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Amy F. Quincy Author/Freelance Writer

Month

May 2012

Keeping It Interesting

I discovered recently that Frankie is timid around men. And he doesn’t like the smell of fish. As a result, he really tries to avoid men who smell like fish. So, you’d think he’d be less than thrilled to spend a recent morning on the Jacksonville Beach pier, right? Wrong. He was beside himself.

I walked him there in my power chair to meet a couple of friends one weekday morning. He was tugging at the leash as soon as we turned south instead of north. He didn’t care where we were going. Just that we’d never been there before. When we reached the paved walkway next to the dunes, his pace quickened and he weaved back and forth, trying to take in all the strange scents simultaneously. Gulls called overhead, people whizzed by on bikes and rollerblades and the breeze carried in the smell of salt and Tropicana off the beach.

Dogs are allowed on the pier if they’re service dogs. Frankie is enrolled in classes with a trainer who can certify him as such, so technically, it wasn’t a lie. Frankie is a service dog-in-training now. But I have to admit, little Frankie looks nothing like those well-behaved helpers, particularly bounding ahead of the wheelchair with no special vest and barking at birds.

He was so excited that even being approached by smelly men with coolers full of fish didn’t faze him for long.  After our outing, his little legs carried him most of the way home, probably running on pure adrenaline.

Later that week, my writing coach gave us a suggestion that rang especially true. She said – do something new. As writers, we need to fill the creative well with new images, scents and tastes so that we can call these up in our writing, keeping things from sounding stale or cliche.

And non-writers need this mental stimulation too. Are you like me, always ordering the same thing off the menu? Mix it up! Try something different. Or better yet, go to a restaurant you’ve never been to before. Take in a museum exhibit on your lunch hour. Or just drive a different way to work. Our lives are so filled with routine that it’s easy to get stuck in a rut.

Remembering this advice, I took Frankie to the park the following week. We were rewarded when a mama duck and at least seven little ducklings crossed our path. True, Frankie was excited enough just by the Mallards waddling by, but I was happy to see the babies. We sat for a long time in the butterfly garden, Frankie attempting to dig in the mulch while I watched a Swallowtail flutter around. It was calming and it broke routine. That butterfly and those ducklings are now deep in the well of my creative subconscious just waiting to be called on. And Frankie’s happy. To him I’m just keeping it interesting.

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Obstacles

I’ve never felt like a minority. I mean obviously, as a woman, I guess I am. But in this day and age, with all the strides women have made, I’ve never suffered due to my gender like my mother or grandmother did. I’ve never been discriminated against. Until now.

Not because I’m a woman. But because I’m handicapped.

I got lucky when I found the apartment I live in now. I didn’t really think about it. Just placed a call and went to look at it, like I always did during an apartment search. Sure, I took a couple of doors off their hinges and installed a bar in the bathroom, but that was it. Oh, and there was carpet in the bedroom. That lasted about two weeks until I asked the landlord to put in tile. She was pretty accommodating. I realize that now.

Several months ago, I was introduced to and seemed to hit it off with a particular property owner. I loved the place, had offered to pay for a ramp and could move in when she needed a tenant. She took my card and I started saving boxes. Then I never heard from her again.

Like it or not, I have become an undesirable tenant. I’m neat, quiet, responsible and will most likely make lots of betterments to a property. My rent is on time and I’ve never lived less than three years in any one spot. But I’m not ideal. Some people just can’t get past the wheelchair.

A friend of mine (also in a wheelchair) complained about her own difficulties. While trying to rent at Ocean’s Edge in Jacksonville Beach she discovered they don’t have a single accessible condo. Not one!

Outside, there are steps to the front door of each unit (even those on the first floor) and inside, there are sunken living rooms. This seems to discriminate by age as well as ability. You can’t tell me people over the age of 70 want to be scaling a four-inch drop every time they want a snack from the fridge! This all makes the handicapped parking a bit of a joke. Each disabled space is neatly ramped — to nowhere. Unless you want to tour the front sidewalk. Since they renovated as recently as 2008, they’re definitely in violation of ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) guidelines. My friend’s in the process of filing a formal complaint, but that doesn’t change the fact that she’ll be homeless come July.

I thought we’d found a solution for her when my own neighbor was renting his downstairs apartment. I was relieved it was someone I knew and we could, therefore, bypass the issue of dependability. Of course my friend is reliable! The neighbor’s met me numerous times. It’s harder to discriminate against someone you know, right? Harder maybe, but not impossible. My girlfriend and I waited hours for him to come over as promised. Then I called and left a message. No response.

Is it that landlords think they’re going to have to make lots of expensive alterations? Often, it only requires a ramp and most disabled people I know are happy to pay for it. Besides, there are lots of organizations that build them for free. (Click here.)

Is it the liability? Personally, I was a much bigger liability when I was an able-bodied partier in my twenties.

Either way, it feels rotten. And it’s just one more difficulty to add to the list in an already obstacle filled life. We’re not called “challenged” for nothing. You might make a difference to someone. Think about it.

Personal History

Photo by Pat Hazouri

When I was little I thought the ferry that went from the parking lot of Disney World  to the much anticipated main gates rode on tracks. I don’t remember if a family member teasingly told me this or I came up with it myself. It seems a natural deduction for a small child to make — all the other rides are on tracks.

The idea carried over to adulthood, when I tricked an old boyfriend into believing this about the St. John’s River Ferry. I figured a Midwestern boy who hadn’t seen the ocean till he was 27 just might be gullible enough. He was.

The boyfriend’s long gone, a brief part of my history. A much longer and, dare I say it, more important part– the ferry — remains. For now.

The Jacksonville Port Authority has voted to stop supporting ferry operations. Closing the St. John’s River Ferry Service will bring all sorts of problems. Unemployment to ferry workers and the community of Mayport, loss of income to businesses along the A1A route, decreased property values in neighboring communities, loss of eco-tourism and decreased attendance to all the City, State and National Parks along the way, just to name a few.

The Manadnock, 1948

The fight to preserve the ferry is, like all debates of its kind, an effort steeped in politics and money. But to us locals, you can’t put a price on what we stand to lose. The St. John’s River Ferry has been operating here since 1948. On the Keep the Ferry website (where you can sign the petition, donate or volunteer) someone said it best when they wrote “the ferry is so entwined in the history of Mayport that Mayport literally wouldn’t be Mayport without the ferry.” I would extend that to Jacksonville.

Jacksonville will lose a lot of its appeal if the route along its scenic waterway closes. I’ve taken every out of town guest who ever visited for a ferry ride, showing off our beautiful marshes and coastline. I’ve stood with my mom at the ferry rail and watched dolphins roll by. Rode my bike north across A1A and camped at Ft. Clinch. And munched on fried shrimp at Singleton’s while watching the pelicans on ferry pilings.

Riding the ferry, 2004

For myself and every other local, whether boater, cyclist, kayaker or wildlife photographer, it’s about more than unemployment numbers or loss of revenue. It’s personal.

Defending the Games

I haven’t gone to bed before midnight in four days. I blew off every responsibility I had last week. And Frankie hasn’t had an evening walk in quite a few evenings. The reason for my new devil-may-care attitude? I’m completely addicted to the popular trilogy of books by Suzanne Collins.

Great literature it’s not. I don’t think The Hunger Games nor any of its sequels is going to win Collins a Pulitzer Prize. There isn’t any stunning prose. But there’s something to be said for thinking up a great story and telling it in such a gripping way it becomes hard to put down. In fact, I’m writing this post after finishing book one, but before starting book two, just in case this is one responsibility I’m tempted to shirk once I start reading again.

As usual, I found the book better than the movie, though I thought the movie was quite good. I almost want to start seeing films before reading their books just so my enjoyment of them isn’t dampened. But I like being able to create my own mental images without the help of Hollywood casting agents. And in this case, I have to admit I would have been confused at times if I didn’t know all the plot details from the book.

Even having taken in both, I’m clueless as to what all this talk of racial controversy is about. Is it over the casting? I found the casting ideal. Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bones) is perfect as the gritty heroine, Katniss Everdeen. Attractive enough, but not too pretty. I did find myself rooting for the opposite romantic interest from the book to the movie (Liam Hemsworth plays Gale, Josh Huctcherson plays Peeta) because of chemistry and on-screen appeal.

But back to this alleged racism. Three main characters in the film are black, but one of them is described that way in the book, so I don’t see the problem. (Lenny Kravitz plays one of them and if you’re looking for the ’90s cover album version like me, you’ll miss him. Who knew Lenny Kravitz could act?) Then there’s the fact that the citizens of the 11th district of this dystopian society are particularly angry over their oppression. Tensions seem high and hot enough to boil there. I’ve only finished one of the three books, but I’d put my money on an uprising beginning in District 11. In the movie, the majority of people that live in this area are also black. Does that make the movie racist?

Far more legitimate, and therefore troubling to me, is a reluctance I’ve noticed in moviegoers. Some people are hesitating to see the film out of concern over the violent subject matter. The Hunger Games are, in fact, a competition of survival between 12-18 year-olds. Basically, it’s children forced to murder each other for the sake of televised entertainment. Violent? Yes. Important commentary on the dangers of our own society? Definitely.

Look, I’m as squeamish as they come, just ask my mother. I peek through my fingers at horror flicks, skip most shoot-em-ups and avoid screams and explosions at all costs. Just give me a nice feel-good with a happy ending. But the writer in me can still appreciate good art. I’ve watched many disturbing films (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Fight Club, The Misfits) in the name of art.

Not to make Suzanne Collins the next George Orwell, but she did do something kind of neat. Her story questions our current fascination with reality T.V. and sensationalism in the media. It calls to mind issues of privacy and images of war. Part Olympics, part Survivor, part The Truman ShowThe Hunger Games reminds us that though it may be fun to watch the good train wreck that is The Real Housewives of New Jersey, networks keep having to up the ante to satisfy our appetites for more and more drama.

Besides, it’s fiction people! I’m pretty sure the real world is nowhere near justifying killing humans for sport. My mom was surprised that I not only enjoyed but re-watched District 9, a particularly bloody and violent movie. I guess it helps that most of the exploding parts were alien. I also liked I Am Legend and Aliens.

It’s ironic to me that some people will cross good movies off their list, yet sit through the evening news without flinching. And don’t forget it’s PG-13. A teenager’s novel! I’m not saying you have to run right out and see it in the theater. It can wait for DVD. But check it out. I don’t think you’ll need to, but you can always peek through your fingers.

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