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....
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....