.  They are considered threatened in Florida.  I wonder how they’re doing now, since oysters have become more scarce.  The photo is from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the premier place to go if you want to learn about any bird.

Only in Florida (Or Maybe Not)

Due to our friends, the NRA (with special thanks to Marion Hammer), last year the Florida legislature enacted a statute saying that all gun laws are the province of the State.  Any counties or cities which had their own ordinances were required to repeal them and were prohibited from enacting any others.

So an interesting development has taken place.  In the Meadow Hills neighborhood in Tallahassee, a guy named Lear is complaining about one of his neighbors, Cowart.  Cowart is shooting squirrels in his back yard with a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with buckshot.  Lear says this is dangerous.  Cowart says he only shoots squirrels on the ground, not in the trees.  Lear and other neighbors dispute this, and say they are finding buckshot in their yards.  It used to be illegal to shoot a firearm in residential areas here, but no longer.   A slight oversight on the part of the State legislature.

So this year, the Florida legislature enacted an amendment to the statute, saying it’s illegal to “recklessly or negligently discharge a firearm on any property used as a dwelling”.  When that happened, Lear complained again.  And you can guess what happened.  Nobody knows what “reckless” or “negligent” means.  For the most part Lear is complaining to the wrong people.  He’s complaining to local authorities.  He did get one thing right.  He complained (filed an affadavit) with the State Attorney’s office.  You are always better off to ask a State law enforcement agency to enforce a State law.

For instance, murder is a State law.  Local authorities are allowed to investigate and arrest suspected murderers.  But only the State can charge and prosecute them.  People, for the most part, do not understand how government works.

The State Attorney cited a State law that it is legal for people to shoot nuisance, fur-bearing animals which cause damage to private property.  And Cowart says the squirrels are eating his wiring.  (I wonder if anybody proved that?) So Lear lost again.  For now.  He needs to get to the right people with his concerns (the legislature).  And just in case you think Lear is some kind of pacifist squirrel-hugger kind of guy, he is a Navy veteran and a member of the NRA himself.

Which brings me to the NRA (again).  I hate them.  If they had a lick of sense, as we say in the South, they would support reasonable gun-control measures.  Instead, they have been hijacked by the all-or-nothing people.  ANY gun control or registration is like the promise of some future Armageddon.  They oppose all efforts to regulate guns, and operate on the Slippery Slope Theory. “When you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns”.  What about the concept of trying to keep guns out of the hands of outlaws?  Granted, that will be imperfect, but it would help.

I decidedly don’t hate gun owners, or hunters. or hunting, or personal protection with guns.  The people I know who own guns are fanatics about safety and aren’t fanatics about regulation, and are members of the NRA.  They would NEVER shoot squirrels in their neighborhoods.

The NRA is in a perfect position to advise and help construct reasonable gun control regulations.  Instead, their position is that no such laws are acceptable.  (See:  Slippery Slope.)  Somebody needs to stage a coup.  What we need is a regime change at the NRA.

Clothing and the Metric System

The inspiration for this is the fact that it’s getting cooler now in north Florida, down to about 64 at night.  Needless to say, that’s Fahrenheit.  I never think about the metric issue until I start thinking about the weather.  Then I think of my friend Sue in Canada.  She taught me this great quickie formula for conversion of Fahrenheit to Centigrade, or vice versa, which bypasses all that dividing or multiplying by 9/5 or 5/9.  So here you go:  To convert F to C, subtract 30, then divide in half.  So, 64F is approximately 17C.  Sue would consider that balmy.

On the other hand, some days, Sue posts on Facebook that it is expected to reach 27 (!) and she is going to die!  I think, me too!  I need to build a fire!  Then I remember.  27C is about 84F.  I consider that balmy.

And don’t get me started on kilometers.  All I can say is that lucky for me, most modern cars have speedometers for measurements of both.  Otherwise, driving in Canada, as I have done, I would have no idea whether or not I was obeying the speed limit.  Not that I take that into account in any case.  I go with the flow, and correct according to road conditions, and hope that works out.

Sue lives in a border/tourist town between Canada and the U.S. on the St. Lawrence River, and they have learned all sorts of conversion tables in their heads.  Centigrade to Fahrenheit.  Kilometers to miles.  Canadian dollars to the U.S. dollar.   Clothing sizes.

Yes, clothing sizes.  It dawned on me that sizes for women’s clothing in other countries might be different from that in the U.S.  Not that it has anything to do with the metric system, but I was right.

Most of us have long been suspicious that clothing manufacturers or distributors in the U.S. deliberately reduce the sizes of clothes so that women don’t get depressed about how fat they are.  So, size 12 in the U.S., which as far as I know is still considered average, would be a 14 in the UK and Canada.   And they are probably fudging a bit too.

This is no more evident than when we hire a new female employee at work.  We provide free uniforms to them, so as part of the orientation process we ask, What size do you wear?  The answers are hilarious.  I wear a 4, they say.  I look at these women and silently think, okay.  You are 6 inches taller than me and weigh at least 40 pounds more than me.  (And I weigh somewhere between 115 and 120 and wear a 10 or sometimes 12.)  You wear a 4 in an alternate universe.  So mentally, I just always add 8.  If you think you wear a 4, I order a 12.

But speaking of depressing, in shoes, I wear a 6 1/2 U.S. , but they don’t seem to make half-sizes for the U.S. any more.  So I have to choose between a 6 and a 7.  In the U.S., a 6 is a 4 1/2  and a 7 is a 5 1/2.  In Europe, a 7 in the U.S. is a size 39.  Okay, that would depress me.

Now that “winter” is coming on–a relative term, and it won’t happen for a couple of months yet–I have to take stock of my “winter” clothing.  I have to find my gloves, and my furry caps, and buy some tights, and get a suede brush for my boots.  I have to wash my workaday jacket and have my actual coat cleaned (for the longest time I didn’t even have a coat).  I should buy socks too.

I hate cold weather.  I don’t like waking up in the dark.  I don’t like wearing so many clothes.  I don’t like not being able to sit in the back yard at my picnic table and read.  This is worse than preparing for hurricane season.  Much, much worse.  I just have to remind myself that I only have to hunker down and endure it for about two months, because by February it will be spring.

I could be the poster child for Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Backyard Oasis

I took this photo last Saturday while standing under the protective canopy outside the door, because I was so struck by the beauty of the scene.  It was absolutely pouring rain, which obscures the forest behind the trees you can see clearly.

Looks like a park, doesn’t it?

I live a half-mile north of the Interstate (I-10) and the city limits, and about two blocks from the major north-south highway (U.S. 27) through Tallahassee.  So how, you might ask, is such an urban forest of 11 acres allowed to stand?  That’s a long story.

But every day that I come home from work, I take U.S. 27 to a tiny street called Ray Road (one block long) into my neigborhood and the first thing I see when I turn onto that street is a wall of trees straight ahead.  A side view of the forest.  And no matter how stressful my day has been, I am instantly calmed down.  There is no medication that would work better, and anyhow, medication wears off.  The forest never does.

I then take another tiny street (Laris Drive), a two-block street, for one block and then I turn onto my own tiny street, which is an amazingly long four blocks.  And there I am, home to the oasis in the middle of an urban environment.  My neighborhood is basically a dead end neighborhood, though it is not a cul-de-sac.  There are four ways in and out, but you can only go so far.  You can go in from the west (U.S. 27) but you can’t go far east, for it dead ends.  You can only go in and out from the direction you came in.  It’s pretty funny.  We humans think when we’re lost, that if we keep going, we’ll come to somewhere else.  The last thing we think of is turning around and going back the way we came.

Because of its isolation, I’ve learned that many long-time residents of the area don’t even know my neighborhood exists.  Those who do, know you can’t get anywhere from here.    So it’s like a secret garden.  There is almost no traffic or noise.

Just to the left of center in the picture, you will see my tiny picnic table, which will comfortably accomodate two people, and in a pinch, four.  But mostly it’s just me–reading and thinking.  I have most of my best National Geographic moments here, all of which are not welcome.  Especially when insects are involved. I searched forever online for this table, because my primary requirement was that it have separate benches.  You can’t imagine how difficult that was to find.  I finally found, and ordered, this one from British Columbia.  I dread the day when it fails, because wood does not last forever.  Last year a carpenter bee drilled a hole in the end of the table and made it her home.  That was…Not Fun.  So natural weathering is not all there is to worry about.

Last week I had two National Geographic moments.  I went out and heard some kind of bird calling that I’d never heard before.  It sounded like somebody was strangling a baby duck.  Then, there was another.  Because the trees are so tall, I usually can’t see the birds, I can only hear them.  I finally decided they were baby hawks, practicing talking to each other.

The final NGM was, a kerfuffle developed almost right in front of me.  In the summer, I have a profusion of shrubs and vines that the Cardinals love to nest in.  The kerfuffle was a fight between a squirrel and a female Cardinal.  The only thing I could think of was that the squirrel was after the Cardinal’s eggs.  But squirrels eat bird eggs? (Yes.)  And wait again…I thought birds only had baby birds in the spring.  (No.  Cardinals have 3-4 broods per year.)  It turns out I was accidentally right.

But what a sight that was.  Initially there was a lot of rustling of leaves and squawks of various kinds, but it was all hidden from view.  Eventually the squirrel retreated, though not far, to a small branch right above the shrub, where he or she chattered quite aggressively.  Then the Cardinal emerged and hovered in the air, madly flapping her wings in his face and screaming.  She won.  The squirrel retreated further up the tree and gave up.  You go, Girl!

I guess it isn’t exactly like seeing a black rhino in the wild, or swimming with dolphins, but I long ago developed the ability to take great pleasure in small things.

One day I will have to give this up, because I simply won’t be able to afford it any more.  I hope that’s a long time coming.  In the meantime, I intend to etch it in my memory and wring every possible moment of joy from it that I can.

The Republican National Lovefest

I’m not a member of any organized political party–I’m a Democrat.–Will Rogers, 1930.

That’s not exactly what he said, but close enough.  And it rings true.  I’m a card-carrying Democrat, as in, it’s enshrined on my voter registration card.

Sometimes it can be a little embarassing to be a Democrat.  Like when they do shameless pandering, but hey–what can you do?  Be a Republican?  Republicans are shameless panderers too, but they do a better job of it.  At least they’re better at concealment of their motives, whereas Democrats are all kinds of transparent.  They (We) are like little kids who tell a lie with our fingers crossed.  Like nobody can see those crossed fingers and know exactly what it means.

Yesterday, I got an email from Paul Ryan, who wanted me to support him and Mitt Romney in their efforts to be America’s Comeback Team, after four years of failed leadership.  So here is my question.  How did Paul Ryan get my email address?  He got the email address right, but the message begins, “Dear Priscilla…”  Which isn’t my name.  I mean, you have to wonder–if they can’t get that right, can they run a country?  I can see it now.  “Dear President Puffkin, or whatever your name is…”

On Friday, my favorite editorial writer for the Tallahassee Democrat, Paul Flemming, wrote a piece called “Bored in Tampa?  Wanna bet?”  The gist of the article was that just in case you thought there would be no drama left in the Convention, he suggested several issues you could bet on, just to liven things up.  It would make a great drinking game.

Here are a couple of examples.

Name the distance, in miles, of Sarah Palin’s designated seat from the podium.  My guess is, 4,805 miles.  That’s the distance between Tampa and Anchorage.  Your turn.  If you get closer, you win.

More arrests.  Hookers or Occupy protesters?  This is kind of an inside joke, because Tampa is famous for hookers.  Could this be the reason the Republicans chose Tampa, during the most active month of the hurricane season?  My money is solidly on the Occupy protesters, because hookers are smarter than they are.  They manage to get arrested way less often.

I hope Paul Flemming will be going to the Democratic National Lovefest too.

Another Visit With Yard Guy

To refresh my readers, and introduce him to my new readers, Yard Guy (aka Tom) is a recurring character in my world, and is the subject of my post “Redneck Environmentalism”.

Tom works for a body shop, but has a lawn mowing business on the side.  His mother lives around the corner from me, and here is how we first became acquainted:  On several visits to his mother to mow her lawn, he noticed I had a Camaro sitting in my driveway for about two months.  And he wanted it.  So over the fence in the back yard one day, his mother asked me what what I was asking for it.  I told her the engine was dead, and he really might want to rethink the whole idea.

At that point I would have been happy to have someone pay to tow it out of my driveway.  Well, not happy, exactly.  I loved that car.  Hard to explain how you can have such an attachment to a mechanical object.  Especially a dead one.  But the fact was that coming home every day to see it dead in the driveway was prolonging the misery.  Still, I was very honest with my neighbor.  And other than the engine, ha ha, there was nothing else wrong with it other than that it was 14 years old.  It had a new clutch, a new windshield, a new radiator, and relatively new tires.  It had a few cosmetic issues–like the edge of the driver’s side seat was frayed, the passenger side visor had snapped off, the cigarette lighter didn’t work, and the backup lights didn’t work.  All things you could live with–there was just that one small annoying problem with the engine.

But Tom came to see me anyway, and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.  He said he would take care of my lawn for the entire summer season (March through October), if I would give him the car.  That’s about an $800 value, which is the pretty much the maximum I could have gotten for the car IF it was running.  No brainer–I was definitely coming out on top in that deal.  Since that time, which began in March 2009, I’ve gotten to know Tom fairly well.  And Tom leads and has led an interesting life.  And because he has a quirky family, he somehow always ends up in the middle of some drama not of his own making.

So this morning, he arrived early to mow his mother’s lawn, while it was still cool and hadn’t started raining yet.  No sooner does he unload the mower than his mother says, I need you to take a ride with me across town to pick up “Mary” (his sister’s son’s wife).  “She’s having a panic attack in the parking lot of Target and her two kids are with her”.  Tom is just rolling his eyes, but he goes.

I learned that since the last time I saw him, his little dog Patches died.  I kind of guessed that, because the last time he was here, although we didn’t talk, I saw that Patches wasn’t with him, and had she been able, she would have been.  Patches was a white Chihuahua with apricot patches.  She was 19, and mostly blind and mostly deaf.  He would try to leave her in the truck, but that didn’t ever work.  She would become hysterical.

Tom had to be within Patches’ sight or hearing at all times.  So he would let her out of the truck and she would follow him around.  She was always smart enough to stay out of the way of the mower.  But as her sight and hearing worsened (and probably her cognitive abilites), she would wander off and get lost.  So it has always been a neighborhood effort to keep track of Patches when Tom is around.  No more.

Finally, I caught Tom this morning while he was still in my front yard to say that if he was going to do the back yard too (sometimes he has to split it up), to be careful, because there was a turtle out there.  I happened to look out my kitchen window this morning to see it creeping along on its mysterious mission.  Tom said, “Don’t worry.  It will be fine until I run over it with the mower”.  We both laughed heartily at that.  (Remember Redneck Environmentalism.)  Tom would never hurt a turtle on purpose–which is why I wanted him to know it was out there.

I suggested that when he left he could put it in his truck and take it to the lake nearby.  Oh no, he said.  I think we should leave it where it lives, and let it find its own way in life.  See why I like Tom?

Critter Update

The Doberman is apparently feeling quite sprightly, which is a good thing, since he is just about 2 1/2 months away from turning 13.  Thereby having already outlived the average Doberman lifespan of 10-12 years.

The thing is, he looks absolutely terrible.  He has a condition called…wait for it…dry eye.  This causes him to produce copious amounts of mucus in his right eye, so that it looks infected, but the vet says it isn’t.  It’s just irritated.  The eye drops they gave me (the doggie form of Restasis for humans) don’t work.  Take a moment here to imagine how much fun it is to put eye drops in the eye of a Doberman.

So lately I have taken to removing the gunk from his eye with a Q-tip.  This is very scary.  Because if he makes a sudden move, I could poke a hole in his eye.  That would not be good.  But he’s a very good and trusting boy, so he mostly stays still…for a short time.  I have a small window of opportunity there.  But I feel compelled to do it, because when I say copious, I do mean that.  It practically coats his eye, which has to be uncomfortable and verging on blinding.  Sometimes he will rub the right side of his face on the couch to try to dislodge it, but that doesn’t work.  It does tell me that he’s uncomfortable.  So I will keep doing it.

Nevertheless, it apparently doesn’t bother him that much.  He’s developed a relatively new short, sharp bark.  He uses this to warn the Basenji mix (aka Pippin the Beast) that he plans to drink from the community water bowl.  As far as Pippin is concerned, the water bowl is far too close to his food bowl.  For it to be far enough away, it would have to be across the street.

It would help if Pippin hadn’t developed the new habit of leaving a few morsels of food in his bowl.  I assume that gives him a reason to be protective at all times.  That must be more fun.

So, what to do?  Well, here’s my strategy.  I stay out of it.  I think that in spite of my alleged status in our tiny pack,  and in fact because of it, I can’t be in charge of everything.  You guys are dogs.  Work it out.  What I would like to do, most of the time, is kill Pippin.  Except of course, I could never do that.  When it’s just him and me, he is the most incredibly loyal and affectionate being who ever existed.  So I inadvertently have learned how to do what the experts say:  Always support the alpha, no matter what.  It may seem counterintuitive (because you’d like to kill them), but if you don’t kill them, supporting them and giving them confidence makes it safer for the other dog(s).

Meanwhile, I have a cat, Stormy, who is solid white and fat as a pig.  If it’s possible, she is even more affectionate than either of the two dogs.  As demonstrated by the fact that at night, she likes to sleep on my knee.  The one I recently sprained.  Which still hurts.  A whole world awaits her out there when it comes to places to sleep.  But, no.  Perhaps she has delusions of having healing powers.  I joke, but it’s gotten somewhat ridiculous.  And I cannot completely dismiss the idea.

But she looks terrible too.  There is a particular place on the back of her neck that she scratches when she has a flea or fleas.  Living here in the near-tropics, fleas and mosquitos are a way of life.  But three days ago I treated her for fleas and all the other evil beasties, and this morning, the place on her neck is worse.  I think she’s become immune to this medication, which happens.

And plus, I have my own health to think of.  Fleas don’t bother me, but mosquitos are an entirely different matter.  It probably doesn’t help that I just finished a book about malaria–even though there is no malaria in the U.S.  But there is West Nile Virus.  Eastern Equine Encephalitis.

If  someone could figure out how to make mosquitos extinct…sign me up.

Meanwhile, I am helping to pay the rent for Cutter, maker of what I would call personal insecticides.  I use one without DEET.  I hate DEET.

I can’t stand not going outside, but I’m well aware that it’s a crapshoot.  That one tiny place on your…elbow, ear, neck…where your insecticide didn’t reach…is the very place you could be bitten by an infected mosquito.  It only takes one.  But I can’t live like that.

So me and the two dogs and the cat are toughing it out.