Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Tuesday, 30 October 2007


Mile Marker 123

We spent a little too long escaping the storm, chatting with neighbors.

You never really know when you wake up in the morning if it will be the last time.

Whenever they have a fatality on the US 1 two lane choke point out of the Keys, traffic stops dead for about five hours while they investigate and clear the scene.

The accident must have happened about a minute ahead. The big rock hauler is trashed. The other vehicle is completely disintegrated, parts strewn for 200 yards along the highway. The fire rescue people walk along the roadside for 500 yards in all directions making sure that they have not overlooked any bodies or parts.

We see the helicopters evacuating dead victims.

The last time we left the Keys there was also a fatal accident that stopped all traffic in and out. Since we were stopped by a restaurant, we had conch fritters while we waited.

John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park

Key Largo, Florida

We move north to mile marker 102 in the Keys. This is where Bogart and Edward G. Robinson filmed Key Largo 1948. Like them, we wait for the hurricane and the boat ride.

Frank McCloud: He knows what he wants. Don't you, Rocco?
Johnny Rocco: Sure.
James Temple: What's that?
Frank McCloud: Tell him, Rocco.
Johnny Rocco: Well, I want uh ...
Frank McCloud: He wants more, don't you, Rocco?
Johnny Rocco: Yeah. That's it. More. That's right! I want more!
James Temple: Will you ever get enough?
Frank McCloud: Will you, Rocco?
Johnny Rocco: Well, I never have. No, I guess I won't.

I agree with Rocco. I want more: more sensory stimulation, more experiences, more life. One of the films goofs was a character murdered by Rocco as the hurricane approaches who then helped to push his own body overboard. Now the movies have continuity directors.

This is one of the best State parks in the US. It’s the only state park in the US that has been awarded two gold medals. They have a shallow area you can snorkel that has authentic looking Spanish cannons and anchors. They also have a dive shop, kayak rentals, glass bottom boat trips and snorkeling trips to the reef about four miles out in the big coral reef preserve.

We are parked in a good spot, backed up to some mature red mangrove trees. We have water, electric and a grill. We’re parked on big flat concrete slab and swept with cool breezes from the Atlantic. We’re very close to the water. Seabirds wander past.

I signed up for a dive trip today but the 40 MPH winds make it look very doubtful. Noel is bearing down and the other divers are canceling left and right. The two lane choke point out of the Keys is about 30 miles north.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Fantasy Fest

Key West, Florida

Looking for that perfect costume? You might get some ideas from last night’s Fantasy Fest Parade and bacchanal in Key West.

Then again, different communities have different standards and no one ever accused Key West of having excessively high standards.

We found a parking place and walked to the far end of Duval Street. We bought a rum and coke from a Habitat for Humanity volunteer. He tells us they are building 18 units up on Sugarloaf Key. I’m tempted to volunteer, but it doesn’t fit our commitments for the next two months.

A few people in the crowd carry “repent” type signs or portable loudspeakers with religious messages. It can be very hard to distinguish the serious messages from the mockers.

We wander though the throng of nude freaks with painted breasts and genitals and hear a discussion between a spectator and a police sergeant about what constitutes lascivious indecency in Key West. The sergeant says if the parts are painted, it’s OK. The spectator points out some unpainted body parts and the sergeant shrugs.

We have some coconut shrimp and stone crab down at Red Fish/ Blue Fish and watch the chickens scavenge the scraps from the floor.

A tourist with a University of Kansas t-shirt passes us. We giggle and remind each other that we’re not in Kansas anymore.

We find a seat on a front porch of a house being renovated next to a Duval street brothel. The girls from the house sit on the front parch and negotiate with the revelers.

On the way out we run into Miss Joyce on a shadowy street, walking her dog. She’s a sweet thing, about 75. She’s lived in Key West since 1932. She’s seen a lot of changes. We talk awhile about the things she’s seen.

Most of the Fantasy Fest pictures would not be approved for our viewing by young children.

Saturday, 27 October 2007


Back in the Conch Republic

Big Pine Key, Florida

We spent our first day back in the Keys diving on Looe Key marine sanctuary. The Key is actually a shallow shoal area about five miles out at sea. It was named after the H.M.S. Looe which sank there in 1744. The Looe carried 190 men and 42 cannon. Some of the cannon were salvaged in 1951 at the dawn of sport diving.

When we dove here in the early 1960s the reefs of the Keys were things of almost hallucinogenic beauty, colorful crystalline fairy castles. By the 1980s, the more delicate corals, like the fragile staghorns, were all broken and shattered on the seafloor. The dive sites had begun to resemble bleached bone yards. Today, even the white coral skeletons are disintegrated and only larger masses of tattered brown corals and a few sea fans remain. I won’t come here again. Too many years and too many tourists have reduced the reefs to drab reminders of former glory.

Then again, if you come here to snorkel for the first time from a place, let’s say, like Long Island, you might find the warm water and tropical fish a very good experience. There were four young men from Long Island aboard. They all sounded like Tony Soprano.

I was paired with two older and apparently inexperienced divers. My first clue was a mask and snorkel floating toward the sea floor. I swam down and retrieved it and then led my two dive buddies around the reef for about an hour. Some of the pictures might be interesting after development. Due to limited visibility, it was difficult to keep them both in sight since they tended to swim off in different directions.

In the evening we went to an outdoor Tiki bar with a thatched roof. The moon was peeking though the rain clouds. We had cheeseburgers and margaritas and listened to a pretty good live band.

The Moon glows the same:
it is the drifting cloud forms
make it seem to change
-Matsuo Basho

This is Fantasy Week in Key West, thirty miles to the south. Last night was “pimps and hos” dress-up night. The inhabitants wear costumes of prostitutes and their business managers. Tonight is the really big night with the parade though downtown.

We are staying in our favorite RV park. It’s full of old tacky, brightly painted house trailers that are reminiscent of the Keys of 50 years ago. Some of them are from 50 years ago. A few Key deer wander though the park. They are the size of large dogs: an endangered species. They share the woods with the blue iguanas.

Monday, 22 October 2007


Tampa, Florida

We are a society of wimps. The practice of medicine is based exclusively on the fear of litigation.

My dermatologist has treated a small cancer on my temple three times in the last twelve months. So he now refers me to a "specialist" after the 4th visit.

It takes two weeks to make an appointment to see the "specialist". We drive 60 miles and wait an hour in the waiting room to be admitted to an examining room where I read a book and wait another hour. He comes in and spends maybe a minute looking at the site. He has thick glasses and appears to be a young doctor, about 30. I doubt that he has ever seen a sucking chest wound. We agree to schedule an appointment for surgery two months out.

On the long drive back I realize that none of this is a big deal. I get the big soldering iron from my tool kit. After the tip turns bright red, I press it to my temple, inhaling the stink of burning hair and flesh. I think about G. Gordon Liddy and what weaklings most Americans have become.

Mrs. Phred looks at me oddly after I unplug the soldering iron. "WHAT?", I ask.

I love the smell of burning flesh in the's the scent of freedom. One more day here and then we head to the Keys for diving, margaritas and coconut shrimp.


Sarasota, Florida

Tonight will make eleven days in the same place, a record.

We spend the time reading novels and playing tennis. I’ve been ordering a lot of books from since I can pick them up from our post office box during this interlude without paying for reshipping. The nearby Sarasota public library also has a great selection of surplus hard covers for a dollar or two.

We made a trip over to nearby Siesta Key. Strange, this is our first visit there. We never went there while we lived nearby. It’s a nice wide white sand beach, three miles long. The sun in mid-day does not agree with my complexion. We buy some new tennis togs at a store on the beach.

It seems to be more complex to be rid of the cancers on my face and arms. In the old days, the doctor would just cut, burn or freeze them off and that was it. Today I’m dealing with a couple of them that have already been the subject of three attempts extending back over a year. I go in for a consultation today and will still have to schedule an all-day surgery sometime in the near future.

We attended a Monte Carlo night charity function Saturday with some of my old students from the University of Tampa. It was good to see Mike and Argie, Steve and Jil, Joe and Mary and Charlie and Meg once more. They all miss the annual Gasparilla party at our house. Joe will be retiring in less than two years after 30 years on the police force. They all have children in college now and have all strangely morphed from being 20 to being 50. The view from the top of the new dormitory on the banks of the river was vibrant with the lights of the city.

I had the habit of taking polaroid shots of all my students back then and asking them questions for a 3x5 card so that I could address them by name by the second class meeting. Mrs. Phred was going though the pile of cards and pointed out that Mike and Steve were carpenters. They seemed to have a knack for showing up to work at dinnertime and were very helpful in shoring up the old home that we had purchased.I cooked them a lot of steaks, flavored on the grill with leaves from the orange tree.

Once I walked past the old dorm, on my way to teach a class, and a whiskey bottle flew out a fifth floor window and crashed at my feet. That's been torn down and replaced with the new building. Teddy Roosevelt and the general staff camped in this old hotel on the way to Cuba, San Juan hill and glory. They kept a 12 foot alligator in a pond here when I was a boy. In high school I came to the old library to write papers. I had an office in this minaret and worked here for ten years.

In the morning, we either turn south to the Keys or north to the Carolinas. It’s a hard choice, but the water temperature won’t stay perfect forever.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Retirement Anomie (part 2)

Ok. So here we are in Florida. It’s October. The Gulf Stream water temperature is 82 F.

For the last six years, the only time I went SCUBA diving was when I went to Puerto Rico in September to work on prepping an affiliate for audit. Then I would do 4 to 8 wall dives down in the sleepy fishing village of Parguera with Captain Angel.

Last year I had the pleasure of taking my son down to Puerto Rico. He wisely decided to snorkel and swim at the dive site (he hadn't dived for 20 years and he had six children hoping he would come back).

So, in the grand scheme of things, why not spend the next two months diving in the SCUBA Mecca’s of Palm Beach and the Keys. What is retirement all about, anyway?

My 1985 gear has gotten me though a lot of dives, but the pieces have been failing. The face mask fell apart in Puerto Rico last year. The buoyancy control device (BCD) blew out in Arkansas. The fin straps broke in Key West.\

Your gear keeps you alive 150 feet down. I think I need new regulators, new fins, a compass that works and a new BCD. I don’t really trust the old stuff anymore.

No…I’m not going to buy a dive computer. Real divers refer to their plastic dive table cards. I’ve done maybe 1800 open water dives. I’m a certified PADI Dive master. I should be diving more.

Back in the day, I always got more mileage and time out of my tank than the younger divers. Last year that wasn’t true. 51 years of heavy smoking is beginning to outweigh a relaxed frame of mind in terms of air consumption

That’s my take on the meaning of life. It should get us though a few months.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Retirement Anomie

Sarasota, Florida

We struggle now to find some direction or purpose.

The last two years have been a constant steam of new places. During the summer, we visited the Mediterranean, Canada, Alaska, crisscrossing the US. We find ourselves stopping now with no real plans. I think we may be stuck in the life planning process, unable or unwilling to make decisions.

I got a call from the dermatologist yesterday. Both biopsies came back positive: a recurrent basal on the temple and a new squamous on the ear. They want me to see a specialist. That puts a small crimp in our ability to quickly move on.

We think about traveling to a small town in North Carolina to purchase a home. The town is called New Bern. It’s on the coast at the confluence of two rivers. It’s in an area they call “the low country” and has a population of about 20,000. I’m filled with nagging doubt about this course of action.

Mrs. Phred thinks I need a job again. I wonder about that. It’s a way to mark time and fill hours, but not much more.

I envy Mrs. Phred’s sister and husband. They made the bold decision to move to Venice for a year and to immerse themselves in Italian language lessons. On the other hand, I was bored with Venice after two days. Maybe I suffer from a short attention span.

We search for the lodestar. It's obsured by clouds. In the past we lived near employment, educational or family opportunities.

So what to do? Take courses at a University? Rent a flat in Paris? Keep moving? Buy a house? Flip houses? Visit Vegas and find the chicken tic-tac-toe masters? Go to the Keys and catch lobsters? Sign up with an Alaska crab boat? Run moonshine? Join the Peace Corps? Work on a political campaign? Search for the bones of Amelia Earhart? Apply for a position with Blackwater?

(to be continued)