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Six totally true totally biased, news items from Wilbornworld

1. My weekend with Tom and Dick Smothers

I’m vague on the year, but as a young reporter, I was spending a late ‘80s or early ‘90s weekend covering the Colony Resort’s annual wine festival on Longboat Key near Sarasota when I met Tom and Dick Smothers and trouble ensued.

The brothers were there promoting their Vine Hill Vineyards wines, and at the welcome dinner on Friday, Tommy was in good form, roaming the party as the Yo-Yo-Man, doing close-up tricks and cracking jokes. Like their onstage persona, Dick was quiet and likable. He had recently met someone and was in full “crush” mode. It was hard to get him to talk about much else, though he would talk about wine at the seminars and tastings. Where his brother was quiet, Tommy was animated, with a prankster’s gleam in his eyes and he seemed to be always in motion.

For some reason, they decided to hang out with me.

By Saturday night, after a day of sampling wine, we were roaming the sprawling beachfront tennis resort, the alcohol making us feel invincible. We wound up in the plush bar, just off the restaurant, where the hired pianist had taken a break.

“Go on, play something!” Tommy told me, pointing to the open grand piano.

“I can’t do that,” I said. “They’ve already got a piano player.”

“Come on, play something and I’ll sing with you. It’ll be fine.”

So I stumbled to the piano and tried to play something. I wasn’t very good at that point in my life but I was enthusiastic and I launched into some pop hits that I didn’t really know. Tommy was singing with me, when the real pianist appeared, a hulking, gray-haired man in a black tuxedo.

He sneered and shooed me from the piano, but only after I looked around for Tommy, hoping his celebrity would keep me out of trouble, and found he had melted into the background.

I didn’t see Tommy after that but had breakfast with Dick the next morning. I think Tommy stayed in bed.

Not much of a story, as celebrity encounters go, but the Smothers Brothers were such a big part of my youth, it was great fun hanging with them for a few hours like I was maybe their little brother.

RIP Tommy.

Image of Tommy

2. This week’s excerpt from Florida Hustle

(CAVANAUGH RILEY, STREET POET,  PHILOSOPHER,  AND AMATEUR CON MAN, MAKES HIS FIRST APPEARANCE. IMPORTANT NOTE:  THE WHEELCHAIR IS A PROP!)     

A cluster of stoplights dangled at the corner of Quadrille and Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach, where four lanes braided together. A red Volkswagen Beetle was first in line, waiting to turn right.  As the driver’s window jerked down, a black woman in her early 20s, reached out, a dollar bill pinched in her fingers.

The white man who rolled up to the window in a wheelchair was reedy and regal, with a hawk’s nose and a thick silver mane combed back from a wide forehead. A tiny American flag, taped to the back of his chair, flapped in the brisk breeze pushing in from the Intracoastal four blocks away. The woman couldn’t tell from the man’s tanned and deeply creased face if was 60 or 80. He wore a white dress shirt and tie – both slightly frayed. He used his left hand to roll the chair forward; his right fist clutched a hand-lettered sheet of poster board: “Shattered legs. Busted wallet. Can you help a WWII vet – now a writer – out of a rough spot? Thanks!”

The woman snapped a mental image of the old man — watery blue eyes, caterpillar eyebrows, jutting jawline, a snatch of red-and-white plaid slacks, peeking from beneath the thin blue blanket tossed over his useless legs. 

As he pocketed the proffered bill, Cavanaugh Reilly smiled beatifically, showing off a fine set of teeth – save one missing incisor. He followed the smile with the adieu he offered to all his drive-by benefactors: “God bless you. And may God bless America.”

The woman returned his smile, happy she’d helped out this weary traveler. 

“And may God bless you too, sir,” she said. 

3. Paul & Eugenie on Valentine’s Day

Catch a rare musical appearance at freeFall Theatre at 7 p.m. on Valentine’s Day. Eugenie will read a story from my book, Cigar City(2019 Gold Medal for Fiction, Florida Book Awards) and we’ll play a dozen songs around that. Our talented friends Robin and Sher Sibucao and Jeremy Carter will join us. Tickets are almost gone.
www.freefalltheatre.com

Paul Wilborn and Eugenie Bondurant

4. An excerpt from my new novel:

(Still unnamed. Look for it later this year!)

Charlie had insisted on a fourth Old Fashioned at The Turf, waving a twenty at Betty, a woman who looked like she had spent 100 years behind the polished wood bar, softened by an elbow of dark leather. Betty’s face was a mask of bones and wrinkles. Her helmet of gray hair was yellowed by decades of cigarette smoke. When she spoke, it sounded to Trip like a graveled road – “You sure, Charlie?” She asked as she grabbed a fresh glass. “I think your level is good.”
     
On most subjects, Charlie had a philosophy he lived by, except when he didn’t feel like it. His philosophy of drinking was like that. About once a night, usually in the Turf, his favorite among several old-school hangouts around downtown Tampa, the old philosopher would rise slowly from the barstool and straighten his shoulders, his long, lanky frame draped in his standard uniform — a seersucker suit that grew larger every day. Or maybe it was Charlie, born on a spring morning in 1900, who was shrinking after 85 tumultuous years on the planet; his pale blue dress shirt loose around his neck and Rorschach with soup stains; his paisley bowtie dangling; his straw boater upside down on the bar.
   
“People drink the wrong way,” Charlie would explain to his barroom companions – often total strangers – his high lonesome voice a mix of southern aristocrat and cracker cowpoke.  “A wise man only drinks to here.”
     
He drew a flat hand across the middle of his chest, letting his fingers wiggle there.

“A little higher. A little lower. It’s okay. When a man gets in trouble is when he drinks to here.”
     
He raised his flattened hand so it slid across his sagging neck, the index finger dragging against the flap of wattled skin like a knife blade.
   
“It’s neck drinkers that give liquor a bad name.”
   
Betty had heard it plenty of times. Usually, after Charlie had let the booze rise to neck level. But she knew you didn’t argue with Charlie. People had died after arguing with Charlie. Sure, it was a long time ago, but still they had died. In cars. On front porches. In trash-strewn alleys behind Ybor City dive bars. All rising to meet their maker courtesy of a double-barreled blast from a shotgun wielded by one of Charlie’s guys.
   
So Betty mixed another Old Fashioned. Easing off the stool, Charlie took his drink down the bar where a couple of 30ish women were giggling at a private joke.
   
“I’m Charlie Wall,” he announced, as they looked up. “Ever hear of me?”
     
The women were dressed in the business-blue pants suits that said they worked across the street at the courthouse. Likely court reporters, Trip thought. They were already a little drunk, their hair identical, all scrambled-up curls, though one was dyed blond, the other chocolate brown.
   
“You a lawyer?” The blonde asked.
     
“I’m a crook,” Charlie said, as he eased onto the stool next to them. “Used to be anyway. A long time ago. Call your Momma. I bet she’s heard of me.”

5. What I’m reading right now

Small things like these

6. Finally, your moment of Groucho:

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

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