Paul Logo Idea2 1 1024x751 1

Losing my connection, celebrating an anniversary, and other May Daze!

1. The day the internet stood still 

At breakfast on a recent Saturday, I sat in front of my three devices ready to dive into news, sports, and emails, when NOTHING HAPPENED.

Across the table, my wife was staring into her laptop and glancing at her iPad and her iPhone. NOTHING!


In a panic, we rebooted our system, but the lights on our EERO internet booster stayed RED.

It was a busy morning and we didn’t have three extra hours to call Spectrum, our provider, so we ventured out into what we soon discovered was a world (okay, maybe just our part of it) without the Internet. The wifi was down all over the Bay Area.

What followed was amazing. We talked to people, mostly about the internet being down, but conversations continued from there.

I met and made small talk with people in coffee shops that I’d seen for months, but we’d always had our heads focused on our screens.

And surprisingly, even without the internet, the world did not come to an end.

In fact, it was kind of liberating!

Of course, the next morning the lights were green and I jumped feet-first back into the murky but familiar depths of the web. But my one day of liberation made it clear that I’m just another galley slave, chained to my devices, pulling on the giant oars that power the good ship Cyberspace, as it floats atop a surging sea of zeros and ones.

2. Happy 5th birthday, Cigar City

An image of Cigar City

I released my first book – Cigar City: Tales From a 1980s Creative Ghetto — in the summer of 2019 and the collection of fictional short stories based on my days in Ybor City arts district made a lot of friends. The Tampa Bay Times featured the review on the cover of the Sunday arts section, with an excerpt inside. Reviews were good and so were the crowds at my book talks.
Then, at the end of the year, I got the best news of all, The Florida Book Awards gave Cigar City the fiction gold medal. I was invited to Tallahassee in the spring of 2020 for the awards ceremony.
My book was the first one published by St. Petersburg Press and it showed, there were some errors, the pictures that illustrated each fictional story were too small and the type was not consistent. So we reworked the book and released the “Gold Medal” edition in March of 2020. If you remember anything about the pandemic year, you likely know that March of 2020 is when the world shut down. I did no more book talks. There was no awards banquet in Tallahassee.
But the book continues to have fans and I’m celebrating its fifth birthday this year with lots of public readings and other events. I started with a “sold-out” show at freeFall Theater, with songs and my talented wife, Eugenie, reading the short story “The Understudy.” I celebrated in April with Bookends, an Ybor bookseller. There are dates coming up in August at Tempus Projects, in October at the Museum of Photographic Arts, and in November at the New Tampa Performing Arts Center, with more to come.
I’ll be announcing dates and times here.
For now, enjoy this excerpt from Cigar City:

Red Letter

 The cap should have been the easiest part – a patch of dark cotton attached to narrow straps that hung from each side, so you could tie it below your chin.
The dress and underskirts had been easier.  The heavy cotton hung well and didn’t fight the needle. The Puritans spurned buttons, preferring string and simple bows, perfect for her needs. One strong pull and the entire bodice opened up.
But there were no patterns for the cap. And it had to fit her head just right – enough to hide her thick blonde hair, but not mash it so badly that it was matted when she yanked off the cap, swung it over her head a few times, and then let it fly.
Two failures taunted her from the trashcan next to the sewing machine. Paige could stay calm during major catastrophes, but wasting fabric put her in a foul mood. Time to take a break. She’d been at it for over an hour and her fingers were sore, her back starting to stiffen. Besides, Pearl would be up soon, playing her Charlie Brown Christmas record at full volume on this warm May morning, and demanding toasted Cuban bread wet with melted butter.
Paige stretched, her long torso arched, her arms skyward, not sure if she was hearing the muted snap of her vertebrae or just feeling them clunking into place like ungreased gears. That’s when the tiny brass bells looped along a leather cord – her improvised doorbell – begin to jingle.
The young woman on the sidewalk could have stepped off a cigar box label: a pale, milkmaid face; a cotton sundress revealing a sliver of cleavage; shoulder-length black curls rustled by a soft breeze and haloed by the morning sun. For an instant, Paige thought a celestial creature had fallen to earth outside her house. She decided she was just dizzy from the stretch.
“Are you Hester?” asked the woman, pointing to the sign by the door written in an “Olde English” script – Hester Prynne, Sewing and Alterations.
Paige stood mute, her brain searching for words that didn’t come.
The Hester sign had been a joke – mostly.  After she restored the building in Ybor City, a place just outside the Abrams’ “250-mile exclusion zone,” Paige thought of Hester, exiled to the outskirts of her city and trying to support her child doing sewing jobs.  So far, Paige’s only customers were drag queens from El Goya, the gay nightclub around the corner, and they apparently didn’t get the joke.
Angel, the show’s elfish choreographer, had arrived first, holding a rhinestoned Cher pantsuit that needed a hem. He returned the next day with a form-fitting Diana Ross gown with a busted zipper – “Our Diana has to step away from the black beans and rice or switch to Rosemary Clooney.” Next came one of the stars, Maria von Tramp, long and lean, dressed down for daytime in faded denim and a Talking Heads T-shirt, the only giveaway to her diva status a light coating of foundation, pale pink lipstick, a silk scarf-wrapped Grace Kelly-like around her blond curls, and a $15 Chanel purse from the open-air market on North Boulevard.
“We’re doing The Sound of Muzak,” Maria whispered, in a feminine baritone. “Got any ideas?”
After Paige delivered a breakaway nun’s habit, she became the unofficial costumer of the El Goya drag show.
But today’s customer didn’t need makeup or costumes to pass as female. She was clearly the real thing.
“Hope I didn’t screw the pooch,” the milkmaid said.  “I’m so ding-y sometimes. Am I in the right place?  Sewing? Alterations?”
She lifted a canvas bag; the scalloped edges of skirts pushed out between the straps, a bouquet of silk and satin.
 “Yes. Sewing,” Paige stammered.
“And you’re Hester? Like in the book?”
“Sort of. Sorry. It’s kind of a…”
Paige stammered, trying to think. Even now, after all that had happened, hearing those tiny bells jingling reminded her she was still expecting something. She just wasn’t sure what it was.
There was no way to explain all that to this beautiful stranger, so she just said: “I’m Paige. Paige Young. The Hester thing…it’s kind of an inside joke.”
In high school, when her parents’ domestic thunderstorms rolled through, Paige would retreat to her bedroom, sharing a single mattress with heroines of the tragic variety – Madame Bovary, Lady Chatterley, Dr. Zhivago’s Lara, and Hester. Reading Hawthorne’s tale during her junior year at Coral Gables High she couldn’t imagine a world like Hester’s. Just one year later, with a baby growing inside her, she could picture herself on a plank platform before jeering neighbors, cradling her illicit infant, a large red “A” covering her milk-swollen breasts.

Book cover of Cigar City

3. What’s up with my famous wife?

Look for Eugenie Bondurant (@eugbondurant for you Instagram folks) in small but very fun roles in two comedies this summer.
Out now is Popular Theory, written and directed by Allie Scher, a Tampa native, now flourishing in Los Angeles. Eugenie plays a “Karen” type customer in a very low-rent hair salon run by Cheryl Hines (Larry’s wife in Curb Your Enthusiasm).
She also appears in Summer Camp, along with a half-dozen big-name stars, including Diane Keaton, Kathy Bates, Alfre Woodard, and Eugene Levy.  Summer Camp was written and directed by Castille Landon, who gave Eugenie a lead role in her earlier film, Fear Of Rain, alongside Harry Connick Jr. This role is smaller, but the producers wanted Eugenie to be part of it. She and her sister, Marcelle, both former summer campers, stayed in cabins at Camp Pinnacle, outside Hendersonville, N.C., and Marcelle worked a bit as an extra.

A picture of Eugenie Bondurant

4. What I’m listening to: 

I was lucky enough to catch a sweet set by Waxahatchee, aka Katie Crutchfield,  during her stop at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg. She’s got a bit of Lucinda Williams in her songs and delivery. She’s also got an elastic and melodic voice and a great stage band.

She’s touring in support of her new album, Tiger’s Blood, but if you’re just starting out with Waxahatchee I recommend the previous one, St. Cloud.

Image from Waxahatchee concert

5. What I’m reading right now

6. And finally, your moment of Groucho:

A quote from Groucho

Always remember: Paul does not
want to buy your house for cash!!

An image of Paul Wilborn

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *