There is an old expression, believed to be translated from a traditional Chinese curse – “May you live in interesting times.”
Every morning we wake up to see another layer peeled off the rotting onion.
Foul news and confusing commentary from a strange place and time where nothing is as it seems, the locals are nervous – and, with the Florida legislature in session – there is a weird sense that literally anything is possible.
Don’t expect things to change anytime soon.
The weather has been nice lately, so I ambled into a bright and airy local beachfront bar to listen to the news out of Washington on television and stare out to sea.
As I sipped my Brugal Anejo on ice, the room darkened slightly as a paunchy little fellow in his mid-60’s wearing sandals with dress socks, a pressed Madras shirt and polyester shorts lumbered through the open front door and took a seat beside me.
We exchanged pleasantries as he removed a cheap straw beach hat and pushed his black Wayfarers on top of a sweaty bald spot.
I nodded, acknowledging his presence, and tried to focus on the latest doom and gloom from CNN – which was running a loop-piece suggesting most of the senior White House staff may well be active operatives of Russia’s SVR Political Intelligence Directorate.
He said his name was “Nealon,” and explained that he and the “missus” recently relocated to the Fun Coast from some musty cornfield outside of Cedar Rapids.
“Damn shame,” he said, staring up at the set. “I’ve been a Trumpeteer since the caucuses.”
“Of course you were. Me too. America loves a winner, right?”
We shook hands, and I introduced myself as Mori Hosseini, but the name didn’t seem to register so I let it go.
He ordered a cold draft beer, handed the waitress a crisp $50, and mumbled something about the heat.
I lowered my head, lit another Marlboro, and asked in a whisper, “Do you have any money, Nelson?”
The big man cut his eyes at me and slowly leaned away, “It’s Nealon” he said. “What, are you one of those homeless bums we keep reading about?”
“No. Hell, no. Relax. I’m Just another God fearing concerned citizen, like yourself.”
I reassured him while patting him firmly on his chubby back.
“This Walgreens tropical shirt is just a disguise – I’m a speculative developer. We all are here in Daytona Beach,” I said, flashing him a comforting grin.
“What I meant is, did you bring any cash with you from Iowa – because you’re going to need it.”
“Didn’t anyone tell you we eat the poor here?”
He shifted back in his seat, suppressed a beer belch, and seemed to focus on my fake two-toned Rolex Cosmograph Daytona.
“Well, the wife and I were always savers, you know – now that the kids are up and gone, we’re looking to get in on the ground floor of the new ‘Lattitudes’ development – we’re Parrot Heads, see. Big Buffett fans. Drove over to Omaha to watch him play last September.”
My God, I thought. This midwestern rube won’t last 10-minutes in this town.
For the first time in my life, I actually felt sorry for someone other than myself.
He went on to tell me how he got uneasy last week when he awoke to find 100,000 motorcycles on the streets, and how the near constant roar of the engines – and the guttural sounds of the group from Houston with a short-term Air B&B lease on the condo next door upset his cat.
“Sounded like a goddamn orgy!”
I reassured him that – according to the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce – most of them were ‘doctors and lawyers and such.’ Just orthopedic surgeons, and justices of the Arkansas Supreme Court, letting off a little steam, wearing assless leather chaps, swilling cheap beer and watching some good, wholesome coleslaw wrestling while flashing their titties for plastic beads.
“Now, we got these damn college kids everywhere. Is it like this all the time down here?” He asked.
“No, just seasonal – those that aren’t killed outright from alcohol poisoning, or climbing over balcony railings, will be back at Yale soon.”
“These kids are the future of our great nation. They deserve an opportunity to trash our beach, urinate on our lawns and have public sex under the pier.” I said, “Small price to pay, really.” “
“The money we make off them is phenomenal – we’re all swimming in it. Better than Alaska oil.”
“Besides, you should have seen it in ’85.”
My new friend gave me a concerned glance, rubbed his brow pensively then shook his head.
I could tell he was having trouble processing it all.
“Look, I like you Nick, so I’m going to give you some good advice – never talk money with strangers who look like destitute refugees in Daytona Beach bars. They’ll think you need help, and they’ll kill you.”
He slid partially off the barstool, stood on one leg and looked at me like I was insane.
“And before you go buying into that ‘brand immersive lifestyle destination’ in the swamps west of I-95, just know you’ll be drinking your own piss by the year 2020 – at least that’s what the City of Daytona Beach tells us.”
“You probably won’t see that in the brochure. Your welcome.”
Nealon slammed down his plastic cup of lukewarm Budweiser and recoiled in horror.
“Find yourself somewhere nice – like The Villages, or an upscale retirement community in St. Pete – a place where everyone over the age of 60 isn’t looked at as a potential victim, and pregnant women aren’t routinely stabbed in the kidney in some weedy parking lot on Seabreeze Boulevard by a waterhead local in a filthy kilt.”
He glowered at me with a flushed look on his face, spitting like he’d just bitten into a dry turd.
“You crazy son-of-a-bitch! How dare you lay that shit on me! This is our dream you’re fucking with, mister! By God, we moved to the Sunshine State to live in Jimmy’s own paradise – besides, the representative from Minto assured me we will have a strong gate, and a private beach, just to keep riff-raff like you out of our Margaritaville!”
“And my name is Nealon, not Nick! Dammit!”
“Whatever,” I said. “You’ll thank me later. If you survive.”
He then pushed away from the bar, walking slowly toward the bathrooms, each cutely marked “Gulls” and “Buoys,” suspiciously staring back at me and mumbling something about his water pill kicking in.
I drained my glass of rum, tipped the bartender a $20 from Nealon’s pile of change, and told him to put my drinks on his tab.
As I stumbled out into the bright March sunshine, I thought to myself – It was the best education on his new life in Volusia County I could have given him.
And I felt good about myself for the effort.
Hell, it was the least I could do.