the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly hidden in plain view in Key West, Birmingham, Alabama and beyond

Received word yesterday from an old Anniston, Alabama Vanderbilt fraternity brother that his 50-year friend and business associate Bill Featheringill (photo), of Birimingham, Alabama, had died yesterday morning. I went to Ramsay High School with Bill. He was my big brother in the fraternity. I wrote this to his friend of 50 years:

Damn. Bill tried to show me how to be a gentleman, but I was headed elsewhere. I can’t imagine what his moving on is like for  you, for other other people close to him. I need to sit with my feelings some more. Damn.

Mainly, I wonder why someone as good and uplifting and needed as “Feather” moved on, and someone with as checkered a past as mine is still here, doing things daily that Feather probably would shake his head over.

Received this from Jane Trammel, who was in my home room class at Ramsay:

Dear friends,
It is with a heavy heart that I send this letter.  We lost a dear friend today. Bill Featheringill died this morning.  He hadn’t felt well this week, and as I understand, his heart was just slowing down.
Bill has been a dear friend to all of us, and it was his sincere desire to keep up with and stay in touch with all of his classmates.  He and his wife, Carolyn, have generously shared their home and hospitality with us numerous times. It was Bill’s desire and encouragement that spurred on our last two reunions.  We will dearly miss him.
His funeral will be Thursday afternoon at 2:00 at Independent Presbyterian Church.  There will be visitation with family prior to the service.
I am attempting to relay this information to all of our classmates with e-mails that we used at the last reunion.  Some may be outdated, and I apologize. I have a new computer which deleted much of my updated information.  You may want to pass on information to anyone whom you think may be omitted.  I do not have emails for everyone.
Let us all hold Carolyn and their daughter, Liz and family, up in prayer as they deal with the unexpected loss of their beloved husband and father.  God blesses us all with those we love.  In this special season, let us realize our blessings in those who are dear to us.
Love to all,

Comments on yesterday’s Coconut Telegraph at, my replies in italics:

[Flunked Keys Life] I lived four years down there, you call it paradise? My Gods, all I hear is constant complaining. My ex and I moved down there from Denver, with the same wet dream of work. She found it faster than I did as an illegal. I spent four years in your damn “paradise”. To work there and live was a nightmare! I live in upper Jax now and love it. I don’t have a drugged, drunk wife. I don’t have a taxi that delivers it. I don’t have a bubba who gets a job at Kmart, while being a felon. I don’t have low pay and no future. I am 41, best years of my life. I will go to the Keys and die like the rest of you one day.
Hmmm, what do you have up there in Jacksonville that you were not able to find down here in the Keys? Street gangs? Walmart? Gridlocked roads? Freezing weather in winter? A pro football team that could stand a heap of Viagra :-) ?

[Sloan Department] I know the voices aren’t real, but they have some great ideas.

Hmmm, how could voices that are not real have great ideas? How could a person not inside of Sloan know the voices are not real? Is the person who wrote that Sloan pretending to be someone else :-) ?

[Capt Doom and Gloom] Cannabis Oh, now we have a PC correct name for Grass, Weed, Toke, Junk, and whatever pot heads call this narcotic. Been there gave it up years ago, why, because it is DOPE man, DOPE and never will be anything else. Booze (the Keys Disease) is bad enough, but breathing second hand head exhaust may get us all in the clink faster than 80 proof wawa! Ever try driving 4000 pounds of metal when stoned? DON’T!

Hmmm, ever try driving 4000 pounds of metal when drunk? I hitched a ride of about 1300 miles in August 1999 with a truck driver who smoked one joint after another, and he drove great. If he had been drinking booze, I would have told him to pull over and let me out. If everyone who drinks booze shifted to smoking dope, this would be a far kindler, gentler world. I don’t use either, but I know many people who drink, and many who smoke marijuana :-) .

Yesterday, Nashville J sent:
Sloan: So, the art exhibition ends in a few days, after what is said to be a great run and seen by many people – many more than normal – and the CITIZEN still hasn’t done any review of it.  Guess they will run a story when it closes and say:  You should have seen……………………. what a great exhibition but it is now gone.  Of course it is not gone, people of Key West can see it everyday if they just open their eyes, the homeless are still there,  Hidden in Plain View! J
I replied: To be thorough, I opened the entire Key West Citizen edition today, so I could look at Solares Hill. Nothing about Hidden In Plain View. Since the opening, I have seen nothing in The Citizen/Solares Hill about Hidden In Plain View, easily the most important art exhibition in Key West’s history. Again, The Citizen gave the exhibition a good pre-opening write-up, kudos to Erika Biddle, mention of the few financial sponsors, but the public was not told, or shown, just how truly important and powerful the exhibition is. What else can I say?
I included a salty photo, which summed up what else I could say, but in memory of Feather the Good, I leave it out of this post.
J also sent:
How Ernest Hemingway’s cats became a federal case (+video)
The descendants of Ernest Hemingway’s cats – dozens of them – freely roam the writer’s former home, now a museum. In a controversial court case, a judge says the felines must be regulated under federal law.
By , Staff writer / December 9, 2012
Key West has a well-earned reputation as a haven for misfits, outcasts, and free-spirits. The locals don’t even consider themselves part of the United States of America. They refer to the place as the Conch Republic.
So it is more than a bit ironic that Key West is also the location of a knock-down, drag-out fight over the federal government’s power under the US Constitution’s Commerce Clause to regulate… cats.
And not just any cats, either. The cats being subjected to federal oversight are the descendants of the famous six-toed felines raised and cared for by former Key West resident and author Ernest Hemingway.
Mr. Hemingway spent most of the 1930s in Key West completing some of his best work. Now, his former house at 907 Whitehead Street is a museum open to daily tours and the occasional wedding.
It also continues to be home to 40 to 50 six-toed cats that are a living legacy of Hemingway. As in Hemingway’s time, the cats are allowed to roam and lounge at will in the house and on the one-acre grounds.
That’s how the federal government became involved.
At some point several years ago, a museum visitor expressed concern about the cats’ care. The visitor took that concern all the way to the US Department of Agriculture and, literally, made a federal case out of it.
Soon USDA inspectors showed up in Key West. They said that if the museum wanted to display cats it needed an exhibitor’s license as required under the federal Animal Welfare Act. (That’s the same law that regulates circuses, zoos, and traveling dog and pony shows.)
Federal officials advised the museum that it also needed to take action to: Confine the cats in individual cages each night, or construct a higher fence around the property, or install an electric wire atop the existing brick wall, or hire a night watchman to keep an eye on the cats.
The museum was ordered to tag each cat for identification, and add additional elevated resting surfaces within the cat’s enclosures.
USDA officials also advised that the museum would face fines for noncompliance.
The museum fought back, asking a federal judge in 2009 to rule that the USDA did not have authority over the Hemingway cats.
A lawyer for the museum told the judge that this was not a federal issue and that there were better-situated agencies in Key West, Monroe County, or the State of Florida to monitor and regulate the care and feeding of cats in Key West.
The judge disagreed. He ruled that the USDA was well within its authority to regulate the cats.
The museum appealed. In a unanimous decision announced on Friday, the three-judge panel agreed that the USDA does, in fact, have the necessary authority to regulate the Hemingway cats.
The court said the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) has been broadly interpreted by federal officials to authorize regulation of any exhibit of animals that are made available to the public.
There is no dispute that the museum includes scores of cats that are permitted to roam the grounds during visiting hours. Since admission is charged to see the house and the cats are part of the property, the AWA permits regulation of the cats, the court said.
The appeals court also concluded this broad interpretation of the AWA to extend to the regulation of cats in a museum did not exceed Congress’s power to authorize such federal regulations under the Commerce Clause.
The question, the court said, was whether the Hemingway cats “substantially affect” interstate commerce.
The judges said they do.
“The Museum argues that its activities are of a purely local nature because the Hemingway cats spend their entire lives at the Museum – the cats are never purchased, never sold, and never travel beyond 907 Whitehead Street. But the local character of the activity does not necessarily exempt it from federal regulation,” Chief Judge Joel Dubina said in his 13-page decision.
“The Museum invites and receives thousands of admissions-paying visitors from beyond Florida, many of whom are drawn by the Museum’s reputation for and purposeful marketing of the Hemingway cats,” Dubina wrote.
“The exhibition of the Hemingway cats is integral to the Museum’s commercial purpose, and thus, their exhibition affects interstate commerce,” he said. “For these reasons, Congress has the power to regulate the Museum and the exhibition of the Hemingway cats via the AWA.”
Chief Judge Dubina added a concession at the end of the decision.
“Notwithstanding our holding, we appreciate the Museum’s somewhat unique situation, and we sympathize with its frustration,” he wrote. “Nevertheless, it is not the court’s role to evaluate the wisdom of federal regulations implemented according to the powers constitutionally vested in Congress.”
On added irony in the cat case is that Whitehead Street bisects a section of Key West well known for the large number of chickens and roosters roaming free through the streets.
I replied: Surely, if the Feds have jurisdiction over 6-toed feral cats in a one-acre private compound in downtown Key West, the Feds have jurisdiction over feral chickens and 5-toed feral humans roaming all over Key West – that would be Key West’s street people.
J replied: You can’t make this stuff up – surely they have more important things to be concerned with. Child trafficing, bullying, banks, gambling, drugs – pick something other than six toed cats. Geeeeze!
I replied: I’m disappointed. You left out the RICO operation the mayor and city commissioners are running through the Tree Commission. Also, word has it on the street that these are al Qaeda 6-toed cats spying on the Navy base.
J replied: AH – National Defense – that makes a difference
Forwarded by one of my Key West readers yesterday:

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Your Brother’s Keeper

Give a man a pair of shoes, he has crack  money for the night.  Teach a man to be a cobbler, and, well, he’ll likely still  be unemployed and homeless.  Particularly if he has mental health and drug  problems.
A recent viral video (which are as evil as forwarded  e-mails) shows a NYC Cop giving a homeless man a pair of $100 shoes.  It was a  touching gesture, but if you have ever dealt with the homeless, you knew in  advance how it would play out. The media dutifully reported that the next  week, the man’s shoes were nowhere to be seen.  And people speculated whether he  traded them for drugs, took them back to the store for a refund, or merely hid  them because begging on the street is more effective if you are barefoot (hey,  people will stop and buy you shoes, right?  It works). The man’s  family was contacted, and they said they haven’t had much to do with him, and  that he chooses to be homeless. That was the cue for the self-rightious  to chime in. “How dare they!” one bombastic columnist opines, “They have  an obligation to help their Father!” And as I have noted before,  such comments are less than helpful, on a number of grounds.  We don’t know the  backstory on this, but I suspect these kids did not have a jolly childhood  filled with picnics in the park and bedtime stories.   In fact, it may have been  a horror show.  Growing up with a mentally ill parent is no Swiss picnic, let me  tell you! So, we are all-too-ready to stand in judgement of the children,  but of course, the homeless guy gets a “free pass” as we all know that the poor  are saintly and blessed and in fact, often have supernatural powers.  And the  homeless are like superheros, compared to regular poor.  They are Mother Theresa  on steroids! Not exactly. The statistics are pretty grim.  Most  homeless people, as  I have written about before, are mentally ill, have drug problems, or both –  particularly the “chronically” homeless.  These are folks who become homeless  and stay that way, until they die.  And often, they confess they prefer the  freedom of living on the street, compared to the struggle of living in a  shelter, working at a job, and trying to pay their own way. You can make  a staggering amount of money, panhandling – enough to keep you in cheap beer and  crack, if you are astute enough to target tourists, and have a pathetic sign or no shoes. But the bombastic blow-hards will have none of this.   Homeless people are victims, even as they victimize others, by stealing  from your car and harassing ordinary citizens.   We need to feel sorry for the  homeless!  And people need to care for their homeless relatives! Well,  with regard to the former, I have to agree.  But in terms of “taking care” of  homeless people, we need to discipline them.  When you apply for welfare or  other assistance, or a free meal, or a place to stay, you are basically saying,  “I can’t even run my own life.”   Arguing that we need to provide the homeless  with “dignity” or “control over their own lives” is nonsense – these are people  with no dignity and when given control of their own lives, make horrifically bad  decisions. Many in the GOP support drug-testing for welfare recipients.  Good Idea.   If you want to do drugs, well, get a job to pay for them.   The idea that we should support (enable) people on drugs is just a bad  idea.   And if someone is mentally ill and refuses to take their  medication and wants to sit in the subway all day long and piss on the floor and  scream at people, this is not a first amendment right.   We need to institutionalize such folks, involuntarily.  They need help, and they  need someone to tell them what to do – because left to their own devices, they  do not do well.  Often they hurt themselves – or others. If they  can demonstrate they can support themselves, fine.  Welcome to civilization,  like the rest of us.  But I don’t think that throwing money at the homeless and  just letting them do “whatever” is a good idea.  Because “whatever” ends up  being a detriment to the rest of society.  And if you don’t believe me, ask  anyone who works with the homeless. You could debate me on that, if you  want to.   But I am not convinced that handouts that enable street living  and drug use are a good thing – and not much you can say will convince me  otherwise. But the idea that family members have to sacrifice  their own lives to “help” an insane or drug-addicted family  member? Are you fucking crazy? If you have a mentally ill  sibling, parent, or child, or one who has addicted to drugs, I feel for  you.  Because I have been through this – with mentally ill parents and  siblings, as well as siblings and other relatives who are addicted to drugs.  And  I have had a number of friends who were mentally ill or drug abusers –  girlfriends, boyfriends, roomates, and the like. It ain’t easy.  In fact,  it’s damn near impossible.  Why is this?  Simply because most of us are not  equipped to deal with mentally ill or drug-addicted people.  You cannot cope  with someone who is irrational, who steals from you, abuses you mentally,  physically, sexually, emotionally, financially, or all of the above. The  best thing you can do, in most cases, is just leave.  Move on with your  life, and make your own life.  It is like those horror movies where they call  the babysitter and say, “We’ve traced the call!  Get out of the house!  NOW!”    There is nothing to be gained by sticking around and being someone’s punching  bag – and that is what you get when you try to “help” a drug-addicted daughter  or a mentally ill sibling. As I recounted in another posting, I went to  a counselor once, when a relationship with a mentally ill person was not going  well.  I was not aware how mentally ill they were!  But the counselor basically  said to me, “Get out of this relationship – it is toxic!”  I had neither the  resources or faculties to cope with someone with major psychological or drug  problems.  Few, if any people do. And how did I end up in such  relationships (plural)?  Simple.  I was raised with crazy people, and assumed  that mental illness and drug abuse were “norms”.  They are not.  And  often, for family members of the mentally ill or drug-addicted, it is a major  life accomplishment to break free of the cycle of co-dependency and addiction.   And as a reward, some blowhard columnist who hasn’t had to deal with such  things, takes a piss all over them.  Some fun. So I understand  completely why the children of this homeless man appear to the  uninformed, ignorant, and casual observer to be callous and cold-hearted.   They  are smart enough to realize that they can’t “fix” Dad and make him better -that  handing him money is not going to “help” him, at least for very long.  And that  the best thing they can do, for society, is not to help one homeless man,  but try to salvage their own lives – and that of their children – to minimize  the impact of what surely was a horrific childhood. Self-preservation is  not always “selfish” – you have your own responsibilities to society at large,  and one of those is taking care of and supporting yourself.  Trying  to “rescue” someone else is a sure-fire recipe for destroying your own  life. Many folks have pointed to one passage in the Bible as saying  that we are obligated to help out others in this way.  However, I am not sure  the passage hasn’t been misinterpreted – in a big way.

“And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy  brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?” Genesis  4:9 King James Bible (Cambridge  Ed.)

The key to understanding this quote, is to understand  the context.  Cain had just murdered Abel, and God was saying,  “Hey Cain, wassup?  Where’s your bro?” knowing full well what had transpired  (God sees all, right?).  He was just messing with Cain.  Playing him. For  some reason, Christians take this out of context (a murder scene) and make it  into a parable about how we are all suppose to help one another.  And I guess not murdering people is probably a good start, at least for Cain. The Bible, particularly the Old Testament, is fully of fucked-up stories  like this.  God commands Abraham to kill his son, and then says, “Just kidding!   I was testing ya!  Ha-ha!  Oh, wait, you didn’t actually go and do it,  did you?” It amazes me that people look to this nonsense for “guidance”  on anything. Yes, we should all be kind to one another.  And we should  offer people who are “less fortunate” a path upward, even if their lack of  fortune is due to their own malfeasance, poor choices, or intentional  self-destruction – which it often is. But being “kind” is just that –  being kind, not evil.  And when we are altruistic for selfish reasons (so  we can proclaim our good deeds to others and enhance our own self-worth) we are  not being kind at all.  And bombastic  columnists, who declare their own self-righteousness and decry the acts of  others, fall into this category.  “Look at me!” they cry, “I care about  the less-fortunate!   I  wrote a column condemning those who don’t care as I do!“  They do so  much, yet we don’t appreciate them. And if our “kindness” allows a drug  addict to remain a drug addict, is it really kindness?  If you hand $20 to a  “homeless” person, chances are, they are going to buy alcohol or drugs with it,  not food and shoes.  Are you really being kind, or just handing him a loaded  handgun? A better approach is to donate your time or money to a  homeless shelter or other agency that helps people move from poverty – not  enables them to remain in it.   Most homeless shelters provide resources for the  homeless to pull themselves up from the gutter.  But they also have rules –  strict rules – on behavior.  And that is one reason many homeless people prefer  the streets, unless it gets really, really cold.  No one will tell them they  can’t do drugs on the street, or stop them from stealing from one another, or  shouting obscenities at passers-by. And sometimes, that is the ultimate  kindness – being firm, setting boundaries, enforcing rules.   It is a kindness  sorely lacking in our culture today.
UPDATE:  It is now reported  that this “homeless” man has an apartment in the Bronx, paid for by the VA.  And  likely he qualifies for food  stamps, an “ObamaPhone“,  medicaid, and a host of other benefits. But of course, we cannot “afford”  to institutionalize the mentally ill, right? And of course, income from  begging is not reported income, so it does not affect your qualification for  other benefits. I hate to say it, but we are enabling a lifestyle here –  making it easy for people to make bad choices.
I posted this below to the author’s blog, don’t know if it went through:
Much of what you wrote is accurate re “chronic” homeless people, which I call street people.
The several years this lawyer J.D. with an L.L.M, in taxation, lived on and just off the street on Maui and in Key West, and elsewhere, he never knew, met or heard of a street person who was making a lot of money from panhandling, and he knew, met and heard of lots of street people.
It is my understanding that the cost of institutionalizing mentally ill people became too high for most states, and that is why there are far fewer state mental institutions today. I know of none in Florida, where mentally ill homeless people could be sent.
Addicts, which includes drunks, can be sent to jail if they are caught in public, for which accommodations and any care the taxpayers pay. Down this way, the county jail is used instead of state mental institutions to hold street people who got busted for something by the local police. After a few days, or a month at most, they are released, unless they committed a more serious crime than being drunk, high and/or homeless.
I never heard the Cain-Abel passage used by any church person to justify caring for homeless people. I have heard sayings of Jesus from the Gospels used in that way:
I was hungry and you fed me not …
I was in prison and you didn’t come to visit me …
Even as you do unto the least of these (the poor, the beggars, the lepers, the inmates), you do also unto me …
I tell people not to give money to street people, but it’s okay to buy them a meal, if they are hungry, or a one-way bus ticket and some travel money, if they want to go somewhere else.
A good portion, perhaps 20 percent of male street people around here are US war veterans receiving VA benefits. The Bush wars, perpetuated by Obama, will increase the number of veteran street people. As will the US economy, if it doesn’t get straightened out. Not holding my breath.
I can’t help but wonder if something in you strongly identifies with street people, perhaps there but for the Grace of God go you, or in some or a lot of them you see people from your past who mistreated or even injured you, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. I wonder, because of the venom in your article.
Yes, street people can be really bad, dirty, disgusting, do evil things. Same for a lot of people I have known, even know now, who are not street people. As I wrote on my website the other day, a drunk mainstream person driving a Lexus is far more dangerous to other people than a drunk street person.
I hope Key West’s mayor reads your article when I send him a copy of my post tomorrow, which will include your article. I have been trying to persuade him that it’s a really bad idea to force homeless people who are not addicts into a shelter with street addicts. I told him and the city commissioners about a week ago at a city commission meeting that to do that is cruel, mean and abusive.
They know I was not an addict, I did not break the law when I lived on the street, I did not panhandle, and I did not cause trouble, other than what their predecessors might have perceived as trouble when I spoke to them at city commission meetings and told them only God can change street people.
Sloan Bashinsky Little Torch Key, Florida Keys
It still looks to me that the book I am to write about homelessness and homeless people might have started in mid-2007, with the birth of About 4000-5000 pages of ravings, so far. What do I know, maybe the angels sought to use me to replay in Cayo Hueso a facimile of this wonderful Argentine movie:
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Man Facing Southeast
Directed by Eliseo Subiela
Produced by Luján Pflaum Hugo E. Lauría
Screenplay by Eliseo Subiela
Starring Lorenzo Quinteros Hugo Soto
Music by Pedro Aznar Andrés Boiarsky
Cinematography Ricardo de Angelis
Editing by Luis César d’Angiolillo
Distributed by FilmDallas Pictures (United States) Production Company: Cinequanon Pictures
Release date(s)
  • September 9, 1986 (1986-09-09) (Toronto Film Festival)
Running time 105 minutes
Country Argentina
Language Spanish
Man Facing Southeast is a Spanish-language motion picture originally released in Argentina in 1986 as Hombre mirando al sudeste.
The staff and patients go about their daily business at Buenos AiresJosé Borda Psychiatric Hospital on a summer day in 1985. A staff psychiatrist, Dr. Julio Denis (Lorenzo Quinteros) is surprised to hear that his ward for non-violent delusional cases has one patient too many.
Dr. Denis finds the new patient in the chapel playing the organ like a virtuoso. Summoning him (Hugo Soto) to his office, the man’s speech is measured and articulate as he explains his presence there as a result of an image being projected from light years away. He introduces himself as “Rantés” (an exotic sounding name in Argentina). Dr. Denis is convinced that Rantés is a fugitive hoping to hide from the law in the hospital. He lets the patient stay however, after seeing how his caring touch helps the other patients. The doctor is amused by his extraterrestrial claims and he suspects the man is a genius using his talents as a charade.
googled photo of psychiatrist trying to figure out extraterrestrial, who routinely confounds psychiatrist while trying to teach him how to live happily ever after
Some folks down here in the Keys, and elsewhere,  think I ought to be locked up and medicated and muzzled. They should thank their lucky stars I’m not Rantés. To tell more will spoil the movie, which perhaps can be found in local video stores, or purchased or viewed online. Mucho entertaining. Strongly recommended.
Sloan Bashinsky

About Sloan

That's what this website is about, also and If you can't get a publisher to take on your wacky musing, you do it yourself.
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