the column of lasting insignificance: Jan. 28, 2012
by John Wilcock
Marco Island Diary
THURSDAY: Michael, the wandering minstrel, had booked me into
the delightfully modest Pink House Motel—the only one on the island—which overlooks the water in Goodland, an isolated suburb at the southeast tip, with a handful of restaurants and bars but no shops. To be self-sufficient one must drive four miles to the Wynn Dixie supermarket in the main part of Marco, a relatively affluent community popular with retirees who delight in propping up their mailboxes with cement sea lions or porpoises. I had flown into Fort Myers and on the 40-mile drive down couldn’t help but notice how law-abiding Floridians appear to be about the speed limit.
FRIDAY: Naples Botanical Gardens was the venue for today’s concert and our party—which now included Michael’s singer girlfriend, Yulene, and his friend Oscar and wife Anne—admired the floral displays, herb garden, banana palms and fountains as Michael prepared his equipment. He fetches, carries and sets up everything himself while Oscar videotapes endlessly (eventually there’ll be a movie). Understandably, his adventures have been many including getting a hug from his kindergarten teacher at the Long Island elementary school he had attended and a brief appearance at the Zuccotti Park occupation but it was hard to equal the moment here in the Naples garden when a small boy with a watering can walked across the set pausing only to pour water on Michael’s feet. Unperturbed he kept on playing.
SATURDAY: By late afternoon we were gathering at Goodland’s Little Bar restaurant ready for the evening performance which began in time for the early dinner. The place was packed, with Michael and his equipment squeezed into a tiny corner near the door, a cubby hole that became even more crowded when shared by Yulene (who sang in both Spanish and English) and Michael’s friend Cary, who often plays with him in England. Everything had led to this triumphant final gig—40,000 of miles of driving ($4,000 in gas costs alone) and a total of 80,000 traveling miles altogether, all in a single year The noise was terrific, diners largely ignoring the music to continue with their clamorous conversations. Our group was joined by some more of Michael’s fans and friends, including his mother who lives in Florida. It was late evening when it all ended and back we went to our motel to watch Time Square’s New Year celebration on television.
SUNDAY: Off we went, in two cars, to take a boat trip in the Everglades. But this was no ordinary vessel but an airboat, an ear-splittingly noisy vehicle with its rear engine and propeller enclosed in a steel cage to keep stray body parts or anything else from intruding. Passengers are obliged to wear padded earmuffs, removing them at the occasional stops where the guide halts his high-speed swooping in and out of lagoons to offer some information. Flat-bottomed airboats, with nothing below the water line, are essential in shallow waters (they’re commonly used to save victims in flooded areas) and supposedly invented by the aircraft designer, Glenn Curtis, a friend of Alexander Graham Bell’s in Canada. They were introduced to the Everglades in the 1920s, before which boats had to be propelled by punt or from somebody in the water pushing them. High spot of the trip was a visit to a very sleep alligator, obviously a regular venue on the watery tour, which barely bothered to open an eye as a fresh group of visitors arrived.
MONDAY: Today, with no gig for Michael for the first time in a year, Michael and I finally got around to checking out the local papers. These turned out to be a disappointingly lame. Tabloid pages daubed with lavish color were crammed with ads. All offered the familiar round up of fluffy soft features, mostly syndicated, about cooking, gardening, Sudoku, crossword puzzles, tide tables; very little of substance. Both dailies were part of chains, with the Sun-Times (part of Gannett’s USA Today empire) reporting on the mysterious firing of a local police chief and some bland letters from readers, one of whom complained about the brightness of the new street lights: “too big, too green, too tall, too industrial—more suitable for a parking lot”. The even blander Marco Eagle (Scripps Howard) reported the close of the snook fishing season and the council’s agreement to allocate $20,000 for July 4 fireworks. The local weekly, Coastal Breeze, carried an advice column Ask Simba, ostensibly by a parrot, but Simba’s response to a question asking about life on the island seemed eerily similar to the message from the tourist office.
GIG #347 @ Buena Vista Deli, Miami, FL
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— Manhattan Memories: Introduction.
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It was the first handwritten letter I’d received in 5 years. Or maybe 10. Signed by John Wilcock, a man I’d never heard of, and postmarked Ojai, Calif., it was waiting for me when I returned from my São Paulo-to-New York summer trip. Mr. Wilcock wrote that he had been an assistant editor at The Times Travel section back in the 1950s, and had written the first editions of “Mexico on $5 a Day,” “Greece on $5 a Day” and “Japan on $5 a Day” for Arthur Frommer in the 1960s.
By George, I thought. This man was the original Frugal Traveler.
by John Wilcock
"A GOOD WAY to describe John Wilcock is to say that he is a talented bohemian counter-culture journalist who once played a major role in the emergence of America’s underground press. Born 1927 in Sheffield, England, he left school aged 16 to work on various newspapers in England, and on Toronto periodicals before moving to New York City. There in 1955 he became one of the five founders of the Village Voice in which he and co-founder Norman Mailer wrote weekly columns. Wilcock called his column “The Village Square”, an intended pun. He and young Mailer were not quite friends, although Wilcock was at times annoyed, but always amused, by Mailer’s monstrous ego."
-From the preface of Manhattan Memories, by Martin Gardner
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