Driving from the airport
to a new winter retreat –
a 20 story high-rise in Pompano Beach –
it’s clear things aren’t as they have been.
Gone are the Mid-Century neighborhoods
with small, tidy bungalows
and pastel-colored apartment complexes.
Gone are the small, neat streets
crammed with big, American cars
and the quiet, inland canals
with their 90 degree curves.
Modern high-rises now loom along the coast,
casting long shadows over these old ghosts.
Smothered by “The Strip”,
a popular stretch of beach –
and the only way to their new place,-
Nonna and Papa are forced to face
nubile, bikini-clad, beer drinking youth
balanced precariously between child and adult
But Gina and I crave this uncharted world,
which we’re slowly cruising past
in the back seat of a tightly sealed Cadillac,
filled with the sounds of Perry Como
and the smell of Jean Nate.
The closer we get to Nonnie and Papa’s,
the older the demographics begin to slant,
until beers and bikinis are soon replaced
by beer bellies and Platex bras.
The upside to the new zip code
is a bigger abode –
and a separate door to the outside world –
or at least to a corridor,
and an unused stairwell.
To Marlboro Lights
and poorly rolled joints,
and late night escapades with girls from New York.
Gone are our grandparents’ halcyon days
of minding their ways.
These are the carefree days of youth.
Of baby oil and B-52s.
Getting stoned in the sauna.
Drinking beers on the beach.
Somehow convincing Nonnie
to hand us the keys.
Of cranking up the radio
and rolling down the windows
to inhale the salty air
and the sweet smell
of being newly licensed.
Of boys on the beach noticing us
and Nonnie –
from high above –
noticing them, noticing us.
These are the Florida days
of pushing boundaries,
especially ones so poorly guarded.
Well past our very strict curfew.
Nonna is waiting and bleak.
She’s worked herself into such a state,
she’s lifted off her bunioned feet.
and threatens to send us home;
then leads us in to Papa
in the unlit living room,
Leaden and pacing.
My heart is breaking.
When all is said –
which isn’t much –
he turns his back
and sends us to bed.
The first thing we see in the morning
taped prominently to the fridge
is a newspaper clip with a giant headline,
“Girls Found Charred on Beach”,
with her back to us.
Sighing and tsk-ing,
but not saying anything.
Until behind closed bedroom doors,
on an all-day call with her sister, Rose,
we can hear her tell of all her woes;
heralded, at times, in a pitch so high,
dogs throughout the high-rise begin to cry.
This leads to quieter Florida days,
of shorter visits
and solo stays.
Now more observer than the observed;
studying Nonnie and Papa
in their Florida world.
In their well-aged routine of marital malaise.
Wondering if I know what a happy marriage is?
Hours of watching old ladies by the pool;
with their sun hats and cigarettes
and bad romance books;
their games of Canasta,
and over-tanned skin…
wondering if any
were ever really young?
When Papa leaves to tend to the store,
it’s hours of Gin Rummy,
and little more.
Alone with Nonnie,
playing round after round
on the windy, high-rise balcony,
sixteen floors from the ground.
Where 8-track cassettes
of Liberace and Lawrence Welk
teach me tolerance,
and the importance of a wickedly good game face.
Happy to see the rainy skies.
Happy to stay indoors
and in our nightgowns.
The condo is especially quiet.
No washing machine
reminding us of other things.
No dinner out
or big meal in.
We barely move.
Occasionally, Nonnie disappears,
returning with something powdery and sweet
or cheesy and crusty
and hot from the oven.
Such deliciously quiet moments
of simply doing nothing.
Oh these my Florida days.