IS REAL FLORIDA
I miss my children. It’s kind of hard to explain how we see ourselves in solitude throughout the course of our lives, then one day the consummate drain and exhaustion arrives to deliver infinite energy that ties generations together for thousands of years.
To most people, today is Sunday, April 21, 2013. However to our tribe of doctors, accountants and traveling comedians, us paranoid neurotics in search of discounted name brand clothes wisely purchased at retail, it is the year 5,773 and we recently completed another Passover.
This is the holiday when we all get together to relive our atrocities, slavery and hideous plagues. We’ve been doing it just this exact way for almost six thousand years. We gather as a tribe, those of us lucky enough to have immediate family nearby, set aside tensions and focus on abundance and joy. That’s really what makes this day different from all other days.
Everyone sits around the table carrying the strange traditional plates slotted for eggs, greens and lamb bones, reading phonetic phrases responsively from the food stained booklets. Attendees sipping wine when they are supposed to and when they are not. If one looks close enough, they could see themselves and all those around them in the reflection of the goblet.
Eventually, we’ve all sipped many times this wine. We’ve gotten past the ancient traditions and have normalized the everyday phenomena of turning water to blood, being overrun by frogs, lice, flies and all forms of pestilence. We embrace the thick milky pus of boils, the battering of hail, the crawling disgust of buzzing locusts and just as we settle in to comforts of darkness and the slaying of our first-born… we open the front door and let the angel of death into our house.
Ah… the joy’s of tradition. The annual memory of watching the rim of Elijah’s cup to see if he actually sips from it. Crunching horrid matzoh and expounding great phrases like…”this isn’t so bad” and “it could always be worse”. I look around the table and am painfully grateful to still have my parents and emotionally cramped sitting alone wondering what my daughters are up to in New York or Georgia while we dine and discuss the Charlton Heston movie, his robes and gun control.
The holiday passes and it’s time to return to my distant pond, away from tribal gathering where it seems I can be a big fish once again. It’s Thursday night and one of the many gathering spots occur at the local auction house. Not many Jews in this part of the Floridian desert unless they go by the name Bubba Cohen and drive Cadillac Pickup Trucks.
I look through the junk. Twisting my eye to see that which appears to all others as ordinary but to me stands out. In a dark corner sits a couple of ivory statues. None of the patrons even notice these as they are obsessed with examining the stacks of gigantic Hershey’s Chocolate bars and dusty cans of non-Italian brand Ravioli that will be auctioned off that evening.
I turn a corner and find another priceless doll draped in pearls. I’m alone at this table admiring her as the others fondle 8-track tapes, rusty pocket knives and argue about the value of knock-off Rolex watches.
It’s almost time to be seated as I take one more look at a glistening statue and marvel at the detail of the flowers in her hair.
There’s an empty seat in the back of the room. For a second I imagined inviting all these folks over, to a Passover Seder and wondered what it would be like for them to eat Matzoh or pronounce Maror or consider dipping green parsley sprigs in salt water.
I am overjoyed at the diversity of our world, each of us so different and each of us in the same exact way trying to fit others into how we see things.
I settled into a seat in the back. There was a young lady behind me bearing a freshly penetrated tattoo. All the people in the room noted me with the camera but in their beautiful and simple accepting way just went with the flow without arguing or objecting; very different from the life or death/insignificant debates that happen at our Seder table, between courses of overcooked chicken and brisket bathed in fat juices.
I turned around and complimented the child on her body art and asked if she would mind if I took a picture. She granted me permission and as I snapped away I inquired as to what her thought process was for choosing that image. She told me that she had turned 18 recently and that meant she was an adult. She saw herself as “self-reliant” and gators are self-reliant so she identified with the image and permanently had it emblazoned on the side of her calf.
Finally it was time for the auction to begin. They started with the candy, worked their way up to bidding on light bulbs and once they started to bring out the canned food I started to suspect I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. My eyes wandered for characters to shoot before I’d make my hasty exit.
Up front an amazing guy stuck his head in the door as the sun was setting on the side of his face. I couldn’t get my camera up fast enough as he saw me raise my weapon he turned away. I just got a slice of him and the message on his hat. I think it said something like, “I ain’t doin’ Shit”.
Just then, I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye on the other side of the room and grabbed the shot. Another fella had a hat with shit on it too. This one said, “Don’t Ask Me Shit”. I don’t know if they were related but clearly they were not interested in a career of customer service.
Weeks went by since the Passover Seder and the Auction and a little breeze of heaven blew my way when my youngest daughter came to visit. How does one explain the way time stops and thoughts freeze and a thousand percent authentic comes out and life is lived in the present?
How does one explain being in awe at watching a woman apply lipstick and seeing a little girl of six years old playing with make-up and hearing her call you “daddy”, in your mind, in a way that sounds like mythical urging chants from magical Greek sirens intoxicating sailors across Mediterranean seas?
“Daddy… I’m ready… let’s go see Grandma and Grandpa” she said. We had a mission. Just one photo I was trying to get. Just one good one of her and her Grandma. Her Grandma who I came from…she who made me, I who made my daughter. Along the way, I was happy to grab one of my parents together… they will have been married for 60 years next month.
Every year on their anniversary I ask them, “So…how’s it going… the marriage?” They always say the same thing, “I don’t know if it will last… ” he says. She say’s, “Your father is a pain in the ass…” And then they look at each other in that way that you know they have been together forever and will be together forever.
Through the course of the afternoon I kept shooting. My mother would not stop talking, my father would not stop talking about how my mother would not stop talking. My daughter bathed in this whirlpool of love and admiration and in one moment she leaned into her grandma and hugged her… and I caught it. The place where no words go but you know what it’s saying.