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Grand Central

Less is more, you know?

By PATTY RYAN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 20, 2002

INDICATIONS that you've gone overboard on Christmas decorations:

You borrow the neighbor's newborn for a manger scene.

Jets lower their landing gear at the sight of your driveway.

Your inflatable snowman's last gig was the Macy's parade.

It's not too late to ask for help. Yes, Beach Park, we mean you.

* * *

THE HARMONICA MAN needs a home.

Early J. McMullen, 81, who rents a Davis Islands apartment, says he's getting too old to live alone. Besides, he could use a fresh audience.

McMullen, subject of a Times story in June, buys $4 harmonicas and gives them to strangers (700 and counting) along with a free music lesson. It's his contribution toward world harmony.

* * *

THE GIFTED musician has performed at the White House and at the Governor's Mansion in Tallahassee.

He's also a widower.

The prospect of entering a retirement home leaves him singing the blues. "If I had to go into one of those big places, I don't think I'd last long," he says.

His ideal landlord: a retired nurse with an extra room who wouldn't mind keeping an eye on him in exchange for rent, plus of course, all the harmonica lessons she wanted.

He's healthy, he says, except for occasional breathing problems, which he medicates with a nebulizer.

He figures he could help out around the house.

"I wouldn't be sitting around like a knot on a log," he says.

* * *

HIS FRIEND and "adopted granddaughter" Kim Tarpley, a real estate agent for Geary & Associates in South Tampa, vouches for his honesty and volunteers to screen prospective landlords.

"He's a good guy," says Tarpley, 35. "He's a very giving person. I just wish he could find someplace and be happy there."

* * *

MY ONLY experience in these matters: I once lived downstairs from a flute player for the Florida Orchestra.

At times, she practiced with the windows open, providing a pleasant soundtrack to the most mundane of my chores.

I felt like a character in a Disney cartoon, surrounded by singing birds.

If you're interested in putting up McMullen, let me know and I'll pass it along.

* * *

SUNDAY, I joined friends and their kids for pancakes at Perkins.

En route, the (ordinarily angelic) preschooler threw a tantrum. Her father's secret weapon: the threat that Rapunzel Barbie would disappear if she didn't straighten up.

I marvel at the power of Rapunzel Barbie and wonder if she is an alternative to a U.S. missile defense system.

* * *

OUT-OF-GAS man Randy Shearer was spotted on fresh turf this week: Old Hyde Park Village. Has the guy with the eternally empty antifreeze jug gone upscale or has Hyde Park gone downscale? Will Santa bring out-of-gas man an Amoco station for Christmas? A Rapunzel Barbie? Stay tuned.

-- Tampa's Kennedy Boulevard was once called Grand Central. Now Grand Central is a weekly City Times column. Writer Patty Ryan can be reached at 226-3382 or .

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