A long time ago, my father joined the throngs of snowbirds who, having screwed up their lives in their home states, head for easy living in the Sunshine State. Much to our dismay, he insisted on bringing my mother and I along. It would be wonderful, he promised. Sun! A fresh start! She wept, selling off her beloved suburban Long Island home and everything she owned that wouldn’t fit into the back of a 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass.
Thirteen years old, I glowered. He was ruining my life, dragging me off to the wilderness. I was unamused. Packed into the back of the Cutlass with 95 pounds of shepherd-collie and a pissed-off cat, I resigned myself to my fate.
He headed for Fort Lauderdale, because he remembered liking it 20 years earlier when he and my mother had vacationed in Florida. He purchased a motor home, insisting it would be like being on vacation every day. It was not. Being new to the sub-tropics, we didn’t pay much attention to the fact that the motor home was sitting on the lot with the door open. We did, however, notice the giant flying cockroaches that emerged like a tiny little crazed air force once the sun went down.
At Stranahan Junior High School, I noticed immediately that some things were different from my upper middle class school in Huntington. For one thing, most of the kids seemed stoned. And it turned out that a prime source for their smokes was our history teacher, a tall man perpetually wearing dark glasses.
When we finally moved out of the motor home and into a house in rural Fort Pierce, our windows were shot out. We heard it was because we were Yankees. My father began building houses. A year later he was informed by the local sheriff’s department that they had been tapping our phone, as they had suspected him of being a criminal. He had an Italian surname and was a builder, so he must have been in the mafia, right?
I made friends. One of the few girls who didn’t shun me when I explained that I couldn’t accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior because I was already Catholic, Teresa, told me that her father had been Catholic until he’d “seen the light,” and that she’d never met an EYE-talian before. “I thought they had horns!’
I vowed I would get back to my beloved New York, and I did, though it took 20 years. I am a proud Florida Gator, and have many wonderful friends in the Sunshine State. But you gotta admit, Florida does attract more than its share of the nitwits among us.