Wednesday, August 31, 2011


(This story is included in the new book, SHORT ROAD TO HELL.)

Shortly after my first novel, Bahamarama, came out, I mailed a copy to my mother. I can tell you that there was nothing, absolutely nothing, that caused me as much anxiety as the thought of my mother reading my first novel.
            Days went by. The book got nice reviews by lots of magazines and newspapers. But not a word from my mother. It was excruciating.
            Finally the call came.
            “I read your book,” my mother said. I waited. “And I loved it. Just loved it. I am sooooo proud of you.”
            “Gee, thanks, Mom,” I said.
            She told me she had called up all her friends in town and told them to go out and buy my book.
            “You’re the best, Mom,” I said.
            Then, she said, she had gotten together with her friends over lunch one day to talk about the book.
            “Everyone loved it. We all thought the setting and the characters were wonderful. The dialogue was funny and smart. And none of us had any idea about the ending. It caught us by surprise,” my mother said. “But …”
            “But what, Mom?”
            “Well, we all agreed that there just wasn’t enough sex.”

Sunday, August 28, 2011


(This story originally appeared in Gulfshore Life and is included in THE MAN WITH THE FISH ON HIS FOOT. And the above image, of a human sweat gland, is courtesy of the Florida Center for Instructional Technology.)

This is the time of year that tests the mettle of those who live in Florida. We are in the throes of our never-ending summer and lots of us are wishing we were somewhere else.
My pal Wynn and his wife have decided to ditch Florida for a couple of weeks and take one of those cruises in Alaska.
“I want to go an entire day without sweating,” Wynn told me before the two of them traveled clear across the continent to sit on a slow boat with strangers, eat buffet food and gaze at glaciers. For this they are paying several thousand dollars—a major allocation to avoid perspiration. “We might not come back until fall.”
Thing is, a Florida fall, which is an absolute misnomer unless considered in the verb form to describe what one does when one faints (usually from a heat stroke), can be more miserable than a Florida summer. A Florida summer arrives in early April and by October, inconsiderate houseguest that it is, it has changed its name, but it’s still sitting there on the couch, hogging the remote control, refusing to change the channel. I have brothers-in-law with better manners.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


(The following story appeared in Islands magazine and is included in GUT CHECK: Adventures in eating, drinking and wretched excess.)

I am driving north along the leeward coast of St. Vincent and, like always when I am cruising around a Caribbean island where bananas and breadfruit dangle from trees, chickens and goats feed freely along the road, and the air is made luscious by greasy good things roasting over open fires, I am hungry, looking for a place to eat.
On any other occasion this would not present a problem. But today is October 27, Independence Day for St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and in every village and hamlet, from Kingstown to Clare Valley through Pembroke, Layou and Mt. Wynn, shops and restaurants are closed so Vincentians can celebrate in proper fashion. Marching bands play tunes that definitely are not Sousa. Schoolchildren in blue-and-white uniforms sing happy songs. Big families tote baskets and coolers and blankets for picnics on the beach.  
            By the time I roll into Barrouallie (rhymes with merrily), I am barely able to concentrate on much beyond my growling gut. I pull alongside a policeman and ask if there’s anywhere, anywhere, a starving man can find a bite to eat. He points to a weathered wood building just down the street.
            “Shabba’s place,” the policeman says. “He’s usually got something cooking.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Confessions of a Food Writer

Here follows the introduction for GUT CHECK. And it includes one bombshell revelation about my former life (after the jump):

I’m a lucky guy. I get paid to write stories about eating food. It’s a pretty good scam. And if I could somehow figure out a way to get paid for, say, breathing air or getting dressed in the morning, I’d jump all over that, too.
            Come to think of it, I have gotten paid to write about breathing air and getting dressed in the morning, but that’s a whole ‘nother book. This one is about food. It’s also about love and loss and hopes and dreams and life in far-flung places. It’s about people I’ve known and people I admire and people who bug the bejesus out of me. It’s about food I like and food I don’t like (a very short list) and food that makes my skin crawl just to think about (and I mean that in a good way.)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Goats on a Boat -- Kalymnos, Greece

We were having a fine lunch at a seaside restaurant on Kalymnos when we heard what sounded like babies crying. Stepped down to the dock to investigate and came across these guys unloading goats from a boat. The goats had been grazing on a nearby island and were brought to Kalymnos where the wild thyme was in full bloom. There are few dishes better than thyme-fed goat.

No, it's not pretty to watch. But how else you gonna get goats off a boat?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Free Book -- GUT CHECK -- Available until 7 .p.m. Monday, Aug. 22

I'm rolling out five new e-books over the next coupla of weeks and -- LUCKY YOU -- there's a free book in your future. Just shoot me an email and I'll send you a copy of GUT CHECK: Adventures in eating, drinking and wretched excess. It's a collection of 26 stories about, well, the title pretty much says it all. Please specify if you want the Kindle or Nook version. Don't have an e-reader? No worries. Look to the column on your right and it will tell you how to get a free one.

(***A few folks have reported trouble with the e-mail link above, so you can either post your email in the comments or email me at***)

What can you do in return for this generous offer? Gee, thanks for asking. If you like GUT CHECK, I'd be grateful if you posted a review on Amazon or Barnes&Noble. Even if you hate it, you can post a review. And if you really like it (or just feel guilty about taking a free book from a humble author) then I'd be even more grateful if you plunked down a little money and bought the other four books. Hey, they're only $2.99. And for a limited time, you can buy SHORT ROAD TO HELL for just 99 cents.

The free GUT CHECK offer will only be available for the next coupla days or until the "Fulfillment Dept." (that would be me) exhausts its supply. But until then, feel free to point your friends here so they can grab a book, too. Thanks for dropping by. And thanks for reading my stuff.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rogue shark in the Seychelles

There's news from Seychelles about two fatal shark attacks that have occurred along this stretch of beach -- Anse Lazio -- in the past six weeks. Horrible, horrible events that took place just a few feet offshore. All thoughts are with the families of Ian Redmond, who was on his honeymoon, and Nicolas Francois, who was visiting from France when attacked earlier this month. It's all the more unsettling because I was swimming and scuba diving in these exact same waters just two months ago.
Anse Lazio is one of those stretches of beach -- of which there are so many in the Seychelles -- that makes you go all dreamy the moment you see it. A sweet crescent of pink/golden sand, water of a blue you've never quite seen before. To get there you have to go to the very end of the road on Praslin, past the new Raffles Resort and then through an old coconut plantation. Except for two laid-back beach bars (both closed when we were there) there's nothing at Anse Lazio to distract from the dappled waters of the Indian Ocean, the soft sand and the green lusciousness the rolls down from the hills.

We visited the beach a couple of days while we were on Praslin. And it was where the schooner we were traveling on, the Sea Pearl, anchored for a night or two. One morning, we hopped in the dinghy with our tanks and went diving around a rock formation at the southwestern point of Anse Lazio. Our divemaster told us there was a good chance of spotting sharks -- small reef sharks, maybe some blacktips -- and we were hopeful of that. But no sharks that day. A couple of hawksbill turtles, an eel or two, a couple of rays. That afternoon, I spent an hour or two just wading in chest-deep water, watching small rays skitter along the shoreline, and thinking the world simply couldn't get much lovelier than this.

Haven't been any shark attacks in Seychelles for 50 years. Now this. The Seychelles authorities say they think it's a rogue shark cruising around Praslin. Here's hoping it's one of a kind and that they find it soon.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Dogs of Athens

We hit Athens on the same day the riots, er, demonstrations started on Syntagma Square, across from the Greek Parliament. We could stand on our balcony and look out on the gathering crowds, everyone protesting the government's new austerity measures and the general collapse of the Greek economy (Hey, Greece! Take a number. It's a lonnnnng line.)
The police hadn't yet broken out the tear gas, but the guards were high-stepping it outside the President's palace, which ain't so much a palace as it is a really ornate bunker.
But the dogs could have cared less. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of dogs roaming the streets of Athens. They all wear collars, appear well fed and are among the mellowest dogs I've ever seen. They hang out on street corners, on doorsteps, in front of shops. A couple of folks told me that the government takes care of the dogs. Might explain why the Greek economy has gone to hell. But here's hoping that after all the dust settles over there, the dogs are still fat and happy.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Eight-(al)arm salad

On our recent trip to Rome-Greece-Seychelles (I'll be posting about it at greater length soon) I ate octopus 21 days out of the 31 days we were on the road. So when I got home I had a real hankering for my cephalopod friend.

For some reason, octopus isn't all that popular in Florida despite the fact we've got a pretty decent octopus fishery and it's easy enough to find fresh. My friend Laura had a birthday party over the weekend and since it was Laura and her husband, Wil, who introduced us to the island we visited in Greece (and since they dined on octopus with us on a couple of occasions) I made a big bowl of octopus salad. Thing is, lots of folks just don't like the sound of octopus salad. At the party, I told a couple of people it was "Eight-Arm Salad." They misunderstood and thought I was saying "Eight-Alarm Salad."

Man: "So its spicy, huh?"
Me. "It's got a little kick."
Woman: "What all is in it?"
Me: "Oh, a bunch of stuff. Some protein, some veggies, some lemon juice and olive oil..."
Man and Woman (digging in): "Looks good."

Of course, once they got it in their mouths there was no sidestepping the fact that the protein they were munching on came from tentacles. Kinda chewy tentacles. But I've found that once you get people to try that first bite of octopus they generally like it. So what if it takes a bit of subterfuge along the way?

This recipe calls for frozen, pre-cooked octopus which can be found at most decent seafood stores. If you buy it fresh, please seek out the best ways to prep it, which can take a couple of hours of boiling before it's ready to go into a salad.

Eight-(al)arm salad

2 lbs. frozen, pre-cooked octopus
1 lemon, juiced
1 fennel bulb, sliced thin
1 bunch scallions, chopped coarsely
1 lb. cherry tomatoes, halved
1 red bell pepper, chopped coarsely
1 bunch arugula, chopped coarsely
Sriracha sauce to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup olive oil

After octopus has thawed, place it in bowl. If any pieces look too big to fit on a fork, cut them in half. Soak with lemon juice, toss and let sit for ten minutes. Add the other ingredients, toss and serve.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The truth revealed: Rupee massage

So here's the full explanation behind that "tattoo" on my back in the previous post:

When visiting Denis Island in the Seychelles recently, I signed on for a massage in the villa where my wife and I were staying. About 20 minutes into it, the masseuse, a small woman from Bali, asked if I had any specific aches and pains I'd like for her to work on. I asked her to concentrate on my shoulders and back since I had spent some long hours contorted on airplanes.

The masseuse said: "Give me rupee."

At first I thought something kinda hinky might be going on, but then she clarified that what she wanted was one of the five-rupee coins (about 40 cents) that was on my dresser.

Masseuse: I give you rupee massage. It very good for pain.
Me: Massage away.

She took the coin and, using its edge, began scraping it on my back, with quick slashes that followed the contours of my shoulder blades and rib cage. I would have screamed like a baby had I not been biting the towel on the table and trying to act manly and all.

Masseuse: This might hurt.
Me: No shit.
Masseuse: Most people make noise when I do this.
Me: (scream muffled by towel now all the way into my mouth and halfway down my throat)

This went on for what seemed like about three days but was actually only about another 20 minutes. At which point, the masseuse folded her table, I tipped her and she was gone with the words: "No worry, scars go away after week, maybe two."

For the record, the scars lasted about ten days. And here's the deal: Haven't had aches in my back or shoulders since.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Been Tied to the Whipping Post

It takes a brave man to post an image of his fat self in underwear. But it is my penance for not having posted here in, let's see, almost 18 months.
What have I been up to in that time? Many things. Many exciting things. Many less-than-exciting things. Many things that defy all description. Much of which will unfold here in the days ahead.
Yes, I am once again making a valiant effort to blog on a more regular basis. Why am I doing this? I could tell you that it fulfills a deep and compelling need to share my stories with the reading public. But that would be a crock. No, like everything I do, the amped-up blog posts fulfill the deep and compelling needs of my mercenary soul. In the 18 months that I have been absent from here, this blog has somehow managed to rack up a whopping $163.42 worth of AdSense clicks or whatever you call it when money goes into my account because people have dropped by Surrounded on Three Sides and seen the annoying ads that are posted here and over which I have no real control.
Here's what that tells me: If I made a concerted effort to steer people this way, then it might result in a meaningful cash flow, at least enough to allow me to upgrade to the kinds of wines that don't reside on the bottom shelf at ABC.
Here's what else this tells me: This economy of ours is truly screwed up if I can earn $163.42 by being a cyber slacker.
Still, I intend to spend that money in frivolous yet uplifting fashion. And I am going to spend part of it right away by heading today to FEAST, the monthly (or thereabouts) local food extravaganza at Washburn Imports in Orlando. For $25 you get a heaping plateful of food (there will be grouper and blue crab and Florida lobster) and you get to eat it with some congenial souls in the company of good beer.
In the coming days, Surrounded on Three Sides will get a minor facelift. For one thing, I will finally get around to updating my book list (see that channel on your right.) It doesn't even include my two previous books (A Deadly Silver Sea and Baja Florida), more evidence of my slack nature. In addition to info about those stellar tomes, the blog will soon unveil news about the five -- yes, FIVE! -- e-books that I'll be releasing in the next couple of weeks. These are collections of essays I've written over the years, along with some brand-new stuff to fill in the gaps. Here's the lineup:

* GUT CHECK: Adventures in Eating, Drinking, and Wretched Excess
* ALL OVER THE MAP: Getting Lost in Good Places
* THE WHOLE SHEBANG: Love & Lust & Kids & Chaos
* THE MAN WITH THE FISH ON HIS FOOT: Tales from a Peculiar Peninsula
* SHORT ROAD TO HELL: Stories of Chronic Misbehavior, Mostly Mine

And here's today's Surrounded on Three Sides Premium Giveaway: Take a good long look at that photo above. OK, now that you've recovered, tell me this: Where was it shot? And exactly what the heck is going on? The first person who posts here with the correct answers (both of them) gets a FREE PRIZE! I'm still deciding what that prize will be, but it will be something valuable and memorable and you will surely treasure it forever. It might involve rum. Or it might involve a free copy of one of my books. Or it might involve food. Or, it might involve all of those things. Stay tuned for details.
Now, hit me with your best shots. And those of you who I've spoken to recently and who know what I've been up to (especially regarding the details of this photograph) you are forbidden to spill the beans here. If you do I will hunt you down and, uh, do something bad. And by that I mean, badder than normal.