St. Peterís Waiting Room
By Tom Waters
Thursday, February 8th: Wherein Our Hero Goes On The Lam, Nicotine Levels Drop, and Ham is Consumed
5:30 PM: Lindsayís mom drops us off at the Buffalo-Niagara Airport and we wheel our carry-ons through customs. I figured if we left later in the day that there would be less businessmen. I was wrong. Weíve got a two hour wait until the flightís ready and every single time I go through an airport I forget to wear socks and end up walking through the metal detectors barefoot picking up god knows what in terms of peopleís other foot germs. Oh well. We make friends at our gate with a Hasidic caterer from New York who lives in Canada with his wife and kid and he tells me about the ins and outs of running a kosher operation. He actually ships in his own kosher plates for every engagement. Lindsay tells me that Jet Blue has been running early or on time all week. Our flight gets delayed until 8 pm for some de-icing issue. A black guy in his 30s with a rainbow beanie and a plastic bag (carry on) full of chocolate bars slurps slowly and deliberately out of a juice box and I want to club him over the head with the Adrian Tomine collection Iím flipping through. Thereís a small gaggle of teenage girls with baby fat and bad sweatpants who are part of some sort of sports team running their mouths and playing a trading card game while they wait. We hop onto the plane at 7:45 and Iíve got a window seat with Lindsay next to a woman and a baby. The baby is surprisingly quiet the entire time to JFK in New York.
Weíre running late and Lindsayís worked herself into a frenzy. Weíve got just enough time to find that our gate moved and sheís swearing and frantic, so I tell her to cool it and we find the sizable line on queue for the next flight at the right gate. Itís a two and a half hour jaunt straight to Florida from New York and I donít have time to get my nicotine levels back up. We pile into the next plane and our male flight attendant swishes us through the emergency exit procedure. Why do gay men on airlines have to fit the stereotype to a t? I flip through my copy of Esquire and cycle through the tv stations on the back of the seat in front of me with my Plantronics headset while distracting my jones for a smoke with my Nintendo DS. Since I donít get paid until Friday, I have to talk Lindsay into buying me a scotch on the rocks and a Bud Light to quell my nic-fit. After that, Iím drained. The flight is running an hour late and I canít stand how they tease you forty seven times about when youíre going to land. Weíre beginning our descent. We should be hitting the ground in fifteen minutes. Thank you for flying Jet Blue. Weíre almost setting down. The weather is such and such, and so on.
By the time we hit the ground at one in the morning, all I can think about is tobacco. I give my mom a quick hug and start bolting through the Orlando airport to find an exit. Someone really should make a smokerís plane for those of us who arenít fond of going four to five hours without a butt. Butch drives us north to Frostproof, which is an hour and a half trip. Aside from single size snack packs, Lindsay and I havenít had anything substantial to eat since 3 pm. Iím f-ing starving, and smoke four cigarettes in a row in the front seat sending ashes straight back into Lindsayís face. Butch is telling me about all the things I can do and see and all I can talk about is food. Barbeque, Mexican, Pancake Houses, Waffle Houses, Popeyeís, Hardeeís and everything else that Florida might have to offer. The shops and super centers are five times the size of anything back in Buffalo and they loom up on the side of the roads like monuments to consumerism. The smell of a passing swamp gas hits us and it smells like a gas station. We get back to the trailer community at three in the morning and with the exception of a brief nap in the afternoon, Iíve been up for 22 hours. We unpack, raid the fridge and I wolf down a turkey and ham sandwich with two pieces of cheese and a liberal douse of mustard and wash it down with a beer and a stiff glass of bourbon on the rocks. Lindsay crashes out, my mom crashes out, and Butch and I stay up and watch the weather channel and an old episode of Sanford and Son. Itís a little chilly outside as I retire to my quarters and crash out on the twin bed. Welcome to Florida.
Friday, February 9th, Bad Hawaiian Shirts, This Too Shall Pass, A Few Cards Short Of A Tarot Deck
9:00 AM. After four and a half hours of sleep, I wake up to the sound of my Aunt Mary and my Uncle Dave. My mom and dad bought a sizable trailer-based home in a community with all of Butchís brothers and sisters from back home, and the two of them dropped by this morning to give them some grapefruit. My mom just happens to be up to answer the doorbell. After a strong cup of coffee, I manage to spill a quarter of a cup all over the carpet in the Florida room booting up Butchís prehistoric computer . Lindsay and Twig get caught up on the patio while the two of us smoke about eight cigarettes in rapid succession. Lindsay and I both agree that we could have slept longer, but we donít want to miss out on everything that the day has in store for us. Itís our first full day of vacation in Florida. Butch cooks up a half a pound of bacon and some scrambled eggs with cheese for me, which I wolf down standing in front of the sink in classic Waters family fashion. My body (and my bowels) are not happy with me, and keep making low, resonating grumbling noises deep down somewhere. Perhaps scotch and cooked pig flesh arenít the best combination.
While Lindsay and Twig keep yapping outside, Butch takes me for a spin around the development on his personal golf cart. The maximum speed limit in the community is ten miles an hour, and for ten am, every single citizen is up and about. Iím amazed at the lushness and variety of plant life in the park; cacti, centennial plants, palm trees, pine trees, rose bushes and other flora and fauna. Butch shows me a sand crane stooped in a field past one of the fences between visits with other retired senior citizens. We meet some man who looks like yoda in bright starched blue jeans out on his three wheeled bicycle or ítricycleí. Twig and Lindsay are out taking a walk while weíre out and Butch and I refuel on coffee and decide to hit the main section of town so I can hit up the ATM. Its payday, and we drive over to the Foodway to get some supplies. Butch grabs a rack of barbeque ribs with a dry rub and Lindsay and I open it up back at the trailer and tear into it. I prefer sauce over spices, but itís pretty tender. The four of us all reconvene to hit up Wal-Mart for groceries and clothes that are better suited to warm weather. It was fifteen below in Buffalo with thirty mile an hour winds spiking the temperature even lower. Itís not even noon and itís almost seventy nine degrees.
Down south, Wal-Marts are like Mecca. All roads lead there, and the smallest location is four times the size of anything back home. The one we walk into is like a small university, a macroverse of consumerism with a bizarre and surreal cross section of senior citizens, immigrants, white trash, black trash and grossly obese people waddling around between departments. Lindsay and I split off and I try to find three or four of the most hideous Hawain shirts I can find and some new shorts. We both grab a pair of flip flops. Itís the first pair Iíve ever bought. Then I scoop up two bottles of champagne. Butch tells me that I passed the test for being a redneck because I bought my clothes and my booze at the same place. After getting cashed out by some busted up bottle blonde with three teeth and then looking for a bookstore anywhere within fifty miles, itís a lost cause. I settle for a liquor store and grab some good cigars and better whiskey.
On the way back, we drive on a road between endless fields of orange trees bursting at the seems with Floridaís finest. I canít stand oranges, but I can appreciate the scenery. Nestled in the middle of one of the fields is a small brick building (perhaps a pump station or a power station) with black graffiti on the side that reads ĎThis Too Shall Passí. If I were a better writer, Iím sure I could turn that into some sort of high-minded theme for my travelogue. It could be a reference to the financial burden that farmers bitch about across the nation. If the subsidies were so bad, theyíd all get different jobs and they wouldnít be driving new model trucks. It could be a religious nod, as Frostproof has a strong religious community. Some developments specialize in Christian-only communities. Or they might be referring to the fact that weíll all shuffle off our mortal coil soon enough. This is a noble truth that Floridians are all too familiar with. Iím guessing that the average age in this county clocks in around 65 or higher. I take it personally as a sign that the vacation will come to an end eventually. Not today, though. We all return to home base at four in the afternoon and conk out on our respective couches and beds. I could get used to being a senior citizen.
At five thirty, Butch, Twig, and I get up out of bed and my mom and I decide to make the rounds and say hello to the rest of my dadís side of the family. We stop at my Aunt Renie and Uncle Geneís trailer down the way and my Uncle Spike is outside on his way out. Reneeís made up some homemade peanut butter fudge, chocolate fudge and a blueberry pie for us. My dad grew up on a farm in the southern tier of New York around Alleghany County with seven other brothers and sisters. My paternal grandmother was an amazing cook and an even better card player. She taught me every card game known to man and I remember about three of them. Itís amazing to all of us how much the brothers and sisters start to look more like each other the older they get. Renee and Gene show us some family pictures, we trade some anecdotes, and she sends me packing with the pie, the fudge, and some pretzels. My mom and I swing by on our tricycles to see if my Aunt Mary and my Uncle David are around but theyíve already left for a college course that theyíre taking. Then we stop over to my Aunt Bevís trailer. She gives me a tour of the trailer and tells me about the shamanistic training that her and my Uncle Bill are undertaking. Billís at one of the meetings. Then we trade stories about Jungian thinking, Freudian thinking, numerology, Tarot, spiritual healing and cast iron skillets. I find out from my mom that my maternal grandmotherís birthday is the same day as my anniversary date with Lindsay (October 15th). Somehow itís dark outside and itís rounding out around seven, so Twig and I circle back to base.
Butch has set up a tuna noodle casserole and goes to work on grilling some cheeseburgers, hot Italian sausage and some hot dogs. As a Buffalonian, this is the first barbeque Iíve participated in during the month of February. We chow down listening to the new Dixie Chicks album that I brought down and I donít have room for seconds or dessert. In the span of twenty four hours, Iíve had four different pieces of pig. My new Hasidic friend and my digestive system would not approve. Ham, bacon, ribs and now Italian Sausage. Iím still almost young enough that I might be able to get away with it. By the time weíre done eating, itís ten minutes to nine and Iíve missed my first beer of the day, so I catch up. I pour a fat glass of 1792 bourbon into a snifter with a volley of ice cubes and we sit down to watch íThe Toyí, which my parents have surprisingly never seen. Butch and I are huge fans of Jackie Gleason. Butch and Jackie Gleason share a lot of mannerisms either by accident or default. Once the movieís over, Butch and Twig shuffle off to bed. I fire up one of my Arturo Fuentes cigars on the back patio, drain another beer and a half, and then Lindsay and I shuffle off to bed to get Ďreacquaintedí. It has been a few days, after all. We try to keep the noise to a minimum. By one am, I take a piss in the bushes outside, grab another smoke and then call it a night.
Tune in next month for part two!