19 March 2004

My visit to Florida, 15–19 March 2004

Monday, 15 March, New York City, Tampa, Hudson: Having looked at my itinerary’s arrival rather than departure time, I arrived at LaGuardia Airport late and missed my flight to Tampa. I was given standby tickets and departed about six hours after I was originally supposed to do so. Those six hours in the airport included spending US$10.21 on a small, bland sandwich and a soda at the wildly overpriced Figs snack and sandwich outlet. My flight was uneventful, and the man sitting next to me was clearly uninterested in my mild, half-hearted attempts to be friendly.

Rather than allow me to ride a taxi or jitney upon arrival at Tampa International Airport, my mother and her boyfriend Irv drove all the way to Tampa and surprised me at the airport. We rode to Hudson together in his flashy convertible. The weather was wet, and my mother and I ate dinner at home rather than brave the rain.
Tuesday, 16 March, Hudson, Spring Hill, Bayonet Point, Port Richey, New Port Richey: (My father’s birthday on the Gregorian calendar.) My mother and I went to China Garden(?) in Hudson before going to visit my father in the memory center at the Residence at Timber Pines (Spring Hill a/k/a “Tel Abib” [תל־אביב]). Perhaps because it was his birthday, he was ever so slightly more cognizant than usual. He seemed to recognize me in some manner and even uttered a word (“yeah”). A staff member asked me about my clothing. Trying to find some perspective she might understand, I compared being a Jewish-American who wears Near Eastern and South Asian clothing from various cultures to Afrocentrism and African-Americans’ wearing African-inspired clothing not specific to any one African culture. The clearest indication she hadn’t at all understood me was her followup question: “So you’ve been to Africa?” Luckily, I could just answer “yes” and end the conversation right there. While my father ate lunch and attempted to eat his napkin, I met Elva, his roommate Glen’s wife. They are Michiganers. The staff presented my father with a piece of chocolate cream pie and sang “Happy Birthday to You” to him, but he didn’t seem to have any idea what was going on. My mother and I left to go “antiquing” at the Hospice Store in Bayonet Point and the Goodwill shop in Port Richey. I picked out plenty of phonograph records in the Hospice Store, because the sign on the wall said they were 25¢ apiece, but when we got up to the cashier, her notes said they were 10¢ apiece. We went to Chili’s in New Port Richey for dinner, and the manager there is a nut. She approached our table and asked if everything were all right. Since it was before any food had arrived, we were a little confused, but it soon became apparent she was referring to my videotaping. She asked if I were taping her, and after I replied in the negative, she said not once but twice that if I were taping her, she’d break my camera. Not knowing whether I should interpret this as a threat, I calmly reiterated I would not tape her. When I continued taping various things other than her, my mother noticed her getting bugged by it. She returned to the table with a smile and told me she’d have to ask me to stop taping. She claimed a customer had supposedly complained about it, and it was supposedly Chili’s’ policy to prohibit videorecording anyway. I didn’t believe her for a moment, especially since she herself had so clearly become spooked by the taping when in truth I had not the slightest interest in recording her image. Perhaps she’s wanted in another state and afraid of her cover being blown, because I can’t figure out any other reason to act like such a mental case. Having pretty much recorded all I wanted to, I complied with her fabricated rule so as not to have trouble. I had extensively videotaped in restaurants in various Muslim and ‘Arab countries, yet it was in “free” America (albeit Bush’s Florida) my touristic activity is censured. Afterward, my mother and I wandered around Books-a-Million for too long a period of time.
Wednesday, 17 March, Hudson, Spring Hill, Weeki Wachee, Port Richey: (St. Patrick’s Day.) Similar to what happened at the Goodwill shop the day before, the Salvation Army shop in Spring Hill advertised phonograph records would be US$1 apiece, but upon bringing them to the cashier, the price went down to four for a dollar. My mother and I went to Applebee’s in Spring Hill for lunch and encountered numerous folk she knew, including Noel and Gloria. Noel’s friends at his table and those who visited his table before leaving were by far the loudest people in the restaurant. In the parking lot, I met my mother’s friend Rosalyn whose red fingernails perfectly matched her car. We returned to the Residence at Timber Pines for the memory center’s St. Patrick’s Day “party.” One worker made my father laugh by pulling a big balloon sculpture that had been standing quietly in the corner closer to him and saying Saint Patrick had come to the party and was praying to God for some thing or another I can’t remember. Another worker was certain there’d be no snakes present thanks to Saint Patrick’s being there. On closer inspection after the religious şpil [שפּיל], I saw it wasn’t even Saint Patrick but a lepruchaun standing on a pot of gold. The hired help were shouting in their high, strained voices and making every attempt to simulate a wild party, but the residents remained sedate despite their silly hats, noisemakers and smiling-face stickers. My father was even less lucid than the prior day, this time attempting to eat a noisemaker. Though mildly entertaining, the whole affair was pretty pathetic. Afterward, my mother and I went to Weeki Wachee to visit their Goodwill store. The shopping center was across the highway from a fairly famous service station shaped liked a large dinosaur (likely a brontosaurus). Again, we found big sales: The phonograph discs and audiocassettes here were also four for a dollar, and most books, magazines and clothing were “buy one get two free.” I bought some old National Geographic magazines, their fifty-cent labels making them six for a dollar under the sale’s rules, two waistcoats and a whole slew of records. This year in Florida, I found a goldmine, buying music by Anita Bryant, Barbara Mandrell, Barbra Streisand, Bonnie Prudden, Carmen McRae, Carole King, Chér, Connie Francis, Diana Ross, Dinah Washington, Doris Day, Dorothy Kirsten, Édith Piaf, Gisele Mackenzie, Grace Moore, Jane Morgan, Judy Collins, Kim Carnes, Lena Horne, the Lennon Sisters, Linda Ronstadt, Liza Minnelli, Mindy Carson, Nona Hendryx, Patsy Cline, Patti Page, Patty Duke, Shirley Bassey, the Supremes, Teresa Brewer and Miss Vicki Benêt. Then we went to My Cluttered Closet, a consignment store (and according to the business card, a “boo-t’ek”) in the same shopping center. The place was pretty, but the prices were high, and the merchandise was nothing in which I was interested. The lady in the store said the dinosaur had been there for as long as anyone could remember and was probably some marker for the entrance to Weeki Wachee. (A little research on the Internet showed me it was actually built as a service station in the mid-1960s.) Then we returned home to Hudson to relax, so I put on some relaxing music: Tana mana, by Ravi Shankar (or “the Ravi Shankar Project,” as the cassette insert says). My mother said the music made the house sound like a “smoking den,” presumably an opium den. Eventually, Irv returned in a yarmlke [יאַרמלקע] to spend some time with us before dinner. While I was in another room, she referred to the “crazy music” and recounted the story of meeting friends in Applebee’s, telling Irv “they’ll think he’s a terrorist.” We left in Irv’s convertible for Carrabba’s in Port Richey, a far better restaurant than I’d anticipated. The staff was oddly adamant about it: When we entered, a busboy asked us something like, “Are you ready for the best food you’ve ever eaten?,” and our waiter (Chris, I think) was encouraging me to travel from New York City to Syracuse or Niagara just to visit the Carrabba’s restaurants there. Afterward, we went to Irv’s house in Hudson where he showed me around and let me pick what I liked amongst the (mostly 10″, 78 R. P. M.) phonograph discs in his collection. He was very anxious to please his girlfriend’s son, but he assured me he’d never listen to them again whether I took them or not. (He had Doris Day, Dorothy Claire, Ella Fitzgerald, Helen Forrest, Helen O’Connell, Helen Ward, Jane Harvey, Jo Stafford, Judy Garland, Kate Smith, Kay Weber, Liza Morrow, Louise Tobin, Marion Hutton, Marion Mann, Peggy Lee, Peggy Mann and Shirley Jones.) Then we drove to my mother’s house and had xaziray [חזירײַ].
Thursday, 18 March, Hudson, Port Richey, New Port Richey: (Scott’s/Şmuel [שמואל]’s birthday on the Gregorian calendar.) This morning, my videocamera broke (unrelated to the threat from the manager at Chili’s), and I don’t have enough time to have it repaired until I return to New York, so I’ll have to do without images of the façades of whichever stores I visit today and the butts of whichever attractive men I see. Azoy geyt es in Florida. [אַזױ גײט עס אין פֿלאָרידאַ܁] Thank goodness, if it had to break, it did so on the day before I return to New York rather than in the middle of my trip to Egypt.

I went to bed late this morning and slept all day, until after 15:00. My mother and I went to Hops restaurant in Port Richey and ate too much because we had skipped lunch. The lady who brought our food to the table asked me if I were from Kenya! We went to Gulfview Square Mall in New Port Richey in part to see my friend Furqan Muhammad [فرقان محمد] who works there (or so we thought). Because my camera was broken, my mother actually brought her still camera to take a picture of Muhammad and me together. Some sexy young man who may have been Muhammad’s brother told me Muhammad now works elsewhere (and also asked if I were Muslim). I was very disappointed because I hadn’t seen him in about two years, but at least I got to see his brother who is almost as cute. There was also another nice-looking Pakistani-looking worker at another store who gave me a big hello. Because my camera is broken, I have no images of them to share, so please go to Gulfview Square Mall and gaze upon them yourselves. We returned home early, around 20:30, so I could pack. On the telephone, my mother told Irv how personable I am and how much all her friends liked me, but made sure to add, “I get embarassed with his dress and everything.”
Friday, 19 March, Hudson, Tampa, New York City: Having packed absolutely everything I had bought into a bag to be checked and a carry-on bag, I embarked back to Tampa International Airport with an acquaintance (named Barbara, I believe) hired by my mother (definitely named Barbara). This lady was friendly but kept grilling me about transportation and how often I visit my mother in Florida and how I had gotten to Hudson from Tampa on Monday. I think she wanted to know if we had hired anybody else or whether we’d hire her again. I was horrified to discover that because my suitcase weighed eighty pounds, I’d have to pay fifty dollars to have it transported up to New York. I felt all my bargains melting away, but considering how very cheap this particular bunch was, fifty dollars was not very much money. My flight on American Airlines was greatly delayed but was otherwise uneventful. There was a flight attendant named “Gabriel” who had a really sexy nose.

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