Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Poem for Today


So here you are again, after all these years,

at the same edge, staring down the gorge,

the old temptress you never thought you’d see again,

listening to thin air singing lies,

wishing you could plead innocence

despite how well you understand the choice:

1. You step off into space and fly…

feel the wind kiss your skin…

bathe your heart with fire…

fall free and alive into her space

then agony – abruptly broken and torn,

faced with crawling again up the rocks

with bleeding fingers.

2. Or you back away through brush…

lock yourself to solid ground…

find the trail signs carved in rock…

follow the well-worn path on down…

then agony of slogging through the gray

mildew growing on the soles

of useless feet.

Why do you act as if the choice is hard?

Turning theatrically in circles.

Trying to rationalize with gravity

or God,

as if you didn’t hack your way through thorns

to see this awesome view again

or didn’t plan to jump.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Something quick before work

This is going to be a busy week and next week Karen and I are going on vacation and I may not post much...maybe try and pre-schedule something. But this weekend was a no-blog weekend, just family visiting.

Sally Loves Laundry Day

Hmmm...and maybe I can load a really short video I was playing with...(Wow! My camera takes videos too...now I'm really in trouble.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Just a poem for today

Just a poem today…a tad busy in the physical (but no less real) world.


Surprising how many sharks troll in your love,

though not unexpected; deep and strong as it is,

I did not plan for only angel fish

when I dove so decidedly in,

bringing extra tanks in case you would not let me breathe,

a knife in case I tangled in your nets,

and lights for darkness in your depths,

(I've done this before, you know, and drowned).

My friend and diving partner quit these seas

when his second marriage sank

with the speed of guilty feet encased in cement,

and tries to convince me to sky dive instead,

the birds always young and fresh like gravity-free chocolate,

tan and firm with a constant upward wind in the face,

but after the short adrenalin minutes

all that remains is to fold the chute.

At least the appetites of sharks are honest

and their bites direct.

So I keep on kicking downward through my years

to swim in your ferocious schools,

to care for your coral,

and maybe,

when oxygen starts running low,

to sing with your whales.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Fu Manchu

How my hot little mid-life crisis Honda S-2000 entered my life in 2000 is a pretty good story. It all started when the Honda dealer forgot to wash my green Accord… But that’s for another blog on another day.

BUTLER: “Why do you tease people like that?”

BAGMAN: “He loves it! Leave him alone!”

Today I just want to explain his name. I originally called him Shadowfax after Gandolf’s horse in Lord of the Rings. But it never felt right because I once had a ten speed bike I called Shadowfax. And my beard isn’t long enough.

BUTLER: “You don’t even have a beard!”

BAGMAN: “Let him dream! I have enough beard for all three of us.”

So it was really just a car. A cool one. I loved it. Fire Engine Red – except my friends in the Sheriff’s Department tell me that they call it “Arrest Me Red.” But I never got a ticket and never went much over 8 miles per hour above the speed limit. Usually. Sometimes. But if I am the lead car at a stop light, I get up to the speed limit pretty quickly.

And I adore on ramps to the Interstate if no-one is around. And my adrenalin is still up from taking it to an autocross race with a friend of mine last year which is where the pictures were taken.

BAGMAN: “And I love the way the girls look at us when the top is down!”

BUTLER: “They’re looking at Fu, not you. They look even more when the top is up. But please, you two testosterone junkies, just tell the story about the name and get on with it.

On July 18, 2005, I got a phone call at work. Modern, fast-paced medicine. Ptui. I never thought they did this kind of thing over the phone but a doctor whose name I have now repressed, matter-of-factly told me that the results of my biopsy were back and I had moderate to advanced prostate cancer. And have a nice day.

The journal of the next 9 months would make a good 87 part blog which some would find hilarious, some would find a bit nauseating, and most find boring so I doubt I’ll ever post it although I do share it, through my surgeon, Dr. Keane, who I do remember and respect, with other people who get that diagnosis.

BUTLER: “The car, Mark. Focus. You are writing about the car.”

Okay, okay – so for the first couple of weeks, I went on an emotional roller coaster of deep depression, abject terror, and also some amazingly ecstatic moments of deep joy over things like clouds in the sky. It was one of those incredible moments, driving way too fast, with the top down, staring at clouds, when a country song by Tim McGraw came on the radio.

BAGMAN: “Please tell me you aren’t about to print all the lyrics!”

And I’ll copy the lyrics below:

He said: "I was in my early forties,
"With a lot of life before me,
"An' a moment came that stopped me on a dime.
"I spent most of the next days,
"Looking at the x-rays,
"An' talking 'bout the options an' talkin’ ‘bout sweet time."
I asked him when it sank in,
That this might really be the real end?
How’s it hit you when you get that kind of news?
Man whatcha do?

An' he said: "I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
"I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
"And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
"And I gave forgiveness I'd been denying."
An' he said: "Some day, I hope you get the chance,
"To live like you were dyin'."

He said "I was finally the husband,
"That most the time I wasn’t.
"An' I became a friend a friend would like to have.
"And all of a sudden goin' fishin’,
"Wasn’t such an imposition,
"And I went three times that year I lost my Dad.
"Well, I finally read the Good Book,
"And I took a good long hard look,
"At what I'd do if I could do it all again,
"And then:

"I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
"I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
"And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
"And I gave forgiveness I'd been denying."
An' he said: "Some day, I hope you get the chance,
"To live like you were dyin'."

Like tomorrow was a gift,
And you got eternity,
To think about what you’d do with it.
An' what did you do with it?
An' what can I do with it?
An' what would I do with it?

"Sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
"I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
"And then I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
"And I watched Blue Eagle as it was flyin'."
An' he said: "Some day, I hope you get the chance,
"To live like you were dyin'."

"To live like you were dyin'."
"To live like you were dyin'."
"To live like you were dyin'."
"To live like you were dyin'."

And that is how Shadowfax became Fu Manchu, although I now realize that I shortened the two words into one.

I really love Fu. Zooooooooom!

Friday, March 27, 2009


I got away from blogging this week. Sort of. I think I skipped maybe two days. And am still not sure about the Photo Shootout thing...I'm pretty sure the theme is cemeteries. I think I know a few of the people who do it. Patty at Chrisfield, Maryland, Reggie Girl at Midlife, Menopause, mistakes and random stuff, and Barry at An Explorer's View of Life, (Butler says this was a very poorly timed theme, Barry, and understands if you don't post anything. Bagman, of course, thinks God has a warped sense of humor like himself). I also just learned of several other Shooter-outers - I hope I link them correctly: GingerV, Half Crazy, J9, Jen, Loida, and Sarah Paige.

And last time, I missed the underlying idea that these Friday shootouts gave us a chance to showcase our home towns, and posted stuff from all over and from different years. This time I took the effort to shoot in Charleston, SC. Well, Mt. Pleasant, which is near Charleston.

These are from the little cemetery behind an old church where I attend A.A. meetings. I go other places but this is where I call my home group. Not the cemetery. The church.

The fuzzy one above, I took during a wild period where Bagman insisted on shooting pictures from a moving car...yesterday's blog. But I save this one for today because...just because. This is I-526 going out of Mt. Pleasant. I ride it regularly and the little cross by the side of the road probably doesn't meet the rigid definition of a cemetary. But it is one of the hundreds of little cross memorials that people put up beside highways. You can't read it but it says "Jerry Ramos" and I always wonder who he was. And I always throw out a short prayer for him and his family when I pass.

Thank you, Patty, for saying (when I cheated last time) that home is where the camera is, because I can't resist posting some older, more distant cemetary shots as well:

This was in a place I wrote down as Tzuitlan, Mexico, somewhere in the State of Veracruz. I wish I had been carrying a camera but I only had a video camera and stills are poor from it. My wife and I had thought we could get from Jalapa to El Tajin in one afternoon and ended up at dusk in the mountains, lost, looking for a hotel or anything resembling a hotel in a large market town that had clearly not based its economy on the tourist trade. I kind of liked it but Karen wasn't too happy. Driving out the next morning in more drizzle, I saw this cemetary and stopped, shooting stills on a movie camera, wishing for a real camera and hearing a voice from the car, "Mark! Are you going to be all day?"


At least I had a still camera in Italy when we ran into the church cemetery (below) near Florence.

Haves and have nots. Maybe just waiting for the work to be done, or maybe the money just wasn't there for the Salerno family. Unlike some of the ones below...

Dante's tomb

I think this was in the Vatican but I was bad at documenting. I was shooting about 800 shots a day over three weeks. Unlike being lost and hungry in a rain, Karen was much more patient with me in Italy. But she was still not about to stand around with a notebook recording locations of shots for me. Mostly she was shopping, which gave me a chance to practice patience too. She'd dart into a shop and I'd say I was heading over to a church or some other place of visual interest. "Just don't lose me," she say. Thankfully, I never did.

This was in a download folder called Venice Day 1...but it could also have been in Sienna from the day before. The photo below was from the same folder and I know it was from Sienna.

The finger of a saint

And another saint (getting back to my hometown...or a sort of hometown) -- my mother-in-law returning to her roots in Vidalia, Georgia.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Bagman takes off his seatbelt and shoots

So I’m driving along to work on Route 17 out of Mt. Pleasant toward the new Ravenel Bridge into Charleston. Shortly before the bridge is the Scotchman Gas Station and Convenience Store where I often stop to wake myself up with a Red Bull. They call it Scotchman, I suppose, because they want us to think it is thriiifffty. But everything costs too much there, including Red Bull, so I decide to pass on it this morning.

Bagman suddenly shouts, “Hey! I want my Red Bull!”

Butler puts his hand on Bagman’s shoulder and says, “Easy Mr. B., he’s right to save a couple of dollars and he doesn’t need the calories either.”

Bagman goes berserk, shouting, “But I’ve conceded to the sugar free!” Then, without warning, he snaps off his seatbelt, grabs the camera and screams, “Let’s take pictures from a moving car!!!”

I’m going slow because there is a stoplight coming up, but I don’t like this one bit. I glance over but Bagman is already shooting. I start to tell him to put his seatbelt back on but Butler is already wrestling him for it. Since FuManchu is only a two-seat sports car, Butler and Bagman have to share the same seat and they are now rolling around on it as the light changes and I head up toward the Bridge.

“The Bridge! Take pictures of the Bridge!” Bagman knocks Butler to the floorboard and takes another picture.

“Hold on just one minute!” I yell, knowing that I, as well as all the other cars, usually take the new bridge at between 70 and 79 mph. (Don’t tell the police, although I think they already know and sometimes – but rarely – set up radar). Although I’m screaming at Bagman too, I’m not really too concerned since Fu and I (sometime I’ll blog about why I named him “Fu Manchu”) know each other well and have even done some amateur racing together (another blog for yet another time).

Bagman is now standing straight up in the seat and I’m wishing I had listened to Butler and kept the top up. Bagman is singing at the top of his lungs into the wind as we pass under the span.

“I love to shoot from moving cars,

It’s better than drinking in the bars

If it were night we could shoot the stars

Tra la la la la!”

“La doesn’t rhyme with stars,” mumbles Butler, his face pressed into the floorboard by Bagman’s foot on his head. Always the critic of rhythm and rhyme, I think. My thoughts are drowned out by cars honking angrily on both sides of me.

By now we are on the Crosstown and I’m hoping that Bagman is done. Or at least, since we’re not too far from my job, I’m hoping none of the cars around me are being driven by my colleagues who will give me a hard time about this. A woman passes on my right and gives me the finger. Who does she think she is, I roll my eyes. She's talking on a cell phone. I'm just taking pictures. I've seen people driving to work reading the newspaper!

Bagman is not quite done. “That church place!” He yells. “Let’s get a picture of the house where the guy has painted the side with religious stuff!” Unfortunately, it is on the other side of the road, so Bagman leans across the driver’s side to shoot it. Since I am in the driver’s side (because I am supposed to be driving), he leans across me and his huge barrel chest crushes mine and his thick beard gets in my eyes. My nose also figures out pretty quickly, unlike Butler and myself, he didn’t shower today. Or yesterday. And probably not since last week.


I’ve never wanted to get quickly to work so badly and, oxymoronically, driven so carefully and slow on the Crosstown before. Thankfully, Bagman has tired a bit already of this sport, the result of being refused his Red Bull. But he still takes two more pictures before I turn right after the hospital and into my parking spot.

Stuffing the camera angrily back in the bag, I slam Fu’s door and stomp into the building where I work, ignoring Bagman and Butler who are untangling themselves and carrying on their usual debate. At the elevator, I run into Miles who looks at me strangely and says, "What on earth were you doing back there? I was sure you were going to sideswipe that schoolbus!"

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Either come back inside and work on your graveyard photo shoot-out or take me with you today on you business trip to Columbia. Pay some attention to me, for Pete's sake! I'm 95 years old in dog years.

Or, at least, let me lick your face.

Monday, March 23, 2009

About to wage another war on fat

I am staring at the bathroom scale. 235 pounds! The cooking oil rich kingdom of Carbo Calorie-Azad has struck again -- with insidious subtlety.

Once again, my 200 pound body has been invaded and occupied by the additional, unwanted 35 enemy pounds. Not just any 35 pounds. These are the exact same 35 pounds that I’ve driven from my borders over and over since I turned 40. It’s like the Middle East except is my Middle. How do these 35 enemy combatant pounds keep infiltrating my defense systems.

My intelligence tells me that they come in three strategic waves.

Pounds 201-207 are the special ops advance scouts. Platoons 201 and 202 slip in under cover of a seemingly innocuous second helping of cereal or occasional purchase of a jar of mixed nuts. Stealth Squads 203, 204, and 205 dress in the uniforms of “nutrition bars,” arriving at my border with identification papers that show what appears to be a reasonably low number of trans-fats, calories, etc. My border guards, having been confused by these ingredients labels, are now easy pickings for 206 and 207 who begin smuggling in bigger weapons in cartons of ice cream that they camouflage with the words “Light” and “Reduced Calories”.

By then my border defenses are down, their tongues lolling on their sweet tooths.

It would still be fairly easy for my Central Command to drive the advance scouts out but my brain is not yet aware of the threat. My clothes still fit. The radar installations of my eyes can’t yet detect the tiny expansions around my chin, neck, waist, where the enemy digs in and prepares to call in advance artillery. I look in the mirror. I still look good. Preening and self-righteous, I don’t notice my security guard quietly slipping out the service entrance.

Pounds 208-220 are the heavy artillery and air strikes called in to soften me up. Even my preening Central Command mind can’t fail to miss them. The first barrage is an unexpected Friday night decision to treat myself to pizza just before bedtime. The next morning, bloated, I hold a council of war. But Artillery Pounds are strategic. Their guns go silent for a few days, while the nutrition bars continue chipping away, even risking an occasional Baby Ruth or scattering of M&M’s. My guard down again, I suffer another incoming bombardment at an All You Can Eat Seafood buffet.

By now, I’m clearly aware that the war machine of dictator Calorie-Azad is on the move. My pants still fit but they are tight. Getting ready for work, I have to pick my dress shirts more carefully since some of them begin to show a little stretching around the third and forth buttons.

My Central Command Brain knows the threat but there is now debate and discord among the junior officers of Willpower Battalion. Maybe we can negotiate a truce. Instead of going to war against Pounds 201-216 which have already crossed the border, we can let them have the territory they have gained as long as they don’t take any more. After all, the bulge in my dress shirts can be hidden by my ties, even though buttoning the top collar button is a little challenging.

Prime Minister Carbo Calorie-Azad quickly agrees. I can stay at 220 pounds and keep my wardrobe, uncomfortable as it is. In return, he will agree to feed me no more than one bowl of ice cream a night, two nutrition bars and one candy bar a day, and no more than two – maybe three – pizza’s a week.

Pounds 220-233 are the ground forces, tanks and armored personnel carriers that pour across the border in waves. They take advantage of the supply lines from grocery stores that have been set up without me knowing it. Too late, Central Command realizes that the coup has taken place again and my defending army has thrown down its weapons and sworn allegiance to the other side.

I try to dress for work and I can’t button my collar at all and my tie is askew, not to mention that it has stains on it from pizza sauce. I only have two pairs of dress pants that I even attempt to put on, the rest are pushed back in the closet. Looking like a slob, I go to the kitchen, open the pantry and am buried by an avalanche of cookies and doughnuts.

I turn around and there stands Pound 234, the infamous Little Debbie. She sits in my very oval office and grins derisively at me.

Vowing death before surrender, I race as fast as my thighs, which now rub against each other, will allow, down to the barracks where the few remaining troops of Willpower Battalion still swear allegiance to me. “No more all-volunteer army,” I announce. “We have to reinstitute the draft! But first we will do sit-ups!”

We all groan and lie down to begin yet another war to liberate my Middle. It will be a long, hard conflict but we know we will win in the end. The gods of exercise and diet are on our side!

And next time we will try and have border guards who are more vigilante about nutrition bars.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Missing blogspot

I've fallen behind in reading blogs! My heart cries forlornly, realizing that I am missing, hour by hour, all the wonderful, funny, wise, phootgraphic, artistic, beautiful, personal stuff that the wonderful people I am following are writing. But I'm taking a brief semi-retreat from this latest addiction to check in on "life after blogspot". See if my wife will recognizes me. Stuff like that. Difficult, sometimes, to remember that there is a real world that I live in. So if you haven't seen my comments on your blogs, that's why. I'm aiming for a blog every 2nd or 3rd day this week.

BAGMAN: "Yeah yeah...and on alternating days you'll write blogs whining about why you're not writing blogs. Give it a break."

I remember a quote I read in a collection of Robert Frost's notebooks. He scrawled, "Don't write unless you have something to write about. Until you have something to write about, go find something to write about."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Flipping Mattresses and the Vernal Equinox

Bagman and Butler are back!

Bagman seldom rises before noon, but today he is up with the crack of dawn, beating his chest, breathing deeply, leaping into Butler’s office like a ballet dancer (thankfully, however, without the tights), and roars, “Spring! Spring! The Vernal Equinox! I love the word vernal. It sounds so sensual…veerrrrnaalll.

“It’s just a season,” deadpans, Butler. “It means Spring. From the Latin. Vernalis. Spring.”

“Vernal, Vernalis, Venal, Vagina, Venus! I adore words that start with “V” And Springtime! I love Spring! The time when a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of…”

“Flipping the mattress,” Butler interrupts.

“Yes! Flipping the mattress! I love flipping the mattress…” Bagman suddenly deflates as he realizes what Butler is talking about. He stares at Butler with a mix of contempt and despair. Butler stares back with a mix of…well…just a blank stare.

While the odd couple engages in a staring contest, I should explain what this is all about. Eight years ago, Karen and I went out and to purchase a new queen-sized mattress. We were like the three bears in Goldilocks. One was too soft, one was too hard, etc. But instead of three, we spent days, going and lying down on every mattress in every store in Charleston. I never realized how exhausting lying down could be! But it had to be the perfect mattress.

And once we purchased it and wrestled it into the bedroom, and set it up, Karen announced her research in Consumer Reports that showed mattresses last longer if they are regularly flipped over and alternately turned. I supposed that this flipping and turning delayed the mattress’s inevitable development of buttocks-shaped indentations, so I agreed.

But soon, I realized that we were flipping and turning it every other time we changed the sheets. This was a lot of work, not to mention that, when turning the mattress, the corners were prone to knock the lamps off the bed tables. Finally I got up the courage to suggest that we could probably get the same benefit if we did it less often. I was thinking maybe once a year. Wrong.

Butler, being the emperor of efficiency, came up with the astronomically accurate system of flipping the mattress at each equinox and turning it at each solstice. Brilliant.

Bagman, gives up the staring contest with Butler and erupts, “Who else in the world does this?! Nobody! Most people don’t flip mattresses at all!!!”

“I’ll bet lots of the people who read this blog flip their mattresses,” replies Butler. “Although in Australia they probably do it opposite and flip on solstices and turn on equinoxes.”

“Bah!” shouts Bagman. “And furthermore, I’ll bet nobody does half the anal retentive things we do!”

“Name one thing we do that is…well, I won’t use the phrase.”

“Lots of things!” Bagman says. He is on a roll now. “Like when the spray butter is almost gone and you open a new spray butter container…who in their right mind stops to pour the last few drops of the old container into the new container?”

“Waste not, want not,” Butler intones self-righteously.

“And who drives halfway across town because gas is 3 cents cheaper per gallon?! Who reuses the dryer sheets in the clothes dryer? Who goes to three different super markets to maximize coupons with store sales? Most people don’t even use (bleep)ing coupons in the first place!!!!”

“But think of how much we save by stocking up on things that are on sale,” instructs Butler in his best schoolmarm voice.

“Which is why we have 90 rolls of toilet paper stacked in the garage?”

At this point, I walk out of the room, unwilling to continue listening to this argument. I can see both sides of it. (Well, duh, seeing both sides of things is why I’m saddled with Bagman and Butler in the first place).

But I have to admit that before I met Karen the Coupon Queen, I lived in a small rented apartment, had no savings account, and my credit cards were maxed out and I was using Visa to pay my Master Card bill and vice versa. And now our mortgage is almost paid off and I might have even had a nice retirement ahead of me if the Economy hadn’t just tanked. And we still might be able to retire on income gained by selling toilet paper on the black market.

But I must admit that I don’t really know anyone who actually flips their mattresses. Then again, I’ve always been too embarrassed to ask.

So, followers of B&B, how many of you flip your mattresses. And welcome to Spring.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Photo Shootout -- Houses

Oh my God! I have two blogs scheduled for the same day! I knew it would happen eventually !

Today is the Vernal Equinox and I'd been planning a special blog about flipping mattresses which my wife and I do on this special astronomical occasion. But today is also the scheduled Photo Shoot-Out day on houses. So, Bagman, Butler, and I voted unanimously that my friends on Blogspot are more important than the actual position of the Earth and Sun in the Universe so I will do the Shootout Today and simply change my Calendar so that the Vernal Equinox on Blogspot will actually occur tomorrow! And let the shootout begin --

But first -- Looking at the China and Chrisfield Blogs, I realized that the My Hometown Houses Shoot assignment had "My Hometown" in it...lazy me, instead of shooting around Charleston, I posted a batch of different abodes over time and geography...maybe I'll get it right new time with Graveyards. Also check out Halfcrazy this morning.

House on Panther

The Luxurious Accommodations on Dismal Key

The House where I grew up, in a painting by my grandfather

Doctor Denton’s House in Upper New York State

The Confederate Widows Home in Charleston

Artist Hank Chodkowski's studio – Sanbornton, NH 1985

Tree House 1998 (Brian still kids me about building this monstrosity for him!)

Pentagon on 9/11 (I just happened to be a NIDA conference across the street and wish I had a better camera -- this was a still from the video I shot that day)

Probably another series of blogs sometime in the future

And remember -- the first day of Spring doesn't actually start until tomorrow.

Rattlesnakes, Amends, and Endings

I apologize in advance if this blog is a bit too long or not so filled with slapstick. Blogs should be short. But it may be tough to bring the threads together in this final blog about my Dad.

BAGMAN: “Even tougher if you waste time talking about it instead of writing it!”

BUTLER: “Of if you keep interrupting, Brother Baggie.”

Okay. First of all, a short introductory fact that seems trivial but will be important later. Although the blogs I have written this week would seem to indicate that I spent lots of time on Panther and Dismal Key, the fact is that most of the two decades my father was there, I visited a few times but mostly communicated through letters. Snail-mail, although the terms hadn’t been invented then. The important thing to remember is: It took three days for a letter to go from Massachusetts to Florida, and vice versa.

Second, short introductory background – Two years before the end of my Dad’s hermiting, E. Foster Atkinson passed away and my Dad moved up in rank to the bigger shack on Dismal Key.

Rattlesnakes – The Panther on Panther Key was elusive but rattlesnakes were plentiful throughout the area. On times when I visited, Dad would always give me an extra walking stick which we used, not for walking, but to regularly beat the brush ahead of us and around us, to give these fellows time to slink away. I saw a couple but never got a good shot. My Dad saw them regularly.

One quick digression –

BAGMAN: “And you wonder why this is going to be too long?!!!!”

There was a tree house on Panther Key that my father had never investigated. But I really wanted to see if it might contain some treasure and was determined to climb up and poke my head in the small entrance hole in the floor. Of course, we were both concerned because it was an ideal place for snakes. So before I climbed up, he and I bounded it unmercifully with our sticks. Then, finally deciding it was safe, I carefully climbed the tree, prepared myself, and stuck my head up through the hole.

Six inches from my eyeballs was a huge coil of scaly diamonds aimed at my nose. I slammed my head back so violently, I put a gash on the back of my neck from the rough wood of the entry hole. But even as one part of my consciousness was preparing my introductory mea culpas to St. Peter, the adrenalin was catching up and I was identifying it as a large rattlesnake skin, shed some time in the past by a large but thankfully now absent reptile.

Enough about snakes, for now.

Amends. Alcoholics Anonymous is built around 12 steps of recovery. The 8th and 9th steps have to do with clearing up the wreckage of our past behaviors, making amends to people we had hurt. I had done this, at least, to the best of my ability. I had written friends, returned money, and in those cases where a simple apology would be meaningless, demonstrated changed (amended) behaviors.

But I had never done one with my father. And why should I, for Pete’s sake? His drinking caused him to leave me with my grandparents. Of course, that turned out to be great for me in the long run (another story) but my alcoholism had done nothing to him. Why would I owe him an amend? I owed him nothing.

But it nagged at me and getting free of guilt is survival for an alcoholic. One day, I had to admit that I had almost always been self-righteous with my father during visits and in letters. I knew we were both alcoholics but I was sober! I had found A.A.! He had tried a thousand times and failed. I preached at him. I refused to give him money. Actually, probably a good decision when dealing with an active alcoholic, but I had done it with an attitude. “You know, Dad, I’d love to help but I think you’ll just drink it up like always.” My tone was such I could have just as easily have added, “You dumb sot!”

I was successful despite him, not because of him. I had become a respected professional and he was a bum. A colorful bum, but still a bum. I told funny stories about panthers, and such, but at a certain level, that was how I felt. I had to get some humility and change that.

So I wrote him a letter expressing regret and love and understanding. I was humble. I took responsibility for my attitudes. I mailed it.

Three days later, I got a letter back from him. It was his amends letter to me.

I hadn't known it, because we didn’t always write that often, but during the last several months, his eyesight had been failing. He could no longer see rattlesnakes and one time a large rattler crawled across his shoe before he noticed it. He finally had to give up hermiting and had moved back to a small camper in Goodland, Florida.

Being back in civilization meant he was within walking distance of a liquor store. In no time he had drunk himself into yet another detox center. But then…you never know when it will click in…he actually got seriously into the A.A. program and got sober and started working the steps. He never drank again.

I know it has been a long blog, but if you remember in the beginning I mentioned that it took three days for a letter to travel the East Coast. Three days. Each way.

Months later when we were visiting and having the pleasure of actually attending an A.A. meeting together, we compared notes and on the exact same day at roughly the same time in the afternoon, we were, without knowing it, simultaneously writing amends letters to each other. I think that God works in very mysterious ways. Of course, some might say it could also be coincidence and I’m not into debating it.

Either way it was pretty cool.

So, bringing it to a close, he lived in Goodland for about five more years, attending A.A. meetings regularly, helping other alcoholics find sobriety, playing the accordion, painting pictures. He had a chance to meet Karen before he died.

And when he finally died, not of cirrhosis, but of a heart attack, I drove down for his funeral. It was attended by a huge crowd, incredible for someone who had been a hermit. And people got up and spoke of what he had meant in their lives. Men talked about how he had helped them stop drinking and it was because of him that they had their children back. One after another, people spoke about what he had done. I felt they were all looking at me.

Finally, it was my turn. I couldn’t control my voice. I don’t remember the exact words, but I remember it was pretty much like this:

“I’m an alcoholic. My Dad was an alcoholic. He left me when I was six and although we stayed in touch, we really didn’t have much time together on this world. In some ways you all know him better than I did. And I just want to thank you, today, for sharing what he meant to you. Because now, for the first time in my life, I can say without any reservations, that I am proud to be Al Seely’s son.”

Successful hermiting – customer service skills a plus

It didn’t tale long for Al Seely to know he had been fooled. Instead of following his doctor’s prognosis and dying quickly from cirrhosis of the liver, he was getting healthier. Despite its positive points, the prospect of living presented him with the unexpected problem of employment.

BAGMAN (sliding into the livingroom, playing air guitar like Tom Cruise, in a white dress shirt and briefs, singing loudly):

“And when I go back to the house
I hear the woman's mouth
Preaching and a crying,
Tell me that I'm lying 'bout a job
That I never could find.
Sha na na na, sha na na na na, Ba-room.
Sha na na na, sha na na na na, Ba-room.
Yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip,

Boom boom boom boom boom boom boom boom

Get a job.”

BUTLER: “Let me guess. Silhouettes?”

Finding and holding employment in civilization had been impossible for him in civilization which is why he received a monthly disability check. His original plan was to take his leaky boat into Goodland, Florida every month, pick up his stipend, buy a little food and a lot of booze, and start drinking himself to death on the trip back. But it never worked.

The next morning he would inevitably come to, still alive, lost somewhere in the Ten Thousand Islands and, hungover, have to find his way back to Panther Key. Once there, he would have to find a supplemental income to make it through the next 29 days.

His first entrepreneurial effort was to collect dead starfish that washed up on his beach. He would spread them out to dry in the son turning, Panther Key into Pungent Key. He could then sell them wholesale at a nickel apiece to middlemen who would then take them to souvenir shops around Florida and sell them to tourists.

Then, amazingly enough, his childhood dream of becoming an artist came true! He discovered the golden rule of retail marketing – location location location.

He was not one of the world’s great artists but he was one of the world’s few hermit artists and the Ten Thousand Islands offered a unique confluence of resources. In addition to dead starfish, the area was rich with sport fish, savvy charter fishing boat captains, and guilt-ridden doctors, lawyers and dentists from New York City.

The guys who ran the fishing boats were shrewd about giving their rich charters a “unique” experience in order to get good tips. They would tell every group they took into the Gulf, “I don’t do this for everyone but you guys are special and, if you want, I might be able to introduce you to the Hermit of Panther Key. He doesn’t like company, but in this case, he might not mind.” They usually did this at the end of the charter, when these upper class, middle-aged, beer-bellied gentlemen were beginning to rehearse the lines they would use to get back into the good graces of the fishing widows they had left behind in the Big Apple. Their past peace offerings of bracelets, earrings, perfumes, and more earrings were losing value.

But my Dad could take a faded wallet photograph of a doctor’s wife and turn it into a primitive likeness in oils in about an hour. They sold like hotcakes. The New Yorkers left with a key to good graces, the charter captains were assured of a better tip, and my Dad would get a few bucks, some of the day’s catch, and usually a six-pack of beer or fifth of top shelf liquor.

After awhile, it was almost a daily occurrence for my father to have big old fishing boats pull up to Panther Key. .”

Foster, who had tucked himself further away from boat traffic, scoffed at him. But Dad was doing well. His health was good and he making a better living than ever before in his life. The Miami Herald came out and wrote a feature on him. He became friends with Don Shuler, Larry Csonka and several other members of the then-champion Miami Dolphins.

He even once showed me a large bound book of signatures and said, “I’m the only hermit in the world with a guest book!”

The starfish were happy too because he stopped collecting them and started picking them up and throwing them back into the ocean. There’s an old popular motivational story about that but I will save it for another day.

Tomorrow will be the last hermit post – Rattlesnakes, Failing Eyesight, and Alcoholics Anonymous. Then the photo shootout on houses for Friday. Just running hard trying to keep up…LOL.

BAGMAN: “And when are you going to untie me from my chair so I can take a field trip to Georgia!”