Monday, February 28, 2011

The Grasshopper Boy

I'm not a huge fan of Facebook.  I have trouble navigating the damn thing, it won't allow long messages, and privacy concerns keep being discussed.  I prefer blogging. However, that is not to say there aren't some benefits, such as knowing what is going on with your friends and finding old acquaintances that, through time, get lost.  One such case is a man named Thomas Ross-Barnett who was a fraternity brother at Iowa Wesleyan College.  Tom, RB as I called him, was originally born in the African nation of Liberia.  He was also afflicted with polio.  In order to walk as a young boy he had to hop much like a grasshopper.

One day a lady from England visited his village and saw his plight.  She offered him and his family an opportunity.  Because she had the resources, she gave him the gift of medical assistance in the form of living in England and getting all the necessary treatment to deal with his afflictions.  She would take care, through a network of fellow philanthropists, of his educational needs and in return he do work to benefit society.  The gift was accepted and off he went to England.  His ravaged leg received therapy and was fitted with braces that allowed him to walk with the aid of a walking stick.

He met the Queen, and a book was written about him called The Grasshopper Boy.  He settled in LLANFAIRPWLLGWYNGYLLGOGERYCHWYRNDRONWLLLLANTYSILIOGOGOGOCH? It's a little village on the island of Anglesey, in North Wales.  It remains the town with the longest name in the world.

When he became of age to receive his college education he was sponsored in America by the Stanley family in Muscatine, Iowa.  Stanley patriarch Max and his son David Stanley were steeped in charitable activities and RB was the recipient of a college education at the greatest hub of learning in the Midwest. Thus the long journey from a small village in Liberia to Iowa Wesleyan just at the time the Blythe boys were "quenching their thirst for learning" (thanks Holly).

RB was a classy kid back then, very smart, very cerebral, not afraid to speak his mind on things.  He became a fellow pledge in the Phi Delta Theta fraternity and became quite a buddy of mine.  We showed him the American love of beer and partying and he attempted in his own way to show us a world outside western Illinois and eastern Iowa.

RB, Mark Neish and I travelled to a National Phi Delt convention to Miami one summer while we were in school.  Mark is on the left and RB is on the right. 

 I'm not sure what was going on here, but RB is in the front and, yeah, that looks like me in the #85 jersey.

There are several good stories I have of RB, one of which was the time we went to see some horror movie that had some levitation in it.  When we got back to the dorm some guys distracted RB while I tied fishing line to his walking stick and ran it up over pipes in his room.  When he retired and sleeping we snuck over to his door and I pulled on the line, thus raising his stick.  We heard him scream and he didn't talk to us for 2 weeks. 

Another time we were heading up town for something and were in a hurry.  I remember vaguely maybe hurrying to get across the tracks before the train came or it could have been something else.  Anyway, there was a procedure Tom had to go through to get in and out of a vehicle.  There were snaps on his brace that had to be done in order to climb in, then snapping again when he got out.  Because he was in a hurry, he forgot to snap his brace and punctured a beer can with a metal pin, soaking both of us with sudsy beer and the car as well.

At graduation I invited him to join our family which consisted of mom, dad, bros Mark and Phil, Aunt Gladys, Uncle Ed and Grandma Orpha.  The Iris was the nice place to go for a meal in town.  It was the place you went to class it up a bit.  Needless to say, the graduation euphoria possessed us all, but RB more than anyone.  The drinks and meal were free (thanks, Herb) and as we were in the front area after eating, drinking and gabbing he was talking one second and then went down like a tree the next.  Absolutely smashed and passed out.  Poor RB couldn't hold his liquor and I'm afraid we had a negative impact in that area. 

An amazing individual who was urbane, mature beyond us small-town country hicks, with a laugh I can here like it was yesterday, laser-smart, gracious, graceful, a leader in words and action.  Not bad for a kid who hopped like a grasshopper in a thatch-hutted village in Africa.

Pictures after a couple of happy hours where RB got very happy. Poor guy couldn't handle his beer like we Americans could, oh, and that's the walking stick that levitated.

Well, RB and I were able to get in touch with each other after many years.  He is doing well, and lives in Colwyn Bay, UK.  He received further education in England at Trinity & All Saints in Leeds, to become a teacher.  RB never married but had a son and now has three grandchildren.  He is now semi-retired and does charitable volunteering working with people and families.  His old health ailments restrict his mobility a bit these days.  The lives one affects in a lifetime of work can't be easily quantified.  Knowing Tom, I'd say the debt he owed that lady a long time ago has been payed in full. 

RB today.  Ever dapper, proud and, yup, a walking stick, but not the one I remember so well.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Technical Issues

Due to my fault one of the videos on today's blog was in "Private" format with You Tube.  This has been corrected so please feel free to check back and see the page again.  I think I have them for public display.  Sorry, and do check back in.   

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Next Week Is Shark Week

Be sure to check back next week to see the photos and videos of the sharks we spotted off the Vinoy Park.  OK, the picture above is one I stole off the net, and nothing next week is like that bad guy, but still, it's going to be pretty neat.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Cigar, A Gar, and Other Everyday Wonders

Downtown St. Pete from Vinoy Park. We humans are an amazingly adaptable species. Who would have thought I'd look out on the skyline of the city and have feelings other than fear and trepidation. We are able to learn to co-mingle wherever we are. It may be a variance on the Stockholm Syndrome, but whatever, it sure is nice sometimes to just adapt.

Spotted at the Three Birds Tavern:  a guy brought in with him a really neat humidor and he proceeded to give himself and the guys in his party exquisite looking cigars.  Tim, we gotta get one of these.

This gar-ish creature was swimming along the cement abutment.  I have no idea what it is but it was about a pencil in length.  How does one find out?

Just one of thousands of these guys down here.  This one was foraging and looked rather inebriated. 

Being an old Fed-Exer of sorts, and knowing how it must positively, absolutely get there on time, I was struck by this fellow asleep on a park bench clutching a Fed-Ex package.  I wonder if it was in transit, or had already found its destination.  

Not far from the sleeping Fed-Ex guy, I spotted this sign at the Cupcake Spot, and couldn't agree more with its sentiments. 

Next Week Is Shark Week on EIB!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Old Money Homes in St. Pete

Getting a little lost and OK with it, we ran into an area of St. Petersburg that is very rich, very posh and will, short of a lottery, will never have me as a neighbor. These are the guys that fund the bulk of the police and fire department and pay the salaries of the garbage workers. Without this tax base, this town wouldn't be this town.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Absolute Best Super Bowl Commerical


...however, this is a pretty good one.

Volkswagen: The Force @ Yahoo! Video

This incorporates everything that makes for a good commercial: a cute kid, a dog, knowing parents, a good story, popular music, smart and no hammering the audience with the product.  Now compare this with the worst commercials, which consists of about the other 99% on TV.  Again, resist watching them, they suck your IQ. Do a crossword, play with a DS, exercise, pet the dog - kick the cat, do anything except sit and watch occipital cell-numbing, Madison Avenue BS that thinks you are 8 year- olds.

Another good one at the moment is that one where the dog is trying to find a safe place for his bone.  The background music is "Trouble".  Clever and funny, although how successful can it be if I don't know what they are trying to sell me? 

The worst are the Burger King commercials, especially those that have the dancing townspeople waltzing down main street singing a jingle.  Stupid, insipid, pandering, demeaning and has the intelligence quotient of a blood-sucking leech.  But let's not forget the creepy, demonic, mindlessness of the Burger King king, himself.  Complete with royal robes and a horror-film mask, my God, who is the company that puts out this trash.  Actually, this makes me want to NOT go to Burger King.    

No, loyal readers, rise up against this infiltration of your brain.  Do not go gentle into that bad ad.  Do not turn your life over to the folks that want to fill your mind with mush.  Rebel against the deus ex machina that Madison Avenue wants you to believe will alter your life significantly.  I'm not railing against products like Tide, or gold coins, or McDonalds, or winged tampons, attorney firms, Lowe's or an iPad.  I just think the 15 or so minutes every hour of tee vee viewing is way to much time to watch mindless ads. 

Alright class, let's summarize:  don't waste your life watching commercials and everyone start a blog (huh? How'd that get in there?).

And I so so want an iPad.  That really would alter my life significantly.     

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

When I Was A Kid

Sure enjoyed the Etch-A-Sketch.


And Play-Doh. It was cool to put it on the color Sunday funnies, lift and an exact duplicate would be on your piece of doh.

This was where we went to school in Seaton.  It no longer exists.

The neighborhood was shocked when Mr. Wilson died on Dennis the Menace.

Sugar Crisp and later, Super Sugar Crisp kept us gyrating all day.

Where we played ball.

My math skills were legion and still the stuff of jokes in the family.

My favorite toy as a kid.  The windshield wipers even worked.  I'd take it on car trips and imitate the driver.

                         This is a picture of the inside of a corn crib, like my Uncle had.  Sure did a lot of work in these in high school.  Uncle Ed had a corn sheller so he travelled around helping local farmers empty their cribs.  I was his grunt.  

Other kid stuff:

1. "Say the Sammy Snake Sound."
2.  New shoes at school meant everyone sang a song and you walked down the aisles so everyone could see them.  Since I was a twin two of us did the new-shoe walk.
3.  Canasta
4.  One Christmas morning we were awakened by the sounds of bells from our new bright red bicycles. 
5.  Leota Mehan, our town's babysitter
6.  Grabbing crawdads at the two creeks going through town
7.  Sitting at the park after our softball games
8.  Church plays at Christmas
9.  Camp Seataga
10. Four-Square at youth meetings
11. the Peace sign on the road out by Bertleson's
12. Mrs. Fair, Ms. Anderson, the Zentmyres
13.  The Mad Chicken at the grain Elevator
14.  Archie, Magic and Sam
15.  Real M-80s and real Cherry bombs
16.  Marcia's pet monkey
17. Mike Miller and his balls
18.  Johnny Midnight
19. Hootay-Hoo and Scaboo! Miss you Bill
20.  Roy in the box
21. OVCC Tiki Bar
22. Bunker Hill and his Valiant
23. Attack of the Crab Monsters
24. Building models in the basement
25.  Wrecking the car door
26.  "This is Howard Cosell Speaking Of Sports"
27.  HS Bomb Threat
28. Grade school upstairs fire exit
29. Rollie Reed
30.  Steep
31.  Orange and White Buick that caught on fire
32. Lil Bit of Heaven

...As Was Growing Up In Seaton.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Conch Caper

We were walking along the park next to the Bay and Nancy saw a shell she had to have.  It was about 5 or 6 feet down to the water and another 4 or 5 feet to the seabed.  Thus began a weekend quest, or obsession, to get that shell.  She sat on the wall for a great while mentally measuring, and concocting a plan of attack. 

There it sits.  Simply waiting for someone to come along and grab it for a forever keepsake.

This is the place at the Vinoy where the shell resides, just to the right and down. 

A trip to Lowes to buy a CRD (Conch Retrieval Device) consisting of 4 PVC sections 5 feet long each, 3 extender caps, duct tape, and a sturdy net.   

As the sun was setting she built her CRD, and slowly lowered it to the shell.  In a few minutes she had bagged the shell and brought it to the surface in her net. 

It is being lifted from the deep by the newly fashioned CRD.

Voila!  A testament to one persons veracity, stamina, determination and unreasonable psychotic obsession.

A shot as it sits today, cleaned and in a place of honor. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

When WIll We Ever Learn

I watch the In Memoriam segment of ABC's This Week every Sunday.  Featured every week are the names, age and hometowns of the soldiers lost that week.  Flashed on screen for mere seconds.  Hardly long enough to truly focus on the ramifications of the loss:  the families, the loved ones, buddies, acquaintances, hopes, dreams, simple pleasures. complex emotions.  Lost forever.  Flashed mere seconds, lost forever.

To study history is to study the power of leaders to send nations to war, and the young bodies to die or be broken forever. And now, Egypt with its old men hanging on to their corruption, as the young yearn for something better. When will we ever learn.

These are the lives lost.  Young, happy, with their futures intact.

When Brendan was in the Army this song by Green Day haunted me.  It haunts me still.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Inane Inanities

1. “This is America, where a white Catholic male Republican judge was murdered on his way to greet a Democratic Jewish woman member of Congress, who was his friend. Her life was saved initially by a 20-year old Mexican-American gay college student, and eventually by a Korean-American combat surgeon, all eulogized by our African American President.” Allen Ginsburg via bluegal Allen Ginsburg via bluegal on the Tucson shootings.

2. This was a comment I heard by a professor from Dominican University, which I find wholeheartedly true. "Happiness is not a destination, but, rather, a way to travel." I think a lot of us get that wrong.

3. I really am tired of that prancing transformer fellow on Fox Football games. Also, I think that advertising campaign with the babies talking about investment was funny to see once, then as soon as they started puking that just about did it for me.

4. I really am saddened by missing the blizzard, or as nephew Aaron called it snOMG. The fact is, I am a midwesterner at heart, and my peeps went through something that besides being once in a lifetime is also rather exciting at times. Besides, I have always loved blizzards: the unnaturalness of it, the community of it, the survival, the anticipation, the usual letdown. No letdown this time, though. I should have been there.

5. I saw a garbage truck in St. Pete on Saturday that had been painted pink and had the breast cancer awareness ribbon on it. Have we gone one item too pink? I took a picture of it but I don't know how to download it off my phone in a good size ratio.

6. Under the "OK, What The Hell Is Going On" file:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban have added a second daughter to their family, born through a surrogate mother.

The couple announced Monday the arrival of Faith Margaret Kidman Urban, born on Dec. 28 at a Nashville, Tenn., hospital.

Kidman and Urban released a statement saying they are "truly blessed" and thanked everyone for their support, "our gestational carrier" in particular.

OK, that's nice.  So Nicole can't conceive. I didn't know, but then I don't really keep up with celebrities.  Now, how does that work?  Does Keith have sex with the the gestational carrier?  So, Keith gets to have two women in his marriage?  I'm not sure I understand.  But, wait, there's more:   

The couple also has a 2-year-old daughter, Sunday Rose. Kidman credited her first daughter's unexpected appearance to swimming in the waters of a small Australian Outback town during the filming of "Australia." She and six other women became pregnant after swimming in Kununurra.

Alright what the Hell is that?  You mean Nicole went swimming in a semen-infested river in Australia?  Really?  What the Hell is this anyway?  I saw this article in an ordinary news item on Yahoo.  Am I the only one who doesn't understand how all this works?  

All I can say is its great to Be Keith Urban, and ain't no way my daughter's ever going to Australia.  Oh wait.  My daughter's pregnant.  I think she did it the old fashioned way.  G'Day.

7.  I've come to like Florida.  Don't tell anyone.  

8. A buddy of mine from Galesburg had this to say about my post on Monday, January 24th: "Oh hey by the way, the picture in your blog with the guy that you say is always standing in the same spot that smells like cigars and you are wondering what he is doing/thinking standing there, he is probably wondering why someone is taking pictures of him.
I do like all the pictures you put in your blog, it makes me wish I could slow down throughout the day and take random pictures, there are just too many interesting things to see/experience in one day that we usually pass by without even noticing."

Sounds to me like a great idea for DD. Kids and cameras.

9. Saw "Buried" on DVD last week. You would be doing yourself a favor to pick it up. Yup, a guy is buried in Iraq as a contractor/hostage kind of thing. The camera NEVER leaves the box but there is all kinds of action. Damn good flick. Don't let it just fade, fade away.

On the other hand, the less said about super favorite of many, "Inception", the better.

10. I don't watch much TV but I have followed American Idol through the years to my shame. This years judges aren't exactly wowing me. I liked Simon's acerbic wit, rapier evaluations and ability to slice and dice the over-egoistic. I'm not liking the new, nicer version. I also am not keen on the manipulation of the audience: to wit, if there are age restrictions, why bring on an obviously mentally challenged 59 year old who can't sing, except to titlate us, the audience. Yes, I'm talking about the Human Tornado, who wheezed and shuffled last week. It was racist, in poor taste and served only to get the unwashed masses at home chuckling and guffawing at the detritus of our society. Oh, and Steven's uncontrollable screeching is a bit much. J-Lo is pretty to look at and I'm told pretty big in the music industry, so she can stay.

11. “I wake up every day and I stretch out my arms and if I don’t feel any wood on either side, then I know I can get up.” Maurice Franklin


Coming back from downtown on the bike path I heard a faint hum for a while and like a dumbass I'm looking around and behind me trying to figure it out.  Then I saw this little baby floating above.  It is the DirectTV blimp that has the world's largest HD TV screen on its side.  Don't know why it was here, and hard to figure out where it is based.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

M-M-M-Madoff and the Mets! Bernie! Bernie!

That obscure but clever title is to be sung to the tune of Bennie and the Jets.  If only my loyalties could be trifled with by a light hearted and lesser tune from the John vault.  But, alas, my ties as a fan to the New York Mets have hit a major speed hump.  One of my youthful indiscretions was to peruse the sports section as a wee lad and pick an anti-Cubs team as my favorite.  I was young.  I picked the Mets: I started at the top and scanned down tot eh bottom and there were the lowly New Yorkers in last place.  I wanted to root for an underdog and since everyone I knew was a Cubs fan I wanted separation.  I got it.

Although many years were horrible we had bestowed on us a miracle in '69.  A true heaven sent, God-like gift that is still seen today as improbable.  A World Series visit and victory that year when it seemed like the Cubs were unstoppable.  We have been to the Series again in '73, '86, and 2000.  All good times, all unbelievably exciting.  Interspersed were truly horrible years that have seen us more often in last place than in first.

My loyalties have remained even with the ups and downs of incompetent management, poor behavior, monumentally bad free-agent signings and rebuilding plans that never reach fruition.  It has remained, although shaken, by the choke seasons of '07 and '08: identical years when we were way ahead in the last month only to lose it in the last series or so.

But now we are embroiled in a mess that makes problems of the past seem quaint.  It appears that our beloved (sarcasm) owner, Fred Wilpon, benefited from his close association with Bernie Madoff, the guy who destroyed lives with his 24 billion dollar Ponzi scheme 2 years ago.  Hell, even Bernie's son committed suicide last year on the second anniversary.  While thousands lost their entire savings, 401K's, and investments, the Wilpons were drawing out 12% each month from their accounts regardless of the market swings.

As a result, the trustee working to get back lost money for the victims has, it would appear, appropriately singled out Fred, Fred's brother-in-law and others in the inner circle for a lawsuit that could be as high as 1 billion dollars.

Excusing the implications this has on the operations: no free-agent signings this winter, the moral and ethical void existing in ownership rattles my blind-faithed fandom.  While it is tempting to switch allegiances (the Rays are a pretty cool team) I simply cannot turn my back on a lifetime of loyalty.  So, I have decided to keep an eye on the lawsuit (perhaps the Wilpons will sell), or they will settle (thus satisfying the trustee and awarding money to the victims).  I'll stick with them and hope this is settled swiftly and honorably.  Until then however, I have decided to retire my 25 year old key chain (above) and place it in my box of personal memorabilia to fondle when I am in Rest In Peace nursing home.  If you read this blog, Fred, do the right thing, and Go Mets.     

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Today You...Tomorrow Me

Nice story from someone who has a new perspective on the phrase "Today you, tomorrow me."  It is a true story and not one of those recurring email messages you get every year or so.  Paying it forward in real life.


Just about every time I see someone needing help I stop. I kind of got out of the habit in the last couple of years, moved to a big city and all that, my girlfriend wasn't too stoked on the practice. Then some shit happened to me that changed me and I am back to offering rides habitually. If you would indulge me, it is long story and has almost nothing to do with hitch hiking other than happening on a road.

This past year I have had 3 instances of car trouble. A blow out on a freeway, a bunch of blown fuses and an out of gas situation. All of them were while driving other people's cars which, for some reason, makes it worse on an emotional level. It makes it worse on a practical level as well, what with the fact that I carry things like a jack and extra fuses in my car, and know enough not to park, facing downhill, on a steep incline with less than a gallon of fuel.

Anyway, each of these times this shit happened I was DISGUSTED with how people would not bother to help me. I spent hours on the side of the freeway waiting, watching roadside assistance vehicles blow past me, for AAA to show. The 4 gas stations I asked for a gas can at told me that they couldn't loan them out "for my safety" but I could buy a really shitty 1-gallon one with no cap for $15. It was enough, each time, to make you say shit like "this country is going to hell in a handbasket."

But you know who came to my rescue all three times? Immigrants. Mexican immigrants. None of them spoke a lick of the language. But one of those dudes had a profound affect on me.

He was the guy that stopped to help me with a blow out with his whole family of 6 in tow. I was on the side of the road for close to 4 hours. Big jeep, blown rear tire, had a spare but no jack. I had signs in the windows of the car, big signs that said NEED A JACK and offered money. No dice. Right as I am about to give up and just hitch out there a van pulls over and dude bounds out. He sizes the situation up and calls for his youngest daughter who speaks english. He conveys through her that he has a jack but it is too small for the Jeep so we will need to brace it. He produces a saw from the van and cuts a log out of a downed tree on the side of the road. We rolled it over, put his jack on top, and bam, in business. I start taking the wheel off and, if you can believe it, I broke his tire iron. It was one of those collapsible ones and I wasn't careful and I snapped the head I needed clean off. Fuck.

No worries, he runs to the van, gives it to his wife and she is gone in a flash, down the road to buy a tire iron. She is back in 15 minutes, we finish the job with a little sweat and cussing (stupid log was starting to give), and I am a very happy man. We are both filthy and sweaty. The wife produces a large water jug for us to wash our hands in. I tried to put a 20 in the man's hand but he wouldn't take it so I instead gave it to his wife as quietly as I could. I thanked them up one side and down the other. I asked the little girl where they lived, thinking maybe I could send them a gift for being so awesome. She says they live in Mexico. They are here so mommy and daddy can pick peaches for the next few weeks. After that they are going to pick cherries then go back home. She asks if I have had lunch and when I told her no she gave me a tamale from their cooler, the best fucking tamale I have ever had.

So, to clarify, a family that is undoubtedly poorer than you, me, and just about everyone else on that stretch of road, working on a seasonal basis where time is money, took an hour or two out of their day to help some strange dude on the side of the road when people in tow trucks were just passing me by. Wow...

But we aren't done yet. I thank them again and walk back to my car and open the foil on the tamale cause I am starving at this point and what do I find inside? My fucking $20 bill! I whirl around and run up to the van and the guy rolls his window down. He sees the $20 in my hand and just shaking his head no like he won't take it. All I can think to say is "Por Favor, Por Favor, Por Favor" with my hands out. Dude just smiles, shakes his head and, with what looked like great concentration, tried his hardest to speak to me in English:

"Today you.... tomorrow me."

Rolled up his window, drove away, his daughter waving to me in the rear view. I sat in my car eating the best fucking tamale of all time and I just cried. Like a little girl. It has been a rough year and nothing has broke my way. This was so out of left field I just couldn't deal.

In the 5 months since I have changed a couple of tires, given a few rides to gas stations and, once, went 50 miles out of my way to get a girl to an airport. I won't accept money. Every time I tell them the same thing when we are through:

"Today you.... tomorrow me."

Monday, February 7, 2011

Mug Shot Monday

The St. Pete Times publishes mug shots daily. I'll be scanning them and bringing the best to you on some Mondays, unless I get bored with it. Or, if I feel there is true karma in the world, and by doing so will result in my being featured one of these days.

This fellows face may be the roundest I've ever seen. 

This guy is only 50, but apparently lived a lot in that time.

"I got my bling on...and how do you like my hair horns?"

Oh my, would the person who ran over this guy's face please call 911.

Remember the Twilight Zone episode where beauty is defined by their pig noses?

Hey wanna see my Squint Eastwood impression?  Well do ya, punk? 

It's been a long night.

"Don't mess with me, sucka. I am not at all happy"

And Moses said "Let my people go!"