Thursday, July 21, 2016

Why I Wear My Hat

For my Great-Aunt Gus*, 97, who emailed and asked me last Thursday

By early 1981, I had participated in two Springtime Tallahassee parades with the Godby High School Drama Club since my family's arrival to town on September 1, 1978. The Godby Drama Club was welcome to walk behind the Godby Cougar Marching Band in the Springtime Tallahassee parades.

In 1981, the date of the annual Thespian Festival in Jacksonville, Florida coincided with the weekend of Springtime Tallahassee. I was one of a few who could not attend due to other commitments, and received approval from the Drama Club to march with the parade in their stead.

In the last few days before the parade, My First Halloween buddies and I, along with the Godby Wargames Club and sundry friends, built a boat from wood, cardboard and an old baby carriage, and called it a float. I visited the Magic and Fun Costume Shop in Tallahassee and purchased a Captain's hat for $3.09. At parade time, we perched a cockatiel in a cage at its prow, and we alternatingly pushed and pulled it through the 1.1 mile parade route to the delight and astonishment of many thousands.

If we gave our boat float a name, it eludes me after all these years. No photos to my knowledge still exist, but there were at least seven of us involved in that crazy outing, and my wildest parade experiences were still several years away.

We didn't save the boat, and I didn't remember saving the hat until shortly before preparing for a move across town in Spring of 1990, when I noticed it in a box of costume paraphernalia that had not been unpacked since several moves earlier. I made major changes in my life beginning with that move, and completely forgot about the hat again for two more years.

In my early years in Tallahassee, I often enjoyed playing volleyball at Tom Brown Park on the weekends during high school, and then much less frequently after graduation. In Spring of 1992, I heard about Tallahassee Community College's annual Student/Faculty Day festivities including volleyball, and attended.

I ate a burger for lunch and played volleyball all afternoon. I hadn't played so much volleyball at one time in several years, and loved every moment of it.

Until later, when I stepped in the shower and realized I'd sunburned my head.

I wouldn't begin regularly playing softball for another year. I had just moved a few weeks before, and knew where my captain's hat was. It was the only hat I owned. I immediately needed a prophylactic for my head, and the hat seemed to agree with and please me.

Since then, and now more than twenty years later, unless I am playing softball, sleeping, swimming, or on someone else's clock, I am generally wearing the hat. I've been going to the Magic and Fun Costume Shop for my specialty costume needs since they opened in 1979, and continue to purchase my captain's hats there. I consume two or three a year depending upon my activities, and keep a pristine dress hat for special occasions, and use the more worn ones for painting, yard work and the like before their eventual disposition,

On rare occasions, I will encounter someone else wearing the same style hat, and have had much success in asking these individuals to pose for a photo with me. I have a "Captains" Facebook photo album with these and photos with other Captains I've met. I especially enjoy wearing my hat on cruises, and with Halloween costumes that are complemented by it.

 Halloween 2011
Halloween 2011

* Great-Aunt Gus is my grandfather's sister Augusta, who married my grandmother's brother Elmer.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Godby High School Reunion Designated Driver Program

Association of Godby Graduates (AGG) President Roger Day and I attend as many class reunions as we can each year to help with the reunions in any way we can, and to talk about our alumni organization.

It was at the Friday night social at the downtown Tallahassee Center for the Class of 1982 last year that I met one of the reunion attendees for the first time, and no one would see him alive again after the party. Saturday's main reunion event began quite somberly the next day, and shortly afterward, I began hearing from many people who wished that they had been there to provide a safe ride home.

This year, we began the Reunion Designated Driver Program. Alumni volunteers from various class years, not at all necessarily from each particular reunion year, stand ready throughout the evening in case they are needed to guarantee a safe ride home to those who need it.

We are not a taxi service, and we are not there for people who intend to party heartily and then get a free ride home. We serve to ensure that a preventable tragedy associated with Godby High School and its precious alumni does not happen to someone who should have limited their consumption earlier in the evening. We also hope to serve as a deterrent to those who do not wish to unduly impose on their fellow alumni because of their own irresponsible drinking.

It is with that last hour or so of the reunion event evening we are most concerned, because responsible partiers typically make arrangements with sober drivers or public transportation earlier. We recognize that the time could have slipped by or taxi service might be less accessible later in the evening, so we stand by to prevent the worst of occurrences.

Whenever we can, we encourage planners to make their class reunions as inclusive as possible, because the Designated Driver Program does not discriminate against dissimilar graduation years, and neither do we.

Thanks to all who have volunteered to be reunion designated drivers. Your service is greatly appreciated by the Association of Godby Graduates and Family.

Roger Day, Class of 1980
Mitch Gans, Class of 1981
Mitch Gans, Roger Day at the Class of 1983 Reunion, July 20, 2013

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Summer: Save the Children

Summer has been my favorite season since I was 13.

When I was 12 and living in New Jersey, my parents sent me away from home for the first time, to be the youngest kid in a summer camp for twelve- to eighteen-year-olds -- for a month. That miserable summer is the one against which all my summers have been compared, and every other summer topped the one I spent away from family and friends in Minnesota.

That summer's experience was not without some benefits realized many years later. I played softball one afternoon at camp, and a couple of years ago, I reconnected with Brian, the only friend I made that summer.

With the exception of one summer in high school when I took Physical Education and had the time of my life swimming and playing dodge ball and softball with Keith, Kelly, Eric, Rob, Carla and others, summer meant freedom from school and many responsibilities, and afforded more hours of daylight to enjoy each and every day. Summer gets hot where I live, and I still play softball in it. Season 21 begins tomorrow.

Every summer, we read about three or four kids whose lives are ended in a hot car while negligent parents and caregivers conduct their business elsewhere. I have noticed that never more than a few such stories make the major news publications every year, and I was curious as to how often this actually happens.

There have been ten child heatstroke deaths in vehicles in America in the past month, with an average of 38 such deaths per year for the past 15 years.*

Why aren't these events reported more frequently?

Would many continue to subscribe to news media that feature a child dying in a hot car every three days?

Even if the Fourth Estate isn't willing to report it, perhaps enough of us can prevent it from happening.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Silver Anniversary 2013

All that I am and hold dear are largely the result of this photo twenty-five years ago today:

Dave the Cat, Sen. Bob Graham and Mitch lead the 1988 Springtime Tallahassee Parade
Photo by Jamie Butcher
Story here

I found a courage inside myself I had not known before that inspired me to do many things.

Today, we are March on the 2013 Leon County Humane Society calendar.

I am very grateful to those who made it all possible and worthwhile:

Dave the Cat (1987-2004);
Dr. Hall and the Westwood Animal Hospital, Dave's lifelong healthcare provider;
My wife Donna, and my friend Charlie, who have always supported my endeavors;
My children, Heather and son-in-law Dave, and grandchildren, Alicia, Dylan, Gabriel and Caleb;
Jamie Butcher, The Photographer;
Karl Filsinger, for being there that day, and attending many of our parades;
Allison Davis and Kelly Rigsby, who brought me Tigger and Elliott;
Peter Holtmann, who brought me Dave the Cat;
Our biographers:
    Julianne Hare, "Tallahassee: A Capital City History", 2002;
    Jan Annino, "Florida's Famous Animals", 2008;
The Museum of Florida History, "Pets in America", 2008;
Springtime Tallahassee,
and the hundreds of thousands of people we met along the way.

Thank you.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Jasper: March 1999 - September 29, 2012

Jasper was the first kitten we acquired after the Fire. Since Dave the Cat had been the conflagration's only survivor, we intended for Jasper to be a companion kitty for Dave.

Donna and I answered an ad in the newspaper for a free kitten and only had to pick up a small orange and white tabby and then bring him to the vet. We called him Jasper because it was his traditional birthstone, and his eyes were green.

Heather brought us Clyde a few months later, who became Dave's buddy and did and still does all Dave did, except for riding a bicycle, and Clyde only leaves the property to see the vet. Clyde has probably spent at least as much time on my shoulders as Dave did, but indoors, and at his every opportunity.

Jasper was a well-mannered cat and lived with us for thirteen years before seriously beginning to lose weight, and so we took him to the vet, where tests confirmed a diagnosis of hyperthyroidism, a common geriatric feline ailment. We were prescribed a pill a day for him for the duration of Jasper's life, which unfortunately was only another three months.

Jasper passed away on the way to the vet Saturday morning, in a topless short-sided cardboard box on the front passenger seat of my car while driving on Ocala Road. We made a slow turnaround toward home and I called the vet to let them know.

It was the first time I didn't have to do all the digging. Dylan did most of the excavation in the back yard, and Donna and all three of our grandsons, Dylan, Gabriel and Caleb, attended Jasper's final farewell.

Dr. Hall called to express condolences and we received a nice sympathy card from the Westwood Animal Hospital, where Dave always went.

Rest in peace, Jasper, and thanks.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Lighthouse for Sale

OK, it's a Halloween costume, but it's an impressive adult-sized working lighthouse, and I've won more costume contests in it than with any other of my wild, personally crafted Halloween costumes.

In October 2000, I took my lighthouse to the Halloween party at Salty Dawg on North Monroe Street in Tallahassee, and it was immediately apparent I had brought the right costume to the right place at the right time.

I was the only one wearing a lighthouse, but lighthouses were all I saw. Prints on the wall, menus on the tables, and the blackboard outside with daily specials all had lighthouses on them.

The Salty Dawg's owner approached me shortly after we arrived and complimented me on my creation. She told me that she was especially fond of lighthouses and asked me how much money I wanted for mine.

Without even thinking, I replied, "A THOUSAND dollars."

I regretted saying the words even as they came out, and have no doubt that her derisive "Let me know when you have a serious figure," response saved my career.

As in My Grandmother's Pennies, I would have realized a windfall that would likely have ended any further personal Halloween costume aspirations. I would have been content with the lowball value I had assigned to my costume, and spent the next several years bragging about how much my Halloween costuming career had been worth.

I won the Salty Dawg's costume contest that evening, and all other contests I entered that Halloween. Before I suited up as the "Pinball Wizard" with pinball machine and wizard suit next Halloween, I had amassed well more than a thousand dollars' worth of prizes, and got to keep my Lighthouse.

I won several other costume contests with the Lighthouse over the years, including at the Two Nichols Family Restaurant in the very shadow of the St. Marks Lighthouse. I won in Monticello, Florida, and the Monticello News carried our story first across the top. I have done especially well at beach and coastal communities. I won first place at Schooner's Last Local Beach Club in Panama City Beach, and I know we would be a major attraction at any of the "Save the Lighthouse" efforts I occasionally read about.

It is my signature Halloween costume, no longer for sale.

As of 2015, my Lighthouse Costume, with all my other costumes, permanently resides at the Tallahassee Automobile Museum.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Brad Lewis and Emma Nutt Day

Emma Mills Nutt became the world's first female telephone operator on September 1, 1878, when she began working at the Edwin Holmes Telephone Dispatch Company in Boston, Massachusetts. Emma worked for at least thirty-three years until her death, and Emma's sister Stella was the world's second female telephone operator.

Many websites proclaim today to be Emma Nutt Day, although none can tell us when it first became a day of importance. Wikipedia cites other websites for its veracity.

One hundred years to the day after Emma Nutt began working for the telephone company, my family and I moved to Tallahassee, Florida from East Brunswick, New Jersey. I was born in Florida and have never regretted returning home.

Brad and I enjoyed many adventures during the years we worked together with Keith, Kal and Brent in the late 1980s, and we share a lifetime of memories and friendship. Brad's band the Engines that included Zollie and J.D. played at my 25th birthday party as told in Birthdays, and Brad inspired me to begin performing when he gave me my first of many gigs.

It's Brad's birthday. 

Thank you, Brad, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!