“I am not saying there is no crime in the Midwest, but our cannibals at least dress for dinner.” Cusper Lynn
The Occidental Ape
By Cusper Lynn
SARASOTA Florida—(Weekly Hubris)—9/10/12—The phone rang Sunday morning. It was my mother. The question, so often repeated that no preamble was needed for it to be asked was, “Cusper, why are you still living in Florida?”
“What channel, what news item and why?” I groaned.
“I am not saying there is no crime in the Midwest, but our cannibals at least dress for dinner.”
Not good, not good at all. “Cannibals?”
“Oh, and our governors don’t go on junkets to Europe to insult royalty,” she continued.
My mother—Grandma Lynn to my five children—had a full head of steam and I knew it was best to let matters run their course.
“I have told you that state is the concentration of the worst of the worst,” she quoted herself.
“Yes, you have,” I agreed.
“So when are you going to move?”
“I have been looking at . . .”
“. . . and since when has Florida been the gateway to South America for Spain?” Mom interrupted.
“Um . . .” It was too early for this and, clearly, our governor was writing his own material again.
“Seriously, Cusper, when are you going to . . .” she continued and I heard a beep on the line.
“Mom, can I call you back? I have another call coming in,” I begged.
“Fine, but you better get out of that state,” she said, then hung up.
“Hello?” I answered the other call.
“Cusper, did you read the news?” my brother Clarence, who now also lives in the state of Florida as part of his own journey on the path of the ‘downwardly mobile,’ asked.
“Not you, too,” I groaned.
“Mom called me last night,” Clarence explained.
“OK, and?” I asked.
“I think we should go fishing,” Clarence answered.
“Wonderful. Thrashing impotently at the water for two or three hours, very relaxing,” I snapped.
“Good. I’ll pick you up in about an hour,” Clarence said; then hung up.
I went off to catch up on the news and get changed.
There is, when you live in a state, a persistent belief that when your state makes negative national news, the story is being somehow overplayed. You like to think the national press, hungry for grotesque headlines, is ignoring some facts that would render the story less obscene.
In many cases, you would be right . . . unless you‘re living in Florida. Then, sadly, you have to acknowledge that not only are the facts entirely accurate, you are also obliged to recognize that any fact omitted from the story only kept the story from being so appalling as to be unfit for print.
So it was that I had to read about Florida’s governor and his “Oh gosh gee, did I really offend the King of Spain with my joke about hunting elephants?” press conference.
Yes, this really happened. Yes, our governor really did go on a trade mission to Spain, whose unemployment and economic crisis is worse than our own. He really did offend a head of state when he was supposed to be promoting trade between the country of Spain and the State of Florida. And, Oh Dear Gods help me, he really did say “South Florida is the gateway to Latin America, so Spanish companies that want to do business in Latin America, this is where they should set up shop.”[i]
Fortunately, either my mother had not noticed or the national media had elected not to play up the fact that the governor was specifically there courting banks. If that information had been more widely publicized, I can promise you my mother would have shown up at my house with a moving van.
Turning to the question of cannibals in Florida, it did not take me long to find the headline about “Naked Cannibal Shot Chewing Man’s Face Off.”
The national reports were apparently accurate. Two naked men under the Howard Causeway in Miami were seen by witnesses. One was chewing off the face of the other as an officer responded to calls from the witnesses. Speculation varied as to whether the cannibal had been on cocaine or LSD, according to published reports. The only comfort I found in researching the headline was that the United Kingdom was having its own cannibal problems.
The same weekend the naked Miami cannibal was shot and killed, some citizens of the UK were protesting that the NHS would be providing a lap-band surgery for an obese cannibal serving an indeterminate sentence for his crimes. [ii]
A small comfort. An entire kingdom and its penal system manage to match the absurdity of a single event in a single weekend in Florida. I went and got my fishing gear together.
An hour and a half later, on a long wooden dock at the edge of the tidal marsh grasses, well outside of cell phone service and several miles off of the mainland, I stood looking at a grey and threatening sky.
“Lady at the shop said they were catching Red Snappers out this way,” Clarence said, unpacking his tackle box.
“On boats, out in the flats,” I answered. It had been a long time since I had been fishing and I was not in the proper frame of mind for it.
“Probably, but let’s try our luck,” Clarence said, and slipped his lead into place.
After half an hour of casting cut bait out to appreciative crabs, my line snarled. I found myself undoing a bird’s nest of monofilament and sliding into the fishing meditation. Knots and splicing techniques I had not used in years were coming back to me. Afternoons lost on White Clay Creek catching crayfish by hand and fishing for trout to cook on a camp fire while my parents were off to work started to trickle back into my mind. Early mornings and sunburnt afternoons fishing on lake Winnipesaukee at the Staffordshire Inn, staying out until my skin was raw from bug bites and my earlobes were blistered and peeling from the sun. Life before the complex and oppressive miasma of adult existence had brought with it conflict, debt and despair.
Reeling myself back from that last thought, I found myself in the happy and idiotically peaceful place that fishing can take you. I may have smiled. I might have even been whistling when Clarence interrupted my peace.
“Mom wants us to move back.” Clarence was sliding a shrimp onto his hook.
“Do you think there are any pan-sized fish?” I said, ignoring his statement and casting a frozen sardine some 20 feet from the dock.
“I said . . .” Clarence rejoined.
“. . . I know what you said. Is that why we’re out here?” I began reeling in my sardine, knowing full well I should just let it sink and float where I had cast it.
“No. And no, we aren’t going to move back, either. Not now at least,” Clarence said.
“So?” I asked, letting my sardine sink.
“Well, I just wanted to know what you’re thinking. I know Mom has to be after you as well.” Clarence made a beautiful ark cast, catching the gusting wind that was now slapping the lines of the flag against the metal flag pole.
“Nice,” I commented as the splash could be seen some 30 feet from the dock. “And no, I have no idea where we’re going to go.”
“Not Wisconsin?” Clarence said, cocking an eyebrow.
“No. And no other northern tier state,” I said.
“No. Politics and the economy. Everything is in an uproar there,” I said, avoiding eye contact.
“That’s different from here how?” Clarence said, slowly trolling his bait along the bottom of the reed strewn water.
“It’s new for them. Here it’s always this way,” I said flatly.
“True,” Clarence conceded.
“I don’t see you going rushing back to Pennsylvania,” I added, not entirely confident of my point.
“Yes, well things aren’t good and we have too much history there. I expect it’s sort of like you and Illinois.” Clarence grinned in an infuriating manner.
I was silent. It was clear that we were only going to needle one another if we continued in this fashion.
“How about we do it the other way around?” Clarence broke the silence.
“Yes. How about a state with less government corruption?” Clarence asked.
It occurred to me we were falling into the childhood game of razor blades and salt, where you would try to disturb your opponent with a vividly graphic narrative until he would flee in disgust.
“Hmmm.” I considered the challenge and reeled in my sardine, to find that all but an inch of it had been torn from the hook.
“Come on, Cusp,” Clarence said playfully. “Do I need to set a time limit?”
“No time limit. Just seems the crabs have gotten to my bait.” I plucked the last inch of fish from the hook and tossed it off the dock. “Louisiana.”
“Really?” Clarence whistled. “You do know about New Orleans, The Big Easy?”
“Oh, but that’s tradition. Fine Southern tradition at that,” I smiled and grabbed a shrimp to bait my hook.
“I can think of a few people who would take issue with you on that.” Clarence reeled in his line to rebait his hook.
“Sorry, but we have more naked fraud and open contempt for law in our government than any other state.” I cast out and made another 20 feet, laying it out near the reeds.
“OK, so we put Louisiana on the list of places to move. Your turn,” Clarence said, and placed his rod into one of the rod holders built into the dock.
“State with less virulent diseases,” I suggested.
“That’s not fair. You know all of the biology and stuff,” Clarence whined.
“You follow the news; Mom calls you, too,” I chided him.
“All right, fine, then I say Georgia,” Clarence announced.
“Interesting choice. The CDC is located there,” I grinned.
“Good one then, yes?”
“Of course they are the Southern air hub relative to New York, so they get a lot of international travelers and therefore more potential for international infectious diseases,” I said.
“You’re saying they are worse than Florida,” Clarence said, shocked.
“No, actually I don’t think they are. I only remember seeing a few reports of necrotizing fasciitis in Georgia and an outbreak of STDs associated with a number of schools. Where, during the same period, Florida had a jump STDs among the over-60-year-old crowd, quite a few cases of Dengue Fever and a number of other tropical diseases,” I said, trying to remember when I had last read the monthly public health publications to get objective data.
We both lapsed into silence.
“Doesn’t really help, does it? Slightly less fraud; slightly less disease,” Clarence said.
“No, it doesn’t. Even slightly less unemployment doesn’t help because, when you show up, you’re effectively increasing the unemployment by your arrival,” I said, trying not to touch the third rail issue of the closing of Clarence’s most recent employer.
“So, what do we go with then?” Clarence asked.
“I think I have something,” I shouted excitedly.
“Really?” Clarence asked, and looked out to the water where a silver flash beneath the surface was running with my line.
A few moments later, I drew up a 12-inch catfish. As I reached out to grasp it, the fish spun and punctured my palm with its dorsal fin. I looked at the fish and sighed. It seemed only fair. With a quick sliding technique I’d learned as a child to reduce the injury to the fish, I sent it back into the water.
“Too small,” Clarence agreed.
“Not a decent eating fish, yet,” I concurred, and ran some water across the puncture wound in my palm. Red blood thinned to rivulets of pink under the flow.
“Zombies,” my brother Clarence declared.
“Yes, what?” I said, looking up from my hand.
“If there were a state with a great economy, good fishing . . .” Clarence explained.
“And zombies?” I smiled.
“Yes. If we moved to a state with a good economy, good fishing and zombies, then Mom and Dad would come to visit,” Clarence observed.
“Well, if the economy got better here . . .” I offered.
“All right, all right. Mom only has one criterion,” Clarence said.
“Any state that isn’t Florida,” I nodded.
So, Clarence and I packed in our fishing for the day and set out on our task: to find a state that was not Florida, that had a decent economy, good fishing . . . and zombies. So far, we’ve made more progress finding states with zombies.
[i] Gov. Rick Scott stumbles over the elephant in the room during Spanish trade mission, Associated press, Herald Tribune, May 25, 2012 (http://htpolitics.com/2012/05/25/scott-address-elephant-remark-to-spanish-king-trade-trip/?tc=obnetwork reconfirmed 8/30/12)
[ii] Uproar as obese cannibal killer is to get gastric band on the NHS, Mirror UK, May 27, 2012 (http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/uproar-as-obese-cannibal-killer-is-to-get-gastric-849157 retrieved 8/30/12)