Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Nature of Emergency

An article in The Japan Times the other day had me laughing again over nutty 911 emergency calls. Funny 911 stories are about as common as lawyer jokes but it’s a good guess that most of us haven’t heard the ones coming out of Japan. Until reading the article in Japan’s English language daily, I naively imagined that most of those oddball “Help” calls came from people in the US. Apparently the same thing goes on in Japan where police have complained that “unsuitable” emergency calls increased between January and November of 2014, raising the number to over two million. According to the National Police Agency non-emergency calls to 110 accounted for 24.3 percent of the total number of calls. Here are a few examples…

One woman called police about there being no toilet paper in a public bathroom. Another caller wanted assistance with a forgotten smartphone password. With Japan being the world capital of roadside vending machines it isn’t too unexpected that at some point a person would call complaining that a vending machine did not return the correct change; in fact, many have. Then there was the caller who must have been on the edge of insanity when he called begging police to PLEASE come and remove an insect from his ear. Never having heard of plumbers, a housewife tried getting police help in unclogging her home toilet, while another caller asked for a police cruiser to be dispatched to clear congested roads allowing her to drive a sick child to the local hospital faster.

Best though that we not point fingers too laughingly at Japan’s weird calls and perceived emergencies. Conceding that I live in a land where alligators and armadillos roam the nights and vehicles with the largest tires have the right of way, luckily, I’ve never had to call 911. But out here you never know what tomorrow holds. Some months back the county Sheriff’s Office contacted me with news that my address had been changed for the sake of 911 calls. Pinpointing my location was the problem. Maybe they’ll be able to find me now should I call asking for help subduing a wild pig.

 Judging from a list I collected, Florida residents seem to dial up 911 for a variety of quirky reasons…    

One man called 911 because he had been splashed by a car driving through a puddle. Another complained of too many onions in his takeout. An outraged woman called because her new rabbit did not have the floppy ears promised in a newspaper advertisement.

In Jacksonville, a man was so peeved when a sandwich shop left the special sauce off his hero that he called 911 twice. The first time to ask if officers could make sure his sandwich was made properly, the second to complain that the police weren’t responding fast enough to his first call. 

Hysterical voice: “My car will not start! I’m locked inside my car and nothing works and it’s getting very hot in here! Plus, I’m not feeling well." The dispatcher suggested pulling up the lock. The woman tried, undoubtedly surprised when the door opened.

Angered that her local McDonald’s was out of Chicken McNuggets, a Florida woman called 911 three times to report the fast food emergency. She called police to complain that a cashier would not give her a refund. When they arrived at the restaurant, the woman told them, “This is an emergency. If I had known they didn’t have McNuggets, I wouldn’t have given them my money, and now she wants to give me a McDouble, but I don’t want one.” She was arrested for misusing 911.

A Sarasota man being followed by police tried to sidetrack the officers by making a fake 911 call. The police car suddenly got a call from dispatch alerting them to an armed robbery happening several blocks away. The plan seemed to work at first when the police car sped off to answer the armed robbery call. Unfortunately for the man, another police car followed him into a parking lot and spotted the gun in his car. After his arrest, officers discovered the bogus 911 call had come from his cell phone.

A couple of funny 911 call transcripts:

Dispatcher: 9-1-1 What is your emergency?
Caller: I heard what sounded like gunshots coming from the brown house on the corner.
Dispatcher: Do you have an address?
Caller: No, I’m wearing a blouse and slacks, why?

Dispatcher: 9-1-1 What is the nature of your emergency?
Caller: I’m trying to reach nine eleven but my phone doesn’t have an eleven on it.
Dispatcher: This is nine eleven.
Caller: I thought you just said it was nine-one-one
Dispatcher: Yes, ma’am, nine-one-one and nine-eleven are the same thing.

Caller: Honey, I may be old, but I’m not stupid.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Lesbian Shoes

One of my friends tells me that my favorite shoes are a style favored by lesbians. He says that all I need to complete the picture is a tall tumbler of vodka and grapefruit juice with salt around the rim. According to memory, 1995 was the year he attended the ladies Nabisco Dinah Shore golf tournament in Rancho Mirage, California where the fairways during that four day event were crowded with lesbians wearing my shoes and toasting each other with big salty dog vodka cocktails. I had a big laugh hearing that and told everyone I saw for the next few weeks that my Palm Street Fisherman sandals were all the rage among golfing lesbians.

Rockport has been making shoes since 1972 and a few years later came up with a sandal they called the Palm Street Fisherman sandal. The first Rockport shoe I bought was the Palm Street Fisherman, enough to convince me that I had found a totally comfortable and durable shoe. Most of my shoes since have been Rockport. Hard to remember when exactly it was I bought the Palm Street sandals, but I’m certain it was no later than 1990 and possibly even earlier. Twenty-five years and those sandals are still pounding the roads, still babying my feet. The style I bought way-back-when is slightly different from the one available now. Originally, they were designed with buckles but the buckle has since been replaced by a more convenient Velcro strap.

Last week the right sandal suddenly began feeling loose, though not to the extent it was falling off my foot. The buckle strap had broken free of the leather side-piece it was stitched to. Right off I could see it was the kind of break easily repaired—that is, if you could find one of those rare people who were at one time called a cobbler. Being a Net savvy kind of guy, I googled ’shoe repair’ and came up with a fair number of hits for my area. Only problem was, none of them turned out to be shoe repair specialists. One of the stores I called suggested trying a motorcycle-leather goods store a few miles down the road. My response was, “Huh? That store is all Hell’s Angels and Harley Davidson!” The lady encouraged me to give them a try.

This sign is a bit deceiving. Maybe once it was a saddle shop. 
These days it’s a motorcycle shop.

So I took my broken Rockport sandal there and met a cool, laid back motorcycle mama who looked at the sandal and said, “Sure. Give me a few minutes. You can wait or come back in a while if you’d rather.” I took the dawg for a walk and returned about thirty minutes later. Perfect fix, perfect price: $4.00. At first she said five, but when it turned out I had only four singles apart from a twenty, she said, “Let’s make it easy. $4.00 is fine.”

Sometimes you get the feeling that everybody is trying to take advantage of you and then suddenly up pops one who surprises you.

I came home from the repair shop and mixed myself a big salty dog vodka cocktail.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


Up around 7:30 the morning after Christmas, I was outside ten minutes later yelling at Farina to shut up her non-stop barking. She ignored me, barking and snarling at nothing I could see. Everything looked normal, no squirrels, birds, armadillos or passing cars to spark her excitement, she mostly paced back and forth barking her fool head off at the high wooden fence that separates us from the neighbor’s house next door. 

One of Farina’s calmer moments

Sometime around 10 o’clock, thereabouts, Farina long over her noisy barking, neighbor Randy came over wondering if I’d seen or heard anything out of the ordinary around 7:30. Said he had gotten up and left in his truck to go fishing about 6:30 leaving his wife and brother-in-law asleep in the house. Once out in his boat, he remembered the Friday trash pick up and called home to tell Jeannie to put the trash and recycle bins out on the road. She told him to forget the trash and skedaddle home, the police were on their way, her car stolen out of the driveway and Jimmy’s truck tossed for valuables. The thief walked through the wide open gate in broad daylight, rummaged around in Jimmy's truck, then found Jeannie's car also unlocked but with the keys on the driver's side floor. He jumped in and made a getaway with Jeannie looking out the window just in time to see Santa Claus speeding out through the gate in her car. And there the source of Farina’s barking is revealed. Unfamiliar smell in the yard next door and she stood at the fence sounding an alert the whole time. In most cases out here, if a stranger walks silently through an unlocked gate and up to the house—even one in a Santa suit—he can expect someone from inside to step out the front door either shooting or waving a gun.

Gate & garage open and nobody home 

I have wondered half a dozen times about Randy’s & Jeannie’s habit of always leaving their gate unlocked and wide open, garage door yawning wide and nobody at home.


You might remember my neighbor down the road. He’s the good guy always willing to help out, always full of backwoods tales, the one with the gap in his front teeth who said he has a “dentist” that works out of the trunk of his Pontiac Le Grand and uses laughing gas as an anesthesia. That’s Manny. We were chatting at the gate the other day, him telling me, “Hell, I'll shoot the *!!%#^!&*^%#. I ain’t got long to live anyways.” He was talking about the rednecks over the way with their giant killer dogs, muscle cars, all night Loretta Lynn parties, and Sunday afternoon Iraqi war re-enactments. In fact, for the past couple of months the dogs are rarely seen, the parties diminished and the big gun shoot-outs even rarer. Seems most of what they do over there these days is run heavy duty equipment like road graders and other Caterpillar giants. Hard to tell what it is they’re doing with all the big yellow machinery, but what used to be invisible behind the trees is now a house revealed by the gouging out of trees and brush. Kind of like they are preparing the command post in a jungle hot zone, 500 feet on four sides of the house denuded of all but flat grassless dirt between them and an encroaching enemy. One thing easy to see without the wall of enclosing trees is the enlarged alligator pond and the rough and tumble 4-wheeler track running around the property.

View of ploughed up ground once blocked by trees

Couple of days after our conversation, the whole area a chilly mess of mud and mist, I was hoping there would be no need to go out. Manny called needing a ride to the store for some smokes. I appreciate his no car, no driver’s license situation and try hard not to turn down his infrequent requests for a ride. So, we drove south two miles to the Kangaroo Store where gas is down to $2.20 and three packs of Manny smokes cost $15. He told me that word from Randy was there's been no news from the police about Jeannie’s stolen car. Doesn’t surprise me. If they haven't found it by now, it's probably long gone, a diminishing blip on the radar headed for the North Pole.

Far down the road Manny’s small trailer sits snug under the trees. 
Yep, that’a toilet just to the left of center.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Christmas

Farina wishes everyone a merry, merry Christmas!

The carpet of leaves in our Old Dixie Lane front yard
If you squint it might look a little like Christmas ornaments.

Not exactly a Christmas tree but it’s almost as pretty as one.

Thanks to all those readers who have been faithful browsers among the pages of Scriblets. I wish (along with Farina) all of you the best, the merriest and happiest of Christmas seasons.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Rain & Snow: Kawase Hasui

Sometime in the early 1930s, a young man named Robert Muller noticed a woodblock print in a New York shop window and went inside for closer look. He ended up buying the print, using his meager monthly student allowance of $5. The print was Kawase Hasui’s 1931 work, Kiyosu Bridge. Later in his life, Muller opened a print and framing shop in New Haven, Connecticut and became an astute collector who over the years stimulated renewal and development in the art of Japanese woodblock printing.

One of the blogs I always look forward to reading celebrates the old shitamachi district of Tokyo and is written by a young South African woman living and working there. My great enjoyment in her writing (and photos) comes from the fact that I lived in Tokyo myself for 28 years, yet never fail to learn something new in blogposts from Rurousha. A week ago her post opened with a photo of Kawase Hasui’s woodblock print, Kiyosu Bridge. The artist’s name was not new to me and in line with other Japanese art posts I’ve done, with encouragement from Rurousha it seemed a good time to devote some space to this woodblock print artist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Kawase Hasui (1883-1957) was a leading figure in the shin-hanga, or ‘new prints’ movement of Japanese woodblock printmaking. As a young man he studied with Kaburagi Kiyotaka, the man who founded the shin-hanga concept. Hasui traveled frequently, filling sketchbooks with drawings of scenic places around Japan. Many of his print designs are based on his watercolors, many of them done a year or two before the appearance of a first print, but in some cases years, even decades passed between the original work and the print version.

A Tea Plantation, 1941; watercolor in preparation for a woodblock print

Most of Hasui’s prints appear to be based on beautiful, atmospheric watercolors, probably done on location. His sketchbooks include what look like preparatory sketches for either a watercolor or print but it is hard to say much definitively about his creative process as it remains somewhat shrouded in mystery, and for now at least, lacking in very many substantiated facts. Through his teacher Hasui met Shôzaburô Watanabe, a driving force behind shin-hanga printmaking. Watanabe ultimately published most of Hasui’s work.

Daimotsu, Amagasaki in the Rain, 1940

In the print above we see not an old rural Japan but the blossoming industrial Japan of Hasui’s day. Despite that, it is an unmistakably Japanese setting.

Hasui is highly regarded for his exquisite color, perspective and ambiance in a wide range of woodblock prints. Over his lifetime he created over 600 different prints and is recognized as one of most prolific shin-hanga artists of the period. In 1953, the Japanese government decided to commemorate traditional printmaking and commissioned Hasui to make a special woodblock print. The result was Snow at Zojoji Temple, a work later designated an Intangible Cultural Treasure. The year before his death in 1957, Hasui was named a Living National Treasure in Japan.

Snow at Zojoji Temple, 1953

Pond at Benten Shrine in Shiba, 1929

The Road to Nikko, 1930

Cloudy Day, Mizuki Ibaragi, 1946

Mandarin Ducks, 1950

Night Rain at Kawarako, Ibaragi, 1947

Dahlias, 1940

The print of Dahlias, along with Mandarin Ducks above are examples of Hasui’s few non-landscape compositions.

For more about the art of woodblock prints see an earlier post here.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Muddy Dogs & Arks

Paradise is wilting. For long months I sang praises of the beauty and the beasts of a green homestead ideally situated along a country road. Three or four weeks ago the rains came and the beauty (though not the beasts) began to sink beneath a daily onslaught of monsoon-like weather. Everything outdoors has become a swampy bog of rain battered grass and mud stirred up by swimming armadillos. The drainage canal running under the drive outside my gate is rising to the top of its banks while great ponds of water the breadth of swimming pools stand in three or four places around the yard. During the brief times between rain, trees shiver in a wind shaking off cascades of water that drench me still and deepen the squishiness beneath my shoes. Yesterday my nearest neighbor and I were joking about building an ark to save us and our dogs, but not the mosquitos and armadillos, nor the water moccasins looking for high ground. Closer to Indian River Lagoon, Manny’s yard is more flooded than my own and to step outside his house he needs rubber boots and a snake bite kit.

My yard is less threatening. Apart from the swarms of mosquitos that fasten on to me and Farina dog and hitch a ride into the house, my concern these days is keeping Farina out of the pools of standing water. Like a six year-old child who thrills to a romp in the summertime splash pool, Farina loves nothing more than to zoom in high speed circles through one pool and on to the next, finally plopping herself down to pant and drink the muddy water. Naturally she comes back to the house soaking wet, covered in mud and with a big grin on her face. She would love to run and jump on the bed to wallow herself clean but instead gets confined to the back porch until I can wipe her down. Given total freedom she would do this until I ran out of towels, happy that the next time she could stay dirty. That Farina is a caution. For the time being she’s making do with leash only outings, not allowed near her pleasure pools.

What do you do with grass that grows super fast under a pall of rain? Anybody will tell you not to try and mow a wet lawn, especially if you’re riding a 300 pound lawnmower on less than dry ground. For the past two weeks I’ve been sitting on my back porch watching the grass get taller and taller as it gets wetter and wetter. A large area reaching out from the porch about 100 feet is slightly higher than the surrounding area and last Thursday we had a miraculous clearing of skies that brought warm sunshine for three quarters of the day, me watching and testing that high ground for dryness every hour. Around 4 o’clock I decided the ground and grass were dry enough to run the mower and cut down the burgeoning grass with all its hiding places for snakes.

Red Ants Flourishing in the Rain

I probably have the worst reputation anywhere for luck with lawnmowers and have encountered every mechanical dysfunction there is at one time or another. It would help if I knew the fuel line from the brake pedal but since I don’t repairs have been costly. I finally broke down and bought a “new” machine but on occasion have managed to stall that one too. Appears to be no limit to my jinx. So, out in the exhilarating sunshine motoring through the tall grass, I had almost finished cutting the area of high ground when I either turned too quickly or too suddenly and heard an ominous SNAP! And in that second I lost my steering. No need to dither or sit there scratching my chin. Obviously I was once more thrown into the hands of a repairman.

I’m beginning to think there must be something anti-mechanical in my blood. About a month ago in the space of seven days and with no particular stress, first my vacuum cleaner broke and a day later the rice cooker; that was followed two days later by the death of my printer and on Saturday the passing of my DVD player. I mean, hell, what’s going on with a string of tragedies like that? As I said to a friend later, “I’m wearing a helmet around the house these days because I expect the roof to fall down on me any day.”

Yes, I still love life in the country on my muddy dirt road just west of Indian River, but it does have its challenges. But most of all I would never take my dog away from the heaven she’s found out here.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Collector of Souls

With a career that spanned from the 1920s into the 80s, Alice Neel is widely regarded as one of the greatest figurative painters of the twentieth century. Born on January 28, 1900 in Merion Square, Pennsylvania, the third of four children, she was raised in a straight-laced middle-class family at a time when expectations and opportunities for women were limited. After graduating from high school, Neel took the Civil Service exam and got a well paid clerical position that helped support her parents. After three years of work and art classes at night, she enrolled in the Fine Art program at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women in 1921, graduating in 1925.

Still Life, Rose of Sharon, 1973; Whitney Museum, New York

While in art school, Neel met an upper-class Cuban painter named Carlos Enríquez and married him in 1924. She eventually moved to Havana to live with her husband’s family and was there embraced by the Cuban avant-garde, a group of young writers, artists and musicians. It was in this environment that Neel developed the foundations of her lifelong political consciousness and commitment to equality.

Pat Whalen, 1935; Whitney Museum

A daughter, Santillana, was born in Havana in December of 1926. The couple returned to New York where one month short of her first birthday, Santillana died of diphtheria. In November of 1928, a second daughter, Isabella Lillian (Isabetta) was born in New York City. Barely two years later, Carlos returned to Cuba, taking Isabetta with him. Mourning the loss of her husband and daughter, Neel suffered a massive nervous breakdown, was hospitalized, and after a suicide attempt doctors placed her in the suicide ward of Philadelphia General Hospital.

Self Portrait, 1980; National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC

Released in 1931, Neel moved to New York where for many years she remained poor and unrecognized as an artist. And yet she was a pioneer among American women artists, living a life devoted to her art despite any and all circumstances. For decades she chose her subjects from family, friends, and a wide assortment of local writers, poets, artists, students, textile salesmen, psychologists, cabaret singers, and homeless bohemians, a selection of subjects that was a portrayal of, and dialogue with the city in which she lived. Neel thought of herself as a “collector of souls” and it is clear that she honored those she chose to paint, portraits oftentimes more real than the people themselves, full of restlessness, vulnerability and imperfection. In an interview shortly before her death in 1984 she said, “I could have been a great psychiatrist but it’s more fun being an artist. I see what’s here; I don’t look for anything, I just look…I love to paint people torn to shreds by the rat race of New York.”

Peggy, 1949
Notice the unnaturally lanky arms that stretch out and double back, hands (one open, one curled closed) at rest on either side of the face, fragile but insistent arrows pointing to the cut above one eye, bruises beside the other.

Alice Neel’s obscurity ended when the woman’s movement discovered her in the 1970s and brought a success closely tied to gender equality and feminism. Her portrait of Kate Millet for the August 31, 1970 cover of Time magazine was the result of her new found recognition.

My Mother, 1952; private collection

How does one define the painting of Alice Neel? As realist, expressionist, psychological portraitist, or what? Some might tag her as a social realist but her art is as far removed from social realism as it is from pop. An astute critic may see in the artist’s roots a mixture of the Northern European tradition, New York’s Ashcan School, and American primitive, but there is something about Neel’s art that defies categories. The Art Spirit, a book by the Ashcan School’s Robert Henri was Neel’s bible. Art critic Jeremy Lewison has said that Neel’s realistic approach to the human form at a time of growing abstraction among her contemporaries confirmed her as an outsider. Looking at a collection of Neel’s work the viewer is made to see something fresh, vital, moving, amusing, tender, cruel, mournful, grotesque or sparse. Impressions can be contradictory in the work of Alice Neel, but almost always a visceral experience that plays with the emotions.

Virgil Thompson, 1971

George Arce, a neighborhood boy Neel sketched and painted on several occasions

George Arce, a few years older

About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America