Everyone has lost their goddamn mind. Can you blame them?
The west coast is on fire, there are five named storms churning in the Atlantic and Tom Brady is a Buccaneer. Furthermore: some Florida Man keeps swimming to the floating platform in the middle of the alligator-friendly water-hazard of the local abandoned golf course to plant their Trump flag. Politics aside, it is an odd choice for a territorial claim with the derelict (and haunted) Hawk Haven Country Club in the background. Each flag only lasts a couple days before afternoon storms thrash it to ribbons, prompting another stealth-mission swim by our Trumpeteer in the night. Residents of the Hawk Haven suburb have sent complaints of the flag to the absentee landlord, but the property owner in question – Howard Hoch, the Florida air-conditioning mogul and real estate baron – is an unconditional support of Trump and Trump’s puppet, Governor DeSantis. For all we know, Howard Hoch is back-stroking his 400-lb refrigerator body to plant the flag himself.
“Does it matter?” Hawk Haven Neighborhood Watchman, Rodney Rando, asks me with indifference. His fidgety eyes are hazel, I realize. It is not often to find Rodney Rando without sunglasses and even when you might, his mustache commands attention away from his eyes. Today, however, his mustache is covered with a coronavirus mask. We’ve found old Hazel Eyes holding court at Oviedo Brewing Company after a weekend softball tournament. He’s surrounded with softball coaches; sunburnt and pony-tailed ladies who playfully critique Rodney Rando’s umpiring, at least until he’s become distracted with me. “Does it matter who planted the flag?” Rod repeats his question. “Does the flag matter at all? This is Central Florida; what’s one more Trump flag?”
I guess it doesn’t matter; I acquiesce, if only to put an end to the ire of the broad-shouldered ladies at the table who’d rather I slunk-off to a far corner with my pint of coffee porter.
“Of course it matters.” Rodney Rando counters, removing his facemask to reveal his glorious mustache and take a sip of Vienna lager. “The flag not-so-much, but the process of planting the flag does matter.”
Because it is private property and a crime, I suggest.
“You’re thinking too hard.” Rodney Rando says. “Whoever is raising the flag is a local to Hawk Haven Country Club, but not Howard Hoch himself. If Howie wanted to use his overgrown golf course as a campaign billboard, he would put up a campaign billboard with just the loose change found at the bottom of his yacht’s Jacuzzi. A single flag on a wooden platform is small-fry; it is likely from a resident of the area with enough Bud Light in their blood to risk the moccasins and rabid otters living in those ponds.”
“Someone who might mow their lawn barefoot?” I suggest. Rodney Rando shrugs. He realizes I am referring to a particular resident, Robert E. McGee, who we call “Chuckles” for his stoic disposition towards his neighbors. Robert E. is known for barefoot lawn-mowing and raucous pool parties attended by out-of-town guests, mostly tribal-tattooed hill people who crowd the suburban cul de sacs with their jet-ski towing pickup trucks. It is strange accoutrement, these jet-skis. Why bring them to a pool party when there is a clear lack of nearby jet-skiable waters? Certainly, the weed-choked and arsenic-rich water-hazards of the abandoned golf course are not candidates… Of course, it is possible the Florida hill people might bring their jet-skis everywhere in paranoid anticipation of a doomsday scenario in which they are forced to outrun the Anti-Christ and/or ATF through roadside ditches atop their wave-runners. If this be the case: God bless and Godspeed.
“Yeah, it might be Chuckles.” Rodney Rando acknowledges Robert E. McGee as a likely culprit. “Or four dozen others. Florida might be a purple swing state, but only because of the population of the blue coastal cities balancing out the red interior. It isn’t the politics which matter here, though. We need to know who is swimming in these cesspools because of Naegleria fowleri, better known as brain-eating amoeba. Whoever is staking their claim with those flags could be literally losing their mind right now.”
How are we to know if our neighbors are, or are not, having their brain eaten by amoeba? Are there certain characteristics? Do they foam at the mouth or eat raw meat or drive slow in the passing lane?
“If your brain is being eaten by an amoeba, your symptoms could be confused with a coronavirus. You could have headaches and nausea, fever and sore-throats… vomiting. Stiff-neck is a symptom specific to the amoeba. If you have all of the flu features with a stiff neck, you might have a brain-eating amoeba.” Rodney Rando supposes. “Or you might be an oral sex enthusiast with Covid-19.”
Is it contagious, this N. fowleri? Why does the Neighbor Watch need to keep tab of such things?
“You ever hear the story of Paul Gregg, a realtor out of Winter Springs?” Rodney Rando asks me. I shake my head no and he nods, signaling to the waitress for another round of beer. “I knew the guy; decent man, a bit goofy. He and his wife started Winters Springs Summer or Paul Realty (his wife’s name is Summer, naturally). They were showing a multi-million dollar home on Lake Maitland when someone left the door open. The dog of the house escaped and leapt into the warm summer water. Paul, at the direction of Summer, kicked off his boat shoes and dove after the labradoodle. He made such a splash, the dog ran back into the house. Paul dragged himself out of that lake, but he was not alone.”
A sly grin spreads across Rodney Rando’s face as he continues, “Now Summer and I, we go way back. Way back… back and forth, I guess you could say. After Paul’s death, she teased with the idea of me joining the Realty company, but ‘Winter Springs Summer or Rod Randovic Realty’ doesn’t have the same ring. She ended up finding this sleazy house-flipper out of St. Pete…”
Wait, what happened to Paul?
Rodney Rando sighs and takes a sip off his fresh beer. “I guess the community first realized something was wrong at Bowigen’s Brewing Trivia Night sponsored by Winter Springs Summer or Paul. Summer and Paul were there as hosts, but not participants. With every question, Paul blurted out the answer as if he had Tourette’s and couldn’t help himself. ‘What is the longest river in the world?’ the emcee would ask and Paul would yell, ‘Nile! Nile! Denial is the first stage of acceptance! File your taxes early and get ten percent off!’ The trivia host wasn’t going to kick the sponsor of trivia night out; this went on all night. Summer generally thought her husband a dunce, but on this night she was so impressed with his trivial knowledge she rooted him on. She even bought rounds of beer for the contestants to keep them happy as Paul continued naming 19th century presidents in chronological order. In hindsight, I guess the amoeba had eaten away enough brain to lower Paul’s self-control and open the door to all this random bullshit he normally didn’t have at the tip of his tongue.
“Summer wasn’t worried about Paul until the next day, when Paul woke her with a big shit-eating grin. He knew where the Maya treasure had been buried, hidden away from Juan Ponce and De Soto and all the conquistadors.”
Maya treasure in Florida?
“Yeah, the Atlanteans had told Paul the Maya empire stretched all the way to Georgia and there was a trove of treasure buried near New Smyrna Beach.”
“Ghosts of Atlantis who had taken possession of Paul’s neighbor’s pet corgies.” Rodney Rando says. “From what Summer relayed to me a few days later… a few nights later, actually… Paul was convinced the dogs held the secret. The neighbors, not so much. They asked Paul to stay away. So Paul kidnaps the corgies and must have been en route to New Smyrna Beach when he died.”
Are the dogs okay?
“Police were called to the 417 bridge over Lake Jesup where two dogs were seen running along the freeway. I don’t know how a driver going 80 mph over that bridge would be able to identify them as domestic dogs versus raccoons or possums, but the police rescued the dogs. They also found a spot near the beginning of the bridge where a car had recently driven into the lake. I was called to the scene as a volunteer for the Seminole County Sheriff’s Rescue Dive Team.” Rodney Rando says before pausing and setting his hazel eyes a thousand yards into the distance. “That lake is evil…”
More alligators per bucket of water than any lake in Florida other than Okeechobee, I say.
“I didn’t find anything, but the second shift of divers found Paul as naked as the day he was born, buckled into his seat belt with that shit-eating grin on his face. It was the coroner who had identified Naegleria fowleri as the indirect cause of Paul’s drowning.”
Following Rodney Rando’s logic, I am able to conclude the reason we need to know if it is Robert E. McGee or another who is swimming into these ponds is to ensure brain-eating amoebas do not cause any more dog-napping.
Rodney Rando shrugs, “Sure, for the dogs. Yeah, but uh… I’m more concerned with that Maya treasure. I don’t need any Atlantean ghosts telling Chuckles ‘X marks the spot’ when I have almost found the loot myself.”