Thursday, January 19, 2012

RIP Johnny Otis

RIP Johnny Otis.  (© Maureen Hurley photo/halftone).

Johnny Otis (Mr. "Hand Jive"), surveying his Sebastopol ranch in the early 1990s. After a leisurely latte interview in his sunlit kitchen, he walked me down to the barn to show me his paintings and sculptures. Johnny was our godfather benefactor for The Russian River Writers' Guild. He called me up one afternoon after I did a front page story on him for The Paper, and he asked if I'd be willing to host a poetry reading series at his Sebastopol cafe on blue Mondays. I asked him why he called me versus myriad other Sonoma County poets and he said, "I only work with the best people, I asked around and you're the best." The only catch is you have to book someone every Monday night." We only booked two events a month. For two years, I worked my ass off rounding up poets every week. Luckily I had help: David Bromige, Steve Tills, and other Sonoma County poets pitched in. Great PA sound system. Great ambiance. Great poets. Great man. RIP Johnny.

See Dan Taylor's Press Democrat obit: Sonoma County musicians mourn Johnny Otis
(I'm quoted in it).

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Captiva Island, August

Neil loved Captiva Island. I was ambivalent about the Gulf: it was like murky bath water—too hot for me to stay submerged for any length of time.

I grew up swimming at Stinson Beach, north of San Francisco, where even in summer, the water is about 65° due to the frigid Humboldt current that sweeps down the west coast from the North Pole. As a kid, I thought that swimming frigid ocean water was normal. But Neil loved the warmth of the Gulf. He was basking in it. Not like Scotland.

Florida in August is far too hot for the snowbirds. Only the hardy locals and the crazies went out in the August heat. Most waited until the sun went down to venture forth into the night. The upside of it was that we practically had the beaches to ourselves.

Neil was deep in conversation with a gaggle of men who were standing chest deep with their backs to the surf, when on the crest of a small wave, several black fins appeared. Everyone blanched and the men nearly shat themselves trying to make it to shore.

Forget about the wife and kids. It was every man for himself.

They fought a losing battle against the weight of the water as they churned toward shore. A 12-year-old kid who was playing near me climbed me like a tree. Not his dad, mind you. Me. I stood transfixed with this kid on my shoulders, watching the fins come nearer.

Then someone on shore said, Awww, look—dophins! The men stopped, and pretended that it was nothing.