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Trouble in Cedar Key: Naked in the Streets

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By Gene Benedict

Naked in the streets. How long has it been since you've read those words? Let me guess. Sometime seven or eight years ago I bet, in the Cedar Key Beacon. Those words marked the heading of a long-running weekly column written by Van Proctor. The heading featured a picture of Van wearing a broad-rimmed straw hat, a hat few have ever seen, at least not in public. Van was a standard of sorts. He wrote whatever he wanted and he got away with it.

Van retired, I think in 2001, never to write again. He now lives near his daughter Lisa in Lake Wales. Several of us who knew him fairly well when he lived in Cedar Key thought we'd bring to you the word that he may be here for a few days and the fact that his birthday is on May 31. I was asked how old he'd be on his birthday. No one seems to know. So how old is he? Let's just say he's old...

I'd often find myself wanting to offer Van my help, even when he didn't want help. He'd tell you so. "No, I don't want your help." And he meant it. But you'd never get offended at the way he said no, and you'd keep right on offering. Last time I asked him what he really wanted to eat, he said he'd let me know. About a month later he said, "You know, I'd really like a cherry pie." That was a couple years ago. You know, I might make him one for his birthday, but then again I might not. Maybe I'll just ask him again.

He lived in the apartment over Salty's Plaza, now part of the grounds for the Methodist Church. He watched over the Laundromat and, for a while, the car wash below. One night while he was sleeping upstairs, the offices and the Laundromat were burgled. He didn't hear a thing. And again one night, a car drove through the Laundromat's sliding glass door. I think he slept through that too.

The overhead roof tended to leak when it rained, so he'd move around on his bed to the drier places, then finally to the chair near the window. The water found him there too. I think that's when he moved to Wick's trailer on Kiss Me Quick. It was kind of lonely out there and it was a long walk to town.

The state banned smoking in public places, especially those serving food. Van was never an angry non-smoker. Quite the opposite. He was an angry smoker, angry at the state, angry at non-smokers, and angry at smokers who caved in. He discovered that he could smoke undisturbed on the deck at Cook's and that's where you'd find him. Up till then he was always at Annie's.

His son Mike, in and out of Cedar Key from time to time, had a Christmas tree lot near Wal-Mart in Chiefland and he set Van up selling trees. By then Van had quit driving so he got rides from Cedar Key to Chiefland and back. The Christmas trees were weird, no one was buying them, and it was a cold December that year. I understand that one couple bought a tree from him and took it home. A couple days later it turned brown and they were afraid to trim it as it might have caught fire. But at least someone bought one of those trees. Not many did.

When you get a chance, ask Nysie about the Halloween masquerade party at the L&M. Tall, gangly, skinny, long-legged, long-armed Van, clean shaven for the first time in years, went with them, looking lovely in his long, blond wig.

For a while, Van lived on the westernmost inhabited part of Cedar Key. He relied on others to take him to town. Nysie to the rescue. Then later, Mike and Lisa got him a golf cart, allowing him greater mobility.

Van was an Arthur Murray dance instructor, served in the Navy and the Air Force, operated heavy equipment, married, I think, five times, and wrote for the Beacon. His articles on politics and satire got him so worked up that he'd often end his column in mid-sentence. But the next week you'd always see him "Naked in the Streets."

To send Van a card, or to wish him a happy birthday, call Nysie at 352-543-9935. She'll know where he is.

Till next time, let's join together in wishing Van a happy birthday.