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.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Smiling In the Sunshine Nine: Monday

Vampire Reality Show

     Monday morning in Ruby Beach starts with a crash. A crash and a clang and the roar of a diesel motor and the screeching of angry seagulls as the huge dump truck empties the dumpster behind the Crooked Angel Saloon, lifting it high into the air and shaking it like some ravenous diesel monster, emptying the putrid contents into its gaping maw and all the while roaring and grinding and insisting that I wake up. I rolled onto my back and pulled the pillow off my face, trying to remember the dream I was having just before the truck pulled into the parking lot. Something about vampires. Oh yes, Mona had been taken captive by vampires on the college campus back in Indiana where we both went to school . And the vampires were trying to drag her across campus to the vampire dormitory for their own dark reasons. I meanwhile was dashing frantically across campus with a large knife, slashing and hacking at vampires and slaying ten or fifteen of them before catching up with the group that had Mona. As I dove into their midst swinging my knife, which had somehow become a machete, she was screaming at me.

     “Don't worry, baby, I'm here!” I yelled, turning around fast and hacking my machete into the tallest vampire's neck. Blood was flying everywhere and Mona was screaming.

     “Stop, you asshole! Stop! They're not vampires, they're my friends!” In the dream, I dropped the machete. I turned and saw bodies all around, and my hands were covered in blood. I got that really sick feeling in my gut, that old familiar sensation of horror and impending doom as I heard the whine of sirens in the distance. But then, mercifully, the whine of the sirens faded into something else: the high pitch of the monster gears of the approaching dump truck, my Monday morning warning that a new day was dawning and as hard as the days were, the nights could, at times, be worse.

      I swung my legs over the side of the bed and rubbed my temples. Not too bad. I got up and went for the shower, holding my arms on each side of the bathroom door to brace myself. The house that Molly was letting me crash in was really just a beat up sixty year old surfer shack that would have been condemned were the building inspector ever to get a good look at it, but the Town Planner was a sometime drinking buddy and the chairman of the Historic Preservation Society. Over plenty of beers and shots on my tab, I had talked him into granting me a special “preservation and remodeling” permit which bought the old place another year before being either expensively rehabilitated or turned into additional parking for the Crooked Angel. Molly had contacted me about the demolishing idea about a month after Mona's realtor (her attorney's brother) had hammered a “For Sale” sign into the front yard of our waterfront home on the Indian River. I had been living in one fleabag motel after another on U.S. One and thought it would be a great idea to come home to beach side and start pulling myself back together before I needed an expensive rehab myself. Molly was far less than enthusiastic about the idea but as usual, her heart of gold and my line of bull got the best of her and I took my trunk of clothes and my other trunk of books out of the step van and put them in the shack. I had a new home.

     But the place was old, sagging and funky. The shower was an antique ball and claw bathtub with the curtain on an oval hoop. The water pressure was not bad, though. I put my head under the hot stream and let the dream fog gradually clear as the steam rose around me. It was another day in Ruby Beach. I was pulling on a pair of jeans when there was a knock on the door. That would be Rusty. Rusty is the only guy on my crew with a driver's license, so he comes by every workday morning and takes the step van to pick up the rest of the guys.

     “It's open,” I said. He walked in carrying his bicycle. He doesn't own a car and rides ten miles everyday to pick up the truck. He is pretty fast on that bike. He didn't say anything, just stuck the bike in it's usual corner by the front door and took the truck keys off their hook. He looked at me.
     “There's money for ice and gas in the stash box,” I said.

     “Any leftover beer?”

     “If there is, leave it alone. You guys get that roof dried in today and you can have it.”

     “If we get that roof dried in today there better be a whole lot of leftover beer. ”

     “Just get out of here. I'll be down later.”

     “Yes, your majesty.” He went out and a moment later I heard the step van's engine roar to life.

     I went to the closet and pulled out one of my “Dixon Construction” polo shirts and pulled it on. It would take Rusty thirty minutes to round up the crew and get to the job site, then another thirty minutes to get things moving. I had time to get over to the Lighthouse for some coffee and toast before heading down the beach to the job.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Smiling In The Sunshine Eight: A Curious Parallel

A Curious Parallel
Professor Blix Teaches Geography and History

     It was a day of clearest azure blanketed in gentle warmth as the trusty sun began to work its magic; the time of year was early spring and the time of day approached the noon hour. We were leaping along on board the Bitch in a freshening breeze that propelled us along readily enough, pushing us ever onward in an easterly direction on a course just below latitude 30 in the vast Atlantic Ocean. Latitude 30! Consider this: Were we to continue forward on this line around the globe, what wonders might we witness? Our first encounter would be the northern tip of the renowned and feared Bermuda triangle, source of so many unexplained disappearances over the centuries. What adventure and terror might our little vessel encounter in these foreboding waters? Best that she should lift her skirts and skip quickly across the Sargasso Sea and make way across this mighty ocean for the safety of the Canary Islands, where we must magically prepare our ship for flight, for it is here that the noble Atlantic ends and the lands of Africa begin. Africa! Sailing our flying boat across the Dark Continent we would soon encounter the bazaars and caravans of Old Marekesh, Morroco, headquarters of intrigue and mysteries centuries old; then quickly spanning Algeria and Libya we would find ourselves sailing over Egypt past Cairo and Giza and the Great Pyramid, guarded by its loyal watchdog the Sphinx, for these ancient wonders do indeed lie along this curious parallel. But we have a globe to span! We mere mortals have a limited lifetime; no time to linger and ponder the Riddle! Now look below and a bit north, quickly! Bethlehem! Jeruselem! Why, the whole story of the Savior plays out along this trail! But there is no time, no time; we must fly rapidly across Northern Arabia and its endless deserts. Our next way point is in Iraq, for here on this line lies the site of Ur of the Chaldees, once the mightiest civilization on Earth. Have you heard of Ur? It is home of the Great Ziggurat, the Mesopotamian Temple of the Moon. Many learned scholars think that it is hereabouts that The Great Gardner planted his Garden, laying in a crop at the conjoining of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, a crop that would one day yield the strangest of fruits. Each of these mysteries would fill volumes; and indeed they have. But we simple sailors of the sky are not here today to ponder or unravel; but merely to observe. Tourist-like, we are here to marvel and acknowledge that there does indeed seem to be a continuity of ancient wonder along this course around the planet.

     “Ready for another beer?” asked Cromwell, breaking into my reverie.

     “Sure. Feel like driving for awhile?” I took the fresh can from him and fitted it into my day-glo orange holder with the dolphin yin-yang symbol.

     “Always ready to drive,” he said. I handed him the tiller extension and we slid around on the tramp to change positions. I like steering the boat well enough, but it was more relaxing to let Cromwell do the driving while I sat forward, in the sun, and just enjoyed the ride. We were pretty far from shore. We could just see the top of the Deleon Condo Tower, the tallest on the beach at twenty stories. I lay back and took a sip of beer.
     “Do you know about Latitude 30?” I asked.

     “Isn't that where we are?”

     “Yeah. But I mean do you know about all the old cities and and so on? For example do you know that the 30th parallel runs through the Himalayas?”

     “No way.”

     “Yeah way. India, Nepal, Tibet and China all have the 30th running through them. Mostly the Himalyan Mountain Range.”

     “Why do you know this?” Cromwell asked.

     “I just re-read Lost Horizon last night and looked on the internet about the Shangri-la legend. It had a lot of info about possible locations. Most of them were around the 30th latitude. So I dusted off my trusty globe and traced my finger around. We here in Ruby Beach are in a planetary line with some places with a pretty impressive history.”

     “You are full of just the damndest information. Look, a pod of dolphins over starboard.” I turned to look. A pod of five or six Tursiops were arcing along, not twenty feet from the boat. They usually come to visit when we are out here. And I knew that Cromwell was trying to stave off a lecture.

     “By the way,” he said, “One of those personal storage places called the shop yesterday and said they had a big box of unclaimed property sitting there they want to get rid of. Some kind of old pottery. I'm going over to take a look tomorrow morning. Want to come along?” Cromwell is an artist. He operates a pottery shop on Coronado Ave.

     “What time?” I said. The dolphins were gone.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Smiling In the Sunshine Seven: Interlude With A Conquistadore

Interlude With A Conquistador
Trouble below the horizon

     Meanwhile, two hundred miles to the south, don Juan Ponce deLeon sits on board his big trimaran El Condor Pasa, idly scratching the back of the leggy blonde lying naked beside him. Ponce is thinking about money ( how to get the most with the least possible effort) and he is thinking about a girl, the one who got away, the stunning redhead with the unfrocked priest of a father , the girl who haunts his memory, the girl who got away.

     Go Ponce! Run ye lad! Thou of the noble heart and dark soul, ye of the piratical practice and many-connected Carribbean yearnings. Run Ponce! Uncle Sam seeks ye still, thou cannot steal from him a much-coveted high tech sailing vessel clothed in ancient Mayan symbols and stylings...oh lad, it was so easy to perform one small miracle for thy government and reap the many-numbered reward! But the worm shall turn, thou crafty rascal, the worm shall turn; and much shall be thy suffering for thy many transgressions.

     And so: South of Ruby Beach sits Ponce de Leon, caressing the back of the beautiful blonde girl stolen from the Cuban pirates who chose to challenge his luck and skill at high seas combat. Foolish communistas! When the powerful United States government pays their vassal NASA to build a sailboat for the purpose of spying around the Caribbean, trust not your criminal heritage. Is not Ponce de Leon the greatest conquistador of all the ages? Once mighty rulers of the open ocean; the Grand Armada ruled the old time waterways all along the Spanish Main. Now? A laser cannon on board a simple sailboat? Aha! Ponce the mighty, Ponce the crafty, Oh noble Ponce, savior of political hostages, raider of communist strong holds, who will end your reign? Ponce the assassin, taking care of the world’s darkest needs, moving silently and without mercy through the hateful underworld of planetary government; fulfilling the wishes of those dark Overlords who are in true control of the finances and machinations of poor old Mother Earth!

     And meanwhile, two hundred miles to the south of sweet, simple Ruby Beach, sits Don Juan Ponce de Leon, atomic-powered, laser-armed and on board an incredible seventy-foot trimaran styled after the ancient vessels of the Mayans, stroking the back of a beautiful golden blonde, brooding over money and revenge. In Ruby Beach lies the map he seeks. The answer to the riddle that haunts him, the map to the treasure of all treasures. How many, old knight? How many lives lost over the centuries? Ponce knows, yet cares not. Ponce is on a mission. To Ruby Beach.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Smiling In the Sunshine Six: Rigging and Ritual

Rigging and Ritual
Instruction for the beach sailor
     We pulled up next to the Bitch, parking above the tideline. We tossed off the remainder of the Bloody Marys and began the rigging ritual. We would not speak again until after the launch. Cromwell climbed out of the side door of the van as I went into the back. I opened the double rear doors and then lifted the big mainsail down from the rack, handing it out to the waiting Cromwell. He placed it lengthwise on the boat, taking care that the goose neck fitting on the boom was forward, ready to hook into the mast. I then handed him a mesh bag of child-size life preservers in one hand and the loaded cooler with the other. These he likewise stashed on the trampoline, quickly snapping their respective retaining rings into place. 
     Everything has to be well secured on a beach cat. 

      I handed out the six-to-one main sheet control and the rolled up jib sail. That was everything. I turned and looked around the cabin of the old step van. I really loved that truck. I had had a lot of good times back there. I stuck the keys in their secret stash and climbed out of the back to join Cromwell. 

      We both got into position at the front of the boat, facing the ocean, holding onto the dolphin striker from behind. Saying nothing, I lifted. If it were Cromwell's boat, he would have lifted first. But today it was my boat and it was my turn to give the cues. We lifted the boat, pulling hard, almost straining, to break her loose from a week's worth of drifting sand. She quickly broke free, and we started to pull, dragging her across the beach like a pair of two-legged draft animals. She came along readily enough. We pulled her to the water's edge. So far less than five minutes had elapsed since our arrival. While all our efforts looked sleepily casual, we were actually moving as quickly as possible. It was partly due to pride of practice and it was partly due to our honest eagerness to get out on the water. But also a lot of it was the never-ending theater of being a local sun bum in a beach town. The tourists were always watching, waiting to be entertained. We always tried to oblige. “Never waste an audience,” Cromwell liked to say.

     At the water's edge we spun the boat around 180 degrees, stern to the sea. We lifted the bow high, helped by the natural slope of the beach. This allowed any accumulated water to drain from the hulls. Leaving a braced Cromwell to hold her up, I went around to the back and checked for drainage. Nothing. The Bitch is a pretty dry little boat. As I bent down to screw in the drain plugs Cromwell lowered the boat. As soon as I was through replacing the plugs, he spun the front of the boat around so that she was bow to the wind. I joined him at the front of the boat, each of us standing with the mast between us. I hooked the twisted shackle on the halyard to the headboard at the top of the mainsail. Cromwell carefully slid the bolt rope into the luff groove on the trailing edge of the mast. When I saw that he was ready, I began to pull steadily on the halyard which ran through a pulley at the top of the mast, some thirty two feet overhead. The bright green mainsail rose smoothly into the morning sunlight. Cromwell had a hand on each side of the sail as it went up, guiding it into the luff groove. In just a few easy heaves the sail was up. I pulled the main halyard sideways, with just a certain twist and the twisted halyard ring clicked into the hook at the masthead. 

 That twist of the wrist was a learned thing. 

      I secured the main halyard on a cleat mounted near the base of the mast. I then slotted the down haul car into the luff groove, threaded the end of the down haul line through a pulley on the mast and gave a strong heave to tension the main. This too was secured to a cleat and the main was ready. 

      While I was securing the main, Cromwell had taken the jib sail and hooked the jib halyard to the top of the sail, connected the zippered luff pocket to the fore stay and started pulling up the jib. I finished my work with the mainsail, turned just in time to grab the clew of the jib, which was flapping eagerly in the freshening morning breeze. The Bitch was waking up, and when the Bitch was awake she wanted to sail! So did we. Our actions were a little more crisp now. We were getting closer. The ritual was almost complete. The vessel we had to drag to the water only moments before was now quivering in our hands, a thing alive, with a mind of her own and ready to go! 

      We snapped on the jib sheets and the main sheet with its six-in-one pulley system, then clipped the system into place on the traveler spanning the stern of the trampoline. That was it. Everything was ready.

     A small group of tourists were gathered to watch this apparent magic act and their yearnings were palpable. They wanted to be us! I looked at Cromwell, and he looked at me and winked. It was the first time we had acknowledged each others presence since we got out of the truck. We kept straight faces, but we were smiling inside. I nodded significantly toward the Northeast, into the ocean. Cromwell went forward to the port bow and pulled the Bitch around a little from her position pointing into the wind and aimed her into the direction I had indicated. He pulled the boat forward into the waves as I pulled on the main sheet, taking up slack and letting the mainsail taste a little of the wind. One more strong heave and the Bitch was floating. I pushed on the hull from behind. When the water was knee deep I jumped onto the trampoline, pulling in on the main until it grabbed a wing full of wind. Cromwell was pulling on the port bow when the sail caught and suddenly he was the one being pulled! He swung onto the hull like an Apache onto a running pony, slid down into the middle of the tramp and grabbed the jib sheet, pulling it in until it too was taut and full of wind. We're off!

      The first set of breakers crashed into the bow of the boat. These little three foot waves are candy and silk stockings to the Bitch. She rose up through the foam and wave, thrusting her bows clear and dripping into the sunlight, gave her characteristic little shudder of joy and that was it. We were at sea. The ritual was complete. Well, it was almost complete.

     “You got any beer on this tub?” asked Cromwell.

     “I think so,” I said. “There may be a warm beer stuck in there somewhere. Take a look.” He reached into the ice chest. He pulled out two frosty, dripping Red Stripes.

     “Here you go, Cap,” he said. Now the ritual was complete.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Smiling In the Sunshine Five: Elegant Misogynism

Elegant Misogynism
How my boat got her name

     We pulled onto the beach, heading north up to where my boat was parked about a mile away. As we turned, Cromwell glanced up at the flag on top of the big Lifeguard Tower.

     “Out of the southeast,” he said, referring to the wind direction.

     “Any idea what the tide is doing?” I asked.

     “Coming in or going out, last I checked.” He wet a finger and stuck it out the open sliding door of the truck. “Going out, definitely.” All this silly banter began in the days when we first started sailing these beach cats a few years earlier. Not knowing what we were doing, continually making rigging mistakes and tipping the boat over in the ocean, we developed a program of “fake it 'till you make it,'” creating our own sailing terms and bits of wise sea knowledge which we would share with the tourist girls who inevitably came up to us while we prepared the boat to go out. There were times when we would come crashing in through the bathers on the beach who would dodge this way or that trying desperately to not be run over by this giant brightly colored and apparently out of control beach toy.

     “Avast, there Captain!” I would shout as we narrowly missed one bobbing swimmer after another. “Bear off a lee! Come down hard and away! Arghh!” On the days when the onshore break was particularly brutal and the offshore drinking was particularly strong, it was not unusual for the helmsman to fall off the boat altogether. Then, as we pulled the boat back onto the beach, the girls would come around.

     “That was beautiful!” they might say, “but why did one of you jump into the water like that?” Usually it was Cromwell who would try to sneak one last slug of rum before coming in, miss his timing as the boat crested a wave and “jump in” by falling over backwards off the boat.

     “Well, Miss, you see, on days like this when the wind is agrarian out of the south and we have a riptudial tidal flow, certain maneuvers take place that call for adjustable ballast.”

     You could say just about anything. And we did. And the foolishness didn't end; we would continue it into the evening, sitting at one saloon or another with the usual local crowd. It became our inside joke, setting us a little apart from the others. It ultimately became an inescapable habit, this goof-speak, and somehow created a kind of elitist cache that was worth a few drinks now and then and certainly garnered us a great deal of leeway with the Beach Patrol and the bartenders of Coronado Avenue. All due to this perception that we were in on something that the others were not. I once overheard a drunk at the bar say, “Those guys are such elegant speakers.” Indeed.

     There was my boat just ahead, sitting pertly on the sand, waiting. She knew we were coming. Her name is the Bitch, because she is one. I did not name her in a moment of misogynistic despair, although I have certainly suffered from plenty such moments. She was named by one of my beach bum girl friends, a veteran of many years and many beach towns along the Atlantic Coast and the Bahamas who knew far more about sailing a beach cat than I did. She showed me the ropes, literally, and helping me get my new vessel rigged and launched. On the less-than -maiden voyage we broke out through an unusually rough surf. Summer (the girl's name) was busy as hell pulling on this line and that, steering the boat with one hand and adjusting the sail with the other, all the while cussing like the sailor she was, while I helped by hanging on for dear life and wondering if I was going to get laid. We finally cleared the surf line almost as an afterthought and then shot out towards the open ocean. The boat flew across the rolling sea.

     “Damn,” Summer said, “What a handful! This boat is a bitch!” And the name stuck.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Smiling In the Sunshine Four: Old Phil Stine

The Country Corner
Old Phil Stine Buys Some Beer

     Old Phil Stine was paying Clark the Clerk for his six pack of Red Stripe beer and his Swisher Sweet cigarillos at the counter of the Country Corner Gas Stop when he caught some incongruous movement out of the the corner of his eye. Phil looked out the double glass doors and saw some grungy kook getting on the saddle of his unlocked stripped down vintage Mongoose Alta bicycle.

     “Sonofabitch!” Phil shouted, grabbing his beer and busting through the doors as the perpetrator pedaled off fast just like the Road Runner in the old cartoons. Clark the Clerk was right behind Phil.

     “That's that fucking crackhead that's been hanging around here lately!” yelled Clark. I'll call the cops!” he said, rushing back inside.

     “Better call an ambulance,” muttered Phil, pulling one of the hefty bottles from the six pack. He wound up fast and let rip with an amazing beer bottle fastball that left one old man at the gas pumps somewhat breathless. The bottle whizzed unerringly with no arc and no wasted time right into the back of the head of the fleeing bike thief. He went down fast, the bike becoming tangled with his legs and arms in a kind of strange sculpture of failure. Phil strode over to the tangle and lifted the dazed crook by the lapels of his filthy shirt, lifting him to eye level. He did it with no apparent effort, giving the guy a swift shake to disentangle his limbs from the bicycle. The crackhead urinated in his pants. Phil tossed the helpless loser into some nearby palmettos and reached down to pick up his bicycle and the beer bottle missile.

     “Here,” he said, flipping the beer to the thief. “You might want to wait awhile before you open that.” He turned around and walked his bike back to where he had left his remaining beers. Clark the Clerk came out of the store. He was still excited.

     “What the hell?” he said. “What the hell? The cops are on the way!”

     “Well, then, you can tell them all about it when they get here”, said Phil, peddling off.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Keep On Smiling?

A Pause to Review
My hardcore loyal followers (you know who you are: I owe you money) have been most generous with support as I indulge myself by posting my efforts at some fiction writing. But back last winter when I ran that "LA" series about my highly charged visit with my son in Los Angeles I was getting over 300 page views a day. (Big time for me). Comments were sparse, but I think a lot of that was due to the content leaving readers a little stunned and not sure what to say.

Not Smiling
The "Smiling" series is barely getting a hundred hits a day, not much more than my usual stuff. I don't know...well, let's face it, people are far more interested in real life family drama and sex than make believe. I hate writing fiction. It sucks. I read it all the time and what I am dishing out here is Florida mystery fiction (sorta), a burgeoning genre and one I am well qualified to serve up. But still, I prefer telling mildly-stretched true tales to making stuff up. Ironically, the events in Smiling In the Sunshine COULD have happened; every character in the book is based on a real person and the events, for the most part, actually occurred, albeit twenty years ago.

But still it is fiction.

I don't seem to be growing my readership with these posts and the truth is, I thought I would be working in the real world by now and was using the series to keep the Blog alive while I hacked around with hammers and nails. But even that didn't happen and now I'm pondering on what to do about it all.

So What To Do
I could start a separate Blog page for the book and keep it going that way. I have fifteen chapters written and by feeling a little pressure to finish it I would probably (maybe) actually write the thing. The fun part of the project, for me, and hopefully for you guys, is that what you are seeing is the before- the-editor's-edition version. It's just me hacking it out and finding my way. After it's all done, I would then have to re-write the whole thing and fix all the weak stuff.

Then sell the movie rights for a gazillion bucks.

I Miss Slick Willie
As far as the family drama and sex parts go, (cue Jerry Springer) Smiling in the Sunshine could be a porno movie, almost, if I tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We were a pretty randy bunch, we were, when my crowd was facing forty, looking back like pirates and blasting around on sailboats and spending WAY too much time drunk and naked and goofing off in saloons where we could get away with just about anything, and often we are all staring down sixty and most of us, (at least the ones still living), are in absolute denial about those days and yeah, there are some losses and broken homes and some jail time in the dust of the Clinton years. Fuck! The Clinton years! I miss 'em, I do!

So...”Smiling” is my fond look back and maybe I need to start over. I don't know. I really want to do up this piece of fiction but it is coming I just want a fun book with a little loss and heartbreak and triumph to come out. It's about the Fountain of Youth, after all...I've seen it, tasted its waters and shaken the hand of the Mango Man.

Or was that a dream I had...

So anyway, folks, I'm not sure what to do, or where the readers are hiding. Meanwhile, my visits to the VA doctors have all been sorted out (after a year! Hey, it's the VA) and I'm having a whole new experience with weight loss and diet. My journal for the last few weeks has been kinda fun and I want to tell about it. Paleo Tim Joe is the thing and in ten days I have not ridden my bicycle less than thirty miles per. That's three hundred miles me darlin's! I am on my own wacky Trailer Park version of the Cave Man diet and I dropped thirteen pounds in those ten days. That got my attention, plus, I'm...excited! Probably just a manic mood swing but I want to type it up.

And the sad thing about the dogs on this morning's ride. (Three dogs, thirty-six miles).

Also, I have been formally evicted from the Park and I'm not sure about what's next with that situation...

Cheese and Whine Are Not Paleo
OK. This is not a cry for help. Wait, it is. Do I fiddle with posting the Smiling posts? They are pre-scheduled and changing that will be a bitch. But I ain't happy with the way things are going. I want to keep the Trailer Park Cyclist alive (in more ways than one) and I also want to not be a tease with the novel. I want to Keep On Smilin'! 

Make any suggestions you like. I never do what other people tell me to do, anyway. But if I don't un-schedule those posts and put this ramble up on Monday, nobody will see it. (Don't think I don't know that you only read my stuff while you're on the clock).

Thanks for listening.

Yer pal, tj