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Field of Dumps

Floyd Hull Stadium, part of a 9.2-acre park in southern Fort Lauderdale, has a special place in Tailpipe's battered heart. Fifty years ago, volunteers and players from the nonprofit Federal Little League raised enough money through cupcake sales to build the professional-looking baseball stadium that includes grandstands, an announcer's booth, eight surrounding buildings, and three practice fields.

"When I was a kid, I dreamed of playing at Floyd Hull Stadium," says Paul Guerrero, current president of the league. "It's like playing at a professional stadium."

The Federal Little League and the City of Fort Lauderdale have a unique partnership. In a contractual agreement that extends through 2025, the city got the complex as a city park in return for leasing those pristine baseball diamonds back to the league during the baseball season.

But apparently no one told City Manager George Gretsas, a recent New York transplant, about the arrangement. Gretsas' troops kicked the kids off the ball field two days after Hurricane Wilma bashed South Florida, then ordered city dump trucks to fill the Field of Dreams with 30-foot-high mounds of smashed ficus and banyan trees.

"They destroyed my fields," Guerrero says with barely concealed anguish.

"They knew about this storm at least seven days in advance," adds Cliff Iacino, president of the Edgewood Civic Association. "Why would the city choose to destroy its parks for emergency management? You do that as an absolutely last resort."

David Hebert, a spokesman for the city, responds like a bear whose hibernation snooze has been interrupted. "I certainly appreciate that little league to individuals is an important part to their children's life and their development," Hebert says. "But I am sure you can find a lot of people in this city who wish this emergency didn't impact their lives in the manner it did."

Hebert says Federal Little League may be misinterpreting the contract. The league has priority over other organizations, he suggests, but not over the city. "This was an emergency situation. You have to consider that fuel wasn't being pumped. We had to remove the debris and remove it to a place where [dump trucks] burn as little fuel as possible."

League officials say it will cost at least $50,000 to restore the field to playable condition before the new baseball season starts early next year. Repairs could take months, Iacino says, and Fort Lauderdale residents will foot the bill.

"It's just sheer waste," Iacino says.

Hold on a smoke-belching minute, Hebert responds. "As expensive as baseball fields might be, given the fact that we were looking at emergency life support systems, emergency access to deal with the criminal element, emergency access to fires and damaged property, and downed electrical lines, I can't say honestly we considered how much it would cost to make repairs to the fields."

Sound fiscal management doesn't come easy in normal circumstances. Why should Fort La-De-Da, which teeters on the verge of bankruptcy, do any better during an emergency?

Hold the Mayo

From Michael Mayo's November 8 column in the Sun-Sentinel:

We should also hit FPL where it hurts, in the pocketbook.

I'm not suggesting we skip our entire bills. But maybe it's time to boycott the most ridiculous part, a hurricane surcharge approved by the PSC after last year's storm season...

And if you want to send a symbolic message to FPL, deduct a buck from your next bill to protest the hurricane surcharge. That's what I'm going to do. I'm also going to write a message on the bill, saying "Sorry, you don't deserve it."

If we all do it, you think they'll turn the lights out?

More power to us.

From the Sun-Sentinel's unsigned editorial on November 17:

Clearly, the utility's grid is exposed to storms, and regulators and lawmakers must investigate to see whether more can be done — or hasn't been done — to prevent widespread and extended outages.

But mounting a don't-pay-your-bills rebellion distracts from the real issue of creating a more resilient grid. Local officials should air their grievances in the most effective arenas, the Legislature and the Public Service Commission.

BOTTOM LINE: Saber-rattling on bills won't improve FPL's grid.

In other words, Old Dog to Young Pup: "Chill out!"

Not Makin' Whoopee

While Tailpipe is happily married now, he's got plenty of sad tales about long, loveless nights. Ah, the heartbreak. But even the Ol' 'Pipe Guy can't match Zenobia, a 650-pound African lion who lives at the Destiny Big Cat Sanctuary in Southwest Ranches, for the intensity of his deprivation in those wee small hours of the mornin'.

According to Victoria Canzonetta, who founded and runs the Broward sanctuary, the drive to reproduce is so strong in male lions that not having sex actually makes them sick. The hormones that fuel the sexual urge actually turn against the male lion's body, leaving him in an extremely agitated state, which leads to health problems such as heart attacks, strokes, even cancer.

Though the sanctuary has three beautiful tigers and, until recently, a lemur, it has, sadly for Zenobia, no lionesses. As a result, the would-be king of the jungle is a shadow of the studly predator he should be. In the past year, he has suffered blood in his stool, weight loss, vomiting, ulcers, and a nasty case of irritable bowel syndrome.

Before Hurricane Wilma hit, Canzonetta was soliciting donations to bring a lady lion to the sanctuary so that Zenobia could get the sexual healing that the doctor ordered. Unfortunately, the six-acre site was rocked by the storm, destroying much of the infrastructure and ruining the immaculately manicured exotic plants and trees. The waterfall that the giant cats used to lounge under has been buried, as well as a large part of the once-sparkling horseshoe-shaped lagoon.

"We're in strict survival mode now," says Canzonetta, a stunning brunet who provides for the sanctuary's half-a-million-dollar yearly budget by, among other things, posing for the covers of romance novels with the likes of Fabio.

For the moment, she says, it just wouldn't be practical to bring another big cat to the sanctuary until it's up and running again. Of course, if you've got a female lion in heat somewhere, Canzonetta is interested. But she can't put your she-cat up. Maybe you've also got a lion-proof motel room where Zenobia can share a bottle of bubbly by candlelight and a few hours of uninhibited play? Or, barring the traditional Fabio setting, how about a custom-designed marital aid from the Hustler lion outlet?

In the meantime, Zenobia waits, hopelessly horny and restless.

As the sun sets on a recent afternoon, Canzonetta's cats become restive. They're nocturnal creatures; when the sun goes down, they prepare for the hunt.

Canzonetta, who lives at the sanctuary, stands on her deck, watching the shadows of ruined palm trees lengthen against the muddy stillness of the now-stagnant lagoon.

"He can hear us," she says, looking out toward the paddock where Zenobia paces restlessly.

Just then, the lion lets out a deep growl — not a roar but a guttural call that cuts the relaxed, late-afternoon haze with animal desire.

Canzonetta puts her hands on her slender hips and responds to his call with a higher-pitched but no-less-emotive rejoinder.

The 'Pipe slinks back into the gathering darkness, unobserved by these two kindred spirits, lost in conversation.

Gag the Troops

Most of us will gobble up our Thanksgiving bird this week, but the nation's 26 million veterans got their turkey shortly before Veterans Day. Serving up the foul fowl was Steve Buyer, an Indiana Republican who chairs the U.S. House and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. Buyer, handpicked as chairman by indicted former House leader Tom DeLay, announced just days before the holiday honoring veterans that they won't be allowed to testify in front of the committee during the budget process this winter.

"What he's doing is taking away an opportunity for the elected leadership of the veterans groups to address a joint session of Congress," says David Autry, a spokesman for the Disabled American Veterans organization, which represents 1.3 million members.

Why the freeze-out? Autry says that Capitol Hill staffers don't like having a gallery of scowling vets in the audience while they're carving up the budget. "It didn't make the chairman look particularly in a favorable light when the Democrats were beating up on him and our folks picked up on it and booed."

Tom Corey, a Palm Beach Gardens veteran who until August was national president of the Vietnam Veterans of America group, testified before Buyer earlier this year.

"I went after him, and he wasn't very happy with it," Corey recalls. "He didn't want any input at all from the veterans service organizations. He almost said he's not going to deal with us because we're a pain in the ass. Hey, wait a minute: That's our hospital, buddy!"

More than a million vets live in Florida; more than a half million of them receive health care, disability benefits, or pension payments through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Congress is now looking for ways to cut spending, and the VA is a prime target. The West Palm Beach VA Medical Center is looking at roughly $15 million in cuts, Corey says.

"We're not going to roll over and play dead and let them do whatever they want to and continue to say that there's not enough money," Corey declares. "There should be a commitment from our government to take care of the people who served."

— As told to Edmund Newton

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