Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Original "Digital" ~ Morse Code

It was the telegraph that really opened up long distance communications in this country, and Western Union was the telegraph company. It existed long before telephones came along. You'd have to go to the Western Union office to send it, and it wasn't cheap. People dreaded getting one because unless you knew that Cousin Emma was expecting a baby the fear was that it would likely say that Uncle Joe had died.

The telegram was delivered directly to you,and in many areas it was by a bicycle riding delivery man. The information was sent from office to office using Morse Code, a series of short and long clicks (actually it was the pause between clicks that varied) called dots and dashes made on a little one key device. Every letter had its unique series of dots and dashes. Every boy in the country learned Morse Code so he could get his Boy Scout Merit Badge. At the other end somebody would hear the clicks and and then get the words on paper. When I was a kid the paper was actually a long strip of tape which would be cut up and afixed to a yellow sheet of paper for delivery.

Eventually Western Union would just call you and give you the message. If you actually wanted the telegram itself you could pick it up or they'd mail it to you. They gradually changed more into a money transfer company. You'd go to the office in your town with a wad of cash and "wire" the money to the other person in some other town. They'd pick it up at their local office.

Now it seems that their chief function is supplying comfortable backs for bus benches, like the one ready to be installed here. People need a comfortable place to sit while they chat on their cell phones.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Partying Behind The 100 Year Old House

To celebrate the 100th year of the Burr house Mr. Burr (yup, it's still in the same family) hosted the members of The North Miami Historical Society to a dinner. I brought Robin, my new squeeze, along so she could meet more of the folks around here. It was just party after party for a few weeks at the end of the year, and I suspect that Robin even met some people that I don't know. That's Robin facing the camera across the table from me, right in the center of the photo. Monkette is sitting on the table almost obscured in shadow.

Actually, there were a couple of women at the Chamber of Commerce party that are still a mystery. Robin didn't mention it until a couple of weeks later, so I have no idea who they were, but it's still bugging her. It seems that they kept staring at her, giving her what might even be taken for dirty looks. She says they were older, closer to my age. Maybe they were jealous? Hell, tall handsome Al, that guy with the pretty blue/green eyes and full mop of curly locks, was around and available for years before Robin came on the scene. He was around before he started going to parties carrying one of his toy monkeys too. They could have asked me out if they wanted. Of course there's also the possibility that I wasn't quite so appealing before I started taking Monkette to parties with me.

The strange lighting from the red bulbs, contrasted with the twilight lingering in the sky, made for some interesting pictures. I like the effect of the gnarled old trees in the background. Old? Hell, they might not have even been planted yet when the house was built. Notice the chimney on the house, a rare sight in South Florida.

What The Hell...?

Here I am at another one of those holiday parties that always fill the last couple weeks of the year. I shot lots of film, made no effort to keep track of which rolls were shot at which party, or on which date, for that matter. At least I get to eat decently. That's not always easy when the mayor and city council recently voted to give themselves a ten-fold increase in salary on top of the new free health insurance for life legislation they awarded themselves. Yet they all claim that there's no money in the budget to increase advisory board salaries from the ten dollars a month set almost fifty years ago. At least Social Security gets increased every year.

This particular party for some reason I didn't have Monkette with me, or maybe she was sitting with the mayor's 5 year old daughter Autumn.

The main reason I'm running this picture is that I really like the dynamics of the composition, together with the fact that you can't really see much in the faces either. At least I was wearing a name tag so that I wouldn't forget who I am or what my name is. I just can't seem to remember anybody else's name, and they always seem to be either too close to read without my glasses and too far away to read with them.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Another Holiday Party ~ Free Food And Fruit Punch

Twas the season to be jolly. For perhaps three or four weeks, through Christmas and leading up till New Years, Monkette and I managed to stuff ourselves just about every day at a free buffet table someplace or another courtesy of some one of the organizations that I've gotten roped into volunteering my time and expertise.

Monkette is a very social little toy monkey and enjoys both the networking and the fresh fruit platters and fruit punch. This is the first year when fresh fruit platters were a featured item. People were getting tired of hearing her endless complaining.

As for myself, anything that'll help me stretch my meager Social Security check is welcome, and the eats at these spreads is usually borderline gourmet quality, if tooth pick impaled slices of sub sandwiches can be considered gourmet fare. For the most part the pastries are superb and a fresh fruit platter simply has to consist of fresh fruit.

I guess I might have looked a bit odd walking around with Monkette, so I thought that why even bother with "business casual" attire. My Indian friends consider a traditional patchwork jacket just fine with slacks, white shirt, and a neck tie as formal business attire, so I figured that the T-shirt with that ugly photo of me would bring things down a notch into the realm of "casual". Monkette agreed. We had a great time stuffing our faces and chatting with old friends, even making a few new ones along the way.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Weasel Made Me Do It

About a year ago Claudia, my ex, decided that a grown man, "a respected member of the community" as she phrases it, shouldn't be seen walking around town carrying a toy monkey. Hey! I was just having fun getting some interesting photographs with the monkey. Best of all, women (other than the ex, of course) seemed to love the idea. I kept carrying around a toy monkey until one day Claudia gave me a present. I was suddenly the proud owner of a toy weasel.

For awhile he was simply "Weasel" but at a friend's suggestion I renamed him "Brad-", complete with the hyphen. It seems that there was a San Francisco photographer by that name, complete with the hyphen. I've never met the guy, but a lot of people think that a name like Weasel would fit him to a T. Thus the toy weasel is named Brad-.

This was my first excursion out to Jimmie's Place for dinner with Brad-, and both the waitress and the cashier promptly told me that they liked my toy monkeys better. After just a couple of days going around town with Brad- I decided that he needed to be retired. Fast!

Todd Frederick, the Maestro of Photoshop, posts my pictures here on The Price of Silver, sometimes doing a bit of computer magic in correcting colors or dredging images out of shadows. The dude is GOOD! A few days back he emailed me this creation. He put in the weasel's food dish and added the hat to Brad-'s head. There's one thing that I need to come to grips with, though. Monkey, Monkette, and Claudia all agree that the horns are really there, and Todd swears that he didn't add the horns to the photograph. I guess it's really true. We DON'T see ourselves as others see us.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Stripping On The Roof ~ Dirty Dancing?

It had been a couple of years since Katrina and Wilma paid us a visit. Thankfully the eyes of both hurricanes missed a direct hit to North Miami, but we still had plenty of limbs and trees down all over town. One tree near a corner of the house didn't quite lose a large branch. It only half-way broke and came down on the roof where the wind must have been blowing it back and forth for awhile. With each pass it lifted up the flaps of some of the shingles, finally breaking off quite a few of them. There was no leaking, but it looked pretty bad.

Of course the damage was less than the deductable on the insurance. I figured to hell with how it looked, and you really had to be looking to notice it, but since the roof wasn't leaking perhaps it might be best to just leave it be.

When the city came up with this deal for loans I jumped on it. A new roof, and if I'm still living here after seven years the entire loan will be forgiven. Who can argue with that? Such a deal!

They have some huge tarps handy just in case it starts to rain but it didn't that day. This guy was up on the roof early in the morning stripping off all the old shingles, then the underlying roofing felt, or tar paper as some call it. That's what this guy was doing. What a mess in the yard! A few rotten boards were replaced, new felt tacked down, and new shingles stapled in place. A total time of 7 or 8 hours start to finish! The next day they came back and did the flat roofs on the porch and utility room. Felt and hot asphalt! What a stink! And what a mess on the porch where bits of the old felt and dried out asphalt had fallen through the spaces between the boards! Anyway, it's all cleaned up now, even the bits and pieces of shingles that were in the grass.

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Matter Of National Security?

Nothing of the sort! I was about to get scanned, an MRI, magnetic resonance imaging it's called. The docs wanted to see what makes me tick. They had me change into scrubs and take off any metal like jewelry.
"Amalgam fillings are OK" I was told, but nobody seemed to be able to explain why a poisonous mixture of mercury and silver packed into the cavaties in my real teeth was OK and a wee little bit of some other kind of metal in a dental bridge wasn't. I actually think that nobody there really knew the answer.

I'm always fascinated by some of the signs and warnings that you'll find in a doctor's office or a medical testing lab. What really fascinates me though is the fact that nobody ever seems to be able to explain what it's all about, what it actually means. Is it really all that dangerous? I keep thinking that if it was that dangerous they'd make you sign a multi-page release of liability and get your signature witnessed by a third party, then notarized as well. Or are they just trying to impress upon you how serious and important all this stuff is so you won't have a heart attack when you see how much they're charging for your five minute long scan?

Well, I was soon back into my jeans and shirt and heading out for a smoke. I guess it's just a matter of time before the dental association cons the insurance industry into paying for brand new fillings after every scan.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Dead Reckoning ~ The Medical Maze

Hospitals, medical complexes, doctors. Good to know that they're around, but for the most part they're people and places that I've tried to avoid. Still, over the years I guess I've spent far more time around them than most folks not in the medical field.
One reason was my first wife when she attended the University of Miami Medical School followed by a three year residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. Another long spell hanging out around hospitals was when I got some photography asignments from a large public relations firm. That in turn led to working directly with the public relations departments of four or five area hospitals, but not all at the same time, of course.
Now I'm off on a new adventure, a new aspect of my life. I turned 65 and suddenly I'm able to spend Medicare's money. Shortly before my birthday I went in for my quarterly "poke 'n prod". My blood pressure was fine, heart sounded good, lungs sounded clear, Larry was able to draw a blood sample, all the usual stuff, then he grabbed a pad of forms and had one of the women at the front desk start making phone calls as he scribbled away. Time to set me up to get X-rays and scans, check everything out in excruciating detail, find out if my ticker really looks as good as it sounds, maybe see if I actually have a brain in that head of mine and not just fertilizer for growing hair.
So here I was, trying to figure out exactly which building I was supposed to be entering. They're not numbered very well. I think this was the one where I had to remove all the metal from my pockets and they rolled me into a big tubular thing after warning me that a lot of people couldn't stand the noise, but it wouldn't last very long, while other folks freaked out from being enclosed like that. It wasn't all that bad. So far the test results pretty much all say that I'm good to go for another thirty years or there abouts. I went outside and lit up a cigarette. When you're on a winning streak why risk changing anything?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What's This? Bananas Don't Count?

I had to stop taking Monkette to city council meetings for fear of her getting too upset and boisterous at one of these awards ceremonies. Every few meetings the mayor (that's Mayor Kevin Burns up there in the khaki pants), council, and other officials gather in front of the podium and give out plaques to one or more citizens for their contributions to the city.

The one official who never manages to get in a picture is Pam Solomon, the city's director of public relations. She gets to stand there staring at the back of her digital camera, recording the event for use by newspapers and various newsletters around town. Well, now she's in a picture with a world-wide internet following. Everyone can stare at the back of Pam Solomon! Congratulations, Pam!

So why is Monkette so upset? After months of bitching and complaining both here and in person she's finally gotten the powers that be to include a fresh fruit platter along with the toothpick speared sub sandwich slices and bits of pastry served on the buffet table at various events around town, and a lot of the civic minded ladies, much healthier eaters than men, for sure, are grateful for that. Hell, I like some nice icey cold mellon slices myself. It helps cleanse the mouth of that greasy icky aftertaste of luncheon meats that have been sitting between the two halves of a sub roll for way too long.

Well, somehow she got this crazy idea in her head that after all her efforts in getting the mayor re-elected last May she should start getting a little more respect around city hall. Perhaps some recognition for her single handed efforts to get the city on a healthier life style, eating lots of fresh fruit, that sort of thing (and we'll leave out the running around nude part)! So far it hasn't happened. People just don't seem to think that eating healthy is as important as zoning changes or what to do about rickety elevators or what kind of activities we should offer in our parks.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Johnson & Wales University ~ We Once Had A Baby Here

One of the things that attracted us to the neighborhood was that we were only about half a mile from North Miami General Hospital. A few years later a group of local doctors took financial control of the hospital, and in a "cost cutting" move it was "merged" with Parkway Hospital several miles to the northwest and also owned by the same group of doctors. The savings I suppose went straight into their pockets. It was a time when the government was trying to reduce medical costs and this was supposed to do exactly that. My health insurance kept increasing anyway. The building sat vacant for several years.

Johnson and Wales, a culinary school in Rhode Island, was looking for a new home with room to expand. They bought the hospital building, renovated it, and over the next few years bought some nearby office buildings as well as some local motels to use as dorms. Some unsuspecting students are bunking in the very same room where the world famous porn film Deep Throat starring Linda Lovelace was filmed.

Johnson and Wales added more courses, opened a school of business, and started billing themselves as a University. They're active in the community and make good neighbors. My baby making days are over anyway.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Requiem For A Fishing Club

Monkette had been bugging me to take her to a meeting of the South Florida Fishing Club. I did, but very few people show up.

SFFC has changed a lot over the 15 or so years that I've been a member. One by one the professional captains have gone elsewhere and the club has become dominated by owners of large boats, people who mostly fish live bait offshore.

When I first joined we had a fair number of people with flats boats, and a lot more with center consoles in the 16 to 20 foot range. We had a lot of people competing in the spin, plug and fly categories using artificial lures. We had a lot of people fishing inshore, fishing the bay, trailering to the keys and Flamingo, fishing freshwater too on occasion. The average working stiff or retiree could afford to belong and compete. Along with losing those we don't seem to be able to attract members with kids anymore. Our once potent junior division is gone.

What we've degenerated into is a club where money is the name of the game, big boats and weekend "outings" in other countries involving airfare, hotel stays, and chartering boats with captains because our boats are here in Miami. From my perspective what SFFC has succeeded in doing is chasing away the core membership, from the pro guides to the serious fishermen and women. As I look over the email list I see lots of names of people, good dedicated fishermen and women, that haven't attended a meeting in several years now.

Last year we toyed with the idea of moving the meeting location. The traffic alone in Sunny Isles Beach during "high season" would discourage anyone from going near the place. With all the new condo towers under construction it'll be twice as bad next year, solid gridlock.

A few days after the meeting I found out what the reason was for continuing to hold the meetings there at Tony Romas. It had nothing to do with their great ribs. It was because one member insisted that he'd quit the club if we moved the location. I really think that with another location we could attract a lot more new people, and perhaps get some of the old timers to start showing up again. That would sure do more for the SFFC than keeping one guy happy seems to be accomplishing. It sure ain't the club it once was.

Capt. Al

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Some Serious Banking Transactions and A Few Words About Copyright

Commerce Bank was the second bank to have a grand opening, doing so within weeks of Bank Atlantic's grand opening. It doesn't seem like it's possible to ever get enough rulers, ball point pens, electronic calculators, fanny packs, tote bags, and Santa hats. I also figured that I'd just have to put up with the inconvenience of free food and drink once more. After all, the Greater North Miami Chamber of Commerce was making an attempt to assure a good turnout, so it was my civic responsibility to stuff my face as well as show it.

Both banks are trying to out do one another in redefining "bankers' hours" by being open 7 days a week and offering extended hours as well. I'd already switched my account to Bank Atlantic so I guess I was just here to eat and socialize. There weren't a lot of kids here but they did have this clown looking guy painting up the kids faces. I asked him if he'd do a "big person's" face and he said "Sure!" but my phone rang and I had to head on down the road. Maybe next time...

COPYRIGHT NOTICE ~ The Price of Silver, both photographs and text, is copyright by Al Kaplan except where a photograph is credited to another photographer. In those cases the photo appears here with permission and the credited photographer holds the copyright. Please do not use any photographs or text from this blog without express written permission in accordance with U.S. and international copyright law.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Burr House ~ A Return Visit

The 100 year old Burr house isn't set back all that far from the road, and my guess is that this section of N.E. 16th Ave. in North Miami pretty much follows the alignment of the original Dixie Highway, U.S. Route 1, that's now a multi lane highway a block to the east of here. I'd been here a couple of days earlier when Mr. Burr had hosted the North Miami Historical Society at a party in celebration of the house hitting the century mark. I got the impression that if the house hadn't stayed with the Burr family all these years it would have been torn down to make way for apartments.

It had originally been the Burr farm back when this was all agricultural land to the north of the City of Miami, and North Miami didn't exist at all. The land now contains several well maintained two story apartment buildings with plenty of landscaping around them, and the original house has had the interior remodeled a bit and is now used as offices for the apartment complex.

I wanted to get a photograph of the house as it might have looked a century ago when this was still farm land. On the day of the party it sure didn't look like a century ago, not with people wandering about wearing modern attire, and Toyotas and Hondas and BMW's parked outside. I came back a few days later, the place was deserted, and I was able to find a viewpoint where the apartment buildings wouldn't show up in the photograph. I was very happy with the result.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Sweet Memories, Sweet Realities

I've always loved donuts and didn't complain when Dunkin' Donuts got some competition from Mister Donut. There was room for both companies in the market and I had my favorites at both places. They were big free standing shops, stools and counter plus a few tables in the front of the big display of fresh donuts. In the back they made the donuts, and there was a constant good smell coming from those big deep fryers.

They were open 24 hours a day and there were always people sitting around, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, reading the paper or chatting with one another. Smoking was legal and a cigarette vending machine was plainly marked that it was illegal to buy cigarettes if you were under 16. Thirty-five cents a pack and the honor system.

The early seventies saw the country go on a health kick. Fried foods would kill you, sweet stuff would make you fat, all that stuff. A few years later it was smoking would kill not only you but everybody else within sight. Coffee vacillated from bad to good for you. Right now it's on the good list, but don't use real sugar or don't use the artificial stuff depending on which expert is talking, and use low fat milk, never half and half. The powdered artificial stuff? Never!

All of which took its toll on the donut shops. Last year I couldn't find one open after ten PM, and the others were all out of business. Suddenly it seems like every strip mall has sprouted a Dunkin' Donut shop. They're not stand alone stores, they're tiny by 1970 standards, the donut selection is smaller, but the Dunkin' Donut coffee is as rich and smooth as ever, and they're pushing it big time! But it lacks that "bite" of Starbucks blends. They're trying to outStarbucks Starbucks for the coffee market, with the donuts as a bonus. Starbucks' paltry selection of half stale pastries is a major failing of the chain. Me? I'm a cherry picker, stopping first at the Dunkin' Donut down the street and then downing my Dunkin's at Starbucks as I enjoy some real coffee.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall

The clouds to the northeast were black, totally black, and heading in our direction as we were going into the Chamber of Commerce building. From time to time a lightening bolt would flash inside the cloud mass, causing the entire thing to glow with a surreal light, followed at ever closer intervals by the boom of thunder as the storm's center quickly approached us. It almost seemed as if the weather was a metaphor for the frustration, the anger, the feeling of being violated, that was consuming Monkette that afternoon.

It had just been a few days since the infamous AT&T television commercial had first aired, featuring a look-alike for Monkette travelling around with a young business executive type who was photographing her at various locations on his travels. The phone had started ringing, the email box quickly filled up, people stopped us on the sreet, greeting us with a "Hey, did you see where AT&T ripped off your blog idea?" Monkette was NOT a happy camper!

A day or so later she thought that she had a New York attorney to pursue a claim against AT&T, but he soon backed out muttering some mamby-pamby excuses about not being able to copyright a concept, etc. Legalese mambo-jambo that Monkette didn't buy. So we stopped by the Chamber office to wait out the storm and I could cadge a free cup of coffee while Monkette poured her heart out to Penney and Mike. One thought that was kicked around was that the attorney was afraid of the ribbing he'd take if word got around the legal community that he was representing toy monkeys. Maybe. But that's his loss.

One thing that I have discovered over the past couple of years while carrying around a toy monkey is that women find the concept extremely appealing and think that I must be such a caring and sensitive guy. If I was a lawyer I'd give some consideration as to just how many female clients I might pick up by being associated with AT&T vs. Monkette, not to mention the publicity it would get, newspaper and magazine coverage, interviews on TV, maybe even an appearance on Oprah.

If you're an attorney willing to be seen in public, and maybe in court, with a toy monkey, and want the chance to get gobs of sometimes satirical publicity, Monkette wants to hear from you. Thanks. She can be reached at my email:

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Day At A South Florida Mall

I was planning on meeting my good buddy Todd Frederick for a cup of java at the Starbucks in the mall when suddenly police cars started to converge on the place, lights flashing and sirens whining at what seemed an ungodly decible level. They were soon drowned out by the noise of the inevitable mini fleet of helicopters bearing TV news cameramen, and before the bullets started flying as well I thought it best to make tracks for safer environs. I shot this as a cop car drove by me approaching the crime scene. Me? I beat it the hell out of there! I never did find out what happened...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Playing To The Camera

Monkette was a bit miffed when she found out that we'd be having a house guest for a week in December. She wants all the attention for herself, and she knew that there'd be lots of parties from a week or so before Christmas right on through New Years. After we met Robin at the Greyhound station , where Monkette sat pouting in my truck waiting for the bus, Robin assured her that we wouldn't sneak off and attend any parties without her. I also reminded her that word had spread throughout North Miami that ALL parties had to include a fresh fruit platter, and that bananas were mandatory!

Monkette reminded me that Robin had told her that she gave up smoking and would prefer that I refrain from lighting up around Robin. I guess it's a "monkey thing" but somehow Monkette had gotten it into her head that if I wore a T-shirt showing me smoking, one with big clouds of smoke blowing out of my mouth, the picture alone would satisfy my nicotine craving.

Robin looked great in that dress and I got to wear the T-shirt featuring Marc Williams' photo of me that he shot at a South Beach sidewalk cafe a couple of years ago. "Wear your Miccosukee Indian jacket!" she said. "It'll add some color to your outfit. Just leave it unzipped." So there I was, wearing "cigarette smoke" on my chest while Monkette and Robin just glowed with pride for being my dates for the evening. I was glowing too, having two sexy ladies with me.

Sometime between now and next Christmas season I'm going to take a photo of a nice big juicy hand of fresh bananas and get some little Monkette sized T-shirts printed up. Then if we go to a party where there are no bananas on the fruit platter I can just point at her chest and say "Yes there are. I see a whole bunch of them right here!"

Monday, January 14, 2008

Awaiting The First Robin Of Winter

Robin and I had dated for awhile several years ago, but the 130 or so miles between her home in Vero Beach and my home in North Miami was daunting. The fact that she had a daughter still in high school complicated matters. Eventually we stopped seeing one another but stayed in touch. She says we spoke more or less weekly on the phone, but between memory loss associated with my seizures, and short term memory problems caused by the anti-seizure medications, I have to take her word for it. And now her daughter was grown up and living on her own.

Lately with her help a lot of good happy memories have been re-emerging from the murk in my brain. We decided to make another go at it. I guess that it's been at least three years since I'd last seen her. Between the price of gas being well over $3.00 a gallon, especially at those stations next to I-95, we decided that the bus might be a good option. Gas alone would be close to $50 and Greyhound would do the round trip for $64.

The Greyhound station that used to be about 2 miles north of me is history but now there's a new one maybe 4 miles away. I arrived about 15 minutes early, and prepared for a long wait. The airlines have me programmed, and even allowing 15 minutes to get parked and to the terminal at the airport is optimism carried to the limits. About 3 minutes before the scheduled arrival time there was the bus, just pulling into the station. I didn't have time to get a decent selection of photos from which to choose, but I kind of like this one, thank goodness. A couple of minutes later we were embracing one another, checking to see if our lips felt as good to one another as we'd hoped. Yup, just as I remembered them, and that was one thing that I'd never forgotten. Winter had just arrived, and now so had Robin

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Family Reunion At The Congregational Church

Monkette started out the day bitching and kvetching about how painful the cramps were, how bad her head felt, and muttering things like "You guys just have no damned idea about how lucky you are to not have to go through this every every blessed month. Month after month after month..." as her voice trailed off into silence. Monkey said "Hey, my arthritis isn't all that bad this morning. Why don't you just stay home and rest up. I'll ride shotgun with Al this morning. It's been quite awhile since I've been out and about."

I remembered that there was going to be a rummage sale at The First Church of North Miami Congregational, a couple blocks to the west, so I headed in that direction instead of going east to the post office. I like that church. I used to be friends with a minister there years ago, my ex went there, and our kids attended Sunday school there. I still know most of the congregants. And of course I always find some cool bargains at the rummage sales.

The first thing to catch my eye was this display of toy animals. Some were obviously well played with. Others, though, still had the original tags, brand new! Probably donated by a store, perhaps after Christmas discontinued merchandise. I thought of Monkey all alone in the truck. I got him and brought him into the hall with me.

I bought myself a cup of coffee, chatted with a few folks that I hadn't seen in awhile, and Monkey got to do a bit of socializing himself. I found a couple of cute animals, still new with tags, that I thought that Gabriella might like for Chanukah, carefully explaining to Monkey that yes, they were coming for a visit, ONLY a visit, and they would soon be flying on their way to Logan International Airport in Boston.

Last week I found a Valentine Monkey at the drugstore, bright red and white with pink hearts all over. Monkey and Monkette are thrilled to have her in the house, but they know that she'll soon be on a plane heading north, and that Gabriella will have to pick a name for a new monkey once again.

At least Monkette had taken some aspirin and a nap while we were gone. She was almost civil to us as she admired Gabriella's new toys.

Friday, January 11, 2008

A Little More Serious Than A Fender Bender

I'm standing on the corner right in front of the Starbucks that I usually frequent. I wasn't facing the street when the accident actually happened. I was drinking a coffee and reading the paper, facing away from the street. At first I wasn't really sure what had happened, just that I'd heard brakes squealing, tires skidding, and a couple of loud bangs, the sound of metal hitting metal one right after the other. Several of us immediately called 911 on our cell phones and within minutes the rescue trucks and police were on the scene.

I guess its as good a place as any to get hit. One fire-rescue station is less than a mile to the north, another maybe half a mile south west, and a third one half a mile beyond that one. They were on-scene within minutes. As near as I could figure out a guy on a bike got hit and in the excitement another car slammed on his brakes causing the car behind him to rear end him. They soon had the bike rider evaluated enough to strap him on a body board. They extricated one of the other drivers and put him on a body board also. The others had less serious injuries, but all were transported to local hospitals.

Police officers photographed the scene and directed traffic until the mangled bike and the smashed cars could be loaded on wreckers and hauled away. Within half an hour people were once more drinking their coffees, chatting, and reading the newspaper. Life goes on.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Tunnel To Enlightenment ? Portal To Salvation ?

At LAST, I was eligible for Medicare and the U.S. government would be picking up most of the expense of my health care. Dr. Katz couldn't wait to start spending the government's money, huge gobs of it.

This machine, an MRI I think it's called, scans you section by section, cross sections of you, as you get to lie there and hear this loud whining sound that seemingly goes on forever. They told me that many people get freaked out within the confines of the tube but to just try and relax and it would soon be over.

I closed my eyes, concentrated on slow even breathing, got nicely relaxed, almost asleep until the noise started, but I lay still and just let it happen. It was soon over with.

Over the next few days I got poked and prodded, gave urine and blood samples, and tomorrow morning I'm going to an ophthalmologist for an eye exam. I think that we're getting near the end of the ordeal. One doctor remarked "You're in great shape! You should be good to go for another thirty years or so!" I asked if that meant that I'd still be able to pick up college girls at Starbucks? He gave me a strange look...very strange. Well, at least I want to make sure that I'll still be able to look at them.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

And Some Gravy For The Fries, Please...

When I first moved to North Miami in the 1950's it was very much a different place, a Southern place, strange, in fact alien to my New England sensibilities. The first order of business for a not quite fourteen year old kid was finding the fishing tackle store and the local movie theater. The House of Snook was at 12780 West Dixie Highway, and the movie theater was a block south and across the street. Kids could go to the Saturday matinee for a quarter, see a double feature, coming attractions, news, sports, and a few cartoons. Another dime would buy a box of popcorn. Best of all it was about the only place in town where you could find air conditioning! That alone was worth twenty-five cents. The theater is still there, but despite aborted attempts to revive it over the years as everything from a children's playhouse to a soft core porn emporium to a 99 cent movie theater it sits empty and forlorn these days.

The House of Snook also went through numerous incarnations over the years, most recently about nineteen years ago, but between not being able to compete on price with the likes of The Sports Authority, and the almost total lack of shoreline and bridges where a kid can still fish these days, I suspect that no more revivals will be attempted.

Just north of the theater was Mary's Restaurant. Like most neighborhood places there was no air conditioning, the windows were small, and the gas grill, steam table, and coffee pots gave off plenty of unwanted heat. A couple of electric fans strained to blow air through the length of the place. Front and rear even the screen doors were left open. Closed they slowed down the air flow too much. Better to swat a few mosquitos and chase flies from the food than risk raising the temperature another degree. You can only stand to sweat so much!

Mary, a big woman, was always covered with sweat in the summer. We all were, I suppose. That's the place where I learned that grits weren't some mystery Southern concoction to eat with your eggs. I'd never liked the oatmeal that I grew up with, but I quickly learned to love grits. Instead of a hamburger with tomato and ketchup I learned how good a burger tasted with lettuce, tomato, and mayonaise. And I learned just how good French fries tasted covered with brown gravy. It seems to be a dying custom, however. Waitresses no longer enquire "Gravy on your fries?" Some even give you a strange look when you request it these days. Well, here I am at Jimmy's Place just a few blocks south west of where Mary worked her culinary magic half a century ago. My fries have their gravy. The older waitresses openly and patiently explain to the new hires (right in front of me, no less!) that yup, crazy Al likes gravy on his fries, and he even says that it used to be common to eat them that way.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

High Finance ~ Trading Banks

I wasn't a happy camper, not at all. Thanks to the bank's "policies" I was flat out without funds. They wined and dined me and all of the other members of the Chamber of Commerce at a big Grand Opening party and convinced me that it would be a good place to bank. My old bank had moved their closest office several miles away and this was closer. Some of the requirements for opening the account didn't seem too onerous, things like maintaining a CD of at least $100 in addition to the checking account. Hell I'd save a hundred bucks in gas alone within six months. Another was direct deposit of my Social Security check. I could live with that. Evening hours plus Saturday and Sunday, even letting me choose between going into the lobby or using the drive-through. And lastly, I had to have a debit card. I'd never had a debit card before. I didn't want a debit card. "Oh, but you NEED a debit card to activate your account" I was told.

I've never lost a credit card in my life. Sometimes I actually suspect that when the bank officer went to the cash machine to "swipe" the card to activate the account the card was in fact "swiped". I don't remember if I ever got it back.

A few days later they were nice enough to call and tell me that several checks I'd written would be bounced if I didn't come up with some cash fast. A LOT of cash. Somebody had treated themselves to a gourmet dinner with wine, and a shopping spree at the odd combination of the Home Depot and Macys someplace in the mid-west.

Hell, when I make a purchase well over $500 I often get asked for a picture ID, or at least they check the signature against the one on the card. Not in these cases! No way.

My Social Security check had just been direct deposited, I had maybe $20 in my pocket, and these idiots said that it would take ten days to "investigate" before they could release the funds. A day later, when I took this shot, they'd called to tell me that they'd made a mistake. Since my account was less than three months old it would take TWENTY days. I kind of went ballistic, then did an imitation of a couple of the homeless guys I see at Starbucks, going up and down the lines of customers waiting their turn at the teller. "Hey Mister, I haven't had a thing to eat all day. The bank refuses to give me MY money. Could you please spare me a five or a ten? I'm hungry."

The bank of course, tried to maintain a modicum of decorum by threatening to call the police. I offered my cell phone to one of the bank officials with a "Here, it's programmed to the non-emergency number. Just push send." I got a really strange look as a number of customers were busting a gut laughing. "Go ahead, call them. Just wait until the Herald runs the story. I can't wait to see the judge laughing his ass off when we get to court in the morning."

I left with some cash from my account, with the promise that I'd be able to continue cashing checks. None of my checks really ended up bouncing. All the overdraft charges were reversed. My account is still there. In retrospect it was kind of a fun experience. Today another Social Security should have been credited to my account. I'll confirm that tomorrow when I cash a check.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The North Miami Historical Society Get Together At The Burr House

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Preserving The Burr Legacy

Back when I was in the fourth and fifth grades I attended Friends Academy in North Dartmouth, Massachusettes One of my best friends at the time was Winthrop Burr whose family owned the Burr Brothers Boat Company in Mattapoiset. I loved boats, especially sailboats, and loved being on the water. I was jealous as hell. My dad owned a furniture store and was getting involved in starting a factory to manufacture Haloween costumes. How boring!

The house in this photograph has recently been restored to greet its one hundreth birthday. That's pretty old for a house in the Miami area! It's known as the Burr House. I asked, and they don't think that they're related to the Burrs that I knew as a kid. Anyway, the North Miami Historical Society got invited over there for the occasion, as did the reporters. The building was restored on the outside but the inside was modified a bit to serve as offices for the low-rise apartment buildings that have been constructed on the one time agricultural land along N.E. 16th Avenue. It's really a shame that so many buildings of that vintage have been allowed to deteriorate, then levelled to make way for huge monstrocities. These old houses were made out of the local coral rock, and the wood was all Dade County pine which is so hard that it had to be cut, fitted, and nailed while still green. Once it dries termites won't touch the stuff. Too tough to chew! Now the place looks spiffy again, good for another hundred years. Our thanks to the Burr family!

FP&L The Ongoing Saga


It was a hot as hell day last summer when Monkette grabbed her little protest sign and joined a bunch of us marching up and down West Dixie Highway waving signs. Councilman Scott Galvin had organized the protest because it seems as if FP&L passed up on choosing the shortest and most direct route in favor of running it right through residential neighborhoods here in North Miami.

Monkette isn't too thrilled about havring 80 foot tall ugly galvanized iron posts on top of huge concrete bases right outside her bedroom window. Today as we drove up N. E. 14th Avenue sh noticed that the poles were stacked up next to the FP&L substation a few blocks down the street from here. It was drizzling so we didn't stop, but I had to promise her that tomorrow I'd get some photos of the poles, even some with her sitting on one of them to show scale and give some indication of just how huge they are! Stay tuned!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Three Years Ago When Mary Was Still Around

I first met Mary back around 1979 when Stephanie and I had split up, heading down the road to divorce. I was soon moved into a nearby smaller house chose largely because it was close enough so the kids, ages 8 and 3, could readily go from Mommy's house to Daddy's house. What I needed was furniture and kitchen stuff!

Mary Poh had a shop across 125th St. from city hall where she sold everything from antiques to used border-line junk.I bought what I needed right then, she said she'd try to find some other things I needed, and I started frequenting her shop in search of treasures. We became good friends and I also photographed things for her to submit to the big auction houses.

Mary gave up the shop and "retired" at 65 but kept going to estate sales and yard sales, selling her finds to other dealers. After about fifteen years of that her eyesight started getting pretty bad. As she got near eighty she had to stop driving. I took her to her doctors appointments and once or twice a week we'd go grocery shopping, perhaps having lunch or coffee someplace along the way. About a year ago her mind started slipping and she's now in an assisted living facility but I never go see her. She hates me. She's convinced that I'm the one that put her there. Nobody can convince her otherwise.

I prefer to remember her the way she was when I took this photo of her. Damned shapely legs for an 81 year old woman! I miss her.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Memories Of Hanukah

It seems that just about every religion has a holiday around the time of year that the days finish getting shorter and then start getting longer again. That must have seemed a true miracle to people with no concept of astronomy as we know it today. For the most part candles are lit, special foods prepared and eaten, kids are filled with a sense of wonder and gifts are exchanged. Most people in the U.S. celebrate Christmas, which seems to have been a twelve day celebration ("The Twelve Days Of Christmas") at one time. Jews and Hindus have their Hanukah and Diwalli holidays each lasting eight days.

I was brought up Jewish and one of the big thrills as a little child was the lighting of the Hanukah candles in the menorah (candle holder), one on the first day, two on the second, and so on. The candle used to light the others, the shamos, is put out every night after use but it's allowed to burn itself out on the last night. My two kids always loved lighting the candles, especially when it was at Grandma Ruth's apartment. Maybe it wasn't the candle lighting so much as the home made feast that she served afterwards that got them so excited?

Shame on me, but I forget where this menorah was located. I saw it and my first thought was of my granddaughter Gabriella up in Cambridge, MA, her eyes wide with wonder and glee. At only fifteen months of age she'd be all excited by the novelty of the custom, although she will probably not remember it from this year. The first Hanukah that I can remember was when I was three. I'm hoping that maybe next year we can all be together to light the candles, not fake "candles" like these light bulbs. Real candles!

On this shot the lighting was dim, it was dusk outside, and as usual I'm trying to hold the camera steady in one hand held out at arm's length. You can just barely make out some of the brighter areas of my face towards the left of center. I did manage to get a decently sharp image at 1/4 of a second, and I'm glad for that.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Those Little Girls Have To Stick Up For One Another

I've never seen Monkette as excited as she was the other day when I came home from the post office. The photo book filled with Gabriella pictures had arrived at last. My cute little granddaughter could be seen in photos with Mommy and Daddy as well as with all four of us beaming grandparents. Jonathan and Deborah had done a great job bringing a cute little girl, Gabriella Pardo Kaplan, into the world on September 25th, 2006.

Monkette sat on my lap, a big happy grin on her face, as we leafed through the 24 pages and looked at all the photographs. She was one happy excited monkey, for sure, clapping her hands every time we turned a page. I was afraid that she might get upset when she finally realized that there were no pictures of her with Gabriella, but all she said was the next time she sees Gabriella they'll get to play together. I guess she realized that the last time Gabriella was in Miami she was too young to do much more than just lie there and smile.

And oh, yeah! I was one happy excited grandpa! Thanks, Jonathan and Deborah.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

More "Snow" Than "The Great Blizzard Of 1977"

Every time I see Christmas decorations like this it always brings to mind the Great Blizzard of 1977 when my wife excitedly woke me at first light with an "It's snowing! It's snowing out!" Bleary eyed, I dragged myself out of bed and looked outside. Sure enough, it WAS snowing. The snow was sticking to the leaves and the blades of grass. The concrete sidewalks and macadam streets had too much retained heat and they were wet with melted snow. The air was full of fine flurries, but from the east the sun was plainly visible peeking over the horizon. I went to load some film into a camera. By the time I got back to the front door the rising sun had melted the rest of it.

What I find most interesting about our common Christmas traditions is all of the Northern European symbolism involved, from spruce trees and holly to the snow itself. Bethlehem has a subtropical climate, although somewhat drier than Miami. From what I've read there are good reasons to believe that Jesus was most likely born in June anyway.

Yule logs burning, sleighs, reindeer, even chimneys in houses, weren't the most common sight in the land of Israel two thousand years ago, if even imagined! Still, the customs and trappings have been so thoroughly intertwined with Christmas that it seems like it just wouldn't be the same without them.