Saturday, December 21, 2013

Terrapin Station

Another Trip to the Vet
At a little after ten in the morning I gotta stop for a moment and pull off a couple layers. The morning started chilly, maybe forty-five degrees, but the sun is up and running now and it is warming up just fine. This ride was planned as an intermodal bus/bicycle combo fast run, but due to the lackadaisical schedules of the local mass transit and my general lack of patience it turned into a fast run by bike only. Fine with me, except for my persistent yearning for some kind of Pony Express style rapid transit that has me swinging down from the bus or train with my bicycle already half launched as I leap into the saddle and barrel off to the next station.

While I stuff the layers of fleece and cotton into my Goodwill Messenger Bag a glint from some bright reflected light catches the corner of my eye. My first bus stop of the morning is across from our little airport. We are a quaint and artistic tourist trap and quite humble. But we also got one of these:

Is that thing gorgeous, or what?! Man. I have another twenty minutes before the terrapin bus is due, so I walk across the morning highway for a closer look. Wow.

Return to Forever
Going back to the bench, I notice an advert for bi-plane rides. Being an inveterate bi-cycle junkie I pause to reflect on the whole Wright Brothers thing. Seven minutes have passed and the bus is still a ways off, behind me. I notice that Little Miss Dangerous is looking a little less ladylike than when I did a full rebuild and paint over a year ago. But what of that? Like her owner, Little Miss lives close to the street and is a bit of the rough and ready kind. Plus, neither of us is getting any younger. Also, as near as I can tell, that damn bus ain't getting any closer.

I grab my rag-tag single-speed antique, swing my bag over my shoulder and hit a lick. My goal: Beat the bus to the Transfer Station, ten miles away. I'm headed for my bi-annual checkup at the VA Clinic. They are convinced I am borderline cardiac-bound; (at least their charts and machines say so) but when I tell them I just rode over twenty-five miles in traffic in under two hours they get a little confused, then close my folder and send me on my way.

I'm stroking North and I'm weak as hell. I have not ridden even two or three miles a day since starting work again and my butt is reminding me of this fact, but my legs are strong. I spend a lot of my work day standing in a hi-lift installing the framing on these McD's that have taken over my existence. There is no walking involved, but in that basket you are like a sailor at sea; there is a constant subtle movement and you are always balancing and bobbing about and also, we lift very heavy sheets of plywood using only our upper bodies and we attach these sheets with a multitude of screws that do not want to go in all that well. It's hard and goes on for ten hours a day and as I pedal firmly and with malice over the three bridges north of town (on my way to be told that I am old and tired) I feel pretty good. My legs are good and I am breathing pretty good and except for my butt, we're getting there just fine.

The Truth Cannot Be Escaped
But I am an experienced cyclist and I know the truth: I'm strong now but as a cyclist I know: it won't last. I'm secretly weak as hell but I'm out in front of the bus with a thirteen minute head start and I'm kickin' hard and if I lose it, I can always get on the bus. It is early and the bridge fishermen are pulling in and getting their rigs ready. The seagulls, always rowdy, are doing their thing, ripping around overhead and demanding their fair share and far away, over the crystal water shining her morning colors is the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, old, an old structure, old before we were born and still here, brick-solid and stunning and a reminder that sometimes, maybe, things last longer than we thought they might and that Lighthouse is still there and so am I and so is Little Miss Dangerous and we're blasting along on the other side of the bridges now and I have to be slick and smart and careful or morning traffic will put an end to all this longevity I am bragging about.

Survival Is Everything
These painted bike lanes are insane and when I'm doing this run to the Clinic I ride like I never do. I use the bike lanes and practice vehicular riding and obey the laws and I also find myself pedaling really fast, way faster than I would on my fun rides. This is commuting and I guess I could get used to it, but I don't plan to try. It isn't that far now to the bus transfer station. I'm in three lanes of morning traffic and I can't help but wish I was somewhere else, preferably with a beer in my hand. But I'm almost there.

Oh, By the Way...
I bought a truck. My original choice was a little Nissan pickup but one afternoon, late in the year when the first welcome cool breezes begin to feather down from the North I was out on my big loop country ride, beside myself with the inherent pleasures of country and solitude and being on my bicycle after weeks away. I was lost in that Other Place I go to when it is all just right: the ambient temperatures, the quiet of the road and a mellow wind; the mesmerizing tempo of a steady and absent cadence...and, as usual, there she was. It always works this way. You just know when it's right. A well-aged 1984 Ford F150. There was no question. I took out my bedraggled much-folded scrap of notepaper and copied down the phone number. The two-thousand dollar price on the windshield meant nothing. This was my truck and I would buy her for fifteen-hundred dollars, which (of course) I did.

Doesn't she look fine in that dramatic night shot, perched on a big flatbed tow truck? I think so. That is a shot of her, after a month of diligent service hauling me and my tools to various jobs around Florida, on her way to have a new transmission installed. As an honorary good ol' boy, I am an ad hoc member of a hillbilly network that can get such things done cheap. The tow truck cost nothing, and the new transmission, a unit built for a 5.0 Mustang that had to leave town before receiving its new tranny, cost a painful yet affordable $750. And so, as I predicted, I am earning again and saving but also an owner of a motor vehicle. They are insatiable. And yet...

There it is: the Votran Bus transfer station. I did it. I beat the bus, again. As I pull up, I hear the terrapin coming up from behind. I just barely beat it. And this is only the transfer station, the VA Clinic is still another five miles away. But I have plenty of time, after that sprint. I can poke along and cool down and make it to the Clinic with plenty of time. If my new Old Truck was available, instead of out in a barn getting a new hot rod transmission put into her, would I have driven her here, or would I have rode my bicycle? I don't know. As a dedicated cyclist, I have a rule: I only drive for work, when I must carry my quarter ton of tools from job to job. Everything else I do by bicycle.

But I really love my truck. I love cruising to the job, windows down and radio playing, my left arm out the window. I feel quintessentially American and redneck and somehow honest all at the same time. But gas is VERY expensive and I am, after all, saving hard for the seed money for Comstock Farms, even if it is only one trailer on one acre...I'm saving...

Here's what I did: I took some of my earnings and rented a twelve by twenty four foot storage unit about three miles from the Whispering Pines. I put almost all my stuff in there and I park my truck there when I am home from the road. So if I want to drive somewhere, first I have to ride three miles to the storage unit. It works. I still ride everywhere. My cool old truck sleeps inside when she is not on duty and I still ride everywhere.

And, Finally:
My new doctor at the VA was lecturing me about my cholesterol and my drinking and my blood pressure and something called Metabolic Syndrome but when I told him I had just come twenty five miles fast by bicycle and had twenty five more to go, fast, to beat the sundown...

Well, you know.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Blame It On Pythagoras

And Once Again
As an elderly man of this the Hyborean Age, it falls upon me to tells tales of might and woe and also beer drinking. Might and woe I ain't so sure about, but beer drinking I know and also do I know about hard work and pain. I once was quoted as saying “there can be no art without pain” and while what I am currently involved in doing might not be art, there is at least plenty of pain. So maybe it is art after all but that is not what I came here to talk about; in fact, I have no idea what I want to say but as usual, you can count on me to say it anyway.

There's This
One of the things I always worked hard at teaching my various offspring were these little nuggets that I magically called “Secrets of the Universe” to make them sound enticing but really they were just the stuff of common sense, another thing that has involved pain and loss in my real reality but whatever the case, the Pythagorean Theorem is about as real as it gets and there is also Pi to consider. So there ya go.

And Then Again
Meanwhile, the Trailer Park Cyclist pedaled this morning; again in the predawn to the local coffee place for a mug and an apple fritter. Enjoying a momentary lapse of work, he then came home, drank the coffee, ate the fritter, pondered the Universe and then looked over in the corner of the trailer to where sat his forlorn and neglected Little Miss Dangerous, his Little Darlin', his 1981 Schwinn Super Le Tour bicycle, the partner of many a long ride, many adventures and much guilt.

There were clouds in the sky and rain foretold: and yet...

The Rest of the Story
Well, I rode. Worn out yet restless, I rode. The saddle beckoned and hurt my butt. The pedals were mired in some kind of glue and every little bump was painful. But I rode and the sky opened and the rain fell and the thunder rang and yes, there was lightning and it would have been disastrous and dismal but somehow, it was perfect: this is Florida and the rain was warm and my road was empty: rain-drenched and exhausted and recharged I plowed my way home and soaked up a hot shower and cracked a beer (and poured a shot) and here am I to tell about it.

And This...
What's to tell? Oh, just this: there are secrets in the universe and one of them is that the more it hurts the better it feels and also, sooner or later, pain pays off and another thing: A squared plus B squared equals C squared and 3.14 is a magic number.

Yer pal, Old Tim Joe

Whispering Pines Trailer Park and House of Mirrors
November 15, 2013

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Consider the Bee

Message In A Bottle
OK. I'm typing in the dark by the light of the screen reflected on the computer keys. I'm typing in the dark because I moved my work table back to the back of the trailer before leaving town for another bout of McDonald's remodeling and yet tonight I am sitting in the front of the trailer where I get a smidgen of intermittent pirate wi-fi. I am typing in my underwear and so I don't want to turn on any lights because I don't want to put my pants on.

So there is that to consider. Today I sat a bike (the Goose) for the first time since Labor Day and I am currently a bit insane as a result. Tomorrow that will change when I do my country loop McLarge (34 miles) and then I am going to come home and get drunk as hell. Then (shudder) Monday I will wake up, take a cold shower, drink a gallon of McCoffee and then: I'm going to buy a truck.

How Far I Have Fallen
There, I said it. I don't like it and I was hoping somehow to get around it but there is no escaping the fact that I will buy a motor vehicle on Monday and that may be the End of the Fun. But I gotta do it; today it cost me a hundred bucks to get from Orlando to home, a fifty mile ride. Forty dollars gas for my girlfriend's SUV and breakfast for me and the girlfriend and I gave her some money for her trouble and then beer (and that is running out fast) and so on...

How long, O Lord?

As long as it takes, apparently. I looked at a decent little Nissan pickup on the way in from the Road and following my policy of Riding the Least Bike, I will try to purchase the least truck and that fifteen year old little piece of tin looks pretty least to me. I'm sighing inside but it is all part of the big picture.

Whatever the hell that means.

Viva Las Vegas
So I can't say much about cycling except that it is Interbike Week again and I ain't there (again) even though I keep expecting to be invited out there to Vegas for the big show; it has been thirty years since the last time and I'm pretty sure they forgot all that stuff that happened and there is the statute of limitations and so on...

But whatever. I look forward to the pictures and there are some pretty exciting things coming from the usual sources like Surly and Velo Orange and once again it will be about bigger tires and common sense, rare developments for the cycling world and long overdue.

For What It's Worth
Me? Good Lord. I am involved in so much disaster and conflict and sweat and blood and tears all in the name of Money and McDonald's that I really don't know where to begin. I mean, there is blood on the keyboards, not from some maniacal pursuit of my art (for what it's worth) but instead because our boss tried to save a couple bucks and bought really cheap plywood screws and so when you use one of these new impact drivers to put them in and the screw slips you jam the pointy screwdriver tip into your thumb or forefinger. It hurts really bad the first time but after the hundredth time you just giggle and cry at the same time and thank the heavens that you are not a brain surgeon or violinist in your spare time because your fingers are swollen and mushy and holding a cup of coffee in the morning is a monumental challenge.

No Sugar Tonight
I'm not tanked up enough right now to wax poetic and I really don't have anything worth saying but I miss you guys and wanted to say hello and goodbye and see ya soon and so is all about people, I think, the people. I am part of a crew that I don't lead and it is a new thing, this following. But that is gradually turning around as it always does; I learned many years ago that sometimes the best way to lead is by being the best fucking follower they ever saw and by pushing firmly from behind. Not that I have much desire to be the boss; but look, the least I can do is buy the right kind of screws and also there is unnecessary pain going round the crew; these guys need help of a different kind, a lot of unnecessary pain out there and that is one of the duties of a good leader: to make it as easy as possible for the crew to get the job done. It is easy and all it takes is a little organization and open ears and a little heart. None of those things are happening right now but I'm hacking away at it.

One of the hacks is to buy a truck so I am no longer a hitchhiker.

Consider the Bee
I was building a house once with a little crew (three men strong) and a carpenter bee was buzzing around the rafters we were setting and I watched as the morning progressed how quickly that little bee bored a hole in the fresh-cut pine of the roof framing; it didn't take long and I was coming down from the roof and was surprised and delighted to see how this tiny insect had created a home in the smallest part of the home we were building. It had chewed its way into a 2x8 rafter and I got a drink of cold water from the big jug and I thought about that bee. I have always remembered that bee and how good pure cold water tastes on a hot day when you are building.

I'm doing it again now and I am drinking the cold water from the big jug and remembering the bee. I am typing in the dark without my pants and drinking the last of the cold beer, it is late and tomorrow I will ride and I will consider the bee.


Whispering Pines Trailer Park and Apiary

September 21, 2013

Monday, September 2, 2013

It's Not Only Rock and Roll

Nostalgic Preparations
My new Smart phone is driving me crazy. But what of that? It plays music, doesn't it?

It does and I have been streaming Pandora, listening to old tunes that I haven't heard for years. My taste in music, as you may imagine, does not exactly run to the sound of the Top Forty. (Do they still call it that?) Or maybe it does. A lot of this music was on the charts 'back in the day' (I promised myself I would never use that phrase, but by putting it in those single quotation marks (whatever they are called) I have marked my usage as 'ironic' (another word I swore never to use.))

A Labyrinth of Words
Good lord. I certainly have a knack for getting myself lost inside a sentence. Also lost inside an old tune. Never did I like the television, the canned laughter made me sad and seemed to not fall in the proper places. The commercials made me hungry for things I never knew existed (also making me feel like a failure for not owning those things) and there was usually a roomful of cigarette smoke in the room where the watching was done. I cannot abide cigarette smoke, which is ironic for someone who has spent a lot of time in smoky saloons...

Left-Handed Labor Day
It is Labor Day. I'm making preparations that involve not ribs and potato salad and baked beans, but rather I am preparing for future labor (tomorrow) in the hot Florida sun, long, lucrative days that may not end for many weeks. I hope not. By experience and planning I have learned that by going out with a road crew and working myself nearly to death over an extended length of time I end up tired, lean, and wealthy, for me. Tomorrow we head back out.

The Importance of Being  Grateful
I have earplugs stuck in my ears and I am listening to my personal Pandora station called Grateful Dead. The music is old and damned funky and as I listen something occurs to me. I see how much this music shaped my world-view over the decades and how it also affects my writing. An old Faces tune, “Angel” was just on and with these earplugs the lyrics were clear and I was thinking how much I loved the poetry of the song, made particularly poignant by Rod's whiskey-soaked voice.

Angel came down from Heaven yesterday, stayed with me long enough to rescue me...

Man! That's what I'm doing, here, hunkered over a keyboard, whiskey-soaked and trying to capture the essence of these old rock lyrics. Many of them made no sense at all, and yet they got the point across just fine.

And she told me a story yesterday about the sweet love between the Moon and the deep blue sea...

Sound familiar? Argh! I'm a plagiarist! Crap! I always thought I was just some kind of soulful white boy who paid his dues and earned the right to sing the blues. A Skydog of prose, as it were.

I live by the sea: and the moon, always there, is an unavoidable reference. Does 'channeling' count as plagiarism?

My Hands Are Not Idle
I have a big pile of tools to clean and prep and pack.  I find myself wondering how many of the other guys who will assemble tomorrow at dawn will have done this; this worshipful preparation, old rock hymns blasting and small prayers in the form of tool cleaning and oiling and is my life story, really, wrapped up in this music and these tools, these preparations.  I treat my career (for what it is worth) like a good gunslinger or practiced samurai:  if it is worth doing, it is worth doing as though the gods are watching.  Because they usually are: watching, I think.

More From the Jukebox

Check out the bass lines on that tune. Pure hypnosis. Or how about this: 
Saturday night I was downtown, workin' for the FBI...about as odd an opening rock line as ever imagined. The Hollies.

Where There Is Classic Rock, There Is Hope
Here's another thing I find ironic (hey, once you get started it's hard to stop.) At the job the other night, while remodeling a Carraba's Restaurant, somebody had their smart-phone plugged into a jobsite radio. I was working away at some simple task when it occurred to me that I was hearing the old good stuff. I asked who had that music playing? It was the youngest kid on the job. Twenty years old. Me, (the oldest guy on the job):  well, I was comforted and reassured that there was hope for the future if these young guys could still connect to the tunes that shaped our world back in the sixties, back in the day.  

I'm incorrigible.  But again, what of that?  I'm a dreamer and a rock star and a cowboy and a samurai.  The pay ain't much, but it makes Labor Days like this one, days like this, when it is just me and the Universe and a peaceful easy feelin', it makes days like this one count.  Big time.

tj the dj

The Whispering Pines Trailer Park and Juke Joint
Labor Day 2013

By the way, for those of you who are interested,  I started a new Blog for posting stray chapters of Smiling In the Sunshine.  You can link through to it on my Blog List.  And by some kind of cosmic coincidence, just as I finished putting together the new Blog, I was startled and honored to see that Lloyd Khan, one of the spiritual gurus who set me on the path I tread, had featured one of my favorite chapters on his great Blog.  Check it out!  Thanks, Lloyd!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Salvation and the Curse

Back In the Saddle
Yeah, I'm back at work and what a strange trip it is. Having gradually realized (as I am wont to do) that my life was suffering from some kind of self-induced entropy; and further realizing that the end was near (in whatever convoluted and agonizing form it chose to take) I called an old colleague/competitor and basically begged for a job. The begging part was easy: my stalwart son Beauregard (recently returned from California) had already landed work with my old friend Jack Jackson and so, upon hearing that his former foe (me) was destitute and living in a trailer and spending his days wandering aimlessly around on a bicycle and bragging about it online, JJ (after he stopped laughing) called and said “Saddle up, son, we got a lot to do.”

So I did and here I am now, respectable once again and regretting it. But Mammon must be served, it is the deal we got once some smart-ass hunter figured out how to plant seeds and pen up cattle. Ever since then we have had, as a species, an abundance of everything. If it were up to me we would all be hunter-gatherers still, but no: it is the future and we gotta work for pieces of dirty green paper that god knows who has touched them and what they did without washing their hands before they handed them to me along with a receipt.

Even that ain't exactly true. I hardly handle Benjamins or Georges or Andrews; I am so respectable now that I have a plastic card that takes the place of the paper and all I do is swipe it (more times a day than I like to admit) punch in some numbers and the smiling person behind the counter says “Thank you” and hands me a receipt (did she wash her hands recently?) and I take my beer and my tequila and mosey back out to the bike. It is all...well...

The Once and Future Thing
I don't like it. I don't mind work; in fact I like it. But something is wrong. It smells funny. After a long, long period of inactivity (during which I was plenty active) here I am trading the precious moments of life I have left for a chance to spin the very wheels that are trampling our hearts and souls and also killing our planet. We're doing it wrong, folks, and we all know it. That's the big fucking lie we all live with. We are all so busy being busy that we don't even know who we are or where we are; spinning and spinning and spinning...

Or not. I'm not trained in this kind of thing, this deep (for me) thinking. But I wouldn't be me if I didn't at least try to say what I'm feeling. It smells funny but I'll do it, this working, I'll do it and like it. But I know better. I know what it is like to be without ambition or desire and to wander aimlessly about on my bicycle. But even THAT simple machine and pastime requires care and parts and so, somehow, I must do whatever it takes...including a lot of whining.

Voice? Hello...?
The Voice abandoned me the day the work started, too. Nobody to talk to now but my co-workers who all seem to find me odd, somehow; too old and what's with the bicycle thing? They are all about big trucks and mileage and other things I don't understand. I think they learn a lot of what they know about by watching television, which I refuse to do. I love them though, mostly; and it is important to remember that I was once a member of their tribe. But a thing happened to me. A thing happened and I caught a glimpse of the truth and I know it now and never again will I be a member; there is no tribe now for me and I will always be grateful for my transmutation and yet: lonely, also.

Paleo Tim Joe
But loneliness is the hunter-gatherer's curse; it is the salvation and the curse of the heart of the hunter and I'll take it. Besides, the other morning at pre-dawn I was out in the vast parking lot of the motel where the crew is bivouacked doing VERY fast laps on Little Miss Dangerous, leaning into the curves on some new tires (I have a job) and pedaling through the turns hard and quick; I know that bicycle, that Schwinn, and she knows me. I know just how hard I can push through a turn and not get a pedal strike, I know exactly how to pause my pedals when the lean is too much and I know just how to get the attention of a droopy-sleepy construction crew departing their rooms for another day; coffees in hand and yawns and stretches and what the hell was that! whizzing by...

That, boys, was the Trailer Park Cyclist: riding old steel and a hunter-gatherer, Paleo-fed and alone; hungry all the time, a seeker of knowledge and the King of Beers. Watch out! Here he comes again!

Yer pal, tj

Whispering Pines Trailer Park and Stopover

August 28, 2013

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Return of the Trailer Park Cyclist

The Lady Or the Tiger
This is a dilemma. I'm sitting here staring at both my bicycles trying to decide which one to load into the back of the SUV tomorrow that will tote my sorry ass back down to Boca Raton. Here are the choices: my 1981 Schwinn Super LeTour, recently converted to single speed and uglied up beyond imagination in a drunken frenzy late one night last month when I was facing real-live homelessness (as in sleeping in my sleeping bag that I didn't have in the woods behind Kmart except the Kmart was run out of business by Walmart and that prevented me from shoplifting a sleeping bag from Kmart to sleep in the woods behind of) or my 1992 Mongoose Alta, which in its day was one bad-ass bicycle and I also converted THAT bicycle to single speed but in a much more dramatic fashion than the Schwinn; the Goose's switch-over involved surgery that required the attention of one of those wandering geniuses that know how to weld aluminum, for yes, the Goose is a child of my previous life before steel, before steel...

But Seriously, Folks
I'm exhausted. As you may have deduced from my recent absence, I am either incarcerated or back at work. It's work, although jail would be far more restful and (except for the food) possibly more rewarding. As I predicted, a couple desperate phone calls resulted in employment and now here am I, typing faster than my pay rate, trying to get the news out before the drugs and alcohol kick in and my forehead crashes into the keyboard, resulting in some kind of cryptography that will bring black helicopters hovering over the Whispering Pines Trailer Park in search of the last straggling extra-terrestrial cyclist from the planet Two-Wheel.

Hey, I said I was exhausted.

So anyway, here am I, wondering which bike to take, although it really isn't a choice: if my ass was on fire and it was either grab Grandma's china or the bicycle (which one?) me and the Schwinn would be pedaling away from the flames and laughing about the fact that we pawned the china grandma never had a long time ago.

I plan to be buried with that bicycle.

The Trailer Park
But the Mongoose ain't bad and she is a hell of a lot of fun to pedal around. Tonight, after a grueling Sunday afternoon spent swilling cheap beer, trying to hustle transportation back South for the beginning of the work week, I returned home to my barn/trailer hoping to find refuge of some kind from this the hard world we live in...but the amazingly obtuse motherfucker in the trailer next door has some kind of inborn need to make lots of noise in the holy period of pre-sundown, the time when we the Naturals begin to tuck in our spirits and get ready for the down-time, the falling of the sun, the quiet time; but not the guy in the trailer next door. Last night at twilight he fired up a big commercial-quality gas powered leaf blower and spent the next fifteen minutes leaf-blowing whatever the hell he could find to blow around in his twelve by fifty foot yard. There ain't any leaves over there, the only thing he was blowing was my fucking cool. Then, tonight, it was a chain saw. A chainsaw.

Twenty years ago I would have gone next door with a baseball bat but tonight, twenty years later, I saddled up the old Mongoose. I poured a subtle blend of Yuengling Black & Tan and Bud Light into my insulated water bottle and then I put some ice in my Goodwill (to all mankind) Messenger Bag and stuck in another can and bottle of each.

We're all cyclists here, so let me remind you of what happened next: I put my foot on the drive-side pedal, hit a stroke and flew away, my soul intact, down the blessed street on which I live and down to the Indian River, the place of my heart and soul and instantly the voracious racket was gone and forgotten and nobody got hurt.

Next thing I knew, I was wading waist deep in the stream that flows both ways (it's a tidal estuary) and watching the August moonrise and glancing like a shy lover at how the falling sun marked the ancient alloy of my goofy little mountain bike turned beer fetcher: she was fetching enough in the peace and serenity of the falling tide and try as I might, I could not remember why my blood had been boiling just moments before.

Just the Facts
Here's what I'm up to: I have been working for the last three weeks in a trade that involves big trucks and lots of bulky heavy gear. I myself have half a thousand pounds of tools stored down there on the job site, in one of those shipping containers. I'm riding my bicycle the ten miles from the motel to the job every day and mooching and hitch-hiking rides from Boca back here to Volusia. I get dropped off anywhere from fifteen to fifty miles from home every Friday, depending on which colleague or cousin gives me a ride; then me and Little Miss Dangerous take over and I become myself again, the Trailer Park Cyclist, Straggling Extra-Terrestrial, Wheelman, Human.

Wader of Streams, Seeker of Understanding, Friend of My Foes: well, you get the picture.

It all starts with that first pedal stroke on the drive side.

Yer pal, tj

Whispering Pines Trailer Park and Tidal Estuary

August 18, 2013

Monday, August 5, 2013

Smiling In the Sunshine Fifteen: Secrets


     “What's the situation with your warehouse out by the Airport?” Cromwell asked as we pulled away from the storage place.

     “Well, it's still there, if that's what you mean.”

     “No, I mean did Mona ever get her hooks into all that old saloon stuff or does she have a key or is her lawyer hanging around or anything?” He went past the turn to his pottery shop and continued north up Old Dixie Highway. Towards the airport and towards my old warehouse full of salvaged saloon fixtures, antique wall panels, old brass lamps, a British phone booth, stained glass windows, stacks of choice hardwood lumber and other oddities I had collected in my years working throughout the South. This was the first time Cromwell had ever expressed any interest whatsoever in the place.

     “No, Crom, no harpie's hooks or bushwacking barristers. And yes, you may stash this crate of whatever it is we just stole in my warehouse. I changed the lock a month ago and Mona never had any more interest in that stuff than you did, until now. But is it too much to ask what is happening? And if you will be buying lunch?”

     “Lunch is on me, alright, after we unload this crate.  I want to get a better look at what's inside and see if I can find a shipping manifest or anything else that might tell us if this stuff is what I think it is.” He blew through a yellow light and cut left across the railroad tracks over to the little warehouse district behind our small municipal airport. “Which one is yours?”

     “Right over there, next to the welding shop.” He pulled up in the front next to the big sliding door.

     “Wait a minute,” I said. “Look, if you pull over there to the side a little, see that block wall between my shop and the other building? It's not a wall, exactly. Let me push it open and you can back down in between the buildings where we can unload this thing with privacy.” I hopped out before he could ask any questions and jogged over to the “wall” between the two buildings, waited until he had the van positioned properly then reached over the top and hit the little button that you had to know about to push. That released the magnetic lock and the big block wall section swung inward, taking with it the planter and ornamental shrubs that were attached to it and gave it the appearance of being a solid, fixed wall. Cromwell backed the van into the ten foot space between the two buildings and I shut the gate.

     “You have a secret passage?” He said. “I'm impressed. But why?” I was busy unlocking the compact roll up door, and when I sat the big padlock on the shelf next to the opening I hit another little switch that Crom didn't see. It killed the security system.

     “Don't be too impressed,” I said, “It came with the place. All the same, let's keep it between you and me. Now, let's get the contraband out of the truck, I'll rustle up some boxes and we can inspect the booty.” He opened the van and we pulled out the crate with the dolly. It came out a lot easier than it went in. I got a couple big oak planks and put them on a pair of sawhorses, creating a makeshift table. Cromwell got busy digging into the crate, brushing off the pieces and setting them on the table. They were terra cotta figures, oddly shaped.

     “They remind me of a chia pet,” I said.

     “Well, these will sprout some green, indeed, if they are what I think they are...but listen, Blix, I have some checking to do. It is imperative that not one word of this crate leaks out. OK?'

     “I never imagined I would ever hear you say 'imperative'', I said. “But sure. Don't worry about it. Who's the one with the secret passage, anyway? I'll let you out the gate. The secret gate.” I wasn't too happy about any of this. Whatever that crap was in the crate, I realized I had just added some convolution to my already convoluted life.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Smiling In the Sunshine Fourteen: A Crate of Crap

A Crate of Crap
Cromwell the Expert Buys Some Abandoned Pottery

     “We normally don't keep stuff this long after they don't pay the rent, but somehow this unit just fell through the cracks. We didn't know this crate was in here until we rented the space to a new customer.” The property manager jangled one of those big jangling key rings that always remind me of Captain Kangaroo. In fact, the manager had that Down East Yankee look vaguely reminiscent of Mr. Greenjeans. The day was warming up. As the manager bent over to unlock the door, I looked around me. This was one of the four or five new storage complexes that had popped up in Ruby Beach in the last few years.

     “What's your occupancy rate these days?” I asked.

     “Oh, we're almost always full. People just don't have the room for all their stuff anymore, it seems.” I wondered why people would keep so much crap that they couldn't have it in their homes. Did they come visit their stuff? And what was this “stuff”? The manager pulled open the overhead door. 
     “Well, there it is,” he said.

     It was a standard shipping crate, about three feet by three feet, with a built in pallet for transport by forklift. The top was pried open and some packing was spilled out. It was the excelsior type of packing, the kind of thing you don't see anymore in this age of plastic and styrofoam everything. Shoving his arms deep into the crate, he pulled out a small terracotta figure and handed it to Cromwell.

     “What is it?” I asked. It looked pretty crude and pretty old. Cromwell blew and brushed the dust and packing straw away. “That's Mexican, isn't it? I asked.

     “Yeah”, Cromwell said. He was staring pretty hard at the thing. I heard gears grinding somewhere far off.  
     “Just some cheap tourist crap somebody left behind.”

     “Well, what do we do with it?” the manager asked. “How much is it worth?”

     “I don't sell any of this stuff in my shop but you might find someone who wants it,” said Cromwell. I noticed a weird glint in his eye. I had seen it before. “I don't have any use for it myself.” 

      “Well, darn. OK, well, I tried.” The manager looked as though he was at a loss. “Problem is this is the only 10x12 unit I got left and that darn crate has got to go or I'm gonna lose a customer. Seems a shame to throw all this stuff in the dumpster. I was hoping you would want to take it off my hands. You were the only pottery shop in the yellow pages in Ruby Beach.”

     Cromwell looked at the guy like he was a panhandler outside a saloon. “Well, what do you want to do, pay me to haul it off?” He looked at me with a very theatrical 'Can you believe this guy?' look. I have found myself playing the straight man for Crom more than once. I looked at my watch, which I wasn't wearing.

     “Look, Crom, this trip to the museum was a blast but I've got to get back to work.” I started to walk back to Cromwell's big Dodge van. The outside bell for the storage place's office telephone started ringing. The manager was torn. The phone kept ringing. Cromwell cut loose with another dramatic turn, cupping his chin in his hand and gazing thoughtfully at the ceiling of the storage unit.

     “I guess I might be able to unload some of this junk at the flea market in Daytona next week”, he said. That was a pretty good one. He didn't even have any idea if there actually was a flea market in Daytona. If the pottery thing ever went flat on him, Cromwell had a promising future as a used car salesman. “I guess I could give you twenty bucks for the lot of it.”

     “Sold!” yelled the manager over his shoulder, already hustling back towards the office and the ringing phone. Cromwell watched him go, then called out: “I'll need a receipt!”

     He turned to me. That glint in his eye was a positive flame now. “Quickly, Blix! And for the love of Montezuma don't even scratch any of these little fuckers! He went to the back of the van and got a big two-wheeled dolly and pulled out the ramp built into the back. He could move pretty fast when there was a profit involved.

     “These are the real deal, aren't they?” I asked.

     “We gotta get this crate out of here pronto,” he said. “Lift up on the corner there and let me get the dolly under the edge.” We wheeled the crate up the ramps and into the van. It was heavy and this was starting to feel like a regular job. Cromwell was on fire. He threw the ramp back into the undercarriage. He hustled around to the driver's side, jumped in behind the wheel and off we went. He stopped at the office door. “Look,” he said, handing me a twenty dollar bill. “Get the receipt and make sure he puts the shop name on it and not mine. And make sure he dates and signs it.” I took the twenty and got out of the van.

     “Am I on the clock, Boss?” I asked.

     “Just hurry!” He wasn't in a joking mood. I went into the office to get a receipt from Mr. Greenjeans.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Smiling In the Sunshine Fifteen: Phil's Backyard

Phil's Backyard
Paleo Playground

     Old Phil Stine ran past the leavings from the morning hog feeding. His dog Tuesday, a yellow dog of indeterminate age and breeding, kept pace on his left flank. Running easily past the clearing, they cut left through a dense thicket of scrub pine and palmetto and broke clear into the vista that was Phil's backyard. While Phil's old family holdings were a mere one hundred or so acres, they were acres that backed up onto a vast wetlands of both public and private holdings, many square miles of untouched land except for the cattle that roamed throughout and the handful of men who rode the fence line and also the occasional hunters who illegally found their way onto the place.

     Approaching a mud bog that could have been inches deep or bottomless, Phil increased his speed, bounding forward and leaping onto an old swimming pool diving board that he had cemented firmly in place there, gaining no small amount of height and speed and throwing him physically clear of the bog, as Tuesday ran around and over with a small leap of her own. They were moving fast now, dodging and leaping and cutting through small openings that would have been invisible to someone who did not know how to see them. Blasting forth into yet another small clearing, there stood a magnificent old Florida live oak, its huge branches spreading out and commanding and sheltering the clearing with a kind of patriarchal presence. 
     Beneath the tree was an ancient Reo Speedwagon Fire Truck, abandoned there by Phil's grandfather many years before. Phil and his dog leaped into the rear of the truck, then onto the roof and from there he climbed into the lowest branch, a broad, sturdy limb that served as a night time highway for all manner of wild nocturnal creatures who were also aware of these wild domestic creatures; for Old Phil and Tuesday sometimes made this run at night, when an August full moon lighted the area in a misty benevolent glow that brought forth all the many creatures of the swamp, and yes, it also would at times bring forth Old Phil Stine.

     With Tuesday waiting on the roof of the antique truck below Phil scrambled into a wide spot in the tree two dozen feet off the ground. Stashed there were a handmade bow and some roughly hewn arrows, their points hand carved from flint, perhaps crafted by some New Age artisan who was fond of old things and old ways; but these were not. These weapons were hundreds of years old. Where they came from was anybody's guess, perhaps relics of the tribal Timacuan from so long ago, when all of this was a primordial place; but again, no. Old Phil Stine knew where they came from. Old Phil Stine knew how to use them. 
    Notching an arrow, he let fly with one rapid movement, and the shaft buried itself into a small, five inch circle that had been blazed into the side of a burned stump, a reminder of the vast fires that sometimes raged through the place. The dog Tuesday, leaping from the roof of the truck, dashed forward and struck a tense pose a yard from the target. These arrows did not always find their mark in a stump, you see, and yet Phil never missed. But had this stump instead been some animal, say, that had spent the winter eating free corn and molasses and table scraps, then the dog Tuesday would have been ready to delay the creature's escape with an iron clamp of her doggy jaws.

     Phil replaced the the bow in its hiding place. He loosened an old rope from a small branch, and swung easily down to the stump and his dog. Tuesday and master embraced joyously, then dashed off once again into brush and swamp that could be deadly to anything tame. There were other stone-age weapons hidden throughout their course, knives and spears and also herbs, strange concoctions that could ward off insects and heal small wounds. Old Phil Stine knew these things, he learned them from his grandfather, who learned them from his...this place, this old Florida place, remained primordial; it always was a place of power and danger and life. This now half-wild man and his dog were romping free and happy in an ancient place. Their dance of life was at one with the place, and the creatures of the wetlands glorified in their presence and felt ennobled by their passing.

     In this way Old Phil Stine and his animal Tuesday were gods, they were the stuff of myth and yet...oh, they were real. Very real and very ready. Trouble was coming.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Smiling In the Sunshine Thirteen: The Job

The Job
What Blix Does, More Or Less

     As I pulled up at the job behind the old bait shop I saw what I had come to see. The job was a new custom home, far too large and far too expensive for a little surf town like ours, but only one of dozens going in up and down the beach. The “old bait shop” next door was now some kind of New Age boutique coffee shop microbrewery bookstore with authentic barn wood siding that replaced the authentic (and original) wood bait shop siding we had pulled off last winter. There were ferns inside and very expensive fishing gear that none of the locals could afford (or want) and the new owners were from Vermont or some such. But they still sold bait. Probably designer bait.

     I climbed out of the jeep, listening to the satisfying whine and grind of singing saws and the steady ker-chunk! of banging nail guns. The boys were going good. I saw Rusty down in the dark shade of the inside of the house, stacking scraps of wood and sorting through boxes of nails. He saw me getting out of the Jeep.

     “Big Dog is here,” he shouted. “Everybody pretend you're working!”

     “You're the only one out here that has to pretend,” came a voice from up high. I looked up as a figure rose up over the ridge of the roof. Broc Branham. My foreman for almost fifteen years now. As my business had dwindled almost to the point of dying completely, it was Rusty and Broc who had stuck it out. How Broc managed to keep his home life intact during the breakup of mine was a kind of miracle. Rusty, an eternal bachelor, could care less if he worked or not. Surfing, fishing, work, it was all the same to Rusty. But if Rockin' Broc wasn't building something for me, he would be doing it for someone else. He never stopped working.

     “Born to Build”, we always said, clinking our shot glasses together. He was my favorite guy to drink whiskey with. He came down to the edge of the roof.

     “You need me, Boss?”

     “Nah, stay up there. How's it look?”

     “Looks like a roof.”

     “Can you finish today? You need me?” It was mostly a courtesy question.

     “Nah, we got it. We might have to work late.” I could hear groans coming from the part of the roof I couldn't see. The rest of the crew had stopped sawing and hammering while they listened to our conversation. I grinned up at Broc. I raised my voice enough so the others could hear.

     “Well, get it dried in and call it eight hours. There's beer in the truck.” The saws started up again and the nail guns were making twice the noise as before. Broc smiled back at me, shook his head and went back over the ridge. He was small and lightweight, all gristle and grit. Rusty came down the ladder from the elevated first floor and came over to me.

     “They'll skip lunch and have it dried in by one o'clock,” he said.

     “I know.”

     “There's only three beers left in the cooler. What the hell did you and Cromwell get into last night?”

     “We sailed in through the inlet and caught up with the last of the party animals at Disappearing Island. There were a couple girls from Ohio there who had never sailed on a beach cat before. We did our civic duty to uphold tourism and a good time was had by all.”

     “Any survivors?” Rusty asked.

     “Never,” I said. “Surviving is for the weak.” I pulled a twenty out of my pocket. “If they aren't done by one o'clock, knock 'em off anyway and get 'em some beer.”

     “Aye, Aye, Skipper. Never push a Monday too hard, I always say.”

     “Wise words, little buddy, wise words.” I patted him on the back and got into the jeep. As I pulled off I heard him yelling at the crew.

     “Faster dogs! Work faster slaves! His Majesty is displeased! Don't make me get out the whips!” I headed back north up the beach to Cromwell's studio. It was ten o'clock on a Monday morning.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Smiling In the Sunshine Twelve: The Prayer of the Conquistador

Prayer of the Conquistador

     Once again offshore, wicked Ponce, now alone, is poised at the wheel of his trimaran, skirting the inner edge of the Gulf Stream and making a steady fourteen knots. The wind is from the east by southeast and on this reach the seventy foot trimaran is a gigantic prehistoric bird, flying, flying, using wind and wave and the inexorable pull of the Stream to make a fast and unerring course due North, to Mosquito Inlet. As always, Ponce stands like a statue at the wheel, immobile, wasting no motion; the years have taught him well and nothing is wasted, neither thought nor energy nor time. Especially time.

     Far to the West he can see the tops of the highest buildings, reflecting the morning sun as it climbs up from the sea. There are penthouses there, Ponce knows. Many penthouses, the unreachable castle towers of the criminally wealthy. Ponce knows these places, he is a one familiar with the robber barons and their consorts. These are the people whose feet never touch the ground, coming and going from towers in the sky, traveling by helicopter and private jet and giant luxury yachts. Ponce knows them well. And they know Ponce.

     As morning passes, the Old Conquistador sets the helm on autopilot. He waits, watching to be certain that the yacht is settled and steady. The Stream moves about on its way North, and will take him ever further offshore. But there is no hurry. Going below, he puts a stainless steel kettle on the stove and sets the digital controls to boil. Lightly tapping his fingers across the keypad of the locking titanium cupboard, the door sighs open, an faint cloud escaping like exhaled breath and he takes down a small aluminum canister. He shakes a precise amount of ground herbs into his palm, then drops them into an ancient ceramic mug bearing the image of Quetzacoatl embossed on its surface. He takes the hissing kettle and pours the water into the cup. The cabin is filled with the aroma of coffee, mint and other smells, cocoa, maybe; powerful, cutting, densely pungent but ultimately pleasant. Pleasantly haunting, perhaps.

     Going back on deck, Ponce glances at the compass, (a habit of a long lifetime) and then goes forward to the bow of the boat. The morning is no longer dawn, it is day now and the world is warming, heating the misty air around the boat. The El Condor Pasa is leaping across the sea, plunging, thrusting ever forward as Ponce, clad only in light cotton pants and the worn old rosary around his neck, settles into the lotus position on the bow pulpit. He sips from his steaming mug, scans the horizon for signs of other ships, then closes his eyes and begins his morning worship.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Smiling In the Sunshine Eleven: The Little Lighthouse

The Little Lighthouse
Brandy, Coffee, Advice

     As I walked into the Little Lighthouse Restaurant I paused at the entry and listened to the double doors close behind me. They sighed quietly as the hydraulic closers pulled them shut, then clicked solidly closed. Good. I had hung those doors three years before when I remodeled the Lighthouse for the Markos family. They were a pair of seven foot, two and a quarter inch thick oak beauties I had been saving for just such an application. I still had a warehouse full of architectural treasures I had saved over the years from my old days of doing commercial restaurant installations throughout the South. Every saloon on Coronado Boulevard had some souvenir from those days; the mahogany bar top with gleaming oak elbow rail at the Crooked Angel, the hundred year old cherry back bar at the Mermaid Cafe. None of these local joints could actually afford such luxury items and I had put a lot of them in for the price of a bar tab. Will Work for Beer.
     Maria Markos was at her usual post by the front door. Dark, plump, a very young fifty, her brown eyes were always alive and twinkling and were something good to see on a hungover Monday morning.

     “Blix!” she cried. I get coffee there every morning and every morning Maria greets me as though she hadn't seen me in a year and I was the best thing to happen to her all day. She is Johnny Markos' wife. Johnny is the current Markos who owns the Lighthouse Restaurant. Ruby Beach is a very old Florida town. It was founded in 1750 by a Englishman who was dabbling in white slavery, importing Minorcans and Greeks and a sprinkling of Italians to East Central Florida to work his sugar and indigo plantations. This took place just after Spain relinquished the Florida territories to England following one war or another. The whole enterprise failed, ultimately, but the area retained a strong Greek population. Almost every restaurant in town had a Greek owner; at least all the good ones did, and most of those owners were named Markos.

     “Blix!”, Maria said. “I've saved you your table.”

     “Thank you, Maria,” I said. 'My' table is actually the one closest to the kitchen where Johnny sits and drinks glasses of ice water and watches his customers and keeps one eye on the kitchen and one eye on the cash register. It's only “my” table in the early morning while Johnny is out getting the fresh vegetables and goat cheese and other ingredients he gets from some small organic farms outside of town. I am reasonably certain that those farms are owned by people named Markos.

     “Connie will be with you in a minute,” she said. She turned as a foursome of senior citizens came through the door, tanned and brisk. “Good Morning!” Maria cried, going towards them like they were some very well loved and much missed relatives just returning from a long trip. “I have a table especially for you!” She would keep it up all day. I really liked Maria.

     Connie the waitress came over. Connie was the opposite of Maria. She was tall and thin and treated her customers like not-too-bright badly behaved children that were not hers, but had to be cared for and fed nonetheless. She had always been at the Lighthouse. Connie never aged. She had always looked thirty, probably always would. She gave me a very thorough once-over.

     “Still drinking too much, huh?” She had brown eyes too, that twinkled just like Maria's.

     “Yes, mother,” I said. The fit and tanned seniors were laughing it up a couple tables away, enjoying some golf or tennis joke from their morning exercise. They looked rich.

     “Pipe down over there or you won't get your mush this morning,” Connie said to the group. This brought another big laugh.

     “Sock it to me baby,” one of the old guys said. More laughter.

     “Look, miss, if you're busy maybe I could get my own coffee,” I said. Connie gave me a twinkling dour look.

     “Be quiet.” She went into the kitchen. I was still trying to think up a snappy answer when she was back with a plate of rye toast and a steaming mug of coffee topped with a dab of whipped cream. I gave her a look. “Of course I did,” she said. “It's Monday, isn't it?” She went towards the seniors with her coffee pot and order book. “Alright, wiseguys, what's it gonna be?”

     I put some of Johnny's home made tangerine jam on my toast and took a bite. Yeah, baby. I spooned the whipped cream out of the way and sipped the coffee, wondering if Johnny would miss the double shot of Metaxa Amphora brandy Connie had pilfered from the dusty bottle in his desk in the backroom. Probably. But then again, for all I knew he was keeping it there just for me, anyway. I took another bite of the toast and another sip of the coffee. Something had been nagging at me since I woke up and I couldn't get a grip on it. Something Cromwell had said about old pottery. Oh yeah, I was supposed to go with him to a warehouse somewhere to look at some abandoned crap in a storage unit. Good. I wasn't in the mood for work this morning, anyway. In fact, I was almost never in the mood for work these days, which probably explained why my construction business was down from a twenty-two employee operation with a front office and a million dollar plus workload at any given time to a little frame & trim crew of six guys and Rusty. “Oh well,” I thought, “I ain't dead yet.”

     I swallowed the rest of the liqueur laced coffee, threw a five on the table and got up to go.
Connie was coming out of the kitchen with a big breakfast tray for the happily aging millionaires two tables over. She gave me a wink.

     “ 'Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in getting up every time we do.' That's Confucious,” she said.

     “Yes, mother, it is indeed confusing,” I said. I went through the old oak double doors into the sunshine. They closed quietly behind me, with a gentle sigh and a solid click. Molly's old jeep was sitting across the street in front of the Crooked Angel. It was my old jeep now, covered in rust and seagull crap and without a top. It had come with the shack. I walked over, got in and fired it up. The sun was high enough and hot enough to dry the morning dew off the torn seat. I put the Jeep in gear and headed south down the beach.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Smiling In the Sunshine Ten: Monday Morning Phil

Monday Morning Phil
Ruby Tuesday

     Phil Stine sat on the sprawling front porch of his old single-wide trailer in the swamp just east of town. It was just after sunrise, Phil's favorite time of day. The coffee was fragrant, the birds were singing their asses off and the rustling and happy grunting far off in the bush indicated that the two or three razorbacks he had been feeding had discovered the morning's breakfast mix of corn, molasses and leftovers. A quiet whining from the far corner of the porch told him that his yellow lab Tuesday had heard the rustlings also, but a glance from Phil let her know that he knew about it and she sighed and put her head back on her paws and went back to listening to the birdsong and thinking dog thoughts.

     “Those hogs are very happy with their breakfast, aren't they, Tuesday? Little do they know. But then, they are better off that way, aren't they? That corn would taste a lot less sweet if they knew why I leave it there. But I think they would still eat it, all the same.” Tuesday stood, stretched and walked across the porch to where her master sat at the picnic table with his laptop open in front of him. She looked at the computer screen for a moment, then up at Phil.

     “Yes, puppy, just polishing off Chapter Ten. I know I'm moving slow this morning, but it is, after all, Monday. And you know what we always say about Mondays.” She wagged her tail once to show that she did indeed understand, then stepped off the porch nonetheless and headed up the faint dirt trail towards the rustlings in the bush. She stopped at the big palmetto just on the edge of the clearing, turned and lay down again. This time she sighed loudly enough to make sure Phil would hear. “Ok, Ok, let me put this away, Jesus Christ, nothing worse than a pushy dog...” He closed the laptop and stuck it inside the screen door to the trailer. He reached down and grabbed a pair of dirty old running shoes and sat down to put them on. He already had on a pair of running shorts and a thrift shop t-shirt, about the only outfit anyone had ever seen him wear on his rare and exciting excursions onto Coronado Ave. As always, the act of lacing up his shoes had an electrifying effect. He was instantly more awake and now, ready to go, Monday be damned. He trotted over to the dog, who was on her feet, tail wagging rapidly, a big happy dog smile on her face.

     “Let's go!” Phil said, and he and Tuesday dashed off into the swamp.