Friday Morning

Went to the ATM near the Publix where I buy subs for Judy and me. Felt a bit nervous as I fed checks into the machine, but no one lurked close by. The lady at the sub counter expressed astonishment that the contents of Judy’s sandwich were a whole wheat roll, turkey, lettuce. She looked at me with doubt in her eyes and kept asking whether she should add mayonnaise and cheese. I’ve grown tired of explaining Judy’s food sensitivities to strangers and kept insisting on simplicity. I gave her some relief when I asked her to load up my sub.

Walked back to my car parked by the ATM and saw a tall man leaning against a tree for shade. He had big doe eyes and springy dreads. Drove to the lot exit and waited for the light to change. The same man walked across the cross walk in front of me, turned around and slowly made his way down the queue of cars behind me. He walked tentatively as if each step required a series of decisions. He stopped to ask a man in a sedan for something, received an abrupt dismissal and tried at another car window. The light changed.

I pulled into a gas station at the opposite corner and parked at a pump. Went inside to pay cash. A balding sixty-ish man stood ahead of me at the counter. He turned abruptly and almost bumped into me, placed a can of soda five feet away on a ledge in front of a candy display, and turned back to the counter man. Ordered five cash-for-life lotto tickets and carefully sorted them into his wallet.

Pumped my gas and saw the lotto man get into a silver sports car beside me. He beat me out of the lot, popped the accelerator, burst forward. He sped nearly out of sight before I got up to speed. “Adrenaline junky,” I thought.

Why Does Anyone Want to Live in Florida?

Spent the last four days scanning the NOAA website for the latest Hurricane Dorian track. Every time I saw the path cross central Florida I felt a familiar sense of dread. When the path passed over other parts of the state I felt guilt mixed with relief. Better them than me. Oops. Now the forecasted track has drifted east out over the ocean. I’m starting to cautiously relax.

I’ve weathered three tropical storms and four hurricanes in the last 27 years. Can’t say that I’ve acquired battle-weary nonchalance about the latest threats crossing the Atlantic or popping up off the east and west coasts. Instead I feel wary: come September and October, storms strike from every direction except due north.

Talked to my Dad yesterday while waiting for another track announcement. He asked, “Why would anyone want to live in Florida when you have to go through this every year?” Throw in long, hot summers (May to November), mowing the lawn nine months of the year, high crime rates, Florida men behaving badly, tourist-sensitive economies, real estate busts and booms, a crackpot legislature intent on damaging the environment and underfunding schools, and listening to extended Orlando newscasts (commercials) about the latest theme park attractions, and I’m ready to pack bags and sell the house.

Had to top off an elderberry tree growing near the house yesterday. Tropical storm force winds might have whipped its former branches against roof and windows. Stood on a sinking ladder (loose mud beneath me) while I sawed away. Leaned from side to side to rebalance the ladder as droplets showered down from the leaves above.

The tree had been a source of comfort for my wife. She could look out her bedroom window to admire butterflies sipping nectar from its frilly white flowers. Birds came to eat the berries. Lizards sunned on its branches.

Walked around the yard near sunset after returning from an anniversary dinner with Judy. Mellow light filtered through orange-pink-gray clouds. The firebush and passion flower vines are in bloom. Purple and white berries weigh heavily on beauty berry branches. An almost cool breeze blew from the west. A deep sense of peace and belonging settled on me.

Told my Dad that we’d probably move after a kid’s family settles down and I retire. I don’t think we’ll stay in Florida, but there’s times when I’m tempted.

Rain Today (August 3)

The wet weather season in Florida follows a daily pattern: the sun blasts till four or five in the afternoon; sea breezes collide with hot, humid air; thunderstorms rage for about an hour. We’re not used to overcast and persistent light rain. We get depressed after a day or two passes with no clear skies and puffy cumulus clouds to cheer us. We are spoiled.

The remnants of a tropical wave are sliding up the east coast of Florida today. The cluster of clouds too far away to send us even a breeze has gifted us with an influx of abundant moisture. Intermittent showers soaked us the last two mornings and afternoons. A puddle on the front porch lingers from a yesterday afternoon downpour. The damp air slows evaporation to a halt even though the temps are in the high eighties.

I’ve got an electric mower and can’t mow in the rain, so the lawn had a chance to grow unheeded even as my neighbors braved the weather to cut with gas powered models. Skipped a few chances to get the job done during the week to devote time to a remodeling project. A strip in the side yard grew to nine inches in the meantime. Managed to mow the lawn this morning before the drip began.

I worked for about an hour, picked up a few mosquito bites and came in soaked with sweat. My shoes dragged sand into the house. The mower quit on me once when a fuse inside the outdoor outlet triggered for unknown reasons. Had to flip the mower over twice to clear mucky wet grass clippings from around the blade. Hit two fire ant mounds with the mower but managed not to get bit. They usually seethe out of the ground when disturbed but seemed to find the dull, wet weather dispiriting. They only felt like putting on a moderate show of aggression.

The gloom makes me gently sad today. It’s a French sort of melancholy, a cozy slide into Thelonious Monk “Round Midnight” blues.

Read a post by my brother recalling that August 3 is the anniversary of my sister’s death. Six years have passed. The pain has faded somewhat. The soft rain seems appropriate.

Nay-Chuh: Yard Encounters

Fire Bush
Front Porch Orchids

Felt like I’m fighting a virus today, so I hibernated in my bedroom watching youtube videos. Came out to show Judy a funny meme, and she told me about her nature adventures in our yard.

A feral cat (probably the tan kitty who acts like she owns the yard) killed a mole, ate its tail, dragged it onto our front porch and deposited it beneath Judy’s favorite chair. (Judy assigned me to the one-man burial detail. Shovel ready! Ho!)

The Fallen: Tail-less Mole

A two-inch hornet started a mud nest on the underside of the picture window’s outside sill. Judy knocked it down while the builder lingered elsewhere. (She plans to spray the site with peppermint oil to discourage further attempts to develop the location. In her defense, the hornet never applied for a permit before starting its project.)

A hawk swooped down on a snake and carried it into the drainage ditch behind our back yard. The bird took ten minutes to finish its meal. (A leisurely meal aids digestion when one tears a pheasant or snake.)

I went out to bury the mole and stopped to take some snaps. Butterflies abounded on fire bush, bougainvillea and passion flower blossoms. The fire ant hills I discovered earlier in the week look deserted, and the response to a few pokes with a leaf was tepid. The backyard bushes looked sloppily overgrown but lovely.

I shelved my camera and buried the mole in the front garden patch. I felt a lot better when I came inside.

A narrowly observed conclusion: while nature may be deadly to moles, fire ants and snakes, it’s healthier for me, hawks and butterflies.

Dollar Store Funeral Home

We dressed in our best clothes and drove slowly to a funeral home on Wayne Avenue. The two-story Victorian mansion loomed over the manicured grounds, and the prospect of seeing my dead grandmother lying in her coffin became eerier. The heavy curtains, dim lights and hushed atmosphere inside confirmed my fears. A door off a half hidden side hall could have easily led to a basement crypt worthy of a tale from Edgar Allen Poe.

My sister chose a more modern looking establishment for her funeral. The parlor could have passed itself off as a small business office, but it sat on an isolated lot. Dire function dictated location. The carpeted halls, floral wallpaper, innocuous paintings and flower arrangements reminded me of a modern hotel striving and failing to create a sense of old fashioned hominess. I found myself longing for the muted Addams Family creepiness of the Wayne Avenue home. Victorian gloom fit better with the utter strangeness of saying good bye to a body that once belonged an athlete, a tough chick, a loving mom.

Today I passed by a strip mall in southeastern Orlando. I saw a cut-rate funeral parlor on a site cheek to jowl with a Dollar General. A McDonald’s, a Goodyear Tire Store and a chiropractor’s office sat on lots just down the road. I got the impression that buying fast food, a tire rotation, and therapy for a kinked back could be items on an itinerary that included sending Aunt JoJo into the Great Beyond.

Death, of course, is a part of life, but we may have slipped a bit in honoring the momentous nature of the occasion.

Allergy Season

The crisp, cool weather tempts me to go outside to plant my garden, trim trees and bushes, and paint the porch ceiling. But I know that it’s all a cruel trick, a pollen ambush.

We got up from lunch today, and I headed toward my bedroom. A sudden spike in irritation made me sneeze violently like a banshee having a particularly bad moment. The sound must have been in resonance with the metal lampstand nearby. I heard a bell-like ring echoing my nose’s outraged shriek.

The maple at the bottom of my driveway has started to sprout tender bunches of tiny flowers. Their reproductive outburst makes my nose drain continually down the back of my throat, and I wake up in the middle of the night with the feeling that ants are tapdancing on the back of my throat and inside my sinus passages. The pines haven’t started, but some of the oaks in the neighborhood have begun to acquire a mustard yellow tint. Eye-watering, nose-running hell commences when all three tree pollens make a combined campaign near the end of February.

I rarely buy flowers for my wife on Valentine’s Day. I resent all flora by that point and the deceptive gaudiness of brightly colored petals. I know that Mother Nature did not evolve with the express purpose of inducing three month histamine attacks every year, but don’t tell that to my nose.

They’re Out to Kill Me (Nothing Personal)

I’ve identified a few of the customary ways that Orlando drivers try to kill fellow motorists.  Some are insanely competitive and weave aggressively in an attempt to beat everyone to the next red light.  Some merge or make radical lane changes without looking at traffic in their path.  Some tailgate and ride a few feet behind the car in front of them.  If the pursued accelerates, the bumper-humpers speed up to maintain proximity.  Some use right hand turn lanes to jump ahead of traffic and cut into the line on their left just before they run out of road.  Some slump from a side street onto a busy road, nearly come to a halt as they complete the turn, and slowly accelerate as if unaware of the screeching brakes of oncoming cars.  Some blast through intersections several seconds after the light has turned red.

All these homicidal practices are common place, and I no longer take it personally when someone forces me to violently twist my steering wheel or slam my brake pedal to the floor board.  I know that I’m not a specific target.  I just happened to be nearby when a fool decided to do something stupid.

But I’ve recently come across a new behavior that still surprises me.  I’ve had three encounters in recent months with drivers who don’t believe in correctly using turn lanes at stop lights.  They seem to think that the arrows on the pavement are suggestions instead of commands.

A motorcyclist riding to the right and behind roared past as I made a left hand turn.  He swerved in front of me, sped on for about thirty yards and turned into a shopping center.  He might have saved a second of travel time.  A driver beside me at a T-intersection used the right hand turn lane to drift in front of me as I tried to turn left.  I  stood on my brakes and hit my horn, but she casually drove on as if she’d done nothing dangerous.  I got passed today as I crossed an intersection.  I was going straight ahead, but a workman in a pick-up, who should have turned left seeing that he had started out in a left hand turn land, ambled by at mid-intersection and leisurely nosed his way into my lane.

I don’t know if these folks are looking at their phones, are submerged in their thoughts, are hell bent on getting where they’re going, or just don’t give a damn about their insurance rates or the points on their records.  I’ve been fortunate enough to never have to chat with them…

Now I doubt the intentions of all drivers stopped at traffic lights and assume that they’ll try to kill me when the light turns green.  (Nothing personal).  That attitude sounds paranoid and might not protect me from getting creamed by a particularly flagrant driver, but at least I won’t be surprised when it happens.