Tuesday, February 22, 2005


I have just learned that certain conservatives in the United States have deemed that the movie, Shrek II, is not healthy for children, because it has certain subtle sexual nuances that promote homosexuality.

I have come to the conclusion that we Americans have completely lost our minds. We have become a radical bunch of narrow-minded lunatics. Since when has anything "subtle" affected children? You have to tell them four times to get off the couch with their muddy shoes and even then they don't do it until you threaten them with dire punishment. Subtlety doesn't seem to affect them at all.

Now that I have relieved myself of that thought, I want to explain my absence for the past few weeks. I have been exploring the "Inner Core" of Florida. One of my numerous sons just went through a very painful divorce, one that cast him into the pit of poverty. In an effort to rebuild his life, he has bought a small plot of land in the center of Florida in a place where the shrubbery threatens to take over the world and cut off all human existence.

This plot is located down a little winding path that twists and squirms like a serpent through this greenery. Here and there along the way is a housetrailer parked amid a small clearing, or several housetrailers, sheds, and various buildings erected in a small clearing. Some of the trailers have obviously seen better days, with collapsing roofs and pieces of canvas tossed over the leaking shingles. No Trespassing signs decorate every one of these plots and they are further protected by a passel of huge dogs, mostly pit bulls. They snarl and gnash their teeth at you as you pass by, doing their jobs as good guardians should.

The people of inner Florida are poor, dismally poor. They live in whatever is handy. They sometimes go without electricity. It's as pathetic a situation as is possible, yet many of them drive huge pick-up trucks with Confederate flags mounted on them. The trucks cost more than new trailers would, but who am I to criticize anyone else's priorities. Perhaps those trucks give them a sense of pride that is worth far more than decent housing.

Amid these homesteads, along this winding road, my son has placed his housetrailer, trying to pick up the shards of his life and pay his tremendous child support. Living with him are about ten million fleas, leaping happily about the sand that makes up the basis for this patch of earth.

Jedi and I arrived for a long visit, greeted my son, and enjoyed a day of warm sunshine. Then Jedi began to exhibit behavior that was troubling. She ran in circles from one side of the yard to the other. She seemed to be frantic. I caught her and inspected her, finding several fleas on her coat. So, the next day, I found a Walmart...which was twenty some miles away in a nearby town...and bought a flea collar, flea shampoo, flea soap, flea powder and everything else guaranteed to ward off these pesky creatures.

Nothing worked. Jedi began clawing at herself frantically. I bathed her in a sulpher shampoo that reeked so badly it invaded every corner of the motorhome, but it did not discourage the fleas. She began to chew off her fur and there were spots on her back and stomach that were bleeding.

After several calls up to Michigan to my usual vet, I went off in search of a Florida vet. There is nothing more frightening than subjecting your prized pet to the hands of a strange doctor. For all you know, he or she could be an animal hating mad scientist bent on ridding the world of four-legged creatures. But I found a wonderful, understanding vet who told me Jedi was allergic to fleas and proceeded to help me help her.

Armed with pills of all varieties, we killed the fleas aggravating Jedi, and moved to a territory less riddled with the pesky creatures. There, in a motel room, Jedi slowly recuperated, even though nothing could remedy the bare patches on her back and the scars on her stomach.

I also made a startling discovery. On my stomach was a tick, the first time in my life I have ever attracted such an insect. I pulled it out with tweezers and reflected on a future filled with hospital visits, Lyme disease, aching joints, fevers, etc.

At this point, I decided to return to the North. It was heartbreaking to leave that 75 degree sunshine behind, but I had had it with inner Florida and couldn't afford to stay in the elite palaces on the Coast. So I headed for home. All went well until I reached Ohio, then I ran into a light snow mixed with rain. And, as I wheeled into Michigan, the snow became heavier, a wet, freezing, slushy pile of white nuisance that made driving almost impossible. The I-75 ramps were a nightmare. I pulled off on Telegraph Road and headed North, stopping at the numerous lights and thanking the Road Commission for salting the street at the traffic signals.

Home again, I look out the window at the sleet and piling snow and think about that glorious sunshine of the south. I think of those wanderers who, two hundred and some years ago, discovered Florida when it was a jungle of tangled trees and palmetto. How riddled they must have been with bites from the various insects! How wary they must have been of the six varieties of poisonous snakes living in that state, to say nothing of the alligators, snapping turtles, and other voracious creatures.

It's one thing to live in comparative luxury in the subdivisions along the Coast of Florida, enjoying the resplendent landscaping and the plethora of fine restaurants and trendy shopping malls. It's quite another to venture into that central jungle, see the poverty, battle the bugs, and realize that there are two sides to this paradise.