Intrepid Girl Reporter

Tuesday, 1/4: the days of sunshine
January 5, 2011, 1:43 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I want to return to what I was talking about last time, which is death and where I used to live. I haven’t found the Great Florida Novel yet, and to be honest, I’m not sure that it’s been written; I’ve read Dave Barry, of course, and he’s funny, but he’s more focused on Miami and neither he nor Carl Hiaasen seem to get the darkness, the existential thing, under it all. (Although I haven’t read all that much Hiaasen, so I could be wrong.) And I tried to read Didion’s Miami – ordinarily I adore her – and it just didn’t do it for me.

My town is dead now, or at least that’s what I’ve heard. The town itself, I mean – the businesses are closing, the houses’ prices plummeting. I saw this happening, on a much smaller scale, after we left; the neighborhood cul-de-sac where the neighborhood parents would gather in the lazy heat to drink and watch us run had become overgrown with weeds, and we were only the first family to move away. People got divorced, downsized or left in search of bigger houses (and you’ve never seen a big house until you’ve seen one in the tropics). I wrote a “personal narrative” about it in high school. At the time, I saw it as just the passage of time, a way for me to physically comprehend the ways in which my childhood ended. I didn’t see it as the foreshadowing of something larger. But I wonder now.

The city of Bradenton, however, isn’t the only thing that’s gone. It doesn’t seem right that so many people should be dead – and by right I mean simply that it doesn’t seem correct that such a high proportion should be washed out like so much seaweed into the tide. But I wonder if there’s a sense of nihilism that comes from being, basically, at the bottom of the country, cast out into the ocean like a forgotten trail. From Manatee County, it takes five hours to get out of the state, and the only way to go is up. When the big wave comes, Florida’s going to be the first to go, and living there requires a certain amount of peace with that. That’s what none of the writing I’ve read seems to get: the sandy soil that gets in your skin, the stifling heat, the smell of dead fish that pervades the air during red tide season. The lack of conviction that anywhere else really exists for you.

I wonder, though, if I’m right or if I’m romanticizing all of this, the way you do when you leave a place at the right time. Bradenton to me seems almost too weird to live, with its conquistador festivals and manatees and semi-successful punk bands. The way I remember Bradenton is largely lower-middle-class, a lot of small houses with large boats, a lot of people who drove around getting high and listening to Sublime, who made it to community college or not at all. But I was at my old middle school classmate’s house tonight, talking about why it was that half the people we had known were dead or pregnant or in jail, and the way he saw it was completely different. “It was a lot of rich kids,” he said, “and a lot of drugs…We had things to do. We had a movie theater, a bowling alley, the beach, when you look back on it, but all anyone ever seemed to do was get drunk.” We did have wealthier kids – I was one of them, more or less – mostly the children of doctors and dentists, and there were a lot of them. (We also had famous tennis players, which was weird, and Bobby Bonilla, which was weirder.) So I guess he has a point about that, although none of those people seem to be the ones getting in trouble. But I don’t know that a beach and a movie theater count as enough to make anyone believe that there’s more out there than the endless sea.


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