Because nice matters

On April 19, the city of Vero Beach issued a certificate recognizing Mike Williams, aka “Mr. Smoke’s,” for his contributions to the community and 35 years in his current location. His customers marveled at the irony: This was the very same business that both the city and the state fought to shut down in the 1980’s.

How did Mike go from being anathema to award-winner? He never gave up. More importantly, he never became bitter. He kept going, and he kept smiling.

Last year, I attended his 34th anniversary party and wrote about his customers in a piece entitled “A good guy, always happy.” This year, mayor Jay Kramer showed up to congratulate Mike and receive the first t-shirt. Other than that, the event was just like last year’s — a small-town gathering with live music and happy, smiling people hugging each other. As the sticker on Mike’s sales counter says, “Because nice matters.”

If you were featured in one of the photos below, please let me know if you’d like your name added to the caption!

Happy Chickie-Bunny Day!

Do you know that today is a holiday? It’s Chickie-Bunny Day!

Flowers and basket

Important components for celebrating Chickie-Bunny Day. (flower arrangement by Linda Caruso)

This important holiday falls on the first Saturday after the first Sunday after the first ecclesiastical full moon that occurs on or after the day of the vernal equinox. In other words, it’s the Saturday after Easter.

I invented it several decades ago, when I saw how drastically stores marked down  candy in the days after Easter had passed. I would buy chocolate and jelly beans (my favorite!) at 50%, 75%, and even 90% off, and by the end of the week, I would have enough for a giant basket.

Saving it for Chickie-Bunny Day, when I could share it, kept me from simply gobbling up the sugar every time I found a good deal.

Now that I eat less sugar, I still celebrate, but differently. Chickie-Bunny Day is my excuse to revel in the sheer silliness of commercial Easter. What do plastic eggs and stuffed bunnies have to do with death and resurrection? There were no jelly beans at the Last Supper, and Jesus’s shroud was not pink and fluffy.

It makes sense to move those traditions to Chickie-Bunny Day, and let Easter be Easter. The traditionalists can keep the ham.

~~~

I told the world about Chickie-Bunny Day ten years ago, on the Adventures of Meps’n’Barry. I’m still not sure what to say about semi-nude jelly wrestling.

 

Little blue heron among the leaves

This little fellow caught my eye at Wakodahatchee Wetlands today. What an intense stare he gave me when I took his picture!

Little Blue Heron

Little blue heron at Wakodahatchee Wetlands


And here are his buddies!

I’m gonna fax a Polaroid

It only took me 30 minutes at the St. Vincent dePaul Thrift Store to find all the components of a pirate wench costume: The multi-layer skirts and blouses, the gold belt, the red headscarf. By 10:30 am, I stood in line to pay for my armful of colorful finds.

There were a few people behind me and a few ahead of me, and there was only one cashier. He was an older gentleman, and judging by his careful, methodical handling of each sale, probably a volunteer.

While we waited, I noticed that the young couple in front of me was buying a Battleship game.

“That looks like fun!” I said to them. “I bet I know what you’ll be doing today.”

The young woman’s face lit up. “It’s in great condition! We checked, and all the pieces are there.”

“You’ll have to post a picture of yourselves playing, like that.” I pointed at the box, which featured two excited children sitting across from each other, separated by the plastic stand-up Battleship board.

It was a scene from the 1970’s that I remembered well. But the young couple didn’t look old enough to remember the 70’s.

“I’m going to take a Polaroid and fax it to all my friends,” quipped the man. “And then I’m going to call them on my land line to make sure they got it.” The way the two of them laughed, I knew neither of them had a land line.

“I know what you mean,” I said. “I called my Dad the other day, and he had left his phone off the hook. I’d forgotten what a busy signal sounds like!”

When it was their turn, they set the box on the counter. As the cashier searched for the price sticker, I suddenly flashed back to 1993, and I said to him, “However much it is, could you just add it to my stuff?”

“Huh? It’s two dollars,” he said, entering it into the cash register. “Two fifty-one, with tax.”

The young woman protested briefly, but I said, “I’d just like to enjoy the thought of you playing Battleship.” I gave her a little hug and shooed the two of them out the door with their prize.

The cashier finished totaling up my pirate outfit, and as I paid for everything, he said, “That was a nice thing you did.”

I explained my 1993 flashback. “When I was their age, I had the exact same thing happen to me. My husband and I found a Scrabble game in a thrift store, with every single one of the pieces. And when we went to pay for it, guess what? A complete stranger insisted on buying it for us.”

I’d forgotten about it, but 23 years later, it’s making me smile. So is the thought of two young people, somewhere in Vero Beach, saying, “Heyyyy! You sank my battleship!”

Battleship box

Why I still march

This is a reprint of an article published on Martin Luther King Day 2015. One year later, it is still timely and worthy of sharing.
===
In July 1963, there were riots in Savannah, Georgia. A large headline in the Savannah Morning News read, “Rioting Negroes Stone Cars, Set Fires, Smash Windows.” Several stories were run under the headline about property damage during night marches that turned violent.

I wasn’t born yet, but I know that those front-page stories caused problems for my father, the executive editor of the newspaper. Decades later, he told me his publisher had called him on the carpet over it, saying, “Dammit, Schulte, why did you have to put that on the front page?”

Dad was defensive. “There were five thousand people marching in Savannah last night, and you don’t want me to publish the story? This is big news!”

The publisher continued fussing about the articles. “Next time, bury that in the back of the paper.”

The Civil Rights Act was passed a year later, and one would think that would solve the problems. But people are still marching, and the reason is still buried in the back of the paper. Why is that?

Broken window

A common sight in some parts of historic Brunswick

Where I’m living, in Brunswick, Georgia, the median income for a family is $28,564, and 25% of families are below the poverty line. The city’s racial makeup is 60% African-American and 36% white.

Contrast that with neighboring St. Simons island, where the racial makeup is 94% white. There, the median income for a family is $73,580. Only 2% of the families are below the poverty line.

When I first arrived in Brunswick, on my sailboat, Flutterby, the folks at the marina gave us a map of the town. They told us to walk a circuitous route from the marina to the Winn-Dixie grocery store, 2 miles away. “Why’s that?” I asked. “Oh, you know…MLK Boulevard runs through that section,” was the reply. It broke my heart to hear her tell cruising sailors, most of them white, not to even go into the black neighborhood.

Adams Market sign

The Latino grocery store nearest to the Brunswick Marina

I disregarded her advice, discovering charming houses and intriguing Hispanic grocery stores in that neighborhood. I also discovered a lot of abandoned shacks and lots full of weeds. I had some uncomfortable encounters. This was definitely a neighborhood whose residents struggled to survive.

I returned to the neighborhood this past Monday, on Martin Luther King Day. For the first time, I was marching in the MLK parade with a group of folks from the Unitarian church. The day was beautiful and the mood was buoyant.

At the staging area, I photographed the folks who were in the parade. But as we began marching down Gloucester Street and then turning onto MLK Boulevard, it was the people watching the parade who drew me. I began handing out Happy Spot cards, getting hugs and handshakes, and taking photos of the parade-goers.

Why do I march? I have mixed reasons. I love to celebrate the successes of the African-American community, a group of people whose rich ancestry predates my own on this continent. But I also march as a protest. The law may say otherwise, but inequality persists.

Parade-goers

Family watching the MLK-day parade in Brunswick, Georgia

The photos I took that day (see below) are full of happy people, but they bring tears of sadness to my eyes. Many of the houses behind the parade-goers are unpainted and unkempt, with bare dirt yards. These are people who live below the poverty line, because they don’t have the wealth of opportunities that I do. The economic figures and demographics are painfully clear. Being black and living in poverty often go hand-in-hand.

During the rest of the year, you won’t see any other parades going down these streets. Until they do, and until we have real equality, I’ll keep marching.

The tradition continues, with a twist

In addition to an author, an artist, and a designer, I am also known as a photographer. For eleven years, I have been publishing a calendar featuring photographs from the past year’s travel.

2016 is the first year I’ve done this completely solo. I’m proud to say that I traveled to all of these places in 2015, and I took every one of these pictures but one — the one of me, on the cover, was taken by my inimitable friend, Harley Russell.

Although this is my 11th calendar, it’s only the second year I’ve posted the images online. The 2015 calendar images are available on my old blog, www.mepsnbarry.com.

Images of Key West (Part 1: Places and things)

Gallery

This gallery contains 25 photos.

My recent trip to Key West wasn’t just about books. I did a lot of photography as well, and the results are funny, poignant, and beautiful. This gallery comprises my favorite photos of places and things. Please email me if … Continue reading