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Here & Now

Not to brag, but i was among the first people on the planet selected to read Andy Andrews’ new blockbuster novel, The Noticer. Somebody in publishing land apparently mistook me for a book reviewer. That’s right—Oprah, The New York Times and me. Anyway, by now everybody knows the story: A down-and-out Andy, homeless on the beach, meets an unlikely divine being, a grizzled old guy who calls himself Jones. Every time Andy gets stuck, Jones materializes and, with humorous wisdom, shows him another perspective.

I like this example: Andy is hungry and Jones promises a “feast,” which turns out to be disappointing—canned sardines and Vienna sausages. They sit under the pier to eat.

“What are you eating?” Jones asks. “And where are you eating it?” Andy answers, “You know what I’m eating—same as you … sardines and Vienna sausages. In the sand.” After lunch, Jones says, “Incidentally … you ate sardines and Vienna sausages in the sand. I dined on surf and turf with an ocean view. It’s all about perspective.”

The writing of this book definitely won’t challenge Hemingway. It’s not even a new concept. (Remember George Burns in the movie Oh, God!?) But it’s sweet and surprisingly insightful. Now there’s a worldwide movement called The Noticer Project. The point is to notice people who have made a difference to you and to let them know. Eventually, in theory, we’ll all get “noticed” for our value in someone’s life, even if it’s just a tiny thing. Which brings me to Dr. Welby.


Dr. Welby

I know, marcus welby, m.d., was a fictional TV character. But in my eyes, he’s practicing radiology right here in Naples. I saw him just once, two years ago, but he made an indelible impression. 

It’s not because kindly, white-haired radiologist Adam Fueredi, M.D., looks like Dr. Welby (he does), or because he exudes doctorly concern and looks right into your eyes as he listens to you (he does that, too). Or even because he’s so wise.

It’s because he appears to think you’re his only patient. If he has a watch, he doesn’t glance at it in your presence. Dr. Fueredi didn’t save my life, or even make me well; he simply interpreted a healthy mammogram … but I didn’t know it was healthy when I made the appointment. I noticed from his questions and comments that he had studied my chart as well as his images. As he ushered me into his office, he smiled. “First of all,” he said, “You’re fine. Now, please sit down and let’s talk.”

I never told him I noticed all this. How fitting that in this issue dedicated to wonderful doctors, I have this opportunity to say, “Thank you, Dr. Welby—I mean Fueredi—for making a difference in one person’s day.”


Telling Secrets

Now that i’m on a Noticing track, I also notice that suddenly it’s June. Most art and cultural schedules are finished until next season. It’s a bit warmer—OK, it can get downright hot. But here’s another perspective: Restaurants and hotels are pulling out all the stops to please us locals and summer visitors.

I’m also glad it’s June because the local insiders’ secrets I’ve carried around all winter were giving me a headache. But The Ancient Columnist’s Sacred Book of Rules Regarding the Divulging of Secrets (which, being an ancient columnist, I actually wrote just this morning) clearly states that, after the June full moon, all bets are off, especially for Food-Related Secrets and Weird-Island-People Secrets.

If you’re reading this before the full moon (June 7), please stop here. Otherwise, read on!


Champagne and Oysters; Shrimp and Beer

I was introduced to a quirky dockside restaurant on Bonita Beach Road by a nice, trusting couple on the condition that I wouldn’t blab about it. I didn’t, either, for a whole year. But now I’m legal because of the full moon thing. So I have three words for you: The Fish House. Think Bonita Springs, circa 1970s: raging Key West pastels at the front and funky Old Florida wooden dock at the back. Think melt-in-the-mouth grouper sandwiches; fresh, local, peel ’n’ eat shrimp; and tangy, smoky fish dip. You can boat in or drive in, settle around a rustic picnic table on the screened porch or out on the dock, with front row views of the fish jumping in Bonita’s back bay. Inside tip: Every afternoon, from 3 to 6 p.m., there’s two-for-one beer on draft.

Kicking it up a few notches, elegant Baleen at LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort is serving $5 champagne and 75-cent oysters every Monday from 5–7 p.m. On Wednesdays, it’s $3 domestic beer ($4 imported) and $2 sliders (chic little two-bite hamburgers). And from 7–8 p.m. nightly, you can sip $5 margaritas or mojitos as you watch the sun sink into the Gulf. That doesn’t happen in Season!


Whoopee Island?

Been boating around Sanibel and Captiva Islands lately, or down south of Marco? Here’s a test of your Noticing skills. There are 17 mysterious, uninhabited barrier islands scattered north of Sanibel and Captiva, in the 548-acre Pine Island National Wildlife Reserve. And 10,000 of them, more or less, to the south, beginning with the biggest, Marco Island.

Pirate Jose Gaspar’s illicit booty, the crown jewels of Spain, is said to languish beneath the surface of the shallow sand flats, or twisted among the mangrove roots of these uninhabited islands. 

I said uninhabited, but not unused. Who knew that, tucked deep inside, hidden from the pleasure boaters’ eyes, some prolific hemp plantations have thrived? Near Hemp Island is pristine Whoopee Island, which—according to an actual legal document, I swear—is “so named because of the use made of it.”

The closest inhabited island is Useppa, home of the grand, century-old Collier Inn and keeper of quite a few mysteries of its own. It’s a romantic place to overnight and dine while exploring the islands. Check it out at www.useppa.com.


Weird Island People

At the northern tip of the Everglades just below Marco, an—how should I say this?—unorthodox swamp cowboy named Dave Shealy has been chasing the Skunk Ape, a stinky, hairy Bigfoot creature, for about 25 years now. He keeps meticulous records of his “sightings” at his Skunk Ape Research Headquarters and Trail Lakes Campground in Ochopee. Dave also claims insights into more than just a big hairy ape. On his Web site, www.skunkape.info, he’s quoted thus: “I don’t want to get into any big conspiracy theories, but there’s a lot going on down here.”


Savoring Summer

For the scoop on our quirky islands and their characters, grab a handful of Randy Wayne White’s novels for your summer reading. Meanwhile, join me in savoring this wonderful month of June—heat, $5 champagne and all. As Jones says, sometimes all you need is a little perspective.

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