Florida Woman

Welcome-To-Florida-Postcard

Florida Woman Calls 911 to Say Everything is “Fine.”

We drank from hoses and combed salt from our hair. Our driveway was made of broken shells and we cut our hands on the trunks of palm trees. Love bugs swarmed screen doors and windshields, their backsides stuck together in pairs, perfect mates. We ate oranges off the ground, our fingers sticky with juice. We rode our bikes to outrun the heat, that ever-present, suffocating heat.

Be wary when driving down Alligator Alley; buzzards like to dive bomb the cars, particularly at dusk. I sold my first car with blood still staining the bumper.

“The city of Cassadaga has so many crystal balls per capita that people call it the Psychic Capital of the World.”

Florida Grandma Finds Naked Man Gyrating on Porch, Scares Him With False Teeth.

My grandmother had an orange tree in her backyard constantly pregnant with fruit. My siblings and I fought like our favorite WWF wrestlers for the chance to use her special picking tool—a clawed basket atop a broomstick handle. We never bothered to wash our bounty. Peels discarded on the patchy lawn, we devoured the flesh, juice dripping down our chins. We went home with beards of dirt and our backpacks bulging and our pores seeping citrus.

Florida Man Travels to South Carolina to “Fight” Hurricane Florence.

“Hand me the screw. No, the little one. Right there.”

We called it the Hurricane Room. It was almost all windows, with a short-pile, green carpet that looked like grass. After my grandfather and I finished building it—at twelve years old, it was my greatest accomplishment to date—my grandmother filled it with wicker chairs and bright, floral cushions. I slept in the Hurricane Room during the first big storm of that summer, dreaming of becoming a storm chaser.

The best way to remove sandspurs—those sharp, claw-like seeds that lurk in tall grass—is to lick your fingers first.

Florida Man Bites Dog to “Establish Dominance.”

There were eight of us by the time I turned thirteen. My mother bought groceries wherever it was cheapest and almost never paid shelf price. For most of the week, we ate ravioli from dented Chef Boyardee cans, generic macaroni and cheese from boxes with mouse holes chewed in the corners, and brown bananas seconds from turning to rot.

Then Friday came, and we all piled into the van we lovingly dubbed The Death Trap (after my little sister, Emily, flew out of her seat, smashing her forehead on the sharp, exposed metal arm rest. She needed four stiches) and drove across town to the Cuban bakery on seventh street. Even before opening the car doors, the smell of fresh bread overwhelmed us. Mom only ever bought one loaf, shaped like a baguette, but buttery on the tongue. I’d never eaten something so delicious, before or since. It came wrapped in paper, warm, with a dried palmetto frond laying across the top. I tied the fronds into doll shapes and kept them in a box under my bed.

“Before there was Disney World, there was Six Gun Territory, the Cypress Knee Museum, the Atomic Tunnel, the mermaids of Weeki Wachee, Lithia Springs, and The Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine, where the sign glowed and flickered like the vacancy sign on a motel.”

Florida Restaurant Ends Bring-Your-Monkey Night After 8-Year-Old Bitten By Monkey.

There is a museum dedicated to the history of the parade celebrating the eighteenth century pirate, Jose Gaspar, who never existed. Every year, tens of thousands of people gather near the Port of Tampa Bay to witness the Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla Invasion and Parade of Pirates during the Gasparilla Day Festival, to remember the terrible pillaging of the Florida coast that never happened.

“In 1948, a writer for Forbes magazine said of the place, ‘something in Florida’s humid, languorous air attracts pirates, derelicts, remittance men, thieves, madams, gamblers, blue-sky promoters, moneybags, exhausted noblemen, black-market operators, profiteers, and all the infections of Western Life.'”

Police Say Florida Man Installed Drug Drive-Thru Window on Side of Mobile Home

After the divorce, my Dad picked up us every other weekend, driving the long highway between Tampa and Lakeland. We passed Airstream Ranch where six or seven half-buried trailers stuck out of the ground like our own Stonehenge. About halfway along the trip, the head of a brachiosaur greeted us from between the trees, just off the highway, beckoning us to visit Dinosaur World. We never stopped.

No matter where you are in Florida, you’re never more than sixty miles from the beach.

The stingray shuffle might have protected us from curious sea life but digging our feet beneath the shell-caked sand always left stinging cuts between and beneath our toes. I liked to sit on the sand bar, legs stretched outward and wait to be pummeled by waves. Water slapped my face and the salt burned my eyes and nose, but I wanted to see how far each wave could carry me. As I got older, I hoped they would carry me away. Now, still older, I wish they could carry me back.

“The best shells come from Sanibel Island. The locals even named a dance move after the tourists who stopped to gather shells on their walks, called the Sanibel Stoop.”

We chased the gulls that stole our food and threw the carcasses of crabs and jelly fish at each other. Once, a freak storm dragged our umbrella, the twins’ playpen, and our blanket out into the ocean. Wind whipped the sand into a frenzy of tiny bullets. A couple staying at the nearby hotel handed us towels and offered to bring us kids to the lobby so my mother could go get the car, parked blocks away.

My mother shook her head, holding a towel over my sister’s bald, baby head. “It’ll pass.”

It always did.

Florida Woman’s Toilet Clogged by Iguana.

I saw my first gator on a field trip in elementary school. We canoed down the Hillsborough River, four or five of us to a boat, with a park ranger perched at the prow. One of my classmates tried to poke it with his oar. My teacher, Mrs. Davis, threatened to throw him overboard.

My daughters don’t see gators. They go ice-fishing. They don’t have hurricane days. They have snow days.

The truth about Florida is a lie, and it’s a lie I tell myself every time my mother sends me pictures of her afternoons at Longboat Key, posed in front of another perfect sunset in her pink baseball cap, or of the front yard palms glowing with Christmas lights. Every time my daughters come home from a summer visit, tanned to the gods and smelling like coconut sunscreen, and I dump sand from their shoes.

“You can’t even see the other side,” my wife said, “So it’s kind of the same.”

I stood on the edge of Lake Superior, huddled against the cool October air. Under my feet were rocks, not shells. The water was gray, not blue. And, no, I couldn’t see the other side—the lake seemed to go on forever—but I couldn’t smell salt on the air and I hadn’t been accosted once by a man in cut-off jeans and a fishing hat trying to sell me a trip on his boat.

“No,” I said. “It’s not the same.”

[1] All italicized lines taken from Florida Man account on Twitter (@floridaman)
[2] All quoted paragraphs From Oh, Florida by Craig Pittman, published 2016

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s