If you can’t stand the heat, shut the fuck up
When I was 23 years old, I’d moved to Florida with vague ambitions. The 2004 vote was coming up, and I’d doubtlessly join the cause to help the Democrats take back the election. But mostly, I was just going to blow off steam after having just graduated college. After several hours of planning, I’d loaded up the car, rotated the tires, got an oil change, bought an atlas, and began the drive down the coast, still not sure if I’d land in Miami or Tampa, but also kind of knowing I was going to Tampa. I had $600 in my wallet and told my cousin that I was in the state. He told me I could crash on his couch until I found a place, which I assured him would only be like a night or two. It was 10 months. And somewhere in that time, the disease of Florida had crept into my very soul. Florida is where ambition goes to die. It’s a place where people are compelled to do stupid things, in no small part because every single person in the state is at best, a functioning alcoholic. Needless to say, I did next to nothing to help the Kerry Campaign, and was more or less numb as W won four more years.
I wrote the first draft of this article, hoping that it might publish just as I waited to board a Delta flight back to JFK out of Tampa International Airport. And while I’d survived another trip to the American Jungle, I simply could not type anything coherent. So this week’s Infinite Nets will also be a Boots on the Ground, but one done remarkably shittily, haphazardly remembered by somebody who is not sure he saw what he claims to have witnessed. And though I had watched the Nets victories against the Mavericks and the Cavaliers, those games have been mostly scrubbed from my memory banks. I remember a nasty crossover that put rookie sensation Luka Doncic on his ass, and another closer than it should have been win against the Cavaliers, but any analysis will have to be left to the true basketball lifers.
Our story began months ago when my aunt became engaged to her boyfriend, a motorcycle enthusiast out of New Port Richie, Florida. Unlike most other women in her 60’s, there would be a ceremony attended by more than 100 in the March sun, and I would be given an invitation to not only my first middle aged wedding, but also my first Florida wedding. My mother quickly envisioned plans where we would use the wedding as an excuse for a week plus long vacation in Florida.
Her Vision: I along with my wife and daughter, meet her and my brother in the city where she drives us down along the coast, over to the Gulf of Mexico where she books an Air BNB, and then we revel in New Port Richie for a week of fun and sun.
My Vision: We leave the baby at home, my wife and I book a flight on Friday, with a return on Monday.
I have rules. No more than four days with my cousins in Florida, because they will try to kill me with drink. And no more than three days with my mother on the road, because I will try to kill her.
What Actually Happened: My mother, brother and father all drove down last Monday, spending a few days in Myrtle Beach with my father’s friend, before meeting us down there for the wedding for a few days before my wife and I flew back. Did you notice how I didn’t include my dad in her initial vision? That is because they are not married, and have not been married for the past 15 years. Their not being married is a good and wonderful thing, as I had spent the bulk of my childhood thinking “Man, they really should split up at some point.” And while you the reader might assume that they are getting back together, I can tell you that this is actually an unorthodox but highly beneficial arrangement. This is because for years my mom and wife have gotten in stupid fights. But now that dad is back, he gets in the stupid fights with my mom. This means my wife is happy and never threatens to withhold time with her granddaughter out of a moment of rage. Mom never feels as though she’s being rubbed out of the family. Dad gets to go on vacation for free. My aggravation is allowed to simmer down to the level of harmless annoyance. It’s a complete shit show, but it works.
Though I am still tested. More and more I’ve learned that Florida exists as a reflection of all of my insecurities. Where I once thought that I lived a wild and fun existence working shit jobs, quitting them in drunken benders, fondling Floridian lushes and ignoring the very concept of winter, I now remember the loneliness. The feeling that I never did quite belong. I suppose the good times were truly good, but I have forgotten the mediocrity and return trips remind me that my time wasn’t as legendary as I’d liked to pretend. I used to like to joke that these were my people, because they got drunk and didn’t give a fuck, but deep down I’ve always given too much of a fuck. And every time I go, I feel like some profoundly uncool person who has crashed their party, and that their party is the one I’ve always wanted to attend, only everybody kind of wants me to leave because I don’t really belong. I’m too uptight, which means I have to come across as a smartass because I can’t force myself to sound like a dumbass. The last time I went down, a friend complained that the bar offered Stella Artois pints for cheap, only they were served in the challiace and the patrons were screwed by the difference in the metric conversion. Instead of blaming the bar, he blamed Stella Artois, and then, oddly enough, the French.
“I fucking hate the French.”
“Stella is Belgian. Not French.”
“Same thing, brother.”
The thing was he was having a good time. I just wanted to be dumb enough to let it go and have fun at the party. The common refrain that I hear all the time is “I fucking hate people.” I don’t. I like hanging out with people. I just don’t think they like me very much.
C’est la vie.
Anyway, I made the trip out to my cousin’s wonderful house and once again met his wonderful girlfriend who I sincerely hope becomes his wonderful fiancee and wife, and I met up with their wonderful rowdy friends, and I drank cold beer after cold beer, and panic gulped shots of Jamesons and everything was going fine, until something strange happened and I fell asleep for 12 hours. I commit the ultimate Floridian sin. I fell asleep at 9:30 at night. I didn’t pass out. I tapped out. I willfully walked upstairs, climbed into bed, and fell the fuck asleep for 12 goddamn hours without even once needing to puke or dying. I’m told the party lasted until 2 in the morning. I’m told it was pretty good. I’ll have to take them at their words.
The next day we went to New Port Richie, for more drinking and then a wedding. New Port Richie is concentrated Florida. It’s the kind of place with gorgeous weather, million dollar houses along the river, and also parts where you are likely to see a loose chicken running around.A stranger motley crew of folks you will not find. My divorced parents. Bikers. Old and senile midwesterners. Trophy girlfriends who I’m told have not allowed their high rolling boyfriends to touch them. A guy who looked like the bearded version of Robin Williams. Well over 100 people in a tiny building with next to no room to dance. And when it was over, we were all asked to clean up, by loading the tables into a U-Haul. By the end of the night I saw the groom with the broom, sweeping up the old wooden floors.
We took a quick drive to the Quality Inn where a lot of the wedding guests were staying. The bar was brightly lit with fluorescent lights that made it appear to be some unholy mix of a diner and a multi camera sitcom. I opened a tab, which was apparently a funny thing to do, and led to 10 different middle aged people making the same hilarious “Thanks for the round, Ian” joke. My wife panicked and closed the tab, making sure to create a scene that I did my best to diffuse by telling them all, “She’s just a New Yorker. She gets jumpy. No, of course I know you were joking. I’m cool.” And then the bar closed at 11pm on a Saturday in Florida, which sounds like the most nonsense statement anybody could make. I realize that it was the beginning of daylight savings time, but that doesn’t happen until 2 in the morning anyway, and these bastards are at a goddamn motel. It just seems like a bad business model to send everybody packing, but my wife and I (along with my mother’s wonderful cousin) called a car service, drove through the McDonald’s drive through for McNuggets and rode back home.
Also, the Nets apparently played a tight one against Atlanta.
It was in this Floridian bar where I realized that the concept of writing a blog not about a basketball team, but of the experience of watching a basketball team seems too ambitious to actually follow through with. It seems too esoteric. In truth it probably is too esoteric. Maybe all of you people reading this, far outside of the weak grip of the Brooklyn Nets market have been wondering what the hell I’m going for in the first place. I’m not going to lie to you, dear reader. The heat had damaged my brain. The sunshine and alcohol and Floridian madness have rotted me, and I could no longer operate with the kind of freedom that I have owned over the past 20 weeks. I couldn’t have survived in this carnival of insanity for much longer.
We spent a day in Clearwater, caught up with the bride and groom, reminisced with my uncle and his daughter, and closed the book on the last full day in Florida. My mother openly considered moving to Florida full time, until I’d told her that she’d probably end up never seeing her granddaughter again, and that she would go mad in Trump country (as if Upstate New York isn’t just cold Trump country). And then we left. Most of the other people who had come down for the wedding would leave later that Monday or Tuesday. The natives would return to work. And my mom and her ex husband will stay in that quiet house in New Port Richie until Saturday.
They’ll never make it.
Then the Nets beat the holy shit out of the Detroit Pistons.
Now it’s their turn to go on a seven game road trip, as the Barclays Center is used to host college basketball. I wish them a far less bizarre trip than my own.
The Brooklyn Nets are 36-33 and in 6th place in the Eastern Conference.