With apologies/ to Aristophanes

I am a great fan of clouds,
especially the caulifloral cumulus of a Florida summer sky,
ranging like distant mountains.
Or trundling by overhead as we watch, openmouthed,
like merfolk gazing up at clipper ships plying the surface.

At times too painterly to be believed,
Stereotypical. Romanticized. Trite. Postcardish.
But it never gets old. How is that?

Now darker, shadowed by erupting anvil-topped monsters.
Now thinning and attenuating into stratus layers of melancholy.
Or just disappearing, 
like almost everything does, eventually.

I wonder: do dogs notice them? Birds? Snakes?

I watch the ever changing cave-paintings on the sky
as humans have done for hundreds of thousands of years, 
seeing analogies, lessons, similitudes, and

-- if I try hard enough --

just condensation.

Like myself.

[seymour clouds]


I used to write.

I used to write.
I used to write a lot. I took classes in it. I got published, man.
Some people say it was mainly to get chicks.
No, not mainly.
(Though as a means of impressing whatever sort of entity you’re interested in scoring with, there are worse paths, it’s true.)
But then I quit.

Oh, I put out several thousand words of academic writing circa 2010, freaky rhetorical theory stuff, critical theory and culture studies and ecofeminism with more performances and hegemonies than you can shake a stick at. I'll even argue in a separate forum that I advanced an esoteric peninsula of scholarly inquiry. And laid to bed a nagging bucket-list item from my twenties in the process.

But that’s not the kind of writing I mean.

The kind I mean is the kind that people have actually said they are sorry I don’t write any more.

The kind my aunt meant when she said, after I told her I don’t write these days, “Shame on you.” And not kidding.

The kind my daughter recently said she missed.

I mean that voice I stumbled into, laid back into, blasted myself loose into — my voice — when I was writing about wisteria and mermaids and The Freon Jones and palmetto bugs and Ecoman. The feary mysteria.

I tell myself that photography has become my medium, that I always was better at description than plot or characterization anyway, and the picture:words ratio remains what it has always been, so if nothing else it’s the lazy writer’s way of celebrating the odd and the breathtakingly gorgeous in this world.

But photographs can’t say what I’ve said so far. There is still so much they can't say.

I wonder if I have any more stories in me or verbal songs to invent. But of course I do. There is that whole story about offshore Pleistocene civilizations, for one thing. Gotta be told. Bluesy gothic Lovecraftian Faulknerian operas to be writ. There’s that psychedelic pop song, too, and the poetry of invertebrates below the 10 fathom line. The aliens and the pizza delivery guy with his antique Volkswagen. Lost tales of conquistadores and county sheriffs.

These things gotta come out somehow.

Stick with me, it might prove worth your time. That's really about all I can ask.


Bruce and the Mini-subs

Hearing stories from Dog Island post-Hurricane Hermine put me in mind of another aftermath, over ten years ago, when a storm surge from Hurricane Dennis inundated much of the island and left debris piles for months.

One standard-issue consequence of storm erosion is the emergence of septic tanks -- vaguely submarine-like fiberglass vessels with what we'll call an ominous air about them. The one in the photo below reminded me of classic Civil War monitors, or even Japanese WWII mini-subs:

I captioned it "Hobie pontoon and mini-sub" and posted it to Flickr along with a set of post-storm photos. Here's another evocative poop-tank shot:

My late, greatly lamented illustrator friend Bruce Hall -- always ready with Photoshop and a kindred twisted wit -- saw it and used another of my shots from Lake Seminole to create this chilling historical re-enactment:

As I described it there:
Government secrecy has -- until the release of this photo -- concealed the scope of the "Battle of Thronateeska Landing", which demonstrated the alarming extent of freshwater intrusion by hostile forces during WWII. Photo credit: Bruce Hall.
 You may have seen the military memoir:

Of course, thoughts of small, unusual submersibles naturally led Bruce to the next discovery, which confirms the rumors that Only A Northern Song was about bathroom tissue:

And who can forget this classic adaptation of a less well-known Asimov sequel?

Nothing like the heady sophistication of toilet humor to get the creative juices flowing, I say.

I miss ya, Barce. Definitely a duller place here without you.


Popout Refurb

Tonight I finished a project to replace the rubber seals on the '65 sedan's pop-out windows.
Backseat side windows on classic Beetles never rolled down, but dealers far from the factory in Wolfsburg could install this hardware app upgrade onsite, using pre-drilled holes in the frame of the car. 

The old rubber seals were like rotten jerky. There was some rust and corrosion and crumbly bits of 50 year old sunfried plastic. Removing the tarry old rubber and then threading the new seals into the frames was one of the more tedious tasks I've undertaken in VW repair, going around the frame 1/8" at a time with a putty knife, stuffing the sticky rubber strip into a t-shaped track. But the results are worthwhile:

Before (passenger side)After (driver's side)
I also brass-brushed the chrome latch mechanisms, and replaced the pinch welt around the opening and the little plastic covers over the hinge. Wolfsburg West is my go-to source for that kind of thing. More shots of the trim & brightwork:

What's that in the distance?

Prefitted for shoulder belts in 1965.

I valued them greatly in the '65 Beetle that was my first car, down in Palm Beach county where every bit of ventilation counts. 

Yes, that's a Mickey Rat t-shirt. Tag was my father's suggestion.

It was a brighter, squintier world. One in which I wore knit shirts.
For some reason, to me, poputs always made the car look a bit rakish and snazzy, like it was copping a bit more attitude. To the extent a Beetle can perform such a pose. Especially with the windows popped out, 3/4 rear view:

Not mine: image lifted from this site.
In 1965 when my current sedan was purchased new at Kennebrew Motors in Tallahassee, this option was invoiced on the window sticker at $25.  Today, you can pick them up for a mere $434.95, if your own personal screamin' aircooled demon is lacking:

Original VW Beetles -- even the dolled up Export models sold in the U.S. -- were famous for their simplicity and spartan features. This led to a huge market for dealer and aftermarket accessories and upgrades and other in-game purchases. Back when there were still classic VWs in junkyards, I loved prowling for accessories: custom gearshift knobs, cigarette lighters, clocks, all kinds of things. Unfortunately, these days such things are rarely seen outside shows, eBay, or artisanal VW accessory retailers. Though I do have a few I'll sell you.



Some folks asked me to post the eulogy I gave for my Dad this morning. We had a beautiful service out under the pines with lots of people participating and sharing love and memories.

Later his children and some of his grandchildren spread his ashes in five special places around the property, ending down at the pond with with us all spontaneously singing "Down To The River To Pray" as a couple of small, doubtless puzzled gators looked on.

We just all made it up as we went, the locations and the method; a gentle convoy of cars and trucks alighting here and there to deliver him back home. Sweet closure.

Anyway, this is what I read during the service under the pine trees:


         Thank you all for being here today in this beautiful place that Dad loved so much. He would also like it that we're talking about him. I have an impossible task before me, because there's no way I can do him justice with a few words. And what I will share with you is my own perspective, necessarily partial and biased. I don't speak for Mom or my siblings or anyone else who knew him. Please bear that in mind and speak up afterward if you have anything to add or correct.
         On the way to this spot you passed through a parklike section of longleaf pine forest, one of Dad’s favorite places on the property. That ecosystem – upland longleaf pine and wiregrass – once covered millions of acres in the southeast, from Texas to Virginia. In the early 1800s – not long after the Seminoles arrived – a widowed mother traveled through that vast forest with her children, migrating to Florida from western South Carolina. That was Dad's great-great grandmother. The Clarks settled in the area around Greensboro; Dad's paternal Clark grandfather ran a mill on Telogia Creek. They would eventually cross paths with a well-to-do local family. Joseph Inman, Dad's maternal grandfather, scowls flinty-eyed out of old portraits; his son, my Dad’s uncle William Inman, became a successful cattleman in Quincy who served as county sheriff and state legislator.
The Clarks and Inmans were well established in Gadsden County by the time Paul David Clark and Essie Inman met and married almost 100 years ago. We called them Andaddy and Anmamma; Andaddy worked for the Apalachicola Northern railroad and then in Kwilecki's Hardware in Chattahoochee; Anmamma earned a teacher's certificate at Florida State College for Women, but when I knew her she was a homemaker whose sweet tea and hoecakes were the stuff of legend.
         Dad was the middle of their three children, the only boy and thus the crown prince, no doubt spoiled a bit. His older sister Marian, who we called Aunty Sissy, was a lifelong resident of Chattahoochee. (We always had to clarify to puzzled friends that “going to visit our relatives in Chattahoochee” did not mean what they thought it did.) She and her husband Joe King raised a family in their hometown, some of whom are here today. Dad's younger sister, whom he almost always referred to as Emma Sue, settled in Gainesville and is here today with her family as well.
         When I went off to college, I lived at Aunt Sue's house and heard with delight many stories about Dad's shenanigans as a child and teen. He was evidently a prankster who delighted in irritating his sisters. They got back at him once by tying him into his bed while he slept, making him late for school. Another time, later in his teens, he was all gussied up for a hot date and kept poking at Aunt Sue, teasing her. She delivered on her promise to pour a glass of milk over his head if he didn't stop.
         There's a pattern here. Dad liked to tease and he could sometimes take it too far – but he also grew up in a house where love and affection were never in short supply. That was obvious to me even as a child. He loved his momma and daddy and at least tolerated his sisters.
         And as early photos indicate, dogs were an important part of his life from the get-go. He learned to play the cornet and made toy soldiers by pouring molten lead into molds. He earned merit badges and became an Eagle Scout. He rode horses on his Uncle William's property and spent a lot of time on the water, fishing and taking part in a newfangled sport called waterskiing. He and his buddies prowled the Three Rivers area that would eventually become drowned under Lake Seminole. He spent one summer driving a Coca Cola delivery truck that slid around the red-clay roads of Gadsden County. He smoked and drank. He got rambunctious enough that his parents sent him to the Bolles School in Jacksonville to finish 12th grade.
         Just a year or so ago, he and I were riding around the lake as he told me stories. I asked about some historical detail regarding one of the places we passed, and he said “I don't know, son. I had my head up my ass most of the time when I was young.”
         That's not the only way I take after my father.
         But he cleaned up his act enough to get into Auburn University and was a War-Damn-Eagle fan through most of my childhood, especially when we lived in Alabama. (He was proud as punch when my daughter Lindsay became a professor at Auburn.)
         He left before finishing his degree, to serve in the Army of Occupation in Japan, based in Yokohama. We have some photos from that time; one of my favorites is him standing outside a Quonset hut, clowning around with a geisha parasol. He learned a couple of Japanese words and brought home a souvenir suitcase with Mt. Fuji hand-painted on the side. I wish we still had that.
         After returning home, he eventually enrolled at FSU to finish college. He was still something of a wild man – he was a Pike, after all – but he must have been thinking about settling down, because he joined the choir at First Baptist Church in Tallahassee. That’s where he met a pretty Tri-Delt from Tampa and convinced her to marry him. Well, first he won over her mother; Mom says my grandmother was so impressed with his southern charm that any other man wouldn't have stood a chance. So Deborah Fennell married Joseph Clark in First Baptist in Tampa and they settled in Tallahassee.
         After he and Mom were married, Dad briefly sold mechanical calculating machines the size of typewriters for Remington. He had an old one we loved to play with when we were little and I can still hear the whirring and clunking noises it made. Then he landed a job with Massachusetts Mutual, and stayed in the life-insurance business for the rest of his professional career. He was promoted to general manager when we lived in Mobile but he preferred working directly with clients -- not only could he make more money on commissions, but I think he just enjoyed the people he met. Whenever I would visit him at work as a kid, his coworkers seemed to genuinely enjoy him; several of his colleagues became family friends. I emulated his way of answering the phone – Joe Clark – and do it unconsciously now. I never heard him speak cynically about the business he was in. I think he believed that the product he sold was beneficial to people and that he wasn’t so much selling as informing and helping. He had an almost zero level of tolerance for sales-talk BS -- one of the funniest and most cringeworthy experiences I ever had was tagging along while he shopped for a used car, watching him ninja every salesman who tried to sell him a bundle of goods.
         He was a great dad as we kids came along: me, then Paul, then the twins Sarah and Maggie, and finally Susannah. He often had to play bad cop to Mom's good cop, but in my mind they shared pretty equally in both the discipline and the fun and affection. He was generous with his praise and often told us he loved us. He lost his own father when I was very young, and even though that must have been devastating, I never saw him act like he felt sorry for himself about it. I think he regretted not having a brother, in fact, one time Paul and I were angry and sobbing over something we were fighting over, and Dad stopped us, trying to get us to see the big picture. “You boys have something I never had,” he said. Paul and I looked at each other, still sniffling, puzzled. GI Joe? Hot Wheels? “A brother,” he said.
         Dad could criticize but he was also a great cheerleader for his kids. He talked me out of countless harebrained schemes without making me feel like an idiot, and helped me get into FSU after I had failed spectacularly at UF. When I came up on weekends to help with the Christmas trees, he'd press a few twenties in my hand as I was leaving, knowing that at the time I barely had two nickels to rub together.
         I have so many wonderful memories of fun times, especially on the water. When I was little, we’d fish on Lake Talquin in a rented green wooden boat with the 3-horse Evinrude he'd won in a sales competition. Later in Mobile, he bought a 15-foot Chapparal, a bowrider with a 60 horse Evinrude; this was 1970 and the motor was a special model with psychedelic decals on the cowl and a purple propeller. Dad wanted the dealer to swap it out for a plain model, but Paul and I weren't having any of that, so Dad caved and had to endure the sideways grins from the other guys at the boat ramp. Those are some of the best memories I have: getting up before dawn and trailering down to Fowl River, a brackish estuary where we'd fish for speckled trout, stalk blue crabs, and spend the afternoon skiing. On other trips we'd go all the way to the ramp at Dauphin Island and spend the day trolling for Spanish mackerel in the Gulf, filling the cooler with our catch alongside the cans of Coke, Dr. Pepper, and Old Milwaukee. Thirsty? Reach past the fish and pull out a can, hold it overboard in the wash to get most of the slime off, pop the top, and drop it inside the can. I can smell the carbonation and fishiness right now. The three of us camped under a tarp on Sand Island, eating baked beans right out of the can, and sleeping on cots so the ghost crabs wouldn't overrun us at night. We were the three caballeros. We were Porthos, Athos, and Aramis. We were the Clark Men -- mighty and sunburned and salt-crusted.
         Dad and Paul and I connected over other things, too -- though I didn’t have the football gene they shared and I envied them that connection. We took an auto repair class together at the vo-tech in Palm Beach County. Dad was not a natural gearhead but he built a trailer and a haywagon and was always tinkering on things. I was so proud of him when he earned an A.A. in computer science after retirement, and even had a brief gig as a programmer.
         We also bonded over trips up here from Tallahassee in the late 70s to cut firewood. In fact, those days helped us reconnect with the land that Andaddy bought. After Mom and Dad moved up here in the 90s, they bought a pontoon boat, and once again we created memories dodging the hydrilla forests and stumps out on the lake, even holing a pontoon one night on a return cruise from Bainbridge and nervously counting the gator eyes reflecting our spotlight as we limped back to the dock in the dark.
         Dad enjoyed travel and his eyes would always light up whenever I would mention the trip he and I took to visit Sarah in Europe. When his condition got to where he really definitely should not drive any more -- please don't drive, Dad, oh please don't, someone hide the keys – we'd take him out for rides. In fact, it was mandatory – he'd get stir-crazy sitting around the house. I've mentioned that Dad could be impatient. Of course that got worse as he got older and his physical condition started to decline, but I think he also figured he had earned it at his age. As the contemporary expression goes, he was fresh out of effs to give.
         He always hated being in the hospital, even for routine procedures. A literal im-patient. “Can I go home now?” he would ask, roughly every five minutes. Only a cute nurse could make it bearable. Like many men, he was a bit of a baby when he was sick, but he was – again, literally – very hard headed. Mom helplessly watched him fall a couple of months ago and bounce the back of his head against the carport floor, with no damage the doctors could find beyond a goose egg. Fortunately, the concrete was undamaged. He could be tough: When we were in Paris – he was almost 80 then -- Sarah and I watched in horror as he took a tumble down a cobblestone ramp. Visions of a vacation spent in a French hospital filled our eyes. But he jumped right back up and said he was fine, and proceeded to take an hourlong boat ride on the Seine. Only when we got back to the hotel room did we discover he'd bloodied himself up pretty good -- but he soldiered on because there was so much to see. His back troubled him from time to time and once he had a nasty muscle spasm that was causing him a great deal of pain. Mom helped him gingerly get into the car for a trip to the doctor; his hand was still on the door frame when she slammed the door and mangled it. Mom was mortified and apologetic, but all Dad said was “Well, my back doesn't hurt any more.”
         He had that hyperbolic, self-deprecating, classically Southern sense of humor, the kind that looks at you and winks as if to say, “Yeah, I know that's corny as all get-out, but it's still funny, isn't it?” He and his fishing buddies would return from an early Saturday morning trip and crack up over Coyote and Roadrunner cartoons. He loved the hayseed humor of Hee Haw, and delighted in expressions like “big as a mule's lip from its eye down” – that's how big a slice of pie he wanted, if you asked. Around these parts someplace is a wide spot in the road called Scratchankle. I asked him about that and he said it got its name back in the pre-fence days, when a local farmer's flea-infested hogs would escape the midday heat up under the one-room schoolhouse. Scratchankle. I don’t know if it’s true, but who cares?
        Once on a family trip he was chastised for changing clothes too close to the front window of the motel room, and his reply? “If they ain't never seen it before, they won't know what it is.” When we all went to see the movie “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” I thought he was going to give himself fits cracking up over all the great cornpone one-liners. One of the last times I remember him just busting out laughing, he and I were driving around the north side of the lake, exploring the back roads -- one of which is called Green Acres road. We came to a cross street: Arnold Ziffel Road. He and I giggled over that for the next half hour.
         In many ways we were so different. I'm a liberal Democrat; he was a Reagan Republican. He was a philatelist in his youth; I was numismatist. Y’all gonna have to look those up. He was a little bit country, and I’m a little bit rock and roll. There were certainly plenty of times when we completely baffled each other. But I'm proud to be Joe Clark, Jr.  I can't imagine having any other father. I've known many fine men, but never envied anyone their father. I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
         I mentioned before the longleaf pine and wiregrass ecosystem that you traveled through to get here. The clearcut area you see behind me – which was pasture when I was a kid – was previously a crop of slash pines, but has been replanted with longleafs. There's a Greek proverb that says “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” In the past few years, Dad became more focused on re-establishing longleafs, even though he knew he'd never see the results.
        The longleaf is an amazing tree. Picture Lake Seminole heating up in the summer sun. The water vapor boils up into the atmosphere, and eventually we get those spectacular thunderstorms that dump so much rain they're called toad-stranglers. They also hurl lightning bolts that start fires. They do that all over the south and have for hundreds of thousands of years, maybe longer.
         The mighty longleaf pine noticed this and took advantage of it. It has actually evolved so that it needs fire. Think about that. It needs fire. Fire sounds like the enemy of forests, but the longleaf just chuckles and says “Bring it on.” Its seeds won't germinate without touching the mineral-rich soil left behind after a fire burns off the ground cover. It depends on fire to limit the broadleaf hoi polloi that would otherwise try to take over. It has all kinds of adaptations to fire: a deep taproot, a sudden growth spurt to put the needles above a wildfire, even fire resistant bark. In the longleaf community, arson isn't a crime, it's a hobby. They scatter their dry, resinous needles on the ground and look up at the looming clouds with smiles of anticipation.
         They've taken destruction and loss and turned it into a benefit. They need it. It makes them who they are, and yet they are so much more, towering above the wiregrass and nodding in the wind, watching us now as they watched Dad lighting controlled burns, getting all sooty and reeking of smoke. They remind us that what looks like the end is just one of those necessary processes that go on in the world.
         You know, the quantum physicists tell us that time is something humans dreamed up. That this idea of a past, present, future -- of an irreversible arrow of time – is just an artifact of human consciousness. That may not mean we can travel back in time to Mobile Bay or Yokohama or any of the experiences we remember, but it it does mean this: They are always here now. They aren't past and gone. They exist now and always will. Dad's out here now, dibbling the seedlings into this crazy red clay. He's riding around with Andaddy in that old pickup, taking salt blocks out to the cattle. He's sitting outside the barn, watching the trees and soaking up the sunlight. Right now. Always.
         That's the scientific view, and it's not that different from what religions have taught us. In fact, it's not at all hard to imagine Dad pulling up to the pearly gates in a dented pickup truck, the bed full of farm implements and trash bags, and the cab full of happy dogs. Waking up St. Peter with an impatient blast on his horn, and probably a second one if he doesn't hop to. “Need some help here!”
         Let him in, Pete. I promise you won't regret it.


Reversing Time's Arrow

It looks like I won't need to replace the generator, which is good, because it's a pain in the ass on an aircooled VW.

That's because the generator and cooling fan are on the same shaft, powered by the engine's single fan belt. The cooling fan is inside the fan shroud, the large black metal housing on the far side of the engine in this photo:

That's why one of the VW Beetle's two idiot lights -- the red one, no label -- signifies either lack of charging or lack of cooling or both. If the fan belt is intact, it's unlikely to be a cooling problem. But if the generator is hosed, you have to remove the fan shroud to get it out, and given the tight confines of the VW engine compartment, it's a pain in the ass. It has to lift straight up, and as you can see in the above pic, the decklid ("hood") and hinges are right there above it.

I had the red-light-on problem and it wasn't the fan belt, which means either the generator or voltage regulator (box on top of it) were faulty. Reading up on the various tests (I recommend this resource or this one, though the procedures in Muir and even Clymer are adequate*), I decided to try polarizing the generator, since the car had been sitting for several years.

You're supposed to do this when installing new generators, too, but I never have. I've replaced a half dozen or so over the years. I was just lucky they had some residual polarity from factory testing, I guess. It's an amazingly simple procedure that invokes the mysteries of electromechanical engineering: take a device that is normally spun to produce electricity, give it some electricity, and it spins like an electric motor (you have to remove the fan belt so it's free to turn). That "seeds" the generator so it can do its thing. And if it doesn't spin, that's a sign that the generator is faulty.

Took a few minutes to get that big nut off the generator pulley, which requires a potentially knuckle-busting application of socket and screwdriver, thus:

As usual, judicious application of PB Blaster, a few taps of the hammer, and a cheater bar were persuasive.

I then hooked up my jumper wires per procedure and the generator began to spin! So I buttoned it all up and fired up the engine -- not really expecting something so simple to do the trick -- et voila! Red light off!

On to the next item on the list: turn signals and horn.

*of course, I also have Bentley and Haynes. I'm pretty well manualed up.


Once around the block, Jeeves.

I took the '65 Beetle sedan for a short shakedown, just a little jaunt around the neighborhood. A few odd groans and noises from the back that are most likely related to being inert for four years. Otherwise, runs fine with plenty of power, brakes are strong, shifts easily.

Biggest complaint at the moment is the generator light. Hoping I don't have to pull the generator.

This was my first time behind the wheel of a VW sedan in decades. Yes, I was grinning. Here I am on the hood of my first one, circa 1973-74:


Parts is Parts

Haven't had a lot of time to work on the sedan lately but have been amassing a few needed items so I can make good progress if it ever stops raining, literally and figuratively.

The turn signal doesn't flash. Perhaps it's just a weak battery -- see bottom. But I still have a small stash of six volt parts and might be able to get one of these to work:

I also went ahead and ordered a new one because it was cheap. Picked up some new 6V stop/tail bulbs, a replacement sunvisor clip, and interior light -- the latter two from one of my favorite vintage sources, Wolfsburg West. The interior light looks sharp. A very nice repro.

The taillight lens is not new. Well, not original, either. It's a Eurostyle (amber top) lens the PO picked up at some point. I assume the original solid red lenses cracked or faded. Eurostyle lenses were trendy a while back and I have some on the convertible. It's on the pile because I scrounged a decent mounting screw from my parts bin to replace the corroded original.

The two big-ticket items were a new windshield gasket (not pictured), and this item, my first non-lead-acid car battery:

Although it looks nothing like the original black block, it's well-regarded as an upgrade if you have a 6V system that is even remotely marginal. Not much more expensive than an original style, either, which are made these days from hen's teeth and unobtanium. Given the radically different form factor, I'll have to rig a way to secure it. Fortunately, you can mount these AGM batteries in any position -- even upside down! Wonders of modern science.

So there you have it. Time permitting, these go in this weekend.



In the past few months I started noticing occasional double vision late at night, usually while playing Words on the phone while in bed preparing to sleep. I'd gotten a new, stronger prescription for my glasses last fall and I put it down to that, because I could shift the glasses around and the double vision would minimize or disappear.

I'd also noticed my right eyelid felt a bit puffy in the morning sometimes. This eventually turned into a drooping eyelid (ptosis) on one side -- and the double vision was getting more frequent, seeming exacerbated by the droop. WTF?

Wondering if it might just be eyestrain (too much screen time), I scheduled a checkup. I also started Googling my symptoms, and yikes! Was I having a stroke? Some kind of palsy? Going blind? Pretty quickly I narrowed it down to "ocular myasthenia gravis" -- an immune-system disorder in which antibodies block the ability of muscles to receive neural signals, resulting in muscle weakness. The effects of OMG frequently show up first in the eyelid muscle because it's one of the body's weakest muscles. The more I read about the full-blown form of myasthenia gravis (which you can do here and here), I was both reassured and worried. The cause is unclear and there is no cure, only symptomatic treatment, though it sometimes spontaneously goes on remission, often for long periods of time. In many patients, it never goes past the ocular form (which can have associated head and neck issues, as described below).

The eye doc said my eyes checked out fine and she suspected OMG. She referred me to an eye specialist in town at Eye Associates (I have to say I was not impressed with the manner of Dr. Warner there) who also said it looked like OMG. I was in turn referred to a neuro-opthalmologist, Dr. Maitland, who runs a "balance disorders clinic" and also teaches at FSU College of Medicine.

The week I had to wait for that appointment was the worst: ignorance and scary/frustrating symptoms. Maitland and his staff were professional and thorough, basically checking me for rapid muscle fatigue in the eye muscles as well as arms and legs. He confirmed OMG and scheduled me for a CT scan and blood work to be sure. The followup was almost 4 weeks later, though!

At its worst (so far), the double vision made it nearly impossible to drive more than an hour at a time, and reading was also difficult. The double vision causes depth perception problems, which gave me mild vertigo a few times.

Then I started learning several coping mechanisms:

Squinting one eye shut, covering it with one hand, or wearing a piratey eye patch eliminates the double vision. Tilting my head also does so when it's minor. A square of scotch tape over one lens of the glasses eliminates the second image while permitting peripheral vision, which makes it a lot more pleasant walking around. Strong sunlight exacerbated the problem so I was careful to wear shades all the time outdoors. Sometimes just going without glasses altogether was a relief because it minimized the apparent double vision. All of these can make a huge difference in comfort, though some nights I was so happy to get in bed and close my eyes. There's no pain or discomfort besides occasional irritated eyes or stress headaches.

I've had some very minor issues with difficulty swallowing and slurred speech, which are common symptoms. I've heard the phrase "difficulty swallowing" before and it always sounded ominous, but in my case it's just that I may need an extra sip of water to wash things down. I have noticed very slight slurring/lisping (sibilants lose their edge) but no one else has. It gave me a scare last Thursday when I was delivering a workshop and found my articulatory speech mechanism felt like it was gumming up, but I got through fine. Knowing this is a possibility, I'm better prepared.

And actually in the past two to three weeks the symptoms have abated significantly. Driving is not a problem (I drove to Opelika and back three weeks ago with very little discomfort, whereas two weeks prior to that I could only do about an hour -- squinting and tilting my head the whole time -- during a drive to Tampa). The double vision is much less dramatic and happens much less often.

I finally had the followup with Maitland and he said the tests ruled out a tumor on the thymus, a gland under your breastbone that can sometimes be the culprit. That's good news in that I won't need surgery, but it rules out a simple solution. (And of course the CT scan revealed gallstones and a kidney cyst that I'll need to follow up on, but nothing urgent.) He prescribed meds I can take before things like workshops or long drives that should reduce the symptoms -- we'll see how that goes.

I'm cautiously optimistic. He wants me back in 6 months for another scan. Meanwhile I've developed a full repertoire of Popeye jokes, thought the "squinky eye" is much less of an issue than it was. Either my symptoms have at least temporarily eased up or I'm learning better how to cope. Or both. I recorded some videos at work today and got through multiple takes of some long scripts with no probs.

This was pretty scary at first, especially not knowing what was going on. I'm sharing this despite the TMI factor because you may know someone with similar symptoms or might get them one day yourself, and I hope this will reduce the anxiety if that ever happens. The online forums for OMG sufferers are a godsend, by the way.

So, I yam what I yam and that's all for now. Life goes on!


It's ....

And of course:

At the end it was simple enough: a couple of hours on the charger and a 2-second squirt of ether into the carb, et voila.

Yesterday I replaced the bad fuel hose and sure enough, there is a fracture in the rubber about halfway along. (While I was under there I noticed the clutch return spring looks like it may have slipped or something, which might partly explain why the clutch pedal is such a light touch. Another time.)

Then I got to work on the ignition. The tests in Muir's book pointed to the points, which were burnt -- thus no current signal to trigger the coil four times per revolution. I pulled them out and filed them last night.

This morning, I reinstalled and gapped the points, and put about a half gallon of gas in the tank. No immediate leaks, but it still wasn't firing up, and since I'd left the charger off when gas was dripping everywhere, the battery quickly depleted itself.

So I busied myself checking other systems while the charger was doing its thing. Got the tail, license, and city lights (parking lights) working. Confirmed all the turn signal bulbs are working, though not yet blinking. Went to lunch.

Came back home and pulled a fuel line off the fuel pump and cranked over the engine enough to verify there was gas coming to the carb.

OK: fuel, spark, and enough juice to run the starter motor. The ether was just a final boost.

It runs very nicely, that clackety sewing-machine idle of an aircooled Reimspiess engine. I need to check the timing and idle speed. Alas, the generator light is on and the brushes look good, so I may be in for something more serious. But it starts and runs! Woot!


Ooh, that smell.

Last night I picked up a couple of gallons of gas and poured about half of it into the dry gas tank. Fortunately, as it turns out -- for I have done this before -- I didn't just dump it all in there, just in case there was a gas leak. Previous owner's son mentioned a "pinhole leak" in the tank that they had had repaired, so I played it safe.

Sat in the driver's seat and proceeded to crank away to see if I could suck some gas into the carb and get it going. Did this several times with no luck. My neighbor Jim -- no slouch in the gearhead department -- ambles over to watch the fun. I go around back and look for gas. I can smell it, but the see-thru fuel filter is still dry. Hmm.

Jim suggests we try starting fluid, an excellent suggestion. If you aren't familiar with this magical and highly dangerous material, it's basically ether in a spray can. Yes, the medical anesthetic. It has a low ignition temperature and will usually start any motor that has spark. The smell recalls faint memories of childhood hospital visits.

It also recalls my brief stint renting a house in Pennsylvania in the 80s, when my joy at movin' on up to a single house with a driveway was tempered by the realization I'd have to keep it clear of snow in the winter. I managed to find a used snowblower (I think I paid $5 for it) that would only start with ether. Brief silent pause here for memories of dark snowy nights and a Briggs & Stratton shuddering into a dull roar.

So -- back to last night -- Jim volunteers to spray some in the carb throat while I crank it over. I pull off the air cleaner and head around front to crank away some more. Unfortunately, that wasn't the trick. To confirm spark Jim turned the engine over while I grounded a plug wire. Nothing. It was getting late so we let it go for the evening, and I pulled out the trusty Idiot Manual to refresh my memory on ignition system testing.

Fast forward to this evening. I notice a gassy smell when I pull into the driveway where the car is sitting. My first thought is the gas tank, but it's dry underneath the front. But alas, a big wet area in back under the transaxle and I can see it actively dripping there. I raise the left side with the jack so the swing axle scissors underneath it like a prop -- a handy trick with Beetles up through 1967 -- and wriggle underneath. Sure enough, gas is leaking from the short bit of flexible hose between where the steel line exits the frame and the engine. Never seen a leak there before. Steady 1-2 second drip. Double-plus uncool.

Well, I'd already been planning to replace the flexible fuel lines as a matter of course, and even have some fairly recent stock on hand. Not sure what the white foamy stuff is in the gas, though. Will need to check further.

So tonight's adventure ended with me siphoning out what remaining gas I could, putting a catch bowl under the transaxle for any remaining drops, and letting it dry out. Next I'll replace that hose and confirm fuel delivery to the engine before continuing my ignition tests. I'm aiming for having it running before the weekend's over.


Finally got the long-flat battery up to a full charge but the starter wasn't even clicking, so more inquiry was needed.

I like to think that when I'm muttering and occasionally cursing to myself while troubleshooting a system like an old car, I'm actually in diachronic communication with the original engineers and various owners and tinkerers who have kludged the system since it rolled off the assembly line. "Ah!" I'll remark, discovering the beauty in a solution that was initially baffling, "you sly dogs!" Or hunds. Es macht nichts.*

With a one-owner car, there are fewer imagined parties to the conversation, but tonight I was saying WTF? a lot -- across time and space -- to one of the previous owner's mechanics (probably the guy at Furrin Motors) who, at some time in the past, bypassed the ignition/starter switch with a big push-button switch, like a giant's doorbell, mounted under the dash to the left of the steering column. Old-school kludge for increasing starter solenoid pull-in juice, though it's more like a Dog Island hack than something people with access to spare parts or Ford solenoids would do. So WTF, previous mechanic?

At any rate, this explains why turning the key was not actuating the starter: it isn't connected to it. Sho nuff, it cranks away just fine now when the proper button is mashed. OK, got it. Bonus: helps prevent theft if I ever leave the keys in it.

So it cranks over merrily but still wouldn't fire up. See-thru fuel filter was still bone dry after cranking for nearly a minute. Line blocked? Bad fuel pump?

Nope. Empty gas tank. The mechanical fuel gauge is a baldfaced liar.

Reducing the information in this system, one byte at a time....

*Edit: I now realize I went into this whole thing far more eloquently in a post from almost two years ago, with a different Beetle.


Sleuthing out what's needed to get the 65 Beetle running - charging the battery, turning the engine over by hand to check compression, verifying the ignition primary, wondering why the turn signals don't flash... Chasing down gremlins on an old VW is one of my favorite meditations. 6V electrics are extremely simple, but very unforgiving when it comes to corrosion. My nostrils are redolent of horsehair padding and old motor oil. I have dirty fingernails.


40 horses. 6 volts. One owner -- until today.

Oops, I did it again.
Seat covers are not original but much of the rest of the interior is. Currently not running, but we'll fix that, my little pretty.

You can't tell from the pic, but that's a Kennebrew license plate frame. Lower edge of the decklid is mangled and doesn't clear the bumper without some origami action, but it's typical and minor.
This is a Maaco paint job that looks pretty good for the price. Windshield gasket has rotted and there's rust in the corners -- nothing I haven't handled before.

A little backstory on the 1965 Beetle that I brought home today (with the able assistance of brother Paul): When I was a kid, we had a 62 VW, and my first car was a 65 sedan that looked a lot like this one (more beige). When Nancy and I moved to this neighborhood in the 90s, I learned pretty quickly that the house on the corner was still owned by the parents of a third-grade classmate. In fact, I recall a sleepover there circa 1965, the year Mr. Myers bought this car. It has the original window sticker. In the 90s and 00s I loved seeing Mr. and Mrs. Myers heading off on errands in it -- that distinctive fweem that all VW nuts can hear two blocks away -- and I'm sure I said more than once, "If you ever contemplate selling it...." I was flattered that the family remembered when time came to pass it along.

It's not a cherry showcar or a total time capsule, though it looks pretty sharp for a 50+ year old. Part of the beauty of this car is that, up until just a few years ago, it was just someone's wheels; a well-made appliance that held up and accumulated affection as it received regular use. Other than making the necessary repairs, I'm planning to leave it as untouched as possible, dings and patina and warts and all. And drive it.

Now I just have to find someplace to hide it from Nancy.