Sunday, November 30, 2014

Prisoners at Work

[Today is Theme Day.  The theme for December is "Worker" or "People in the Workplace.  For other contributions to the theme, click here.]

Frankie and Johnny were sweethearts. 
Oh! what a couple in love. 
Frankie was loyal to Johnny. 
Just as true as stars above. 
He was her man. 
But he done her wrong. 
This is the end of my story 
And this is the end of my song. 
Frankie is down in the jailhouse 
And she cries the whole night long 
"He was my man. 
"But he done me wrong."

[Frankie and Johnny, Copyright 1981 by the Hal Leonard Publishing Company]

His name isn't Johnny, it's Joseph Martinelli. Actually, he'd been born Joseph Johnson, but his mother remarried when he was three (an Italian guy) and so he became a Martinelli. None of that would have made any difference except for the fact that in his teens he'd been recruited by a gang, the Blackstones, that specialized in burglary and extortion, and while he had a juvie record for attempted car theft and shoplifting, he'd never done any time.

Joseph was a black man, but light-skinned. His hair was dark and wavy.  He was big but in good shape. He was perfect for his role in the gang. With the name Martinelli he could pass as an Italian in most situations. Fortunately, for Joseph, he was exempt from a lot of the "dirty" work. He did not go along on the burglaries or attempts at extortion. He called himself the CFO of the Blackstones. 

The cops knew many in the Blackstones, but, Joseph thought mistakenly, he had not appeared on their radar. Joseph's main job was to pawn the stolen goods. He checked serial numbers, altered serial numbers, located and destroyed other identifying marks on the swag.  He loved the word, "swag," and used it ever since he first heard it in an old black and white gangster movie.  With his computer skills, he could quickly determine an item's value.  He also handled the money coming in, using several different banks and ID's to allay any suspicion.  He was honest, in a crooked sort of way, and loved the irony in that.

When Joseph dressed up, he looked like an upstanding young attorney or businessman.  He didn't set off any red flags with the pawn shop people. He put together a series of disguises and with enough time between visits, he was able to enter a pawn shop as a different person with different ID's and no one was the wiser.

While he'd never finished high school, he was smart. He never hit the same pawn shop more than once a year, which meant he had to travel but he liked to get out and about and breathe fresh country air.  But, as they say, the best-laid plans of mice and men...and one day Joseph's plan fell apart.

He'd decided to try a new pawn shop in a medium-sized central Florida town to pawn some jewelry the gang had stolen a few days before. The swag included a couple of diamond bracelets, a gorgeous engagement ring, a few gold earrings, and a man's 18 karat gold pinky ring.   They were clean with no unusual identifying marks.

He strolled into the pawn shop, big smile on his face, and started looking around.  He wore a gray, three-piece suit with a vest. His white shirt was clean and newly starched, set off by a red and black striped tie. His black loafers gleamed.  He moved slowly.  No need to appear rushed or too eager.

"Can I hep you?" asked the clerk with a soft Alabamy accent. He was a skinny little runt, about 35, with rheumy eyes and alcoholic nose. His Levis were falling off his hips and his tee shirt was spotted with old food stains.  He was chewing gum.

"Well, I hope so," said Joseph, pleasantly.  "My wife and I are planning a little cruise and we need some cash for the ride."

"Well, let's see what ya got. My name's Joe, by the way."  His oscillating jaw made little smacking noises.

Joseph took out the jewelry which was neatly wrapped and packed in a small box. He set the box on the counter, opening the cover so the clerk could take a look. Then he made his first mistake. "Joe, huh? I'll be darned, so's mine! What's your last name?" As soon as he said it, he knew he'd blown it. He needed to leave.

Very calmly he said, "Ah...look... I'm sorry, but I just remembered I've got an appointment downtown. I'm going to have to go, but I'll be back later. 

Joe the clerk cocked his head to the left. "That so, huh?" His voice went a couple of notches higher and a tad louder like he was talking to someone else. "Okay, well I'll see you when you get back." 

As Joseph turned to leave, and just as he reached back to grab the jewelry on the counter, two cops came through the front door. His first reaction was to run and he looked for an escape only to see a uniformed cop emerge from the back room.

"Hey, Martinelli!" said the lead cop, a plain clothes guy.  He was huge.  Jesus, Joseph thought, he looks like he stepped out of a 30s movie! A battered brown suit at least one size too big, a shirt more or less white, a tie askew and scuffed brown shoes. He even wore a hat perched on the side of his huge head.

"How you been doing, boy? We been looking' for you!"

"What are you talking about? Who are you? What do you want? I haven't done anything wrong? And how did you know my name?"  Crap!  Big mistake number two! The ID he was using today said he was Jonathan Drake.

The other cop wore a uniform with sergeant stripes. He was tall, too, but quite slim. His face was ruddy and blotched and a toothpick stuck out from the side of his mouth which made him run his words together.

"Mr. Martinelli, we know lots about you," he said.  "We been following you a long time. We know you're the bag man for the Blackstones."

"How'd you know I'd be here?"

The cop grinned.  "A little birdie told us."

Joseph racked his brain.  The only person to whom  he had mentioned this trip was a guy who asked to sit at his table at Starbucks the day before.  He may have...yes, he did mention he was coming down here on a sales trip in the course of their conversation.  Damn!  He should have known!  The guy looked like a biker with black jeans, beard, tee shirt with the sleeves cut out, and a tattoo - of a bird, a big red bird! - and he was way too friendly!  He couldn't believe it!  He'd been conned by an undercover cop!

Joseph realized he was still holding the box full of jewelry.  Casually, he started to slip it into his pocket but the uniform said, "Nah, Martinneli, you can't do that. Give it here. We think we know who this belongs to."

Feeling the presence of the third cop behind him, he handed over the box and the cop covered it with a clean white cloth. The cop smiled. "Gotta keep the prints clean, ya know, so's we can check 'em. I'll bet they match the ones in your juvie file!"

"Now step up to the counter, place your hands on the top and lean forward. You know the drill."

"Ah have a feeling, Joseph, that we're gonna solve a number of crimes today," said the plain clothes cop. "What do you think? I'll even bet you got yourself another name today, right?"

Joseph didn't respond but did as he was told. He was not a violent person.  And he didn't want to go to jail.  Florence, his girlfriend of over a year, was going to be furious. He had promised to give up the life and find a real job. She'd probably throw him out and then what was he going to do?

He couldn't go home as he'd had a big fight with his stepfather who had proceeded to banish him ... forever, he had said!

The Blackstones came up with his bail, and Florence said he could stay with her until he saw a judge, but he sure as hell better change his ways or hit the highway!

Fortunately, when his case came to trial a month later, he got a lenient judge who wasn't swayed much by his juvie record.  He noted that Joseph was not a violent offender and probably not a danger to the community, but thought Joseph might profit from a bit of jail time.  After all, he HAD been involved with a number of burglaries.  The judge sentenced him to six months in the county lockup and five years probation.

Within two weeks, Joseph had ingratiated himself with his keepers at the country jail and was offered the chance to do some outside work for the benefit of the community.  He was also warned that if he should decide to try to make a break for it, he would pay a very severe penalty; might even get shot dead!

And that's why he was trimming bushes on the municipal golf course on a warm October day. He hated the damned green and white striped outfit he had to wear, but it sure beat sitting in a cell. And it gave him time to think. He wanted to get back with Florence, so he would have to be much more careful in the future and work with pawn shops far away from home.

He realized he'd been daydreaming when he heard the boss yelling at him. He moved on to the next bush.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Up Against The Wall!

Rafael Rodriquez had just turned 13.  Bill Kennedy, his best friend, was almost 14 and about a head taller than Rafael which meant he stood right at five feet, five inches.  Kennedy had a huge mop of pitch black hair which hung over his ears down to his shoulders. His skin was several shades darker than Rafael's. Rafael had a pale complexion, his red hair was thin and scraggly. But puberty had pounced on him first and thus he proudly displayed a wispy little reddish mustache and goatee.

On this mild summer day they had been shopping baseball mitts for Rafael, a star shortstop in middle school who planned to try out for the high school team when classes started again in the fall.  But none had fit just right.

Leaving the sporting goods store, they walked along the strip mall, joking about girls they knew or would like to know, peering into empty and eerie dark storefronts, telling dirty jokes although they often missed the punch line which led them to punch each other in the shoulder and laugh uproariously.

The police car was parked in front of a department store. It's engine was running. As they walked by they peered superiptiously in the windows but could see very little; the windows were treated with very dark film.

"Do you see anybody?" asked Rafael as they sauntered past.

"Nope! Do you?"

"No...I think it's empty!" said Rafael.

"Really? Holy crap. Where's the cop?" Bill screwed his face into a question mark.

"I don't know. Why would he leave the car running?"  Rafael grinned. "Try the door, see if it's locked!"

"Are you crazy?" But Bill was grinning, too. "You check it out."

"Not me," said Rafael. "Let's see if we can find the cop. He's got to be in the store, right?"

"Probably," agreed Bill.

Koehler's department stores have the cash registers close to the entrances.   As Rafael and Bill sauntered through the door doing their best to look adult and cool, they caught the eye of Sandy, the girl working cash register number one. She frowned. These guys were up to no good, she thought. She punched the button under the counter which alerted security that possible troublemakers were present.

Rafael and Bill knew nothing of this, so they both smiled and gave Sandy a little wave, moving quickly past into the men's section where they would be less noticeable.  They wouldn't be in the store long enough to worry the security people.

"What do we do now?" asked Bill.

"Just be cool.  Look for the cop!"

Before Bill could respond, he spied a uniform in the underwear/socks section. "I see him!" he whispered. "He's shopping, for sure. He's got two pairs of sock and some underwear and now he's looking at belts."

"C'mon," said Rafael. "I've got a great idea."

"Yeah, right," said Bill. "You're ideas usually get me into trouble."

"Nah, this one's foolproof. Let's get out of here."

Outside on the sidewalk, Rafael stopped and pulled Bill close. "Now, you stay here by the door and keep a look out. I'm going to see if the car's locked."

"Are you nuts! That's crazy!"

But Rafael was already at the door, pulling on the handle. The door opened! "Omigod! C'mon! Now! Get in the other side." Rafael was already climbing in behind the wheel.

"Noooooooo," cried Bill, but he ran and hopped in the passenger door. "What are you doing?" he asked, fear palpable in his voice.

"Not much," said Rafael. "We're going to have a little fun." He put the car in gear and drove down the parking lot toward a huge electronics store named Better Buy across from Koehler's, which was hidden from view by several tall water oaks. When he found a parking place next to a large van, he pulled in and stopped. 

"Let's go," he said. "Hurry! That cop will never find his car. Boy, will he be in trouble!"

Laughing, they took off running toward Better Buy but never made it. A very large, very fearsome police officer stood blocking the entrance.

"Where you going, boys? You want to tell me why you were stealing my squad car?"

"No, no," stammered Bill. He looked at Rafael whose face was pure white. "No, we saw you at Koehler's.  Wait! did you get over here?" He was shaking so bad he collapsed on the sidewalk, head in hands.

"Wasn't me," said the cop. "That was my partner. He went into Koehler's and I came over here. We didn't think anyone would be so stupid as to steal a police car!" 

"But we didn't steal it," cried Rafael. "We just moved it here to make it more convenient for you!" 

"Nice try," said the cop.

Then his partner jogged up, breathing heavily.  "What the hell's going on, Franklin?  I came out of the store and the car's gone.   Why'd you drive the car over here?"

"I didn't, Officer Smyth!"  Then sarcastically, "Get your shopping done, Officer Smyth?"  He didn't wait for an answer.  "Might you have forgotten to lock the car?"

"Yeah. So?  What does that have to do with anything?"

"Our little friends here," said Officer Franklin, pointing at Rafael and Bill, "decided they would take the car for a little joyride!  And they drove it all the way over here!  What should we do with them?"

Officer Smyth turned very slowly looking the boys up and down.  "I'll tell you what we'll do!  Hey, you guys...up against the wall, hands high, feet spread!" Rafael and Bill complied, tears streaming down their faces.

"But we didn't mean anything, officers! We weren't going to steal the car! We were just playing a little joke." Bill's voice sounded like a drowning frog.

"Not so funny now, is it," asked Office Smyth as he gave them a quick frisk and then slipped handcuffs on their wrists. "Now, get in the back of the car, both of you!"

After ten very long minutes, during which the cops stood away from the car talking, they took down the boy's names and addresses and phone numbers, then unlocked the handcuffs and told them they could go, warning they'd be contacting their parents to determine an appropriate punishment. Bill and Rafael nodded mutely, walked slowly to the corner of the building, and then ran for their lives. They didn't stop for six blocks until they came to some woods where they could hide and lick their wounds.

"Our parents are going to kill us!" said Rafael. Bill could hardly breathe.  He nodded.

Officer Smyth drove the police car out of the parking lot.  He was grinning.  "Well, that ought to put the fear of God into them.  They won't know when or if we ever talk to their parents!"

Officer Franklin was not smiling.  "You moron!" he said. "Can you imagine what would have happened to us if I hadn't been at Better Buy and seen them drive up with our car?"

"Hey, I'm sorry.  So I forgot to lock the car.  I do that with my own car, too. It's a quirk of mine."

"Yeah, well, it's a quirk that's gonna get us killed one day!  And next time remember to turn off the engine, too."

"Get off my case.  It's done.  I said I'm sorry.  How about I drive you home?"

Officer Franklin lived in a log cabin on a mile and a half long dirt road in a clearing in the Ogallala Natonal Forest.  Thirty minutes later Officer Smyth turned off the main highway onto the dirt road. The darkness was total.  There are no lights in the national forest.

The engine made a strange noise, sputtered and stopped.

Officer Franklin looked at Officer Smyth.  Officer Smyth looked straight ahead into the darkness.

"We've run out of gas."

P.S.  The story is fiction, of course.  But this much is true.  The police car was sitting outside of a department store and the engine was running.  Unlike Rafael and Bill, however, I did not try the door to see if it was unlocked!  But I did see the cop shopping in the store.

Friday, November 28, 2014

What If You Gave A Party....

What was that terrible noise?  Vivian struggled to pull out of a dream in which she was falling off a cliff, where people standing at the bottom were laughing at her.  Realizing the noise was her alarm, she groggily reached over to the nightstand, slammed her hand down but missed and knocked the clock on the floor where it continued to wail.

This day, a very big day, was not beginning the way she hoped it would.

Vivian had moved into Lost Lake Estates two months ago - after her husband died in a hunting accident - and she was having a party.  She'd invited just a few neighbors, because she hadn't met her neighbors other than to say hello, and she wanted to do something neighborly.  She didn't much like parties, though, and she really didn't like people, so that was a bit of a problem.

Lost Lake Estates was a planned community for people over 55.  It had existed for about 30 years so most of the people who had moved there when they were 55 were now dead or heading toward 85.  Vivian was only 65, and from what she could tell, was one of the youngest people in the whole of Lost Lake Estates.

Nevertheless, at her age, and being alone, she needed friends, people she could depend on to help her if she got caught in a crisis, like falling down and breaking her leg.  Vivian had a terrible fear that one day she would fall and not be able to get up.

She'd sent out invitations.  It was to be a small dinner party, beginning with hors-d'oeuvres at 5 o'clock.  Dress was casual.  Come as you are, in other words.  Alcohol would be available.  She'd found a beautiful candelabra at Macy's for the table center, bought some new, colorful dishes, also at Macy's, and had located a caterer who guaranteed he would produce the best French gourmet food to be found anywhere in Florida.

But she still had to clean.  Everything had to be spotless!  She was going to make a huge impression.  People would be talking about Vivian and this party for years!

By two in the afternoon she was exhausted and collapsed on the sofa and fell asleep.  She dreamed, but in this dream she was inundated by uninvited guests coming to her party.  All the food disappeared in minutes, wine spilled on her gorgeous white carpet, dogs brought by some guests made their own deposits on the carpet, two lamps were smashed - she didn't know how - and then everyone left without saying a word.

She awoke in a sweat.  It was 4:18.  She still had so much to do.  Suddenly she realized she had neglected to ask her invitees to RSVP.  No one had called to say they were coming.  Oh well, if they didn't say they weren't coming, that no doubt meant they were coming.

Vivian, at one time, had been slim and trim, but over the years she had broadened out and, well, she was rather chubby.  She never thought of herself as fat, though.  But whizzing around the house, brushing at the last particles of dust, rearranging photos and knickknacks, she started to wheeze and cough.

She ran for the bathroom to get a Kleenex.  The doorbell rang.  Aha!  The caterer had arrived and was on time.  Pierre was his name and he brought the food into the kitchen in stages, laying it out in order of precedence so Vivian would know how to proceed with the dinner.  It smelled delicious.  It was also very expensive, but worth every penny Vivian thought.

At 5 o'clock, all was ready.  She was ready.  She had freshened her makeup, her hair, her dress and was very pleased with herself.

At 5:01 it began to rain.  At 5:02 the temperature dropped 20 degrees.  At 5:05 the winds started.  By 5:10, she heard a terrible howling outside and she saw trees bending.  A palm tree crashed to the ground in her front yard.  The windows rattled and the front door shook in its frame.  Her cat, Mamie,  became a furry blur as she rushed from her perch on the couch to hide under Vivian's big four-poster bed.

By 5:30, Vivian was still alone.  The power had gone out.  The rain was torrential gradually turning to sleet.  The sky was black.

It didn't let up until 9:00.

Vivian got her camera and took a picture of her table.  She had given a party and no one came.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Story of Pews

A pew is something to sit upon, in a church mostly.  It is my understanding that for the first millenium of Christian evolution, most churches did not include pews.  People stood or sat on the floor.  It wasn't until the 12th century that stone benches began to appear, and only later that these were affixed to the floor.  By the 14th century and into the 15th, wooden benches were substituted for stone ones.

But it was the Reformation and the growing emphasis on sermons, those long, dull pastoral expositions, that led to a real need for congregants to have a place to sit.  You didn't want people passing out onto stone or tile floors which was always a danger when a clergyman had a captive audience and no good reason to stop blathering.

Later, in some areas congregants had to buy their own pews.  And in other places pews were available to rent. The point was to allow people to sit down before they fell down.

I've been in European Cathedrals which still have no permanent pews, but chairs which can be arranged for a variety of purposes.

The other day I read about "born again" pews.  I'm not sure how they are any different from non-born again pews.  Maybe they have little electric buzzers to give you a jolt if you start to drift off.

The pew in the picture above reminds me of pews I've seen in older Protestant churches in the U.S.  It's quite plain, simple, utilitarian.  The little carving on the ends indicates it's for religious use and not for a theater or some such.  But I didn't find it in a church.  I mean, really, what church would have a faux palm plant at the end of a pew?  No, I found this in a fancy thrift store.  I sat on it so I know it works, but I didn't buy it.  What would I do with a pew?

I haven't been inside of a religious structure for some time, so I'm not sure if churches are still using pews or not.  Perhaps they're installing theater seats which are cushioned and have little crevasses in the arms to put drinks.  It would sure make it easier to get through a service if that were the case.  Heck, if I were a church-goer, I might even buy one!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


As I recall, no one was seriously injured in this blending of the bumpers.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Do Not Molest Plants

I honestly never knew this was a problem. Maybe it's a Florida thing?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Geese Unaware

These poor geese had no idea how much danger they were in. If they did, they would have flown right back to Toronto for the winter!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Going to the repair shop

I talked with the owner of this beautiful "antique," and he said it needed some kind of bearings. Looks like new, I told him. We had a '55 Chevy Bel Air which was slightly different than this, which, I believe, is a 1957 model.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Butterfly Garden at Rainbow Springs

Years ago the Rainbow Springs State Park, which we've featured on this blog numerous times, was a sort of mini-Disney World. There were rides, a small zoo, a rodeo, as well as swimming and kayaking. Some say it was Disney World that put an end to the old Rainbow Springs. Today, it's a great place to walk through jungle-like canopies where you will see a couple of nice waterfalls, the remnants of the old zoo and the Butterfly Garden which used to be part of the old rodeo arena. And you can also swim with the gators or kayak or canoe around them on the beautiful Rainbow River.

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Safe Haven

This is Cleopatra. When life gets too threatening, she needs a safe haven.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Monday, November 17, 2014

Harry's Seafood Bar & Grille - downtown

Harry's Seafood Bar & Grille is located across from Ocala's downtown square.  It is, as they say, an Ocala institution.  Good food and lots of fun.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

From the Planet Neptune

Welcome all ye who thirst!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Bumper sticker afficionado

(Double-click to embiggen)

Friday, November 14, 2014

"Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again." — Henri Cartier-Bresson