10/31/14 Human Interest
When I started at the Miami News in 1966, I remember that reporters typed their stories with two fingers on cheap paper. If they needed to move paragraphs around, they did so with scissors and glue. They impaled finished stories on metal spikes for a psychopathic editor who forbade talking until sunrise.
The few female reporters wrote for the "women's section." I remember only one reporter of color. Everybody seemed destined for lung cancer; occasionally a wastepaper basket burst into flame from hot ash....
10/02/14 Human Interest
CLEARWATER — Bat people develop superior eyesight. They often develop acute hearing. Sometimes they develop painful cricks in their neck. Bat people are always looking up.
Bat people Cyndi and George Marks like visiting their yard just after sunset to look up, though sometimes their dusk adventures take them out of their Clearwater neighborhood. They'll drive to Coral Gables to see a good bat, or to Key West, or they will look for bats in the Ten Thousand Islands in the Everglades, where ferocious mosquitoes are so plentiful that a billion bats, much less a few dozen rare ones, couldn't eat them all....
09/18/14 Human Interest
North of us, Americans are drinking apple cider, eyeing the pumpkins, calling the chimney sweep, dressing in flannel shirts against the slight nip in the air.
Not in Florida. We're still adjusting the air conditioner. We're still watching the tropics and wearing Hawaiian shirts.
Oh, Florida. Where is our fall?
Wait a minute. It's here, fall, our greatest season. We can't brag about cold weather or neon leaves, but the peregrine falcons and red knots from the arctic have arrived. Those ultimate snowbirds, white pelicans from Canada, are now exploring our bays. Our oranges are getting orangier by the day. Fresh-squeezed juice is the official drink of Florida fall....
NAPLES — Arturo Freyre lives among the lions.
It's not the Florida he or hundreds of other nervous Collier County residents ever imagined. Florida is supposed to be about shopping centers, golf courses, theme parks and watching pelicans at the beach. Cardinals are pretty and welcome, but tree frogs are noisy unless you turn up the air conditioning.
Five years ago, Freyre and his wife retired to a spacious patch of southwest Florida that borders wilderness teeming with animals that make the couple think twice about nighttime walks — bears, coyotes, snakes....
09/05/14 Human Interest
Charley Morgan, who calls himself "the ancient mariner," felt like a kid again. Eighty-five candles will grace his next birthday cake, but when he noticed the palm trees swaying beyond the window, he marched outside to look at Boca Ciega Bay. Standing on his dock, he saw Blue Cloud prancing at the end of a rope like a rambunctious colt wanting to leap the corral fence.
"Let's go sailing," Morgan said. ...
08/01/14 Human Interest
TARPON SPRINGS —
Guy on the phone says to "Google 'Billy the Kid' Emerson. He's old now, but he was really famous once. He lives here." // So I Google. An African-American piano player born in Tarpon Springs, Emerson ended up at Sun Records in Memphis. Elvis recorded one of his songs. // Talk to Billy the Kid, implores the anonymous caller. What a story he must have to tell. // In the summer of 2012 I call him. Billy the Kid Emerson says: "I NEVER EVER TALK ABOUT THOSE DAYS" — those days when he played the devil's music and knew Elvis. Now he listens only to spirituals. In fact, he's been writing a suite of religious hymns he calls his masterpiece. // I suggest we do an interview at his house. // "I'm not looking for...
05/30/14 Human Interest
I grabbed my dad by the swim trunks. He plunged into the Atlantic Ocean and began breaststroking along the beach with me in tow. When the bubbles cleared, I saw all kinds of fish through my mask.
I was about 6, too young to identify exactly what I was seeing, but I can still remember, all these years later, feeling overwhelmed by the number of fish, small and large, hundreds of them, that surged around us....
05/28/14 Human Interest
Air conditioner groaning: "Humma-humma." Repairman says "I've got bad news." Write check and listen to thunder in the distance. One thousand one. One thousand two. Unplug the television, unplug the computer. Lightning. Frog-strangling rain.
Mosquitoes whine on the patio. Banana slugs slide down the dripping fence. Ice cubes melt in the Coke Zero. Late afternoon clouds climb above the beach like bruised cotton candy. Sand too hot for bare feet — gulf only a little better. Listen closely: Shuffle while wading in. Stingrays, mating, wait mischievously on the bottom....
CLEARWATER — On a sunny spring morning the mangroves bustled with life. Nesting birds flapped wings, hopped and preened amongst a cacophony of clucks, grunts and peeps. It was one of those days when Ann Paul and Mark Rachal were confident their jobs were the best in Florida.
They work for Audubon. Paul is the regional director of West Central Florida's Coastal Island Sanctuaries. Rachal guards those seabird-important islands from Crystal River to Charlotte Harbor like the most territorial mother hen....
05/01/14 Human Interest
By JEFF KLINKENBERG
Times Staff Writer
The Artful Dodger is gray, skeletal and flea-bitten. In the morning, he sometimes shows up on my six-foot fence, glances carefully in all directions and leaps to the windowsill. From there he slinks into the wild coffee bush with the idea of ambushing birds at my feeder.
Like an English bobby in a Dickens novel, I take action. Because it is not my ambition to operate a bird restaurant for stray cats, I explode onto the patio, waving my arms and shouting. For a moment, Dodger runs in place. Then he bounds from ground to windowsill to fence to the hibiscus on the opposite side. Gone....
04/21/14 Human Interest
Sure, things look bad for the bee man. But we are talking about Harold P. Curtis. Bees sting him and he hardly flinches. Bees die by the thousands and he raises another brood. Just let a bear approach his hives. He will not surrender a hive without a fight.
Morning. Clearing skies. Citrus trees blossom through clouds of excited bees. His famous orange blossom honey is waiting to be gathered. ...
04/02/14 Human Interest
A traveling day. Nathan Martin is going to town. He is going to have a meal with the woman he loves. He usually hates wearing a shirt, but Vida will tsk tsk if he shows up with chest bare. He also needs to decide what to do about footwear. He hates shoes even more than he hates wearing a shirt.
For as long as anyone can remember he has tramped through his North Florida woods in naked feet less human than possum. They're yellow, padded and bristling with nails more like talons. Those feet fear no stone, stick or snake. But maybe, just a little bit, they fear Vida....
03/12/14 Human Interest
MICANOPY — O.J. Brisky hated his first name, but he loved books, old dusty books, books with a little mildew or history hidden among the pages. For decades, he bought them by the thousands and sold them at his beloved North Florida store, O. Brisky Books.
Brisky, who helped start the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair, which celebrates its 33rd year this weekend in St. Petersburg, would perch behind the counter next to his rotary-dial phone and hold court about one antique book or another. If a customer was unable to locate a desired book, Brisky could almost always put his hand on it, which seemed impossible given that neatness and a dependable filing system was a low priority....
03/07/14 Human Interest
Oak pollen on your car. Zyrtec on your kitchen counter.
Swallow-tailed kites from South America soaring above the cypress hoping to snatch dragonflies from midair. Bald eagle chicks screaming from nests near every lake, bay and bayou. At Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, ravenous wood stork chicks by the thousands waiting impatiently for parent birds to return with minnows.
Azaleas. Orange blossoms. In Grapefruit League play, Joe Maddon searches for a fifth starting pitcher. Tourist traffic creeps west toward the beaches....
It can begin early if you grow up a little wild and more than a little barefoot in Florida: Something is going to bite you. Something is going to sting you. At the very least, you are going to touch something so horrible, and so repugnant, that you'll be scarred and scared for life. Decades later, while working in the yard, you might suffer a flashback and imagine you are once again seeing the whopper bark scorpion, stinger upraised, poised to inject your pinky with venom. You will remember the pain inflicted in your little boy hand by the hairy puss caterpillar. Don't touch that tree without looking first. Real Florida columnist Jeff Klinkenberg recalls some of his more memorable too-close-encounters and rates them on a pain scale. With scary-good illustrations by Times artist Don Morris....