Sarasota’s most creative writer at the moment is that person who writes the ads for Coldwell Banker. You know the one I mean. The one who comes up with "Cordial condo! An admirable charmer with real sentiment!" How on earth do these words describe what turns out to be a very mediocre apartment out on Clark Road? I’m not complaining, mind you. I’m in awe. It’s as if real estate advertising has pushed itself to a dead end and is now being reinvented all over again with this Shakespeare of the classifieds. Mr. Coldwell, Mr. Banker: Give this person a raise!
But it only stands to reason, for Sarasota has a long history of innovative writing, going back to the days of MacKinlay Kantor (he won a Pulitzer Prize for Andersonville) and John D. MacDonald, who created Travis McGee and the Florida crime novel that is currently keeping so many of our publishers solvent. The latest Travis, so to speak, is Serge A. Storms, the hero of Tim Dorsey’s new novel Torpedo Juice. And although Tim doesn’t live in Sarasota (he lives in Tampa) he’s a contributing editor at this very magazine, and would be the first to admit that we gave him his start, allowing him to observe our office politics and thus gather material for his fast-paced tomes of greed, betrayal, sex, lust, passion, drugs, gambling, infidelity, crime-and that’s just the ad reps.
But as important as a new Tim Dorsey can be, nothing tops a new dating guide; and we’re lucky to have an excellent one just out. It’s called The ‘It’s Just Lunch’ Guide to Dating in Naples, Ft. Myers & Sarasota. "It’s Just Lunch" is a nationwide dating service you may have heard of. They have over 30,000 clients and say they are responsible, or to blame, for over two million dates. And you must admit, their name is a triumph of lowered expectations.
I found the advice in the book excellent, particularly the part about splitting the check. They also have lists of such things as Five Best Places to Flirt and Five Best Places for a First Dinner Date. In general their judgments are right on target. They say that one of the best places to flirt in Sarasota is the UCP bachelor auction, and they sure got that right. Especially when it’s held at the Hyatt, because then they can go and literally "get a room."
Switching from the carnal to the divine, the Ringling Museum has three new books out, the most indispensable being Cà d’ Zan: Inside the Ringling Mansion by Aaron De Groft and David Weeks. It’s the book about Cà d’ Zan we’ve been waiting for, with all the information you need to appreciate the place, plus great before- and-after photographs of the way it looked in the Ringling days and the way it looks now; they’re almost identical. One point that impresses: Cà d’ Zan is loaded with sconces, chandeliers, tapestry, furniture, etc. acquired from the homes of the great robber barons of the Gilded Age; and I’m enough of a Philistine to be as impressed by a lighting fixture that used to belong to the Astors as I am by any of those old Italian paintings.
Also from the Ringling: a gorgeous guide to all those sculptures you see scattered around the outdoors, by Francoise Hack-Lof, and a little book about St. Jerome by Joanna Weber. You remember St Jerome. He was the first person to translate the Bible into Latin, a translation known as the Vulgate. (Odd-a similar term is often applied to my own work.) Like Annette Scherman, he always wore a hat; but unlike Annette he believed in the contemplative life and hardly ever left his apartment in Bethlehem, where he lived with a lion he had obtained from what passed in those days as the Humane Society. Every once in a while he would journey to the wilderness for a time of purification, and God would send him little meals carried by birds, sort of like spa cuisine. For these and other fascinating details of St. Jerome’s life you’ve got to read Of Lions and Red Hats: St. Jerome at the Ringling Museum of Art.
Our next author is an old pal of mine, Jeff LaHurd, who also works for the magazine on occasion. I thought Jeff had two new books coming out, but it turns out they are two old books being reprinted. Well, since I promised I’d mention them, I guess I’d better. Actually, they’re pretty good-the best books on Sarasota history we’ve got, in fact. Jeff’s gimmick is to find old photos and explain what we’re looking at. So much of it is gone: the M’Toto Room, Smack’s, Badger’s Drug Store. My favorites are the bars. I noticed that most of the bar photos were supplied by Joan Griffith. Hmmmm.
Jeff’s books are entitled Quintessential Sarasota and Sarasota in Vintage Images. I understand he’s running out of photographs and is now working on Sarasota as Seen through Mug Shots and Morgue Photos, and Sarasota: Dry Cleaning Receipts from the Golden ’30s.
Topping off my list of recommendations is Walt Levinsky’s autobiography, The Melody Lingers On. Many of you doubtless remember Walt; he lived in Lido Shores until he passed away several years ago. Frankly, I approached the book with trepidation; Walt was a great musician, but could he tell the story of his life in an interesting and compelling way? Well, he could and did. This is a terrific book. It’s packed with echoes of two of my favorite writers, Neil Simon and Philip Roth. Neil Simon because of the way Walt saw his life as a series of (mostly) comic stories. And they are some stories: growing up in Patterson, N.J., touring with the Tommy Dorsey band while still in college, getting involved with a crazy hooker in Havana, later working with people like Sinatra, Johnny Carson and Woody Allen. And Philip Roth for the undercurrent of Jewish angst that permeates the book-the outsider who will always be an outsider. This is quite a book and a wonderful read.
And finally, there’s the aforementioned Joan Griffith, who is a book waiting to happen. Not only does she know where all the bodies are buried in this town, thanks to being the daughter of longtime Herald-Tribune columnist Helen Griffith; but she’s led a life most of us only dream of. She was planning to attend the University of Miami and study quantum physics, but her family lost all its money and she was forced to become a showgirl, then a gag writer, then a lounge pianist, then a legal secretary. Along the way she married a whole lot of men. Today Joan writes a column for Attitudes and is a well-known psychic. Her recent prediction of an earthquake in Santa Barbara caused people to sell their houses. Best of all, this life is not Joan’s only life; she’s lived at least 100 other ones in the past.
Get to work, Joan. This is going to be some book. And a long one, too.