“they might have been lonely”

I try to remember everything. At least everything that is worth remembering.

I love to write and, as you are all aware, I do so all too frequently. Sometimes I cobble words together that make for informative or enjoyable reading. Other times I post lines that will disgrace even the trash heap they are destined for. Along the way I am helped by those of my classmates that choose to give me something to read and build on. I don’t mean just the well-meaning sentiments and “thanks for sharing” that robotically appear. I mean the words from the heart that have substance. Over the years these “footnotes on life” have taken different forms but all of them have been meaningful. Shirley Anderson being so embarrassed in public speaking class as she stood on the podium at the lectern struggling with the recitation of “Casey at the bat”. Jerry Browning’s accounting of his and his brother Jimmy’s ordeal at birth in Lake Worth being incubated in an aquarium and the strength and courage exhibited by his mother was vividly related. Danne Pillsbury telling me that Dave Parham, as a boy, learned how to drive on one of Matter & Co.’s produce truck’s night-time runs to the Miami Produce Market. The list goes on and on …..

Many of the heart warming or heart breaking stories I’ve heard haven’t come to me on the internet. Connie Berry’s candid, almost tearful, confession of insecurity when she and her recently divorced mother first moved to West Palm Beach. Sammy Bigbie relating to me about his brother Abner’s last day on earth and the circumstances that surrounded it. Driving, with Frank Madsen, past an old man walking along the side of a country road ….. only to be told after we had passed him by …. “that’s my father”. Nick Coppola’s and my unspoken agreement to never mention the day he found his 33-year-old son dead or what may have led up to it.

There has even been one of these experiences that I witnessed first hand. It was the summer soon after we graduated from PBHS. I was with Carl Reetz the morning after his father had died, just a few hours before, in an automobile accident. At the salvage yard, I watched as Carl pried one of his father’s bloodstained shoes out of the collapsed floorboard of a virtually unrecognizable Thunderbird convertible.

Recently, Tom Henriksen complimented me, paraphrasing either Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, or some sports writer named Paul Gallico, by telling me that we both knew that good writing was easy …. “you just open a vein and bleed”. From a man whose e-mail address ends in @stanford.edu that was heavy. But let me challenge Tom and all the rest of you with a little test of your memories. Let’s see if a posting by one of our classmates years ago made as much of an impression on you as it did on me?

In the course of our everyday lives, when we tell people about ourselves, our families, our life experiences, and especially our up-bringing we seldom tell the whole truth. Psychiatrist earn their living giving us a place to “share” things we wouldn’t tell our spouse and certainly not our PBHS classmates. I would not want even hints of my life’s deepest secrets scattered in hundreds of places about the country even though the only injury they could ever cause would be to my pride. Few of us ever consider the fact that just by opening up and putting it on the line we might help others realize that they have not been alone in facing some dark moments in their past. What is so remarkable is that, in this case, the story was not even relayed to us as a hardship but as a story of love and understanding.

   In 1945 we lived at Southridge, or as it was called “the Projects” along with some people you all know, i.e., the Williams and Corbett’s, plus many others that we ended up going to school with thru the years. I never knew in the morning, when I walked into our living room, exactly who would be sleeping on the couch. My mother brought home lonely military guys she ran into, sometimes there would be 2 or 3. For all of you who knew my mother well, there are many reasons she might have brought them home, but I will leave it at that “they might have been lonely.” 

I have saved and reread these lines many times and the admiration I have for the person that wrote them is boundless. Do you remember who it was?

Jim Powell

 

“the world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places”

this one is definitely ….. Ernest Hemingway

CHAPTER 4 — the rollout

By the time we had come about and approached the junk, a burly shaved headed guy in cut-off jeans had stationed himself at the aft rail and was waving his arms. Abner had recognized his brother and was motioning for me to come up on his starboard rail. He rushed to put out two fenders, one was dirty yellow and the other used to be white. After releasing the line and harness to Bert’s boat and handing it to Abner, I’d made full circle around the junk and brought my bow around so as to be able to raft up along my starboard, facing in the same direction and on the opposite side of the anchored junk. By the time I had my fenders in place Abner had tossed me a couple of cleated lines and Linda and I were soon “snug-up to Chinatown”.

Abner liked Calypso music and may have fancied himself the ladies man. Put these two traits together in a surrounding of scantily clad beautiful women–stir in a tape deck, two huge antique living room combo speakers and a floating red-neck pagoda– and you get…

“Gave my lady a sugar cane, Sweets to the sweet I did explain, Gave it back to my surprise, Said she liked the flavor but not the size … She want the big bamboo, always long, The big bamboo grows so bold and strong, The big bamboo…

He had one speaker mounted on top of the cabin facing forward and the other near the stern. Only after we had dispensed with, what passed for, formal introductions and Linda had retired back to Bert’s sailboat, did I feel comfortable suggesting that he turn down the sound. Even then, the only place you could carry on a conversation was inside the cabin of the junk.

I was surprised. Abner’s housekeeping was better than expected. The space below deck was cluttered but not dirty and even the galley passed a cursory inspection. It was only after I accepted the invitation to sample some rum “run off by some buddies of mine in Hialeah” that things got challenging. My drink was served in a rim chipped, coffee stained, ceramic mug complete with a circular blue and white Pure Oil Company decal. What ever happened to Pure Oil gas stations?  “Sorry about the mug. I don’t have many utensil on board cause my last girlfriend stole them all when she checked out a few weeks ago. I found these java jars in a box of old fuel filters down at the City Cab Company garage. They washed up pretty good and the price was right.”

I looked over at Bert to see if his mug was as sorry as mine, and if he was going to venture a sip. It was and he didn’t bat an eye. The rum was about what I figured it would be–terrible.

Breaking the silence, I turned to Abner;

“I understand you’re in transportation?”

I had a hard time saying that with a straight face but my good-natured sarcasm went unnoticed.

Bert jumped into the fray:

“Yeah, he’s a cab driver right now but he’s got something big working and as soon as it takes off he’ll be in tall cotton.”

Shrugging, biting his upper lip, and shaking his head, Abner looked at his brother and began a family update.

“No Bert, things haven’t worked out too well with Billy. Everything was set to kick off on Sunday a week ago but it didn’t happen the way we planned. Billy said we screwed up the rollout. I’m still not sure what he means by “rollout” but, whatever it is, we screwed it up and I guess I’ve lost all my investment.”

“What do you mean you lost it, I thought you went all the way to Arkansas to be with Billy when church got out in Scarcity or where the hell ever it was? Last time I talked to you everything was good-to-go and you had your bus ticket and a 7-Eleven money-order!”

“Yeah, the name of the town was Searcy, I had forty-six hundred yeats and everything was on schedule but, like I say, we screwed up the rollout.

I was starting to feel right at home with these two. This was getting interesting and, feeling certain that I was in little danger of violating any Wall Street insider trading rules, I asked for some insight:

“Slow down Abner and fill me in from the start. What kind of investment did you make, who’s Billy, and why did you go to Arkansas?”

Head lowered, he continued:

“Billy’s my partner. He lives in Memphis. A year or so ago, he and I decided that we were tired of living by “the sweat of our brow” and came up with this idea to make a killin. Billy travels all over Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas as a traveling salesman and he’s the one that first thought of it. The way it worked was real simple, at least it was supposed to be. It went like this:

First we find a little town in the Bible-Belt South that has an abandoned worthless old building right across the street from, or next door to, the biggest Baptist Church in town. After that, we find out who owns the derelict property and negotiate a five-year option to buy and, most important of all, a rental contract along with a ninety-day rent free guarantee. We’d sign the contract and get the option for $1 because everybody would know that we were fools and that they couldn’t sell or rent the damn thing to anyone else in a hundred years! Having accomplished this in one town, we would move on to the next and so on! We had targeted 17 locations in three States but so far we only had four around Little Rock ready to go.”

This was bazaar – I interrupted:

“What in the hell were you going to do with these contracts and options?”

“No, hear me out. While all this is happening, we go to AT&T and sign up for a 900- Premium Call phone number. I even made a $350.00 deposit and had a number reserved: 1-900-244-3425. The way this phone number worked was that everybody that dialed the number was charged $2.99 for the first min. and $ .99 for each additional one. We had a long dragged-out rambling recording set up to answer all calls and we would get paid 85% of the gross billings less fees, taxes, and some other crap”

I couldn’t stand it:

“Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, now you’ve got a partner, a bus ticket, a money-order, a 900 phone number and four shacks in Arkansas – either you’re crazy or there’s more to the story.”

“There’s more, let me finish. The day I got off the Greyhound in Little Rock, it was Saturday week before last, every thing was supposed to be ready. Billy met me at the bus station and we drove out to the motel in Searcy where he had set up our headquarters.

The first thing we did was call our 900 number to make sure it worked. By then it was getting dark so we drove over to the local high school football field because we needed a lot of space! I hadn’t gotten the money to Billy ahead of time so he couldn’t get the banners done by a professional. We had to do them ourselves. I wasn’t sure what we were going to put on the banners but I didn’t have to worry, Billy had hired a consultant on business start-ups back in Memphis. He met the guy in some bar and, best as I could tell, for just $250.00 we had both a banner design penciled out on a cocktail napkin and a detailed rollout plan to boot! Billy and I spent half the night, with only his car’s headlights, painting four 4’ by 40’ signs on some white plastic roofing under liner that he had gotten a good deal on. He had two 100’ rolls, so we had a bunch left over.

Once we had the banners painted, rolled up, and put back in Billy’s car we returned to the motel to go over our rollout plan and get a little sleep.”

At this point I was looking around to see if I could locate the “Candid Camera.”

Dead serious, Abner continued:

“According the rollout plan, we had to strike hard and fast! The next morning, Sunday, we started our run at 6:00 and by 10:30 we had all of our banners strung out. We had them in Searcy, Conway, Malvern, and Pine Bluff and all but one were hung high up on the 3rd or 4th floor! Each banner was located so that, after services, the church goers would be looking straight up at them as they were standing on the church steps, shaking the preacher’s hand, and telling him how much they enjoyed his sermon! We even gave our business a name: INDIGNATION INDUSTRIES.”

Now he had me totally confused? Holding my hands out, palms up, in questioning resignation:

“The banners, Abner – what was on them?”

Reaching over his brother’s head, he brought a manila envelope down from a shelf and pulled out a Polaroid snapshot. It was a picture of an old red brick 4-storied hotel complete with arched windows and black iron fire escapes. I wasn’t sure what town it was in but it could have been Atlanta before Sherman struck the match! What was also in the photo was something that you would never find pictured in any old Civil War tintype! A white banner with crude red lettering was spread between the broken paned corner windows of the top floor.

 

COMING SOON TO THIS LOCATION!

DEWEY DANCE and his ALL MALE NUDE REVIEW

for employment opportunities call:

1-900-244-3425

 

I didn’t hang around for much of the final installment. As I climbed up and out of the cabin, Abner was telling Bert about what went wrong with their rollout. I didn’t catch the details but he said something about a Monday morning article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and an FBI probe into possible RICO act violations.

Gave my lady two coconuts, She said to me … this is okay–but, I know you want to be nice to me, But what good are the nuts without the

Church Pic

This one is only for my family …..

Note: This email was originally sent out in December of 2013. Since that time many of my generation have passed on but I need to include these lines on this site. I have built a very extensive Family Tree going back to 1747 and have accumulated a large data base of individual family member responses. For obvious reasons these will not be included but can be shared with anyone who might be interested. All this being said; if you’re not one of us “just scroll on down the page”.

Dear cousins,

In the summer of 1988 I visited the basement of the Public Library in North Wilkesboro, NC and began a journey of genealogy. I won’t bore you with details but we have a very interesting past and it’s a shame that the memories die out with each generation. Years ago, one of our distant cousins came up with the idea of putting together a book entitled All of us by George. George Powell built the first brick house in Lenoir, NC and is buried with his father (Elias) and one of his sons (Elias R.) in the cemetery at the Lower Creek Baptist Church. Before he died in 1875, George had many children by two wives and the valiant attempt to trace the Powell family from that point on proved a daunting task and, to my knowledge, was never achieved.

Now we, as a legacy for future generations, have a chance to put together a book of our own. We might call it Pitching Horseshoes! We can all write our part of the book by just picking up where Mama and Papa Powell got us started with a 1925 photo of the whole family. We have this photo courtesy of George and Lee and it’s too precious not to share and follow up on!

I am attaching the photograph, and another of just the brothers and Papa Powell, to this email. I want you to pass them on to your children and grandchildren. Our time is running out and if we don’t tell them about the old home place in Horse Shoe and the family that lived there – these pictures will, like so many others, just be added to the trash heap of time.

Now the important part!!

Get back to me with a list of all the of the descendants and spouses in your branch of the Family (example: all of the people descended from Eugene and all of their spouses). If possible, be very specific! Date and location of birth, date of death, and Full name are a must. Marriage date, occupation, education, military service, addresses, phone number, email, and any other items of interest can be added. We can do it, but we better hurry!

 

Jimmy Powell (James Reid Powell) born : Fletcher, NC – May 26, 1940

(772) 223-9482

3352 NW Perimeter Rd., Palm City, FL 34990

PSLhome@comcast.net

 

Pic1

(cir. 1935): standing left to right: Ernest, Clarence, Papa Powell, Eugene, Charles

                        on the ground: Dewey, Jim Reid

pic2

                        (cir. 1925): Jim Reid, Ernest, Dewey, Clarence, Dohnov (Clarence’s wife)

            Charles,       Mary,     Papa Powell, Mama Powell,     Bessie,             Eugene

….. a feathered point of view!

bird1

Yeah, just give me a minute or two. I’ll be okay as soon as my head clears up. I flew into this damn black tinted glass wall panel. There ought to be a law against letting you guys build houses with those things. Looks just like an opening under the overhang ….. then “bang-o”, you fly right into it!

Don’t get so close and watch that thumb! Remember, I’m the one that just got knocked out and just because I got up on your finger and let you pick me up doesn’t make you the President of the local Audubon Society. Who the hell are you anyway? I may be just a dizzy catbird with a bad headache but you are the most decrepit looking thing I’ve seen in the whole neighborhood. Your beak looks like it has a brush underneath it. Your feathers are all white and scraggly and what are those red spots on your head? I bet they’re mites! You never get rid of those things.

 

bird2

Wait a minute, who’s this taking my picture? You think that just because I crash into this pile of glass, termites, and bleached out old cypress that you can feature me in one of your “touchy-feel-good” photo shoots or some low budget back to nature documentary?

 

bird3I don’t think so, and those are mites ….. I’m out ‘a here!

CHAPTER 3 — Regatta

Whaas-upppp?

Obviously he was “up” right now but the drunk swinging from the end of the mizzen boom on the passing ketch wouldn’t be up for long. He was wearing a Seminole Chief’s feathered war bonnet, a short gold raincoat and, what looked like, a tomahawk-patterned pair of garnet diapers. The only direction this guy was headed was straight down – either by falling into the water or, when the helmsman brought her over to a port tack, face first on to the aft deck!

“Where is everyone headed?” – I yelled out as he swung past me.

“Regatta man!, Regatta!”

Confused, I hollered:

“Where’s the race end?”

The ketch was probably 48-feet and flying a gigantic skull and crossbones off the stern. As she was leaving me in her wake, the swinger, yelled back:

“End – what end? There’s no end because nobody gives a crap about the race, this is the regatta man – the F…king Columbus Day Regatta,…….. Go Noles!

They kept coming and the procession of sailboats that had been both following and filing past me for the last hour wasn’t the only act in town. Every conceivable thing that could float had filled Biscayne Bay and was headed south: cabin cruisers, sportfish, head boats, ocean racers, run-a-bouts, open-fishermen, and even pontoon houseboats! It was the latter that caught my attention. Almost all of the houseboats had stage-like platforms built up on, and covering, their entire topside? The banner rippling along the side of one spelled out: Kathy’s Kat House Tavern!

……..Wrapped around each other, Trying so hard to stay warm, That first cold winter together, Lying in each others arms, Watching those old movies………

Turning the AM radio off, I thought to myself – No time for you Bertie. It ain’t cold and today I’m not watching, listening to, or even thinking about anything old! ….but now, …. The “Lying in” and the “Wrapped around” parts have some potential!

I could see the commotion a mile or two away. All morning long the boat traffic had been funneling toward green marker #3 and the cut through Featherbed Bank. After clearing the shallow water it looked like everybody was turning east and coming to a stop. From this distance it looked like a giant nautical yard sale but now, just ahead, something was happening!

What was playing out in front of me didn’t make sense. Just to the east of the greenie, a line tied to an open-fisherman was dragging a sailboat. What was strange was that the long towrope wasn’t secured at the sailboat’s Samson post or bow cleats – it came down at an angle from the masthead. The outboard’s pull had brought the, apparently grounded, vessel over on her side. With no sails up, she was being tipped over and slowly hauled along the bottom and towards the channel. Two people were standing in the water on the far side lifting and pushing near the sailboat’s bow with their backs to the hull. The obvious danger was that the tip of her mast was now only inches from the Bay. The water was too shallow to fully sink her but, at this rate, she was well on the way to becoming a laid over swamped barnacle farm!

All in an instant, it happened – the keel of the dragged sailboat reached and dropped off the shear coral face at the edge of the cut. Now free, she swung violently, dropping the wading and pushing crew butt down into the brine and then sprang upright. That was the good news! The bad news was that the torque created by the taunt towrope and the abrupt verticality of the mast had sheared the masthead pulleys. The towline had been secured to the main halyard and now both it and the one used to raise the jib were useless.

The only power evident on what, up until a moment ago, had been the “sailing” vessel was an old long shafted British Sea Gull outboard. It was bracket mounted on the starboard quarter of the transom with some sort of feeder fuel line disappearing into the fiberglass hull. The craft had obviously seen better days. The only teak trim was in the handrails and wench pedestals – both would challenge the definition of the term “bright-work”. The hull was dull and dirty and her name, one-hung-something, was amateurishly painted in Chinese like Arabic script just below the aft rub-rail.

Furling the jib, cranking up the diesel and dropping my main and staysail into their lazy-jacks, I coasted to about twenty feet aft and off the stricken vessel’s starboard. The soaked crewmembers were climbing back aboard using a portable ladder hanging off the rail. The first guy on deck was probably 5’ 10’’, thin but muscular, dark ponytail, a bleached tuff of beard just under his bottom lip and a tastefully small gold left earring. Wearing jeans, he striped off his thin white tee shirt to reveal an almost hairless chest. His right shoulder was emblazoned with a, probably barracks inscribed, globe and anchor above “USMC”. The next crewman out of the water was wearing a matching soaking white wet tee shirt but chose not to take it off. She didn’t have any tattoos!

Linda Toner-Santos was about 5’3” and 105 lbs. with olive skin and raven black hair. She had changed into a bikini with, what looked like, a homemade beach cover up. Turns out, her father was Portuguese and had left her mother soon after Linda was born, thus the hyphenated moniker. She smiled at me and, almost immediately, began to ask questions with personal connotations. This was no yelling across waves exchange, she was relaxing not six feet away as I sat on the starboard transom corner steering Le Esperance by pressing the tiller with my left leg. We were under power but the way she was acting made me feel like we were alone in a canoe on some mountain lake. All we were missing was the picnic basket.

She was filling me in on what had happened before my arrival. Seems Bert, her boyfriend, had waited too long to try to start the outboard and, having not dropped the sails, when it failed to crank they had drifted out of the narrow channel. Heeled over by a gust of wind, they had run aground on the sandy bank. They could pivot the boat around if they got in the water and pushed but the only way to get her off the bottom was to lessen the draft by heeling her even further and bringing up the keel. That’s when a Good Samaritan had offered a 200’ line along with instructions to attach it to the main halyard. The rest I had seen.

In being drug off the Bank, Linda and her boyfriend had not only lost their masthead pulleys, they had also let the Sea Gull be submerged on its mount and now it certainly wouldn’t start. Seeing their dilemma – and her in her tee shirt, I had heaved-to and asked if I could “be of assistance?” What I had in mind didn’t include a tow but after hearing the situation – here I was. Linda was on my boat because, after running aground, they found their battery was dead and without the VHF radio they couldn’t contact Bert’s older brother Abner.

Abner, it turns out, was a cab driver in Dania. He lived on his boat and had brought it down to Elliott Key yesterday to set his anchors and get an early start. It was some kind of Chinese boat he had picked up when a local sightseeing outfit had filed for bankruptcy. Linda and Bert had been in touch with him as they had worked their way south on the Inter-coastal Waterway. All three of them were from Georgia but Abner had been down here for about 3 years. Bert’s plan was to raft up with his brother and, in Linda’s words, “get a little crazy at something called the Columbus Day Regatta”!

Linda settled in, making periodic attempts to raise Abner on my VHF but she didn’t seem too enthusiastic. I was beginning to wonder what the story was with this lady but, with the dung-ho-who or whatever it’s name was in tow, it would just have to wait – I was headed to…..?

The Coast Guard passed on our port side. She was a standard 25’ RHI Defender Class with five or six guys on board. I waved – they didn’t. The patrol boat turned out to be one of the three or four such vessels assigned to direct traffic and keep the drunk Regattateers from drowning or running over each other. Linda was still trying to hail Abner on the radio but, with all the traffic, she would have had more success using smoke signals. The Cubans were still walking all over each other on channel 16 and we had no idea where to start looking for him or his boat, even if we knew what it looked like. There was some semblance of order amidst the chaos. Hundreds of craft were roughly lined up, either as a single boat anchored fore and aft or in rail-to-rail raftings with only one of the group tied to the bottom. Roadways, of a sort, had been left open in a southeast to northwest orientation between the lines at anchor. There appeared to be five or six “blocks” of these raftings, each being one vessel deep and ½ to ¾ mile long. The “roads” were filled with celebratory semi-naked commuters swimming or floating in all directions while the Coast Guard RHIs threaded their way cautiously through a human bouillabaisse, bullhorns helplessly giving oral primers on laws against alcohol on Federal Property and public nudity. Mixed all through this congregation, but primarily in the middle, were the bedecked houseboats I had seen earlier. They had gone through a decadent metamorphosis. The upper-deck platforms had all become bandstands, fast-food restaurants, sports bars, discos, even a “float in movie theatre”! They were decorated with flags and bunting and elaborate light shows for evening enticement and entertainment were franticly being set up.

Twenty minutes later Linda had given up on trying to contact Abner on the VHF and we were wandering aimlessly around the southern edge of the anchorage. With Bert in tow, I didn’t want to chance heading into the bowels of the beast. We had gotten almost to the far end of the southern-most row when, that had to be it!

I say “it” because no one could ever refer to what I was looking at as “her” or “she” or any other customary nautical feminine pronoun. It would be an insult to all women!

The Bamboo Buda was a cheaply constructed replica of a 17th century Chinese junk. It had three bamboo masts, a big one amid-ship and one each fore and aft that both looked like after thoughts! The sails, now lowered but laying in the piles where they had been dropped, looked like those I had seen in harbour photos of Hong Kong and Macao: lateen rigged, bamboo-gaffed, fully battened and ugly as sin! The wooden hull was brush painted some God-awful shade of burnt red and its gold trim was peeling off. The thing was probably 65 feet long and had, at least, an 18’ beam. This wasn’t a boat – this was a Ming Dynasty floating slum!

Regatta1

CHAPTER 2 — be advised…

This is US Coast Guard – Miami, Florida Group, US Coast Guard – Miami, Florida Group. Be advised that channel 16 is a hailing and distress channel only. Take all other traffic to another working channel. US Coast Guard – Miami, Florida Group, out.” The Cubans were driving them crazy again this morning!

VHF radio transmissions in most maritime locals are a classic example of societal necessity, Anglo-Saxon civility and common courtesy. And then there’s Miami and the upper Keys. Anywhere else the typical message sent out on channel 16 might be a true emergency, a hailing request for a marine operator’s assistance or a come back transmission to some other vessel. Regardless of the exact nature of the communication, the conversation would be immediately switched to another, agreed upon, channel to ensure that 16 remained available. Even when a boat with children aboard is reported sinking, I’ve heard some seemingly heartless Coast Guardsman routinely come back with “Please acknowledge; switch and answer channel 23 alpha – US Coast Guard, out”

A man’s voice crackled back on the radio:

“Jodete y aprieta el culo Guardacostas!

Oye, Luis tenemos tres mas pez rey, pero estamos fuera de la cerveza. ?Cuando vas a volar el muelle?”

I don’t believe the fisherman’s suggestion was anatomically possible but evidently the Coast Guard radio operator had either quit caring or just didn’t understand the instructions.

Again the VHF sprang to life…

This is US Coast Guard – Miami, Florida Group, US Coast Guard – Miami, Florida Group. Be advised that channel 16 is …

I turned it off.

An old Irish blessing asked for “the wind to always be at your back and the sun to shine warm upon your face.” Irishmen obviously never spent any time sailing in these latitudes. I’ll have to put more gook on my nose in a little while and having the wind at your back is a pain in the ass. If I had a bigger headsail and a whisker pole I could go wing and wing but, as it is, I’ll just let the main full out and hope for the best. No need to unfurl the yankee. It’ll just be masked and worthless with the wind coming from aft.

Last night I decided to anchor in the old channel on the south side of Key Biscayne just off the entrance to something that shows on the charts as “No Name Harbor” – never been in there. I set the hook early. The breeze was shifting to the southwest by the time I cleared Cape Florida and the lighthouse coming in from the Atlantic. Around here, an afternoon weather system shifting quickly clockwise east to south to west usually means a north or northeaster overnight and the wind always increases. No need to chance it by going on out into Biscayne Bay and turning south. There was no place to duck in short of the shallow water at the north end of Elliott Key and I didn’t feature a night of hobby horsing at anchor in open water. Facing a headwind in the channel, I had dropped the canvas and cranked up the engine. The 2 cylinder Volvo-Penta diesel is my faithful companion, and I stopped being a purest years ago when it’s comes to narrow passages, shoals, and stiff currents.

Just as I had put out the danforth, the NOAA weatherman on the VHF, whom most sailors refer to as “Doctor Doom”, had confirmed my forecast by predicting 25 knot north to northeast winds subsiding to 10 to 15 by morning. With a taunt anchor rode and in the lee of the Australian Pine covered island, my two or three glasses of cheap red had led to warmed-up Chinese pork fried rice and the last of my head lettuce for a salad.

Unless I’m going ashore, my routine never changes: After evening meal – heat water in kettle on kerosene stove, wash and stow cook and flatware as more water begins to boil, and then pour some hot and cold water together to fill a plastic gallon jug. Hopefully it’s dark or I’m in some hidden cove because, striped down with soap bar and towel in hand, my next step is up into the open cockpit.

Le Esperance only carries forty gallons of fresh water but a gallon bath is always required of captain and, if there is any, crew before bedtime. Once you learn how to ration the jug of water it’s not too hard to wash off the day’s sweat and grime but sometimes you have to forget modesty.

On one occasion I was forced to anchor for the night off the little public park next to, and virtually beneath, the Las Olas Blvd. Bridge over the Inter-coastal Waterway in Ft. Lauderdale. The sun had set well before gallon bath time but, with all the streetlights and other nighttime activity, it never got dark. Long after I had finished my dinner, pedestrians crossing on the south side of the bridge were still stopping to look straight down at me. Sitting aft next to the tiller, I remember pondering the situation and pouring myself another Johnny Walker.

About 9:00 I said “to hell with it”! The hot water in the kettle had cooled and a couple of curious gals had ensconced themselves on the bridge not a hundred feet above me but I was taking a bath.

Buck-ass naked, gallon jug of cold water in hand and having had one too many, I stepped up the companion way and out of the cabin.

The women were still there, now unabashedly gawking in my direction.

Cupping my hands together and bringing them up to my mouth, I faced them full on and hollered out – “If you see something God didn’t create, just kill it with a stick.”

I slept well and the bridge was empty in the morning.

Honey, can’t you remember, We played all the parts, That sweet scene of surrender, When you gave me your heart, Please say you will, Play it again, Cause I love you still, Baby, this can’t be the end……We had it all, Just like Bogie and Bacall

Bertie Higgins, my newfound friend, brought me back from memories. Just as well, I’m having too many lately.

More marine traffic on Biscayne Bay than I remember. Miami’s getting huge and I think everybody here buys a boat right after their first bicycle.

Two gazillion horse-powered muscle boats roared by. Each had a helmsman and single crew, both standing upright leaning on butt props and wearing sound protection headphones. One was painted to look like flames were coming out of the wake off the bow and the other was jet black with alternating stainless steel lightning bolt and dragon head pipes covering the mid-ship exhausts. My assessment of the situation was that those guys were probably a little bit higher up on the Dade County evolutionary chain and had progressed from bicycle to Harley and then to boat.

“Mierda, Marco, No puedo creerlo! ?has visto las tetas de la chica? Estoy dando la vuelta. Creo que estoy el amor!”

A momentary pause and…

This is US Coast Guard – Miami, Florida Group, US Coast Guard…

What are all those sailboats doing?

Without my noticing, the entire horizon behind me near the west shore of the Bay had filled with sails. All manor of riggings were evident but it was the multi-colored spinnakers that stood out. With the mid-morning skyline of Miami as a backdrop, I was being pursued by hundreds of sailboats and they were all gaining on me. I know this is Friday but what I was looking at was no weekend get-a-way! It’s almost like a nautical jailbreak and they’re all headed in the same direction – my direction. Whatever they’re doing, it won’t take long to find out. Give them another hour and I’ll be part of the pack.

It didn’t take that long but trying to hail the first vessels that flew past me was impossible. There were three of them and except for the ballooning spinnakers they all looked the same. Fifty, maybe sixty, foot sloops with forward swept transoms, laminated mainsails, and masts that scraped the clouds! I’ve only seen sailboats like these in races like the America’s Cup. What are they doing out here and what the hell is going on?

My first thought was that this had to be a race of some kind, but to where? Reaching down into the cabin, I picked the binoculars up off the step and panned the waters of Bay dead ahead. There weren’t any buoys to mark a course and on the heading they were on the next stop was the cut through Fetherbed Bank and the nuclear power plant at Turkey Point.

Before I lowered the binoculars, I swung my gaze over to the deck of the nearest passing super boat. The voluminous headsail was bright orange with “Club Cleavage” emblazoned in bold black over the shadowed outline of an exotic longhaired nude. Ocean racers often have their sponsor’s logos featured on the hull and sails but they’re usually more on the order of “Chevrolet” or “Mutual of Omaha”. The pornographic spinnaker didn’t hold my attention for long. I’ve never seen so many people on the deck of one boat in my life. The crew, if you could call them that, were all young guys and gals and, along with their laughter and plastic cup libations, they were all wearing the same thing from the waist up–the skin they were born with.

I quickly swung the viewing field of the binoculars to the other sloops that had passed me by. The overall scene was a little bit different on these two, but very little. The moniker-laden spinnaker on the race leader was ice blue and the other’s was raspberry with white stripes. The visual differences in the crews?… well, there was one rather unique tattoo…

This didn’t look like any ordinary competition, but if it was, I’m betting that the winners will be the ones that finish last.

Columbus

 

Charlie Becker and the John Galt of Allendale Road

“Live and act within the limit of your knowledge and keep expanding it to the limit of your life.”  Ayn Rand 

Did any of you ever hear of Charlie Weeks as we were growing up in West Palm Beach?

The answer, for all but a few of us, is a resounding NO! Unless you were raised near the west end of Allendale Rd., down the street from Belvedere Elementary, his name will mean nothing. Sandra Peacock will and the late Nick Coppola would have remembered him only as the old man down at the end of the road that farmed papayas and raised worms.

There is, however, one member of the PBHS Class of “58” that, not only very vividly remembers Mr. Weeks but strives to emulate him on a daily basis.

Charles Julius Becker

Charles Julius Becker

Charlie Becker is, by virtue of his upbringing and abiding faith, without a doubt the most demonstrably Christian individual I’ve ever known but when he reminisces about his youth, any comment or reference he makes on or to Charles Weeks fringes of pagan idolatry.

Charlie Weeks was already 59 years old when he moved to West Palm Beach in 1932. His international recognition in raising poultry and communal agricultural concepts in California had already established him as both a socialistic visionary and an entrepreneurial genius. *(An OVIATT LIBRARY reprint on Charles Weeks is attached below. It will prove a very interesting read for serious scholars and California residents…….there may even be an overlap?)

But hey, let’s get off this “did you know that old man” kick and tell us a story!

Charlie Becker (hereafter referred to only as Becker) ‘s mother taught piano (to, among others, classmate Linda Tyner) while Charles Becker, Sr., (not to be confused with Becker), enjoyed strumming the guitar. The venerable Mr. Weeks played the violin and was also a very religious man … paving the way for a Becker/Weeks weekly get together for prayers and instrumental and vocal renditions of all the old favorite Hymns.

Becker, as a grade-schooler, remembers the Old Rugged Cross and Just a Closer Walk with Thee but what he recalls most vividly about Charlie Weeks were the sunny days spent spear fishing with the old man and his Dad at the Jupiter and Palm Beach Inlets. Even old time Florida crackers knew very little about spear fishing in the 1940s. Charlie Weeks had brought his know-how with him from California and even fashioned a long wooden spear rifle as a gift to Becker’s father. The divers, with Becker tagging along, would not only spear the fish (mostly snook), but go on to build a fire and fry’em up right there on the beach.

Time passes and …”Not far from the oak does the acorn fall” … 1958 and the night of our Junior – Senior Prom. Becker is with the one person whose company he is most familiar and doing what he has learned to enjoy more than anything else … he’s all alone on the brightly lit up little wooden dock at the Palm Beach Inlet on the south side almost where it empties into Lake Worth. He has his 12 volt spot light lowered into the water. They’re all schooled up and he can see them, only 8 or 10 feet down in the clear brine, but they won’t bite. He tries everything–jigs, trolled plugs, feathers, spoons, even live shrimp … dangles them right in front of them but nothing … they just stay there; suspended, facing up into the incoming tide, with their mouths rhythmically opening and closing. But Becker will not be denied. He has learned from his Dad and Charlie Weeks that there’s always a way! He reaches into his tackle box and takes out his secret weapon … a large weighted treble snag hook.

I choose not to quote him verbatim but according to Becker, “you don’t know what a fish fight is until you snatch hook a 15 lb. snook in the ass h…!”

After graduation Becker found the best of all worlds; he hired on at top dollar with RCA Services to track missiles fired from Cape Canaveral and, get this, had to commit to a full year stationed at the ETR Range Tracking Station on Great Sale Cay in the Bahamas … poor Becker, he had become a “Range Rat” with nothing to fill his idle hours but diving and fishing!

I think he liked it so well he re-upped for another year before deciding to, in his words, become a “college boy”. After and uninspiring year at the JC on Congress Ave. Becker became disenchanted (one can only assume this was because of the campus’s lack of proximity to salt water) and got back in touch with RCA.

HH Arnold

H.H. ARNOLD at sea off Baja California

The years that followed found Becker shipboard on the H.H. ARNOLD in both the South Atlantic and the Pacific. He was still following missiles but now he was tracking, not their flight path, but where they came down. There was no GPS in those days and guidance systems were still a work in progress. The U.S. and the Soviet Union were pitted against each other in an arms race and RCA Services was contracted to help make sure Uncle Sam won it. What this all boiled down to was Becker and his crew spent 24/7 figuring out “where they were?”. The equipment on the Arnold enabled these, now floating, Range Rats to determine the location of their ship on the Ocean’s surface to within 15 feet and, thus, be able to confirm that any designated earth bound warhead splashed down within 75 feet of its pre-programmed target. Oh!, … did I forget to mention … the rocket had probably left the ground some 12,000 miles away.

A couple more years and Becker, like many of the rest of us, soon found his way back to WJNO, Clematis St., and Russo’s Subs. He settled into his bachelor pad on Avon Rd., reunited with his fishing “chums” on the Juno Pier, converted an old beer joint on Lake Ave. into a body-building emporium resulting in the collection of membership fees from a cadre of meathead iron pumpers, and eventually returned to his father’s profession as a dental technician. Somewhere in this time frame Charles Weeks quietly passed away but few took note. He had, once again, become only the old man down at the end of Allendale. His home and papaya farm would soon be cleared away and paved over to make way for I-95 and …

For much of the next half century Becker dedicated his working hours to crafting perfect gold and porcelain bridges and crowns and this quest for perfection overflowed into his personal life.

Carola & Charlie

Carola & Charlie Becker

Becker, now living in Vero Beach, has never been satisfied with “good enough”. He has a wonderful wife that always seems to do what needs to be accomplished and strives to make her marriage, her animals, her home, and especially her husband happy and content. Carola is an actively employed dental assistant that loves to travel and doesn’t mind making the sacrifices and preparations that come with doing so. When it comes to Becker she gives him the freedom to pursue the ideas for the, sometimes questionable and always time consuming, “projects” that seem to effervesce from his pillow into his brain every night.

Becker’s latest quest involves going back in his memory bank to construct a submersible hand-held catapult from years gone by. He has a nephew in Newbery, FL that frequently fishes for black grouper over 50 miles off shore in the Gulf of Mexico. Recently the nephew has encountered fishing lines with only shredded heads when they are brought up from the deep. The culprit(s) is/are Goliath grouper and, according to Becker, the best way to get rid of them is to scuba dive down (only 50 or 60 ft.) and follow the same prescription for the giant predators that his dentist clients routinely prescribe for a patient’s bad wisdom tooth … “cold steel and sunshine!”

Spear Gun1

Weeks “Model 1942” California spear rifle

To accomplish this feat Becker is, painstakingly and by hand, applying the finishing touches to an exact replica, as he remembers it, of the spear rifle Charlie Weeks made for his father in the 1940s. It is truly a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. He intends to make it a Christmas present for his nephew and Becker is hopeful he’ll be invited out for the required overnight anchorage to witness his handy-work in action.

Becker is also blessed with a gift that only an aging father can ever adequately describe …. the pride of having a grown son that he can be proud of! Just “proud of“… that’s all, no other qualification, no other measurement, … nothing else need ever be said!

Shane Becker

Shane Becker attending a Palm Beach fundraiser

Shane Becker has been cultivating an expansive list of loyal discerning customers of fine men’s clothing on Worth Ave. in Palm Beach for over 11 years. First with Giorgio Armani and currently at Brioni, Shane has built an international following of “clients” that will do business with no other haberdasher. He has recently returned from a week long meeting in Penne, Italy where he received a Corporate award for excellence (and gained 8 lbs on the pasta).

Why don’t you drop by and browse around before the holidays–the Single-Breasted Cashmere two-button Blazer Jacket at $7,750 may be a bit pricey but the $425 three-button Jersey Polo Shirt might be just the stocking stuffer you’re looking for?

 

* Charles Weeks was a visionary in the world of poultry and communal farming. Born on an Indiana farm in 1873, Mr. Weeks grew up with a thorough understanding of farming and farm life. In 1904, Mr. Weeks moved to Los Altos, California with a plan to raise poultry on a ten-acre farm he had purchased there. Unfortunately, due to inadequate water supply, Mr. Weeks’ Los Altos farm was doomed to failure. In 1909, Mr. Weeks moved to a five-acre farm on the outskirts of Palo Alto, California. It was here that he established new methods of raising poultry, concentrating birds into coops. Previous to this time, it was a commonly accepted farming practice to raise chickens in large, space consuming, chicken runs. The “Weeks Poultry Method” of raising poultry in compact houses became so successful that visitors from all over the world began arriving at Mr. Weeks’ farm to study and learn his method. William E. Smythe, a socialist utopian, promoted his vision of independently-owned farming communities after visiting. Weeks in turn adopted these ideals and established his own version of a utopian farming community.

In 1916, Mr. Weeks established the “Weeks Poultry Colony,” also known as Runnymead, on land near his Palo Alto farm. With a heavily promoted motto of “one acre and independence,” Mr. Week’s experimental utopian community grew quickly, housing 400 families by 1922. Adding to the success of the colony was his monthly magazine publication called Intensive Little Farm which attracted new buyers to the area and kept the area thriving for years, peaking at over 1,000 citizens by the mid-1920s.

In 1923, Weeks moved out of Northern California and engaged himself in actively promoting a new colony in Owensmouth. He had been invited to the San Fernando Valley by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce in 1920 to establish a series of one-acre farms in the area that would emulate the success of his Los Altos “poultry colony.” The colony Mr. Weeks created eventually developed into a small farming community, which actively engaged in uplifting the spirit of its members, and aided in the social, intellectual and artistic enlightenment of the region.

Unfortunately, the Great Depression and the dramatic downturn of the Los Angeles economy drastically affected both the Owensmouth and Runnymead communities. By 1932, many of the farms faced bankruptcy and Mr. Weeks himself lost almost everything. With the failure of the poultry colonies, Mr. Weeks relocated to Florida, where he lived out the remainder of his life growing papayas, raising fishing worms and skin diving. Charles Weeks died in Florida in 1964 but the impact of his communal experiment can still be seen in some areas of both Palo Alto and Winnetka.

Charles_Weeks     weeks_building

Charles Weeks (1927 in California)

CHAPTER 1 — Boredom

The Miller Lite can was not moving now but it soon would and when it did the life or death struggle that had occupied my attention for the past few hours would start up again.

The spider had hitched a ride by hiding in the lazy jack halyards and, after a couple of days at sea, had decided to come out. He was a frail “daddy long legs” type no bigger than a quarter with no apparent markings–just a spider. The insect’s worthy opponent was now a slowly sun warming unopened can of beer. But then it hadn’t always been this way. I had just increased the odds against my delicate friend by creating a Lilliputian aluminum juggernaut.

Sailing in light air is never much fun and today was no exception. Single handed and off South Beach, the wind had died as always happens near noon this time of year. What had been a perfect morning on a southbound beam reach with the rail almost in the water had turned into total boredom. The sun was bearing down and the east wind had all but died. With nothing to bend them, the tan bark sails on my old cutter began to look and act like drying laundry. The jib and footed staysail just draped off their wires and the boom and main helplessly flopped back and forth from port to starboard as the onshore ocean swells came under the keel, rocked the boat, and headed for the beach.

Might as well get some music on the radio … I was your hero and you were my leading lady, We had it all, Just like Bogie and Bacall … Popping open a beer and dragging out my binoculars, I zoomed in on the shoreline. No topless women or even bikinis, hardly anyone–only sand, palm trees, small abandoned graffiti spattered art deco hotels, and the occasional police car. Then I remembered the last time I had visited the area I was looking at.

The conference I was attending had been at the Doral but what was a visit to Miami without dinner at Joe’s Stone Crab? The restaurant’s location was somewhere on South Beach and the food was exceptional but what I remember most was having to slip the twenty dollar bill to the guy in the tux to even get seated and the bazaar security personnel in the parking lot across the street. Crime had gotten so bad on Miami Beach that a detachment of red bereted Guardian Angels had recently taken leave from the New York subways to protect unsuspecting tourist in Florida. “If they weren’t here, neither would your car be after dinner,” I was warned.

That was a few years ago but it looks like things haven’t changed. There still was no wind and the boat just rocked from side to side as the seas rolled in. Couldn’t let myself drift too close to the beach.

Finishing the beer, I thoughtlessly tossed the empty can over onto the cockpit seat just under the pin rail. The rail is where the ropes that work the sails are coiled and hung to keep the aft section of boat from looking like a bowl of spaghetti. One of the lines had dropped a loose end down and just as I was reaching to put it back on the pin, I saw him. There was my passenger, on the fiberglass surface of the seat but hiding in the shadow of the rope. Just then another wave passed under the boat and she began a gentle roll and so did the empty beer can–right toward the tailing of the rope and my unsuspecting miniature stowaway.

The song on the radio was ending but the saga of the rolling can and the spider was showing potential for short-term boredom relief so I just sat back down, propped my feet up, hung my arm over the tiller and waited … Starring in our old late, late show, Sailing away to Key Largo

As I watched, the spider began to move out from the shadow and toward the end of the rope lying on seat. He paused at the end and then made a quick move into the open. His target was a tiny black ant and to reach his quarry required a dash of 6 or 8 inches and then a return to gain the perceived safety of the underside of the rope. On his first attempt he seemed hesitant and scurried back before even reaching the ant. His second run looked promising but just as he seemed ready to close in for the kill; the empty can began to move with the rolling deck and soon was racing toward him. The spider, we can only assume, sensing the danger–rushed back to the protection of the backside of the rope. The can, being empty and so light, careened off the rope as it jumped right over the hunter and rolled to the other side.

The lighthouse on Key Biscayne was getting closer. When the wind picks back up this afternoon, I’ll have no trouble getting into the Bay and setting the hook off Elliot or maybe even Arsenicker Key.

A short-lived zephyr of wind took my mind off the spider and the beer can for a half hour or so but soon the breeze died again and when I glanced down the hunt was back on! This time the roll of the boat to port made the empty can reverse its course and roll back in the opposite direction just as “Hairy” (I had named him for the situation he was in) was making another run. The same result: spider tip-toes out, can begins to roll, spider runs back, can rolls over or misses rope end, spider waits a little while and then tries again. I don’t think the ant was still there but no one told Hairy.

Then the unexpected happened. Whether he got careless or just didn’t care, I’ll never know, but the can began to roll from starboard and the spider made no effort to hide. Hairy was in the open and the cylinder rolled right over him. My first thought was back to grade school and the old rhyme about ooey gooey, the worm on the railroad tracks, but before I could plan for a burial at sea, Hairy was lifting himself up and ambling on back to the rope. The empty can was too light and no challenge for my new crew.

Now the rules of the game had changed. This time I took two cool ones out of the ice chest and, hearing my new favorite lyrics once again on the radio, turned up the sound, popped one, laid the other can unopened on the seat, reclined against the transom and waited for the next roll of the sea … Here’s lookin’ at you kid, Missing all the things we did, We can find it once again, I know, Just like they did in Key

Maybe it was the brutal coldness of the new challenger or the vibrations and its heavier rolling noise but the difference in Hairy was evident immediately. The air had picked back up a little making the side-to-side roll of the deck less regular. The, now warming, gravity bound sinister container was temporarily motionless and hanging out near the starboard rail. The first few times the swells resumed and the saga continued the roll of the can was slow and measured. Often the moving stalker never reached the dangling rope or, if it did, it would abruptly halt when it came to rest against it. When the path of the rolling menace missed the woven obstacle and the insect, now mostly hiding, it would travel on over to port and then immediately return.

Just when I was starting to think that Hairy had acquired some innate wisdom, a gust of wind came from the east, the fluid filled metallic assassin bounced off the port side and the spider decided to leave his sanctuary. The now full mainsail and rapid heel of the boat virtually hurled the heavy can back toward the leeward rail and a fully exposed eight legged pedestrian.

My next beer foamed a lot, was not as cold as I like, and the outside of the can was a little slipperier than usual.

le Esperance

The Next Level

If you don’t mind, I would like to be included in the nerds grouping for purposes of mention in the up-coming chronicle on the Class of “58”. To qualify for this assembly I offer a rambling of seemingly unrelated instances and observations that have convinced me to make this request.

Nothing can prove more detrimental to the long term financial success and overall happiness of a young man than to be “popular” at an early age. This is especially true if this popularity results from achievement in athletics.

In the United States today few people are held up as male role models more often than NFL, NBA, or Major League professional athletes. As early as middle school you hear coaches and spectators refer to a promising player’s chances “at the next level”. It is particularly disturbing when you read in the newspaper that a star high school running back has signed with a certain university because “Coach Smith promised me I wouldn’t be switched to defensive back and the team would be on nationwide TV three times my freshman year”! Presumably, this would aid in his chances to get to the “next level”.

With this mindset and without regard to such campus distractions as English Lit or Calculus, the next level will almost always be outside of professional sports and very disappointing. In 1996 the Florida Gators won the National College Football Championship. In 2006 a researcher tracked down all but a few of the team members to document a “Where are they and what are they doing now?” magazine article. Not to disparage anyone’s occupation but if you eliminated prison guards, used car salesmen and the temporarily unemployed from the list you would not be able to field a team for the “old timers game”.

Things were different when I went off to college in 1958 but not that much different. As a scholarship football player at Georgia Tech I had achieved, in my estimation, the pinnacle of success by being given the opportunity to gain a degree in engineering without having to pay for it. There was no “next level”. The NFL was a shadow of what it is today and when I graduated in 1963 my pay for my first job at Lockheed was almost as much as my junior year roommate, Joe Auer, earned in his rookie season with the Buffalo Bills.

By 1966 I had been back in WPB working in the family produce business for over two years and Joe Auer was traded to the newly created Miami Dolphins. One night during the first week or two of two-a-day practices at St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton I visited Joe in one of the dorms and had my first “what do you do?” questionings by guys at the next level. By this time pro football player’s pay had increased but so had the insecurity that came with the nightly visits from the “Turk” (the coach designated to notify individual players when they had been cut from the team). When Joe introduced me as his friend in the fruit and vegetable business I was surrounded by his teammates wanting to know what I did and if it might be something they could do after……………you know……….the “Turk”……….

Tech Auer                Joe Auer

Against the Oakland Raiders, Joe Auer ran the opening kick-off of the Miami Dolphin’s first ever game back for a 95 yard touchdown and was the team MVP in 1966. He retired from football a few years later and after two ill-fated investments in the NASCAR arena he disappeared; I guess he’s at the next level?

Over the next 27 years I pretty much lost contact with my teammates from Tech but I had learned that of the 28 guys on my freshman squad, 2 had killed themselves and one had been committed to a mental institution.

It was with this backdrop that I went to the Georgia Tech Homecoming in 1993. I had been much closer to my fraternity (Phi Delta Theta) brothers than to the other jocks at Tech. The “T Club” was an elaborate Greek like social club set up by the Athletic Director for athletes. Membership had only two requirements: 1) be the recipient of a varsity letter and 2) pay a one time $5 initiation fee. I could never justify the expenditure.

I have forgotten most of those three or four days in Atlanta but on Saturday morning before the Homecoming football game I was in the fraternity house with a group of brothers including Senator Sam Nunn. It was while I was talking with Sam and a Federal Reserve banker friend of his that someone tapped me on the shoulder to tell me that a bunch of my teammates were down in the basement level of the parking garage across the street and that I “should come on down”. The Phi-Delt house is on a small hill above the parking garage and to get to where my beer drinking gridiron comrades were tail-gating required me to go down a series of stairs to the “next level”. One of the first question I was asked was….you guessed it……what do you do? Tech was primarily an engineering school but there was a School of Industrial Management and since this was the discipline of least resistance most jocks gravitated to it. When I returned their queries and asked about their current employment, I seem to remember the “between jobs” position mentioned frequently.

Everyone of the men in that parking garage, myself included, had been one of the most popular boys in their high school class. Everyone of those men, myself included, had been coddled and pampered by an adoring society that emphasized only what seemed important at the moment; the ability to break a tackle or catch a forward pass. As teenagers we were extremely popular and continually assured that this ability would always enable us to get to life’s next level.

I don’t want to come off as an elitist, but a walk of a few yards and a decent of 40 or 50 feet had taken me from a world of men who had been, and continued to be, achievers to a group of guys that had, for the most part, reached the zenith of their lives in their early twenties.

At the risk of alienating some of my old Wildcat teammates, I would like to make this seemingly selfish request. On the hunch that I’ll be much happier at a 2013 reunion banquet table with a group of fellow nerds please allow me to rise to             ………………..THE NEXT LEVEL.

Jim Powell

…. our 56th wedding anniversary ….

Yesterday my wife and I celebrated our 56th wedding anniversary. It was not very elaborate and certainly not exciting. We met with two of our grown grandsons, the only family currently in town, for a quiet dinner at a local steak house and talked mostly about them and their plans going forward. At my age, “quiet and not exciting” is just the way things are.

56 years later

The upside of life as I approach 80 years of age is that I have a lot of time to “reflect”. To help me in this endeavor I have begun to read more and to look back at points in my life that have led me to where, and with whom, I am today.

Bare with me…….I’ll get there.

In mid-December of 1957 there was a high school basketball game between Palm Beach High and St. Ann’s. Both student bodies knew the others and there was little doubt as to who would win the competition so after the game many of the players and fans hung around in the little walled patio just outside the entrance to the old gym on Iris St. After showering I gravitated with the other Wildcats to the group and ended up striking up a conversation with a cute sophomore Crusader co-ed with world class dimples. Within a few days I had called her and we had our first date.

I had known Dee Conklin from seeing her at the Lido Beach over the summers but had it not been for that chance encounter…….

We’ve all  heard phrases and references regarding “the road not taken”. They usually revolve around various regrets and another pair of words; “what if ?” But let’s accentuate the positive………had it not been for that one decision a 15 year old girl made to hang around after the game………

I’m back……..

I take a lot of naps these days. I find that it’s easier to justify laying down in the middle of the day if I tell my wife that I’m just going upstairs to read. My current literary pursuit is the Classics I’ve never read. I’m midway through Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations and I have stumbled on a passage that should be remembered and quoted even more than “It was the best of times, it was the worst……….”

Along the lines of important turning points in our lives and the importance of a single day and happening; Mr. Dickens reflects in the closing paragraph of Chapter 9…..

That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.

I generally keep my eyes open for only a few minutes before dozing off and sometimes I’m even rewarded with a pleasant dream of years gone by. Maybe there’ll be a pair of dimples in the one this afternoon…..

Jim Powell

Jimmy and Dee at first apt.

newly weds (Atlanta – 1962)