Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hey, We Do Tune-Ups!

Many a reminiscence calls for a modicum of discernment. The internet has removed time and distance from the arsenal of discretion. I’ve been receiving Facebook “friend requests” from two individuals I had on a long-abandoned e-mail list, both of whom departed this mortal coil years ago. So, in a way, the internet grants its own kind of immortality.

Still, I think enough time has elapsed to recount the following yarn.

Capt. Bill was a bit of a character. He’d pursued multifarious careers, ranging from police officer to bricklayer. For a number of years he lived on a somewhat dilapidated houseboat anchored just north of Key West, and spent a lot of time hanging around a jet ski operation run by Big Charlie, a semi-retired biker from Ft. Lauderdale.

The jet ski rental was adjacent to a large motel frequented by tour groups from Miami and points north. There were usually one or two tour buses on the grounds, and lately they’d taken to parking them where they not only blocked the view of the jet ski operation from the main street, but also where their exhaust pipes were a scant ten feet from the small kiosk where Big Charlie and Capt. Bill hung out. Blocking the jet ski place from the street was bad enough in itself, but they would also leave the buses running, presumably to maintain the air-conditioning. The gentle, prevailing southeast summertime winds wafted a steady stream of diesel fumes right into the offended nostrils of Big Charlie and Capt. Bill.

“Hey, brother,” says Charlie, putting on his best-possible hail-fellow-well-met behavior. “Would ya mind moving the bus over to the other side? You’re blockin’ my view, and you know, the fumes . . . ”

The driver, reportedly a Hispanic fellow, merely looked at him blankly, locked up the still running bus, and walked away.

“What the hell?” says Charlie, going back to the kiosk. “Did you see that?” His brother, who had financed the operation, wouldn’t be happy having to bail Charlie out on an assault charge. Remember, he was a retired biker. “What can we do?”

“Let me borrow a jet ski,” says Capt. Bill. He runs out to his houseboat and returns a few minutes later with something wrapped in a handkerchief. Reaching up under one of the front windows of the bus, he toggles a hidden lever and the passenger door swings open. “I used to drive a bus myself,” he says. He takes a small glass vial from the handerchief, and carefully places it on the second step up into the bus, and shuts the door. “Now we sit back, have a cigarette, and wait.”

In a while the driver and passengers show up. The driver opens the door, and the passengers start to board. Two or three manage to get on without stepping on the vial. Eventually someone crushes it noiselessly underfoot.

According to what Capt. Bill said later, the people on board began to open the windows and fan the air. Then they realized that something was drastically wrong, and started to get off, causing a pushing match with those still trying to get on. Eventually they realized what was going on, and all of them got off the bus. The driver had to tell them to go back to the motel, and after a few hours the company was able to get them on another bus for the trip back to Miami.

After that the buses were left on the other side of the parking lot.

“I still don’t see why the driver couldn’t have been a little more reasonable about it,” someone said. “He could have saved himself a lot of trouble.”

“Yeah, I know,” said Capt. Bill. “But, hey, we do Tune-ups.”

Monday, August 23, 2010

Coyotes in North Carolina

Originally uploaded by Mangrove Mike
Coyotes are now established in every county in North Carolina, as well as Virginia and Tennessee. They have been known to prey on household pets and smaller livestock like sheep and goats.
A friend of ours has a small farm along the banks of the Yadkin River in North Carolina, where he maintains a herd of up to 200 Angus cattle. One day his son, who lives nearby, showed up towing a trailer with the latest local fad in anti-coyote devices, a donkey.
"It'd be a shame if you lost a calf to the coyotes, Dad," he said. "Put this donkey right in with the cows. No coyote will dare come into that pasture--they know they'll get stomped."
Our friend had his doubts, but thought, "Well, what harm can it do? No point in looking a gift donkey in the mouth, so to speak."
He put the donkey in with the cows and went about his business.
After a while, he forgot it was there, even when the phone rang a couple of weeks later. It was one of the neighbors, asking if anyone had seen his dog. It was missing. "No, haven't seen him around here, but I'll sure keep my eyes open for him," said Harry. Nope, no dog around here.
A couple of days later he was driving his tractor through the pasture and saw something unusual off to one side. He drove over by it. Sure enough it was a medium sized brown dog, or what was left of it. It had been stomped flat.
Harry decided that maybe it wasn't such a good idea to have that donkey in the pasture. His son was a little disappointed when he called him and told him to bring the trailer back and pick up the donkey. It took him a few days to get around to it, and they say Harry found at least one more trampled canine before his kid got that donkey out of there. OK, maybe that one was a coyote--it was stomped so hard that you couldn't tell for sure. In any event no one called about it.
Moral: Apparently donkeys are good protection against coyotes. But it would be a good idea to keep your dog out of the field at the same time.


Harry visited this weekend and put a different spin on things.
"A lot of little dogs that belonged to the people around the farm went missing last year. 'Cause I said something about them getting after the calves, some of them thought that I had something to do with it somehow.
Later on we found a coyote burrow, and I swear there were 8 to 10 little collars outside it. Those coyotes will go after anything, a calf, a little dog, a skunk even.
That's what got all those dogs. It wasn't my donkey."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Bottle Wall: End of an Era

Not long ago I was surprised to see a letter to the editor in Key West's muckraking, bottom-stirring-up, irreverent Blue Newspaper from a former neighbor, local legend Carolyn Gorton Fuller, usually identified as the Bottle Wall Lady.
Back in the eighties, or earlier, she had started constructing a "wall" out of old bottles in front of her house, located on a sharp turn near the celebrated historical Key West Cemetery. Occasionally a car would crash into it, and it would reappear later in slightly different form. Over the years it became a tourist attraction and artistic motif.
One day it simply disappeared. Inquiring about it, I was told, "I went down to La Te Da, and after having two martinis started thinking about it. I had one more martini and came home and just knocked it down with a sledge hammer. I got tired of rebuilding it."
In the aftermath of Hurricane Georges, a neighbor of hers hired me to rebuild a fence between his property and hers. Knowing her idiosyncratic tendencies, I sent my helper, a high school dropout by the name of Tim, over to her for an hour every morning to see what she needed done.
"What have I gotta do that for, man?" he'd be asking.
"You gotta do that in the morning," I explained, "so we can do this for the rest of the day."
A short investment in time kept her at bay for the rest of the day. She was in her dotage even then, and more than slightly pixilated in the tradition of many an elderly Key West grande dame.
When I saw her letter, I was glad to see that she was still around and raising hell as usual about something after all these years, and all the more shocked to see that she had died the very next day!
She had an interesting write-up in the local rag. Interesting to see that they didn't gloss over her, ummm, original personality.

Update: Since there's been some degree of interest in the Bottle Wall and its creator, we've snagged another photo and added a couple of links to some pertinent stories. Carolynophiles, enjoy!

On "cashing in her chips" . . .

On the demise of her marvelous autumn-mobile . . .

Friday, August 6, 2010

Blessed Assurance

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.
Oh, what a foretaste of Glory Divine
Not far from the home of my youth was an old graveyard which I visited occasionally, checking out old headstones, some of which were of historical interest, or had interesting inscriptions. I remember one epitaph in particular: They died in certain expectation of a glorious resurrection.

It’s interesting, I thought-- here lies a couple who had no doubt that when they died, they would continue to live in another form, presumably altered and improved, of course.

In my mind there was something oddly biblical about that rural area: sheaves of wheat, barns full of hay, fields of cows, century-old white clapboard churches, but 19th century reality couldn’t have been much different from our own time. People got sick, people died, people were killed in wars. There were good times and bad. Were they so devoid of intellectual curiosity that they could avoid any doubt that things would work out pretty much as their religion indicated?

Oh, to have that same kind of certain assurance in this day and age!

But even in biblical times eyewitnesses to the miracles described in the four gospels still doubted. They were there when Jesus reportedly fed four thousand people. They saw him heal people. Some saw him walk on water. Three of them saw the “transfiguration.” Yet when the chips were down, they scattered like scared rabbits. And when he appeared to them after he “came back,” one who wasn’t there refused to believe it, until he himself had seen him in person, the original “Doubting Thomas.”

To me, Doubting Thomas’s position seems perfectly sensible. Let’s have a little honest rational skepticism going here. That’s why the position of atheism, as opposed to agnosticism, seems to be more of an emotional, rather than an intellectual argument. Based on solely scientific and deductive reasoning, agnosticism seems to be the only purely logical world view. Things of the spirit can only be perceived “through a glass darkly,” as Paul theorized.

There’s no logical way to prove or disprove the existence of God. Belief always requires a leap of faith. We just can’t know one way or the other.

I am a Christian because of a series of personal “slaps upside the head,” that left me, like Thomas, saying, “My Lord and my God!” I admit to a certain paranormal, and for lack of a better world, emotional undertone in my reasoning.

Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

Atheism requires a certain emotional edge in my opinion. In a way atheists are pushing their own conclusions on others in a manner oddly similar to the “Jesus Saves” crowd. The determination of the atheist, whether it’s a college boy trying to shock his peers, or a well-known writer touting a book or article, seems to me to be a cri de coeur, “Prove that I’m wrong. Show me that I’m wrong. Please! Please!”

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Can y'all dig it?

So I stumbled on this from one of the many other blogs out there.

When I was a teenager someone showed me a page printed in this "new language," Interlingua. At first it seemed like gibberish, but after looking at it for a few minutes, it was--amazingly--understandable! Here's a more recent sample from the article linked above:

Interlingua es un lingua auxiliar international naturalistic basate super le vocabulos commun al major linguas europee e super un grammatica anglo-romanic simple, initialmente publicate in 1951 per International Auxiliary Language Association (IALA).

Interlingua es le resultato del labores de 15 annos de un equipa de linguistas.

Le labor pro crear Interlingua habeva le start in Europa, a Liverpool in 1936 e le fin a New York in 1951, le equipa de linguistas ha extrahite le vocabulario international del linguas europee.

In 1967, ISO (International Organization for Standardization), que normaliza le terminologia, ha votate in unanimitate proxime de adoptar Interlingua como le basa pro ille dictionarios.

Interlingua = “International Lingua” es intendite que illo debe devenir un lingua commun del mundo pro succeder in servir le humanitate, ma non un solo lingua comun.

Apparently a team of linguists constructed the "language" from words common to several European languages--thus the fact that it's relatively understandable to speakers of those languages.

"Wow, this is great," I thought. "Now there'll be no real need to learn a foreign language!" But, alas, artificial languages may be useful for scientific papers, but, lacking the nuances and slang of an everyday living language, they can never become a substitute for authentic, natural human language. Things just don't work that way. (Sorry, kids.)

In fact, if I understand the above article correctly, the originators hoped it would develop into something useful, but had no illusions of it becoming a single common world language (un solo lingua comun, dig it?).

For better or worse, thanks to the internet, English has now become as close to a world language as any other, despite its odd and antiquated spelling "system", a fact that has allowed most Americans (in spite of the influx of Spanish speakers) to remain abysmally ignorant of other languages.

Not that it's willful ignorance by any means. Some Dutch people I knew, who settled in West Virginia, were often told, "Ya know, y'alls language can't be all that different from ours. We can almost understand some of what y'all say!" Problem was, they were speaking English.