Dexter’s remains a local favorite, and for very good reasons.

ORLANDO – Do you know what a Dirty Dexter is?

If you’re thinking of the creepy guy who drinks too much at this wine bar and then hits on far too many unsuspecting women, not quite. I’m not saying that’s never happened, although my own experience is that the crowd at Dexter’s is a lot like the staff: relaxed, friendly, just having a good time.

No, the Dirty Dexter is three ounces of chilled Ketel One vodka mixed with olive juice and served with cheese-stuffed olives, available for thirsty patrons for $10 each. It might, I think, make a nice companion piece to the Screwy Grapetine, which for $8 gives you grape vodka with Florida orange juice.  If you’re not perfectly happy after these two, you might want to check your pulse on the way out the door.

Great locations can help just about any wine bar, but if you happened to open your doors in Thornton Park, you’ve got a superb head start over the competition. One of Orlando’s truly great “Hey, come on out and walk and window shop” neighborhoods, Thornton Park is always going to seem inviting the minute your car begins searching for the sometimes elusive parking spots (it is a popular location, after all.)

But Dexter’s is one of the great additions to this sublime neighborhood. It’s got the wine bar, it’s got a funky menu, it’s got artwork for sale on the walls. The music is upbeat oldies, the mood is always festive. How do you get in and out the door feeling depressed when Dexter’s seems guaranteed to life your spirits?

And have you ever gone there on New Year’s Eve? Hey, start popping the champagne the second you walk in.

Located at 808 E. Washington St., Dexter’s has a cozy outside seating area, but if you opt to go inside, you’re likely to be impressed by the massive U-shaped bar that has enough chairs lined around itto accommodate the neighborhood football team, and more than enough liquor inside the bar to satisfy both the players and their fans.

Private tables are lined all around the bar, with two spacious booths in the back of the room. There are television screens in the middle of the bar, although the radio mostly drowns them out with a parade of 60s and 70s oldies. Along the wall are paintings or photographs for sale – right now, the fine talent of photographer Mike Bass is available to view and own in nicely framed works like “Café Havana” (available for $100.)

Try one of Dexter's fine salads for a healthy fit lunch meal.

Now, if you’re there to drink, keep some things in mind. Dexter’s has a generous Happy Hour on a daily basis – Mondays from 3 p.m. until closing, and Tuesdays through Fridays from 3-7 p.m.

Thursday is Ladies Night – that means $2 off everything for the ladies from 7 p.m. until the bar closes.

In addition, you’ve got Saturday and Sunday Brunch that tempt you with $2.95 Mimosas and $4.50 Bloody Marys. If you need a reason to relax and celebrate the sheer joy of life, Dexter’s has your ticket. 

Dexter's is a great place to relax and unwind over a good drink -- like The Dirty Dexter.

It’s not just a place for a fine glass of wine or, if you’re the designated driver, one of Dexter’s Raspberry Tea, Luzianne Fresh Brew (unlimited refills for just $1.50), or San Pellegrino waters. There’s the meals that have made Dexter’s a favorite lunch spot for years.

Did you know Tuesdays are $1 Burger Nite at Dexter’s?  Nice, although when I sampled their Bangers and Mash plate recently, I was more than happy to pay the higher price of $9 for this excellent dish made up of two pieces of sausage dipped in mashed potatoes and gravy – a tasty import from our friends in Britain, very well cooked by the Dexter’s staff.  (Is it any coincidence that I was listening to the Moody Blues when the waiter served my plate? Long live the British.) You have plenty of other fine meals to pick from – sandwiches, soups, salads, pasta dishes, even Dexter’s Famous Grilled Colby Cheeseburger, which offers you an eight ounce fresh ground burger topped with melted Colby cheese on a grilled Kaiser roll, and even a good helping of Idaho fries tossed into the mix. At $8.95, that’s a bargain.

Whenever I go to Dexter’s for lunch, I make it a habit to get there by 11:30 a.m., before the lunch crowd starts moving in. By the time I leave, the place is usually packed.

My fellow lunch patrons have excellent taste. Dexter’s is a favorite spot in a popular neighborhood for a good reason: they do what they do so very, very well.

Dexter’s also has wine bars in Winter Park at 558 W. New England Ave. and in Lake Mary at 950 Market Promenade Ave., Suite 1201. To learn more, call 407-648-2777 or log on to www.dexwine.com.

The American Humanist Association is working on improving its public image, its president says.

Dave Niose, president of the American Humanist Association, visited the Orlando area last weekend to meet with local freethinkers.

ALTAMONTE SPRINGS – For Dave Niose, becoming a Humanist wasn’t a decision he slowly gravitated to.  Just as some people are born and raised into the Catholic, Protestant or Jewish faith, so Niose always felt like he was a follower of the Humanist philosophy.

“It’s just a natural progression for me,” he said. “I don’t want to say anything brought me to it – it simply is what it is.”

It’s a philosophy, he said, that’s firmly grounded in reality.

“The Humanist philosophy is a naturalist philosophy, and it doesn’t recognize the supernatural,” Niose said. “That’s something that a lot of religious folks have a difficult time with. You ask them if they accept any supernatural notions, and you find that they do. For example, the notion of a personal God, miracles, things like that. You could go on to fairies and unicorns and astrology.”

Niose is the president of the American Humanist Association. He first joined the board in 2005, and helped develop the AHA’s media campaign – the first major national advertising campaign by a humanist or atheist group in the United States.

Since then, Niose has spoken to humanist and freethinking groups around the country to emphasize the importance of using the mass media to inject Humanist ideas into the public dialogue, and to improve the public image of the Humanist philosophy.

It’s a viewpoint, he said, that remains grounded in morality and ethics.

“We want people to lead ethical lives,” Niose said.

But it’s an image, he said, that can run counter to what far too many people think of Humanists – that they’re simply hostile to anything having to do with religion. Niose is well aware of the fact that the term “Godless secular humanist” remains a negative term in the political arena, directed at those who are allegedly opposed to traditional American values.

“If secularists weren’t so marginalized, I wouldn’t feel a need to be involved in Humanism,” he said.

Niose was in the Orlando area last weekend to meet with members of the Orlando FreeThinkers and Humanists, a group that meets once a month for presentations and social events.

Over coffee at a shop in Altamonte Springs, Niose said Humanism is a positive philosophy that involves a naturalistic life-stance and affirmative, progressive values.  Atheism, on the other hand, is merely a view on the singular issue of the existence of a God or gods.  “Some atheists still believe in certain supernatural notions, such as astrology, ghosts, or the power of pyramids,” he said.  “These folks wouldn’t really be Humanists, because Humanism doesn’t accept supernaturalism in any form.”

“People think if you’re a Humanist you must be an atheist, and if you’re an atheist you must be a Humanist,” he said . “Humanism is not doctrinaire.”

Orlando Jack, who heads the Orlando FreeThinkers and Humanists, said this is a movement that simply wants people to be free to live as they choose, without the pressures of social conformity that some believe organized religion imposes.

Orlando Jack is the founder of the Orlando FreeThinkers and Humanists.

“There are a lot of intelligent believers,” Orlando Jack said. “But it’s not wanting to get out of their comfort zone. At birth, you are indoctrinated to a point, because your parents have a faith. Most parents try to lead their children toward good, but hopefully kids have a chance to decide for themselves when they go through the age of reason.”

If they opt to give up religion, fine, Orlando Jack said. If they choose to stay with organized religion, that’s fine, too.

“We don’t proselytize,” he said. “We have a lot of recovering Catholics. A lot of them say ‘I became a freethinker or atheist after I read the Bible.’  This is just an option for people.”

Niose said he hopes to get Humanists to be more assertive about defending their beliefs at a time when the notion of being a non-believer is often used as a political weapon, a sign of someone being hostile to people of faith and to their values.  It’s a false notion, he said.

“Morality and religion are so often associated with religion and culture,” he said. “Morality and values do not correlate to religiosity. There’s a lot of studies showing secular societies are more moral than religious societies. You’ll see the social ills are much greater on the American side than in Western Europe or the Scandinavian countries. This is a philosphy and a life stance. There are some people who consider Humanism a religion, and we have no problem with that.”

Humanists say their philosophy is one based on ethics and morality, not religion.

But it’s also a movement that, until 2005, didn’t seem interested in delving into the political arena. Niose said when he first got involved in Humanist, “I would describe the atmosphere as being like a club. In recent years, that has changed to more of a movement mentality. Within the last decade, there’s a feeling that organized Humanism had to stand up for itself and grow and change and not simply be a social club.”

But it’s a movement, he said, that isn’t trying to banish religion if that’s what people want.

“We’re not trying to convert people to nonbelievers,” he said. “It’s very analogous to the gay rights movement. We’re just trying to get people to stand up and be counted.”

Niose expects the American Humanist Association to keep growing, now that the Internet and social networking sites enable them to reach out to more people than ever before.

“One thing that really helps the whole concept of Humanism is social networking,” he said. “There’s an awful lot of young people who are atheists. But unlike previous generations where there was no opportunity to identify yourself as atheist or agnostic, this is really something that I think will take hold on a permanent basis.’

Freelining with Mike Freeman: Alone and abandoned

Editor Michael Freeman works at his home computer while Squeaky looks on, offering to help.

One recent morning, well before sunrise, my cat Squeaky woke me up. The back door leading out on to my lanai is right next to the window near my bed, and I could hear Squeaky fiddling with the cat latch at the bottom of the door. Sometimes it takes her a few times before she pushes the latch open and climbs through, happy to be back in the warm house. Usually she then jumps on my bed, climbs on top of my chest, and starts purring.

And as she did that, I felt absolutely enraged.

Now, I wasn’t angry at Squeaky for waking me – falling back asleep isn’t a problem – or for jumping on the bed. I like that. In fact, I love Squeaky because she’s one of those cats that absolutely craves affection, and I’m always happy to have another opportunity to pet her and provide her with that loving, even if it does come about just as I’m trying to get some sleep after a long, exhausting day.

No, what bothered me is that for a moment, I had this vision in my head of Squeaky being alone in the house, and there is no cat latch to let her go outside. Instead, she’s simply stuck in there.

Considering that on this particular night temperatures dropped down into the 30s, you might ask, What’s the big deal? What was haunting me at that moment, as Squeaky purred wildly to be sitting on me, is I couldn’t help but think about a press release I’d received the previous day from Niki Whisler, who is Osceola County’s Public Safety public information officer. It caught my attention; it also happened to infuriate me. It involved Osceola County Animal Control’s investigation of the death of an abandoned cat.

According to the news release, it started on Dec. 1, when Animal Control got a call about a cat inside a vacant home in Poinciana. An Animal Control Officer was sent to the house, and was able to see through the windows that the poor cat was roaming around alone in the house.

The officer made several attempts to determine if the cat’s owner was inside the home, unsuccessfully, so the officer left the property and began the process of getting a search warrant to legally enter the residence.      

That search warrant was issued, but it took several days for the officer to track down the owner of the property and then to get the property manager to let the officer into the home. When the animal control officer finally got inside, the cat was dead.

At the same time, the officer noticed there was still food and water in the cat’s bowls and that its litter box was full, indicating that the cat had been eating.

The cat was transported to a local animal lab to have a necropsy performed, and the examiner determined the nine-year-old cat had died from kidney failure and feline hepatitis, not starvation.

There are a lot of reasons to be angry about this report. Osceola County’s budget has been decimated by the collapse in the housing market and the resulting drop in home values and property tax receipts, and the county could hardly afford to pay for valuable resources to be spent like this when the owner of the home could simply have made arrangements for the pet to be taken care of.

A counter argument could be that if the cat still had food in its dish, it probably hadn’t been abandoned. But if that’s the case, why was the home vacant? And how long had the cat been lying there dead before the officer found it? Possibly up to three days, it seems. Perhaps the cat’s life could have been prolonged, even for a little while, if the officer had gotten into the house on the first day, when it was still alive.

When Squeaky came into my life, she was a stray that wandered onto my back porch and discovered the food I’d left outside for my own cats. Feeling bad for this hungry-looking stray, I gave her some canned cat food, then hoped she would disappear by morning, because boy was she cute, and I’m a total sucker for cats like that.

Squeaky rarely loses interest in getting affection.

When I went to bed that first night, Squeaky was still outside on my back porch, watching me through the window.

When I got up the following morning, I went to the back door, opened it, and … there she was, still lying there. As soon as she saw me, she sat up and cried.

So I picked this cat up in my arms, and I cradled her, and I began gently scratching her belly. Sometimes a stray will get scared when touched by a stranger and run. But this one didn’t. Instead, Squeaky began purring wildly, then curled up in my arms like a baby.

That was it. I was hopelessly in love with this cat. With her soft, squeaking cry for affection, I decided to call her Squeaky.

She had also been fixed, so it was clear Squeaky had belonged to someone else at some point. That was five years ago, and no one has ever tried to claim her, so I can only come to the inescapable conclusion that Squeaky had been abandoned by someone.  At least they didn’t lock her alone in the house and drive off. 

Does someone truly love me, Squeaky loves to ask.

I’ve heard a lot of stories like this, of people who pack up and move, and simply toss their cats aside, leaving them behind. Those cats are left to fend for themselves, hoping they find a Mike Freeman willing to put food out for them. Since I can’t adopt every stray I see, Squeaky become one of the lucky ones that got taken in permanently.

And as she sat there on top of me that frigid morning, trying to get warm and looking, as usual, for a little affection, I couldn’t help have that ugly flash in my mind of what she would have done if Squeaky had found herself alone in this house, unable to get out, totally abandoned.

Why do we do such a cruel thing?

Contact Mike Freeman at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

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