I spent the last several days in Florida visiting my friend T.
You remember T, don’t you? Smiter of Squirrels, One-Liner Aficionado, T moved from Minnesota to Florida in March of last year. Having lived through the bone-biting cold of winter, as all right-thinking Minnesotans do, he inexplicably threw his mittened hands into the air one day, cried “I give up!”, and moved to an island.
And while I have gone on record a number of times as being four-square against my friends moving to places that I cannot reach easily, I would also like to go on record as approving of those that, feeling they must move, do so to a place perfect for vacationing.
Well done, T.
Have you been to Florida? The sky is bright blue; the people, dark brown. The sun is insistent, the humidity oppressive, and large, talkative birds sit on telephone wires holding their wings out to the wind, airing their feathery underarms.
T picked me up at the airport. We hugged.
“How are you? How have you been?”
“Oh, you know,” he says, grinning. “Celebrating life.”
Celebrating life, huh? Celebrating life. The cynical Midwesterner in me seizes upon this phrase.
“The pamphlet distributed on the airplane suggested that there might be some of that,” I said.
“Relax,” T said, laughing. “You’re on island time.”
Everywhere we went, we heard variations of this phrase.
“How’s it going?” “Celebrating life.”
“What you been up to?” “Just livin’ the good life!”
I am wary of expressions like this. Pat answers make me narrow my eyes in concentration. Embedded in me at an early age by a father who insisted that I be a lert (“Be alert, Pearl - the world needs more lerts”), by the time the woozy-looking man at the bus stop hollered “Livin’ the good life!” as we walked past him on the way to the beach, I’d already written this phrase in my notebook.
There was a party that first night at Elliot’s house. Elliot, a man from New York, and perhaps the hub of neighborhood life, held court on the large, tented patio; and people came from all sides bearing large platters of food. Almost everyone there was originally from somewhere else: there was Milla the Grilla (Ohio), Dave (Florida), Bob (Tennessee) and Kim (Texas), Rob (Minnesota) and Colleen (Wisconsin), Mike (Massachusetts) and Julia (Florida, Okinawa, Germany).
There was plenty to eat, and plenty to drink.
And there was entertainment.
You know the young and often beautiful people who perform in parks, for “fringe” festivals, often sharing space with drummers, face-painters, and jugglers? The long-haired free spirits dressed in clothes from another generation, bracelets and earrings jangling?
Julia and Colleen, Hula Hoopers of the First Order, took their hoops into the backyard, just beyond the light of the patio, just in front of the docks, and danced in the dark, a background of a million stars running the mirrored length of the ocean, hoops spinning up and down their bodies, around their necks, sliding up one arm and down the other.
And while I won’t be following The Dead in a VW bus any time soon, like karaoke or gluing stuff onto things with a hot glue gun, I can now add “hula hoop” to the list of things I do just a little bit better with a couple beers in me.
It was a long night, a warm night with just the right amount of cool breeze and smart talk, and I couldn’t begin to remember all of it.
But I do remember this: hours later and in my room, my head spinning from drink and hula-hoop muscle-memory, I drunkenly considered the differences between where you’re from, where you are, and what it all means.
I decided that wherever I was, that was the place I should be.
And I believe I fell asleep smiling.
Still have some time to kill? I was published in an online magazine called Praxis. Click here to read "So What Do You Say You and I Get Together After Work?", a lovely piece I would like to take just one more editorial crack at...
That Summer: Part Four
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