Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Skeleton Dance, or Stories I Like, Yet Am Not Entirely Convinced They Are True, Part Five

Longtime readers of my foolishness might remember this story, I first published it back in the ancient days of Myspace, but I have recently unearthed new information which begged for an updated version. While plagiarizing yourself is looked down on by the elites, sometimes loose cannons like myself have no other choice in our relentless hunt for the truth.

Several Christmases ago I was at my parents’ house with my sister and then-wife. My dad made an offhand comment about a place called the Skeleton Hotel. Apparently construction started on a hotel back in the ‘20s during one of Florida’s periodic land booms. After the inevitable bust there was no money left to complete the hotel, so it sat unfinished for years, earning the nickname “The Skeleton Hotel.”

One of us commented that with a name like The Skeleton Hotel there should really be more skeletons or ghosts running around that story. 

“No, never saw any skeletons,” he said. “But I did find a mummified hand and a coffee can full of coins there once.”

Wait, what?

So my dad and some friends were playing at the old hotel and started digging under the front stairs. That’s when they unearthed the mummified hand and can full of coins. We asked him what the coins were like, were they regular U.S. money? Doubloons? Whatever money leprechauns hide? He wasn’t really sure, or couldn't remember, or tried to throw us off the trail. They took the hand and the coins to the police, then never heard anything else about them.


He did manage to save a photo of his find, however.

We were awestruck by this story. Not only did little kid dad find actual buried treasure, an obsession that took up like 40% of my brain when I was a kid, but he also unearthed a mummy hand, with all the weird, unholy powers that was sure to bring him.

My sister and I were doubly struck by the fact that he didn’t feel this story was interesting enough to drop on us until we were in our 30s.

I can understand that a bit now – had he told me that story when I was a kid, our yard would have looked like the surface of the moon after my frantic searches for treasure.

Couple weeks ago I mentioned this story to my mom. She said she didn’t remember anything about it. She also pointed out that my dad would regularly, let’s say exaggerate stories for comedic effect, and that my sister and I could be somewhat gullible about this. For example, he got pins in his shoulder when a car slipped a jack and fell on him right before I was born. When I asked  him about the scar he told me a kid at a campfire had thrown a flaming marshmallow at him, leaving a (rather large) permanent scar.

I don’t know if this was supposed to be a joke or a lie turned into a teaching moment, but it did the trick. While I’m a fan of both shenanigans and fires, ifI felt things were getting too rowdy around an open flame, I had a vision of my dad’s marshmallow scar. “This could get dangerous,” I’d think. “I better get out of here before people start flinging flaming marshmallows.”

So in the spirit of the investigative journalism that The Goo Goo Muck is renowned for, I decided to see how true the Skeleton Hotel story was. My mom didn't offer much hope, but she could just be part of the conspiracy. The first step was to see if the Skeleton Hotel even existed. Holy crap! While I was picturing a much more Addams Family skeleton, it looks like the Skeleton Hotel was a fairly well-known landmark in Lake Meade, and stayed up until the mid-'60s.

If you listen carefully, you can hear the mummy's hand howling for his can of coins.
You can't see the haunted front steps from here, but they were probably taken down by subsequent treasure hunters.

I have no idea who my dad's friends were as a kid, so there's no way to track them down without, actual, you know, effort. However, through a half-assed Google search I found a Fort Meade Historical Museum which mentions a 1957 bank robbery where two dudes used an airplane and kidnapped a policeman. Maybe the coins were hidden then? I'm not saying the sky robbers were cursed by the unearthly mummy hand, but I think that anyone with a scientific mind can infer that they 100 percent were.

Based on this evidence, I decree that not only was Polk County a pretty strange place in the old days, but I declare my dad's story to be True. I will be contacting the sheriff soon to claim the can of coins as my dad's rightful heir. They can keep the mummy hand. I've got a hard enough life trying to stay away from flaming marshmallows without getting mummy curses on me.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Man with X-Ray Eyes

"Looks like we got the Honeymoon Suite," said my co-worker.

"You're crazy," I replied. "It's just a nice hotel."

"Did you see the bathroom? It's see-through."

"First of all, that's a bad photo, and secondly, in what universe is a see-through bathroom sexy? You're insane," I said, resting my case.

My co-worker Matthew and I were rooming together at the American Library Association's annual conference in Washington, D.C. The W hotel was giving cheap rates, but that rate would be even cheaper with two thrifty guys sharing a room.

The week before the conference we'd crack jokes about the see-through bathroom, with me insisting that there was no such thing, and even if there was, no one would want a see-through bathroom anyway.

I arrived in D.C. first. I couldn't check in til afternoon, so I spent the day wandering through the Smithsonian. It was cool visiting alone because I could spend as much time as I wanted checking out certain things while ignoring boring stuff.

"Oh, the history of commercial aircraft? ZZZZZZZZZ. Hey, look! Spaceships and WWII planes!"

People had warned me about D.C.'s heat, but as a native Floridian, I didn't pay too much attention. Hell, I grew up in humidity and heat. Maybe I'd run a marathon up there just to show everyone.

They were right. August in D.C. is no joke. It didn't help that I was carrying around all my clothes in an overstuffed messenger bag like a homeless person.

So I was more than ready to check in to the W. And yeah, it's a super-nice place. Great bar up on the roof with a view of the Capitol Building so you can pretend you are in the beginning of an action movie, lots of amenities and ....holy crap. See-through bathrooms. Yep. There's a toilet, a shower, a sink, all out there in front of God and everyone.

Artist's Rendition.

Shit. Matthew was right.

By the time I was in high school, group showers were a thing of the past, which was just fine by me. In the years since I had seen more male anatomy than I cared to, thanks to tricks like Hanging Brain or the Minnesota Wristwatch . But these were parlor tricks performed by degenerates that an upstanding lady or gentleman could simply ignore. I was going to have to like, shower and use the bathroom in clear view of another human being for a whole three days.

I have a confession to make. While I am a fellow who appreciates occasional off-color or bawdy talk, I'm a total prude when it comes to bathroom matters. I close the bathroom door when I'm at home alone. That scene in Bridesmaids where everybody's all shitting in the street? Gross. The term "Brainfart?" Gross, and probably my most hated phrase.

I had no problem changing in front of another guy, or sleeping in the same bed with him, but having to sit on the toilet while he was a few feet away watching cable? I would rather run a marathon in the D.C. heat, provided I had a private place to shower afterwards.

"Well, I'll be damned.'" I said. "You were right." Looking at Matthew's face, I could tell that he didn't really want to be right.

Luckily, my roommate was as genteel and refined as myself, so throughout the three day conference we made elaborate plans to make sure the other was far away or deep asleep or roofied before showering or using the bathroom. Because we were very cultured, we never actually talked about this, we just sort of worked it out without resorting to anything as crass as communication.

We were able to survive the weekend, but the incident leaves me with questions. First, who thought that was a good idea? How many architects and designers and planners had to OK a clear bathroom? Were we really in the Honeymoon Suite? What new bride or groom wants to see that? Save some mystery, people. And more importantly, I wonder if the statute of limitations has run out on suing for emotional distress and how much can I ask for.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Comedy Classics

We were somewhere near Daytona on the edge of the ocean when the '70s soft rock began to take hold.

My friend Todd and I were driving to Jacksonville after another big Orlando/Gainesville meetup/reunion in Cocoa Beach.  We were playing my Wussrock playlist - you know, AM Gold, Yacht Rock, the sort of songs where they use the word 'lady' a lot. You heard it on the radio if you grew up in the '70s. If you grew up a little later, you were probably conceived to it.

Todd and I were roommates in Gainesville years ago. We could...well, honestly we could be pretty annoying when together. Actually, I've got a fairly large group of people like that. Everyone has in-jokes with their friends, I've managed to meet and befriend a few who could stretch those in-jokes past the point of comedy, way past annoyance, barrelling past anger, and finally into hysteria. Well, hysteria for us, anyway.

We were playing Gerry Rafferty's hit "Baker Street" (You'll know it when you hear it) and one of us came up with the idea of President Obama playing the sax solo in it. Here, now it's in your head:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-Yi762sQTo

This naturally led us into all sorts of scenarios - Obama practicing daily in the Oval Office anxious to show his sax skills to the public, a public address where he would announce "America, we are a strong nation. But we are never stronger when we can share the gift of entertainment to the world. That is why I have gathered you together tonight. Folks, I've been practicing these tasty sax licks for a year now, and here is my gift to you, the American people. Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the great Gerry Rafferty."

Needless to say, our Obama impressions were flawless. Or we'd do an impression of a secret service agent seconds before the sax solo hits: "Mr. President! You're on!" This one in particular would crack us up. We then expanded our joke to having President Clinton step in for the guitar solo at about 4:45 if you're following along on Youtube. I'm pretty sure we were picturing him doing the 'guitar face' where you sort of half close your eyes and bite your lip. At least I was.

You could argue that this scenario is not funny. I probably wouldn't argue too strongly with you. It could have been the consequence of a long car ride, lots of caffeine and boredom. But it made us laugh and passed the time.

Couple weekends later I was in Atlanta. After a few drinks Todd and I couldn't stop our Obama sax routine. Predictably, our comedy was lost on the squares, who pointed out things like the fact that Clinton played the sax, not Obama, or that we were being annoying and stupid. Much like Lenny Bruce or Richard Pryor, we were just ahead of our time.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Return to the Sea

Years ago I received some advice from a wise old Native American. I had just moved back to Gainesville after spending a year in Atlanta delivering food and felt that I had basically wasted a year of my life. I didn't like Atlanta, but in truth, I didn't really give it much of a chance.

"Remember," he said, in a voice resonating with ancient wisdom, "Never live somewhere that isn't within a half hour of water."

Technically, that ancient Native American was really just one of my friends, and there was a very good chance that one or both of us were drunk on King Kobra malt liquor at the time, but I've remembered his advice ever since.


I'm no "Salt Life" guy, but I can't deny that the ocean has a pull on me, a calming effect, probably from growing up near it. Again, if I grew up in Nebraska, I'd probably be waxing philosophical about the meditative effects of wheatfields, so take my psychological musings with a grain of salt. It's one of my homemade therapeutic tools, along with punk rock and the healing power of a good drunk

The past few months, hell, past the year or so has been full of death and a strange, nagging feeling similar to waking up from a bad dream - you can't really remember what happened, you just know enough to realize you should feel bad or upset somehow. Then you wake up more and the feeling fades away.

A friend's dad had recently passed away. He was one of the few adults in my teenage years who treated me with respect and interest, even when that respect wasn't actually earned or deserved. Coming closely on the heels of losing another friend, this sort of seemed like a psychic last straw.

Since I am an unattached grown man who can take time off from work, I decided to take a trip. I didn't really have an idea as to where I was going, I just felt the urge to go somewhere.

I ended up in Bradenton. I didn't tell anyone, mostly because it wasn't planned, and partly because once I ended up there, I felt like being anonymous. Sure, I can be anonymous just as easily in Jacksonville, but it wasn't the same somehow.

I didn't shop around. I got a room at the first place I saw close to the beach. I bought some trunks and walked into the Gulf of Mexico. It was warm, and I could see little transparent fish swimming near the shore. It felt right. I felt like the kid at the end of The 400 Blows when he finally makes it to the ocean. Except of course, I knew all about the Gulf and that kid had never seen the ocean. Thinking about it, maybe I wasn't anything like that kid at all, and the only thing close to the French new wave were the European tourists gazing in disbelief at my pale, almost translucent skin.


The song "Drowned" off the Who's Quadrophenia kept running though my head in a loop as I swam and floated around for about an hour.
 

Let me flow into the ocean. Let me get back to the sea
.

I didn't think I was stressed, but floating out there in the Gulf I could feel the anxiety leaving my body and floating away in the water, probably out to Mexico.

I got out to get some food. Driving around the island (which is what we called the beach), I was struck by how many ghosts inhabited it now. That's where my first girlfriend and I used to go to watch the sunset and mess around. That's the channel where my dad and I would fish in. Both of them are dead. I was playing Quadrophenia and thinking how I had probably listened to this album on the same beach probably 25 years ago.

I ate middling fish tacos and listened to poor renditions of Bob Marley, Jimmy Buffet*, and Van Morrison while I drank a fruity drink and watched an angry sunset. I listened to the tourists and thought of ways to butt into their conversations just so I could insert some lie about being a tourist from the Midwest finally getting to see the Gulf.

See, I told you it was angry.


I came back hours later after the sun had set. The night was cloudy. The water was cold but I needed to get back in. I acclimated and started swimming.

I wanted to feel something. Something more than just the absence of stress from earlier. I wanted to feel my muscles burning, my lungs aching for breath, and hopefully avoid any Jaws or Kraken beneath me.

I swam out as far and as fast as I could, then stopped and treaded water. I panted in the cold water for a while, then dove as far down as I could before my sinuses threatened to implode or a Loch Ness Monster noticed me, then flew back up. I could still see the white sand of the beach, so I knew I was OK, even if I was starting to realize that maybe this wasn't one of my smarter ideas, what with the sea monsters probably starting to wake up.

In The Postman Always Rings Twice the protagonist wants to swim as far as he can in the ocean until he can't muster any more energy and just sort of let nature take its course in a sort of passive suicide. I didn't have anything that drastic in mind, and plus, I hadn't helped murder a diner owner to get with his wife, so my conscience was clear.

I swam back, walked to my motel and spent the rest of the night watching cable in bed, feeling worn out, both psychically and physically.

The next morning I got up early and drove home after a great night's sleep. Once again, I had stumbled on to a perfect homemade therapy - something to do with salt water, anonymity, and shark avoidance. Someday the American Psychiatric Association will recognize me for my services. I'm not sure where exactly my statue should be erected, but I have several majestic poses already picked out.



* Trick question! As a native Floridian, there are no good versions of Jimmy Buffet.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Money Folder

I'm not the greatest mathematician. If you've ever watched me try to calculate a tip or figure out how much longer a movie lasts, you'll soon realize that I'm basically functionally retarded when it comes to numbers.

I've had to do some calculatin' at work recently. In my last bit of mathmagic, I submitted an invoice requesting an order of 200,000 cards at $27.88 per thousand for a total of $5,576. Pay attention, this will be on the test.

As with many things work-related, this required dozens of signatures and different offices and forms and letters and holy crap I just fell asleep reliving all those forms I had to fill out.

About a week after I turned all this in I get a call from someone in City Hall. The numbers weren't right, which wasn't really surprising. She talked me through it and pointed out that the order I submitted actually came to $55,760, a sum that would never, ever, ever get approved.

I hung up and looked at my forms (always keep a copy!). I dunno, it looks like my numbers were right. 200,00 cards, $27.88 per thousand...that should come up to $5,576, right? Then again, just because I came up with the same answer twice doesn't really mean anything, so I asked some smart people and they came up with the same answer. So when City Hall called back this morning, I laid out my case.

It did not go well. Like a beloved comedy routine, we kept getting stuck in a loop, which I'll recreate for your pleasure:

City Hall: "So if you order 200,000, that would be $55,760."
Me:    "Right. But they're $27.88 per thousand. So you would multiply that by 200, right?"
CH:    "OK. $27.88 times 200,000"
Me:     "No. $27.88 will buy me 1000. To get 200,000, I would have to buy that 200 times."
CH:     "So multiply $27.88 by 200,000."
Me:     "No. Say I go into a store. I've got enough money to buy a thousand of these. But I want 200,00. So I'd multiply that by 200, right?"

After about 10 minutes of this, she hung up and said she'd call me back. While I was waiting for her call, I began to question my math. She was probably right. I mean, she works with numbers every day, and if I could do math, I'd probably have a different job. Why am I pestering that poor woman? Then she called back and said, "OK, so my math skills have disappeared." Then we worked through the requisition process like a team, which was nice, since she said I was driving her to drink on our first call.

I don't mean to make fun of City Hall lady, since anyone can have a brain slip-up or get so sure of something that we fail to see the facts. Hell, I do both constantly. But if you're ever in a situation where my math skills are what saves the day, that is a situation you do not want to be in.


Thursday, March 3, 2016

Pants on Fire

"Man, I just can't believe it."

The words came from the guy sitting next to me in study hall.  They were punctuated with a heavy theatrical sigh. Let's call the speaker Steve.

I sat there trying to focus on whatever I brought to study hall, but Steve wouldn't let up. He now complimented his heavy sighs with some dramatic head shaking.

I knew Steve would keep this up until I made some sort of comment, so I waded in.

"Uh...you OK?"

"Yeah...I guess. Sigh. I've got this girlfriend up in New York. Last week she was murdered by some drug dealers. Luckily, my uncle lives up there and he's got a bunch of friends from 'Nam who have all sorts of killer weapons. They know the cops can't do anything, so they're gonna take 'em down. I'm supposed to go up there for the funeral and meet them and blahblahblah..."

I had seen that Charles Bronson movie on TV last night as well, but let Steve keep whispering the plot, spiced in with declarations of his fighting and weapon abilities while I haphazardly went about my work. These stories had been going on for a while, and while I didn't really encourage them, they were fascinating just for their sheer audacity. He was taking a chance that I hadn't seen the movie he was plagiarizing as well as banking on the fact that I wouldn't call him out on any of his fantastical tales.

Which I didn't, so I guess the guy knew his audience.

It's funny - people feel compelled to share their secrets with me all the time. I've had countless conversations that start with "I'm really not supposed to tell anyone this..." or end with "I guess I really shouldn't have told you that."  It still happens, and I'm not really sure why. Maybe because I can be counted on to keep a secret unless it makes a really funny story. Maybe I have a trusting face?

But Steve's tales were something else. I was awed at the sheer audacity of them, if not their originality. They were generally blatant rewrites of whatever action movie had struck his fancy lately, interspersed with digressions on Steve's fighting skills.

I fancied myself an experienced liar, but my lies were utilized to get out of trouble or used as an occasional spice to liven up a story. I have completely grown out of such childish antics and would like to remind readers that all stories I post are run through a battery of fact-checkers, which explains why I'm down to like one story a month now.

But back to Steve. His penchant for stealing storylines was emblematic of a bigger problem. He was also highly susceptible to '80s media. At one point he became obsessed with the hit TV show Miami Vice, like a lot of people at the time. Unlike most people, he took it a bit farther and started dressing like a high school version of Don Johnson.

Of course, a lot of other people probably did that. What they didn't do, however, was go undercover.

Apparently there were a few convenience stores that would sell booze to underage kids. Steve would go into them dressed like a mini Don Johnson, buy some beer, then call the cops. Or maybe he was wearing a wire already, who knows.

I didn't really drink in high school, and honestly thought that the kids hanging out in parking lots getting drunk every weekend lacked imagination, but even I considered this a Benedict Arnold-like strike against the kids.

That was the last I heard of Steve. After we had both successfully completed study hall I didn't see him anymore, which was fine with me. It took a lot of psychic energy to act halfway interested in recycled action movie plots every day.

Occasionally I'd think about the guy, wondering if he had picked a new persona or had finally gotten comfortable enough with himself that he didn't have to do stuff like that anymore. Adolescence is a time to put on different guises and characters, and although most kids didn't take it to the extremes Steve did, we were all in the process of figuring out who our real selves were.

Then I'd forget about the guy, harnessing my mindpower to decipher the lyrics to punk rock songs, where the best skate spots were, or the best way to get my money's worth at the Wendy's buffet.

Years later I was working at a film developing place in the mall and I see Steve saunter up. He was a mall security guard, or possibly had bought a really good replica uniform from the same place he bought his Don Johnson getup from.

He didn't recognize me, and I didn't say anything to him. Actually, I couldn't even if I wanted to, since he was telling my co-worker some story about trying out for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who had spring training in Bradenton. After he left, I told my co-worker, "Hey, uh, I know that guy, and he makes up a lot of stuff."

"Oh, that's just Steve," she said.











Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Old Follks at Home

Bradenton, at least my little corner of it, was a strange place to grow up in. When my parents first moved there, there weren't many kids in our neighborhood for my sister and I to play with. There was also a prevailing parenting philosophy at the time that if kids weren't doing yardwork or domestic work, they should be out doing ...something or other until dinner time. That's how my sister and I made friends with a lot of old people.

Our street was full of elderly people - I remember at least two of them referred to as "The Colonel." You'd see them out watering their yards or smoking cigars and they'd talk to you. Somehow my sister and I decided to take our old person relationship to the next level.

I definitely remember us hanging out in a lot of sun rooms, Florida rooms, and living rooms (I sort of think all of these are the same room). Sometimes our elderly neighbors would give us cookies or candy, and we'd talk about...jeez, I have no idea. School? What else could we talk about? The houses were shaded by palm trees and you could see the quartz crystals sparkling on the outside walls. The rooms were heavily air-conditioned, so much so that you could almost see your breath indoors. You could also vaguely smell the residue of decades worth of cigarette residue on the walls.

Sometimes WDUV would be on lightly in the background, making me think now that we were part of the entertainment for cocktail  hour.

Funny thing is, I don't ever remember an invitation, I just remember going up to the door, like you would with an age-appropriate friend.


I do remember a couple of the old guys telling me some pretty cool WWII stories, but I've forgotten most of them, only retaining the impression of hanging out in the cold Florida living rooms while the ceiling fans whirred above.

I don't know what the old people got out of these visits - I guess they got to hang out with some little kids for an hour or so until we all sort of mutually decided our visiting time was up.

I also remember cutting through people's yards and gardens regularly - whether on our way to the bus stop in the morning, or just deciding to play in someone's back yard other than our own. There were lots of houses with landscaping full of ferns and palms dark enough that you could pretend you were in a jungle. There was also a family of wild parrots in the neighborhood that would screech occasionally to add authenticity.

We didn't have a strong concept of property rights, and luckily this is before Florida became synonymous with shooting people, and I guess nobody really minded a pair of kids trespassing through their property at the time. If they did, they never said anything about it.

Again, I realize that this is another of those stories that makes it sound like I grew up in the '30s or something, but if you think about it, culturally, the early '80s were still really the '70s. Then you have to subtract a few years for it being Florida, then another few years for it not being Tampa or Miami, and ....uh, do a little more subtraction, and you've ended up with 1964. That seems about right.