Random kindness

Last spring, Carolyn and I started running together every morning. Now that fall is well under way, it has been pretty dark when we get started. We run through neighborhood streets with infrequent traffic, and we keep an eye and an ear out for approaching vehicles.

This morning, during the warm-up walk part of our practice, a car slowed and stopped a few feet ahead of us. A young, black woman got out of the driver’s side. I expected her to ask if we’d seen a lost dog. It wouldn’t have been the first time someone stopped us looking for an escaped pet.

Instead, she said, “Excuse me. I drive past y’all every day, and I want you to have these.” She held out what I thought at first were two sparkly t-shirts.

“What are they for?” I asked. Given that it’s political season, I wondered if they were for a local political campaign. It would be an unorthodox way to drum up support, but whatever. I was wrong again.

“They’re to keep you safe,” she said, and handed us each an orange mesh vest with bright, reflective yellow stripes.

She doesn’t know us. Doesn’t know our names, our circumstances in life, nothing but that we are out before dark every day and that we might be in danger. So she did something about it.

Imagine if everyone were like her.


I’m going to apologize for this story right up front, but you should know that I don’t actually mean it. It’s your own fault if you read all the way to the end of it.

We have in Florida a species of grasshopper called a lubber. They emerge as nymphs in spring, dull black with red or yellow stripes. The adults are brightly colored and emit a foul smell and a toxic, foamy secretion when disturbed.

The nymph of a lubber grasshopper, black with yellow striping
Image by Colin Blenis (License)

Nothing preys on them. That’s unfortunate, because the lubber is an incredibly destructive pest. A swarm of lubbers will strip all the leaves off a plant in short order. My wife, who adores all of nature, orders them murdered on sight.

I noticed lubber nymphs by the pool equipment last month, so we spread a bait that controls their population somewhat. Impossible to get them all, though, so occasionally they still turn up.

Fortunately, they tend to be slow. The name “lubber” comes from the old English word “lobre,” meaning lazy or clumsy. Easy to catch and kill if you see them. That duty usually falls to me.

Couple of days ago, my wife noticed a pair of nymphs in the white sapote tree out front. She asked me to kill them, but because they had not achieved their bright, adult coloring, I couldn’t spot them.

“Where?” I asked. I looked on the ground, having seen motion that turned out to be a lizard.

“In the tree.”

I looked up, fixing my gaze on the first branch I came to, near the tip. Nothing.

The inability to spot things in a crowded background has been a problem for me since childhood. It drove my mother crazy. She would grab my head and turn it toward whatever she wanted me to see. Often, I still couldn’t see it.

My wife knows this about me, and so she began giving me specific directions. Find the second branch from the bottom nearest me. Now go in about a foot from the tree trunk. Then, up three branches.

And there they were, right in plain sight. I should have seen them. But as you must have realized by now…

I was looking for lubbers in all the wrong places.

Adult lubber grasshoppers mating
Image by http://www.birdphotos.com (license)

The Incident of the Man on the Bike

A couple Saturdays ago, while Carolyn and I one of our morning walks, we encountered a man on a bicycle. He was coasting toward us on the wrong side of the road, not quite a block ahead of us. White, late forties, weathered face. He was wearing a baseball cap, an unbuttoned long-sleeve shirt over a T-shirt, and jeans. I thought that was odd because it was too warm for long pants.

When he noticed us, he did a circle in the intersection. Then, as we drew closer, he did it again.

Something about those two little loops triggered my sense of danger. He was deliberately allowing us to close the gap. At first, I thought he was going to ask us for money, but I didn’t get a panhandler vibe from him. The way he looked at us felt more like a wolf regarding potential prey.

We were approaching a pile of sticks and twigs that had blown down from an oak tree in a storm. I picked one up. It was about fifteen inches long, reasonably straight, green enough to be flexible, and thick enough to be sturdy. Well-balanced, too. I began tossing it to myself, end-over-end.

When he noticed what I was doing, he steered away at an angle. But he still stared at us. He turned his head as he drifted past, tracking us. When we looked back, he had stopped at the cross street behind us and turned to face us.

We walked a few steps more, turned again. He hadn’t moved. He watched us until we passed an obstruction that blocked our view of each other. I took one last look over my shoulder a few moments later, but I couldn’t see him.

I have no way of being certain that he meant us harm. For all I know, he was afraid of us. Wondering what we two might do to him, circling to assess the situation, deciding whether to flee. But Carolyn sensed something amiss about the situation, too.

I carried the stick the rest of the way home.

That’s y’all, folks!


I occasionally surprise people by using the word “y’all” in both written and verbal communication. Don’t I know better? Am I being ironic?

Well, of course I’m aware that “y’all” isn’t Standard American English. And no, I’m not trying to be ironic. I use “y’all” because I really like it.

I’m originally from New Jersey, and although we moved to Florida when I was a child, I did not acquire any kind of southern accent. (It helped that most of my neighbors were transplanted Yankees of one kind or another.) I abhorred most southernisms I encountered and deliberately refrained from using most of them.

But “y’all” is the perfect solution to an ambiguous third person plural. “What are you doing?” could refer to one or more people. “What are y’all doing?” is unambiguously plural. And if you need to indicate a large group, or emphasize group inclusion, “all y’all” rolls right off the tongue.

Maybe if I’d grown up elsewhere, I’d feel the same about “yinz,” or “youse,” or “you ‘uns.” But I’ll stick with “y’all.”

Yard Labor

We spent the morning doing basic yard work, which we had neglected more or less ever since Hurricane Irma. Areca palm fronds were hanging over the sidewalk, and where they weren’t, grass in the sidewalk cracks was ankle-high. I hadn’t mowed the lawn since the week *before* Irma, so it looked pretty ragged. And the walk leading to the house from the sidewalk also had weeds everywhere. The house was starting to look like it was abandoned.

So we clipped and trimmed and mowed and I used a shovel to get the weeds out of the cracks because we never, ever use herbicides. And then I swept the walks, and we loaded all the brush into the bed of the truck and took it up to the brush recycling site. Then we went to a nursery and picked up more flowers and milkweed for the front flowerbed, which got totally destroyed by Irma, and Carolyn spent time this afternoon putting in a new flower bed.

We used to have a guy who would come out on Saturday mornings and help with the upkeep of the yard. Sadly, he’s no longer available. That’s another reason things got so out of hand. But the main reason was that it was so damned hot for so damned long this year. It was hard enough just to walk to the car in the mornings. No chance I was going to get outside and work if I didn’t have to. Time to hire a regular lawn service, I think. If not during the winter, then by spring at the latest.

More to see than a sunrise

My morning commute takes me eastbound across the Howard Frankland Bridge into Tampa. I am rewarded with spectacular sunrises most days. I try always to appreciate their beauty.

In today’ spectacle, a thin ribbon of cloud bisected the disc of the sun. I was surprised to realize that the sun was not uniform in color. Above the cloud, its orange was brighter, with a more yellow flavor than the bottom, which was darker, with a reddish tone.

I had never noticed this about the sun. I had never looked for it, to be honest, and might not have noticed it today if not for that fortunate cloud. I “knew” that the rising sun was orange. I assumed that what I saw each morning was all there was to notice.

How many things do we look at without really seeing them? How many times do we assume that our perception of the world tells us all we need to know? Just as there is more to the rising sun than a single color, there are more opportunities in life than we recognize at first glance.

Winter Interlude

My Sweetie has many tropical plants in the yard that, like her, can’t take cold weather. We have three propane-fueled patio heaters for the spots with the most delicate stuff that won’t survive a single night of frost. We haven’t had to use them in a couple of years, but last month, I tested them and they each fired up just fine.

With tonight’s low predicted in the mid-30s, I knew I’d need to run them. The first two started without a hitch, though I might have singed a few eyebrow hairs with the second one after letting the gas build up a bit too long before lighting the pilot. The third heater was a problem.

When I opened the tank valve, it started hissing, and that rotten odor filled my nostrils. Now, after the eyebrow incident, I was wise enough to know that I shouldn’t hit that pilot switch. I closed the valve and took it to a 24-hour convenience store to swap it for a fresh tank.

Now the activity and the cool air have me hankering for a cup of coffee spiked with rum. But the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts is closed for the night and I’m not making a whole pot just for the one cup. I guess I’ll toddle off to bed. Stay warm, friends, and remember, Spring is just around the corner.