Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas 2011

(Continued from Santa and Me).

After Roger and I walked in Tallahassee's Festival of Lights parade with our former high school principal Senator Bill Montford on December 3, I submitted our photo to WCTV's "Pictures With Santa" album, and viewers have voted it "Best" by a large margin.

On the crisp, clear and windy morning of Saturday, December 10th, I drove to the corner of Bainbridge Road and Brevard Street and greeted Darius Jones and Godby High School students serving soup to the needy for the second year in a row. I introduced them to the Association of Godby Graduates and our mission to raise scholarship money, and the seniors were particularly interested.

An hour later, I brought my 2010 Halloween costume to Havana Florida's Holiday Festival and Lawnmower Parade, my second Christmas parade in a week, and my first twice-weekly parade since 1989. 

Havana's parade began at 1:00 pm, and I rode behind the Havana City Utilities truck near the front of the parade. I alternately rode and pushed my fire truck westward from 6th Avenue east of Highway 27 through the center of town and around the block twice. It was my first parade in Havana, and I had a great time.

On Monday, December 12, I entered my first-ever chili cook-off and won first place with a recipe that I have been making for my family for many years.

On Thursday, December 15, photos of my fire truck and me in the Havana parade made two newspapers outside Tallahassee, Page 3 of the Havana Herald, and Page 13 of the Gadsden County Times

My family and I enjoyed Christmas on Sunday.
It has been a good year. 

I had the opportunity to travel three times to Orlando, with my family, and by myself to visit old friends. 

My high school classmates and my grandsons Dylan and Gabriel and I celebrated our thirtieth class reunion together, and I attended several other reunions, as well as our annual alumni Hall of Fame induction banquet in the spring.

Including the Arti Gras and Springtime Tallahassee parades, I had a four-parade year, more than any year since 1989, when I rode with Dave the Cat in ten parades, in Tallahassee, Monticello and Birmingham, Alabama.

Softball was fun. We had a lot of player turnover from last year and it took a while to learn to play together again. Our last three games of the season were as good as any we have ever played. Adam's daughter Amber, who has been coming to our games since she was a toddler nineteen years ago, led the team in hits.
The kids and I went camping in Monticello, Florida.

Halloween was fantastic, among my very best, with ten costume contest victories as Tallahassee's Official Party Boat

Charlie and Rodney and their families are in town, and I am looking forward to seeing them all over the holidays.

Best wishes, and may you all have a safe, happy and prosperous 2012!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Road Trip -- Northeast America 1999

Before the summer of 1999 ended, I went to Atlanta on July 4th and watched an Atlanta Braves baseball game that the Braves won in the ninth inning, and then in September, I undertook an international road trip with my sister Jennifer through several of the northeastern United States and Ontario, Canada.

I flew to Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC, and Jenny and Adam met me and gave me a ride to their apartment, where we made final plans in preparation for departure the next day. I had a round-trip ticket from Tallahassee to DC, and a one-way ticket from Hartford, Connecticut to DC. I had booked stays in Holiday Inns in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York.

I have always been an avid game room goer, and had yet to experience virtual reality games. I had heard that the Dave and Buster's in Maryland had a virtual reality game. Jenny and Adam and I went to Dave and Buster's that night, and I charged up my new Dave and Buster's card with $20 worth of tokens and asked where the virtual reality game was. They told us that it had just been rotated out, so I began spending the credits on my card in earnest at a game that served up tokens for winning, or so I thought.

After a while, I wasn't doing very well and had not won any tokens, which didn't concern me too much, as I had already missed out on the one reason I had gone to Dave and Buster's. When I only had a few tokens left, a game room attendant came by and refilled the tickets on the game. I hadn't paid close enough attention to notice that the game dispensed tickets, not tokens.

And dispense tickets it did. It had been out of tickets, and it required three more refill visits by the attendant before it was done giving me tickets. Jenny and Adam and I had armloads of tickets to return to the game room's coupon exchange counter, and I had enough tickets to purchase Dave and Buster's largest premium toy -- a giant plush Tweety Bird that I still have.

We returned to Jenny's and Adam's apartment at about midnight and there was a late night Tweety Bird cartoon special on TV, and I watched several, including the original few episodes before Tweety had feathers.

Jenny and I departed the next morning in her Mercedes van on my Grand Adventure, and our first stop was to Walmart and the Post Office, to obtain shipping supplies and mail my giant yellow bird to Tallahassee. There was no way Tweety could fly home with me.

We drove four hours to East Brunswick, New Jersey, where I had lived for more than eight years, to visit the house in which Jenny was born. Although it had been more than twenty years since I had last been there, the homeowners knew who we were. Alpine Court, the dead-end street where my brother and I had played kickball with Robert and Mark for years was much smaller than I remembered it.

We visited Welsh Park behind the houses and the baseball field on which I had spent most of my last summer in New Jersey. We went to the public library where Tim and Mike and I had spent so much time on the computer, years before computers were in homes. The small typewriter room in the library that had long ago been converted for computer use had been converted back to a typewriter room.

It was the weekend, but we visited my elementary and middle schools, Irwin and Hammarskjold, and East Brunswick High School, where I would have attended had I not come to Tallahassee, Florida and Godby High School. I visited the high school track, where I had found the first coin of my collection as told in My Grandmother's Pennies. It was to the high school track bleachers that Mary Anne, Cyndi, Paula, James, and others in my third-grade class and I had walked on a field trip to view the erosion, and I took a photo of the walkway gate to East Brunswick High School.

Then we left East Brunswick and checked in at a Holiday Inn just west of New York. We would stay there twice. The next day, we drove to the City and took in my third game at the old, new Yankee Stadium. Like the previous games I attended in the 1970s, the Yankees lost. My friends who are fans tell me not to go back. The Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees would face each other only weeks later in the World Series, and I had visited both teams' games in 1999.

After the game, we drove to Mt. Pocono, Pennsylvania, where my family and I had vacationed for several years in the 1970s. We ate dinner at what I called the "Barrel Inn" as a child, and the dishwasher was still working there from all that time ago. We checked into the Mt. Pocono Holiday Inn for the evening before making our trek across New York the next day.

It was a long drive from Mt. Pocono to Niagara Falls, and we made a slight detour to Ithaca to visit my favorite childhood author, Edward Ormondroyd, and his wife Joan, as told in Time at the Top.

We arrived at the Holiday Inn in Niagara Falls after nightfall and spent most of the next day at the Falls on both sides of the border. I walked around the town a bit and stopped into a convenience story where there was a large plaster-covered barrel on display in which a man and a woman had successfully gone over the Falls, and it had the accompanying video.

In the areas we visited, there seemed to be more hotels on the US side, and more shops on the Canadian side. In Canada, I had my chance to play virtual reality, and I bought a Cuban cigar -- because I could. We visited the Botanical Gardens.

Late afternoon, we took our leave of Niagara Falls and drove eastward to the recognized birthplace of American Major League Baseball, Cooperstown, New York. Whatever "in season" there was in Cooperstown, we had missed it. We stayed in a huge Holiday Inn, and seemed to be two of about half a dozen guests that evening. The parking lot was empty.

Cooperstown seems to exist for and because of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and we spent a few hours there looking at the memorabilia and photos. I purchased postcards of all the Hall of Fame members for whom I have autographs. We walked around to the neighboring shops in the little town and then drove east again to the Holiday Inn in New Jersey at which we had stayed a few days earlier.

My plan was to spend my last day of travel with Jenny the next day in Coney Island, New York, as I had done a few times as a child with my dad and brother. I had arranged for Charlie to come pick me up near Coney Island at the end of the day.

By this time in my story, Hurricane Floyd had traveled all the way from Florida to meet us, and much of the northeastern seaboard had closed down, including Coney Island. We had followed the news, and a few days earlier we had known that this could happen. It was very rainy, so I called Charlie and asked him to meet me earlier in the day at Sleepy Hollow, New York.

Being the Halloween aficionado that I am, and having dressed accordingly years earlier, I wanted to visit the land of the Headless Horseman, the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. There wasn't a lot to see, but there were a couple of items of interest. On one of the roads is a sign that states that on that very spot, a capture had been made during the American Revolution that led to the discovery of General Benedict Arnold's treason.

We visited the grave of Washington Irving, the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The caretaker's office has a map to the prominently interred citizens of the cemetery, and we were able to drive around to the various gravesites. We saw deer in the graveyard in the rain. We drove on narrow pathways which were actually on top of graves, because we could see headstones immediately adjacent to and with inscriptions facing the pavement.

We ate lunch at a nearby diner and then Charlie picked me up and Jenny drove home to Maryland.

Charlie took me to his house in Storrs, Connecticut, from which he has since moved. I stayed there for an action-packed weekend. We visited Charlie's workplace and went riding go-karts. We went to the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, a huge Native American casino that was being enlarged, even though hardly anyone was there.

Charlie and Laurel and I went bowling, and the next time I went bowling was with them in Tallahassee on February 12, 2004. We ate dinner in an old United States Post Office that was more museum restaurant than post office, with many of the original fixtures closed off by glass. We went to a party and played pinball.

We visited the Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton and toured the world's first nuclear-powered submarine, USS 571, the Nautilus, named for Jules Verne's tale of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" and another submarine named Nautilus from World War II. In the galley was an eight-track tape player.

All too quickly, my nine-day 3,000 mile road trip including a weekend in Connecticut was at an end. Charlie gave me a ride to the airport and we stopped at a yard sale along the way, where I filled the last of my suitcase space with a plastic 25-cent truck for Alicia.

My flights home were uneventful, but my luggage arrived two days later, personally delivered to my house by Delta personnel.

This was my most eventful road trip, and longest in duration and distance.

Thanks, Jenny and Adam, Charlie and Laurel, Edward and Joan!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Christmas Car Wash

It was Friday night in late December 1979. Charlie, Rodney, several others and I had finished bowling at Seminole Bowl West, and went out to Mr. G's Pizza for dinner. We had three friends in town from Tampa, who were leaving the next day to go home and we were in no hurry for the evening to end. We were at Mr. G's until closing and then went to another friend's house where we stayed up all night and talked. The newspaper arrived at 5:30 am and we all looked it over. I was then unemployed, but a couple of months later I would begin working at Mr. G's for over two years, until shortly before it closed for good.

After bowling and pizza Friday night, I remember remarking upon what a great evening we'd had and our friends from Tampa agreed that it had been a lot of fun and said they wished they could stay longer, but  they only had enough money left for gas with which to get home. I had already spent all my money for the weekend as well, but at 6 am on a Saturday morning, the weekend was young and so was I, and I was ready to party some more.

Fall semester at Godby High School had just ended, and with it came the end of the numerous car washes that various school clubs seemed to be having every weekend. I often allowed myself to be talked into attending them because it got me out of the house. I lived in a three-bedroom house with my parents and five younger brothers and sisters.

I had the idea to call up Hardee's on West Tennessee Street at the corner of High Road when they opened for breakfast that day and ask the manager if my school club could schedule a car wash. In those days before the Internet, car washes were announced in the classified ads in the newspaper, and it was my reading through the paper that had given me the idea. When the manager said, "Sure, when?" I said "Today," and he asked if I needed a hose.

We arrived a few hours later and used their hose and brought another one and made $75 in about 4 hours on a cool winter's day. Our customers were amazed to see us washing cars so late in the year and business was brisk. One woman came back with another car after we washed her first one.

We reserved $20 for gas for our friends from Tampa and blew the rest on bowling and pizza again that evening.

It was the last school club car wash I especially remember. Several of us still stay in touch.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Santa and Me

I purchased a Santa suit in the 1990s but have only rarely used it.

On December 7, 2001, I suited up and went to see Tallahassee's Celebration of Lights downtown. I parked my car a few blocks west of Monroe Street along the parade route. Before I had walked a block, I saw a man walking along who looked just like Santa Claus.

I knew I had to have my photo taken with him, so I flagged down a passer-by who took the shot. I had the photograph enlarged and hung it prominently with others on my office wall, the pictures of which I was most proud, a few Halloween, cat and family photos.

Santa and Mitch (l to r)

More than a year later, a co-worker visited and inquired, "Why do you have a picture of my dad on your wall?" I didn't know what he was talking about. He pointed to the photo with me in my Santa suit and said, "That's my dad." His dad was Harry Hughes, and was Tallahassee's Santa Claus. For many years, Harry had dressed as I was in the photo and ridden high atop a City of Tallahassee fire truck in the Christmas parade. It was then that I realized I had seen Tallahassee's own official Santa Claus shortly before he had suited up to ride. I sent a similarly sized copy of the photo to his dad with a note of thanks, and emailed a copy to his son after Tallahassee's long-time Santa Claus passed away four years later.

In December 2004, the Association of Godby Graduates partnered with the Godby High School Construction Class to build and ride a holiday float on an 18-wheeler truck and tractor trailer in the Tallahassee Festival of Lights parade. I played a svelte Santa Claus, riding in a sleigh at the very top and back of the trailer.

Tallahassee's Winter Festival and Celebration of Lights was last Saturday night, and I suited up and brought my grandsons Dylan and Gabriel to walk in the parade with Roger and Florida Senator Bill Montford. Bill Montford is still Godby High School's longest serving principal, and was principal while I was there. He is the first person I met after moving to Tallahassee. He will gladly tell anyone he has a coffee mug in his office with his and my photo on it. We have been friends for a long time, but it was our first parade together -- my second parade walking with a Senator.

Santa was invited for a group photo with the Deerlake Middle School Majorettes

Senator Bill Montford serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents (FADSS), and is the Florida Senator from District 6 seeking re-election in 2012.

Roger Day, Senator Bill Montford, Santa Claus (Mitch)

We all walked along in the parade together passing out beads and candy and had a fantastic time. It was my first Christmas parade in seven years. We were float number 43, and I believe there were at least twice that many in the parade. When we finished the parade, Dylan and Gabriel and I walked the couple of miles north on Monroe Street to my car and watched the rest of the parade as it came by. Dylan and Gabriel would often patiently wait for me to catch up, because I was being slowed by well-wishers asking for Christmas gifts, and by the occasional hug from spectators of all ages.

Even though as a child I was never a serious believer in Santa Claus, I have as an adult gained an enormous amount of respect for all that the suit embodies and represents, and demands of the wearer, in return for nothing less than the unconditional love and respect expressed by so many for Santa's persona.

For the first time since 1989, I will be doing two parades in a week. On Saturday, December 10, 2011, I will be participating in my first parade in Havana Florida, in the annual Holiday Festival and Lawnmower Parade. Festivities are from 9:00 am until 7:00 pm, and the parade begins at 1:00 pm.

May your days be merry and bright -- Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!

(Continued in Christmas 2011)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

2011 AGG Holiday Newsletter

The Association of Godby Graduates is eight years old!

We exist to foster, recognize and reward outstanding lifetime service and academic excellence, and we raise money for scholarships for outstanding graduating Godby High School seniors. More history is included here

This year, the AGG dispersed a total of $2,250, our largest single-year contribution to date, to William Mueller, LaCrai Mitchell, Haley Garner, Marcus Herring, Olivia Origa, Craig Lightfoot, Sharzay Thomas, Alexis Hale, Cameron Thompson, Jordan Blackwood, Lavontae Brown, Shawndora Jones, Diego Bravo and Alexis Hayes.

We have over 900 members in our AGG Facebook group, and this year set up a single web page with links to all the major Godby social networking groups.  

On April 1 at the Godby Media Center, we held our sixth annual AGG Hall of Fame induction banquet, and biggest alumni event of the year. Our honorees were Mr. Paul Blackburn (1970), Mr. Allen Nobles (1971), Mr. David Jones (1972), Ms. Janet (Bruce) Hinkle (1974), Mr. Mark Kaplan (1985) and PFC Anthony Warren Simmons (2003), Posthumous.

The Springtime Tallahassee Parade was the day after the Hall of Fame banquet, and as we have been welcome to do, alumni and families walked in the parade immediately behind Godby's band. My grandsons Dylan and Gabriel walked with me, and I saw David Jones at the parade.

Absent from the parade this year was Godby's "number one cheerleader" and beloved Principal Jean Ferguson, who stepped down because of her health, but remains active with Godby. Gillian Gregory is Godby's new principal, and Roger and I met her at the Homecoming game. Roger and I were on hand to congratulate Alexis, Godby's 2011 Homecoming Queen.

By the end of the year, I am required to send Principal Gregory a letter of evaluation for AGG Director Manny Joanos, who is responsible for the creation of the AGG, and handles planning and food preparation for the Hall of Fame banquet. I am anticipating a significantly positive review, and this will be the second time that I have had the pleasure of performing this task as President of the AGG.

The AGG grieves with the families of Jimmy Everett (1972), John Dennis Cogdill (1981), and with the families of all those we have lost this year and previously. We said goodbye to Mrs. Darlene Sale in April. A special Godby Cougar Angels Alumni group was set up this year by Michele Alonso (1978) to honor and remember all our deceased alumni.

Early this year, we elected Roger Day (1980) to be the AGG's vice-president in 2012 and made the announcement at the spring Hall of Fame induction banquet. In 2013, he will procedurally become President of the AGG. Godby's yearbook photographer, "Lovebird", and perennial Cougar fan has never stopped taking photos of Godby students, alumni and their families, and I have seen him at every major alumni event for the past few years. I am confident Roger's enthusiasm will serve us well.

Godby is still a fairly young school and we will graduate just our forty-third class in 2012. Most of us are still around. We have three or four well-publicized reunions a year and a few more informal ones thanks to other gatherings and events like Homecoming. The class of 1991 had its twentieth reunion the weekend of July 8. The class of 1981 held its thirtieth reunion the following weekend, and will be making a contribution to the scholarship fund at the spring Hall of Fame banquet. 

A general Godby alumni cruise to the Bahamas was organized and undertaken in September and a portion of each fare was donated to the AGG's scholarship fund, thanks to Teresa Deffenbaugh Featherstone (1978) and Cruises by SEA. Another cruise departs from Jacksonville Florida on Carnival's Fascination on Saturday January 7, 2012. It was on this ship in September 2010 that I decided what I was going to do for Halloween this year.

The nomination period for the 2012 AGG Hall of Fame has been extended to December 17. Criteria and submission form are here. The selection committee will meet after the New Year holiday and a spring banquet date will be selected, which is usually announced before the end of January. Nominations that are not selected for 2012 induction will remain active on file for one more induction period.

The AGG Hall of Fame induction banquet is our largest fundraiser event of the year. All proceeds benefit the AGG Scholarship Fund. Tickets are available at the door. Godby's National Honor Society students serve dinner. We have a good crowd from all years. It's a reunion. We encourage Hall of Fame members and all alumni to come to the party and serve in any way they can. Arrive early and help set up, stick around late and help clean up. Bring money.

The AGG accepts donations of $5 or more at any time, but we especially ask for contributions around this time of year because by the spring Hall of Fame banquet, our scholarship recipients are already quite close to Graduation. Checks and money orders are to be made payable to Godby High School with AGG in the memo line. Send to: Association of Godby Graduates, c/o Godby High School, 1717 West Tharpe Street, Tallahassee, Florida 32303. 

The AGG gratefully acknowledges contributions of $250 or more in perpetuity at our website.

May you all enjoy the happiest of year-end holiday celebrations and a safe, prosperous new year.

Go Cougars!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


The modern American Thanksgiving holiday tradition originates from a Pilgrim celebration of thanksgiving after harvest in 1621 in Plymouth in what is now Massachusetts. In November 1620, the Mayflower landed two hundred miles north of where was intended, and half of the passengers survived the winter to move ashore. The remaining 53 were grateful to be alive, made friends with the natives and thrived.

In what would become known as the second audio recording to be successfully made and played back, Thomas Edison tested his phonograph invention in November 1877, by recording his own voice speaking, "Mary Had a Little Lamb". A hundred years later, I visited his lab in Menlo Park, New Jersey.

Sarah Hale had published "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on May 24, 1830, based upon an actual occurrence when schoolgirl Mary Sawyer brought a lamb to school, and it caused enough of an uproar to inspire the nursery rhyme that remains popular to this day.

Sarah Hale is credited with raising thirty thousand dollars for the completion of the Bunker Hill Monument on Breed's Hill in 1842, and for also petitioning five US presidents for the creation of a national Thanksgiving holiday. President Abraham Lincoln responded by proclamation in 1863, for the first time establishing a single date on which all states would celebrate Thanksgiving, the final Thursday in November. On December 26, 1941, Thanksgiving was moved to the fourth (not final) Thursday in November.

I grew up in a large family, so every dinner was a big production. Our family Thanksgiving dinner was significant in that we could count on roast turkey, and a visit from my Grammy and Gramps on the longest weekend of the year. They lived in Florida and only visited those several days a year while my family lived in New Jersey for more than eight years.

It is around this time every year that I try to remind my grandchildren of how fortunate we all are to be able to see each other every day. I like to think they are old enough to understand me when I say every day is Thanksgiving at my house.

May you and yours have a happy Thanksgiving weekend and safe travels throughout the holiday season!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Halloween 2011 -- Conclusion

(Continued from Halloween 2011)

Halloween 2011 began a month before Halloween 2010 on board the Carnival ship Fascination while Donna and I were sailing to the Bahamas on a Godby High School alumni cruise on the evening that the ship's captain greeted the guests. After dinner, Captain Placido Tumminello appeared at the top of the spiral stairway amid-ship and said, "Hello, Captain," to me, and then addressed the rest of the guests.

My firefighter costume was already complete, and I would win eight costume contests with it only weeks later after the cruise, but at that moment, I knew what I was going to do for Halloween next year.

For the first time, I built a Halloween costume around a hat -- the many reincarnations of Captain's hats I have been wearing ever since I discovered I was balding in a hot shower after a bright sunny afternoon of vigorous volleyball at the 1992 Tallahassee Community College Field Day.

I was making sketches by Halloween last year. I prefer to use graph paper, four rectangles to the inch, which permits me to use an inch of paper scaled to a foot and still usually keep my plan on a single sheet of paper. I utilized the same set of wheels and accompanying seat that I had for my fire truck costume last year.

I began to lay the keel in January, while also constructing the captain's wheel, anchor, life savers and life boats. I framed it using pine lumber no larger than two inches by two inches by a couple of feet. I paid special attention to the trigonometry that allowed me to construct the prow, as I needed two different acute angles for top and bottom. I employed rudimentary calculus to maximize the bow's prominence while reducing its marginal footprint. I carved portholes and built an "Aft Lounge" with roulette table. With full sheet ink jet printer decals, I christened her Pride of the Seas, "Tallahassee's Official Party Boat".

It was my most liberating costume and I danced for many hours more than I have before on Halloween. I didn't notice the time passing and took my time to enjoy every party. Many of the people I met impressed me. Some remembered me from many years earlier; one remembered my first cat Elliott, and another remembered being my neighbor more than twenty years ago. I ran into Dave the Cat's veterinarian Dr. Hall and his family. Our other cats and dogs still visit him. Others didn't know me personally, but they either remembered meeting me wearing different costumes years ago, or they recognized my style of work, saying, "Didn't you also build a 'Lighthouse', 'Pinball Machine', 'Spongebob Squarepants', etc?"   

It was a career year for me. I won prizes at ten costume contests, eight of which were first place victories. I enjoyed two Honorable Mentions, at Southwood, and from the Tallahassee Roller Girls at their website. I won a nice second place prize to "Blue Avatar" at Pockets Pool. I won at El Jalisco at North Monroe Street and hung out with Peter. I won Florida State University's Geek Night 6.0 and met some fun people playing trivia and board games that night. I won Havana's PumpkinFest costume contest. I won the 11th annual Witch's Ball, which I had never won before. I won the Crypt Keeper's Ball, hosted by the people who do the Terror on 12 Haunted House every year. I won the Tallahassee Swing Band costume contest and especially relished being one of the youngest guests. I had a double win on Halloween Day, at the 7th annual Salter Mitchell Chili Cook-off and Costume Contest, and the Midtown Candy Crawl and Monster March at Lake Ella in the evening, where I won an immense floral arrangement from Blossoms Flowers.

I love Halloween, and had the time of my life.
Receiving "Best Costume" award from April Salter at the 7th Annual Salter Mitchell Chili Cook-off and Costume Contest, October 31, 2011
Photo by Colin Hackley

At the Midtown Candy Crawl and Monster March at Lake Ella, October 31, 2011
Photo by passer-by

Grand Prize from Lake Ella, courtesy of Blossoms Flowers

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day 2011

The United States began observing Armistice Day on the first anniversary of the truce signed with Germany in 1918 that formally ended hostilities in the first World War, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. A federal act on May 13, 1938 made November 11 a legal holiday, "a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as 'Armistice Day'."

An Emporia, Kansas shoe repair shop owner and World War II American War Dads member named Stephen Riod is credited with beginning a campaign in 1953 to expand Armistice Day to honor all veterans, not just those from World War I. On May 26, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a national bill into law that was six days later amended by Congress to change Armistice Day to Veterans Day.

I have only participated in Tallahassee's Veterans Day parades with a cat. First with Elliott, and later Dave the Cat, we rode on a bicycle and led parades in the late 1980s, and then on November 11, 2001, my granddaughter Alicia and Dave and I walked with Alicia's Brownie troop in the Veterans Day parade.

Freedom isn't free.

Thank you, to our veterans and all now serving, and families, for your service and sacrifice in defense of our country.

Happy Veterans Day!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Godby High School Homecoming 2011

Tonight at 7:00 pm, the undefeated Godby Cougars face the Wakulla War Eagles for Godby's last 2011 Varsity district football game. This season, Godby has won all eight games and outscored opponents 295-68. This is the final home game for Godby's forty-third graduating class, Class of 2012, and it is Godby's Homecoming at Hurley W. Rudd Field at Gene Cox Stadium at the North Florida Fairgrounds.

Outstanding Head Coach Ronnie Cottrell welcomes all Godby alumni, and has officially authorized a section in the mid-field home bleachers that will be marked with balloons for alumni and families.

On behalf of the Association of Godby Graduates (AGG), thanks to Dr. Furlough for reading the AGG's announcements, and to Godby Band Director Monica Crew Leimer, Class of 1997, for inviting alumni band members to participate in Halftime festivities on the field. This year, we welcome new Godby Principal Gillian Gregory. 

We are expecting our largest group of Godby alumni yet to a Homecoming game. At halftime, we will take a group photograph, and Roger and I will take alumni band photographs on the field.

Bring your families and join us.

Go Cougars!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Steve Simmons

I spent a few days in Orlando at the end of 2009, and asked my friends if they ever heard about or from a mutual friend, Steve, who had moved to Lakeland Florida a long time ago. No one had heard anything about him in many years, and they were the only people I still knew who remembered him. I had been looking for Steve recently because I had already found so many other old friends.

Steve and I worked together making pizzas for a couple of years in the early 1980s. I met him while working at Mr. G's Pizza. We each usually worked six nights a week, closing together, and then we went out afterward. Charlie and all my other close Tallahassee friends had moved on or away by then and Steve and I became fast friends during that time. Each evening was an adventure, as we met so many new people in our line of work, and we always knew where the parties were. We would often return home at daybreak and then go back to work at 11 am to open at 4 pm that afternoon and do it all again. Steve was the hardest working person I knew. 

I can still clearly remember Steve's deep voice telling me how amazing it was that we had done something so wild, whatever it had been that evening -- or morning -- and about how such good friends we were.

We once held a UFO Watch Party outside my apartment one evening, to which Steve gave Matt a ride after work. We stayed up all night but didn't see any UFOs.

Steve would often tell me about other jobs he had had. He had worked at many restaurants, and at least once delivered beer from a truck to businesses and residences, to however inconvenient their locations were, but said that he had had the most fun working together with me, and that meant quite a lot to me.

Steve was a very good friend. We both eventually moved onward and away.

In early January 2010, I received and acknowledged a Facebook friend request from my father's former neighbor, Susan. Hours later, Susan posted an obituary notice for her old friend, Stephen, with whom she had attended Florida High School. He had passed away a few days earlier, and I confirmed with Susan that it was indeed my old friend, Steve.

I attended Steve's memorial service a few days later and met most of his family and friends for the first time. They are the kindest people and treated me like an old friend of the family, just as Steve would have done. I met his sons that day, Anthony and Nicholas, both serving in the US Army, and thanked them for their service. The family arranged for a tree to be planted for Steve in downtown Tallahassee and I was there for the dedication.

Six months later on July 8, 2010, Steve's son Private First Class Anthony Warren Simmons was killed in action in Afghanistan, and I saw many in Steve's family again at what was a community-wide effort to honor his sacrifice. I attended the service with several hundred other people, and stood with the line for several blocks as the procession drove by, and then I walked to the cemetery for the graveside service. Diana and her son gave me a ride back to my car.

Anthony Simmons was a 2003 graduate of Amos P. Godby High School. Four months later, I nominated him for Godby's highest alumni recognition for lifetime service and achievement, induction into the Association of Godby Graduates (AGG) Hall of Fame. The AGG is Godby's official alumni organization, and we raise money for scholarships for graduating Godby Seniors.

PFC Anthony Simmons was posthumously inducted into the AGG Hall of Fame at a record-attendance banquet at the Godby High School Media Center on April 1, 2011. It was my privilege to introduce Anthony's mother, Renee, to accept the award on Anthony's behalf.

I am honored to consider myself a friend of Steve Simmons' family.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Peter and I have been friends for more than twenty-five years, through hardship and comfort. We have made sandwiches and delivered newspapers and pizzas together. We have been roommates and Halloween buddies, and have competed together in some of my earliest costume contests. He gave me a ride in the limousine trip he won as the Headless Horseman.
Peter and I threw a Halloween party at my house that year and left to go out on the town, leaving our roommate with a house full of our rowdy friends that she didn't know. Later that year, she had sense enough to ask us to watch over her car while she traveled to visit family over the Christmas holiday, so Peter and I drove it to a New Year's Eve party in Jacksonville, Florida, and had a great time.

Peter knew my first bicycle-riding cat Elliott, and he gave me Dave the Cat, who changed my life.

We have been on many road trips together throughout Florida and the eastern United States. Peter and I drove to Memphis, Tennessee to hold hands at Hands Across America in 1986.

We have shared many friends, some of whom are no longer with us.

We were big Major League Baseball fans in the 1980s. I especially remember the Halloween we partied together and watched the 1987 World Series between his St. Louis Cardinals and the Minnesota Twins, the first Series in which the visiting team never won. Unfortunately for Peter's Cards, they played away in four of the seven games. 

We played softball together for most of the 1990s on my office team in the Summer State Employee Softball League and had a real good time. This summer I played in my nineteenth season. As the summer is also our rainy season, Peter used to keep a giant squeegie in his car and would often scrape away puddles on the field after a recent rain to expedite game play.

Peter helped me party for Halloween last year and the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper featured us both in an article last October from my costumes' appearance at the Railroad Square Art Park.
My brother Jonathan was in town visiting from Denver for a few days this week. Jonathan and Peter and I used to play softball together, so we all met up Friday night at Beef O'Brady's on Thomasville Road to watch the National League Championship Series Game 5, and see Peter's Cardinals defeat the Milwaukee Brewers 7-1. 

It was quite the party that evening, as many Godby High School alumni were also gathering at the time and we visited with several until the end of the game and almost closing time. It was good to see Stanley and Cindy and many others, and Robbie and Lee and Vicki sat with us for a while.  

It was the first time since the 1980s that Peter and I watched a post-season professional baseball game, and it had been at least fifteen years since Jonathan and Peter and I had all been together.
Peter and I were each quite different people in the 1980s, so it is remarkable that our friendship has withstood the test of these many years.

Thanks, Peter!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Time at the Top

I met my favorite children's book author in September 1999.

Edward Ormondroyd was born in 1925, and served two years on a destroyer escort at the Battles of Okinawa and Iwo Jima during World War II. He then attended the University of California at Berkeley and earned a Bachelor's degree in English and a Master's degree in Library Science. From 1957 to 1985, he published twelve children's books, the third of which was my favorite as a child, "Time at the Top."

The story is about a young girl, Susan Shaw, and her father in the 1960s, who live in the same apartment building as the Author. Susan assists an old woman having difficulty with her groceries and is awarded three trips "to the top," which she discovers to be three rides in the building's elevator to the top floor -- and beyond -- into a widow's and her children's financially imperiled home in 1881. Susan makes friends with the children and they successfully conspire to save the home and chase away the villain. Susan and her father disappear for good, presumably into 1881. The Author and Reader are led to believe that all ends well with the fortuitous discovery of Susan's diary and a very old family photo, including Susan and her father, and the widow and her children, and a new-born infant, Susan's new sibling.

When I read the book, I was about as old as Susan was. Even then, I read a great deal of science fiction novels and especially enjoyed time travel stories. A few years later I was browsing the books at the front of the children's section and discovered a sequel to "Time at the Top," called "All in Good Time," where all did not end as neatly as had been assumed, and in this book, the Author has a significant role in bringing about a satisfactory conclusion that goes a bit beyond the original story's ending.

Edward's literary career enjoyed a resurgence in 1999 when "Time at the Top" was made into a movie. In 2000, his very first book, "David and the Phoenix" was republished for the first time again in many years, and then in 2002 as an unabridged recorded audio book featuring Edward as narrator. "Time at the Top" was republished in 2003. I have recommended Edward Ormondroyd's books to my friends who have children.

In 1999, I traveled with my sister Jennifer on a fantastic road trip throughout Northeast America, and on our way westward from Pennsylvania to Niagara Falls, we had the opportunity to drop by the Ormondroyds' house. I had looked them up and contacted them well in advance of leaving Tallahassee, and we were expected.

Edward was playing the piano when we arrived. His wife Joan greeted us warmly when she opened the door, and proudly showed us through the home that Edward had designed and partially built. Many of the walls were and probably still are lined with full dark wood bookshelves. It is a spacious home with a duck pond in front, and although Edward and Joan are the only residents, they have many neighbor friends and their grown children and families visit with them often. 

Jennifer and I visited with Edward and Joan for a couple of hours before departing on our way. Joan surreptitiously returned two books to me that I had sent ahead for inscription by Edward, and Jennifer was surprised and very appreciative of the books a year later at her wedding. 

Edward and I exchange Christmas cards every year.
Edward Ormondroyd and Mitch, September 1999 -- photo by Jennifer

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Road Trip -- Florida 1982

By Spring 1982, I had worked at Mr. G's Pizza for more than two years, and the best times there were behind me. We would sometimes have to close early because we had run out of pepperoni, and most horrifically for a pizza restaurant, cheese. Mr. G's had a loyal clientele and staff until its financial woes. 

Mike and I had worked together for more than a year and he gave notice because our paychecks had occasionally begun to bounce. Since we were paid early in the week, I would wait until Friday night and endorse mine and cash it with the till, but this was unacceptable to Mike, and I couldn't talk him into staying. As Mike's last day approached, I decided that that evening would be my last as well. Matt had been working there about six months and made the same decision, and we all left together at 9 pm. Mr. G's Pizza remained open another month before permanently closing.

Shortly afterward, Mike, Arlene, Matt, Dawn and I took an unforgettable three-day, 800-mile trip around much of Florida. Mike drove Arlene's mom's car and our only expenses were gas, a few meals and a Disney ticket. We each spent less than a hundred dollars and had the time of our lives.

We stayed at my Grammy's house in central Florida, and we drove there first. It was my first visit since my Gramps had passed away the year before, and the first time I brought friends. Grammy was always happy to see me and welcomed whomever I brought by for another twenty years. I did my best to visit as often as I could, at least once a year. I saw Grammy more often as an adult because my family lived so far away from my grandparents when I was younger.

We arrived early in the afternoon and ate lunch and took a boat ride in the lake in Grammy's back yard, and we all posed with Grammy for a photo on her dock.

Grammy gave up her bedroom for two nights to the girls and the guys slept in the living room. The next day, we drove to Orlando and spent the day in Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

 The "G" Musketeers at lunch....

 We rode the Disney train.

We had a drink at the top of the Contemporary Hotel.

We had our photo taken with Mickey Mouse.

Matt took this photo of us on the boat at sunset coming back from the Magic Kingdom.
We drove back to Grammy's house and arrived very late, but she was up and waiting for us and offered us a late dinner. 

Grammy's story is told in My Grandmother's Pennies.

The next morning, we said our goodbyes and we headed home to Tallahassee -- the long way. 

We traveled to Daytona and drove on the beach and swam in the ocean.

We drove to St. Augustine and took a horse-drawn carriage tour of the city.

We left St. Augustine in the early evening and stopped for dinner on the way home.

I have been on many road trips, but this was my first big one, and it remains one of my very favorites. 

Lifetime memories.... Good times, great friends -- thanks, all!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Halloween 2011

Denton True "Cy" Young (1867 - 1955), for whom the best pitchers in Major League Baseball have been honored each year since his death, lost more games than did any other Major League pitcher in history.

Cy Young also won ninety-four more games than any other Major League pitcher ever did. No one else won 511 games or lost 316 games. He pitched every other day, and his 22-year career spanned the divide between baseball's early days and the "modern era" of baseball. Cy Young set the standard for Major League Baseball pitching for more than the last hundred years.

I have lost seventeen costume contests in over 25 years, which is not an insignificant number until considering that I have competed in more than a hundred. I know a guy with whom I unintentionally compete every several years who always wears the same costume and always wins. Rory is of slight build and stature, and dresses up as an ordinary male adult up to his neck and arms, and behind him he attaches a hooded, masked figure with arms around a captured Baby Rory. Rory's legs are the abductor's, and his head wears a baby bonnet and his arms are the baby's arms. He is just so cute, and when he arrives around 11:30 pm, I no longer have time to travel elsewhere, and the crowd goes wild for him. It has been an exercise in character to congratulate Rory each time.

Women who are allowed to bare their breasts on Halloween always win the costume contests. Sloppy Joe's downtown while open in 2001 encouraged it when I was there, and I prefer to avoid the costume contests that support nudity.

There are a couple of annual charity benefit events sponsored by local organizations that, while they invite the public, the organizations' members win the costume contests.

Conversely, I have attended local costume parties that I discovered on the Internet, where I knew absolutely no one, and I have unexpectedly won memorable prizes and enjoyed myself immensely.

It is late September, and I have already won two of the three costume contests in which I have competed this year. I was a big hit at El Jalisco Mexican Restaurant at North Monroe Street, and at Florida State University's Geek Night 6.0. I didn't buy a ticket to the Leon County Humane Society's Fur Ball before it sold out this year, so I will be attending another Halloween party and costume contest that evening that I know I will not win.

In the later years of my costuming career, it really is all about showing off my artwork and having a good time. Winning is fun, too.

Best wishes to all for a safe and happy Halloween!

(Continued in Halloween 2011 -- Conclusion)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Labor Day 2011 in Orlando

I was walking towards Hogwarts Castle in Universal Studios' Islands of Adventure with my family earlier this year commenting that in all my years of traveling to Orlando, I was surprised I had not run into someone I knew. I had seen Bob in the Atlanta airport last year, Maureen at a game room in Lakeland in 1983, and Martin in St. Petersburg after a Grateful Dead concert in 1988, but never anyone in Orlando.

I drove four hours to Orlando Friday before the Labor Day weekend and stopped for gas, and then ran into Matt at the South Semoran Boulevard KFC.

I visited with my old friends Joel and Dave, with whom I lived and worked in the early 1980s, and with many others in the area who I have met through them over the years, three Matts, Mary, Michelle, Dominik and Lori, Mark and Sally, Sean and Marcia, and Melissa. When I was last there around New Year's, Matt and Sally brought their captain's hats and we posed for a photo in front of the Christmas tree.

I was playing cards at Joel's house the afternoon I arrived. It was a bidding game called "Oh Hell" that my grandparents taught me with a kid-friendly name of "Up and Down the River," that I taught to Joel thirty years ago, and he taught it to others over the years, who taught it to others, and I understand we have friends around the world now playing the game. It was a nice warm afternoon, and with a couple of hands to go, I remarked that I was going out to the pool when the game was over.

The game ended and just then Dolittle the Dog began barking because the lawn maintenance people and the pool guy showed up at that time. To add to all the fun, Animal Control came out to take away a scrawny dying cat that had shown up less than a day before.

My friends in Orlando are the biggest Florida State football fans I know. Most of the FSU games I have seen have been in Orlando and we all watched FSU's season opener victory on Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe, 34-0. I had lunch at Famous Phil's, home of the best cheesesteak sandwich I've had, a large without peppers on a medium bun.

We went to Firken Kegler on Waterford Lakes Highway on Sunday, a giant game room, bowling alley and bar, with only one pinball machine, but it was a good one, a multi-level modern game with up to five balls in play at one time. I did really well on Spiderman, earning 50 million points and a free game on just one ball for twenty minutes. I love playing pinball.

All too quickly the long weekend ended, but I will look forward to going back again next year.

Thanks, guys!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Band Rolling

I was not in the Godby High School band, but this is my band-related story in honor of Godby's late long-term band director for whom Godby's auditorium is named, Jeff Bradford. I last saw Jeff  Bradford at the Association of Godby Graduates' sixth annual Hall of Fame banquet on March 19, 2010, and he passed away a few hours after my father did, one year ago on September 19, 2010.

In Spring 1981, Mike and I acquired a case of 48 industrial strength rolls of toilet paper. Mike and I worked at Mr. G's Pizza and almost always closed together on Friday and Saturday evenings. Arlene and Mike and I were the "G Musketeers," often at Mr. G's together and after work, and we each had put a Mr. G's Pizza license plate on the front of our cars. Mike and I decided to stir up trouble with our box of toilet paper and the occasional fifty pounds of pizza dough that would be disposed of at the end of the business evening. We lived close together, less than a mile apart, and much of the Godby school district was between Mr. G's restaurant and our respective homes.

Mark is a good friend of Mike's and mine. I brought my Watermelon costume to his Halloween party in 1980. Mark's house was directly in front of a street light, which Mark regretted in advance of his Halloween party, because he preferred a darker, spookier party setting. Slightly reminiscent of Christmas Vacation, a mutual friend heard about Mark's wish and drove by late one evening with a .45 caliber pistol and took a few very loud shots at the street light, hitting it at least once. 1980s street lights responded oddly to that kind of damage, and in this case the light remained on for the next few weeks, even during the day, until it burned out. Mark's Halloween party began before it was completely dark outside, so it was actually lighter at Mark's house than usual, thanks to the effort to extinguish the street light for the party.

We left pizza dough on Mark's front doorstep late one evening. The fun thing about all that pizza dough is how much it rises by morning. We couldn't stop laughing when Mark told us that he stepped in it first thing the next day and it took him forever to clean his shoes.  Mark warned us against "doughing" him anymore, and Mike and I respected that.

That wasn't our only memorable visit to Mark's house. One night after work, Mike and I parked about a block away and walked quietly to Mark's house, where Mike and I proceeded to toilet paper his front yard. I began with the strip to the side of the driveway closest to the other yard and quickly ran out of yard to roll. Mike was in the front yard in front of Mark's front door. As I started walking around the side of the house to do the back yard as well, I heard the front door open and Mark yell out, "Hey! Stop!"

Mark ran into the front yard after Mike. Mike ran to his car. I rushed into Mark's back yard and rolled bushes and his picnic table, and then yelled Mark's name. As I heard Mark run into the back yard from one side of the house, I ran around the other side towards the front of his house, intending to flee down the road to my car and leave, but then I noticed that Mark had left his front door open, and realized that he was still looking for me in his back yard.

I ran into Mark's open front door and into his living room and toilet papered at least two sleeping guest family members on the floor and some furniture before quickly darting back outside and then to safety.

Mark was in the band and Mike and I became emboldened to do other band members' houses. We toilet papered more than one band member's house each evening on the next three weekends before we saw the others. On one night, we were fairly certain where one band member lived, but weren't entirely sure in which house Terrie lived, so we toilet papered four houses in a row, confident that we had done hers. Another time, we toilet papered a yard real well and then let a couple of toilet paper strands trail down the street to another band member's house, and the merriment began in earnest as others sought to get even with people they perceived to have toilet papered their own yards.

We noticed three separate carloads of vengeance seekers on our way home one night. We saw them pull up quietly to other band members' houses and toilet paper their yards, and we knew it was because of what we had done, because they didn't normally do it that frequently. It took several weeks for the other band members to discover it was us, which led me to start placing an air-filled ball on the back of the family couch by the window in the living room with the TV on before retiring for the evening to deter toilet papering classmates from visiting my house. They eventually got me on graduation night, because I came home too late to place the "head" against the window. My parents interrupted them so they didn't accomplish much. After that evening, many of us went our separate ways in life, but I still chuckle at the memories.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


The first time I ever thought about "my future" was in Irwin Elementary School when we were told to prepare an oral report of what our declared professions would be. At the time, I was oblivious as to what I was going to be and didn't really care. I told my dad about the assignment and he told me I was going to be a king.

The church we attended didn't have priests, and so substituted "kings":

Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests {kings} of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
Rev. 20:6, KJV 

I didn't volunteer, and was eventually called upon at the end of class. When I stated that I was going to grow up to be a king, I didn't have to explain my career choice because the students and teacher all laughed at me.

I didn't think of it again until King Love died many years later.

King Love was an Egyptian physician named Kamal Youssef who left his former life and family and came to America, and then Tallahassee in 1993 to become a regular often homeless eccentric fixture at our town's busiest intersections. He wore a red cape with "King Love" emblazoned upon it and a Burger King crown that he later upgraded to a "jewel"-encrusted party novelty crown. He preached his message of love with a $29.99 Radio Shack Megahorn and collected cash in an over-sized Coca Cola coin bank while handing out fliers printed at Office Depot with his sundry aphorisms. I know about his association with Office Depot because that is where I met him.

King Love died at 65 years of age twelve years ago tomorrow. Yes, that's 9/9/99. When I read about his death the following day, I was already behind schedule working on a fantastic Halloween costume that would next year become the most prolific contest-winning costume I've ever designed and worn. King Love was such a well known person and if I can be excused for using the term to describe him posthumously, a "fresh" subject. I already owned a $29.99 Radio Shack Megahorn -- and still do. I used it with great success last Halloween.

Constructing King Love's ankh was the most labor-intensive part of my costume and a fun woodworking project in itself. I bought some iron-on inkjet printer transfer paper and printed myself a t-shirt with the American flag, recreated his cape and sign, bought a Santa beard and his same choice of crown from a mail order toy catalog, and added glasses.

Late afternoon on Friday, October 29, I took his one-man act to the corner of Tennessee and Monroe Streets downtown Tallahassee for rush hour traffic, and greeted passing motorists in King Love's memory until 6 pm. Cheers and honks were common.

I should add here that mental illness is no joke. I simply employed my artistic talents to create and wear a successful Halloween costume based upon a current local person and event, which in this case was King Love's life and passing. 

I went to several Halloween parties. It was like being "Norm" on Cheers. Everywhere I went, as soon as I entered the room, a chorus of "KING LOVE!" would resound from just about everyone around. King Love was renowned. People I met would regale me with stories of their personal experiences with him. Men taught me to be a better King Love, correcting my rendition of his signature "WHOOP!" to passing cars. Women who recognized King Love each had their own special story of how King Love had asked them at one time or another to marry him.

It was the right Halloween costume at the right time.

I won four costume contests and I grew up to be a king, just as my dad predicted.

King Love, and my photo and story with Dave the Cat, are published on pages 145 and 146, respectively, in "Tallahassee: A Capital City History."