Florida’s Messiah (Lost Conversations)
"The religions we call false were once true." - Emerson, Essays, 1844
"If God were suddenly condemned to live the life which he has inflicted on men, He would kill himself." - Alexandre Dumas
Dull the pain, chop off the head.
Vacation. We were in Florida for some much needed rest from our wayward lives. Not that we would not be sideways while we were there, it was just about time for the never-ending pounding of responsibility to seize. Personally, I needed this time to erase the infernal blaring in my ears. See, I suffer from a disease – one that has yet to be classified – that consists of a continuous tape loop of obnoxious jazz music constantly swirling from inner ear to inner ear. I must endure this horrific medley, which is often induced by outrageous amounts of stress and paranoia.
Jazz. The symbol of numbers increasing and decreasing. The infinite run-on sentence. A blaring like no other. Debt upon debt. Paying the future for the past. The warts, fissures and scares that are taped and glued one on top of the other. The sound of flesh tearing. The porthole where parasites enter to gouge. Jazz is the captured sound of ants in a frenzy mauling over spilt ice cream on the sidewalk. These are the sounds I hear between my ears when my wires become crossed. Some say jazz represents the soul in its transcendental plane. I say YES! EXACTLY! What is your point?
Let me stand firm, I don’t necessarily hate the musical genre of jazz. I hate what it represents mentally and eternally. Hell, Eastwood and Allen love jazz. Miles is a damn near saint for Christ’s sake. It has nothing to do with personal preference, just mere fact. Categorically, it is the symptom that let’s me know I have become overheated. The manic and frenzied noise of jazz is that clogged and throbbing artery ready to pop. I guess I am a product of my culture; I never directly heard jazz growing up. That is, what you don’t understand will always hound you.
But enough of my condition, this story is one of salvation and redemption. It is the day I me the new messiah; the lost soul Jesus freak drunk whose light shown through a cascade of filth.
Changing someone’s religious faith is pointless. It is like convincing someone that their favorite baseball team is the Red Sox’s and not the Yankees. It can be done, but if and when this is possible, what about the A’s? Aren’t they a fine team to support? Don’t they have all the makings for a fine championship team?
However, and here’s the point to consider, as sure as a man’s sins will go unpunished, history tells us salvation is always worth a try. It is the grand back-up plan. And the proof is always in the pudding, where the pudding is the stuff of LIFE – the newest fad conceived by a forlorn maniac to show us what we are doing is right. The voice to tell us that the good fight is worth taking, regardless the cost.
Kelly and I were fried, literally. A day in the sun left us as bright pink as a raw steak and as stiff as Monday morning quarterback. Being Northerners, snowbirds, we rarely experienced proximity this close to the sun. In our weakened condition, we dragged ourselves through the cottage. But hell, it was our vacation. No ailment would hinder us. How could we in good conscience stay in? We needed, it was our duty, to experience the glories of New Port Ritchie, Fla. We must taste the fruit of this exotic locale.
So we devised a plan of action. First, to kill the pain and stiffness, we loaded up on prescription meds for the sunburn. We washed them down with a few more than a couple beers, and, after freshening up, drove off in the rental, smoking our favorite opiate along the way. With these precautions, we felt well enough to float our way into, or out of, any situation that was sure to arise. We were new.
Ah, yes. Florida is the land of the bought and sold vacation. The fuck in the ass you are told you need. A place scabbed with deep scars of capitalism and conquest. Wasn’t it once a prison-state during colonial days, a desolate place for unwanted occupants of the New World? Or was that Georgia? Regardless, outwardly Florida is a northerner’s playground. It is a place to use your money to be free. Yet, underneath it resonates a very southern attitude, resentment free of charge. Florida is a village of many tribes: Cubans, tourists, rednecks, immigrants, transplanted northerners, etc. It is a wholly confused place ignoring any sense of identity. Most just want to relax and be left alone.
Florida is capitalism on steroids. It is a place where the not-so-over achievers rum amok. It consists of: those who fight for a parcel of beach-front property so they can have some semblance of rest two weeks a years, those whose pappy distilled moonshine in the woods, those who have lived like Hemingway’s “Old Man”, those who risked everything to float here on a makeshift raft, and those who came here simply to die. What a perfect place for mood altering narcotics. What a beautiful evening to spend some time among the masses.
We dove on down I 19 looking for a place to eat some cheap seafood. The seafood in Florida is heavenly. Its cheap and plentiful, an orgy for any meat-eater of flesh and muscle. We pulled into a typical seafood joint on any main road. It was called Ja Ja’s or Jimmy’s, or something just as plain and transparent. The flock of early bird customers was just finishing up. It was a little passed 5.
We needed to wait for a free table. We took the servers advice and headed downstairs with a plastic square that would vibrate when our table was ready. We found to empty stools at the bar. I sat next to a sandy-haired frail man in his early thirties and ordered to beers and a shot of whiskey.
“Pardon me, are you two related?”
“Why, no”, I stammered, trying to shake off the haze of my self-derived medical treatment for severe sunburn.
“I didn’t think so… you guys are in love aren’t you?” he blurted, half sarcastic and half-longing.
“That would be the gist of it. We’ve known each other quite some time”, I replied, not really wanting to continue the conversation with an obvious sot.
“Listen to me, I know these things, take good care of her.”
“And listen, never hit her”, he straightened up a bit in his stool and looked directly into my eyes, “unless she points a gun at you”.
Voila! Now we’re getting somewhere. This man obviously has much wisdom to impart. I became engaged in his logic. Right then and there, I knew he was a man of Truth.
“You said a mouth full”, I shook my head in full enthusiastic agreement. He stood up and moved his stool closer to mine. I heard Kelly let out a sigh of disappointment. She knew I needed to talk to him and would consequently ignore her. She knows that I am a man on a mission damnit! I need to find the Truth. She simply would have to understand. For the rest of the conversation Kelly would alternate between watching the bar T.V., half-listening to us, and talking with a deranged woman from Western New York, but that is another story and we need to stay focused or all will be lost.
“I’ve done that threesome shit”, he continued.
“I thought it would be no big deal. Man, was I wrong. Those fucking carpet munchers ruined it for me. They make you feel so inadequate, like my dick’s not good enough for them. Fuck’em!” He shook his head in disgust. “Know what I mean?”
“Indeed”, I replied not really knowing what to say, Dale suddenly seemed agitated and unpredictable. I needed to tow this line carefully. “They have no right…”
“YOUR GOD DAMN RIGHT THEY DON’T!” He screamed and slapped his open palm hard on the bar. A few people near turned to see what was going on and the bartender rolled her eyes. I shifted myself in my stool and looked down at the floor. “I’ve been through a lot”, he went on but at a little less volume, “I have heartache and pain too ya know”.
“Don’t we all.”
“It’s those gays ya know. They can ruin a person. I swear to you, never trust a gay. Faggots, dikes, queers… all of ‘em, never turn your backs on them. Their logic takes you over and makes you do fucked up things. It’s like brainwashing or something. You start to believe their sick ways.”
I nodded like I understood. It was obvious Dale was getting angry. I stared at him as he looked out ahead into somewhere else. He let out a breath and relaxed.
“I’ve been through a tough relationship that has left me here… drinking.”
“Hey, whatever helps you sleep at night”, I encouraged.
He looked into my face again, his eyes blood-shot, his skin brown and tight from years of sun, his faced so tired it looks like he has never slept, and announces, “if I’m lucky I will sleep tonight.”
Just then the buzzer sounded and our table was ready. We stand up to leave.
“Well, thanks for the advice, we gotta go now.”
He stands to shake my hand. He grabs it and looks penetratingly in to my eyes; he puts his other hand on mine as we shake. “Do you pray?” he asked.
Startled, I replied, “sometimes”.
“Well son, God would like to hear from you.”
“Thanks, I’ll give him a ring sometime.”
And on that note, I pulled my hand away and grabbed Kelly by the arm. I was truly spooked. He seemed so sincere in his blessing. I felt uneasy. As we walked to our table, I hoped we would be seated in a secluded corner. I needed a cocoon to decompress. I was sure I had just met some sort of messiah.
Jesus was surely viewed as a lunatic in his day.