“Liverpool is a bunch of thieves,” I’m told by a darling 23-year-old British guy as we are driving home from the Everglades. We’ve had a red letter day for a tour, and all of us are high on endorphins from handling alligators, an anaconda, exotic talking birds, and Goldie, a 19 foot, 250 lb yellow-headed reticulated python. At the end of a really great tour, you’re all in love with each other, and so we were.
The ride home is long, way over an hour, and I’ve asked them to teach me something about British football because it seems so very nationally important. Instantly, Will, the 23-year-old, a fan of Manchester United, informs me of the basic facts I need to know. His revelation that Liverpool fans are thieves insults his sister’s boyfriend, who is next to me in the passenger’s seat, and who, in turn, shares with me that Manchester United fans are dirty thieves, and if I was to drive my van through Manchester, I’d end up with no wheels.
At which point Will notes that if I drove my van through Liverpool, the whole entire van would get stolen. “And you would get beat up,” he finished. This hateful slur is too much for the boyfriend’s pride, and he unbuckles his seat belt to defend the honor of the Liverpoolians and the nine Britons erupt in laughter and taunts, and for a split second, I feel like a Brit once-removed, and to reciprocate the gift, I point out where they can get the best homemade cinnamon rolls in America–the Heavenly Biscuit. It has been a worthwhile international cultural exchange.
I’ve wondered if there is any possible way I can convey to you how funny my job is–my whole life, actually. Funny and awesome. Every day, multiple times a day, I find myself in situations with people and in the midst of conversations that I didn’t imagine occurred in real life, much less as a matter of course.
On this magnificent day with the Dixon and Marshall clans (British people, upon hearing that my family immigrated from England and Scotland, concur that someone in my own clan has a secret involving maybe a Spaniard or Italian or, as Avis noted, maybe a Cherokee?), Dave Shealy, the co-owner of the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters and the Skunk Ape Expert of the Everglades, the fearless leader of Team Skunk Ape, approaches me with an important announcement as Will and Craig are holding the anaconda.
“I put you on my bucket list,” he says. And then walks away. Only to turn around and share with me that he’d gone paddleboarding the day before and loved it. “It was fun!”
I nod because what? I have never been on anyone’s bucket list before to my knowledge. Honestly, I didn’t know you could put people on your earthly to-do list. As with most of my exchanges with Everglades men, I’m not sure if I’ve been complimented or sexually harassed.
The next day, I find myself driving Cristina and me to Miami to Little Haiti.
Fort Myers is a cultural wasteland, a black hole of edification, and Cris and I are starved for something other than the homogenization of over-developed America that is Fort Myers, FLA. Since Brazil, I’ve been craving African dance, and I found a Sunday afternoon class at the Little Haiti Cultural Center smack dab in the middle of the eponymous neighborhood in Miami. This drive is 2 1/2 hours for us from Fort Myers, across the Everglades, which acts as a wormhole–one minute you’re in Naples then you’re warped through the glades and boom! downtown Miami–and Cris and I miss our exit to Ft Lauderdale and end up tacking on an extra half hour that includes not one but three harrowing experiences with toll booths in Miami, the whole thing one 80 mph mindfuck of unclear signage and threats and militia-style warnings about having this thing called a SunPass which sounds nice enough until you don’t have one, you don’t know what it is, and there are seven lanes of traffic on Florida’s Turnpike that all seem to know what to do except you, your silver 2000 Saturn station wagon that gets no radio except for Cuban Slow Jams, and the miniature half-Peruvian next to you who has lived in Florida her whole life and is screaming along side you when you blow through the SunPass lane paying neither a toll nor procuring the SunPass.
But, we got to Little Haiti with ten minutes to spare.
The class, intended to be 1 1/2 hours but extends to 2 1/2, is taught by Ibou (short for Ibrahim), who is thorough enough on the combination–a “sabar” dance from Senegal that is a sexual dance (later, if I have enough guts, I will blog about how uncomfortably sexual my whole life has become now that I have entered my late 30’s–NO ONE prepares a woman for what she is going to be like from about 37-44–I am TELLING you that it is like my sacred delicious grew both a brain and a stomach and I am nothing more than the vehicle which transports them all from one situation to the next; it is one long, long sometimes dreadfully unfunny SNL sketch). However, Ibou cares nothing for instructing us as we move “across the floor,” and so we are forced to imitate whatever in the world he is doing with his feet and arms–lots of hops and kicks and windmilling the arms back and forth simultaneously but all independently of each other–and we must do this watching ourselves in a mirror. I do okay, but what impresses me most is that the mirror reveals I’m back down to my pre-boyfriend size, so I’m extra happy to have broken up with Michael to lose my boyfriend weight. Life is good.
We return through the wormhole with more success at the tolls on the way home, and my alarm chirps at 3:30 a.m. so I can pack up my writer gear and head to HWY 29 in the Everglades where I am meeting my beloved alligator wrangler, who does not love me in return, but I somehow expect this, at a sacred camp in the middle of the Fakahatchee Strand–an Everglades location made famous by Susan Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief. I am writing a profile on him, and this morning is my last interview–I am observing as he and a local filmmaker shoot footage for a documentary. The Saturn and I enter the wormhole again, this time at 4:45 a.m., with coffee and apple fritters from 7-11 as the full moon shines on the night glades.
This is the point at which I realize that I am in love.
With every fucking thing that is. I mean, everything. The moon on the needle grass, the clouds that drape the silver light, the snakes, and Cristina and dancing and my alligator wrangler and poetry. I am in love with the wormhole and Highway 29 and the fact that I get to drive into the Fakahatchee, same as one of my writer heroines, and watch a man light a fire and pray into it because that’s what he was taught to do because there is no human life without heat and light. I love the deer who feeds on the grass as the filmmaker releases the retractable legs of his tripod. I love the filmmaker and his passion to bring something beautiful to the world for no other reason than what else are you supposed to do with your life? I even love the chill, the wet nets of ground spider webs, the mewling of the woodpeckers in the cabbage palms. The sun comes up pink this morning, pink like a prom dress, and back when I was dreaming about the Everglades and I mentioned self-consciously that I thought it was a poem God wrote; well, this morning, I came to believe. I knew in my heart I was right, that the message of love is real, and just hold on a little bit and keep the faith and one morning you’re hugging your knees to your chest in the Fakahatchee and trying not to cry because all your dreams came true and look, here it is.
And it’s not perfect. And it’s certainly not a life that anyone would have chosen for me, and it certainly isn’t a life that other people want. But it was the whisperings in my heart, and I didn’t believe that shit for a long time, but I had a moment today, after a series of crazy funny days, and all I’m trying to tell you is that I’m grateful. The path is precious. And wacky.
And I hope one morning you wake up and love every fucking thing that is because I want that for you. I want it for everybody.
night night beloveds.