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Saturday, February 2, 2019

MY BRIEF CARTOONING CAREER

      Years ago I wrote articles and drew cartoons for Coconut Grove's newspapers.  In 2005 I got a call from The Miami Herald. They wanted me to do they same for them and for five years, my "Grove Guy" column (and illustrative cartoons) appeared in their "Neighbors" section.

       Cleaning out old files last week I found my original drawings.  Each relates to a subject I was
writing about that week.  
    Here are a few examples,


 Our Grove convention center was having an anniversary and I suggested that we put up a historical marker to remind folks of The Doors infamous concert there.

From an article about the dangers of walking in Coconut Grove.    

From a rant about how our schools stopped teaching cursive writing. This conversation actually happened between me and my son, Ian, twelve years ago.











The one below went with a story about how we got our dog, Pi.  We had gone to Petsmart intending to buy a fish and ended up adopting a small, brown, puppy.




   Our neighborhood hero, Bob, had a habit of picking up random dog poop. I suppose one word was changed before this one hit the news stands.



I found it hilarious that an astronaut had let his tool bag drift off beyond reach.  If I had been a rocket man, it seemed like something I might have done. 

  

 






























A developer asked the City to allow him to build two McMansions on a lot designed for one. My neighbors and I fought it and lost. Now behold the 13-foot "Twiggy House" that stands at the corner of Loquat and Douglas.


This one refers to the family feud we had within the King Mango Strut organization back in 2009.  I lost that one also and haven't gone since. 











We have a lot of these
magnificent birds in the Grove...


  



Our French neighbor was always
talking about her own way of reducing the peacock population.



























Sometimes I lead historic tours in Coconut Grove and sometimes I embellish my spiel a bit. 
And finally,

Miami receives many accolades. Nine years ago they started a list of which cities had the most obese people and guess who won?




Cartooning is great fun and even better when you get paid for it. I appreciate The Herald for giving me the opportunity draw out a few laughs.
                                     ___________________

       

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

THE GROVE IS SCREWED

        Say goodbye to the quaint former fishing village known as Coconut Grove.  Miami's City Commission is intent on letting developers destroy it. This was never more apparent than in Thursday's Miami City Commission meeting.

    Hundreds of us went to City Hall to plead for changes in the building code that would stop the building of the white boxes that are ruining the Grove's neighborhoods.  Hideous and huge, they are replacing the trees and unique character we love about Coconut Grove.



     


   For three years concerned citizens have been pushing for changes in the building code (the "NCD") that would create limits on how big  residential structured can be. Now you're allowed to pour concrete over 80% of your property.  In most places (like Coral Gables) you can only build on half of it. The proposed change would pare it down to the 50-60% range.

    Its all about greed, our city allowing developers to build the biggest possible houses to make the most money. These money mongers sell their Grove boxes touting the delicate tropical ambiance that they are wiping out.
      If you were there Thursday you saw a vast majority of those attending -and those speaking out- saying, "Please help the citizens of  Coconut Grove save and protect our community".
      Our pleas fell on deaf ears. Most of the commissioners seemed bored by the whole affair  wandering here and there while residents spoke. They finally voted to ignore the standing-room-only crowd and postpone a decision. They know if they put it off enough the concerned citizens may lose faith and stay home for future meetings. 
 




      It was reminiscent of the hard-fought Scotty's Landing controversy five years ago.  Next to city hall they're building the Mall-On-The-Bay. It is replacing a boat yard and a casual sea-side restaurant, "Scotty's Landing".  These two things represented so much of what we loved about this community.  This seaside spot felt like part of a small town, a place where, after you painted your boat, you could point your flip-flops to the beer joint next door.
     Even if you didn't have a vessel you could be a part of the bayside scene watching boats come and go while munching on a fish sandwich. 
Francesca and I always took our out-of-town guests to Scotty's, it was our own version of "Margaritaville".  
     Soon that extended tiki shack will be a multi-storied Shula's Steakhouse.  Heck, the plans I saw make it look like a shinier version of one of the big boxes they're stuffing into our neighborhoods.
 
              Architect's rendering of the tiki shack's replacement  

     We did get to vote on the "Mall or Scotty's" issue.  In the city-wide election, voters in the Grove chose to keep Scotty's but now, sadly, Bay Mall rises.

      The majority of the city commission consistently vote to ignore our pleas for help.  They are turning the downtown Grove into an office park     This behemoth now looks down on Greenstreet's  
and our neighborhoods into what looks like and un-ending series of tree-less apartment complexes.       My little street will get its third big box this year.  The two-block Avocado Avenue, (behind me) already has six.

     What can we do?  Stuff City Hall once more when they take up our NCD proposal again on February 28th?  I suppose. 
    We can't stop now.  If the Grove is destined to become soul-less and tree-less as our Brickell neighbor, we can't let them do it without a fight.
              ____________________________


Saturday, January 26, 2019

MY BRIEF CARTOONING CAREER

      Almost anyone can draw a cartoon.  The hard part is being funny. Coconut Grove has always had some sort of community newspaper. Forty years ago I began submitting silly sketches to the local rag and, by God, they got published. 

    Here are a few of them with brief explanations,

    Sometimes my imagination gets the best of me when I'll hear a song lyric (like "Oh Susanna").
 
 Or, I'll take a fast food menu a little further.

     I drew the one below in the 70's.  I was sailing a lot and the phrases you see were quite popular then. 

   
     I once went on a college field trip to a state prison.  In the cafeteria I imagined inmates striving to get inducted into the same club my parents wanted me to join at the end of every meal.

   

   In 2000 my first wife and I separated.  The one below tried to find a little levity in a heartbreaking situation.







   Twenty-five years later I was writing "The Grove Guy", a bi-monthly column for the Miami Herald. I drew cartoons for that too.  I'll show you some next week. 
                                ________________________

Friday, January 11, 2019

MISSING DAN

       I always looked up to my neighbor, Dan Kavanaugh.  Not just because he was six-foot-four but because he led such an interesting and remarkable life.
     Dan passed away on Thursday, January 10th. He wound down his eighty-five years just as he wanted, resting in his Coconut Grove cottage surrounded by family, friends, and his beloved orchids.


 Dan with his wife, Brigitte, their daughter, Clemence, and one of the orchid showers he was so proud of.   

    Dan loved to tell stories. They were like peering into a history book seldom seen. Forest Gump-like, they ranged from World War II to meeting presidents.
    Here's one. Growing up in Allapattah, he and his mother would drive to Coconut Grove every year to buy their Thanksgiving turkey. In the forties they were sold at the corner of McDonald and Grand. You'd pick one of many gobbling in a pen and a worker would make it "oven ready".  
    Another story I loved had Dan and his Jackson High School buddies riding their bikes a few blocks south to swim in the then-pristine Miami River. The boys would beg tourists passing by in boats to throw coins so they could dive for them.
Afterwards they'd often visit the Miccosukees in the nearby Musa Isle Indian village.
    For sixty years he had his own boats and use them to dive for fish, to sail, and explore the Florida Keys and Bahama Islands. Once he took Francesca and I out for picnic to what he called, "a remarkable island on the south end of Biscayne Bay". Once ashore the mosquitoes were so remarkably thick we had to high-tail it back to the Grove.
      Dan was a Harvard grad who practiced law in Miami for years. During much of that time he remained a bachelor living in his small -but charming- cottage on Poinciana Avenue.
    It was surrounded by orchids, ferns, and palm trees. "Why grow grass?", he'd say adding, "I never mow, I just pick up old palm fronds now and then". He had the "simple Grove life" down.

     
                                       Dan's Den

       Just a week ago we were enjoying a bottle of wine and more endless stories in Dan's living room.  We heard the ones lunching with Fidel, meeting President Kennedy, barnstorming through Europe with Barry Goldwater, and his life-long friendship with Janet Reno and her family, once more. 
    One of Dan's best stories -and biggest accomplishments- was finally settling down to start a family.

     Dan married Brigitte, a lovely French woman, and they became the proud parents of a daughter,Clemence, thirty years ago. The three of them were together -as they had been for decades- when he passed away.
     Dan Kavanaugh may have left us but his family and extraordinary stories will be with us for years to come.
                  ________________________ 


      Would you like to enjoy a few more of Dan's stories?  A couple of years ago Isabel Shaw and
her film crew interviewed Dan on his back porch. Here are the links to the two-part series.  Our thanks to the Shaws for sharing them.

part I: 
 
part II:
     

Thursday, January 10, 2019

SOME LIKE IT WET

     Have you ever been blasted with a fire hose, thrashed with oak branches, or had your eyeballs boiled?  If not, the Russian Baths are waiting for you!
     My son, Dylan, wanted to do something different on his birthday last week. His brother and I agreed to visit a dank dungeon beneath a Miami Beach hotel. 
   I had heard about the Russian Baths, an offshoot of New York's East Village bath scene that sprung up in the 1890's. Back then, no one had plumbing. A "bath" was a sponge dipped in water -or-  one of NYC's forty "baths" featuring fire hoses and steaming saunas.

     We approached the Castle Hotel with trepidation. Who knew what it would be like to enter a dark, wet, room filled with naked, randy Russians? Turns out, those Ruskies (and everyone else) were required to wear shorts!  

 

  




    I was elated until a guy named Boris stuck three trays in front of us and said, "Give me you wallets!" (Aren't robbers suppose to say that?).  He said it was " "security"  and I figured if the President could give our entire country to Vladimir Putin the least I could do was to give this Russian my wallet. 

    In exchange, we got fat rubber bands with keys attached. These were suppose to allow us to re-claim our wallets if we survived the baths.

 One wall had Polaroids of famous people who had survived the NYC bath scene.
    After turning over our valuables we walked down a curving pathway filled with exceptional bathhouse art.


                            Who needs Art Basel?


   We stripped to our shorts in a dark, dank, locker room surrounded by eastern Europeans. Were they stealing glances to see if we still had out wallets?  Could they understand the sign that said, "don't be naked"?   Another sign let us know for an
extra fee, an attendant would whip us with oak  branches while we steamed in the sauna.
We had a much to look forward to.



    At the Russian Baths you can visit any of 15 special rooms. The locker room led to the "ocean water jacuzzi with hydrotherapy waterfall".


This is the last photo you'll see because my camera fogged up.

    Yes, that's a woman in the tub. The place is co-ed but it is mostly filled with randy Russian guys who love hot plunges followed by cold dips. That waterfall in the middle fell with a force just short of "skull crushing". It could have inspired the song, "Hurts So Good".
    After our hot soak we checked out the rain room where I imagined hearing Lou Christie's "Rhapsody in the Rain". Ten seconds was plenty; I live in a town that is often one big rain room.
   The fire hose room was a blast. Me and the boys took turns firing torrents of hot water at each other with a huge rubber pipe. In untrustworthy hands, it could paste you to the wall like a bug on a windshield. It felt okay, like a Rain Monster massage but I kept thinking of demonstrators hosed by police in Mississippi. That was not fun.

    Wanting a more peaceful experience we entered the first of many saunas, rooms so hot my entire body rebelled starting with my eyes. They felt like tiny tea kettles steaming up. I shared this problem with Dylan and he was nice enough to dump a bucket of cold water over my head.
     Going from really hot to really cold was repeated a lot. I thought about it being the
sort of aquatic form of bulimia. At one point I purged the heat by plunging into a cold pool. I figured,"Whatever doesn't kill you makes you will make you strongly resist future visits to places like this".

    I could go on describing the Cold Room, Mud Room, Amethyst Vibrations Suite, and Aroma Experience, but you've probably read enough.
     If you like being hot, wet, and cold, The Russian Baths are waiting a mile north of the Fountainbleu (RussianAndTurkishBaths.com). A visit costs $52 but oak branch thrashings are extra.
                 _____________________

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

ART IN THE EVERGLADES

         Just fifty miles from Miami is an incredible treasure, Everglades National Park. Last Sunday it was further enhanced by local artists in Dale Andree's "Everglades Imprint" performance piece. Almost two hundred of us watched dancers rise up from a sawgrass prairie. Dale Andree's dance troupe then performed to a native American's music.

  
                    



           Musician Samuel Tommie               
Their amazing costumes were created from the plants around them.

     Alexis Caputo of the Afro Diaries Project shared the terrifying drama of the 1926 hurricane that swept through South Florida and killed thousands.


      An hour earlier we toured sculptures created by Coconut Grove artist, Robert Chambers. Each was inspired by the Saw Palmetto, the tree on which so much of the Everglades depends.
    Robert photographing his gator back (burnt saw palmetto root) sculpture.


     No it wasn't the King Mango Strut-which was going on at the same time- but it was just as enjoyable, a quiet respite from the unsettling world that the Grove's zany parade reflects. 
                            ______________