by Tim Gilmore, 8/31/2014
I’m sitting with a Serbian poet on a Northeast Florida condo balcony overlooking the ocean and a seaside trailer park.
The condo hives are three stories tall, octagons, pocked with small two-bedroom units. There’s 10 octagonal buildings in the complex.
We’re sipping cheap port, laughing, rubbing our eyes, pulling at our beards.
The trailer park teems with boisterous drunks. Someone’s in hiding down there, we’re sure. One of those sand lots with full trailer hook-ups was some fugitive’s last known address.
Away from the trailers, over the ocean, dark clouds mass light behind them, and the ocean comes aquamarine from the far distance where I can see it touch the sky.
Later we’ll run down through sea oats that toss gracefully in their horse-haired forests on the dunes.
There’s a rusted gate from the dunes to the boardwalk. It was open when we came down to the beach. There’s a button pad aged yellow and brittle. A stranger with no teeth and a swollen belly comes to the other side. “I come to give you the code.”
After that, when we’re sitting here again sipping port, the sun goes down and the breeze comes in. Round-globe lampposts glow at the driveway of each trailer lot underneath. Every few minutes, bottles clink into a trash can. Laughter with an Alabama accent. A woman keeps screaming. Another woman squeals, “Artie!” every two minutes or so.
Another woman keeps saying, “My dad! My dad!” and “I remember when my sister,” and “I would tell my sister,” and she sounds drunk and revelatory and uproarious and sad.
Earlier we saw teenagers riding each other’s shoulders in the swimming pool in the center of the condos. Someone erased the “l” from the word “pool” on the “Pool Rules” sign. “Please shower before entering poo.” “No large flotational devices allowed in poo.” “No pets allowed in poo.”
Outward from this balcony, the tall piles of rambling honeycombed buildings spill one into another, not knowing their own names.
The condo is anonymous, identical to trillions of others. The trailer park warren teemed three stories beneath us in this anonymous moment this anytime night in 1993 and 1976 and 1303 and 988. The ocean winds don’t know the American flag they whip from the Vikings. There’s a dog still barking.
There’s a scarecrow of a boy whirling sparklers in the street of sand. There are wind chimes on a plastic porch, Christmas lights in August palm trees.
Back at the pool, we’d watched the shirtless old man whose belly hung bulbous over the top of his blue shorts as he walked around and around his third story condominium, his sliding-glass doors open salt air.
The whole long coast crowds and climbs itself, slung down hours away from the tall buildings in the middle of Jacksonville, but my Serbian poet friend tells me how many lonely silhouettes huddle in these condo cells. He’s done a study. Down by the pool, we counted hundreds of these thousands of rooms were dark. It was the lit rooms proved his thesis.
“Hibiscus 303B,” he says.
“It reminds me of those old telephone exchanges,” I say. “Or that movie with Elizabeth Taylor and that John O’Hara novel, BUtterfield 8.”
“Sic,” he says.
“That’s why I sleep on this side of the bed,” a woman at the house trailer screams, and her laugh is maniacal.
But the ocean says what the ocean says and will say and has said, and its eternal violent roaring peace says all the ocean says and has to say.
Meanwhile my friend has easily obtained his evidence.
The tap water was sour and pea-green.
Movie stars had stayed here and ruined the mirrors that stretched the length of the walls.
There’s blood on the towels.
In rusted buckets in the dunes, that al-dente green worm with the bright red horn crawls from the cave it ate in that golden tomato.
“And that’s Florida,” my friend says.
This morning we’d bought boiled peanuts and pickled pig’s feet in gallon jars at a roadside produce stand.
“Welcome to America,” I told my Serbian friend.
“Welcome to the earth,” he riposted.
We toasted our friendship, raised our jars, touched peanuts to pig’s feet, and saved the one garden planet from our fascination with anonymous seaside condos.
A woman at the trailer below screams, “I don’t give a shit. It’s time to walk the dogs.”