Wednesday, May 25, 2011


FAQ’s for married people
Our newly-wed grandson, Daniel, and his lovely wife, Emily, will not understand this post. Let’s hope it will be years before they quit having genuine conversations. For the rest, however, you can use this as a wall chart to save breath. Instead of repeating the same questions and answers forever, simply use a number.
  1. 1. Where are my (socks) (library books) (teeth)?
  1. I dunno.
  1. 2. Why don’t we ever have (gravy) (chocolate cake) (barbecue ribs)?
  1. Have you seen the clothes in the Fat as a Pig department?
  1. 3. Why do you lock the doors when I go put out the garbage?
  1. I didn’t do it.
  1. 4. Why don’t you call (your sister) (my nephew) (my old fraternity brother) and see how they’re doing?
  1. Why don’t you?
  1. 5. Where do you keep the ice water?
  1. In the microwave.
  1. 6. What is that dark stuff (around the doorknob) (on my shirt) (on the dog)?
  1. Schmutz.
  1. 7. When are you going to (clean the ceiling) (plant a big garden) (wax the car)?
  1. Right after I get a tattoo on my rear end.
Notice that there are many more possible questions than answers. I didn’t even list the popular “Yes,” “No,” “Maybe,” and “Soon,” which deserve their own numbers. They may all mean the same thing, depending on context and mood. For example, in response to “Are you done yet?” or “Are you ready to go?” They are polite and handy euphemisms for “When pigs fly out of my ______,” or “You’ll know when I’m damn well ready to say so.”
This  list can be tailored to your individual lives. Hope you will share your favorites.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Fletcher High School

This novelette was collected for our 50th high school reunion in 2004, using memories from Corky, Mike, Mayo, added to my own.

Sorry if you get five of these; I’ve been getting bounce-backs. Our fiftieth Fletcher High School class reunion is this weekend, 
and I collected some stories for a handout. Thought you might enjoy.
Thanks to Corky, Mike, Mayo, June and others who have helped piece together some memories to share. Some are short, some a little longer, but each one triggers another. Hope it does that for you, too.
Crinoline petticoats, poodle skirts, and ballet slippers were everywhere in the Fifties. Some fads, though, were ours alone. Keychains chained together, dangling from purse to pavement. Penny loafers with heels removed were a local preference, and our mothers shook their heads. Were we the only ones who bleached their bangs with peroxide and ammonia, then dyed them purple or green for special occasions? Our mothers banged their fists against their heads.
Who remembers “Starlight Theater” in the Gator Bowl, where many of us sang and danced in the chorus while real show-biz people sang things like “Rose Marie, I love you!”  Elsie Behnum’s Little Theater at the old U.S.O. on First Street? The plays were all about gypsies and woodland fairies.
Remember sneaking into the old dinner theater off Atlantic Boulevard, and climbing through the holes in the floor to get to the roof? Who remembers climbing into some of the houses where no one seemed to live, just to see what was there? Now we know they were vacation houses for people who never took vacations.
Remember Piggy Mullis jumping out of an upstairs window onto the roof of the covered walkway to the portables? Remember why?
Mayo remembers using "F" Club meetings to get out of the house on a school night and afterward sneaking into the Atlantic Beach pool and jumping off the Atlantic Beach Pier. Carol remembers the cheerleaders skinny-dipping in the University of Florida pool after a late night basketball tournament, and hiding under a float in the middle when the guard passed by.  

After winning the state track meet our senior year, most of the team celebrated by going down on the beach (tide was out) and drinking beer out of a quart bottle.  Mayo, Mike, Claude, Tommy, Ray and Dean shared. This was a big night on the town, Fletcher Style. . Mayo hopes no one will present him with the baton he dropped in the relay.  
When Fletcher played Leesburg in football, the team would spend the night with players from their team or others who had volunteered to open their homes. Our junior year, Gene Coenen just mauled the tackle across the line from him, over and over.  The guy was beat up and bloody and turned out to be from Gene’s host family.
We were just beach kids. Not surfers, just kids who had the beach for a big back yard. We didn’t worry about skin cancer, undertows, sharks. In fact, the lifeguards raced from pier to pier one week before the annual Pier Shark Fishing Tournament. Go figure, Bob Clark. We would find blue crabs in the little tide pools behind the sandbars and take them home for our mamas to cook. (Recipe tip: don’t put too many in the pot or they climb out and run all over the kitchen, very unhappy.)
At the north end of the beaches were dunes and jetties; at the south end, bigger dunes, all the way to Saint Augustine. It never occurred to us that these were not ours to roam and explore, and to find the artesian wells that smelled like rotten eggs but did the job if you were thirsty. In between, the beaches had bulkheads,  pitiful attempts to keep the Atlantic from swallowing houses. It didn’t even take a hurricane, just a good Northeaster, to knock down a section of bulkhead, suck out the sand behind it, and eat up the little houses there. The bulkheads at Atlantic Beach were bigger and curved, to turn the waves upon themselves. They lasted longer than the flat ones, but are gone today. The jetties are off limits today. Driving on the beach is off limits.  Both are probably good ideas. Sunscreen is a good idea. A dab of zinc oxide was probably not enough.
Mayo and Claude made a fairly good living, for teenagers, pulling cars off the beach. Folks would drive out from Jacksonville, drive down onto the beach at, say, the 20th Avenue south ramp, at low tide, then bob around on tubes, lay out on the sand, go to sleep, and be amazed that the tide came in. They never knew they had a problem until Mayo and Claude, or perhaps Joe and Bobby, showed up to help them out.
Mayo and Claude would arrive in Mayo’s Ford, which he didn’t want to get all salty, so they would start by letting the air out of the stuckee’s tires. They would rock the car to break the suction, give it a big heave, and try to move it.  Sometimes they would put cardboard or towels under the tires to get traction. Usually the car’s owner would get into the action, as the tide rose higher. If all else failed, Mayo would hook up a rope from his Ford and give a yank, but this was the last resort. Usually a whole afternoon’s work would net four or five dollars, but that was a lot of Coke money.
One Sunday, after church and before MYF, there was a beach party up at the jetties. It was a big one, and there were even some Baptists and Episcopalians along with the Methodists. After lunch, a small group decided to climb the jetties out to the end. It was only about a mile, an easy walk. Some of the girls followed some of the older guys (older, surely wiser) and didn’t turn back when the others did. They climbed and climbed, sure that the end was in sight.
They noticed that the rocks seemed to be getting slipperier, and the waves coming higher, even splashing clear over the jetties. About that time they noticed that the sun was getting lower, and the beach party would be breaking up. The way back was completely under foamy water. They sat close together and thought they would be missed, and surely a search party, maybe a helicopter, would come. They were wrong. Everyone thought they had gotten a ride with someone else.
It was nearly dark, and the guys were just as scared as the girls, but wouldn’t admit it. A lone shrimp boat slowed on the St. Johns side, and shone lights on the group. The shrimpers yelled for them to stay put. They went back out around the end of the jetties, came in where the water was rushing south, threw out nets and shouted for them to jump. They literally pulled them in with the shrimp nets.
Back at the beach, the party was over and everyone had gone home. One of the shrimpers  took the group back to town in the back of his pickup. The parents were glad to see them, but ready to kill them.
Corky and Jane were walking down the hall from the cafeteria to Mr. Doggett’s office in the fall of 1953. They had been working on ideas for the National Honor Society’s annual project. One idea was a tutoring program for the members to help the junior high kids who needed a little special attention. Another idea was to send members to either Jacksonville Beach or Atlantic Beach elementary. This would combine good deeds with a half-day or so out of school, and maybe parents would loan the kids their cars for such a worthy cause. Certainly a stop by the drive-in for shakes and fries would be a worthy reward as well. They needed to get the principal’s approval, first of all.
“You’d better stop that,” said Jane, as Corky brushed his hand against hers.
“You’d better stop that!” said Corky, as Jane elbowed him in the ribs.
“You’d both better cut that lovey-dovey stuff out!” said Coach Hoye. “Next thing you know, we’ll have kids holding hands and smooching in the classroom. Borders, see me after school! King, any more of this and I call your mother.”
The pair didn’t need to be told twice. To break the unwritten rule against unseemly displays of affection was one thing. The far worse thing was to have Coach Jarrett, Hoye, or Brant humiliate the guys in front of the other guys. It was just a much better idea to save displays of affection for the later hours, after choir practice or M.Y.F., or at the drive-in movie, steaming up the windows. Corky and Jane were still blushing as they entered Mr. Doggett’s office. His secretary sent them into his private office to wait. 
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t Corky and Jane. What brings you to my office on this fine September day? Hope we don’t get a hurricane this year. How are your classes going? Are your folks alright?” Mr. Doggett seemed to be chatting on to divert attention from the fact that he had been spending some time in his little private bathroom reading a Wallace Stevens book. He wasn’t embarrassed about revealing the fact that he did, indeed, use a toilet occasionally. He only wished he had emerged from his private room carrying Chaucer.
It was 9th grade, and Mrs Duncan's Science class was about to start.  Students would go into the classroom right after the previous class and drop their stuff where they wanted to sit. Then they would hang out in the hall.  Frank and Mayo went in and put their books down. Lo and behold, some young lady had put her purse down in the seat of a desk and it was slightly open.  "Eagle Eye Frank" spied a portion of a Kotex inside.  For entertainment, he took it out and placed it on top of the desk. They waited to see the reaction.  Billy Jo walked into the classroom, spied her desk from a few feet away, burst into tears and ran from the room.
“Who is responsible for this?” asked Mrs. Duncan. 
There was total silence. The rest of the class filed in, and the talking stopped the minute they entered the room. They all sat as far as possible from the offending object and the desk on which it sat. No one even giggled.
“It will be much better for you to come forward now,” said Mrs. Duncan. “I may not know who did this, but you know who you are. And I will find out who you are.”  The silence continued.
There was a hay ride to Mickler’s pier that weekend.  When a nice fire got going and everyone was mingling around, Mrs. Duncan asked Frank and Mayo to accompany her for a walk. “You know you were responsible for embarrassing Billie Jo, and I hope you are as ashamed of yourselves as I am for you,” she began. This went on for eight or ten minutes, but seemed like an eternity. 
Mayo chewed his lower lip and thought, “She’s bluffing. She can’t know who did it. There wasn’t anyone else in the room. She can’t make me confess, but if I did maybe she’d stop. I’m not ratting Frank out, even if it would shut her up.”
Frank stared at the sand, moon, ocean, thinking, “She’s bluffing. She can’t know who did it. There wasn’t anyone else in the room. If I confess, she might stop chewing us out. But then she might call my parents. Or Billie Jo’s! Now she’s telling us how sensitive girls are to this subject, like of course, that was the point!”
 After the longest ten minutes the two had ever experienced, she excused them with strong warnings about future behavior. The two red faced boys rejoined the group.
“Today we will dismiss after our regular classes at the end of fifth period. You will not leave the campus, but proceed directly to the football field. The Gideon Society will present an inspiring program during the sixth period hour. You will be expected to attend and participate in this annual event,” said Mr. Doggett over the loudspeakers.
The entire student body filed onto the football field, climbed onto the bleachers row by row, in a most orderly way. None of the usual pushing and shoving, shouting and waving happened on Gideon Day.  The little guys, the seventh graders, did a little nudging, of course, because they had never been to a Gideon assembly before.

The P. A. system warmed up and Mr. Doggett announced, “I (crackle) want to (crackle) introduce our friend and neighbor Mr. Elmer Applecheek, who will lead you in prayer and praise,” 
After a lengthy sermon that no one heard, Mr. Applecheek said, “You will see that my assistants are passing out pocket-sized New Testaments up and down the rows of the bleachers. These are being given to you at no cost. You will be allowed to make your donations to cover the cost of these little Bibles by dropping your offerings in the baskets containing the Bibles.” 
Mr. Doggett and Mr. Applecheek took the center of the stage and led the assembled student body in a rousing rendition of “Onward Christian Soldiers.” They led the group out of the bleachers, onto the track, and into a full lap around the track, singing the hymn and holding their little Bibles over their heads. If there were any Jews, Agnostics, or Atheists in the school, no one said a word, or failed to march and sing. They must have been uncomfortable.
 Dr. Akridge arrived on the Fletcher campus as a mathematics teacher sometime in the early 50’s.  Having tired of a career teaching in some college or other, he was prepared to slow down, enjoy life, join the faculty at Fletcher, pass on knowledge of mathematics to eager high school students and move toward retirement.  Thinking back, he was a serious man, not given to frivolity, hoping for a few enthusiastic students and not that happy to see the sort of carefree attitude that his students exhibited as he lectured on the subtleties of geometry or college algebra.  He strived mightily to help us learn and, in a few cases, was successful.  
Despite his efforts in the classroom and serious demeanor (or perhaps because of this demeanor) we were always looking for ways to pester the poor man.  Mostly innocent and sort of childish pranks but they all succeeded in causing his face to redden and, very likely, his blood pressure to rise. For example, lunch period fell in the middle of his class.  Dr. Akridge was most careful to always lock his room as the class left for lunch.  At the end of lunch, his eager students would be gathered at the door waiting for him to finish lunch, arrive, unlock the door and proceed in to continue the class.  
One day it occurred to Mike Veal and other students that it would be a great trick if, instead of waiting for the good Dr. in front of his door, that they might climb in through the windows and be in their seats when he returned from lunch and unlocked the door. His classroom was on the first floor, just down the hall from the cafeteria, with large windows that faced the passageway behind the school, between the school and the portables.  It was perfect.  A group, mostly boys, left lunch a bit early, went down the walkway behind his classroom, opened the windows, climbed in and waited.  On schedule Dr. Akridge unlocked his room after lunch and proceeded in followed by the rest of the class that were in the hall.  He did a classic “double take,” blinked, blurted out “What’s going on?” fumed for a few minutes, maybe even threatened some discipline because of the breach of security.  In the end he was OK, and attempted to proceed with the class despite muffled laughter and too much talking.  They were all quite proud of themselves, having again disrupted class, freaked out the teacher and generated another Fletcher High School memory.
Ish Brant stood at the side of the football field on a late Spring afternoon in 1953, wearing his pith helmet, low-cut cleats, and low-riding khaki shorts. As he watched the varsity finish the second practice of the day, he scratched his head. “Jarrett,” he asked, “do you think we ought to be letting them have some water?”
“Naw,” answered Don, Ish’s assistant coach. “It’ll just make ‘em puke. Sure, they’re all cotton-mouthed now, but it just toughens ‘em up.”
Coach walked out on the field. “Alright, Candy-asses, break it up and give me a couple of laps. Move it, Choo-choo, Dickenstein. Weston, you pissant, got lead in your britches? Drop down and give me twenty. Yo, Ubangi Grimes, show some hustle. If you sorry so-and-so’s raced the cheerleaders in a 440 right now, you’d lose by a mile.”
These were among the memories that Mayo shared, along with Mrs. Brant’s lemonade, on the Brants’ front porch many years later. “Coach,” asked Mayo, “when you were swinging the paddle you called the ‘board of education’ against our backsides, did you think you’d be heading up some real boards one day?”
“No, Gabriel, but some of my employees could have benefited by a whack or two. Of course, I’d get sued or put in jail for paddling these days.”
“You quit coaching soon after our class graduated. Did our lousy last season have anything to do with that? I don’t mean any disrespect, sir, and it was all our fault, not yours, and please don’t give me one of those big noogies, but. . .”
“No, hard as it is to believe, it wasn’t long before I was County School Superintendent, Mayor, City Manager, founded Florida Community College, was Chairman of the Board of Baptist Hospital, and after about forty years nobody asked me about that losing season. I must say, though, that my favorite title was the ‘Silver Fox’. You don’t get tags like that often.”
“Nothing I did over the years gave me as much pride as seeing how you boys grew into fine men. I tried to teach you respect for authority, but also for your selves and each other. I wanted you to learn fairness, so I tried to be fair. I wanted you to learn discipline, so I had to show you some. I wanted you to be proud of hard work, so I had to show you how to work hard.”
“Well, Coach, you’ve had an incredible and long life. I consider you a really great man and great friend. Do you have any regrets?” asked Mayo.
Coach sat for a minute, looking off the porch at his azaleas. “Well, son, if I treated my flowers as rough as I treated you guys, they’d all be dead. I should have let you have a sip of water during two-a-days.”