Mr. Chatterbox

By staff September 1, 2002

Summer's finally here, thank God. What a long, hard year it has been, what with Sept. 11, then anthrax, then the Liza Minnelli wedding. I, for one, need a break. So Peanut and I are taking a month off and "RV-ing" through the West. We plan to see Jackson Hole, the Grand Tetons, Butte, Boise, and maybe even Banff.

It's a trip I've long promised Peanut, as he loves grizzly bears. Well, maybe "loves" isn't the right word. Whenever a grizzly bear appears on TV he starts barking and attacks the TV with such force that he once deprogrammed everything and Comcast had to come out and fix it.

We plan to camp along the way and drink from mountain streams. It sounds so heavenly that I couldn't help but wonder what my fellow Sarasotans were doing with their summers. So I asked a couple. The answers may shock you.

Eli Cantor, for instance, has his new book of haiku coming out. Actually, only part of it is haiku. He's also throwing in some tankas and fortune cookie epigrams. It's called "Late Poems," which I take to be an allusion to Eli's age. He's 89 but seems much younger-more like 88.

I've read a couple of the haiku and they're sensational:

As twilight descends

The birds perched in the trees

Vanish without leaving

Speaking of writers, Charlie Huisking is going on a long cruise to New Zealand. He chose that destination very carefully, looking for the place that would interest terrorists the least. It was either Auckland or Lake Como, and I think he made the right choice. By the way, they travel like crazy over at the Herald- Tribune. Entertainment editor Joel Welin is going to China to visit relatives who just moved there (who has relatives who move to China?) and reporter Mark Zaloudek just got back from Egypt. He and his mother went there for a vacation and they flew on Egyptian Air! Charlie is in total awe.

Cartoonist Ralph Smith will go to New York to visit daughter Ashley, who just got married. Yes, lovely Ashley, who grew up in Sarasota and is also the daughter and stepdaughter of Carroll and Chris Browne ("Hagar the Horrible" and "Raising Duncan"), is now Mrs. Dan Piraro, the wife of-a famous cartoonist. When will it ever end? The new guy-Dan-does a strip called Bizarro. It's very, very strange. I suggest you visit his Web site to find exactly how strange: As Ralph so perceptively put it, "It's weird, man. He's so much like me."

But the wedding! It seems the whole extended family was in Vegas celebrating Carroll's mother's 80th birthday, when Dan suddenly proposed, out of the blue. He had a limo waiting and everything. They dashed to one of those wedding chapels, where an Elvis impersonator performed the ceremony on the spot. The various parents are still in shock.

Of course, this is going to be a highly political summer, what with the campaign heating up. Janet Reno will be crisscrossing the state in her red pickup truck; Jeb Bush will be bailing various family members out of jail; and City Commissioner Mary Quillin will be busy growing her hair back. She had it all cut off and donated it to charity. It will be fashioned into wigs for children on chemo. I sure hope they dye it first, though; otherwise those kids are going to look pretty strange in Mary's trademark "salt and pepper" hair.

One Sarasota politician who won't have any vacation is Jan Schneider, the poor Democrat who is the odds-on favorite to run against Katherine Harris. She is going to Washington for a few days-to attend a reception at the White House, of all things-but otherwise it's going to be, as Jan put it, "door to door, coffee to coffee." Jan lives on Bird Key with her elderly father and, as you probably know, attended Yale with Hilary and Bill Clinton. I asked her if either Clinton would be down here campaigning for her, but I can't remember what she said. I'm not sure if this is due to her skills as a politician or mine as a reporter. I haven't decided yet who I'm throwing my weight behind but I already get the feeling that both Jan and Katherine hope it isn't them. I am planning, though, to contribute to all the candidates, just in case.

Jack Vinales is going to New York to load up on tchatchkes for his store (he likes to scour the 26th Street flea market) and to eat. This will be his first trip to the Big Apple since 9/11 and he is steeling himself for the experience. Joe Rizzo will be in town all summer, looking after his new Bistro near the corner of Osprey and Siesta. Joe has managed, owned, partnered, bartended and probably swept out every restaurant in town, and I must say, I like his new place the best of all. It has a real neighborhood feeling-unpretentious, good food, and you rarely need a reservation. Mark Famiglio says it's his new hangout.

Dick Smothers will also be spending the summer in town, or rather at his home in Bradenton, where he now sells real estate for Michael Saunders. Dick is very philosophical about this latest chapter in his life and freely admits he spent all his money on high living and child support. Personally, I think that working for Michael Saunders is hardly a comedown; for most of us it would be a big step up in the world. Sometimes, when I get bored at work, I get out a calculator and figure out how much her top agents-the Linda Roe Dickinsons, the Kim and Michael Oglivies -make each year. The figure I came up with is $70,000,000 each, though I'm the first to admit I may be off by a couple of zeros.

Everybody from the Golden Apple Dinner Theater will be in Singapore, performing "Nunsense;" and the Asolo is doing its wonderful Kaleidoscope program, where mentally challenged adults have a theater workshop. Their show (Aug. 1-3) is supposed to change lives. Carolyn Michel (plans: Norwegian cruise) says it changed hers, and we all know how badly that was needed.

And finally there's Martha's Vineyard. It's the new North Carolina. The Kaltenbachers have a place there, not to mention the Kanes (Janet and Stanley), who have people from Sarasota come up in relays. Peanut, however, will not be joining them. Janet recently met him for the first time and said, "My God, he's a mutt!" Mutt, my eye. He may have been born in a trailer in New Port Richey, and he may have been the runt of the litter, and his papers may have been "misplaced" over the years, but now look at him: about to embark on the most wonderful vacation a dog could dream of-driving out West to bark at the grizzly bears.

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