St. Peter’s Waiting Room Part III
By Tom 'ointment' Waters
March 1st, 2010
Monday, February 12th: 7 AM In Theory, A Title Is Found, Americana Central
6 AM. Last day in paradise for us. End of the line. I hop out of bed at five to six and get the coffee going. The roof is making soft staccato noises from the rain outside and it sounds like it’s going to be a wet day. Lindsay (not one to get left in the lurch a second time) gets up right after me and gets ready for the Flea Market. After checking my email and packing a bag for the trip, we fire up the golf cart and head over to Bev and Bill’s. No signs of life. We drive over to Renie and Gene’s. Strike Two. Dave and Mary aren’t up and I remember where Spike’s trailer in progress is, so we skedaddle over there and he’s got his lights on, so we go in for a spell. He’s gearing up for a breakfast in town with some of his neighbors, so he gets to meet Lindsay and they talk about their horses. Spike’s got rooster statues and knick knacks too, and he tells me that my grandmother collected them. Spike’s wife Charlotte passed the year before and it hit everybody pretty hard. They stayed for the full season in Florida and she went shortly after they got back home. Butch didn’t go to the funeral because he either can’t handle them or doesn’t want to dwell on it. Spike seems like he’s dealing with it well by keeping busy.
I was telling Lindsay yesterday that Charlotte’s death made me realize how little time I’ve spent with my dad’s side of the family. I’d like to think that I’ve been making up for lost time by seeing everybody as much as I can while I’m down here, which surprises my parents to no end. Joe has been hither and yon back home visiting everyone whenever he’s out and about traveling to set up accounts for his work. Over the years, I’ve often put work first, fought a few depressions that left me out of commission, or just wasn’t up for the trip. It’s hard to fathom what a strong family tree we have, and how close knit they all are, or how graciously and effortlessly they accept us into their homes and their hearts, and for that I’m grateful. The last couple of days have been a real eye opener for me, and hopefully these bonds will stay open from this point on.
We leave Spike to head out for breakfast and beeline it over to Beverly and Bill’s again. I notice a light on and we knock on the window in the kitchen. A gray haired woman comes to the door and tells Lindsay to come on in, but it’s not Bev. I figure they have a guest or a relative over but we got the wrong house entirely! We knocked on the trailer to the left of their home and the lights are still off at seven thirty in the morning, so we hightail it out of there. I guess everyone has senior moments. They just occur with more frequency and intensity when you hit your sixties and seventies.
Renie and Gene still aren’t up and all’s dark on the eastern front of the park where Dave and Mary pulled up stakes, so we circle back home to refuel on coffee and let my black valise dry out of the rain. After a half hour, we decide to give everyone another try and Gene and Renie are just getting up after playing cards until eleven thirty the night before. With the rain, Gene’s not sure if they’re going, so he calls and wakes Bill up at his place. We shoot over to Dave and Mary’s and Mary gives Lindsay the grand tour of the pictures and the family history lesson. Mary freshens up my coffee and Bev shows up to take off for errands with Dave and a friend of his. We call over to Renie and Gene’s and Bill’s over there, so we decide that we’re going to go after all. After a golf cart ride, a bathroom break, and a slight change of clothes for the drizzle, the four of us pile into the car and head out for the Super Fleas.
Bill and I talk metaphysics, regular physics, bigotry today, religion and politics in the front while Lindsay and Gene talk whatever they’re talking about in the back. I tell Bill about the travelogue and about how I’m struggling for a title and he mentions that a lot of people refer to Florida as a waiting room for St. Peter. ‘Goddamnit, that’s perfect!‘, I yell. ‘That’s the title!‘ After an hour of road time, we pull up to four interconnected prefab metal buildings for the flea market. Lindsay and I aren’t sure what to expect, but it’s eleven in the morning and we’re ready to piss up some serious money. I score my first purchase eight feet from the entrance door when I find an authentic samurai sword with an eight sided hilt for thirty five bucks. From looking around, it appears as if there’s an untapped market in t shirts and boxer shorts for fart jokes. I don’t know who’d be caught dead wearing a shirt like that, but there must be a demand for eighteen tables worth of supply. Lindsay and I pair off and Bill and Gene go their own way to find gifts for a New York day exchange that the park community is having.
Across our travels, I find a nice green t shirt with an Incredible Hulk stitched on the front pocket and ’Florida’ stitched underneath it. It’s mine. Lindsay finds a Tigger beach towel for her mom who has an unholy obsession with Tigger. I score three small plastic monkeys covering their ears, mouth and eyes respectively. We decide to trade off on dad gifts so I buy a real baby alligator head for her dad and we go halves on a plaque with Northern bird art for my old man. There’s Disney shirts and key chains and memorabilia everywhere, so I nab a Beauty and The Beast snow globe/music box for my mom since she likes music boxes and I noticed that she doesn’t have any down here. The Asian vendor booths are really nice and they’re chock full of genuine art and sculptures, so I buy a Buddha statue for my Buddhist friend and a Buddha for myself. Bill buys a notebook for a buck and Gene buys some keepsake for a buck. The place is packed with fried food, fat people, and multiple booths full of tacky shit. Lindsay and I are in heaven. We take special care to cover every square inch of every booth and by one o’clock, we all head out for lunch as Lindsay is getting light-headed from no breakfast.
We stop at Checkers, a southern drive through franchise with a NASCAR theme. The burgers are tiny, the prices are ridiculous, and the service sucks. The company is good, though, and the loaded chili fries on the side aren’t bad. We all vote on a second flea market so we hit a larger one down the road and the entire town is driving like they have no arms. This one is bigger and better and I’ve already spent a hundred and fifty bucks. We buy a second carry on bag for Lindsay so we can actually pack all of our shit and get it on the plane for fifteen bucks (and it’s a really nice bag!).
Some pushy Armenian guy tries to hard sell me on some action figures and statues so we take off to another spot. I find a die cast metal replica of my dad’s 1971 Chevelle in bright orange (his is dark blue), so I pick that up. Then we stop to another building and I grab a bright blue Superman shirt. Then it hits me. We are in the center of Americana. We’re inside one of a million living, breathing shrines to the West, no matter how gaudy it seems, from Elvis beach towels to Betty Boop bobbleheads to American flag key chains. This is the undercurrent to our country, pulsing and beating for $12.95 or Best Offer. The Mickey Mouse stuffed animals, Kurt Cobain action figures, Confederate flags, sketches of Frank Sinatra at varying ages in his career; these are the dreams and the folk legends of the Americas.
We wander to the next building where there’s a really nice Asian emporium with stress balls, tea sets and handmade dresses that catch Lindsay’s eye. She buys a turquoise dress with spangles on the front and models it for Bill and Gene while I hop to another building to get more money out of the ATM. Lindsay gets more money out of the ATM. We grab a coke. We wander around and look at everything and all of a sudden, it’s after three o’clock in the afternoon and I don’t want to spend any more money. We have no idea where Bill and Gene are and we’re feeling the weight of walking around all day so we start scanning from building to building and stumble across them in the third one. We all agree that we’re shot and hop in the car for a ride home.
I ask Bill and Gene if they know how Frostproof arrived at its name. My theory was that the snowbirds formed the town and christened it so because they was no frost in comparison to their native lands. Bill and Gene have no idea. Lindsay says that she researched the town online before we left and that there was a contest for town names held for early settlers in the 1800s. A few names were thrown out until Frostproof was nominated for the town handle. Low and behold, a few weeks after they named the town, the orange groves were covered in frost but the name still stuck.
By the time we see the sights and take some back roads and I grab some more pictures of local landmarks and some orange groves (how in the hell did I forget to take pictures of the orange groves?), we get back to the trailer park around six pm. Butch and Twig are reclining in the Florida room where we figure out our dinner options for our big meal out at a restaurant. We all agree on barbeque, so we rest for a minute and head out to Fat Boy’s Barbeque, where we get a four person platter full of barbeque pork, chicken, beef, turkey, French fries, baked potatoes, onion rings, and of course, ribs. The barbeque sauce is incredible, and I just about stuff myself to burst on all the meat. They’ve got a squeeze bottle of regular and hot barbeque sauce that I slather on everything and after a post meal smoke outside, I slump in one of the chairs until the small talk ends and we wobble out of the restaurant with two take home quarts of their signature sauce.
After returning home, Lindsay and I start the slow, sad process of packing. I crack a beer and change out of my new Superman shirt and into my Incredible Hulk shirt. I wanted to make the rounds and say goodbye to everybody but the day just got away with me. After checking some email, I crack a beer around eight thirty and the four of us feel the weight of the last five days. I tell Lindsay that we never quite got around to relaxing because we were so busy running around seeing and doing everything else. The two of us do that slow, protracted dance known as packing and it’s a bit easier with an extra rolling piece of carry on luggage. By nine, I drain what is now a dwindling bottle of 1792 bourbon and Uncle Bill shows up at the door looking for his wife. Butch invites him in and I offer him a snifter of bourbon. Although he doesn’t drink that often, he concedes. I didn’t learn until this trip that Bill is a big fan of bourbon. We both agree that it’s one of the better bourbons on the market today.
Around ten, Bev shows up and there’s another round of pictures showcasing Lindsay and me, then Butch comes out on the patio to get some shots of Bev, Bill, Lindsay and me. I’ve got one more bottle of dry champagne to kill, so we pop the cork on that and dole out the glasses. Everyone toasts to the Waters family. I’ve still got two cigars left, so I fire one of those up and hope that the second one doesn’t get destroyed during the trip home. By eleven, both Bill and Bev are practically stumbling out of the door to make the short walking distance to their trailer. Butch, Twig and myself recline in the Florida room and listen to some Bluegrass on Butch’s Sirius satellite television. We may all be rednecks, but we’re high tech rednecks. Silicon hillbillies. Everyone is sawing logs by eleven thirty.
Tuesday, February 13th: Death To The Babies, Scotch On The Rocks At 11:30 In The Morning, Shuffling Back To Buffalo
6 AM. D-Day. We’re almost ninety nine percent packed, so all that’s left to do is wake up and drive to the airport. Like most residents in this park, I wake up a little nauseous and a lot gassier than I should be. Must be the barbeque or the champagne. Whatever it is, I have to use the bathroom twice in the span of an hour and its like an intestinal waterslide. As a courtesy to the other people sleeping in the trailer, I turn the bathroom fan on and it‘s so loud you‘d think that someone has to turn it on with a rip cord. After two cups of coffee, Butch and Twig and Lindsay get up and we head out for Orlando airport. The weather is climbing up to 72 on our last ride in Florida and I grab one last smoke before our two and a half hour flight. We take the tram to the actual terminal, find our gate, and I go off in search of some food. There’s an SBarro, where I get stuck in front of some obnoxious goddamned yenta who’s trying to explain to the immigrant behind the counter that she wants biscuits, not grits. While they’re boarding, I remember to buy a Florida hat for my buddy Ron who always comes back from his trips with gifts. The ante has been upped.
There are not one, not two, but an entire symphony of screaming babies on the flight, and its not isolated crying jags, they are shrieking and wailing in unison for the duration of the flight and they’re all two seats away from us. I take this quietly for about a half an hour and then I decide (for the sake of avoiding getting hogtied by an air marshal and making the front pages) to order a Dewar’s on the rocks and a Bud Light. It’s almost noon and it has to be five o’clock somewhere. Lindsay gets a vodka and tea and the tea isn’t sweetened but she drinks it anyway. After my liquid medication I actually conk out in my seat while the kids are screaming their fool heads off for a good half hour. By the end of the flight the entire plane is pissed off at these parents and Lindsay and I are making audible proclamations about impending doom for the kids and the parents. We arrive in Boston around two o’clock.
We’ve got two and a half hours before our next flight, so we both storm the hell off the plane and find the nearest exit so we can smoke three cigarettes in rapid succession. Lindsay calls her mom and I drain half my can of Pepsi since I know I won’t be able to bring it back through customs. We take a bathroom break and go back through customs where they spot check Lindsay’s carry on and open up our gifts to see if we’re carrying crack or box cutters or some such nonsense. Then we hit a lounge bar for more drinks to take the edge off of the infant overture. Lindsay orders a Wolfgang Puck turkey sandwich with another plain vodka and tea that she sips. I notice on the news that some psycho in Utah has shot up a mall and gotten shot in the process while draining my first fourteen ounce draft beer. It goes down smooth and the plush leather booth feels comfortable so I order another.
Our gate has been switched so we find the new spot and notice that one of the families who annoyed the shit out of us on the first flight is there. We both grab another two cigarettes in a row, back through customs and we’re on a puddle jumper back to Buffalo. Not only has one baby joined us, but all of the demon spawn are there. They’re all going back to Buffalo. Isn’t that fortuitous. It’s an hour flight and thank Christ I brought my Plantronics headphones because I crank up my adjustable volume on the armrest and the headset control so that I can’t even hear myself think and doze off with my head against the window. I tell Lindsay that she should hand out birth control pills after everyone exit’s the plane and that the next baby to say peep going up the ramp is going to get his head caved in with a carry on. The landing is bumpy in our smaller craft and it looks like the freezing weather waited patiently for our return at six o’clock.
Lindsay’s mom meets us in the smoker’s lounge outside and we head back home through drive time traffic. Its about nine degrees in Buffalo and its snowing. She’s brought us our apartment keys and some chili and biscuits. We give her the family gifts and show off our new clothes and I sort through the mail while unpacking in a flurry even though I took tomorrow off for a slow reentry back to the real world. After a hot bath, a nail clipping, and a dozen phone calls, we’re home. The cat is doting on Lindsay with abandon and we both missed him something terrible. Be it ever so humble, I miss the 72 degree weather, but its nice to be back. Lindsay is sitting on the couch and she’s still playing Animal Crossing and I’m getting ready to go out to my regular Tuesday night karaoke and cocktails at Desiderio’s down the road. I’m exhausted, my head is killing me from the newborns, and I’m still wearing beach clothes, but who cares. As my mom likes to say, ’Its my vacation too!’. My vacation indeed.