Saturday, August 30, 2014


The beloved TV show Flipper (wait, what do you mean you've never heard of it? You damn kids!) originally aired from 1964 to 1967, and was based on the movie of the same name that was a box office smash in theatres in the summer of '63. It was, like I Dream of Jeannie, one of the few classic TV shows set in Florida. Unlike Jeannie, this one was actually filmed on location here, in Miami.

The show starred Brian Kelly as Porter Ricks, a warden at a marine preserve on Florida's Coral Key. He's a single dad trying to raise two sons, Sandy and Bud, while fending off gangsters, escaped convicts, lobster poachers, and surly characters snook-fishing out of season. And then there's the show's namesake, Flipper - a hyperintelligent dolphin who always saves the day with increasingly unlikely feats of Lassie-like skill.

Like Mork & Mindy a decade later, Flipper suffered from a constant revamping by its producers, leaving a very erratic legacy with a multitude of short-lived characters. Even Ricks' widower status was a retcon from the original movie, where Mrs. Ricks is very much alive.

The show's first season featured Andy Devine as a comical lout named Hap, regaling the boys with very implausible tall tales about his days as a seafarer. Then the character vanished, as did the Ricks family dog, Spray, who was never seen or mentioned again after the first season. Flipper's pelican friend, Pete, also didn't last long. In the second season they threw in a female love interest for Ricks, a Swedish oceanographer named Ulla who tootled around the Atlantic in her own personal miniature submarine. By the third season she was gone too, without explanation or exposition.

For the third season, advance promos for the show hawked the addition of a new girlfriend for Sandy to the cast. She appeared in only one episode before the producers apparently got bored and wrote her out of the show. By the end of the series, even Sandy and Bud themselves were written out - a very special two-part episode explained that Sandy and Bud had gone off to private schools in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and were being replaced on the show by a family called the Whitmans, consisting of a widowed mother with two kids of her own.

By this time NBC decided enough was enough, and pulled the plug on the show immediately after this "Cousin Oliver" moment.

In real life, Flipper was a female named Mitzi, who lived at the Dolphin Research Center (then known as Santini’s Porpoise School) where Mitzi was the very first student dolphin trained to do tricks. Mitzi died in 1972, and is buried in the courtyard of the DRC with a small plaque: "Dedicated to the memory of Mitzi, the original Flipper, who resided at this facility from 1958 to 1972″.

Dixie's Little Dog House

I do eat hot dogs sometimes, I admit it. Sometimes at a flea market or a baseball game, you just gotta go with the flow and have yourself a juicy hot slickly cased amalgam of animal snouts and lips. But the hot dogs at Dixie's Little Dog House are a cut above the common man's wiener; they're real Vienna. And delicious. Cheese fries, Italian sausage, and a malt, and I'm good to go. Let's start the car and head to Treasure Island right now!

Weeki Wachee

Weeki Wachee is actually the name of a town in Hernando County, Florida, but of course everybody uses the term as verbal shorthand to mean the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, and even more specifically, the singing mermaid attraction that is the park's centerpiece.

Since 1947, this sexy-yet-downright creepy show, in which suburban families from Ottawa queue up in a hallway overlooking a glass aquarium - has enthralled hundreds of thousands. (Mostly the dads.)

Baton Rouge Birdfall

If you'll allow me a trifold layer of foggily backward-reaching citation, Charles Fort's The Book of the Damned makes reference to a May 1917 article in the Monthly Weather Review, which in turn quotes a Baton Rouge news correspondent to the Philadelphia Times in 1896.

It was reported that, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in the summer of 1896, there came a tremendous rain of dead birds from the sky. Hundreds of them hitting sidewalks, pedestrians and Ford Quadricycles, making those sickening dull splat sounds that always ensue when God pours a giant bucket of dead birds out on a city. The avian selection was intriguing as well: there were ducks, catbirds, and woodpeckers - birds who generally do not share close company. There were also birds that looked sort-of like canaries but evidently weren't, and there were a great many fowl "of strange plumage" that could not be identified.

As Fort notes, the desperately cobbled-together explanations of bird kills are often attributed to the presence of a nearby storm in the area. At least, among those who seek to assure the public that there is nothing unknown, nothing weird, nothing paranormal, nothing truly FUBAR in the Universe. But in this instance, the best the experts could come up with was....

"There had been a storm on the coast of Florida."

Of this, Fort goes on to say:

"The reader feels only momentary astonishment that dead birds from a storm in Florida should fall from an unstormy sky in Louisiana, and with his intellect greased like the plumage of a dead duck, the datum then drops off."

(And for an additional dimension of convolution, the above image comes from a version of the report quoted from a St.Louis newspaper in an ornithological journal called The Osprey, volume 1, number 4, page 56, December 1896.)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Islamorada Hurricane Monument

Erected in 1937, this stone crypt on the island of Islamorada contains the cremated remains of over 300 victims of the 1935 Labor Day hurricane that devastated the area with 185-200+ mile winds, a 15-foot flood, and the lowest barometric sea level pressure ever recorded in U.S. history.

Some wags have criticized that the image on the monument is wrong, because it depicts palm trees being blown away from the storm. Looking at it, I'm not really sure how they deduce that. But even so, palm trees can whip in a circular motion during a hurricane, so stop ya whinin'.

St. Bernard de Clairvaux Monastery

Think fast - what's the oldest building in the Western Hemisphere? Hint: It's in Florida.

You're probably thinking about places in St. Augustine as you rack your brains, but don't sweat it, it's a trick question. The answer is the Monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux, located at 16711 West Dixie Highway, North Miami Beach.

How is that possible? Because the building, even though constructed in medieval Spain in the year 1133, was disassembled in the 1950s, shipped here, and put back up.

The Coppertone Sign

Since 1959, Miami has been the home of a three-story tall electrically lit sign of the iconic "Coppertone Girl". Its location has been shuffled around a lot over the years, but it currently can be found at 7300 Biscayne Blvd.

The original Coppertone logo was an Indian chief with the slogan "Don't Be A Paleface." Fortunately, at some point the company decided they could do better. The story has been told that they'd planned to use an adult woman in a bikini for the logo, but the owner's wife disapproved and suggested making it more innocent. If true, I would expect the dog would have to have been a Great Dane or a Mastiff or some such.

Blank-Eyed JFK

In the median of the 79th St. Causeway in North Bay Village, FL, there's this giant bust of President John F. Kennedy. Well, okay, it's not exactly great ("Mister Kimball!) because it seems like his head here is even bigger than it was in real life. You know, proportionately, I mean. And something about translating the President's hair into sculpture really drives it home how obviously the man wore a hairpiece but no one ever really talks about that. (They don't talk much about our current President's hairpiece either, come to think of it.)

Anyway, if you want to see the great big Kennedy head, it's east of the bridge, facing west, and if you want to get out and examine it closely you're going to need to park at least a block away, and then dangerously cross two lanes of traffic. In order words, I wouldn't advise it.

Why so many sculptors choose to leave the eyes devoid of detail when doing an otherwise lifelike rendering is beyond me. Yes, yes, I understand that to do so would be to make a mark - either convex or concave - that does not actually correspond to the subject's actual physiology. But who cares? Mr. Kennedy's body wasn't truncated at the shoulders either, now was it? We're talking about art here, where's your suspension of disbelief?

Be that as it may, I think the Tor Johnson/Little Orphan Annie effect works quite well under these circumstances. Someday in the future - like fifteen minutes from now, maybe - the walkers who inherit the Earth after the zombie apocalypse will gaze dully at the bust, and wonder.

(Maybe you can visit the big JFK head on the same day as the big Beethoven head and really "do" Florida's historical big-head tour.)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sealife Simulacra of Tarpon Springs


Horse & Jockey

I generally avoid "British style" restaurants, whether they're authentic or not. I didn't realize that Horse & Jockey in Pasadena was one, so imagine my spirits sinking when I sat down, perused the menu, and realized my mistake.

But believe it or not, I didn't Jeff out on this one. I actually enjoyed the meal and returned again for more. The first couple times I made stabs at the more Brit aspects of the menu, like pasties, but in the end there's nothing than can top their plain old cheeseburger and fries.

Grave of B.P. Roberts

Betty Pearl Roberts used an old joke from Mad magazine for the message on her final resting place. At least, I hope the inscription was her idea.

You can find it in Key West Cemetery.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The One-Log Cabin

Next time you're in St. Augustine, even if you don't feel like shelling out the cash to take the extended tour at the Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum, they have this free attraction adjacent to it.

It'a log cabin home constructed entirely from one singular hollowed-out redwood log. Well, what do you want for free?

It is kind of interesting, actually - even though the log is cramped (or cozy, depending on your perspective) and dark and there really isn't anything to see or say other than "yep, that's a house inside a giant log, alright". It's all part of life's rich pageant.

(Life in a log isn't perfect, though - the roof evidently leaks, hence the giant blue tarp draped over the entire shebang.)

Parkside Cafe

Even though I do a lot of business in Pinellas Park, I don't get to the Parkside Cafe as much as I'd like these days, and that's a dern shame. I need to get back there and reacquaint myself with its style and pick up on some nice things I've missed, like that peanut butter pie.

There are many such cafes as this in the world, some good, some bad, some mediocre. Which category this one falls under depends on how much importance you place on the setting, and Parkside's is kind of homey in a mildly generic way. There are those god-awful giant die-cut letter signs on the walls spelling out words like "EAT", and "CAFE" and "LUNCH", you know, the kind you get at Big Lots but usually saying things like "FAMILY" and "HOME" and "HOUSE". When I sit in just the right seat which doesn't face these deadly IQ-lowering signs, I have a good time here.

The waitresses are sometimes like right out of Alice, so much so that I wonder if it's all an act. That harried, sort of friendly but not exactly, kind of brusque but not quite. But what they lack in ambience and customer service, they more than make up for in awesome victuals. Jump in anywhere on the menu here and you'll score. I like the Philly Cheesesteak, the stuffed peppers, the burgers, the pancakes and bacon, you name it. Okay, especially the pancakes and bacon. Breakfast here is a must if you're in the middle of the peninsula and you don't have the oomph to go south to Stella's, north to Clear Sky, or east to Nicki's.

Other exciting Parkside Cafe fun facts:

1. It isn't beside a park.

2. The logo on their menu breaks "Park Side" into two words, while the logo on their sign runs it together as a compound word.

Big Beethoven Head

In Fort Myers you'll find the New University Pyramid Village, a peculiar little resort primarily aimed at Europeans visiting America. And it's here you'll find a giant bust of Beethoven, for reasons no one has really adequately explained. (And, even odder, there's a tiny little statuette of the Sphinx just below it, too.) But there it is. Tell Schroeder the news.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Robert the Doll

The notion of "the haunted doll" is one that recurs in classic horror fiction, and Florida is home to one of the prototype real-life examples: Robert the Doll. He's had quite an interesting life, but currently resides at the Fort East Martello Museum and Gardens on Key West.

The painter Robert Eugene Otto was born in October 1900 to a wealthy family in a lavish mansion at the corner of Eaton and Simonton streets. They employed an extensive staff of servants from the Caribbean and the Bahamas. He was primarily raised by his nanny of Bahamian (some say Haitian) descent, who gave him a primitive doll for his 4th birthday. Some versions of the story say the doll was already wearing a sailor suit, others say it was dressed that way by the boy to match his own. Some versions say the nanny gave him the doll as a sincere gift, whereas others suggest it was a deliberate curse on the family because the nanny was disciplined for practicing hoodoo in the yard.

The boy soon developed a strange relationship with the doll, more so than your average child and toy - he took it everywhere he went, dressed in an identical sailor costume, and would have conversations with it at all times, even when alone, discussing things in low conspiratorial whispers. Eventually he demanded that he only be called "Gene" so as to avoid confusion with the doll named Robert.

Then things gradually got creepier and creepier.

Neighbors reported walking past the house and seeing the doll looking at them from a window. If that wasn't disquieting enough, sometimes on the walk back they saw the doll had changed windows and was now peering out from a different one. Some grown-ups were startled to hear - or think they heard - Robert actually speak in response to Gene. The child, precocious though he may have been, was likely not a ventriloquist.

With increasing regularity, incidents of mischief occurred around the home which Gene, when accused of being responsible, would blame Robert. At first they didn't believe him, of course... until the night when the entire family, so the legend is told, actually witnessed the doll moving by itself.

Years passed. Gene grew up, got married, settled down and inherited the house he grew up in. But he still kept Robert. And renovated a turret room in the house's attic as an apartment for the doll, complete with his own furniture. Needless to say, Gene's wife thought this was bizarre, and whenever they would have a quarrel, Gene continued in adulthood to blame it all on Robert. When Gene died in 1974, his wife chose to just leave the doll in the attic and sold the house with him up there. The next family to move in found him, and gave him to their young daughter. It was a gift they'd soon regret - the girl began screaming out in the middle of the night, claiming that Robert got up and walked, and attacked her on multiple occasions. Years later as an adult, she was still frightened by it and still insisted to interviewers that Robert the Doll was alive and wanted to kill her.

The doll was ultimately donated to the Key West Art and Historical Society, who in turn placed it with the Fort East Martello Museum. And in May 2008, Robert left Key West for the first time, to be on display at TapsCon, a paranormal convention held in Clearwater. It was here that Robert's picture was taken with some sort of special "aura-capturing camera", though apparently not a Kirlian one, and that sure enough, Robert's photo showed a purple mushroom-cloud aura around his head and a blue glow around his body.

Robert, who if nothing else has the claim to fame of being the inspiration for the "Chucky" movies, remains on display in Key West. Visit him at your own risk, and don't think unkind thoughts. He can hear them.

Duck Sign

We got duck sign! So, yeah, um, it's rather strangely rendered, I must say. What is up with that one crazy mixed-up duckling?

I'd love to meet the person who designed it and pick his brains for insight about what he was thinking when he created this masterpiece while drinking too much Folgers in some dirty cigarette-butt-filled back room of some office in some bureau. Does he even think about this work that may be his greatest claim to fame? When driving in a car with others, does he point with pride to the signs and say, "y'see that? I drew them ducks back when I was workin' fer the D.O.T.! Ain't that somethin'?" And further, one must wonder, do they even believe him?

The Tarpon Sponger

Serafin de Cuba Cigars in Tarpon Springs is the place you'll find this kooky wooden sign of a hippie stoner-dude wearing an old-fashioned diving outfit. More importantly, perhaps, it's where you'll find the one and only Tarpon Sponger cigar, a local delicacy that can only be obtained within these walls. It's a strange little specimen, and though the one I got was a bit dried out, it was supremely rolled, aged to perfection and had an unusual whang to it that words fail me in articulating. Would definitely smoke again.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Cigar Disappointment

Much as I love trying a variety of cigars, and despite being like a kid in a candy store here in Florida (the cigar capital of the nation), I keep having bad luck lately with my selections. Not only with unfamiliar random stabs into the humidor, but with some sticks that I used to like but no longer tolerate.

I don't believe it to be the fault of the cigarmakers; rather, it's me who's changed. My tastes have apparently honed in more and more on the aspects of these sticks that please me, and the passage of time has rendered me increasingly impatient with those "nothing much to say about, just a good solid smoke" kind of cigars. Life's too short to smoke a cigar you aren't 110% completely in love with.

So, I find myself experimenting less these days, and sticking to my short list of tried-and-true favorites. For whatever reason, these sticks just flip the correct set of switches in my brain right now. Because you asked, they are, to wit:

Casa Magna D. Magnus II Limitada
Rocky Patel Royale
(the old version, not the new)
Rocky Patel 15th Anniversary
Rocky Patel Olde World Reserve
Nish Patel XEN
Nish Patel Bold
Julius Caeser
Project 805 Andullo
Drew Estate Liga Privada
Drew Estate Undercrown
Drew Estate MUWAT Baitfish
Drew Estate Papas Fritas
Drew Estate Natural (Jucy Lucy, Root, Dirt)
Alec Bradley Nica Puro
Alec Bradley Black Market
Alec Bradley Prensado
Sons of Anarchy
Nat Sherman Timeless Collection
Kristoff Galerones Sentido
Esteban Carreras 12 Anos
Torano Exodus 1959
San Lotano Oval
A. Flores 1975 Serie Privada Capa Maduro
Gurkha Ninja
Trinidad Paradox
Illuminati Shield
Herrera Esteli

There are plenty of other cigars I love, of course, but these are the ones that I've been focusing on lately based on local availability. If I could find, say, Drew Estate Feral Flying Pig or Regius around these parts, I'd be all over it. Also, I seem to have developed a fixation with box-press sticks, and the superior draw I find they bring me is my number one consideration these days.

But I think the day is coming when this cocktail desperado is going to settle down to one fixed location in a few months, and stop constantly tear-assing around the Sunshine State looking for the sausage. Then, I will once again have my very own humidor room at home and no longer rely on the randomity of what's carried by local tobacconists. I hope the brick-and-mortar cigar stores have appreciated my nonstop business, but I'm feeling the need to stretch out. I'm feeling the craving to once more utilize the power of mailorder and the awesomeness of the Internet, and to keep my mancave stocked with all my favorite smokable snacks. When that day comes, join me in my wine cellar for a drink and a puff, won't you?

Friday, August 8, 2014

Gordan the Goat Found!

Last month, I was puzzled by a van spotted in Gulfport that had "PLEASE RETURN GORDAN THE GOAT!!" spray-painted all over it with a phone number to call. Well, I've been reading The Gabber, our esteemed local paper, and the mystery has been solved. An article by Cathy Salustri relates how Gulfportian Eric Finkler has a pet goat - nay, more than a mere pet - a best friend and life companion. "I love him so much," says Finkler in the piece, "and he's with me all the time."

On July 25, Finkler came back from a short motorcycle ride over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge to find that someone had kidnapped his goat. That's why Finkler spray-painted the message on his van, and drove it around the area to spread the word.

Gordan apparently went on some strange adventure, but he isn't talking. All we know is that he showed up unexpectedly several miles away in Riptides bar at Blind Pass. The baffled bartender took him in, and brought to him a relative's home for safekeeping. Fortunately, Finkler's van gambit worked - the relative called the number on the van, and man and goat were reunited happily.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Mangia Gourmet

Although it's not that far a drive to that Sistine Chapel of Gluttony, Mazzaro's Market, it can sometimes require more oomph than I have on hand to make the trek - and to battle the crowds. So when I found out there's another great gourmet place right down the street from me, my lazy inner child let out a whoop.

Mangia Gourmet isn't a giant two-building complex like the ostentatiously over-the-top Mazzaro's, but it does have the finer things in life readily available - like craft beer. And mango salsa. And blood orange hummus. And a cooler filled with fine gelato and designer popsicles from St. Pete's Tropiccool.

Now if only they had bubble tea.


This truck passed me on the way home from Orlando.

Crompco. Hunh. Crompco?

They're into vapor recovery, whatever that is.

Shoe Planters

Seen in someone's yard in Gulfport: a pair of children's shoes being used as planters. I guess that's one way to repurpose them after the kid's outgrown them.