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Friday, June 24, 2016

PICKLED SNAKE

      Every two years I get to be "Uncle Glenn". We travel to a family reunion where many young people refer to me that way.

   I bring them gifts, things any six-year old would love.

   This time it included a dead snake in a pickle jar. I'd had it for years in my art class, something I'd drag out every time a student asked, "How do you draw a snake?" or "Got anything cool in your back room?"

   Unfortunately it didn't travel well. When we reached South Carolina and I took "Mr. Snake" out of the van, the jar was leaking. The liquid smelled like a rotting animal and now, so did my hands. I washed them three times trying to imaginine the odor was more interesting than repulsive. No one else thought so. You probably get used to it when you work in the back of a funeral home.
    No one, not even a six-year-old, wanted the snake. 

   What could I do?  You can't just toss something this special. I knew there was still "life" in this dead snake. 

   Our rented beach house is a block from a string of cheesy tourist shops. I suggested that I sneak it onto a shelf at "The Island Mermaid", next to the pickled eggs.
   Francesca pointed out that the store would probably be shut down by the health department. Further, I'd be caught on camera and have to become some kind of low-county outlaw. Finally, she said, it was a dumb idea.
   Francesca was probably right. I would make a terrible fugitive and would soon get caught, whimpering in some mosquito-festooned rice bog.
   I thought it might be appreciated by local science museum but, on this island, there aren't any. There is an old fort where the imprisoned Osceola died and a garrison where a young Edgar Allen Poe was once stationed but no science collections where a smelly grey snake might be appreciated.

   My wife pointed out that every living thing ends up in the ground. "Let's bury it", she suggested. Part of me thought this would be a waste of snake, but heck, my options were limited. The smell was getting worse. I went along with it thinking a proper funeral for Mr. Snake might would be the best thing, something a grown man might do.

    Surrounded by family we did just that. Rest in peace, Mr. Snake. May you stink no more.
                





                                                          ________________________

Thursday, June 16, 2016

LINCOLN'S ASSASINATION'S 56 YEARS AGO

     We'll be choosing a new President soon.  Thinking about our former leaders reminded me of a school project long ago.
    It was the spring of 1960 when we were given an American History class assignment. "Break up into groups", bellowed Mr. Bromir, , "Come up with something creative about our past".
     My two friends and I were giddy with excitement as we considered dying at the Alamo or bringing Hitler to his knees. When I suggested that we re-enact the assassination of President Lincoln they were ecstatic. The sad story had everything junior high thespians could hope for, war, murder, and a group hanging.
    We had fake mustaches left over from Halloween (we had been beatniks), a friend had a pistol, and we had plenty of ketchup for blood.
    Since Alan was the skinniest of us (we called  him "Bone Rack"), he got to play Lincoln.  John, drawing the shortest straw, had to dress up in drag to become Mary Todd Lincoln. That left me to portray America's most hated man (Trump had not been born yet), John Wilkes Booth.
    Our location scout (me) chose to film at my place in Miami Springs. It had everything we needed, period furniture, a playhouse, and a swing to serve as our gallows.

   We began with the conspirators meeting at Mary Surratt's rooming house.  We gathered in the playhouse and I told everyone, "Nobody can smile or look at the camera. It's gotta look like the real thing. Our camera can only take 12 pictures."  
      We ended up with five usable photographs. We projected them (as slides) onto a classroom screen as we took turns reciting our version of the story. It went something like this.

THE KILLING OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN BY  THE SCOUNDREL, JOHN WILKES BOOTH  

    It was the spring of 1865 and the Civil War was drawing to a close. The popular actor, John Wilkes Booth, a southern sympathizer, gathered with friends.They made plans to kill the man they hated most, President Abraham Lincoln.
 
Here, Lewis Powell and George Atzerodt and Mary Surratt meet with Booth at the rooming house.  As we go over the plan my little brother, Bruce, breaks a major rule, "Don't look at the camera!" .

    On April 9, 1865, our country's bloodiest war finally ended.  Four days later President Lincoln's wife talked him into stepping out for some fun.  Big mistake. 
   They didn't have movies back then so they went to see a play at Ford's Theater nearby.
 
John's wig is just what it looks like, a mop head. At the time, we thought it almost looked like Mary Todd's hair.

 
While they were watching the funniest part of the comedy, "Our American Cousin" -and everyone in the audience was laughing- Booth snuck up behind the President. His little gun held just one bullet  and he fired it into  Lincoln's head. 
Mary Todd's expression makes it look like she was in on it.  Using this photo as evidence present day conspiracy theorists may explore new territory.

     When Booth jumped from the President's box down to the stage, he broke his leg. He waved a knife, yelled to the audience, "Death to the Tyrant!", and escaped to Virginia.

    He stopped to get help from his friend, Dr. Samuel Mudd.  Later Mudd was imprisoned on an island near Key West for aiding the assassin.  Key West was not a fun place then.  There was no air-conditioning or Sloppy Joe's.

     Our slain President's body laid in state in my living room's rotunda, long enough to take this photo. 
A few days later it was taken back to Lincoln's home state, Illinois, for burial.  My little brother and sister did a pretty good job of looking sad.  Neighbor Mary Brown (with her baby sister) ended up looking like Fidel Castro, who was just a kid (with no beard) back then.

       The U.S. Army chased Booth across Virginia until they found him hiding in barn.  Booth refused to come out so they set it on fire. When a gun fight broke out Booth was killed.  
    The remaining conspirators were quickly rounded up, put on trial, and found guilty.  Four of them, were executed in public hanging including Mary Surratt.  As you can see she did not go without a struggle. 
 


Thus ends our version of the infamous story. It may not end up in the Library of Congress but it will always be enshrined in the Grove Guy's Cyber-journal.
                            ________________ 

  Addendum-  Years later I toured Ford's Theater, a fascinating place which still puts on stage productions. In the basement museum you could view Booth's pistol along with the hoods and nooses used to hang the conspirators.  I also saw Booth's neck vertebrae. The mini-ball is embedded in it.  
 Two years ago I toured the Library of Congress.  On display were the contents of Lincoln's pockets on the night he was assassinated. I remember his glasses and a wallet that looked like yours or mine.
                                     ____________

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

HISTORIC GROVE HOUSE PRESERVED, A New B&B

     Charles Avenue marks the beginning of the West Grove, South Florida's first African-American community. 
As you enter off Main Highway the faded Grove Playhouse is on your right, a sad sight since it closed ten years ago.

   On the left is something quite different, a historic house in the midst of a meticulous renovation. The two-story wooden structure was once the opulent home of West Grove pioneer, Ebenezer Stirrup. Several years ago a developer bought it with plans to knock it down and build another white box. Fortunately, angry citizens and preservation laws thwarted his efforts. 
    Now he is doing the next best thing (which is actually the best thing) by re-building the house. A year from now it will be the "Stirrup House", a snazzy b&b.  
    If this 100-year-old structure was built with 3,000 boards, it looks like 2,998 of them are being replaced.  Stick by stick the Stirrup House is becoming something we can be proud of.
     Maybe when the crew finishes, they can cross the street and re-build the playhouse.
                                 _______   OTHERS ON CHARLES        There are many other beautiful "old ladies" lining Charles Avenue.

   Just next to Stirrup House is this Key West charmer.

And here are a few more,

The Mariah Brown House    

 


Saturday, June 11, 2016

THIS MONTH'S DEATH ROW LIST (Kiss These Houses Goodbye)

     Every month the City of Miami produces a list of houses that have received demolition permits. These are the the addresses of the ones listed in Coconut Grove for June, 2016: 

3500 Curtis Lane
    3220 Matilda St.
        3160 Shipping
             2550 Overbrook
                  4055 Hardee
                       3210 Calusa
                            3280 Day Ave.
                                 3621 Noc-a-tee
   Keep in mind that many developers have received permits previously but have not torn down their old Grove houses yet. Other residences, like this wooden bungalow on Swanson, got its permit a couple of months ago.
    It got clawed to pieces last Tuesday.  Soon it will be replaced by something like this,



                        _________________


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

NO CELL PHONE FOR ME,

     I love living in the past.  In my late 60's I still don't have a cell phone. 
     At the school where I worked. Students would ask incredulously, "How can you possibly live that way?" and I would explain that people did just that for 100,000 years. 
    It seems that every person over the age of 8 has a portable telephone. Why not the Grove Guy? The reasons are many.     I like the simple life. Knowing there is no device buzzing (ringing, chiming) in my pocket gives me great pleasure. Living in the past helps me to stay in the present. 
    Do I feel safe without one? Yes, as safe as I need to be.    (photo  taken with a camera)
If I ever need to call the cops my house has a land-line. Outside the house I''ll take my chances. Chances are I'll be fine. If I do get into, say,  a car accident it will probably be because another driver was staring at a phone instead of the road. I'll borrow his phone to report it.
    The $1000 a year I save can be used for more important things.  Mangoes aren't getting any cheaper.
    Do cell phones cause cancer?  Who knows? For decades the tobacco industry told us smoking was safe. Holding a warm, radiating gizmo next my noggin seems suspicious.
Scarier than cancer are the zombies.

    When I see entire families together, and each one is staring a  phone, I wonder, "How did humanity sink so low?".  I  imagine they're infected by a virulent zombie virus, one created by the electronics industry.  In a sense, they are. 
    E-businesses (and every politician they finance) want us to use cell phones and to buy their latest phone models until our wallets run dry. I'm not playing their game.
   I could have a job that required me to be electronically connected. Thankfully I do not. My classroom had a land-line but I rarely used it. Now, as a retired person, I have one more reason not to be wired in 24/7.
     I have no desire to text. It is such an impersonal way to communicate, another reason people feel less connected to one another. If you want to tell me something, please come by the house or call. I love live conversations. If I'm not there, leave a message. I'll get back to you promptly. 
    
    Keeping my wife happy is important. Eight years ago I was making plans to go sailing up the coast.  Francesca worried about my safety to the point where she said, "I'll feel much better if you'd get a phone".
     I did. A Target salesman sold me what he called a "cheapo, throw-away, drug dealer phone" for $40.  It was well worth it to give my wife peace of mind. I did have that surprising buzz in my pocket occasionally but knew it was her calling. Only she had my number. It was unique to be talking to her as I bobbed along. When I got home I threw it away.
     Have you every considered living without that black box in your pocket? Consider setting it on a shelf for a day. It could be your own little adventure. I get to live it everyday.
    I still manage to be a communicative person. This blog is proof of that. I also check my e-mail regularly. If you want me send me an e-mail or a letter (with a stamp on it) that would keen. I love living in the past.
                      __________________________________
    

Saturday, June 4, 2016

TOGA! Another in a Series on Great Grove Parties

- Great Grove Parties, Part 2 -      

 I met a woman at a party last month who told me, "You know, I was at your toga party".
  I knew exactly what she was talking about even though it had taken place decades earlier.
It may have been my best party ever. 

   The fifty people who donned sheets that night still remember the 1978 bacchanalian affair

 


Tax attorney, Alan Weisberg (left) and former Miami city planner, Jack Luft, outside my Franklin Avenue townhouse. The sign over the doorway blinked "Toga, toga, toga"!





The party's host (The Grove Guy) with a friend.



I would have remembered much less had it not been for Mike the Pilot. He was a photographer as well and took most of these photos. Mike is also the person who dreamed up the phrase, "Let's put the nut back in Coconut Grove!". I used it four years later as the theme of the King Mango Strut parade.

   Mike was so impressed by the party he created a photo book and gave it to me a month later.  It made me a member of the original Animal House fraternity!

It also had hand-written explanations of what was going on that night.



Tom, one of my neighbors, was a Burdines jr. exec at the time.







Marty Pitts left Miami soon after to take his film talents to Hollywood.
Judy and Larry Litt





My little brother, Bruce, with
Coconut Grove artist, Uta.

   Of course the party was all about Animal House -one of the funniest movies ever made-  and having a good time. It had an amazing toga party and had come out a month before (1978). The film had many of us remembering the joys of drunken fraternity parties and I thought, "Why not do it again"?

   Being single in Coconut Grove I had a lot of friends who enjoyed that sort of thing. I called each one and said, "I'm having a toga party Saturday night. Bring something alcoholic and wear a sheet or tablecloth".

  The guy on the right is former judge Murry Klein. I didn't invite him but he showed up anyway with a folded sheet in his hand.  I told him he could only come in if he wore it. It took him 20 minutes to work up the courage. It probably changed his life. 

  

Jerry Weisberg was a major Grove party animal before he moved (soon after) to the Bay Area. His swimming parties and beatnik poetry readings were the best.
    


Bill Kunz kept his home (a sailboat)  in the Grove but spent the next thirty years flying all over the world for Delta.  He now plays fiddle for the Solar Dogs.

  
 Mitchell Wallick was an asst. public defender here for years.  He retired and moved to Boca where, sadly, they have very few toga parties.




      After midnight the party was showing signs of slowing down.  Thankfully, Miami's premiere dance troupe, showed up en masse after a performance.  They pumped new life into Toga '78.  That's Fusion co-founder, Mary Luft, gettin' down on the right (above).



                                                    One of my blood brothers, Kim,



and Jill, who went to that Great Toga Party in the Sky last year.

 











  I played DJ slipping dance tapes into my boom box. 

 The party was fueled by beer and Purple Passion.  I got the recipe from my UF fraternity (ATO) in the late 60's. It's not too complicated, you mix grape juice with grain (pure) alcohol.





Here I am about to mix up another batch in a trash can.






Twenty-five years later I tried to mix up another toga party.  Of course, it wasn't the same.
Now in our fifties, we drank wine instead of the hard stuff.  We danced taking frequent rest breaks. Most of all we remembered how much fun it was a quarter-century earlier. 
   That was some party.
                        __________________



Friday, June 3, 2016

WHY I READ NEWSPAPERS

    I want to know what's going on. My day is not complete unless I've read a newspaper.  I could say why but  Louis C.K. said it better, 

   "The truth is that the news, if you're really paying attention, is complex and boring. I often set a goal for myself that I'm only going to read the news in the newspaper and to stay away from Internet news. Because the stuff that goes up on the sites is immediate, brash and badly reported. They just scoop it and slop it and chuck it. 
   The newspaper has limited space. And they have until morning to get it to you. So there's more thought put into it. Internet news is heroin. Newspaper news is nutrition. That's my view. Don't get all mad. I'm just sharing."                     -Louis C.K., 3-26-16

FLASH ALERT -  The Prez was in d' hood!

  We knew the President would be in Miami today but we did not know where or why. This evening, around 6:30 p.m. his motorcade came south on Douglas Road, a block west of our house. It did not turn and come our way.  Instead, President Obama headed to a dinner on St. Gaudens Road a few blocks south.
   As the motorcycles and black cars passed a highway patrolman turned to my son, Dylan, and said, "See that second limo? The most powerful person in the world is sitting inside". 
                     ____________________