Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I was paid to build my second Halloween costume.

The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, better known as the A&P, was founded as The Great American Tea Company in 1859 by George Huntington Hartford and George Gilman in New York City, and renamed ten years later to its existing name, now headquartered in Montvale, New Jersey. Based upon estimated sales of $9.1 billion in 2009, A&P is the 34th largest retailer in the United States. Tallahassee's A&P at 1105 East Lafayette Street closed in the early 1980s, and then in 1984 became the Musical Moon nightclub.

In 1984, John and I worked at a business forms print shop off of Lake Bradford Road that included a paper warehouse and various business machines and equipment. I occasionally drove a forklift. Preparing plates and setting up a 22-inch offset printing press were laborious tasks, after which changing rolls of paper during a print run was usually all that was necessary until completion. I had as much downtime as I did hard work and got easily bored. I looked around through the shop and found some interesting materials... a lot of broken-down cardboard, some scraps of wood, a dilapidated buggy for hauling business forms, a carton of rolls of black duct tape, and a foot-operated stapler that dispensed the large brass staples we see on shipping boxes.

I always liked when Captain Kangaroo would bring out a shoe box filled with seemingly irrelevant materials and construct something fascinating with them.

Working bottom up, I used a hammer and smashed the sides off of the buggy so all that was left was the wheeled chassis. Then I nailed four pieces of two-by-four studs together to fit on the wheels, and on opposite sides of the rectangle, I attached two more two-by-fours vertically as handles. Using only discarded cardboard and the heavy duty stapler, I constructed four rectangular sides taller than me with vertical slits in the middle, and a top, and nailed them to my wheel assembly. I took a telephone from the trash and used the receiver and push-button pad and some cardboard to finish my telephone booth. No paint was available, so I covered the entire costume, inside and out, with black duct tape, which also served to keep everything together.

Until twenty-one years ago, I moved frequently, and I have lived in more than 20 different locations in Tallahassee. At the time I was working at the printing company, I moved into a three-bedroom house with roommates Keith and Paul on Hillsborough Street, several blocks from work. Keith owned the house and was a reclusive artist, living on a trust fund and rental income, and his sculptures and paintings were scattered everywhere throughout the house. Paul was an affable guy and wasn't home much. I put my telephone booth in the area between the kitchen and dining room and kept my watermelon costume in my bedroom.

One day I came home and could not find my telephone booth. Keith returned home several hours later and I somewhat frantically asked him where my telephone booth was. Keith nonchalantly responded, "Oh, I moved it out into the shed in the back yard. It was an eyesore." I was deeply offended and immediately moved out. I never saw Keith again, and only saw Paul once more, 25 years later.

The Musical Moon had its first costume contest on Halloween 1984, and I immensely enjoyed my first competition. As the Telephone Booth, I won first place, $200. 

On October 31, 2009, I was dressed as "Biker Knight" at the Paradise Bar and Grill (since closed) at 1406 North Meridian Road, and Paul saw and recognized me, as I certainly would have been unable to guess who he was.

Paul and I hung out together that evening, rehashing old times, trying to figure out if we still knew anyone from all that time ago, and I told Paul all my favorite cat, parade and Halloween stories. We became Facebook friends the next day and I occasionally checked in to say hello.

Paul left us last Friday, March 25, 2011, while my family and I were vacationing in Orlando with Matt and his family.

RIP, old buddy.

This story surprisingly continues almost a year later in Message in a Bottle. -- Mitch

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Association of Godby Graduates: History and Update

I graduated from Amos P. Godby High School in Tallahassee in 1981, and still live in the Godby district. Charlie and I delivered Mr. Amos P. Godby's Tallahassee Democrat newspaper for more than a year in the early 1980s. I attended both my ten-year high school class reunion events, at Silver Slipper and the Tallahassee Leon County Civic Center, but never thought I would have anything more to do with Godby High School after graduation. When I was a student at Godby, I knew I was planning to attend college so I didn't purchase a class ring, even though my grandparents offered to buy me one. I didn't like to wear jewelry and still won't wear a watch.

One weekday in 2003, I chanced upon a small local events article in the Tallahassee Democrat announcing that Godby High School was forming an alumni organization, and the meeting was that afternoon at 5:30 pm. I pass Godby on my way home after work every day about that time and had absolutely no excuse for not attending, so I went. By 7 pm that evening, I was president of the newly-formed Association of Godby Graduates (AGG), in charge of developing a mission statement and by-laws, and beginning the alumni scholarship fund for Godby seniors, the raison d'ĂȘtre of the AGG.

The Association of Godby Graduates is an academic booster club that fosters, recognizes and rewards outstanding service and academic excellence of Godby seniors and graduates. Creation of the AGG and two years later the AGG Hall of Fame was the brainchild of AGG Director Manny Joanos, class of 1974, Leon County Schools' Director of Energy, with advice and assistance from Dr. Patti Skates, class of 1972, Vice-Mayor of Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee.

Florida Senator Bill Montford, District 6, was Godby's principal at the time of my class commencement in 1981. After serving as Lincoln High School's principal, Bill Montford was elected Leon County Commissioner and then Superintendent of Leon County Schools. On January 12, 2004, Superintendent Montford signed a proclamation heralding the formation of the Association of Godby Graduates. "Bill," as I prefer to call him, has a coffee mug in his office with his and my photo on it.

The next year, I inherited and rewrote much of the Association of Godby Graduates website from a retiring Godby teacher. Several former Godby teachers are on my Facebook friends list.

In December 2004, the Association of Godby Graduates partnered with the Godby 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.

When Darius and the Godby Gospel Choir ran a soup kitchen in Tallahassee last winter, the Association of Godby graduates arrived with food and we took the opportunity to tell the choir about the AGG and our ideals and told them to stay in touch with us after graduation.

Each Spring, we host a dinner to honor Godby's Top 20 graduating seniors and their families, and we acknowledge their accomplishment and encourage them to continue to excel and to adopt our mission of  lifetime service and achievement.

We give away about $2,000 in scholarships to deserving Godby seniors each year and we have awarded over $15,000 in scholarships since 2004. Five years ago, we began the Association of Godby Graduates Hall of Fame to recognize and honor outstanding Godby graduates among several fields of service, and we have hosted the annual AGG Hall of Fame Induction Banquet in Godby's Media Center each spring since 2006. Manny oversees most of the planning and organization including culinary responsibilities, and Godby's National Honor Society serves dinner. 

The Association of Godby Graduates will accept donations of $5 or more at any time, and gratefully acknowledges donations of $250 or more at the AGG website. The AGG Hall of Fame Banquet is our biggest fundraiser of the year and we all look forward to it. It's open to the community, our honorees and their families and friends, students and graduates alike. It's a reunion.

Godby High School is still a young school and graduated its first senior class in 1970. In 2009, I began watching for news of Godby's very first 40th reunion and asked a few people from that era what was going on for the reunion and no one had heard of anything, although unknown to me at the time a few people had been talking about it. In early 2010, I created a Godby Class of 1970 Reunion Facebook group and began inviting people from that class to join it. 

Within a month, I was the youngest member of the class of 1970 40th reunion committee and began attending planning meetings pretty regularly. I met with Sharon and Marsha and some really nice people from Godby's first senior class and they welcomed me. At one of the meetings at the Red Elephant restaurant early last year, I personally met Adele Graham for the first time and proudly showed her the photo of  her husband, US Senator Bob Graham and Dave the Cat and me that I had been carrying around in my wallet for 20 years. 

Life got a little more interesting when class of 1980 started planning their reunion. Although I graduated in 1981, I knew most of the people from class of 1980 and began attending planning meetings with them as well.

It was a busy summer of 2010, with softball and two high school reunions. Both reunions were spectacular for different reasons. Class of 1980 held a surprise wedding at the reunion, between Laura from 1980 and Dennis from 1981. I was one of the few attendees from my class. Class of 1970's reunion was very inclusive, as they insisted on inviting all graduates from Godby's first four classes and any other alumni who wanted to come. There were two or three attendees younger than me at the reunion at Killearn Country Club on the evening of August 14, which was filled to capacity with over 240 graduates, several teachers and a former principal, setting the record for largest attendance by graduates at a Godby High School reunion. It was also especially memorable because we overwhelmed the KCC cooling system. Manny and I both attended.

Godby graduates often ask me what they can do to help support the Association of Godby Graduates. We accept payments in US dollars of $5 or more, payable to Godby High School with "AGG" in the memo line, which is quite convenient for distant graduates. We encourage service and participation by local graduates. Come to our AGG Hall of Fame banquet early and help us set up, or remain afterward and help clean up. Come to the Homecoming game. Join a reunion committee. Tell your class about the AGG and our mission. Manny or I will attend and talk about the AGG if you are willing and we are able. Join our Association of Godby Graduates Facebook group and check it often for local events and reunions, or join our alumni listserv to receive our electronic mailings. Tell us your ideas as to what we can do to improve the AGG.

Godby's class of 1978 has been very active lately. Michele began the Godby Cougar Angels Alumni Facebook group to memorialize Godby graduates who have passed on. Teresa is a travel agent and organized an alumni cruise to the Bahamas last September, and a portion of each of our fares went directly to the AGG scholarship fund. About thirty of us from the 1970's, 80's and 90's attended, and I played with the ship's band in Freeport. Cindy and Stanley host a couple of alumni parties every year and all graduates and their families are invited. A few weeks ago, thanks to valuable ideas and input from Robbie, we positioned our AGG website to become "Reunion Central," with all major Godby-related social networking links hosted on a single web page

Thanks to special permission from Godby Cougars Football Coach Ronnie Cottrell, we now have a reserved alumni section at the Fall Homecoming Game, and alumni band members are welcome to participate with the band during the game and at Halftime festivities on the field. Roger takes photos. 

On Friday, April 1, the 6th annual AGG Hall of Fame Induction Banquet will begin promptly at 6:00 pm in the Godby Media Center at 1717 West Tharpe Street in Tallahassee. Admission is $25 and all proceeds benefit the AGG scholarship fund.

Go Cougars!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

It is also National Submarine Day.

The Chicago River is dyed green today, as has been done for past St. Patrick's Days.

A much better hue than the murky effluence Matt and his family and I saw in Chicago on May 15, 2010, through a stained glass window at the top of the Willis Tower, also known as "the old Sears Tower."

Have some fun, be the Life of the Party this evening:
1. Find a popular bar that does NOT serve green beer (call ahead to be sure)
2. Dress flamboyantly in green
3. Bring a 0.25 fl. oz. bottle of McCormick green food coloring to the bar
4. Dispense 1 drop per glass (serves at least 150)
5. Drink responsibly

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Nickel Sundaes in Tallahassee

In the early 1980s, I never paid more than 5 cents for an ice cream sundae.

Steve's Ice Cream was on Highway 90, West Tennessee Street, across from two well-known college bars of the day, Poor Paul's Pourhouse and Bullwinkle's Saloon. Both are still open, even on Thanksgiving and Christmas. I won Bullwinkle's Halloween costume contest late Sunday night, October 31, 2010.

In the Fall of 1980, that particular stretch of highway was the scene of the once infamous Florida State University football "street stomps" that occurred two Saturday nights, on October 4th and 11th, immediately following unlikely consecutive away game victories against top ranked opponents Nebraska (7) and Pittsburgh (2). Jubilant fans spontaneously spilled out of the bars and onto the street and blocked traffic for hours. I was working at Mr. G's Pizza East on both nights to witness these events. The view through the front glass window of Mr. G's was completely obscured by the uproarious celebrants, reminding me of the denizens of the overpopulated planet of Gideon on Star Trek episode 71, 1969. All pizza deliveries were delayed, just in leaving Mr. G's.

In what would become an anticlimactic and spendthrift application of local justice, law enforcement vowed to prevent future such spectacles by arresting all jaywalkers. They would be ready next Saturday night, October 18. I was working again that night, listening to the game on the radio, and with a few minutes left in the game that we won by 34 points against unranked Boston College, I watched hundreds of stern-faced deputies line both sides of Tennessee Street to prevent lawlessness in Tallahassee.  

Not realizing that for away games, the fans go to bars to watch games on television, and for home games, they actually attend the games, police and deputies heavily deployed a little more than a mile north and east of where the real action was, a home game at Florida State University's Doak Campbell Stadium. We all had a laugh and enjoyed the first quiet Saturday night on West Tennessee Street in three weeks. Pizza deliveries were on time.

On to nickel sundaes.

Starbucks was still years away. Tallahassee was into ice cream, and Steve's Ice Cream did a lot of business. Steve's Ice Cream was no drive-through Photomat ice cream stand. Steve's was a pioneer of "mix-in" ice cream, the business model for Cold Stone Creamery of today. It had table service on some evenings, and at the back of the large dining room on a dais there was an upright piano that was visible from the street. A sign above the piano read, "Tickle your fingers." A single scoop of ice cream sold for $1.99, and successive scoops cost marginally less than the first scoop. A regular ice cream sundae cost over $3.00.

Gas was just over $1 a gallon. Candy bars had recently risen to 30 cents. Milk was 99 cents a gallon at Pantry Pride grocery stores. Ground beef was 99 cents a pound, sometimes less for quantities of three pounds or more. It cost a nickel to make a phone call. I had to travel at least 3 miles to use a public-access computer and there was no Internet.

Just outside Steve's Ice Cream on the sidewalk was what passed for a phone booth in those days, a metal stand with a typical pay phone attached to metal backing open to the weather with a conspicuous hanging chain that at one time held a telephone directory. By then the pay phone as a coin-operated communications device had been around almost a hundred years, having first been invented and installed by William Gray in a bank in Hartford, Connecticut in 1889.

Just inside Steve's and visible from the sidewalk was a medium sized chalkboard that read "Answer this question & win a free sundae." Listed below was the trivia question of the week, and of them all, I can only remember two: "Who invented the transistor?" and "Who was 'M' in James Bond movies?"

William Shockley and Admiral Miles Messervy, respectively.

Steve's Ice Cream staff came to recognize me, as I only entered the store to win a free sundae, but I don't think they ever learned I wasn't as knowledgeable as I seemed. I would look inside their front window and read the trivia question, then put a nickel in the pay phone and call the Leon County Public Library and ask them: (850) 487-2665.

Years later in 1989, I dressed up as Tweety Bird, and Dave the Cat and I led the Children's Story Book Character parade at the dedication of the new Leroy Collins Leon County Public Library in downtown Tallahassee.


Photos courtesy of photographer Mary Jane Martinez, married to Florida Governor Bob Martinez

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Halloween 2010

It was my busiest Halloween. I partied from October 1 until November 1.

Like many of my Halloween costumes, the seeds of design were planted during an earlier Halloween, when I attended OrangeFest on October 31, 2009, at a church on Southwest Capital Circle that has since moved. Wearing a paper mache suit of armor on a homemade motorcycle as "Biker Knight" (FL license plate BKR NGHT), I bested a well-known churchgoer who was pregnant and wearing a kitchen range she had made from cardboard called "Bun in the Oven." Biker Knight was my first weight-bearing costume and harbinger of my third-generation of Halloween costumes.

When I complete a Halloween costume, I take it out as often as possible and to as many costume contest venues as I can find within a reasonable radius of Tallahassee. That means I'm usually at each party in costume for at least three or four hours with lots of time to think about my recent work, modifications I might want to make before the next party, and what I might want to be for Halloween next year.

I never divulge what I'm working on in advance unless an observant friend or family member espies my project in progress and guesses it. My rationale is two-fold: I enjoy the anticipation of completion of a year-long woodworking project, so I figure others should, too; also, I have more than once switched costume projects entirely with little notice before Halloween. One night at Studebakers on Apalachee Parkway in 1987, my costume could not fit in the narrow confines of the establishment and I used the headless mask I kept in my 1975 Ford LTD and borrowed a carved pumpkin jack-o-lantern and candle from Studebakers and won their scariest costume contest as the Headless Horseman. I won a $100 bar tab that I almost let lapse before I spent it on the last night they were open. I still have some of the test tubes in which shooters were sold for a dollar. I gave away a lot of drinks that night.

Back to OrangeFest 2009. Only one entrance of the U-shaped driveway to the church was being used. The other was blocked by a Tallahassee Fire Department truck. I began making sketches shortly before Christmas and began construction in January. I would need all that time to finish before Halloween.

It was on the softball field in July that made 2010's Halloween particularly memorable. Just about anything is fair game for discussion between pitches on the hot Georgia clay in Tallahassee in summertime, and I like to talk about Halloween. I'd been saying for a couple of years that I wanted to do something different for Halloween, mentioned I'd love to show off all my costumes at once, perhaps at an art show, as I'd never done that anywhere. Sean playing third base told me that he knew the owner of the Tallahassee Rock Climbing Gym at the Railroad Square Art Park, who would probably let me bring my costumes over to do just that.

Fortunately, Rich, the owner of the Tallahassee Rock Gym had just acquired the vacant Belly Dancing Gym next door and was happy to let me bring my costumes over and store them there throughout October. On the day of the Art Park's First Friday celebration on October 1, I brought out my costumes for public display all evening, and people came by with their children and took pictures. The Tallahassee Democrat newspaper came by and published my story two days later. It was such a success, my costumes and I were invited to lead the Art Park's Fall Fever Festival parade three weeks later.

I hadn't led a parade in 20 years and had the time of my life enlisting volunteers and leading the procession with my seven most successful Halloween costumes. Thanks especially to Randi and Allyson from Godby High School's Drama Club, and to Zan for videography.

I won eight costume contests in the Tallahassee area as the Gadsden County and Tallahassee Fire Departments, including five contests in the last 48 hours of Halloween. Leading the costume parade has become one of the highlights of my costuming career.