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For Frank Viscido, it all comes down to cat stands

LARGO

Frank Viscido has led one of those multichromatic lives that exist outside the normal flow of things, all original and unapologetic in its embrace of the comedy of the irrational.

He lives alone in a trailer home on the west side of Largo with two cats to keep him company and offer inspiration.

Now approaching 70, Viscido has put to rest a half-dozen careers and settled into what could be his last — though one of the most satisfying.

He builds cat posts on his front patio, indulging a lifelong itch to be a carpenter, a cabinet maker and an artist, and sticks it to the bottom lines of corporate cat furniture makers by undercutting their wholesale prices by at least half.

"Below cheap, whatever that means," he says of his advertising — almost solely based on the lost art of one-on-one salesmanship.

His customers range from personal friends to random drivers who see his occasional weekend sales near the entrance to the West Bay Mobile Home and RV Park, to a handful of Pinellas pet stores that know a good product when they see it.

"He just stopped in one day and asked if we could take a look at them. They were great," said Larry Lipke, owner of Pet Safari in Dunedin. "They're a significant savings, and we pass that on to the customer. We sell his for probably half what a big manufacturer sells it for."

The cost? $60 for Viscido's, $130 for a factory-made product of the same size.

Before he began building cat posts — playgrounds for domestic felines, with caves, ladders and platforms — Viscido was a timeshare condo salesman.

He lived at Green Street and Duval in Key West in the 1980s; a loaded description of place and time that conjures exactly how Viscido describes it: "Everyone there was a freak."

And so was he.

Before that, he was the only one of his friends to join the Air Force after a moment of twentysomething wanderlust and gusto resulted in a mutual pledge to enlist.

But war stories, tales of being saved from depression by a slinky young prostitute and the travels of a bygone era are not the subject of this story or his current life focus.

Now, it's about the cat stands, the sales and the people he sells to.

"Most of my friends are folks I've sold cat posts to. Good quality, low price. They like it, they like me," Viscido said. "I'm getting respect, is what I get out of this business. I get smiles out of people."

Though the connection between a cat post and Mozart or Picasso might not be clear, when it comes to scrap wood and carpet, a few nails, screws and staples, Viscido's talent becomes apparent.

"He's an incredibly creative person. No two pieces are the same. He may make one, maybe two, then change it and make something else. He's like an artist," said Lipke, the pet store owner.

His ideas for the post designs, what cats might like to play with, come from Mossi Moe and Mittens, the cats his grandchildren gave him. He doesn't speak much of his ex-wife, though he is still close to his two children.

Satisfaction from cat stands, he says, is not something he figured he would have gotten in his senior years — but it's enriched his life nonetheless.

"It's something I'm finally getting at the end of my life," Viscido said.

Dominick Tao can be reached at (727) 445-4154 or dtao@sptimes.com.

For Frank Viscido, it all comes down to cat stands 09/07/10 [Last modified: Monday, September 20, 2010 3:29pm]
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