Floridays II



One day Tarik went off to class and never returned. It was then that we learned from Kyle that Tarik had a fondness for cocaine. A few days later his parents came for a scheduled visit, and as they walked around the parking lot, David and I watched them from our balcony and discussed how to tell them that their son seemed to have disappeared and that he apparently had a cocaine habit. His parents were both from Egypt and took the news stoically. We must have been in contact with them over the next, couple of weeks but Tarik never returned. 

Then the collection calls began. At first the calls were unthreatening. The man on the other end simply wanted to speak to Tarik. When Tarik never called him back, the calls quickly escalated.  I began keeping my “tire buddy” on the counter near the front door. The tire buddy was a short club with a steel ring on the end. It was for loosening the lug nuts on your car tire. But after the drug dealer threatened to kick down our door and break our knee caps, I decided keeping it in the apartment was of better use. At one point I told the dealer that we had no idea where Tarik was and that we did not have his money or his drugs and that we did not even know he was into drugs, but we would be sure to have him call if he ever came back. The calls seemed to stop after that. Then the messages from the 900 numbers began. Apparently, Tarik had run up a bill with them as well. One day, sick of the calls, I answered the phone and told the man the same thing I’d told the drug dealer. The man exploded. 

“God Damn camel jockeys! Those fucking sand niggers always do this.”

Then he slammed down the phone. He never did call again. 

David moved out and Tarik was gone and a kid my age moved in. It was quickly apparent that he was rather anti-social and had some anger issues. He listened to punk rock so loud it would rattle the pictures off the wall. 

It’s great to live in a gated community but the gates don’t do much when the problems are inside the fence. 

Rob was the next to move in. He was a football fanatic who would commandeer the TV from morning until night on Sundays, watching every game broadcast. Despite my not understanding how anyone could watch football for so long, he and I got along the best, and Thanksgiving of that year I gave him a ride to New Orleans to visit his brother on my way to visiting my brother in Texas. 

We met his brother in a Walmart parking lot, and I ran in to use the bathroom. I walked through the doors, and as I remember it the place went silent, all conversation stopped, the cashiers stopped mid-swipe, and everyone looked at me. I was the only white person in the place. For a pasty white kid from podunk Vermont it was as much of a shock to me as it was to the hundreds of people in the store. I scurried off to the bathroom thinking, This is how someone of color must feel when they come to Vermont. 

Rob’s brother took us to a chicken shack where I had the best Po’boy sandwich I’ve ever tasted and was again the minority. While we were standing in line someone called out to me. “Hey cracker where you from?” 

Next we headed to Bourbon Street for the “best hurricanes” in New Orleans. We got them at what can only be described as an alcoholic slushy bar. Despite it being November, there was still a lot of partying going on. As we walked along Bourbon Street with our brightly colored drinks we passed two college-age looking girls who seemed to smile at me. 

“They were cute,” I said.

“They were hookers,” Rob said. 

I decided that if this was New Orleans in November, I certainly did not want to come for Mardi Gras, something that had been on my list, being a Buffett fan and all. 

Rob’s childhood friend Tush was also in town visiting, and he’d won so much money at the casino the night before that he now had VIP status. He wanted all of us to go and see him in action. We went back to the apartment so he could change. He put on a suit and even had a cane with a flask in the handle. With his mullet and his wild suit he looked more like a stylized movie pimp than anything else. I am not sure how they got me onto the casino boat as it was for 21 and older, but given that I’d  had an alcoholic slushy on Bourbon Street, checking ID did not seem to be a priority. Tush worked the room and it was not long until he was rolling dice and winning as well as yelling out 

“Who do you love?”

“New York!” the table would yell back. 

I was practically falling asleep sipping cokes and watching Tush when the pit boss came up to me and made a comment that made it clear he knew full well I was not twenty-one but he’d let it slide, since Tush was a VIP and I had not actually gambled. When you have to scrounge money for four dollar pizzas you tend not to play games of chance that you know nothing about. 

The next morning, bleary eyed, I drove to Texas where I had my brother teach me how to play poker. 

All of these crazy incidents were juxtaposed to the fact that I had no real friends and spent much of my time alone. I don’t mind being alone, and I learned a lot about myself and who the true me was although I would not allow that person to come out for many years. Between classes I would sit in the same chair in front of the floor to ceiling windows of the college library reading back issues of Outside and Bicycle magazines and watching all of the people walk by on their way to and from class. 

By the end of my third semester, I’d had enough with the Sunshine State, and when I went to my last final exam, my car was packed with all my possessions. As soon as I finished my exam, I pointed the car west to Texas and then a week later northeast where I chased a thunder storm across the length of Tennessee singing along to Jimmy Buffett. I was going back to the place I had been so desperate to leave, but at the moment going back did not seem all that bad. 

Songs I know by Heart


I discovered Jimmy Buffett when I was in my early teens. Our neighbors had a music collection that went far beyond that of my parents’ Jazz and classical music. Buffett’s Songs You Know by Heart was tucked in among the likes of Queen, The Beatles, Edie Brickell and Lou Reed. Pure curiosity drove me to put on this nondescript album, and I’ve been a Parrot Head ever since. As with many songs, it is the words that drew me in. I have friends who only hear the beat of a song, but for me, it is always about the words.

It was on a trip to Florida with my brother when one of his friends, also a Buffett fan, gave me the cassette of Songs You Know by Heart. I kept it hidden in the console of my car when others were in it. I didn’t need any more proof of how uncool I was. But when I was alone, I’d blast it and sing along as I drove the winding roads of Vermont.

I picked up my second album, Fruitcakes, after I fled Vermont to work at a fancy summer camp in Pennsylvania. It is this album that has the song “Quietly Making Noise” on it. When I decided to change the name of my blog from Smart Men Marry Doctors to Quietly Making Noise, I did it as a nod to my Parrot Head ways but also to my dad who loved the idea of quietly making noise so much that he had the words scrolling across his computer as a screen saver. 

Though Fruitcakes is my favorite album I don’t have a favorite song. I simply love too many of them and can sing along to almost all of the ones recorded from the 1970s to 2002. Recently Jimmy came out with an album called Songs You Don’t Know by Heart. I knew them all, and they are some of my favorites.

After the stint at the summer camp, where I met a girl from Florida, I worked for a time at an insurance agency in Harrisburg, PA. The death of my friend that previous spring had thrown my world into turmoil, and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I quickly learned that insurance was not it. I had spent time in St. Augustine as a kid visiting my maternal grandmother and between that and the visions Buffett had put into my head I pointed my car south in the fall of 1996–I was chasing dreams that would soon crash into reality and evaporate. I moved to Gainesville, which is a swamp; the coast is hours away. The relationship fell apart after the first semester and I spent the next semester learning how sheltered I had been in my small town in Vermont. Through it all Buffett was my “guide.” I joined the fan club, added to my album collection and looked forward to finding the Coconut Telegraph, the Buffett fan booklet, in my mailbox each month. Why I never packed up and moved to the coast I don’t know. The lines Mother mother ocean I heard you call. Wanted to sail upon your waters since I was three feet tall. have always pulled at my soul. Unfortunately, I get such horrible motion sickness that despite the fact that I would sell everything to go live on a boat in the islands, it is just not something I could do. There was also the fact that I still had not accomplished my long-held dream of moving west to ski, which was about the only direction I had in those days. I was a lost and scared soul then and for many years to come. 

As my Florida experience became more erratic, all I wanted to do was get home to my friends who understood me. My paternal grandmother would write and ask me when I was going to return to the United States. After three semesters, I beat feet north taking my parrot head dreams and attitude with me. 

I spent the next three years at Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire where the rum drinking part of the Parrot Head attitude became my leading operating procedure. The college had a radio station and on Sunday mornings I would load every one of my Buffett CDs into my messenger bag and drag my hung-over self across campus to do a two-hour radio show I called Setting Sail.

Now as the snow continues to pile up outside my office window I often have “Margaritaville Radio” on. It is the sun tan for my frostbite as I sing along to the songs, remembering my younger days when, well warmed by rum on frigid winter nights, I would mount the dive bar karaoke stage and get the bar to sing along to “Margaritaville.” Those days of rum drinking and bar hopping and dreaming of being a ski bum are far behind me. Now I dream of warm weather and beach living. I remember the adventures we’ve taken as a family to tropical shores and dream about the ones yet to come. 

Trip To Florida


St.+Augustine+Scarlett+O'Hara's+2Scarlet O’Hara’s is a small bar tucked into a narrow side street in St. Augustine, Florida. A narrow porch with a couple of tables overlooks the entrance and the music from the band drifts out of the open windows.  I am sixteen and handing the bouncer, who looks very much like Hagrid from Harry Potter, my brother’s ID.

We had spent the previous few days listening to the truckers on the CB radio and watching the country slowly flatten out as we drove south on I-95 from Vermont. We were here to help our grandmother (Granny) purchase a new car and then take her current car, a red and white 1960s era Dodge Duster, back to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where my brother was stationed at the time.

As kids, we would come down to visit Granny nearly every year. We would go to the Alligator Farm, Marine Land, The Old Fort and of course the beach. A few times we even ventured down to the Kennedy Space Center.  Granny lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment with a kitchenette on St. George Street next to the St. Francis Inn. There were large palm trees in the yard and small green lizards could often be seen scurrying across the white stucco by the front door.  Because the apartment was so small my brother and I stayed at the Best Western Bay Front Inn just off of A1A. It was nothing fancy but it did have a pool and to this day I still remember the layout of the entire place, right down to the ugly maroon and palm leaf patterned bed spreads.

Skip, one of my brother’s Army buddies who happened to be from St. Augustine, was also on leave when we were there, and he was planning to help us drive the Duster back to Kentucky.  Given that both Skip and my brother were in their early twenties it would have been unfathomable to think that they would meet up in a city, especially Skip’s hometown, and not go out to the bars. I resigned myself to the reality that I would be hanging out in the hotel room flipping channels for the night.  However, to my surprise and bewilderment, after we had finished our Domino’s Pizza that we dipped in garlic butter, my brother asked if I wanted to come along. A short time later Skip and a friend knocked on the door and we headed into the night. On our way to the bar Skip pointed out important historical landmarks such as the bar Jimmy Buffett had been booed out of and then, after he had become famous, had come back to and pressed his bare rear to the window.

We parked in a parking lot a few blocks from the bar, and my brother and Skip went on ahead while I went to the ATM with Skip’s friend, who quizzed me on the particulars about my brother and told me to look the bouncer in the eye and give only curt answers when asked any questions.  As we walked up to the bar I saw my brother and Skip sitting on the porch watching us. I assumed they were sitting so close to the bouncer so that they could make a run for it if I was caught. I took a deep breath, held my head high walked up the bouncer and handed him my ID. My brother really does not look anything like me; the main distinguishing feature is that he is three or four inches taller than I am. Though I guess when you’re an 8-foot tall bouncer, it’s hard to tell such a small difference in the height of those of average size.

“Vermont Huh?” the bouncer said.

“Yup,” I said gruffly, dropping my voice an octave.

“Have a good night,” he said handing my ID back to me and stepping aside.

When we sat down at the table, in sight of the bouncer, Tycen asked me what I wanted to drink. Having no clue, I ordered what he was having, a Jack and Coke. I took one sip and my face contorted in slight horror, my mouth burned, then my throat burned, then my stomach felt warm. I tried another sip, smaller than the first, then handed the drink to my brother.

A waitress was walking around with test tubes filled with brightly colored liquid and on the sides of the tubes in comical bubble letters, the words Sex on the Beach were written. Fascinated that drinks came in test tubes and happy that they tasted more like fruit juice than a red-hot poker, I had a couple. I pocketed one of the test tubes and a book of matches as souvenirs that I kept until they were liberated from me my senior year of college.

After Scarlet O’Hara’s we went to a dance club at a Holiday Inn and then to a house party where everyone thought it was cute that someone’s kid brother was tagging along for the night.  We headed back to the motel in the wee hours of the morning.

At some point, after this adventure, I acquired a fake ID, one whose picture looked much more like me than my brother does.  I never used it, however; without my big brother there to look after me I just didn’t have the gumption.







Not Our First Rodeo


Though Luke is doing much better now, two weeks ago he came down with a cold, by the afternoon his wheezy breaths were too much to ignore so off to the doctors we went.

Our first bout with breathing problems happened a year ago last February we met our parents in Florida for a little winter reprieve. The trip turned into a nightmare just a few days after it started. Noah quickly came down with a cold and was breathing rapidly enough that we first called our doctor in Utah for advice and then took Noah to a local clinic. The doctor there thought he had pneumonia and an ear infection. Though I noticed his feet were a slight hue of blue we put our trust in the doctor, picked up the prescriptions and went home for a night of little sleep. By morning we were in a nearby hospital’s ER, having a battery of tests run, x-rays and then watching in horror as two people held Noah down while a third tried and failed and then tried again to get an IV in him. Eventually, the doctor returned to say that they feared Noah had RSV and that the transport team from Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital was en route to pick him up. Why, I asked, could we not bring him ourselves? His response brings me chills to this day. “The intensive care unit has their own transport vehicle so that they can monitor him.”

After what seemed like hours the team arrived and loaded Noah into the back of the ambulance. Erin and I rode up front could watched our helpless son with a little oxygen mask over his face on small TV screen. Our parents followed us in the car. When we arrived we were led through what seemed like endless hallways to a small cluttered room with a large sliding glass door. We were told we needed to wear gowns and masks at all times in the room. Noah was placed in a bed that resembled more of a lion’s cage at the circus than a crib for a child. The room next to us was home to a little girl who was waiting for a new heart. This put our predicament into perspective a little bit. But no matter how small your problems seem in the shadow of others, in the moment of your crisis your problems are still monumental. In all Noah spent three days in the Pediatric ICU. The staff at the hospital was amazing, as were the staff at the Clubhouse next door which gave us a place to get away from the beeping machines and grab a shower and a nap, free of charge.

Almost exactly a year later I was on my way home from a month in Vermont, after my father’s passing, while Erin was taking Noah to the doctor’s. It was determined that he had pneumonia and was given the normal list of antibiotics. The following Tuesday night another trip to the doctor revealed that his oxygen level was low enough to require assistance and an order was placed to have home health drop off a home oxygen tank. The familiar hum of the oxygen machine soon filled the house; my father had had the same machine sitting in his bedroom just a month earlier. It was not a welcome sound. Noah has the resilience and optimism of my father; he seemed un-bothered by the “medicine” in his nose or the tube that snaked down his chest and between his legs, turning into a fifty foot tail as he called it.. He rarely complained and went about the day as best he could in the condition that he was in. Within a week’s time he was back to his normal self.

Luke and I are sitting in a tiny exam room, trying to keep ourselves entertained while we wait for the doctor to come in and tell us what he has seen on the x-ray that was just taken using some sort of medieval torture device they certainly found in the basement, where they place the children on a board with two holes cut in it for their legs then lift their arms straight above their heads and strap this plastic tube like thing around their torso and then lock them into place. They do this to limit the amount of radiation exposure, the idea being the less they move, the better the chance of a good x-ray.

The doctor came in, pulled up the x-rays and showed me where in fact the pneumonia was in Luke’s lungs. Not that I really understood the picture. He told me he would need breathing treatments along with an antibiotic.

“Do you have a nebulizer at home”? he asked

“Yes,” I said. “Unfortunately this is not our first rodeo with this sort of thing.”