Chased out of camp by Florida cougars

Walden and I dipped into Florida to sample the oysters and sunshine. Through the night we drove, through the lights of Panama City, over the long-spanning bridges; and in the morning kept the Gulf and white sands to our right–too many stoplights and too much junk, cheap beachwear and touristy plastic, but this is Florida today and the water was too blue to bother. A few miles south Highway 98 turned slightly less commercial—houseless stretches of Southern pine—and we made a luncheon stop at Indian Pass Raw Bar, this little place with plastic seating grooving in steamed shrimp and raw oysters. And I knew I’d joined the great Snow Bird Migration because all the diners sported goofy hats, golf windbreakers and linen britches. But give the Olds credit—the music is loud and they don’t give a hoot. They ordered great trays of oysters (aphrodisiac!?) and tipped beers but didn’t order the shrimp. No, not the shrimp. You know you’ve reached a glorious age when peeling shrimp is a great waste of time.

I found a nice little primitive spot near the water, so close to a dolphin I could hear its watery breath, and was sitting outside watching the sunset, thinking how peaceful, when someone called hello. tweet

I registered at Indian Pass Campground, a small sandy camp with expansive views of Apalachicola Bay. Emptied the pooper for the first time. Got some on my shoes. Seems no matter where you go in this life, you’re always stepping in your own shit.

I found a nice little primitive spot near the water, so close to a dolphin I could hear its watery breath, and was sitting outside watching the sunset, thinking how peaceful, when someone called hello. And then I met Mike, Denise and Christine.

In their late 40s/early 50s, the trio had escaped Orlando for the long holiday weekend. Mike and Denise were a product of eHarmony; Christine was a product of five divorces and, as I’d learn later, ready for more. But they were a friendly group and I showed them Walden and we had a brief chat about travel and ducks. Duck-hunting season opened tomorrow, Mike said, and before dawn the hunters would be putting in their boats and heading to their blinds, one which was quite near where I parked. Denise made some crude comment about dolphin fins, Mike feigned innocence as a former Catholic altar boy, I assured him as a former altar boy myself I had very long ago lost such innocence, they laughed, and I was invited to their campfire later.

“Hey, Joe! Over here!” Mike’s voice rang out in the darkness as I stumbled into the light of their blazing campfire. “You made it! Here’s a chair. Grab yourself a Corona.”

“No, that’s ok. I don’t drink.”

“Stole that wood, didn’t you, Sweet Cheeks,” Denise said, mixing another vodka with soda. She offered me some chocolate. “Girl’s gotta have chocolate.” tweet

“What?” He said, astonished. “By choice?”

“Today I have a choice, yeh. Not much of a choice when I was younger.”

“Younger!” Christine snorted from across the fire. “How much younger can you get! Were you drinking when you were a baby?”

I smiled, “If they made beer bottles with nipples, I would have needed a lot more diapers.” That ended that conversation.

Which was fine with them because they had a whole mess of stuff to talk about. It was quickly apparent they’d started the fun a couple hours ago; Mike’s chubby cheeks were flaming pink and it wasn’t due to the fire.

“Stole that wood, didn’t you, Sweet Cheeks,” Denise said, mixing another vodka with soda. She offered me some chocolate. “Girl’s gotta have chocolate.”

Christine rummaged through a giant bag next to her chair, “Damn, you know I wish I’d made that stop in Colorado a few months ago.”

“You and your left-handed cigarettes,” Mike giggled. “Won’t your boy get you that stuff?”

“Sure he will,” she said. “But Colorado’s got the good stuff.”

They brought out a bag of peanuts and we started flinging shells in the fire.

“Don’t mind them, Joe. They’re a bit toasted is all. We altar boys are just too innocent for them.” tweet

“Now look what I did,” Denise said. “I got nuts in my navel!” And they roared and began talking about what else can be placed in one’s navel.

Mike kept getting up to stoke the fire. Christine bellowed, “You missed a spot, Idiot Boy!”

“Idiot Boy?”

“That what we’ve called him at work when he started.” Christine and Mike had worked together for 29 years in the Orlando pool business. “Never knew what he was doing and never showed up for work. Kept saying his grandma died. How many grandmas you got, Idiot Boy? Fifteen?”

“Aww, my Idiot Boy,” Denise said. “They’re so mean to you.”

Mike sat down, quite enjoying the attention.

“Don’t mind them, Joe. They’re a bit toasted is all. We altar boys are just too innocent for them.”

“Innocent my ass,” Denise said.

“That’s right!” Mike said. “Why I couldn’t even watch Batman when I was a kid! Too violent. Had to make my own cape and everything.”

“Oh, Honey, did you play with yourself?” Denise said. “What did you do with your utility belt? Did you get anything in your navel?”

Eventually the peanuts were gone and Mike said, “Well, Honey, think I’ll be going to the showers now.” tweet

And it went on like that for some time.

Mike got up again to throw more wood on the fire.

“Hey, Idiot Boy,” Christine said. “Why don’t you grab a palm frond and dance for us like you did last night? You’ll probably only need a small one!” Then she laughed and nearly tipped over backwards in her chair.

Mike said, “Now don’t go scaring Joe!”

I assured him I was quite enjoying the spectacle. Not everyday I see people only slightly younger than my parents being so raunchy, and I’m quite capable of being raunchy myself. Besides, I’ve seen crazier people.

“That’s right,” Christine said. “He’s a worldly traveler… world traveler… worldly.” She was eyeing me now. I stared into the fire, not wishing to encourage her gaze.

Eventually the peanuts were gone and Mike said, “Well, Honey, think I’ll be going to the showers now.”

“Is Denise going too?” Christine asked. And suddenly I imagined the possibility of being left here beside the fire alone with Christine and her giant bag. I stood up and said it was probably about time I headed back.

“Now be honest, Joe! You just don’t want to be here alone with Christine!” Mike guessed correctly. “And you should be scared. She’s liable to jump over that fire and attack you.”

“Damn right I would,” Christine growled. “Yum yum.”

“Better lock your doors tonight, Joe.”

I wished them all farewell, thanks for the invitation, and beat a brisk path across the campground to Walden.

Last week in Texas I was surprised by a wild boar ten feet from my door, which resulted in shrieks and my not daring to exit the vehicle to activate the propane heater. But now I don’t know what’s scarier—the thought of opening my door to a wild boar, or to a drunk, horny menopausal woman?

Thankfully this night was warm; I needn’t turn on the propane. But falling asleep I could hear the sound of ducks, very near, and I couldn’t be sure but… Were they real ducks? Hunters practicing their duck calls? Or the mating honks of Christine…

I jumped out of bed and locked the door.

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