Monthly Archives: April 2009

A Marcia Ball Fix

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Living Room

No, I don’t mean that part of your house where you entertain guests.

I mean how much room do you really need to live in. Once upon a time in this vast continent of North America people used to move to less populated places because they needed “living room.”

But how much does a person need? I used to drive for a limousine service offering airport pick up service and I’d take elderly couples to their McMansions and it was like dropping two BBs into a 55 gallon drum. It was ridiculous. In my mind anyway.

No matter how big your house is, you can only be in one place at a time. And if you think about it for a moment, the way most people live is that when they come home from work, if their jobs haven’t been outsourced overseas, they plop down in their favorite chair in front of the TV.  They might even eat their evening meal in the same seat. Perhaps they spend some time on line so they are at a desk and then they go to bed. Easily 99% of their domicile is rarely used. The one concession I would make for large size would be a kitchen with lots of counter space. I love to cook.

I grew up in a house on Cape Cod that was built before the American Revolution.


There were three small bedrooms on the main floor and my bedroom was under the eaves (the two larger windows on the second floor). The kitchen was in the smaller section of the house you see on the right and where the corner post and the roof eaves met they were joined with wooden pegs made of locust wood. There was my mom and dad, me and my four brothers and we all shared a single small bathroom. A few years ago when my brother Mark and his kids and I were driving around while visiting for our brother Gary’s Memorial Golf Tournament we stopped by the old house. The current owner was mowing the lawn and we stopped and introduced ourselves. The owner was very gracious and invited us inside to show us what they had done with the place. What struck me the most was how small it was for such a large family.

I lived on a 26 foot sailboat for almost 6 years.


People, especially women that I was meeting, would ask how I could live in such a small space. Actually, I never lacked for anything. Living in a marina I had a telephone, cable TV service and internet access. But granted, the actual space in which I lived was, indeed very small.


There were the vee berths forward where I slept. Aft of that on the port side was the head and opposite that was a hanging locker that I converted to a shelved space for storing my clothes. Aft of that section you see there were two berths. In the marina the starboard berth cushion was removed and a small refrigerator and a 9″ color tv sat atop it. I used the port berth as my sofa. An ingenious fold-down table was hung on the bulkhead that separated the cabin from the head and it was where I ate, of course, and also served as my desk when playing around on the computer. Aft of the berths were my galley with a two-burner propane stove to starboard and what had originally been the ice box was now used to store my pots and pans. In dead center was the sink. There was six foot head room from the sink forward to the bulkheads forward of the berths. Since I’m only 5’9″ tall it was comfortable enough. But, discounting the head area where I did have to duck my head a bit and the vee berths which were only used for sleeping, my actual living area was about 56 square feet, and the floor space of the cabin area was only about 22 square feet!

In ruminating about how big a boat I would like to build and live on I’ve run through about a dozen possible plans found on line. Many, are only 16 to 18 feet and though I’ve lived in such a small space I really want something larger than that. The 35 feet of my Louisiana shanty boat is a bit too large, too, simply because of the cost of materials. I’m more inclined to something along the order of the Bolger houseboat and the Evening Song posted earlier. They seem fairly simple to build and roughly 200 square feet of living space.

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Houseboat vs Shanty Boat vs Floating Home

I love living on the water. I’ve done so on a 65′ motor yacht, an 85′ sailboat a 26′ sailboat and my 35′ houseboat which should more accurately be labeled a “Shanty boat.”

To continue with this theme we need to clarify a few terms: houseboat, shanty boat and floating home.

Let’s start with “floating home.”  In general these are larger living spaces on the water and are minimally mobile other than vertically with the tide. Some of these can be considered “McMansions” on the water and some can be extremely artistically creative. Holland is one of the world’s leaders in floating homes and the Pacific Northwest has a decades-long history of this genre of living on the water.

These are what I would consider to be within the McMansion category:


Here’s a bit smaller floating home on Lake Erie




In this one below you can see why it would not be easy to move around and would undoubtedly require hiring a commercial tugboat in order to do so which would cost big bucks. But then if you were able to afford such a structure you’d most likely have the wherewithal to hire a tug.


In British Columbia there is even a floating home specific community:


On a more sensible scale there is Berklely Engineering’s Cape Codder at 24’X10′ that I think is pretty neat but certainly wouldn’t be buildable on a small budget.




Houseboats, by my definition, are self-propelled craft that are meant to be moved from one location to another. Most often they are used as vacation home and are designed for use in sheltered waters rather than the open ocean or other bodies of water that can get rough. Quite often they simply look like RVs on the water rather than a more conventional boat.



Strictly from an aesthetic point of view I’m not a fan of this type of craft. But not all boats that I would classify as houseboats are cheesy by any means. In Somerset, KY, hometown of my good friend Mark who has made comments on other post in this blog, is the manufacturer of some awesome houseboats, some over 100′ long and many cost more than most houses.

Here’s a photo of the living room of a Somerset houseboat…


This sure isn’t “slumming it”

More difficult to pin down are what would be called “Shanty Boats.” These are mostly home made and strictly intended for use on sheltered waters. My boat, pictured above, was basically a shack on pontoons and though mine was 35′ most shanty boats are on the small side, 16 to 24 feet. Back in the 40s and 50s they were often marketed as inexpensive summer get aways and magazines like Popular Mechanics offered plans for them.

coolwater1coolwater2coolwater3Phil Bolger is a designer of some very original, and many people think ugly boats, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder…


Back in the late 70s one of my favorite boating magazines was Small Boat Journal. This design by Thomas A. MacNaughton caught my attention and has lingered with me all these years. It’s called Evening Song. He had designed and build a nifty 18′ tug boat called Bantam and wrote:

“In our original article on Bantam we casually mentioned toward the end that it would be fun to have a houseboat barge to go with her. We felt it would be a lot of fun to live aboard the barge and push it down the Intracoastal Waterway of the East Coast. We hadn’t thought of this as more than a fun idea but immediately we started getting all sorts of letters demanding plans for the barge! After all, what else do you want to do with a tug so much as push and pull something around? This presented something of a challenge, as we had never known anyone to design a houseboat barge before, per se, so we had to come up with something completely new. The result was Evening Song. The combination of the tug and the barge clearly struck another cord, as we’ve sold a lot of both plans. This time it didn’t surprise us. The image of the tug and barge traveling together in the Intracoastal Waterway, or of the barge anchored in a secluded creek while the tug comes and goes with guests and provisions, is about as idyllic as it gets. Evening Song contains a whole lot of space in a reasonable compromise between camp-like and boat-like accommodations. She comes complete with two “porches” where one can sit with the dog and the shotgun waiting for the ducks, or just watch the world go by.

“There’s also a lot of “roof” space adaptable to lounging, solar panels, rainwater catchment, etc. Construction is about as simple as it could be, being epoxy and plywood throughout, with a lot of right angles mixed in with the curves of the sheer and bottom.”



Quite frankly I’m a fan of shanty boats both becaue of their funkieness and the fact that they’re usually rather inexpensive to build.

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This will be a continuing post added on to as time goes by.

The big question in moving to Panama is “where are you going to live?”

Answer: I don’t have a clue. A friend of mine who has retired to Panama has said, repeatedly, I see you in Bocas del Toro. Well, me, too, sort of.

Of course I had the idea that I’d like to buy a sailboat and sail it down to the Bocas del Toro area. That was when I still had money.

I also had the idea of building a houseboat and even bought plans for a 27 footer that I was looking over again this evening. But I’m not sure that is doable, either.

I ran across a blog the other day, which had a picture of this floating home…


Now that is cheap and doable with what I have.

It wouldn’t be the first houseboat I’ve owned. When I was in Louisiana I bought a 35 foot houseboat which was little more than a shack on pontoons. I bought it for $1,500.00, put about another $500.00 into it mostly to repair the old outboard motor and lived on the boat for a little more than two years and finally sold it for $3,000.00. This is it:


Certainly not a lot to look at, but I enjoyed it. I think I can do something similar in Panama.

When I bought the boat it didn’t look like this. The “house” part was only completed from the aft end through the three small windows in the rear and was sided with a corrugated metal. There was a sort of galley on the starboard side with a long counter and an L-shaped counter. Forward of those windows the framing and the larger windows and the door existed but there was no siding at all. I had found the boat in the Tchefuncte River on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. It took me about a month to have the old 25 hp Johnson outboard tuned up so that it ran and to reinforce the transom with a new 2X8 in order to hold the engine and be capable of pushing the boat.

I had been paying for dock space at the Mississippi Gulf Outlet Marina for those two months even though the boat was nearly 30 miles away. I got a friend of mine, Woody, who was a tug boat captain to agree to help me bring the boat across the lake to the marina. We were both professionals and knew the local weather well and picked a picture perfect day. We left the river bank where the boat had been tied up just as soon as there was enough light to see and headed south. We made good about six or seven miles an hour and got inside the industrial canal on the south side of the lake in the early afternoon before the breeze picked up and finally arrived at the marina about 12 hours after we had cast off.

As we were pulling into the slip the brother of the marina owner got off of his pretty Striker sport fishing boat and came over to tell me “I don’t think we want this thing in here.” I can’t say that I was offended by his statement.

First thing the next morning I was at the marina office when they opened their door. I introduced myself to the owner and explained the situation to him; that I had paid three months rental and still had three weeks to go on the current payment. “I know that this houseboat looks awful at the moment. I see it exactly as you see it sitting at the dock. But I can promise you this…it won’t look like it does now three weeks from now. It certainly won’t be the finest boat in the marina by a long shot, but you’ve got a lot of floating crap here as it is, and when I’m done it will at least be acceptable.”

He took a deep breath, looked out the window of his office at my boat which sat at the far end of the marina. There was a long silence before he said, “Well, you have paid three months rental and haven’t been using the dock so I tell you what. You’ve got until the end of the month to make that piece of shit presentable and then we’ll see if it gets to stay.”

I thanked him and as I was leaving he added, “You work as hard as you want, but at the end of the day I don’t want to see any crap or tools on the dock. If I do, I won’t ask you to leave, I’ll tell you you have to be out the next day.”

“Fair enough,” I told him. “Just so long as I know what the rules are.”

Woody and I spent the next week tearing off the old tin siding and installing T111 siding over the entire boat. We laid down 3/8″ plywood for the roofing and covered it with roll roofing. We worked 12 hours a day almost without a break before Woody had to return to work leaving me to finish the job. As you can see I put up 1X4″ trim around the roof line and then painted the whole thing a pale yellow with white trim. On the first day of the following month I went to the marina office with my $95 rental check and handed it to the marina manager. He took it without a word, stuck it in his shirt pocket and said “Thank you,” and I stayed there on Bayou Bienvenue for the next two and a half years until I left Louisiana.

I enjoyed that boat. I loved being on the water. I lived through the heat of the summer and one horrendous ice storm Super Bowl Sunday of 1985.

Though you can see the boat had a wind0w-shaker air conditioner I never used it. In the worst days of the summer when I’d return home from work the temperature inside the boat would often be over 11o degrees. The way I combated that was to open the window part of the rear door and set up a large box fan on a chair blowing out of the boat. I’d then open the window of the front door to create a good through ventilation and then turn on the lawn sprinkler I had on the roof. You could see the steam rise in the humid late afternoon air. I’d then take my a shower with a setup I’d rigged up on the dock and by the time I’d finished and dried off the temperature would have dropped 25 degrees or so. At least to a point where I was comfortable.

If you do a search on for the word “houseboat” you come up with 2,005 hits.  The same word on Google brings up 1,540,000 hits. Shantyboats on Google gives you 193,000 hits. “Houseboat” on a Yahoo search brings up  11,100,000 hits and “shantyboat” on Yahoo brings up 17,200.

The idea of a houseboat has been with me for years and in several different forms. One of my early ideas was to make something utilzing pontoons and powered with an outboard motor. I could purchase a camper shell like those used with pickup trucks. The advantage of this would be that the interior would already be built with a galley, living area and sleeping facilities. If it was one of those that have a section that overhangs the cab of the truck, like this:


You could set up your helm under the overhang section that would provide you with shade and a little protection should it rain.

As silly as it seems some people have actually done something similar to this idea though this is a bit extreme:


Of course this idea never got off the ground, or in the water, the idea still simmered away.

In 1980 when I was visiting some friends in Maine they had a National Geographic magazine about a Louisiana couple who were given an old “shotgun” house that needed to be moved to make way for a highway. They purchased a used deck barge, the kind used to transport materials around the bayous and rebuilt the house on the barge and kept it up in the Atchafalaya swamp. I thought that was the essence of “cool.”

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Divorce on the Cheap

The reason I’m sitting here in Fort Lauderdale writing this is because I’m scheduled to testify at a friend’s divorce hearing this coming Thursday. It keeps being delayed. Sometimes for valid reasons; the courthouse is old and water pipes keep bursting closing the whole place. That’s happened twice. It happened again last Friday but apparently didn’t stop operations though the newspaper reported that lots of civil and family court documents were damaged. Other delays have simply been mysteries.

Like the majority of divorces this one is acrimonious. The wife believes the husband has money and she wants it. She doesn’t work and once told me, “I’m not going to get a job. I’m going to make him support my ass.” That’s a direct quote. Despite the fact that she and her lawyer subpoened thousands of pages of bank records that clearly show that his construction company is in the dumper because of the current economic conditions she insists that he makes over $250,000.00 a year and she wants half. It doesn’t matter one bit that during their $22 year marriage he never came close to making that much.

I’m testifying because I served as my friend’s office manager from the day he started the company and as signatory to all the company’s bank accounts I’m the only one who can corroborate the absolute fact that not only is the company in trouble but my friend is broke. So broke, in fact, that he doesn’t have the money to hire a lawyer himself.

My own divorce, way back in 1972 was completely different than almost any other I’ve ever heard of.

My ex wife and I met in college and the primary reason we got married wasn’t so much that we were the “love of our life” for each other as it was that we simply wanted to live together. Had we done that both of families would have disowned us.

After six years we decided to call it quits. We were moving in different directions with our lives and just wanted to go our separate ways. We had no children and no property. Division went sort of like this: You take that dresser, I’ll take this one. You can have the T.V. I want the stereo. Since your parents financed the car it’s yours…

We had been partners in several successful dinner-theaters here in south Florida for several years and naturally went to the company’s lawyer to do the divorce. He told us, that as a “favor” for all the business we had thrown him in the previous four years it would only cost us $300.00 for a no-fault divorce.

We were appalled. “You mean to tell us that you want $300.00 to have your secretary type our names in the blank spaces of some forms? You’ve got to be out of your mind. I’ll do it myself,” I told him.

“If you buy one of those divorce kits,” he said, “you’ll be sorry.”

“I don’t need a ‘kit’,” I told him. I’ve been around you for four years and I know for a fact that I’m smarter than you are. If YOU can do it, so can I.”

I then went to the courthouse law library and asked the librarian to show me the forms for a n0-fault divorce. She pulled them out for me and I made copies. Next I went to a stationery store and bought a package of legal size paper. I went home, put the paper in my typewriter and copied everything putting our respective names in the proper blanks just as the lawyer’s secretary would have.

Next, I went to the Clerk of the Court’s offices, spread out all the papers and said, “What do you need to have to start this?”

The clerk picked out two or three of the forms.

“What happens now?” I asked.

“You’ll get a notice and your wife will, too. If she want’s to contest it her letter will tell her how. If she doesn’t want to contest it she doesn’t have to do anything.”

When I got back to my apartment I called my soon-to-be ex and told her that the process had begun and all she had to do was to let it play out.

I had to go to the Clerk of the Court twice more to turn over additional papers and finally a date was set for my appearance with a judge. I had to bring someone with me to testify that I had lived in Broward County for at least six months before filing for divorce. As it happened the only person I could get to go with me was the receptionist at the dinner cruise boat company I was working for at the time. Twyla was six feet tall, had flaming red hair and taa taas out too here. When the judge entered the chambers he looked at Twyla, looked at me and then spent quite a while checking out those amazing assets of hers.

“No, your honor,” I said. “She has nothing to do with this other than that she can testify to my resident’s status.”

The judge asked what the problem with the marriage was and I simply told him we were going in different directions with our lives and we wanted to end it before we ended up hating each other.

That was enough for him and he signed the divorce decree. I then went to the Clerk of the Court one final time where I had the papers notarized and paid a fee of $32.50.

I left the courthouse and went to the dinner theater where my wife, the stage manager for the troupe, was in rehearsal.

“Well, Brenda,” I said, “it’s official. We’re not married any more.”

“How much did it cost?”

“Thirty two fifty,” I said. Brenda got her purse, handed me $16.25 and that was the end of our marriage.

They should all be as simple as that.

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Maya Nut Movie

I caught a quick glimpse of this on CNN this morning and it sparked my interest. Perhaps it will do the same with you.

There are two shorter videos on the CNN site, but even following the embed codes they don’t take here but you can find them on the CNN site story.

If this interests you, go to their site:

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Three Piano Greats

Now you’ve seen, hopefully you’ve been paying attention, three of New Orleans piano greats, Fess, Tuts and Allen. Now here they are together. It’s it’s not often you get to see more than one pianist at a time since there’s rarely more than one piano anywhere.

This was a rehearsal for a public television special but it was never presented since the Fess died before the performance…

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Allen Toussaint

Outside of New Orleans and some real music afficianados and trivia buffs Allen Toussaint isn’t a well-known figure. But Allen is a giant in the music world. But he’s one of the most influential figures in New Orleans R&B. Many of his songs, though, are familiar to the world through their numerous cover versions, including “Working in the Coalmine,” “Ride Your Poney,” “Brickyard Blues,” “Seeet Touch of Love”  and “Southern Nights.”

Though most often hiding behind the scenes Allen Toussaint does appear on stage from time to time and you are in for a real treat if you’re lucky enough to be around when he does. Allen is a great piano player in the long line of great New Orleans piano players.

Actually, the inclusion of this video is leading up to a post coming soon.

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Susan Boyle Stuns the World

If you haven’t seen this yet it’s worth copying the link and checking it out…embedding was disabled


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Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack, Jr. (Dr. John)

I’m sorry, I can’t resist adding this one right now.

As far as I’m concerned Dr. John is one of the finest piano players to ever come out of New Orleans. If you were around in the late 60s you probably remember him from “Right Place at the Wrong Time.” But the good Doctor plays the old standards as well.

Probably the most outstanding night of music I was ever treated to came in the early 80s at Tipitina’s. Dr. John was scheduled to start at 11:oo but, as usual in New Orleans, didn’t show up until sometime after midnight. There was no band to accompany him. Just an old upright by itself on the stage. The Doctor sat down at the keyboard and, in his gravelly voice said, “Anything you want to hear just write it down on a napkin and send it on up.” He then started to play and went on for the next three hours without stopping.

“I’m going to take a little break now,” he said, “and then I’ll be back.”

It was about a half hour before he returned. When he finished the second set, and not having repeated a single song all night, the audience left Tip’s to find that the sun had come up. The cost of a ticket that night had been $6.00!

Dr. John has one of the strongest left hands in the business as you’ll see and hear on this video which has a unique perspective.

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