This morning we’re in St. Simon’s, because I’m writing about the War of Jenkin’s Ear for my monthly “Road Trip” in Creative Loafing Tampa and apparently there’s a world outside Florida (who knew?) and, well, something to do with protecting Florida from the Brits. Or protecting the rest of the country from Florida. I’m a little foggy on the details and also, I’ve recently switched to decaf. I’ll have it all worked out by the time the article runs.
I do love the South. Florida, as many Floridians know, is not the South. Oh, it’s south — with a lower case “s” — but not South, as in Deep South. There’s a story there, but it’s not for here, at least not right now. Point is, the South does things different than Florida. Every time we come up here I notice something new. I’ve started compiling a list; feel free to add your own.
- Coon hounds. Or any hounds, really. While we tend to have every sort of dog down in Florida — with an emphasis, oddly, on boxy-headed dogs and dachshunds, go figure — the preferred dog of the South has “hound” in its name. Now, I know what you’re going to say, dachshund is a hound and yes, you’re correct, but people in Florida own dachshunds for their affable cuteness, while up here, it’s because they hunt rabbits or other small prey. This is the one place we can go where Banyan gets more attention than Calypso.
- Dog beaches. The coastal south — at least, the parts I’ve seen, meaning the Golden Isles of Georgia and Hilton Head — allow dogs on the beach. The rules vary (for example, in St. Simon’s, you can’t let your dog on the beach between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. between Memorial Day and Labor Day) but result remains the same: people with dogs come here. Also, despite what I’ve heard as an argument against this in Florida, no, the dogs aren’t littered with poop bags and dog waste.
- Harris Teeter. I’m supposed to be a Publix fan; I grew up in Florida and I worked at Publix twice, once in high school and again in college (true story: Florida teenagers by law must work at a Publix). Doesn’t matter. Harris Teeter beats them, hands-down for customer service, value and Starbucks inside the store.
- Low country. I’ve yet to figure out the difference between most of Florida and the low country, but I suspect it’s marketing. Low country sounds better than swamp. It is, also, what it sounds like: the low part of the country. But it’s more than geography; it’s food and a state of mind.
The food was my focus this morning; I had to decide between a low country omelet (andouille, shrimp, potatoes, corn and cheddar, with a side of potatoes) and low country eggs (the same, sans corn and cheddar).
I went with the omelet. The only reason to go with the eggs was to avoid the cheese, and really, when you’re in the South, health food isn’t really a thing. I mean, it is. I could have gotten an egg white frittata, but really, why bother?
It’s not like I’m in Florida anymore.
If anyone out there reading this ever dated me, I’d suggest you get down on your knees and thank the deity of your choosing things didn’t shake out between us. I am, indeed, the worst girlfriend ever.
I love the Florida Keys and have a tradition of going there every year. El Cap, too, loves the Keys and from day one has enthusiastically joined me on my annual pilgrimage. This year I wanted to see the coral spawn, which happens on the reefs during the August full moon. As I no longer receive a regular paycheck, I had the (I thought) brilliant idea to go camping at Bahia Honda State Park.
Friday morning, we packed the RoadTrek with meals, reading material, cameras, and swimsuits. Friday evening, we arrived at the park, which – thanks to not-quite-ready-for-prime-time Tropical Storm Erika, remained relatively empty. Friday night, we used a touch of bug repellant and had no real issues when we took Calypso and Banyan for a walk to the beach by the marina. We swam, frolicked, gazed at a summer moon from the transparent water… basically, it was paradise.
And then we woke up Saturday morning. El Cap stepped outside to walk Banyan, and when I opened the camper door to go outside, he looked frantic.
“Get back inside!”
The look on his face was sheer alarm, so I did. My first thought – because this is where my mind goes first – was that he’d found a dead body behind our camper. My second thought – because this is also where my mind goes – was how shitty it was of him to hog a dead body all to himself. My third thought was that he loved me enough that he would never not let me share in the moment of finding a dead body. This last thought gave me enough peace that I stayed put until he returned inside.
“Mosquitoes!” he said, opening the camper door and ushering Banyan inside – along with a small colony of the Florida state insect.
“I’m sure once the sun’s up they’ll dissipate,” I tell him, and walk outside and cover myself in DEET. We take a bike ride, hang out in the camper, but the one thing El Cap is noticing (and I am not) is the way the mosquitoes don’t seem to abate. We are both covered in chemicals, but the chemicals only seem to work for me. (I should note that even when I don’t wear eau de DEET, I get bit less than most people.)
Saturday night, I want to repeat Friday night and suggest such. El Cap, at this point thoroughly not amused by the mosquitoes that he swears continue to plague him, dons his rain gear (yes, rain pants and jacket, and yes, it’s the Keys in August, so you can imagine how pleasant that was for him) and we walk down to the beach. Except, unlike the night before, the walk is punctuated by El Cap’s staccato swatting and slapping and puffing as he bats at what I am starting to suspect are imaginary mosquitoes. He is dressed like the Gorton’s Fisherman and I am wearing a sheer sundress. I think all of four mosquitoes approach me, which leads me to believe these mosquitoes have somehow heard of me, or El Cap may be overreacting. I grow steadily more irritated at what I’m perceiving to be some made-up trauma, and I tell him in short, clipped words that once we get in the water, the mosquitoes will abate.
They do not. He removes the Gorton Fisherman gear and runs, screaming, into the water. This is a man, I’d like to remind you, who has been bitten by a rattlesnake. The mosquitoes, he said, chased him in the water and stayed there. He keeps dunking under the water to relieve their apparent biting, but he tells me, “I can only hold my breath for so long.”
We shower and return back to then camper, with El Cap’s self-flagellation growing increasingly more frenzied. The mosquitoes still show almost no interest in me. All I keep thinking on the way back to the camper is “He needs help, because he’s imagining things. Therapy can help him. He’s so stubborn. He’ll never admit the mosquitoes aren’t real.”
We get back to the camper. He removes his rain gear.
He has so many mosquito bites on him that his back, chest, scalp, fingers, toes, and legs look like the most severe case of the chicken pox you have ever seen. His face has so many bites on them it just looks like red, puffy skin with two nose holes, a slit for a mouth, and squinty eyes.
At this moment, I realize I am an asshole. I also realize we have anti-itch spray but not antihistamine. Why would we? I haven’t reacted to bites in years. I had no idea I lived with the human mosquito magnet.
“I know you didn’t believe me,” he says quietly, “but they really were biting me.” At least, I think that’s what he said. The puffy bites around his lips made it difficult for me to understand him.
Sunday morning, at El Cap’s gentle suggestion, I check Hotels.com to see if there are any reasonable hotels around. That’s where I discover the Islander, which is not only the first place I ever stayed in the Florida Keys but also a hotel I love dearly but rarely visit, has ridiculously low rates. It seems the same tropical storm that ruined my chances of a moonlit snorkel to watch coral reefs have sex also drove people away from the Keys, which may be why I snag us two nights at about half what I would expect to pay.
The Islander is atypical Keys lodging in that it has a hot tub, two pools, beach, restaurant, bar, screened patios, and – this is crucial – no mosquitoes. OK, so really, it’s the beach and the no mosquitoes thing that makes them stand out for us.
El Cap had a dream about mosquitoes chasing him last night.
This morning, though, the welts have started to fade, although the memory, I’m sure, will live forever.
So we have these awesome bookshelves in our living room. They stretch almost to the ceiling from about mid-thigh height. It’s one of the reasons I fell in love with the place.
|If you read my earlier post about my mom, look closely.
You can see wood shavings in this photo.
The problem for book lovers is that if you give us bookshelves like these, we try and fill them. Actually, there is no “try” – filling them with beloved manuscripts happens organically. For me, that means that, 17 months after signing the lease on the bookshelves, they’re overflowing with books about Florida. When you factor in the past year spent pulling books off to find the (seemingly) random fact to add in to the spicy goodness that was (I hoped) my master’s thesis, then pushing them back on the shelf again in no particular order, you have a mess. Or, at least, I did.
So yesterday, I decided I would put things right. Part of it was to blot out the 9-11 coverage on Fox “News” but mostly, I couldn’t take the dust and disorganization anymore. Also, I’m looking for my underwater camera (that’s another post) and I’d arrived at the quirky part of the search that we all come to when we’re desperately looking for something we simply cannot find, where bizarre ideas seem possible. I thought perhaps the camera was behind a book.
|No, the Emmys aren’t mine. I wish they were.|
- Early History through Explorative Narratives (also called “Lies told to the crown about Florida and one cool Bartram book”)
- Essential Florida (The WPA Guide to the Southernmost State, Florida Poems, Cross Creek, Everglades: River of Grass, and Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams)
- Everglades and Keys Fact and Fiction
- Tour and travel guides
- Hiaasen, MacDonald, and Randy Wayne White
- Books about Florida for which I don’t have enough to make a category
- Jimmy Buffett’s fiction and not-really-about-Florida-but-still-written-by-him books
Also, I’m wondering if anyone’s seen my camera….
My mom came down today, we had lunch, and then went shopping. Here are some excerpts from my day:
Mom: Is that the dress you can see through?
Mom: Yes, it is.
Mom: (she touches my hair and wrinkles her nose)
Me: What? It isn’t crunchy!
Mom: Yes, it is.
Mom: I just don’t understand why you do that when you have such pretty hair.
Me: Really? Because everything you say belies that…
Mom: (indicating dried flower-type arrangement) What are those things?
Me: I don’t know.
Mom: What do you mean, you don’t know?
Me: I mean don’t know. I got them at Michael’s.
Mom: You paid money for those? They look like wood shavings.
Me: You are a joy, you know that?
The best part of my day, though, came when I, in an attempt to learn more about my parents, I asked my mom (in front of El Cap’s mom) when she and my dad started dating. And that’s when I thought, for a moment, I had a whole extra year. Then I realized it was going the other way…
Let’s walk through the math.
My mom told me today she met my dad when she was 21, in September, dated him for four years, and then had me nine months after they got married. She was born in 1945. 1945+21=1966, which means if she had me four years and nine months later, I was born in December 1971.
I initially though this made me 38, not 39 (I’m really not a math person), and I was pretty excited, until I sat down and did the math.
Of course, the story changes. When I pressed her on this, she said that she must have met him in 1968. That, of course, didn’t gel with her insistence that she met him when she was 21, so now all she will say is she dated him “until got married”, which she’s stubbornly still insists is 1972.
It’s cool. I’m 38. Awesome. Except, of course, I’m not. I’m 41. Almost. I missed my entire 40th birthday, and I didn’t even get a party. Also, I waited a whole year longer to drink than I had to.
Also, I’m pretty sure El Cap’s mom has no clue what to think of my family. Probably that we’re nuts. Which is not wholly untrue.
This is yesterday’s post, because yesterday I filled my day with reorganizing my bookshelves, trying not to listen to Fox “News”, and studying up on my new camera. Also, I realized how very much my life is insulated from television.
Eleven years and one day ago, I watched a plane hit the World Trade Center and the towers fall, all from my hotel room in San Diego. Every station played this on an endless loop, and because I wanted to know if more acts of terror took place, I felt obliged to leave the set on. By about ten o’clock that night, though, I turned on the Disney Channel, because while I really didn’t care to be alone with my thoughts, the footage was making my insane. Thank god for Disney and their attempt to create a happy space in the middle of the real world, because they came through with an insipid string of not-at-all-interesting-but-not-at-all-about-the-World-Trade-Center shows.
In the days following 9-11, I rode a Greyhound bus home, and when we stopped at the bus terminals, I’d catch a sliver of news about the attacks and, of course, the now-iconic video of the towers shuddering and collapsing.
I didn’t see footage of the towers after that bus ride. I deliberately tuned it out, wouldn’t watch, didn’t need to see it. I saw it the first time; I will not forget. Watching it over and over again, I feared, would desensitize me, and while I cared not to repeat the experience, I didn’t want to grow inured to the things that happened that day. I didn’t ever want to look at footage of the towers smoking or collapsing and have it not register in my mind that I was bearing witness to the end of America as I knew it. This, of course, was made easier by the fact that after 2002 I’ve only had cable or broadcast television a handful of times.
Yesterday, I found out I had succeeded. El Cap’s parents are visiting and he always hooks up cable when they visit, so we had the television on Fox “News.” I knew, of course, what day it was. Every year I remember that morning in blazing grey detail. Yesterday, though, I looked up from my post in the kitchen and, for the first time since the days following 9-11 I saw the planes, the smoke, and the towers.
It was a punch in the gut. I felt raw and breathless. More upsetting than that was the realization that I was the only one in the room who felt that way. This footage, for everyone else, was background noise. It didn’t shock them, at least not visibly. The building with gaping hole in its side, bleeding grey smoke, didn’t even appear to register.
I feel reasonably certain that I, not they, was the anomaly in America yesterday. America, it seems, is desensitized to the whole affair. We still talk about 9-11, we still honor the memories of those who died on that day and since, and we still say we remember.
We just don’t feel it.
Well done, media. Well done.
I haven’t had a real vacation since… well, it’s been a while. I spent 10 days in Negril in 1995, and since then I’ve taken plenty of short trips, but other than three cruises, I’ve always been plugged in to work.
Not this time. I love my job, but I need a break. There’s a quote from Bertrand Russell’s Conquest of Happiness (which I’ve never read but totally have on reserve from the library): “One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.” I love the Gabber – and all the writing I do, really, however, the Gabber constitutes the bulk of my income – but, at the end of the day, we’re not treating cancer or building the space shuttle. We’re covering parades and council meetings about sleeping in public. I find I’m having to remind myself of that with disturbing frequency. That’s how I know it’s time for a break, lest I end up on Beach Boulevard in a thunderstorm, on my knees and shaking my fist at the heavens screaming, “Whyyyyyyyyy?”
|Mine is infinitely more colorful. And also far less deadly…|