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!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Max Baer, Jr. played my favorite character "Jethro Bodine" on The Beverly Hillbillies television show for all 274 episodes. Jethro was known for being willing to undertake just about any career known at the time, and for his "bottomless pit" stomach. Jethro was always hungry.

In Spring 2006, a neutered adult orange-and-white tabby cat began coming by our house asking for food. He would rub against my palm and meow like our cats do when they think they are past due for dinner, and I readily brought him a share of theirs that evening, and most nights thereafter for a couple of months. He seemed to be in good shape, but was invariably hungry, so I called him Jethro.

Dave the Cat had been gone for two years. We had very recently acquired two dogs and fenced the yard, and had four other cats at the time, including an orange-and-white tabby named Jasper, but I was willing to accept Jethro as our outdoor cat, and he was very friendly to us.

It was when I took Jethro to the vet for vaccinations that I learned he belonged to someone else.

Since so many pets are now routinely implanted with identification chips, veterinarians commonly scan new patients, and in Jethro's case, determined that he had a registered human. Due to professional concern for private pet ownership, the vet could not treat Jethro, or tell me who belonged to him.

I sought help from the Leon County Humane Society and was then able to contact Jethro's person Michelle, who brought her two daughters by to pick up "Jinx". I had gotten the first letter of Jethro's name correct. 

Michelle thanked me and said that Jinx had been missing for several months, and I told her that the last two had been spent with me, and that I had fed him well and given him treatments for fleas. Michelle insisted on paying me ten dollars for Jinx's incurred expenses. I said goodbye and they all drove away.

Jethro returned the next day.

I called the Humane Society and asked how transfer of ownership was done for a pet, and they advised me as to what wording to use for a signed statement by the former owner. I crafted such a statement with a blank for signature and sent it with a note to Michelle offering to continue to care for Jinx because he had returned so quickly. I enclosed a self-addressed, stamped envelope and a check for ten dollars.

Michelle's assent arrived a couple days later with my uncashed check and I became Jethro's person.

Jethro was one of the most loving cats I have known, good-natured to all, and he passed on six years later on May 16th, three months ago. I often mistakenly call Jasper "Jethro" and even the neighbors' orange-and-white tabby reminds me of Jethro. 

Famous or not, they never quite really leave us. So long, Jethro.

Jethro at his favorite spot on the bird feeder

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Election 2012: The Half Percent Solution

"Sherlock Holmes is playing the bad guy!" is what I recall saying as a child when I first watched "The Adventures of Robin Hood" on black and white television. 

I was an adult by the time I saw Robin Hood in color and learned that Basil Rathbone, despite losing two epic sword fights in the 1930s to Errol Flynn in "Captain Blood" and "Robin Hood", was the more experienced and better trained swordsman. I read all of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories and watched many of Rathbone's cinematic portrayals of the famed detective, before eventually reading Holmes' 1976 return in "The Seven Percent Solution".

In 2002, Leon County Florida voters approved an additional half-percent sales tax for ten years, affectionately known as the "Half-Penny Sales Tax", to benefit Leon County Schools. In Leon County, Florida, the sales tax on all taxable goods is 7.5%, and the marginal .5% sales tax expires December 31, 2012.

Loss of tax revenue due to declining property values and the recent economic downturn have alarmed school officials, who decided not to pursue a quarter-millage increase in property taxes that would only affect homeowners, and are instead in favor of a continuation of the 7.5% sales tax, that would be paid by all residents, visitors and guests doing business in Leon County.

On November 6, Leon County voters are being given the option whether to renew the half-percent sales tax increase for another fifteen years. Leon County Schools employees are forbidden to directly ask for a vote to extend the additional sales tax. I have been a Leon County Schools volunteer for more than ten years, and will also not advocate a particular vote.

So that we may make an intelligent and informed decision at the 2012 general election, Godby High School Principal Shelly Bell has provided us with relevant sales tax facts and budgetary concerns in this presentation.

Please choose wisely!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Pro Fitness Competitor Jenny Worth Returns to Godby

Association of Godby Graduates (AGG) Hall of Fame member Jenny Worth is coming to town from Long Beach, California to put on a fitness show at Godby High School.

On October 19 and 20, 2012, Jenny, with co-founder Jason Giardino from South Florida, are holding both national collegiate competitions, and competitions that are only open to Leon County residents. Local Leon County residents may also compete in the open division Tallahassee championships.

This event will be a qualifier for the 2013 Collegiate Nationals, and only the Top 3 from each class will qualify.

A scholarship donation will be presented to the school that the overall winners from each class attends.

Student or General admission begins at $20. Seats and registration are available here.

Jenny was once known as the youngest female professional bodybuilder, and has achieved titles including NPC Florida Fitness Champion, Ms. Florida and Ms. USA. Now, she and Jason train professional athletes and clients from all walks of life.

The AGG is an academic booster club founded by Godby graduates in 2003 to foster, recognize and reward lifetime community service and academic achievement, and to raise money for graduating Godby seniors.

The annual AGG Hall of Fame Induction Banquet is our primary fundraiser of the year, and all proceeds benefit the AGG Scholarship Fund. On March 9, 2007, Jenny attended as a guest of honor, along with Patti, Bob, Bart, Sharon, Chris, and Karen, and I met Jenny and her mom Sylvia for the first time.

Jenny is the first Godby graduate I nominated for the AGG Hall of Fame. Membership is based upon exemplifying the ideals and mission of the AGG, and Jenny continues to well represent her Alma Mater and the Association of Godby Graduates, and we are proud of her.

Photo by Mitch

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Jeffro Ridner: 1954 - 2012

I met Jeffro Ridner again at Godby High School's first fortieth reunion two years ago. His mom was a favorite teacher of mine while I attended Godby, and I told him so at that time. I have been working with his classmates since that reunion on the next 40th reunion, and was expecting to see Jeffro at his class reunion in a few weeks. 

Jeffro is well-known among Tallahassee's bands, having played with many of them over the years. I was last on stage with him at the American Legion Hall in Tallahassee on December 31, 2002.

Jeffro passed away suddenly and unexpectedly of a stroke on July 8. I attended his Celebration of Life at the American Legion Hall on Sunday afternoon, July 29. I spoke with Mick beforehand about what I wanted to say, and was welcomed to do so shortly after the memorial part of the festivities began.

On behalf of the Association of Godby Graduates and his Class of 1972, I expressed condolences to his family and friends, and told everyone that Jeffro would be missed at his 40th class reunion at the Golden Eagle Country Club on Saturday evening, August 18. Acme Rythm and Blues then announced that they would be playing right there at the American Legion Hall in his honor Friday night before the reunion, August 17. That night sounds like a fun idea for any reunion attendees who are here in town the day before.

Others spoke of common experiences, and of Jeffro's kindness to his family and to all others in his life. His girlfriend with whom he had very recently reconciled after a thousand days apart, spoke of their love and close relationship with his extended family.

Then we were treated to a procession of Jeffro's bands, and I played "Love Shack" with Pure Platinum, with Jeffro's photos, tenor sax and hat on stage, and it was just like New Year's Eve again, on an early Sunday summer evening before dark at the American Legion Hall.

Jeffro's life touched a lot of others', and we were all happy to be there to remember him together where he had so often played for and with us.
Photo by Sandy Hopkins

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Kristy Nolan Keen, Friend of the Godby Alumni Family

Kristy Nolan Keen, 29, was diagnosed with stage 4 acute leukemia on May 3, 2012, and lives in Panama City Beach, Florida. Several within the Godby alumni community have assisted Kristy in establishing the The Kristy Nolan Leukemia Foundation, "A place where we can connect to share ideas, resources, prayers & anything we can to help Kristy through this battle!"

Kristy has a four-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son, and is expecting a bone marrow transplant in coming weeks. The Foundation is hosting a 5k Walk/Run benefit fundraiser for her at Frank Brown Park in Panama City Beach on Saturday, August 25, on Clara Avenue near Emerald Lake Drive. Registration begins at 7:30 am. The Fun Run starts at 8:00 am and 5k begins at 8:15 am, all Central Times. There will be a party afterward and a silent auction featuring, among other items, package deals from four resorts. Make a day of it if you would like to join Kristy's fight.

All event details and preregistration are here. Online registration is $10 for the Fun Run and $25 for the 5k. Registration for the 5k is $30 in person on the day of the race. All proceeds go to the Kristy Nolan Leukemia Foundation.

Whether or not you can attend the festivities, please visit Kristy's Journal if you would like to read about her struggle or contribute.

Thanks to Debbie Blackwood Crayton, Class of 1984, who serves on the Foundation's board of directors, and to Cathy Rolison, Class of 1983, for bringing this to our attention.

Best wishes to Kristy Nolan Keen and her family.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Deceased Godby High School Class of 1981 Alumni

Condolences, best wishes to the families and friends of our deceased classmates.
We will not forget.

Roderick Barnes
Sheryl "Sherri" Dianne Blanton Hurst 
Brenda Blount
Johnny Brown
Michael Brown
Reginald Brown
Charlene Clay
Marvin Clay
John Dennis Cogdill
Joel Emerson Collier
Timothy T. Collins
Andy Cooper
Jerry Deffenbaugh, Jr.
Ellino Henderson
Belinda Jackson Jones
Elizabeth Jackson Rhett
Shawna Kelly
Carla Madison
David McKee
John Merritt
Kelly Moore
Belinda Morris Strauss
Robin Newbon
Risa Paredes Lesinski
Larry Patterson
Lawrence Reddick
Richard William Singletary
Melody Regina Stanley-Jackson
Allen Whittington

Friday, June 22, 2012

Dave the Cat 2012

Charlie, Peter, Allison, Kelly, Carla, and a few other people with whom I still converse remember Elliott, my first bicycle-riding cat. Many more constantly remind me of the almost seventeen years I spent with Dave the Cat.

Our story began with Tigger and Elliott in It Started With a Three-Legged Cat, and its current conclusion is recounted here. I state it that way particularly, because three times including this week since Dave's demise in 2004, I have been amazed by events in life that integrally included Dave and me.

We are Chapter 2 in "Florida's Famous Animals" by JG Annino, 2008, which was the second book to publish our story and photo. In 2002, Dave and I attended a book signing, because Julianne Hare put us on page 146 of "Tallahassee: A Capital City History", situated between two of my late personal acquaintances, "King Love" and Tim Simpkins, "Tallahassee's Super Hero".

Later in 2008, I brought my grandsons Dylan and Gabriel to the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee to see the "Pets in America" exhibit, also featuring "Dave: Tale of a Tallahassee Cat".

Two weeks ago, Lee and Vicki Norris passed the word to me that Quarter Moon Imports at Lake Ella was holding a pet photo contest for the next several days. I don't recall being more excited about the prospect of winning a contest since the days leading to October 1985, when I instinctively knew I had a good chance to win my second-ever Halloween costume contest, as the Big Choice Crane Game.

Quarter Moon had one day of in-person voting last Saturday, and I spent the day there outside, wearing my treasured Catman shirt, and showing passers-by Dave's memorable photos, and both books to win votes. It was a perfect day, almost cloudless with a breeze. 

Quarter Moon was collecting pet food donations on behalf of the Leon County Humane Society, to be provided to low-income seniors to help them keep their pets in their homes. I brought several cans of cat food.

I visited with Matt at The Barber Shop next door and gave him a copy of "Florida's Famous Animals" inscribed by me, in appreciation for the twenty years he spent cutting my hair until I didn't have enough hair left to be worth our while.

I told as many people as I could that Dave and I needed their votes. Family, old and new friends, friends in New Jersey I hadn't seen in more than thirty years, former classmates and teachers, friends in Orlando, and Facebook friends across the world I will never meet were happy to vote for Dave and me.

On June 21, I attended Wendy's after-hours wine and cheese party at Quarter Moon and met her staff, and Sonja from Leon County Humane Society, on the last day of pet food donations, when the winner was to be announced.

Dave and I won first place by a comfortable margin.

Quarter Moon gave me a nice gift certificate, and has sponsored our entry in the Leon County Humane Society's pet photo contest in July.

Dave the Cat lives on through me, and I have been comforted through four decades with his physical and ethereal presence.

THANK YOU to all who made a couple of mouse clicks to help us win. In a few weeks, you will likely hear from us again for the next photo contest.

As I sign books,

Mitch and Dave the Cat

March 2013 conclusion is here.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Leon County Humane Society Facebook Photo Contest

Please help Dave the Cat and me win the Facebook photo contest at Quarter Moon.

Click "Like" under the photo at this link.


September 2012: Conclusion added here.

Marty Sims' Class of 1981 Slideshows

Marty and his family live in Texas now, but still occasionally come back to Tallahassee.
For a few years in high school, we spent a lot of time together at Drama Club events. 

have since had the privilege and pleasure to work with Marty on our last two class reunions.

These were created by Marty Sims for Godby's Class of 1981 and friends:
The Teachers
The Memories
The Drama
The Parties
The Cheers
The Sports

Saturday, April 7, 2012

2012 AGG Hall of Fame and Springtime Tallahassee

The seventh annual Association of Godby Graduates Hall of Fame Banquet was held Friday night, March 30th, for the second consecutive year on the eve of the annual Springtime Tallahassee Parade.

The Godby Air Force JROTC Color Guard presented the US and Florida flags.

We ate a chicken dinner, cooked by Manny Joanos and served by Mrs. Tatum and Godby's National Honor Society. Many of us arrived early and helped set up.

Mrs. Mary Jean Curles Yon (1974), introduced by Janet Hinkle, Civic-Philanthropic Category, for her long-term service to the community and especially for her work with Audubon Florida and more than twenty years' direction of the Tallahassee Turkey Trot, which benefits the Shelter, Refuge House and the Boys and Girls Club of the Big Bend. 

Ms. Kathy Miller Corder (1976), introduced by Gwendolyn Lynn, Educator Category, Leon County Schools Curriculum Services, former teacher at Lawton Chiles High School, 2006 Leon County Teacher of the Year, who now teaches teachers. 
Mr. Todd Sperry (1978), introduced by Allen Nobles, Business Category, Chief Executive Officer, Oliver Renovations and Kimmel Development, 2010/11 Chairman of the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce, HGTV Dream House of 2003, leader of Sperry and Associates and Vice-President of Construction at St. Joe Company.   

Dr. Shantanu Basu (1982), introduced by me, Professional Category, Department Chair/Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Western Ontario, Godby Valedictorian, for his academic achievement at Godby and afterward as a research scientist specializing in the study of star and planet formation.

Mrs. Debbie Orth Shearer (1982), introduced by Roger Day, Medical/Health Category, PGA Tour Management, a live kidney donor responsible for saving at least five lives through Alliance for Paired Donations, with "George's Chain of Life", named in dedication to her son who was an organ donor, but was unable to do so due to the tragic circumstances of his demise at 22.

Coach Darius Jones (1996), introduced by Manny Joanos, Sports/Athletics Category, Godby Guidance Counselor and Track Coach, decathlete, for his athletic achievement, and dedication to and coaching Godby students, five of whom to State championships. 

Godby's longest serving principal, my friend Florida Senator Bill Montford, attended and spoke of Godby's beginning, and strong relationship between its faculty, students and especially parents. He told us that everyone is an expert on education, although some might not know anything about it, and asked us to please let him know of our ideas to improve education.

Leon County Schools Superintendent Jackie Pons spoke about how proud he is of our school system and Godby High School, and especially our alumni efforts.

Godby Principal Gillian Gregory talked about how she was new at Godby and she had previous Principal Jean Ferguson's big shoes to fill, and Principal Montford's shoulders to stand on, and that she is very dedicated to Godby High School.  

We commended and thanked the attendee who had traveled farthest, and it was Shantanu, from London, Ontario, in Tallahassee for the first time since 1988. His flight had been late, and he had only arrived a couple hours beforehand.

We recognized the Hall of Fame members who are no longer with us, including last year's inductee, Jimmy Everett (1972), and our two posthumous inductees, Spc4 Robert Wise (2000, inducted 2006) and PFC Anthony Simmons (2003, inducted 2011), killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively. I had met Anthony, son of my late friend Steve, and his brother Nicholas still serves.

We thanked Teresa Deffenbaugh Featherstone (1978), President of Cruises by Sea, Inc, "Godby Alumni Travel Agent", for organizing four alumni cruises which contribute directly to the AGG Scholarship Fund.

We thanked Bobbie Fountain, who has been providing supplies and decorations for all of our Hall of Fame events.

We recognized the AGG's very first scholarship recipient, James Croft, who was in attendance.

2008 Hall of Fame inductee Dr. Patti Skates (1972), served as Master of Ceremonies, and presented the AGG with a check for $500 by, as she described it, "sacrificing 2 Starbucks a week for a year." She told us that there are now forty AGG Hall of Fame members, and asked us to look for other outstanding alumni to further the AGG's mission and to honor at future Hall of Fame banquets.

At my class reunion last July, Class President Karen Mitchell announced that the reunion committee  had taken up a collection for the AGG in my name. We realized a budget surplus from the reunion, and voted to augment the collection to reach the public recognition threshold, and saved the remaining balance toward our next reunion. Tamara Gray and Debbie Rivest and I presented a check for $250 to the AGG on behalf of the Class of 1981.

We announced that Darius Jones has been elected to serve as AGG Vice-President in 2013, and he will procedurally become President in 2014.

I told everyone that alumni are always welcome to walk along behind the Godby High School band in the parade the next morning, and said to join my grandchildren and me there if they could.

We presented flowers to Principal Gillian Gregory.

I had been up late Thursday night preparing our first slideshow, including all photos from previous Hall of Fame banquets. Steve loaned me portable storage media with which to transport my multi-gigabyte files. I had had some difficulty integrating the audio files with the slide transitions, but Godby Senior Sarah Villa was able to fix the issue, and I thanked her in my closing remarks at dinner. I had included Godby's alma mater as recorded by Godby's band several years ago, and one of my favorite pieces, created especially for "The Inner Light", Star Trek Next Generation, Episode 125. Shantanu and I shared some amusement when we discussed its association with astrophysics, of which he is an expert. The slideshow played throughout dinner and was well received.

AGG Vice-President and Godby "Career" Photographer Roger Day, Class of 1980, took the photographs, assisted by Tyler Shearer and me.

Friday morning, the chance of rain on Saturday was 40%. It was a similar forecast three years ago for the 2009 Springtime Tallahassee Parade, when the Godby band canceled on the parade, which Dylan and Gabriel and I didn't discover until we arrived at the parade. It had been Gabriel's first parade. I was concerned that after many years' hiatus, I would be faced with the prospect of having to crash a parade -- with grandchildren, but Brenda Lake and the Lively Technical School float graciously invited us to join them, which we did, and we enjoyed ourselves.

This year, the same thing happened, and the Godby band announced Saturday morning that they and all other Leon County Schools bands would not be attending. I was prepared for that eventuality, as I had already secured two other float invitations, and would receive another one at the parade.

I attended a Lively Technical School Curriculum Advisory Committee luncheon meeting Friday before the Hall of Fame banquet, and Brenda told me I was welcome to join them again at the parade on Saturday. I was very grateful and told her my first commitment was to my high school alumni at Springtime Tallahassee, but that I would join them as before if I had no other way to participate with Godby.

David C. Jones, Class of 1972, 2011 AGG Hall of Fame inductee, attended the Hall of Fame banquet  the evening before and told me that he would be happy to have my family and me join his float at the parade. David is a survivor of a serious hunting accident, after which he was inspired to found the Florida Disabled Outdoors Association in 1990. Through his Sportsability and Miracle Sports programs, he has enriched the quality of life for countless people.

At 9:30 am Saturday, it was lightly raining, so I brought umbrellas which we would not need. By the time we arrived downtown, the rain had stopped and the clouds had begun moving away. We arrived early enough to walk around and see all the parade floats. We noted that Taylor County Middle School's band had made the parade.

We met Senator Bill Montford at Float 23a, who invited us to walk with him, but I told him that we had already accepted David's invitation, and that we would drop by his office on our way back after the parade. We took our time walking back to David's position, and then boarded his pontoon boat on a trailer pulled behind a white truck in the parade.

Dylan and Gabriel and I rode with David in the boat. I stood, so I could see everyone better, and quickly developed a stilted gait while waving to both sides in the parade traffic. I especially liked waving to surprised people way up high on balconies and roofs, who waved back. Whenever the crowd applauded and cheered us, I gestured to increase the volume.
We saw my brother Joey and his family, owner of Au Peche Mignon French Pastry Shop, and  Peter's and my former roommate Katherine and her family. I missed seeing Karl and his family for the first time in many years, as they recently moved to California and are three hours younger now. Karl came to see Dave the Cat and me at many parades. I had seen Charlie earlier in the year and he and his family were not expected.

After the parade and on our walk north back to my car, we stopped by Bill Montford's office on Monroe Street to talk with him. Thanks to redistricting, Bill is running for re-election this year, and as Godby alumni did two years ago for our former principal, we will be scheduling a Godby alumni campaign rally for him in the near future.

This was my 24th Springtime Tallahassee Parade, and the first one in which I had a ride, as Captain of a brand-new pontoon boat, too new even for a name. David's invitation at the AGG Hall of Fame banquet the evening before made the parade a huge success for my grandchildren and me despite the cancellation by our usual parade float. It was a pleasure to serve as Captain on the Florida Disabled Outdoors Association float on Saturday, and it was a great weekend.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Godby Alumni Cruise III

Donna and I had the opportunity to participate in Godby High School's first organized alumni cruise in September 2010, aboard the Carnival Ship Fascination to the Bahamas. We planned for it for a year, and it was our second cruise. Thanks to aggressive social networking and Teresa Deffenbaugh Featherstone, Class of 1978, President of Cruises by Sea, Inc, about thirty of us really enjoyed ourselves, and made plans to cruise together again. A portion of each cabin's fare went to the Association of Godby Graduates Scholarship Fund for Godby seniors.

Also on that memorable cruise, I played with the ship's band in Freeport, Bahamas, and Robbie and I instituted diner participation on that ship with the singing and dancing waiters in the "formal" dining room. When the waiters formed a line to begin waving their napkins as they danced in the aisles, Robbie and I joined them with ours and caroused around the room with them, too. It was on that cruise that the ship's captain greeted me personally and inspired me for what would become an extremely successful 2011 Halloween.

Sixteen months later in January 2012, many of us all again sailed into Summer to the Bahamas on the third Godby alumni cruise. Our ports of call were Nassau, and Half Moon Key, Bahama Islands. A second alumni cruise to the Bahamas had been undertaken the previous September.  

It is less than two hundred miles from Tallahassee to Jaxport in Jacksonville, Florida, and about halfway there on our drive eastward the Saturday morning of our sailing date, I received an automated call from Carnival Cruise Lines to tell us that the ship had been delayed in arrival by heavy fog, and embarkation had been moved back by four hours. We had been running late, but arrived early to be in the first throng to board after only about twenty minutes, at least half an hour better than the last boarding. We sailed a couple hours late.

After our first day at sea, we arrived at Nassau, Bahamas before dawn. On our port side between us and the island was moored the Motor Yacht Fountainhead, a 288-foot Feadship XL Series super yacht christened and launched only four months earlier, owned by Mark Cuban, owner of the National Basketball Association's Dallas Mavericks, Landmark Theaters and Magnolia Pictures, and the chair of the HDTV cable network HDNet. He is an Ayn Rand fan. The Fountainhead was a third as long as our 855-foot cruise ship.

On our previous visit to Nassau, we had visited the Atlantis Resort and found it to be as spacious as it is on the commercials, but in September 2010, it had been almost deserted. The casino was small by Las Vegas standards, but it had elaborate artwork and was under construction. There was a huge pond for swimming and boating, and a relatively small aquarium, but it had an interesting underwater walk-through.

This time, we walked about downtown Nassau and purchased souvenirs for the family. Nassau's small busy streets with narrow sidewalks were crowded with tourists from our ship and various local vendors and automobiles. I was surprised to note that although drivers drove on the left side of the street, the majority did so from American-style left-hand drive vehicles, vans and buses not excluded.  

Our next port of call was Half Moon Key, Carnival's island, and from the ship it reminded me of the long shot of Gilligan's Island, but with a small visible beach from that distance. It was a beach party island, with a long stretch of beach and available boating, with a constant barbeque lunch for the day. Our dining room waiters (they were referred to as "waiters") also served lunch on the island, and it was a really nice day. I gave a dollar to the sundry concessionaires on the way out and received a nice handful of Bahamas coins.

I met the ship's Captain, Carmelo Marino, who had only been captain a few months.
If I had not had trouble depositing twenty dollars into my shipboard gambling account and inadvertently added that amount twice, I likely would not have won $39 in the first and only hand of Texas Hold 'Em poker I played on the cruise. It was a video game-driven poker game without a human dealer, and I have discovered I have less of an appetite for gambling than I did many years ago when I often played with Guy, Greg and John. Too much risk for the excitement level, and I don't have the stomach anymore for losing money unnecessarily.

I knew that Robbie and I had previously instituted diners performing with the waiters, because on this cruise, the maître d’hôtel invited us all to do just that, and we did. At dinner our last night on board, our waiters asked me to join them in singing Carnival's rendition of John Denver's "Leaving on a Jet Plane," to the tune of "Leaving on a Cruise Ship...."

Our last night on board was a rough one at sea. The ship rocked, as did the 1980's show by "Far From Over," an acrobatic performance troupe using not only pyrotechnics, but also airborne dancers, which was quite impressive in the rolling seas. It took me more than a week to get my land legs back, much longer than from previous cruises, to which I attribute the rough weather on the last night of the cruise.

A couple of weeks later, I presented Manny with a nice check from Cruises by Sea for the AGG Scholarship Fund, and by then our cruise-mates were busy planning the next alumni cruise, in January 2013, from Tampa to Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, and to Cozumel, Mexico.
Friday night, March 30, I will be attending the 7th Annual AGG Hall of Fame Banquet at Godby High School's Media Center, and I will be speaking about this and the upcoming alumni cruise. Teresa will be there, and I plan to publicly single her out and thank her for facilitating our cruises and for substantial contributions to the AGG's Scholarship Fund.

I will be introducing my 2012 nominee for induction, Godby's Class of 1982 Valedictorian, Dr. Shantanu Basu, who now hails from London, Ontario, Canada. Also from Class of 1982, Mrs. Debbie Orth Shear will be honored, nominated by and to be introduced by AGG Vice-President Roger Day, Class of 1980. Other honorees include Mrs. Mary Jean Curles Yon, Class of 1974, Ms. Kathy Miller Corder, Class of 1976, Mr. Todd Sperry, Class of 1978, and Coach Darius Jones, Class of 1996. 2008 Hall of Fame inductee Dr. Patti Skates, Vice-Mayor of Soddy Daisy, Tennessee, will serve as Master of Ceremonies. Manny usually handles everything else. We strongly encourage Hall of Fame honorees who can, to come back and help with future Hall of Fame banquets, and the parties get better each time.

Godby's longest serving principal, my friend Florida Senator Bill Montford, will be attending and speaking.

I look forward to seeing old friends, classmates and cruise buddies Friday night, and to the next Godby alumni cruise in 2013.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Message in a Bottle

A year ago, I received a note from someone I did not know, who let me know my old friend Paul had died. I attended his service a few weeks later. Yesterday, I was contacted by someone I had never met before, who told me the rest of the story. 

More than once, I have been surprised to discover a chapter in my life that I once considered thoroughly concluded had been very interestingly reopened.

In 2008, four years after Dave the Cat passed away, we were honored with publication as Chapter 2 in JG Annino's book "Florida's Famous Animals", and my young grandsons Dylan and Gabriel and I visited my photos and story at the "Pets in America" exhibit in the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee. 

On April 16, 2011, I attended a Celebration of Life at Lake Ella for my friend and former roommate Paul Lasalle. How I met and knew Paul is recounted in 1984. I am not sure if anyone else at Paul's party had known him as long as I had. The next day, Paul's ashes were committed to the Gulf of Mexico. His friend Michelle remarked, "Paul had a good final send off at the beach". 

I had thought of Paul in recent days for two reasons. Only four days ago, I heard from Zan about the unexpected death of Dave Heuer, who was always working at Railroad Square Art Park when I was there, a longtime mutual friend of Peter's and mine, about our age. It was this week last year that I had heard of Paul's passing.

Sue contacted me yesterday and asked me about Paul. Even though she did not know me, and had never met Paul in person or known any of his friends, it was important to her to reach out to someone who had been close to Paul. Sue provided me with the unabridged narrative included below as written by her husband David Damon, submitted for Paul Lasalle's family and friends, and with respect to Paul.

RIP again, old buddy.

Heading around the point, I could see the outline of a small island, miles away. My dad is along for this sail, to the island. A few days ago, what had started as a Mothers Day outing, to do some bird watching, had turned into a day of surprises. The note in the bottle, found on the island on Sunday, was now finding its way back.

It all started when my wife Sue woke up on Mothers Day Sunday with one request, to take her out in the boat, to see birds. Our favorite spot to see birds lay miles away on a series of small deserted islands. These islands are protected by a maze of oyster bars and long stretches of shallow flats. A place only shallow draft boats dare go, and not a place to get caught on a falling tide. The boat of choice that day was a wooden 21' two masted, shallow draft sharpie. With her centerboard and rudder pulled up, she could ghost her way across the shallows in less than a foot of water. Her only source of propulsion other than sails was a pair of long wooden oars.

After rigging up the boat at the boat ramp, we headed down the long canal. Rowing against an incoming tide and directly into a strong southerly breeze, the progress was slow. About half way down the canal, I rowed over to a patch of beach and took a break. As we sat there chatting and enjoying the shade when my cell phone rang. I know, cell phone? With our fourteen year old son Gil, home alone, as worried/concerned parents, we keep a cell phone nearby. It was a friend calling to say a mutual friend , Scott, had died. I hung up and told Sue. The last time I saw Scott was just around the point from where we were sitting. About a month earlier, I was working on my catamaran at Spring Creek Boatyard. Scott pulled into the boat yard and dropped his brother off, then quickly left without saying a word. I was surprised and wondered what was his hurry that he couldn't say hello. That was the last time I would see Scott. Sue and I sat quietly for a few more minutes, then pushed off and headed back down the canal under oars, still thinking about Scott. As the day went on, this wasn't the only death we would face.

Once clear of the mouth of the canal I rowed far enough out to give us room to set an anchor. I threw out the anchor to hold us in place while I set the sails. With the strong wind and waves in the open bay, I worked quickly to get under sail and off the hook. Once under way she settled down as we cut through the waves. Her flat bottom became a vee bottom as she heeled over in the stiff breeze. Her tall unstayed masts bent at the top, spilling the excess wind, just as they are intended to do. She briskly danced her way across the bay kicking up her heels, she was in her element, I was too. I raised the centerboard on several occasions as sand bars and oyster bars became clearly visible, she slid across them every time with just inches to spare. This was my favorite kind of sailing. Most of my sailing lately was on a large catamaran that draws about three feet of water keeping me out in the channels and in deeper water further offshore. I hadn't realized how much I missed sailing in the shallow bay. This is great, I thought, that's about the moment the centerboard jammed in the up position after bumping a bar or two. Unable to get it down, we were sailing sideways and quickly loosing all the ground we'd worked so hard to get. I pointed her up into the wind and dropped anchor once again. Over the side I went. Diving under the boat I pulled and pried, eventually the board came loose and a piece of wood that was wedged up into the trunk dropped down, problem solved. 

It was taking awhile, three hours had passed as we scooted through the gauntlet of oyster bars on our final approach to the island. The island blocked the south wind as we made our way just feet from the marsh grass in the calm protected water. It was so picturesque, the island in the background, the birds in flight and my wife on the bow in her floppy hat. I pulled a camera out of the bag and snapped a few quick shots. Rounding the the point of the island we head into the open Gulf, the waves quickly built along with the wind. One last tack and we'd be headed right for the only beach on the island. In 15-20 knot winds, a fast moving flat bottom boats tacks very quickly, she did. So quick that I hadn't grabbed the main sheet in my hand, I'd also carelessly set the camera on top of the bag on the floorboards at my feet. As we came about, the wind hit us hard, knocking her down to the point that a wall of green water poured over the wide gunwales and into the boat. In scarcely the bat of an eye it had all happened, I grabbed the mainsheet and released it as I scooped the cameras up. She settled down quickly and sprinted toward the island. My wide-eyed wife, cameras and assorted other gear were all fine, and mostly high and dry. 

The north end of Smith Island was directly ahead about fifty yards away. I sailed her up on the beach as the hundreds of gallons of water sloshed around under the floorboards. Sue jumped out of the boat and headed down the beach to find her birds. I stayed behind and bailed and bailed paying for my careless mistake of not having the mainsheet in my hand to spill wind quickly, especially on such a windy day. 

Now this brings me back to why I sailed back to the island a few days later.......

I'm headed out this afternoon in my sharpie to return something that Sue and I inadvertently removed from an island while we were sailing on Sunday. It was a series of strange events that started on that Sunday afternoon.... Sue wanted me to take her out in the boat to take pictures of birds for Mothers Day. That afternoon, after about three hours of fighting wind and tides from the wrong direction, threading our way through oyster bars, sand bars and islands, we pulled the boat up on the beach of one of our favorite islands. (But not before having the centerboard jam, diving overboard to free it, and then getting knocked down by the wind once in a very near capsize)....back to the island. While walking along the shore Sue found a wine bottle with a note in it which she proudly brought back to the boat where I was bailing water from the near capsize. As the sun was setting, we sailed back home with our treasure, feeling pretty good about our afternoon adventures, near misses and treasures found. Later that evening, we were all very curious about the bottle with the note. We tried to get the note out with no luck. Sue shook it hard, only sand came out. Gil tried a wire but the note was pushed down in the bottle where it had partially opened up. More sand came out but not the note. I commented that all the sand must have been put in the bottle for ballast, to keep it upright as it "sailed" along in the waves. Not one to be defeated, after Sue and Gil gave up, I put the bottle in a paper grocery bag and handed a hammer to Sue. After all, she'd found it and it was Mothers Day, she was to do the honors..........opening the paper bag we carefully pulled out the scrolled up piece of paper, from the pieces of broken bottle. Smudged and dirty we knocked the dust off of it as we unrolled it. The note was on what looked like very old parchment paper, burned along the edges. The note was a carefully placed, thoughtful note remembering a special person in someone's life who had died, way too young and by his own hands. Under a photo of a man fishing with his dog were the words: "He was infuriatingly unaware of how much his good heart was appreciated and valued". The sand and dust we were shaking out in the kitchen, we now realized were Paul's ashes, now mixed with the morning's coffee grounds.

With a renewed respect for what we'd found, we carefully gathered Pauls ashes and put them in a safe place. A few days later my dad and I sailed Paul back to the island. On a beautiful afternoon, in a picturesque spot on the middle of the island, dad said a few words and I spread Paul's ashes under a canopy of palms. It was the same island where we'd first found Paul, only now, he was free of his bottle and part of the island. I cannot imagine a more peaceful place to be.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

AGG Invites Godby's Top Students to Dinner

AGG Director Manny Joanos and I had the good fortune to personally commend thirteen of Godby High School's top twenty academically performing seniors at the Godby Media Center on Wednesday evening, February 22. The other students were at a conference, but more than forty of us including families ate dinner together, and Darius Jones officially opened the AGG scholarship application season, which ends on Friday, April 6, 2012.

In 2011, the AGG awarded scholarship money to every qualified applicant. This year, we announced that we are restructuring the awards to include specific denomination scholarships, and encouraged the students to apply soon.

I welcomed the students and explained the Association of Godby Graduates' origin, and mission to foster, recognize and reward excellent service and academic achievement, and told them that they are the reason that the AGG exists, and that we are very proud of them.

I said that they are Godby's 43rd graduating class, which means that most alumni are still around, and many of us stay active not only with each other, but also with the school's staff and students. I talked about the AGG's events and fundraisers, including the upcoming Hall of Fame banquet, and the alumni cruises we take that contribute to the scholarship fund.

I announced that Darius would be one of our 2012 AGG Hall of Fame inductees in the Media Center on March 30, and encouraged them to attend, as well as to join us at the Springtime Tallahassee Parade the next morning after the banquet.

I told the students that is not too early to join us on Facebook, where we now have more than a thousand members. Within hours, a few had joined us.

As in previous years, I was impressed by the appreciation and and respect the students and their families showed us. I had met some at the Godby Soup Kitchen in December, and said that I would look forward to seeing them again at Senior Awards Night in May.

These students are Godby's best in 2012, and we congratulate them and wish them every success.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Grand Finale's Reunion: January 27, 2012

On Halloween 2011, Tallahassee's Official Party Boat and I won the costume contest at the Salter Mitchell Halloween Party and Chili Cook-off, and Julie Blankenship won the chili contest, which allowed her to select the charity of her choice to which the party's proceeds would be donated. Had she not been shilling for the tornado victims in Joplin, Missouri, where she was born, I am sure she would have won anyway. Her chili was really good, and she personally brought it to me in my costume, so she won my vote.

Six weeks later at work on December 12, I entered my first-ever chili contest and won.

A few weeks after Halloween, I joined Julie's "I miss Grand Finales" Facebook group, and began reading about people wishing for a Grand Finale's reunion. Grand Finale existed as a popular two-story oyster bar with live entertainment through the 1980s and into the early 1990s, on Florida's Highway 90, Tallahassee's Tennessee Street, "The Strip". Julie waited tables there. The Grand Finale was the place to be on Thursday nights, when drinks were Four-for-One, and the bands played on into Friday mornings. I played with the Engines there in 1990.

By December, Julie was spearheading serious plans for the Grand Finale's Reunion, and soliciting its period owners, employees, bands and patrons to come back to town for a benefit fund raiser for the Joplin, Missouri tornado victims. I had had such a good time at the chili cook-off and costume contest Julie had invited me to on Halloween, that I wanted to do something in return. I contacted Julie and told her I would be happy to help out with the reunion in whatever way I could.

I created the Facebook event page for the Grand Finale's Reunion and posted the event to the WCTV community calendar.

At the party, I worked at the door between 7 pm and midnight Friday night collecting the $10 per person donation, and payment for orders of Cam's and Bobby's gumbo and pulled pork sandwiches. We also sold reunion posters, band CDs and Cam's hot sauce. Jose and Carla worked the bars on either side of the door. Julie's daughters Grace and Ava worked with me, writing food tickets and dinosaur-stamping hands. The wooden-backed T-Rex stamp was the most popular, especially among the adults.

I don't remember how many years it has been since I worked the door of a club, but I have since been to plenty around Halloween every year. I always seem to proffer the wrong arm for an armband or hand stamp, and it's never the same one among establishments. I suppose it is to deter payers to one club easily getting into another. When the question arose among us as to which hand to stamp, I chose one. We did that for an hour, until a guest protested, and then Grace said, "I'm just going to stamp whichever hand they give us."

When Ava wasn't stamping hands, she was taking photos of the arriving attendees.

We turned no one away, even though a couple of people told us they weren't doing well enough financially to pay the entire $10 donation.

This was as close as I have come to working in the hospitality industry since my last pizza delivery in 1993, a favor to Peter when one of his drivers had car trouble and was running late.

I had the opportunity to meet everyone who came in. I saw old friends and acquaintances whom I hadn't seen in more than twenty years, and some I had thought I would never see again. I saw Chris and Lisa, two people who worked with me at different times at Mr. G's pizza more than thirty years ago. I saw Heidi's former roommate Connie. They had both attended my refrigerator-burning birthday party in 1988. It was good to see J.B, we hung out for a while at the sound board, right next to me.

I surprised myself by remembering the names of people I hadn't seen since the 1980s, just like I had seen them yesterday, and had to apologetically ask others for their names. Many remembered my cat Dave and recent Halloweens, and we talked of old and new times. 

Peter and I went on stage and I announced that Peter had given me Dave the Cat, and we were auctioning off one of my new, never worn Catman t-shirts for Joplin. We hammed it up as auctioneers and sold it for $20.

Julie gave me two more shirts to auction, each actual Grand Finale t-shirts, which I auctioned off after sets by the Casual T's and Blue Monday Jam, which played to the biggest crowd. The second and final Grand Finale shirt auctioned of the evening fetched more than the combined auctions of the first two shirts did.

I estimate we had at least 400 guests and performers at the party, so it was a big success, and I am sure we all raised a lot of money for Joplin, Missouri.

It was an evening of a lifetime, one of the better parties I have attended, a singularity. It was a happy crowd, as we knew we were all coming together to do some good for others. I have attended a lot of reunions, and this was a reunion. Time stopped for those several magical hours, as we experienced the emotions and memories of not-so-long-ago after all. I know I felt twenty years younger.

When I told Dorian on Sunday where I had been Friday night, she said, "Did you see the Casual T's?"

"Did I SEE them?!" I asked. "I PLAYED with them!"