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....
01/29/14 Human Interest
Sharon Alford receives the best Christmas present in the history of Christmas presents, a boss portable hi-fi with fold-out speakers. A sophomore at Hialeah High near Miami, she can now listen to her new Beatles records endlessly. Lying in bed in February 1964, she studies the photo of beautiful Paul on the back of her new album, Meet the Beatles.
As the cutest Beatle, Paul can have his pick of any girl. Sharon is a pretty blond, but she has a practical streak. Can she really hope to win Paul's heart? Probably not. John is too brainy and unfortunately married. George isn't bad looking despite the caterpillar eyebrows but seems so darned earnest — he might prefer a serious, tea-drinking girl. Sharon gazes at Ringo's picture and thinks strategically. She might have a better chance with the goofy drummer, a short fellow with a prominent nose....
01/27/14 Human Interest
Born in Mississippi, a former Studebaker salesman, Patrick Smith sat down at his Merritt Island dining room table three decades ago and on his trusty manual typewriter banged out a novel that many Floridians regard with the affection usually reserved for the family Bible.
Surrounded by family, the author of A Land Remembered died Sunday from complications of pneumonia at Vitas Hospice in Brevard County. A tough old cob who spoke in a magnolia-tinged accent, he was 86....
12/31/13 Human Interest
Joe Wasilewski has handled thousands of snakes during the last half century. He has suffered more than a dozen venomous bites, including a few that led to the emergency room. "If you're an electrician,'' he tells people, "you expect a shock every once in a while. If you handle enough reptiles, you're going to be bitten.''
So he's careful. He's also — and he'll be the first to tell you this — sometimes an impatient guy. In late November, he'd been away from home for a while — Seattle and Jamaica. He had phone calls to make and people to meet. He had cages to clean. He was jet-lagged. He was in a hurry....
12/11/13 Human Interest
What would Joe Weiss think? Would he even recognize it now? When he fried his first fish at his sandwich joint about a century ago customers had to take a boat from Miami to reach the sandspur-covered barrier island. Inside the rickety eatery, sweating profusely, hungry patrons swatted away ferocious sand flies.
Joe and his wife, Jennie, didn't get rich. That happened later, after the day in 1921 when a marine biologist showed up with something interesting in a bucket. "You ever eat these?'' the biologist asked....
11/29/13 Human Interest
In his studio, Ferdie Pacheco stares at the canvas and picks up his brush. Another friend from his youth has passed away. Time to summon a memory.
Ferdie dips the brush, applies a dab of paint to old No. 35. It seems impossible to him that Rick Casares is gone. Casares, the pride of Ferdie's old neighborhood in Ybor City and the legendary Chicago Bears running back, was young and powerful and immortal. And then suddenly — it seems like it happened suddenly to Ferdie — his boyhood pal was an old man, chronically ill, with no chance of getting better....
11/27/13 Human Interest
Miss Martha wills her hands to do the work, which is shucking one oyster after another, a hundred oysters, five hundred oysters, a thousand oysters, day after day and year after year.
She grips one in her left, slips the knife into the corner with her right, twists. Shell pops open. Another twist and the meat falls into a gallon container.
Miss Martha is the oyster-shucking lady of Apalachicola, the oyster capital of Florida. She started shucking when she was 12 years old. She is 64 now. A half-century of shucking has sometimes left her bloody and usually unbowed. She has scars, but even more pride....
10/30/13 Human Interest
I've always thought no state boasts such diverse music as our own. On my iPod you'll find songs from Greenville's Ray Charles and Gainesville's Tom Petty. I've got Orange Blossom Special, a famous bluegrass stomper from Gladesman Ervin Rouse, and Zora Neale Hurston's a cappella rendition of an old Bahamian tune that migrated to Florida, Crow Dance. In the guilty pleasure department, I listen to Miami Beach Rhumba by Xavier Cugat without a blush. Now come a couple of new treats....
10/30/13 Human Interest
By JEFF KLINKENBERG
Times Staff Writer
Oink. Oink. OINK!
The frog girl, Avalon Theisen, is all ears. A pig frog is a pretty good frog. Nice and big. Some people hear them and think they're hearing alligators. No way. Alligators have a deeper voice.
The frog girl can tell you about pig frogs. Coloration and pattern? Variable, but often olive green. Dorsum? Brownish to gray. Ventral mottling? Moderate in the throat but heavy in the area of the hind legs. Genus and species? Rana grylio....
10/02/13 Human Interest
I'm a map guy. They're on my wall, in the glove compartment. I like spreading them out and remembering where I have been and dreaming about where I would like to go. Memories come flooding back, even a few bad ones, like the time the airboat broke down in the Everglades after dark. You're reading this. I survived.
I study my map of the Big Cypress, the best place on Earth except during mosquito season. Tracing the Loop Road with my finger, I pause at Gator Hook Strand and remember the thunder of joyous frogs at sunset. An Ocala National Forest map reveals the campground where my dad first pitched our tent and where I first swam in a gin-clear Florida spring....
In the Darwinian world of the Florida panther, the strong kill the weak to win the right to mate. In Southwest Florida, there is no surplus of wild land for young males. It's taken. If they stick around, they may get their tawny brown butts whipped or worse.
So they wander north looking for new territory and romance. They pad through the Big Cypress, the Fakahatchee Strand and the Florida Panther Refuge. They skulk through farmlands, orange groves and ranches. If they don't lose heart and turn back, they encounter the Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest, which buys them a few more days of safe passage. Finally — and this is no sure thing — the young male sprints over busy State Road 80, bounds a fence and slinks onto a cattle rancher's latest acquisition....
08/28/13 Human Interest
Sex. Murder. Scandal.
As much as I would like to stir a little tabloid juice into my story about shuffleboard, I won't, at least not right now, because this is a family newspaper and because I am going to talk about Sam Allen, the nicest guy on earth.
A grandfatherly gentleman of 84, he is quick to smile and enjoys a jolly laugh. He loves kids and fishing. When asked to talk about himself he says, "I'm not very important,'' but in a way that doesn't make you feel like a yellow journalist for putting him in that embarrassing position....
08/05/13 Human Interest
ST. PETERSBURG — Lorraine Margeson buys sensible, heavy-duty leather gloves perfect for weeding her yard. Weed weaponry also includes a pole for shooing away critters that are no stranger to her yard — rattlesnakes.
A ferocious environmentalist, Margeson loves her rattlers to the point of warning her north St. Petersburg neighbors to leave them alone. "There's so much going against them,'' she says, meaning her cold-blooded friends disappearing throughout Florida because of habitat destruction and persecution....
07/31/13 Human Interest
Gone. They all are. Tarzan, dead. Lloyd Bridges, the Sea Hunt guy, rest in peace. Esther Williams, the Hollywood mermaid, passed away in June. Bruce Mozert knew them all.
Mozert is not gone. He's 96, walks with a cane, loses his breath and, once in a while, his train of thought. "But I'm still standing,'' he says in a strong voice. He reports every day to his studio around the corner from what was once Florida's most famous tourist attraction, Silver Springs. For almost half a century his job was taking the photographs, usually black and whites, which publicized the great water park to the rest of the world....