Oxbow Heights is not the obvious choice for ground-zero of the Florida Secessionist Movement, but then, who would actively select Oxbow Heights for anything? The estranged elderly men who haunt the halls of this halfway-house are often exiled here via court-order; they don’t choose Oxbow Heights for the fire-ant infested shuffleboard court or the brunch buffet of burnt toast. Residents tend to be aged ne’er-do-wells of various sorts: larcenists, arsonists, pedophiles and Ponzi kings; old men withering on the Oxford Heights vine. The only women allowed on premises are social workers and parole officers. If the ebbing storm-surge of a hurricane slurped the disaffected populace of Oxbow Heights into the maws of oblivion, the exodus of souls would go unnoticed by all but the psychopomp eels sucking clean the bones at the bottom of the ocean. To put it simply: the purgatorial apartment complex of Oxford Heights is a societal afterthought, which is why Oxbow Heights is the obvious choice for ground-zero of the Florida secessionist movement.
With its cement block rococo and its peeling stucco and its long midday shadows and its mossy hairpiece and its eternal dampness and its swamp-ass pool and the bric-à-brac litter of cigarette butts and scratched-off lotto tickets and mystery syringes and dollar-store fliers and unlikely condoms curled up on the asphalt like flaccid snakeskin, Oxbow Heights’ appearance hasn’t changed in countless decades. The car models progress, but their salt-corroded exteriors are a constant. The inhabitants who expire are replaced with like-kind: exhausted, exasperated and existentially empty elders of the greatest generation. Year after year, these men of exile melt in the sun along with their merchant marine tattoos, nourished only through cheap beer and nicotine. The only thing new which has happened to this community in a long time is the coronavirus epidemic, though you wouldn’t recognize its presence in the drooping bare-faces of these men without damns to give who welcome any death, no matter how horrid, as long as it does the job and isn’t an immigrant.
No, I wouldn’t expect Oxbow Heights to be birthplace to the latest Florida secessionist movement, but neither would I expect residents of this halfway-house to order a 16-pack of wham-bam tacos from Taco Tramp Food Truck. Not that the people here are too good for Taco Tramp slop; neither are they undeserving. Taco Tramp sells specialty inauthentic faux-Mexican reminiscent of a bad dream of broken teeth and priced as if the tortillas were made of stem-cells and crushed pearl. If first impressions count, my personal arithmetic summed zero: the guacamole may as well have been green-dyed mashed-potato and the pico de gallo would have been better if replaced with watery ketchup. Despite it all, Taco Tramp is the talk of the town; marketing trumps quality and word-of-mouth has led to herpes outbreaks and increased demand for Taco Trump tacos, perhaps in no small part due to the growing number of Covid-19 survivors who never regained their sense of taste. But what would I know? I just deliver the shit.
On the drive over to Oxbow Heights, hunger (or ill-conceived curiosity) gets the better of me and I thieve a bite from one of the 16 wham-bam tacos. As my jaws clench on the rubbery outer layer of taco, I receive a money-shot of sour-cream which spills forth from my over-capacity oral cavity onto my fuzzed chin, a mess costing me precious seconds in delivery time. Fortunately, for appearances, I have my Ding-Dong Delivery facemask to cover-up my indiscretion as I deliver the 15 tacos post-haste.
“Vic! Izzatchu brother?”
I am 83% up the three flights of stairs when someone has recognized me past the Ding-Dong Delivery facemask. His face is familiar, though his name (Clem Bullock) drew a blank until I later scour my coffee-stained notebooks of yesteryear. Hey dude, I say to Clem Bullock. He introduces me to his mate, Geese, who in the darkness might as well have been a Clem Bullock doppelgänger: too young to live in a senior community, too old to wear a hat turned backwards, work boots, no Covid mask, camouflage pants and a Hawaiian floral pattern shirt sticking out from under a Kevlar vest. Hey dude, I say to Geese.
“Ain’t seen you in forever, man! Came to join the party?” Clem says, hand slapping my shoulder with god-knows-what contagions seeping into the cotton fabric of my Ding-Dong Delivery t-shirt.
While I may not remember the name Clem Bullock, I remember the goofy face from lead-up to the 2012 Maya Apocalypse. Back then, Clem Bullock had been a member of OASIS, the Oviedo Army of Security, Intelligence and Survival, a militia of Obama-fearing, anti-globalist, over-sexed soccer hooligans. They weren’t exactly my crowd, but I wasn’t there for the shrimp cocktail. I was there for the women. Those were some darker bachelor days, mind. Mum was pressing me to date a good Christian girl instead of the godless wretches I normally palled around with and, well, I wasn’t waking-up early to go to church, which left country-western, line-dancing, whiskey barns as the next surefire place to meet a nice Jesus-loving, horse-riding, southern girl… a girl like Tuesday. Tuesday had one and half blue-eyes, bounced a golden cross necklace between her breasts as she danced Honkytonk, was named after a Lynyrd Skynyrd song, wore her strawberry-blonde hair long and her jean-skirt short. She was a 22 year-old virgin who loved shooting guns and Bible study. We would go jet-skiing together at her folks’ place out in the Volusia County backwaters, where I fell-in with Clem Bullock and his ilk, circa 2012 Maya pre-Apocalypse. Tuesday and I only dated for two weeks, but it was enough to put me on Obama’s No-Fly list for a year. And I voted for the dude! Anyway…
“You brought food? Awesome.” Clem Bullock clocks my taco bag.
I am admitted into the den of conspirators. The raucous noise is uneven as most of the party has maladjusted hearing-aids. There is a fog of tobacco, coffee grinds and stale urine; my Ding-Dong Delivery mask is not enough to filter out the foulness. I trip over the walker of a liver-spotted troll who is chewing on his own phlegm as he espouses the viewpoint of supporting Israel without “trusting them Jews” to an audience of two men on a couch: one dead and the other in a fugue state. Looking down the hall, I count a dozen old fellas hacking-up their displeasure, many of whom have state-provided ankle bracelets.
Sacred beard of baby jesus, I mumble under the Ding-Dong Delivery mask, what the flying fuck have I stumbled into? I am eager to depart, run for the county-line and find enough hand-sanitizer to bathe in, yet I am also curious and I lean-in… Clem Bullock introduces me to Rocky, can I guess why he is named Rocky? Because his teeth are punched out? No, he used to be a geologist. And he’ll clean my gutters for $30. But I don’t have any gutters. Rocky shrugs and smiles with less shame than teeth, for a Big Mac then, he says.
Atop a card table, next to an empty industrial-sized plastic jug of blended whiskey, there is a yellowed legal pad (it had been a white legal pad before being tinted with nicotine). It is a damn goldmine of treasonous data. Clem Bullock notices my amazement and says this is just the rough draft. He says they are still settling on what to name the new nation. He asks his buddy, Geese, what is the most American word you can think of?
“Hamburger” Geese says. I tell him that is German. Clem Bullock agrees, but likes the general direction. He asks Geese what’s more American than hamburgers? “French-fries” says Geese.
I look at the greasy legal pad. It is the “Oxbow Heights Congressional Congress” rough draft of a constitution beginning with, “we the people of the Republic of Florida”. Clem Bullock puts his forefinger on the name and says they are trying to come up with a name for the secessionist state which doesn’t sound as ethnic as “Florida”. They are thinking “Leeland” in honor of General Robert E. or “Jacksonia” in honor of President Andrew. Why not Genghis Canada, I offer. Clem Bullock continues undeterred, naming other options, such as “The American Republic of Florida” or “The Republic of American Florida” because putting “America” next to anything ethnic makes it seem more American. Clem Bullock says he is personally fond of “Trumptopia”.
I steal a glance at the yellowed legal pad as Clem Bullock departs, “lemme scare-up some Bud Lights”. The contents are not as enlightening as they are stupefyingly informative. The Florida secessionists are calling for no taxation, period. A government funded by charity, I guess… They want lax regulations for hunting and gun-ownership, naturally… No more wake zones for manatees… Something called “Miami FICE”, which is like ICE, but for Florida to “weed-out the bad Hispanics”. They would like trade agreements with Georgia along with a Florida Republic passport to travel indiscriminately through southern states. Media has to meet state-approved standards. Marriage laws should be “more Biblically based… less dependent on age”; not creepy at all. Divorce is restricted to approval by the higher courts unless a spouse is deemed “hysterical” by her husband, in which case, marriage annulment is immediate and without recourse, alimony or child support. When it comes to epidemics or climate, state response will be “based on facts… not ‘science experts’…”
Clem Bullock returns with a couple domestic beers for Geese and me. He has a toast, raising his beer can, “To Old Man Joe, if he really thinks he is president… I can’t wait to see Old Joe’s face when he wakes up to find only 49 states!”
I don’t drink the beer. I’m not that kind of boy. It’s shit, regardless. I scope the next page of the legal pad (less yellowed from less exposure to cigarettes). There is the calling for a “Bureau of Fake News” or “Bureau of Hoaxes” to “fight climate hoaxers, eliminate misinformation, increase the value of Florida waterfront property”. There is also a “Bureau of Citizen Worthiness” which requires no further explanation. There are a few random ideas jotted down, such as the annexation of the Bahamas, because “they speak English”. There are alternative names for the new republic, such as those already mentioned as well as “Eagleland”, “New Eden”, “Libertia”, and my personal favorite, “The Peninsular Republic of Christ”.
Clem Bullock is wondering if we should allow Trump to be President of Florida for life. Geese isn’t sure and asks, “but what about DeSantis?” Clem Bullock, anticipating the counter, says “Fuck DeSantis” before Geese can even complete the question.
“Who the heck is this wahoo?” a harpy eagle screeches; her hair-curlers on fire. I recognize her tinted lenses, triple chins and vertigo-inspiring pitch. She is Becca Bea Stephenson, aka “BB-Gun Stephenson”, formerly a kindergarten teacher who was fired for striking a parent with a yard-stick, who became a Tea-Party candidate for Orange County schoolboard and, after losing, was elected to Volusia County schoolboard only to be fired in 2011 when she drove her car through a crowd of Occupy Wall Street supporters in downtown Orlando. She’s spent the last decade attempting to be elected United States Senator. “What the heck is this bozo doing here?”
Clem Bullock is defensive as the old lady singles me out with an exceptionally elongated index finger. He says, “Hey, BB, this is just Vic, okay?” Becca Bea Stephenson is not appeased and says I am just a Ding-Dong Delivery pawn. Who brought me to the party, she wants to know. Clem Bullock, confused, turns towards me and asks, “Dude, man, so who did you come here with?”
I hold up the bag and say, “Taco Tramp”.
I am escorted out of the room, down the flights of stairs and out of Oxbow Heights. Before I drive away, I roll down my window to say goodbye to Clem Bullock, whose name still escapes me. “Bye dude” and because I couldn’t resist, “so hey, have you seen Tuesday around lately?”