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Posts Tagged ‘FloridaManNovel’

17

FM23 (17)

Rupert and Jesus drove to another Gorge (Fine Men’s Clothing) location to drop off Golden Ticket monies with Bill—the branch store in which they met changed from day to day in rotation, so Rupert didn’t always have to worry about running into Tommy Bananas, who was pretty obvious and easily avoidable regardless.

“We spend a lot of time in this car, Jesus,” Rupert said as they drove past a small gas station where a few emergency responders pulled another shirtless man out of a vending machine. The man ate a candy bar with his free hand while a uniformed woman with a sour look beneath her protective face gear used some sort of industrial saw to free him. He didn’t look too put out.

“Name of the game,” Jesus said, stopping at a light. “Hey, Fulva’s been asking about you. She wants to know where you are and why she never sees you. And she’s not asking in a way like she misses you. I think she’s onto you.”

“Come on,” Rupert said and shuddered a little at the thought of this woman and her demon lover. “So, I’m moonlighting a little. It’s not like we have an exclusive contract or anything.” He was both perplexed and pleased with his new-found nonchalance in the face of potential otherworldly retribution.

The light turned green and the Lincoln lurched forward.

“Besides, why would they care? They’re making more money on Golden Tickets than they ever have.”

“Yeah, and that’s good, but you have to understand these people, pana,” Jesus said, eyeing Rupert sideways.

“They can be understood?” Rupert laughed, but Jesus didn’t. They pulled into the plaza, which housed The Gorge (Fine Men’s Clothing) #3 in their scheduled rotation, and parked. Jesus turned off the engine and looked at Rupert.

“Every one of these crooks thinks they’re big time. So, they like to act big time. If you’re not careful, big time might fuck you up.”

“But they’re buffoons, Jesus,” Rupert argued, creeping doubt notwithstanding. Fulva was menacing even if you didn’t know she fucked Derek Peterson. The Peterson fucking only changed the quality—like splatter movies are gross and scary, but body horror is gross, scary, and deeply unsettling.

“That, mi hermano, is what makes them more threatening—the buffoonility,” Jesus said, satisfied with his coinage. He got out of the car.

This did make a certain amount of sense to Rupert and he followed Jesus into the Florida heat.

As they prepared to go in, Bill walked out, followed by Osceola. No one said anything as Bill and Osceola climbed into the back of Jesus’s car. Jesus shrugged at Rupert and they got back in.

“Drive,” Osceola said, sliding down into the seat to assume a super-relaxed position.

Jesus picked at his thumbnail, then chewed it a little. Rupert stared at a window mannequin wearing a sharp suit that no one in their right mind would wear in this heat.

“Drive,” Osceola said again, this time agitated by Jesus’s insubordinance.

“Where are we going, Bill?” Jesus asked, looking at Bill in the rearview. Bill had simply been distracted by some routine MeeMaw’s Whackin’ Dick maintenance.

“Oh, Fulva’s,” he said, looking up. He then returned to his massaging.

Jesus turned the engine over and soon they were on their way to Segue-La. Rupert reached a long arm back past Osceola and handed Bill a wad of cash, which Bill took without moving any attention from his massive pink dildo.

None of this struck Rupert as weird anymore.

* * *

When they arrived at Segue-La, Fulva sat cross-legged on her mat-throne reading a book by Derek Peterson called Bareback Militia. Steve Perry sat on the raised platform beside her—sporting a cowhide vest and a small cowboy hat—carefully pulling part his own old, desiccated feces, picking undigested seeds out of it, and popping them into his disgusting little monkey mouth. As soon as he saw Rupert, he ran, climbed up Rupert’s body, perched on his shoulder, and sniffed the side of his head. Rupert grimaced. He disliked this monkey.

As they approached, Fulva looked up from her book and smiled at Rupert, ignoring Jesus, which Jesus was used to and preferred.

“You read Peterson, Rupie?” she asked as if she referred to John Stuart Mill.

Until he came to Florida, Rupert had never heard of him. He wasn’t sure Peterson existed outside of Florida.

“I don’t think I have, no.” He knew absolutely that he’d have known if he had.

“Do. He’s incredible. Hands down, the best erotic/horror-young-adult-self-help writer of the genre.”

“She just wants to fuck him,” Bill spat as he and Osceola walked in. He slid down into the beanbag chair in front of his VMS4. Rupert wondered if Bill had made his weekly 911 call yet, or maybe the VMS4 system is back up and running to Bill’s satisfaction. Then, a little late to the game, his thought was interrupted by a vision of Peterson’s rubbery, distorted face laboring exhaustively over Fulva as she grunted her old man moans of greasy-gross pleasure, perhaps opening a pestilential rift in the Universal Source.

Fulva eeked out a wispy, revolted noise, much milder than Rupert wanted to express.

“Bildo’s just jealous.”

Rupert said nothing. Fulva flipped the book aside and looked at Rupert.

“Where’ve ya been, Rupie?”

“Oh, around. Selling tickets. Seeing the sights. Never been to Florida before.”

“Yeah? Where’ve you been?”

You know . . . around,” Rupert hadn’t been anywhere that he could point to as a “sight.”

“Yeah, but where?”

“I’ve been,” Rupert began slowly, “down to the marina.”

“Which one?”

Shit.

“Hey, you know, before we continue this conversation, and speaking of water, would you mind if I, um . . . ?” Rupert indicated his need to urinate by loosely grabbing his junk and plonking his knees together.

Fulva, annoyed, waved him away. Jesus pointed over his shoulder to a large pink door with gold trim.

Rupert really did have to go, though he hoped he could buy enough time to think of the marina’s name. Any marina’s name.

The bathroom is, of course, pink. Persian Rose, to be exact. Rupert did not recall ever having taken a color-theory class. It was clear Fulva preferred unnatural colors, but this was one of the more toned-down pinks. And everything matched. Whoever put this together nailed it. The floor, walls, toilet, shower and curtain, sink, counter, soap dish, soap, everything was the exact same shade of Persian Rose. Furthermore, it was immaculate, as opposed to the rest of Segue-La. Rupert was impressed, despite that it gave him vertigo.

The only thing here not Persian Rose was a massive, bigger-than-Rupert-sized aloe plant gone biologically haywire. Its leaves didn’t just grow up from the container in a single inflorescence, but branched off to create countless little aloe plantlets, like a spider plant, which was strange for an aloe. It sat in a pink pot atop a Persian Rose wardrobe with slatted doors, and branched off in all directions, twisting and turning, hanging down to the floor. He wasn’t even sure it was an aloe plant, though its leaves were aloe-shaped and fleshy, green with pointed ridges along the sides. More like tentacles, really. The ridges were black, though, and he’d never seen an aloe plant like that. Perhaps some special species of Aloe. Florida did contain some prehistoric monster-looking vegetation. Fucking Florida.

As Rupert drained his bladder, he heard a faint whisper from behind: “Help me.”

He figured it was just the sound of his whiz hitting the water and echoing around the Persian Rose walls and tiles. Or maybe Bill and Fulva were fighting out there. Whatever.

But as he finished up, shook off, and had his hand on the handle to flush, it came again.

“Help me.”

Nope, he thought. I gotta get some kind of ventilation mask when I’m around the cooking fumes. This is some bullshit.

He flushed, pivoted to the sink and washed his hands, which turned pink from the soap. Rupert wondered what the soap was made of to get that kind of toxic-looking lather. He rinsed and as the filling toilet and running faucet stopped at the same time, it came again, distinct.

“Help me.”

Rupert swung around to his left, toward the wardrobe, and opened the doors. It was full of Derek Peterson Little Girl brand yoga pants—Rupert’s throat constricted. Did he feel a presence in the room? Please don’t be Peterson. As he shut the doors, his eyes fell on the freakazoid aloe plant, and then he heard: “Yessss . . . ”

It was the plant.

A knock at the door almost made Rupert scream.

“You fall in?” Osceola’s voice came muted through the door. Rupert found this ironic; he was too large to ever “fall in,” whereas Osceola was small enough to do that very thing.

Without thinking, Rupert snapped a plantlet off its stem and threw it into his cross-body bag. Osceola banged on the door and started to rap, Rupert supposed, to pass the time during the three seconds between now and the evacuation of the bathroom. Rupert opened the door and walked around Osceola without a word.

Once more before the court of Fulva, Rupert looked at his watch.

“Whoa, Jesus, the time,” he said. “We gotta go to the place to do that thing with the selling.”

Jesus looked up, startled as he had been ignoring the proceedings, but he caught on quickly and said: “Ah, yeah, the thing. Tickets. Over to the place. We’re gonna be late.” He fished his keys out of his pocket. “Gotta sell them tickets. They’re knocking the door down for them.”

Rupert nodded.

“Rupie,” Fulva called.

He turned and looked at her.

“Don’t be a stranger.” Fulva smiled.

Rupert nodded again, smiled, and gave a weak wave. Christ, stranger than what?

“And hey,” she added. “You should stop by Mote Marine. They have manatees.”

Rupert thought of the floating manatee meth lab of putrefaction.

“I will. Thanks for the tip.” Does she know something?

Rupert and Jesus left and walked to the car more hurried than usual.

“Do you think she knows?” Rupert asked Jesus.

“What, now you’re worried?”

“She is kind of menacing.”

“I tried to tell you.”

They got into the car and Rupert erupted into a nervous sweat.

“So, where are we going?” Jesus asked.

“Anywhere.”

As they drove, Rupert looked around for whatever bizarre, drug-addled event might be taking place around him, but for once found nothing. He relaxed a little. Then he remembered the aloe plantlet in his cross-body bag.

“Can you drop me off at the Royal Courtyard Econo-Regency Chalet?”

“Sure.”

“Hey Jesus,” Rupert started. “That plant in the bathroom.”

Jesus’s face got serious.

“The Plant with No Name,” he replied, cryptic.

“Seriously?”

Jesus looked at Rupert like, what do you expect at this point?

Rupert silently conceded, then: “What do you know about it? Like, what kind of plant is it?” He could identify every possible shade of pink that ever existed, natural or manmade, but he couldn’t identify a houseplant.

“Ever heard of something called ‘Wet’?” Jesus asked.

Rupert shook his head.

“Fry? Illy?”

Still no. “Wait, is that Ebonics? I told you, I’m not fluent . . . ”

“No. Okay. Pharmaceutical pop culture lesson. A handful of years ago, this was all the rage on the street. Basically, it’s marijuana soaked in PCP, or you just dip a joint in it. That’s all well and good, but the trouble came because, in fact, a nickname for PCP in the community is—

* * *

“Oh, I remember Wet,” Shit Pail chimes in, again ruining Rupert’s storytelling groove.

“You seem like you might. Fond memories, I presume.”

“If by ‘fond memories’ you mean no memories—”

“That doesn’t sound like you remember it.” Rupert, irritated by another interruption, bated Shit Pail with no luck, then was relieved when she didn’t notice.

“I remember it as a thing that existed in the world—whether I existed when I used it is a matter of debate.” She seemed to pick something out of a tooth hole.

“I guess that’s what you get from smoking something called—”

* * *

“—Embalming Fluid.”

“Hmm.”

“Real original, I know. So, Fulva and Bill, in all their glorious wisdom, wanted in on the act ‘cause it was makin’ bank. So, they sent Osceola off to get them some ‘embalming fluid.’ And you’ve met Osceola.”

“This can’t be good.”

Pendejo comes back, not with PCP, but actual embalming fluid. Now, evidently, that can get you high—you can dip a cigarette, marijuana or otherwise, into some PCP-laced actual embalming fluid, and folks call that Fry, but we’re getting into some complicated substance sub-genres here . . . anyway, it can get you high, though it can also give you seizures and put your ass in a coma. So, when that all went south, Fulva told Bill to get rid of it, and he poured it into her plant in the bathroom.”

“Is that an aloe plant?”

“Um, yeah, I think it is. That shit you break off and put on burns?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“Hmm.”

“Shit yes, and it got wild. Keeps trying to escape. But she can’t part with it. Gift from Derek Peterson.”

“Thee Derek Peterson?”

“The very one.”

“Where’d he get it?”

“Regular ol’ aloe plant—I dunno. Plant shop.”

After a moment of silence: “That’s, uh . . . that’s a crazy story.” Rupert gazed down at his cross-body bag lying across his lap.

“You expected something more plausible?”

“Yes,” Rupert admitted. “Yes, I did. I hoped . . .”

“Okay, how about this? It’s not a plant at all. It’s an alien from Crack Planet.”

“Embalming fluid it is, then.”

“Hey,” Jesus said, looking between Rupert and the road. “You leave that plant alone.”

They eyed each other, suspicious. Rupert thought Jesus knew something more about the Plant with No Name, but he himself was reluctant to tell the only half-sane person he knew here that he’d heard a plant request his assistance.

“Okay.” Rupert went back to scanning the plazas for crazy, shirtless Florida men.

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SpiderFace

Simply put, Eric Rico Ortiz got a tattoo of a black widow spider on the side of his face because he was afraid of spiders. Let me quote the article: “’Everybody fears spiders,’ Ortiz told the Daytona Beach News-Journal, while standing at the Volusia County Courthouse to handle felony charges against him for habitually driving with a revoked license.” His rap sheet on the day of this hearing included burglary, narcotic possession, retail theft, prowling, and domestic battery. The crime saga doesn’t end there. A few days later, after an altercation with his girlfriend involving a box cutter and an attempted rape, Ortiz was being sought by police for kidnapping, battery, false imprisonment, attempted sexual battery without force, tampering with a witness, robbery by sudden snatching, and preventing someone from calling 911. According to HireExFelon.com, Ortiz was later sentenced for “willful child abuse” and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. He also has the following tattoos as described by the Florida State Prison West Unit, where he is being held as of this writing: “Cross Cards 8Ball Rosary Banner Dragon Gun Eric Yariel Angel NY” on his left arm, “Clouds Star Prayer Hands Sun Mi Orguello Flag Clouds Boricua” on his right arm, “Heart Roses Banner” on his left chest, “Skull” on his right chest, “Love Eye” on his right hand, oh, and a “Spiders Web” on his face, opposite the giant spider that captured the media’s hearts. His release date is April 4, 2020, if you happen to live in the area.

McCoy, Terrence. “Florida Man Terrified of Spiders So He Tattooed A Giant One on His Face.” Miami New Times. New Times. February 21, 2014.

Joseph, Chris. “Florida Man with Spider Tattoo on His Face Is Now Wanted By Police.”March 4, 2014. Broward Palm Beach New Times. New Times.

Read Florida Man: Battle of the Five Meth Labs: A Love Story here.

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16.2

FM22 (16.2)

They went back into the tarp-tent and Bucket removed the lighter tarp hanging from the branch.

On a length of two-by-ten nailed to a relatively horizontal mangrove branch, sat the following items: Two 2-liter bottles, one 1-liter bottle, one 20-ounce bottle, aquarium tubing, needle-nose pliers, a pair of wire snips, a set of measuring cups, a funnel, a lidded plastic container, some baggies, a razorblade, and a packet of coffee filters. There were also several B-Line cold packs, some Drainü, campfire fuel, a 3D ViewLooker, a handful of AA lithium batteries, a 3.78-liter can of Xylene, a shoebox full of 12-hour Sudafeed, iodized salt, sulfuric acid, Isopropyl alcohol, and a gallon of distilled water. All astonishingly clean.

Four hours—and a surprisingly detailed overview of New Thought philosophy—later, methamphetamine lay drying on the coffee filters, and Rupert was mentally exhausted, but rather impressed.

“Did you know . . . ” Bucket began as he peered through the ViewLooker. Rupert noted that it had no reel. “ . . . That Nagai Nagayoshi synthesized methamphetamine from ephedrine in 1893?”

“You don’t say . . . ”

Bucket clicked the lever on the ViewLooker and nothing happened.

At that moment a stone hit the outside of Vailima, the Home of Truth.

“Bastards,” Bucket mumbled. He bent down to the sleeping bag and pulled the box out from under the chair cushion. From the box, he pulled a handful of small, knotted baggies that Rupert knew to be “Dominican knots,” as Bill had once informed him. He was learning so much.

Outside, the sound of kids pierced Rupert’s ears like an ice pick. They chanted:

“Buh-ket! Buh-ket! Buh-ket!”

“Bucket, you wax-face motherfucker!” One exceptionally charming little boy split off from the rest. They all laughed.

Holy shit, Rupert thought. Another stone hit the tarp-tent and he was almost afraid to leave it. But he followed Bucket through the flap and ducked a few more stones. There were six of them, all on bikes, and none could have been much older than ten. One of them leapt from his bike, dropping it, and with a can of Lysol and a disposable lighter ran up to Bucket and lit a massive plume of flame much closer to Bucket’s face than Rupert thought very safe, but he also noticed that Bucket didn’t have much head or facial hair left to lose.

“Get ‘im, Donny! Get ‘im with fire!” one little psychopath egged on.

Perhaps most disturbing was that Bucket didn’t recoil. But little Donny ran back to his bike, and as he picked it up and mounted it, he threatened: “Next time, Bucket. Next time we’ll have a Bucket barbeque!” More laughter.

“You’ll wish you still lived at the bottom of that well,” another kid chimed in.

From one of them another stone flew, cracking Bucket in the back of the head. Again, no response. Bucket then threw the handful of baggies toward the gaggle of heathens and they scrambled off their bikes, each grabbing at whatever he could. When the knots were gathered, they remounted their bikes and took off. One lagged behind and dug into his bulky front pocket, pulled out a crinkled liter-sized plastic bag, and threw it on the ground. Then he pointedly flipped off both Bucket and Rupert before pushing his bike up the bank.

Rupert looked at Bucket, who acted as though nothing had happened.

“What the fuck was that? And,” Rupert paused, “did you just give meth to a bunch of ten year olds?”

“Them? They don’t imbibe. Least I don’t think so. They sell for me.”

Rupert couldn’t respond.

Bucket bent over and picked up the bag the last kid had tossed. He continued:

“Those, my friend, are thought forms. I created them on a bad trip—could have done a much better job, and I regret not doing so, but there they are, and they serve their purpose.” He opened the bag and peered in. “When the way is clear and I’m maintaining my oath diligently, they come. They know to come. They take my enlightening substance and distribute it amongst the unenlightened. They also test my resolve to stay true to the Movement, as you may have noticed.”

“The rock throwing and almost re-setting your face on fire. . . ”

“I never bend.”

Rupert hoped there would be no more yogic feats of dexterity.

“Bucket, how much do you make from these kids?”

“Make?” Bucket asked, confused. “Oh! Money! Oh, I never see the money. I have no idea what they sell it for.”

Bucket put his fingers inside the bag and felt around. It was clear plastic, but Rupert couldn’t figure out what was in it.

“They do bring me these,” Bucket said.

“And . . . what are those?”

“Weaves.” Bucket smiled. “Hair weaves. These I do sell on the black market.”

“There’s a black market for weaves?”

“Remy hair—real hair—from India. Best quality. I don’t know how they get it, and I don’t want to know. But it goes for big bucks. Or, it did.”

Freeze! and Hands Up! came tearing down the bank path, zipped around them, then tore back up.

“Freeze! Hands Up!” Bucket yelled. “They’re good dogs, but they’re full of beans. Yes, the weave market has slowed down quite a bit since the natural hair movement took hold.”

“That’s unfortunate,” Rupert said.

“I was thinking of trying to sell them to one of those cancer things—Malignancy Manes, Tumor Tresses . . . ”

“Caring Curls for Cancer,” Rupert added. “Hmm. I don’t think they buy hair, though. I think they rely on donations.”

“Well, I’ll have to find another way to sell it. It’s how I buy my supplies. Gotta do it before the damn dogs eat all the inventory. I may take up wig making again.”

“Hmm.” Again? Obviously.

Bucket took the new baggie of hair, sealed it back up, and lifted the lid off of a large plastic container behind the tarp-tent Rupert hadn’t noticed. It was packed full of hair weaves.

“You want a coffee?” Bucket offered, which sounded surreal here.

Rupert declined, thinking of the meth drying on the filters in the tarp-tent. As he did, he glanced at the water and saw a duck float by with some tubing and a bottle top sticking out of it. The duck’s bill was half-open, its head flopped to one side.

Alarmed, he scanned across the inlet, around in the bushes, up on the bank path, and across the water again. He caught a glimpse of the man with the fringe jacket and feathers, silently paddling his fluorescent yellow rented kayak out of the inlet and back out into the Gulf, feathers and fringe flapping in the breeze.

“Suit yourself,” said Bucket before he disappeared into his Home of Truth.

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15

FM21 (15:16.1)

Rupert sat nauseous in the passenger seat of Tommy’s stifling Cutlass Supreme despite the window being open. Tommy had a fresh, full batch of still-ripening bananas sitting between them. The horned thing loomed over Tommy’s head, as though it were considering an escape through the window. Rupert couldn’t blame it. The collection of junk either propping it up or threatening to release it was a confused assortment of garbage and nostalgia—FFG meal bags and childhood toys. Rupert thought he spotted what might have been a treasured Shake n’ Bake Superade bottle wedged between a single work boot and a rusty, metal Ripley’s Believe It or Not! lunchbox.

Tommy counted cash, flicking his tongue back and forth in the space one of his missing teeth had left in a manner Rupert found sickening. The smell of real bananas and the air fresheners made him recall his promise to himself that morning: Upon no circumstance would he vomit today.

“And here you go, Rupie,” Tommy said. “You can count it.” He was about to hand Rupert his take when he stopped and held it back. “Wait a tick.” He looked at Rupert, grinning.

Rupert sighed. “Fitty.”

Fitty,” Tommy repeated. “Use it in a sentence.”

Rupert leaned back and thought for a moment. The seat pushed to the rear a fraction of an inch under his weight, and even that little bit shifted the precarious mound of crap behind them, possibly enough to trigger a garbage avalanche of suffocating proportions. He leaned forward again, the horned beast eyeballing him.

“Alright.” Tommy Bananas, I’mma’bout to whack you upside your head fitty times. “That wad of money you’re about to give me better be more than fitty dollars.”

Fitty!” Tommy shouted, too loud. “Ha! That is great. You folks are great.” He handed Rupert the cash.

“Thank you.”

“You are welcome, friend,” Tommy said, pulling a green banana off the bunch.

Rupert didn’t know how much longer he could bake in that car.

“Tommy? Question.”

“Shoot.”

“I want to learn how to cook—”

“Nope.”

Rupert slipped into a surprised silence before he could redirect his prepared argument.

“That’s it, nope? No discussion? I’ve been selling the shit out of your Canc—Tropical Supreme.”

“Yes, you have, and I appreciate it.” Tommy peeled the banana and took a big bite.

“But . . . nope,” Rupert said, frustrated.

“That’s right. Look,” Tommy said around chewed banana mush. “I like you. You do good work. But I can’t be just handin’ out my cookin’ secrets left and right. I’m onto something here. No offense, but I don’t need the competition with my own idea, you know what I mean?”

“What about the non-scented version? The regular version?”

“I’m afraid that’s a nope, too.” Tommy chewed. “That’s my daddy’s secret formula. I can’t give that out. I can only pass that down to my own son.”

“You have a son?”

“Not yet, but I will. Someday.”

Rupert thought he saw the horned beast’s eyes grow wide, which would have been impossible, yet understandable.

This was a lost cause. And a waste of time.

“Okay. I gotta get going,” Rupert said, opening the door. His absence in the seat made the mountain of junk shift again. He stuffed the cash into his pocket. “See you later.”

“Bye, Rupe!” Tommy said as if the cooking conversation had never taken place. “Fitty,” he then said to himself. “Fitty badonkadonks.” Then he laughed until banana lodged in his sinuses.

16.1

Jesus dropped Rupert off at the marina in Sarasota Bay after pointing the way to get down the bank.

“This is Vailima,” Rupert said, somewhat disgusted.

“Yes, it is,” Jesus confirmed.

Rupert got out of the car, but before closing the door, stooped down and stuck his head back in.

“Jesus, do you know what Vailima is?”

Jesus looked offended.

“Of course I do,” he said. “Vailima is a village on the island of Samoa. Robert Louis Stevenson named his estate after it.”

Rupert raised his eyebrows.

“Get away from my car,” Jesus said.

Rupert shut the door and Jesus pulled away. He looked toward the marina, then toward the bay, then followed the way Jesus had pointed.

He found a path through some low, dead grasses and half-fell his way down the steep embankment to where the tuncated shoreline was flat. A patch of mangrove trees edged in from the stagnant water. It was pretty calm, almost peaceful. Ducks swam, gobbling up whatever they happened to find. Fish jumped from the water, catching insects that flew a little too low.

The patch was situated along an inlet right beside the Van Weasel Performing Arts Hall, where wealthy snowbirds took in the opera and whatnot. Obscured by the foliage, this inlet was a place where unsuspecting tourists paddled their rented kayaks from the harbor around the corner, looking to take in some nature, and then, upon seeing Bucket relaxing in his “Vailima,” propelled themselves back out as quickly as possible. Too much wildlife for them.

Freeze! and Hands Up! ran around, sniffing things, barking at Rupert’s presence, but not pausing from their enthusiastic rampaging to even look at him.

Bucket emerged from a blue-tarp tent woven into a couple of the mangrove trees and secured with a thin line.

“Welcome!”

Rupert was about to greet him in return, when Bucket cut him off.

“Get in here, let’s do this.” Bucket was all business, not as obvious a spectacle as he was when Rupert first encountered him.

They disappeared into the tarp-tent. The brackish water lapped at the shoreline near their feet, propelled by the slapping paddles of giggling people who’d never kayaked before. Rupert had never kayaked before. Come to think of it, he’d never learned to ride a bike. He’d always been too tall for regular bikes, kayaks as well, though he’d never tried.

A sleeping bag was spread out on the driest side of the tarp-tent with a kitchen chair cushion for a pillow, underneath which a small, ratty cardboard box stuck out. A much smaller, lighter-blue tarp hung over a branch—perhaps the entrance to another whole wing of Vailima.

“You there?” Bucket asked. Rupert thought he was smiling, but it was hard to tell in this light and with that face.

“Yes, yes,” Rupert answered. “Just thinking about—”

“You need to be thinking about the task at hand,” Bucket said.

My God, he almost sounded like a normal person. But Rupert knew better at this point. Nothing and no one was normal down here.

“First, though, we need to get in line with one another,” Bucket said.

Uh-oh. “Okay.”

“Do you know anything about the New Thought Movement?”

“I do not.” Rupert thought maybe he’d heard about it somehow, somewhere, but it didn’t matter because he had a feeling he was going to hear all about it now.

“I am proud to say that I am a member of that great movement,” Bucket went on. “We don’t have the time to get into the nitty-gritty of it, but it’s enough to say that Infinite Intelligence, what you might call “God,” is not a thing out there, separate from you and me and everything else on the planet, or in the Universe. It is the ultimate reality. And, through many years of what some might call “paranormal” and “degenerate” experimentation, I have discovered for a fact that one can touch this reality—it will reveal itself to you—when you smoke this particular substance.”

“Meth.”

“Yes.” Bucket looked Rupert square in the eye and his bald lids didn’t flinch.

Rupert replayed the scene of Bucket launching himself at the dead manatee he was sure he could ride out into the gulf, away from his imaginary pursuers.

“That’s interesting,” Rupert said. “Go on.”

Bucket appeared surprised.

“Well, I make this Godly substance and I distribute it. Well, I don’t, but I’ll get to that in a minute. But by distributing it, I consider it spreading the Truth, the Word and Wonders of the New Thought Movement.”

“Why is it called New Thought?” Rupert asked. Let’s engage, why not?

“Good question. There are many facets to New Thought, but I’ll give you the most obvious example. Illness. Disease. Even injury. It is all created by electrical impulses running through your nervous system. Which are, of course, generated by the mind. Your thoughts.”

“Right.”

“For example, you might not know this, but I was once involved in a rather unfortunate accident. Well, several. And, in fact, they were not accidents. They were products of my own faulty thought forms.”

“Really?” Rupert wondered how fast he could get back up the bank if necessary.

“Yes. Had I been in the right state of mind and practicing the teachings of John Bovee Dods, or William Walker Atkinson in an attentive and rigorous fashion, I would not have sustained any sort of injury whatsoever when my lab exploded.”

“Wow, is that right . . . ?” Rupert said and wiped his hand over his mouth to suppress an involuntary smile, then covered that up with a thoughtful rub of the chin.

“Every day, several times a day—on the days I’m not connecting with the Great Reality—I meditate and practice yoga.

“The meditation and yoga don’t connect you with the Great Reality . . . ?”

“’Course not, don’t be stupid. Come here, come see . . . ” Bucket lead Rupert back out of the tarp-tent. A couple of distressed kayakers glided by.

Then Rupert watched while Bucket performed a series of downright baffling yoga positions. The man’s vulgar flexibility both alarmed and appalled. When he righted himself and replaced all of his limbs and joints, he continued:

“When I meditate and become the practice, truthful and all-embracing, I am able to channel the great Hindu teacher, Swami Bakawaas, who assists me in honing my thoughts, fixed like a laser, to heal my injuries and make me whole again.”

Rupert wasn’t sure how whole Bucket had ever been.

Then Bucket lurched at Rupert and placed his shiny, misshapen face close to his. It was too late to pull back, and Rupert noticed that, at least, the crevice-seeking bits of manatee had been removed—he assumed here in this swampy inlet.

“See? You can hardly tell a Kumquat Quencher bottle blew up in my face.”

Rupert reconsidered learning this method of meth making, but felt it was too late for that now.

“Do you know what Vailima means?” Bucket asked, stepping back into Warrior Pose.

Rupert had read a biography on Robert Louis Stevenson, and he knew the answer to this one.

“It means ‘The Home of Truth,’” Bucket answered himself, incorrectly. “Now that you know a little about what we’re accomplishing here, and I do mean only a little, let us return to the Home of Truth and make some fucking meth.”

Rupert reminded himself of his end goal, which he realized he hadn’t quite articulated yet in any great detail, but figured now was a good time to make a note to do that later. If he had a face later.

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14.2

FM20 (14.2)

Shit Pail waves her arms frantically for several seconds, though Rupert had stopped talking and had been looking right at her.

“Did you know . . . ?” she begins.

Ah, great.

“ . . . that a manatee named Philbert survived three shipwrecks during World War Two—the Bismarck, the HMS Cossack, and the HMS Ark Royal, only to die peacefully in—”

Rupert had been shaking his head since the word “shipwrecks.”

“That was a cat named Sam.”

“I had a cat named Sam, who died . . . ” She didn’t pause.

“Am I boring you?”

“ . . . in a . . . ”

“Are you bored?”

“ . . . a . . . ”

“Are you—?”

“Yes.”

“—bored?”

“A bit.”

Rupert sighed.

“Manatees are boring.”

“Not this one.”

“Oh, because . . .”

“Can I continue?”

“ . . . I had a . . . ”

“Can I—?”

“ . . . catatee . . . ”

“Stop.”

“Okay.”

* * *

Jesus watched the hump, still nodding, and looked about to say something, when a man crashed through the bushes next to them. He ran straight into Jesus, knocking him back a bit—he looked like he was running from someone. For a second, it appeared Jesus was about to put a whuppin’ on the guy, but Rupert saw recognition on his friend’s face and then Jesus rolled his eyes. The guy, though, didn’t appear to know Jesus. The guy didn’t seem to know much of anything, except that someone was after him and he needed to act quickly. In the coming twilight, Rupert had just enough illumination and time to see that the man had suffered a pretty horrible burn at some point. Not recently, but sometime in the distant past. His eyes, crazed and red-rimmed, had no lashes, nor did he have eyebrows, except for a few hairs that sprouted on the outside edge of where the left one should have been.

I’d pluck those, Rupert thought, and then lamented that his brain worked this way.

The guy’s lips were functional, but not so much lip-shaped, and his nose was absent more cartilage than anyone would feel comfortable still calling a nose. The rest of his face, with the exception of a palm-sized patch on the jaw line and lower part of the left cheek, looked waxy and taut in some places, wavy and abstract in others.

As far as they could tell, no one was after him. Rupert had noticed as he exploded through the foliage that he’d been accompanied by a liquid-sloshing sound, but he couldn’t tell exactly where it came from.

“(Incoherent) fuzz, man! (incoherent!)” the guy said as his frantic but cloudy eyes scanned the water and landed on the hump of the slow-moving manatee.

Another glance around and Rupert could see there was definitely no one in pursuit. The only people interested in this guy were the tourists who looked on in shock and horror. Then:

“(Incoherent) gonna ride that sumbitchin’ sea cow outta here! (Incoherent!)” With that, the man with the melted face took a few steps back, ran, and launched himself into the water of the boat launch, toward the grey hump. Jesus had put up his hands, perhaps to stop the crazy man, but it was too late.

Here, two things happened:

1) At take-off, a plastic Superade bottle fell down and out of the guy’s pant leg, and rolled to a stop at their feet; and 2) the guy flailed and landed directly onto the manatee, which was indeed a manatee, though not a live one, and rotting from the inside. The guy popped through the decomposing hump, into and through the putrefying carcass, and now he struggled to free himself.

The stench was awful and instant, and everyone moved away from the canal, except for Rupert and Jesus who could only stare in revulsion. They watched him for a few minutes. He didn’t seem much closer to freedom.

“That’s Bucket,” Jesus said.

“What?”

“He’s kind of a fixture.”

Rupert was about to ask more about Bucket, but he then noticed the Superade bottle near his feet, which was murky inside, filled with a dirty, chalky-looking residue that had been jostled in the fall and was now settling. Rupert pointed to it.

“He dropped that. What is it?”

“Shit, son, that’s a bomb,” Jesus said, and with that, he jumped over a low hedge and commenced a brisk, yet nonchalant stroll away from the scene through a small gravel lot where people parked their boat trailers.

It didn’t look like a bomb to Rupert, so he stood there a little longer, watching Bucket thrash in the water, working the putrid manatee flesh from his limbs and yelling incoherencies and marginally more coherent expletives. Rupert felt a little sorry for the exhausted man named Bucket and his heroic battle with this dead manatee—he thought the least he could do was help him out. But the stink of the disintegrating offal was too much to get any closer.

In fact, by this time, Bucket’s struggling had pushed him and the manatee carcass closer to the edge of the launch, and Rupert saw that Bucket was not only engulfed in rotting manatee meat, but also a tangle of tubes, rods, and what Rupert thought was a glass beaker.

Bucket pushed himself up onto the concrete edge of the launch, fell over, rested, but wheezed for about ten seconds, and then attempted one last violent squirm out of the whole mess, the bulk of which plopped back into the brown-black water. Finally, he sat up, inhaled deeply a few times, and tried to stand. Rupert hoped very much he would not have to steady him, because he had no idea how long it took to get the smell of dead manatee out of one’s skin.

But Bucket succeeded in righting himself on his own, and he looked down around his feet at the leftover meat and tubing, then started to pat down his pants, as if looking for something.

“Pretty sure I just had the bottle in there, not a whole set up,” Bucket said and cackled, but turned serious again when he didn’t find what he looked for. He scanned the bushes. Rupert pointed to the bottle where he and Jesus had been standing, still looking at the manatee mess—Rupert had been in country long enough to recognize the remains of a box lab amongst the decomposing manatee flesh. What the hell?

Bucket ran over to the bottle—Jesus’s “bomb”—gave it a couple of shakes, which made Rupert wince, then walked back over and tried to shake Rupert’s hand. Rupert did everything in his power to avoid this.

“I’m Bucket,” the guy said. “Kids call me Bucket. Everyone does.”

Rupert hoped this man had not procreated.

“Nice to meet you, Bucket.” Again, Rupert couldn’t help but notice a drop in anxiety whenever he interacted with those whom society deemed unpalatable.

Bits of manatee meat had found their way into the melted flesh creases of Bucket’s face, and Rupert felt his ta’amia with shrimp start to rise. The combination of the rotting manatee flesh and Bucket’s burn-scarred face was like an olfactive-visual battle of entropic proportions—two things, falling apart, and never meant to have ever made contact. He wondered if he could go three days without puking. No one warned him about all the vomiting one would do when visiting Florida.

“Whatchya got there, Bucket?” Rupert asked, pointing to the bottle.

Bucket looked at the bottle for a moment, and then back at Rupert, perplexed.

“Meth.” Bucket said this like one would say, “bread,” or “socks.”

Rupert looked at him. Slowly, Bucket came around.

“Shake n’ Bake, brother,” he said. “You interested?”

Rupert was now possessed of two competing thoughts:

1) That Bucket made his own meth and might be unstable enough to be convinced to teach Rupert; and 2) he was almost positive that dead manatee contained a small, possibly-functioning meth lab, and that fact was so baffling, it was hard for him to conduct business. Was there nowhere these Floridians could not make meth? But Rupert persevered.

Bucket squeezed canal and manatee juice from his already too-big t-shirt, stretching it out further. He’d either forgotten anyone had been chasing him, or thought that he’d gotten away.

“So, this,” Rupert said, pointing to the bottle again. “That works?”

“Works? Hell, I’ll show you!” Bucket answered, delighted. Rupert found this disconcerting, which was a real feat under the circumstances.

“But I gotta warn you,” Bucket continued, then leaned closer to Rupert than was welcome. “It’ll put a crimp in your masturbation routine. I mean, if you got a schedule. I mean, if you wanna work it in your pants, like I do when I’m out and about.”

“I’m flexible.” That was easy enough. Confusing and gross, but relatively simple.

“Yeah, I’ll teach you, no problem,” Bucket said, unnatural lips undulating, lashless lids still squinting out toxic-canal/meat juice and other revolting things. “I’m at Vailima.”

“Robert Louis Stevenson?” Rupert asked, pleasantly surprised.

“Who?”

Let down.

Bucket turned, hopped the same low hedge Jesus did and trotted across the lot, dripping and shouting, “Freeze! Hands Up!” Two black labs came out of nowhere, barking and slobbering, tails wagging, and followed Bucket. A small group of black tourists, also sandaled and covered in tropical print, craned their necks to see who shouted, but upon seeing Bucket, quickly moved back down the shopping area, joining their white counterparts in a rare display of social solidarity.

Rupert watched impassively as Bucket and the dogs disappeared into the neighborhood, then turned back to the section of the boat launch nearest the canal, when there on the other side of the deep end of the launch was the guy he’d seen at the FFG on his very first day in Sarasota. He peered out from behind a bush, but Rupert saw the fringed jacket and the feathers in his hair. The guy shook his head in sorrow, and though the dusk had grown darker than it was just ten minutes before, Rupert swore he saw a single tear run down the man’s face.

Rupert turned to yell for Jesus and when he looked back, the mysterious man was gone.

A lone gull screeched its garbage-eating, beach bum cry in the distance.

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FMBoyScout

Orlando’s Eric P. Fagan, dressed as a boy scout for Halloween, was found by police slumped over in his vehicle facing the wrong direction on the street at around 3:00am. After first refusing to hand over his driver’s license, then refusing to leave his vehicle, he was “removed” from said vehicle. Police could not conduct a proper DUI investigation due to Fagan’s “uncooperative nature.” No word as to whether the costume was really a costume and not Fagan’s actual boy scout uniform—but the accompanying article photo looks pretty legit. Fagan is presumably now an ex-boy scout.

Harris, David. “Man in Boy Scout Costume Arrested for Resisting Officer.” Carroll County Times. Tribune Publishing Company. November 1, 2014.

Read Florida Man: Battle of the Five Meth Labs: A Love Story here.

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14.1

FM19 (14.1)

A few days later, Rupert and Jesus were escorted to a table by a large, delightfully effeminate Arabic man. Jesus, for once, wore a pair of jeans, but as usual, sported a Pullers jersey.

“Did you even go to that college?” Rupert asked.

“High school. And nope. All girls school. Unheard of upper body strength.”

Rupert looked at the shiny surface of the menu, but his attention was focused on the bustle around him. As it turned out, Jesus didn’t eat at places like the Florida Fried Gator chain. He had finer tastes. A more developed palette. The restaurant was Zibda, situated along a canal that had been gussied up for tourists.

Once Rupert could focus, everything looked good and, again, slathered in butter. His appetite was weak, but he knew he’d regret not eating later as his glucose level dropped and he’d grow slow and morose, so he resolved to try. At least it was evening and he’d be able to sleep soon.

He’d spent the morning selling Golden Tickets with Jesus and then the afternoon meeting with Tommy in his banana-stinking Cutlass. Then he was off to sell the banana-stinking meth Tommy experimented with. He needed to stop eating at the FFG—it wasn’t pulling him through the day. So many empty gator-based calories.

“And you’re having?” Jesus asked.

Ta’amia with shrimp. You?”

“Lobster Ful Medames.”

“That’s a thing?” Rupert searched the menu.

“It is.” Jesus closed his.

A different large, delightfully effeminate Arabic man swished over to them, and leaned on the table, not for support, but for flourish.

As-salāmu ʿalayka,” Rupert said and smiled.

“I speak English, honey,” the waiter smiled. “But peace be upon you, too. If you’re lucky, a big ol’ sexy piece, just like you.” Then he winked.

Rupert was not offended.

“Jesus,” the waiter continued. “My sweet, but hot tamale . . . ” Then he laughed and looked at Rupert. “I’m so racist.”

Rupert was still not offended. It was fascinating how this worked.

Jesus laughed, the waiter laughed, Rupert laughed. The people at the next table laughed, but Rupert was pretty sure it was about something else.

“Jesus knows me,” the waiter said to Rupert. “My name is Amged—”

“But on weekend evenings, it’s Amera,” Jesus offered, rolling the r for about three seconds and making Amged squeal and cover his mustachioed mouth.

“Heysoooos,” Amged said. “Okay, babies, what’ll you have?”

They made their orders, Amged winked at both of them, and disappeared into the chaos of a Friday night dinner rush.

“Kudos for not being a dick,” Jesus said.

“Why would I be a dick?”

“People can be dicks.”

That was true enough.

“He seems like a nice guy,” Rupert said, trying to squeeze as far away from the busy side of the table as possible. “Very personable.”

“He’s got a great show when he steps out as Amera.”

“With the mustache?”

“Rupert, these ladies are masters of foundational coverage.” Jesus pulled his cutlery from his napkin and laid it across his lap.

“Gotta be who you gotta be,” Rupert replied and did the same.

“Boom. So, how’s your, um, other job going?”

Rupert said nothing for a moment, then: “I think whatever he’s using to scent the meth will cause cancer. On the bright side, it’s better than the smell from the air fresheners. And he insists on pre-sales meetings, in the car, with the air fresheners.”

“Windows down?”

“Doesn’t matter. That’s definitely going to cause cancer.” Rupert fiddled with his salad fork, and then leveled Jesus with a look that begged for a swift and merciful execution. “At night, I’m learning Ebonics.”

“What?” Jesus laughed.

“Tommy is convinced that Ebonics is an inherent feature of Blackness. Like a factory setting.”

“Are there innate features of Blackness?”

“How the hell should I know? But I have to look up words online every night in order to sustain our cultural barter system.”

“Cultural barter system. So, he gets Ebonics lessons and you get . . . ?”

“Nothing, yet.”

“What are these meetings for anyway?”

“The meetings are for the fucking Ebonics lessons.”

Jesus laughed again. Then apologized. Then laughed again.

“So far, we’ve covered tight, ill, skrilla, crunk, dilly, and badonkadonk.”

“Oh, I know that last one! And tight. And ill. Okay, and dilly.”

“I didn’t.”

“I’m bilingual.”

“I’m biracial!”

Schlemiel/Schlemazel.”

“You don’t look Jewish.”

Jesus winked.

“Well, Tommy Bananas knows them now, and I’m afraid he’s going to start using them. He’s going to get beat on.”

“I’m sure he’s used to it.”

A large party of loud, tanned people bustled by and Rupert stiffened.

“You don’t like people, do you?” Jesus noted.

“Not so much dislike, but,” Rupert started, but then thought. “No, it’s that, too. I don’t like people in a general way, yes, but it’s more a kind of phobia. ‘Social anxiety.’” Finger quotes.

“You need to relax.”

“I do, but I can’t. Like Tommy can’t leave his car.”

“Hmm.” Jesus looked grim, but then brightened. “But you are good at sales, that’s the truth. So, how’s that side going? The actual selling.”

“It’s a little harder and less effective to push without a partner, that’s a fact. Though, I hate to say it, the scented meth thing is kind of working. People dig it. You would think they wouldn’t care, but if given a choice . . . .

“They are, on some level, discerning.”

Rupert nodded.

“He doesn’t even raise the usual cost, so it’s available to anyone who can get the regular shit. If they have a choice, they go for cancer-nanner, which is what I’ve been calling it.” Rupert said. “He calls it Tropical Supreme.”

“Did I hear someone over here say badonkadonk?” Amged sauntered over to them, hips rolling, and then, with an ultra-white, wide smile, served the food.

* * *

They left ­­­­­­­­­­Zibda and took a stroll to aid digestion, walking past more restaurants and high-end art stores that featured ocean waves made of blown glass. Jesus lingered window-shopping a little. Rupert shifted from foot to foot, wanting to be away from the crowd of tropics-shirted husbands and sandaled, toe-ringed wives. Jesus moved on and Rupert tried to speed up their pace a bit. The backs of the businesses faced the canal and just ahead, the sidewalk ended at an inset boat launch, perpendicular to the canal, where the crowds turned and made their way back from whence they came. Rupert steered Jesus in that direction.

“I’m telling you, though, man, Golden Tickets are where it’s at,” Jesus continued the conversation.

“You know, Jesus, Tommy Bananas did say one sensible thing.”

“Yeah, what’s that?”

“That the whole Crack Planet thing is a scam.” Rupert scratched his head. “I mean, at least if you’re selling them drugs, they’re getting something, and a lot cheaper. All they get for $99.99 is a piece of gold-painted, Sherpied balsa wood.”

Jesus smiled. “People gotta have faith, man.”

This was the first time Rupert questioned Jesus’s sanity since he’d gotten to better know him, and he felt disappointed and alone.

“It’s cool,” Jesus said. “You do what you do and I’ll do what I do. You’re only making more Golden Ticket buyers.”

“I guess so.” Rupert shook his head. They stood near the edge of the abruptly ending sidewalk, where tourists turned around and made their mundane, predictable way back to wherever they valeted their car. Rupert lowered his voice and bent down to Jesus’s ear. “I don’t want to sell meth. I don’t want to sell anything. I want to learn how to cook.”

“What the hell you wanna do that for?” Jesus looked at him, incredulous. “No joke, güey, that shit’s dangerous. And it’s not so easy to get into. Making meth is an artisanal process—it requires a certain amount of skill and dedication. Some cookers are working with handcrafted recipes lovingly passed down by generations of their families—granted, they are plagued with teen pregnancies, incest, and overall genetic impairment, so their generations don’t go back very far, but still.”

“Hmm.”

“Bill’s not going to show you. And from what I’ve heard, his shit isn’t so good to begin with.”

“I was thinking of getting Tommy to teach me,” Rupert said.

Jesus thought for a moment.

“He might. I mean, he’s working with recipes from his dad, who’s still cooking. But I’m telling you, bróder, it’s not the way to go.”

They were silent for a bit, looking over the boat launch to the adjacent canal.

“The tourists think this shit’s romantic—the water,” Jesus said. “Notice Zibda has that big window facing the water around the corner. They all do. Fact is, though, the canals? Cesspools of stinking garbage that kill the wildlife. Take a whiff.”

Rupert did and under the smell of tropical flowers landscaped all along the sidewalk he could smell the stench of pollution, that toxic scent that any normal person’s innate instinct would be to avoid. And yes, debris gathered and ebbed in the corners of the launch, tiny pools of some oily substance floated over the surface. It was getting on dusk and a little harder to see than it would have been at high noon. Super romantic.

“Hey, what’s that?” Rupert pointed to a large grey hump protruding from the water. “Is that a manatee?”

Jesus looked and nodded, unimpressed. Rupert supposed he saw manatees all the time.

“Don’t see them much in DC,” Rupert pointed out.

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13

FM18 (13)

After a hard day of Golden Ticket selling (up 2.7% from the day before), Jesus dropped Rupert off at the Royal Courtyard Econo-Regency Chalet. He walked in, greeted by the customary arctic breeze and dim hallway, but worse, Angel. She smiled at him as usual, but it was never a real smile. Like a hi-how-are-you smile. It was an I-know-something-you-don’t-know smile and that irritated him, itched at him in a way that made him want to yell at her, but he had no idea what to yell.

He went to his room, tired from the day and the heat and the standard weirdness, though he thought maybe he was getting used to that, which worried him. As he entered the unit and swung his cross-body bag over his head, throwing it onto the unused bed, he considered how he’d concluded earlier with Bananas that he felt more comfortable surrounded by abject morons. That couldn’t be a good thing. It wasn’t the most flattering thing he could think about himself, but he knew he wasn’t merely a smarter idiot. That made him intellectually superior, sure, but on the social and emotional scale, Rupert had to admit the lack was pretty drastic in these areas.

He lay down and stretched out across the bed, heels hanging over and his back loosening up a little. Maybe he needed to be around people who weren’t competent enough to judge him correctly. But then he had to consider the word “correctly.” What was it to “correctly” judge someone? What were the criteria? He thought about people in DC, “associates”—the people he’d encountered briefly, the people whose judgment was most frequent and thorough. What did they look for to approve of? He guessed that if he’d known that, or could ever figure it out, he would have by now. He also understood that he wasn’t thinking in terms of “correct” so much as “accurate.” These were not the same thing. Whatever the case, Rupert felt least qualified to judge himself out of the entire population of the planet.

He sighed. Is this who he was? A reasonably intelligent person burdened with such a profound social handicap that he could only feel all right surrounded by meth cookers, sellers, and smokers. If that was the case, he was in bad shape. But then, being in bad shape, in this way, was something he’d always known. It was only now highlighted in a new and disheartening way.

On the bright side, here he was, doing something right. He moved closer to his goal and gradually away from an occupation pulling used tampons out of wads of paper towels clogging the ladies’ rooms’ toilets. He’d heard such gruesome tales.

He took five deep breaths, inhaling, exhaling, not quite zen meditation, but meditating on the good things he’d accomplished so far, despite his apparent handicap. In ten minutes, he felt better. In fact, he felt pretty good. So good, he decided to prove his own competence to himself by calling Pyrdewy this time instead of waiting for the phone to ring. They’d had a few conversations—if they could be described as such—since his arrival, none of which were productive or went well in any way.

“Pyrdewy. What do you want?”

“Mr. Pyrdewy.” Rupert tried to sound cheerful and confident. “It’s Rupert.”

“Who’s Rupert?”

“Rupert, down in Sarasota.” He deflated a little during the long pause.

“What the fuck are you calling me for?”

“Um—” Rupert stammered.

“Don’t you ever call me, you hear? You don’t call me,” Pyrdewy raged, a little out of proportion to the infraction, Rupert thought. “I call you, understand? I need to make sure you are where you say you are and not checked in at some fancy resort hotel on Siesta Key, tanning your black ass on those white beaches, ogling the women, and defrauding the federal government out of that long green.”

Rupert didn’t reply. He couldn’t reply. What do you say to that? Seriously, aside from Barack Obama, who says “long green?”

“Mr. Pyrdewy, I assure you that I am at the Royal Courtyard Econo-Regency Chalet. If you want you can call me ba—”

“Do I seem like I have time to play phone tag with you all fucking day?”

“No.”

“You’re a genius. Now what do you want?”

“I wanted to let you know that I’m making fast inroads into a large-scale operation.” He was such a liar, though the Cutlass Supreme was nothing to sneeze at. Rupert decided against mentioning the supervisory Marketing and Sales position at SIKildo Industries, since Golden Tickets were, as earlier revealed, not Pyrdewy’s bag. Then he started thinking about a prospective move up from sales, maybe into Bill’s position, but then if his position included sex with Fulva, perhaps not. Either way, with his smarts, he had the potential to become a thing around town. Big fish, little pond. That wasn’t so bad. Better that than to be what he’s been thus far, a shapeless amoeba in an ocean of bile being eaten and shat out by organisms only slightly bigger than himself. An unfamiliar feeling stirred in Rupert and it took him a moment to place it: ambition. He thought perhaps traces of this alien sensation might have sparked now and then in the past, but he’d dismissed it as indigestion at best.

“What the fuck do you want from me?” Pyrdewy yelled into the phone so that Rupert was not only startled out of his reverie, but now a little deaf in that ear.

“Only to let you know that, Mr. Pyrdewy,” he said, switching ears, “there’s been progress.”

“There’d better be some goddamn progress. I hear Frank’s about to retire. He’s looking for some sack of shit to pass his dust mop onto.” Pyrdewy laughed, then: “Rupe?’

“Yes, Mr. Pyrdewy, I’m here.”

“Don’t ever call me again.” With that, Pyrdewy hung up, and Rupert felt worse than before the call.

Before he had the chance to pull the receiver away from his ear, he heard that double-click again. His brain attempted a logical scenario, but gave up before it had even begun. He was too tired, and too down. He hung up the phone.

Kicking off his shoes, Rupert stretched himself out on the bed again and repeated his calming breathing exercises, this time trying not to think. But his mild, undiagnosed ADHD (he believed) wouldn’t allow it. Though not as enthusiastic as before, he slipped back into fantasy mode—the fantasy of being a big deal in the small meth trade. Did his brain just think that out loud into his head? Yes. Yes, it did. He visualized being a meth cooking whiz—a Geep-making genius—perhaps training others in his rapidly-expanding business, like a master chef, so that he could buy a condo on Siesta Key, tan his black ass on those white beaches, ogle the women, and hope to God they didn’t notice. No, screw that. He hoped they’d notice because he’d finally be a man that demanded to be noticed.

Rupert had begun to drift into sleep when the phone rang, causing him to scream in a pitch higher than he considered appropriate for his size. It must be Pyrdewy again, calling because maybe he’d forgotten a few shitty, bigoted invectives he’d meant to add to that last conversation. The thought alone made Rupert feel like throwing up. He didn’t have any strength left in him today for the social sick feels. The gator sandwich he’d had a little more than an hour ago snapped in his stomach. He picked up the phone.

“Yes?”

“Rupert?” A cheery female voice. Leenda.

Rupert threw up, pulling the phone far enough out of the way not to hit it, but also—he hoped, he begged the Universe—far enough so that she didn’t hear the strangling glurch that came with it.

“Rupert, are you okay?” she asked.

“Um, yeah.” Rupert wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and looked at the carpet.

“Hey, I don’t know if you got any of my messages but I wanted to tell you that I got that job!”

“Job.”

“The Spanish Point job. The burial mound. In Sarasota? Where you are,” she hinted.

“Ah.” The remainder of gator sandwich thrashed its tail once more. “Yeah. Yes, that’s great!” He tried very hard to sound excited for her. She deserved it. But he still stared at his own puke on the floor, the smell of it beginning to take flight—not a scent Tommy would consider for his line of designer meth. He tried to move away from it, but the damn phone was corded. Like everything else here in this little sub-real world, four decades behind.

Leenda went on to tell him about the burial mound at Spanish Point, but Rupert only half listened. The vomit and the idea of her being near him in a few weeks gave him the shakes. His throat tightened a little. Enough to warn him, get off the phone: Get out of this conversation, or else, the oxygen supply gets it.

Hep me! Please, hep me! Cleavon Little pleaded in his head.

“Wow, Leenda, that sounds amazing,” he half-gasped.

“It is!” She sounds radiant through the phone and Rupert tried to distract himself by imagining what she looked like with her mousey-brown, somewhat-frizzy hair down.

“I can’t wait to see you; I’d love to show it to you,” she went on.

“Show me . . . ?”

“The mound!”

Rupert’s brain scrambled away from this new image and attempted a reluctant focus on his vomit puddle.

“I’d, um, I’d love to see your mound. The mound. Yes.”

Jesus Christ.

“Great!” she said, but then her enthusiasm tempered a bit. “Rupert, you don’t sound very well. Are you sure you’re okay?”

Rupert eyeballed the sick on the floor and thought, well, at least it wasn’t a lot. Just your garden variety vomit reflex, and it was only a little.

“I’m okay, Leenda,” He said. “Just very tired. It’s been a long day.”

“Oh, you poor thing.” She said this in a tone Rupert had never heard himself, but recognized from television. That maternal, fretful tone women sometimes took. He wasn’t sure what to make of that, but it made his heart do that thing that felt like it was malfunctioning. He almost felt sick again.

“Rupert, go lie down,” she continued. “In fact, go to bed. Eat dinner and go to bed. Get a good night’s sleep.”

“Thank you, Leenda. I think I will. I’m sorry I can’t talk more . . . ”

“Never mind,” she said, and he could hear her smile through the phone, a thousand miles away. It felt close. “We’ll talk again soon. And see each other! That’ll be fun.”

“Yes,” he said. “It will be.” Somehow, his stomach had settled and he felt calm. He felt good. He felt . . . he didn’t know. This was all very new.

They hung up and Rupert went about cleaning up his mess. He noted that one is more aware of the mess one makes when one isn’t sure there is housekeeping—a good thing to keep in mind for most situations in life.

He then stripped, showered, toweled off, and burrowed naked under the covers, his head sandwiched between two pillows, and drifted off to the sound of Leenda’s voice in his head.

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12.2

FM17 (12.2)

Tommy’s attitude changed abruptly and he walked back around the front of his car to the driver’s side, the door of which still stood open.

“Aw, get away from me with that shit.”

Rupert stood there a little perplexed, slid the ticket back into his cross-body bag, then followed Tommy and stood in front of the driver’s seat where Tommy had re-slumped.

“Um, you didn’t even hear the pitch.”

“I don’t need to. You’re a shyster.”

That’s definitely racist, Rupert thought without thinking.

“I don’t understand.”

“You work for that crazy bitch selling them damn tickets to, what is it? Crack World.”

“Planet. Crack Planet. It’s a whole . . . planet . . . ”

“Rip off,” Tommy said, disgusted and peeling his banana before taking a bite.

“Well, I know it seems too good to be true, but . . . ” Rupert thought for a minute and looked to the rear of the Cutlass, half its brown smoke disappearing into the bush. It occurred to him now that the bush was dead, because he parked here all the time specifically for this reason. This guy was a nutter, and he wasn’t too bright. But he wasn’t a complete idiot.

“You’re right,” Rupert conceded. “I only took the gig because I’m new in town and I had to do something. I’m looking to get out of it as soon as I can.” He was impressed at how well that came out of his stinking, lying mouth.

Tommy looked up at him. “Yeah?” He took another bite, peeling the banana down a little further.

“Yeah.”

“Well,” Tommy paused, chewing the mush. “I didn’t think you were an asshole.”

“Thanks.”

“What kind of work you looking for? What’s your specialty?”

“I’m an entropo—” Rupert stopped. “Well, I’m pretty good with sales.”

Tommy looked at Rupert a little longer, scanning his face for traces of bullshit. Rupert sweat, but for once, it was the sun beating down on him.

“Come into my office,” Tommy said and started to move the few items scattered around his passenger seat. He held the next bite of banana between his teeth, peel dangling.

“Oh, no,” Rupert said, smelling the air fresheners, feeling his throat spasm and something once edible threaten to eject at the thought of what it would be like shut up in there. “It’s way too hot. I’m not used to this heat. I’m from DC.”

Tommy chuckled. “Yeah, yeah, I get that.”

Rupert squatted down next to the car, his knees cracking, then he brought one knee down onto the asphalt to take the pressure off.

Tommy leaned toward him a little, and Rupert leaned back enough to keep the same distance.

“You might not realize this,” Tommy confided, “but, I’ve got a little business of my own, and well, sales . . . to be honest, it’s a little hard to get the word out when, you know . . . ”

“You can’t leave your car.”

“Excatly.”

“Excatly?”

“Exactly.”

Rupert looked at Tommy for a moment and then ignored the glitch.

“It’d have to be a step up from what you’re pushing now,” Tommy said.

“Meth,” Rupert said.

“How’d you . . . ?”

Rupert pointed to the Cutlass’s trunk and smiled.

“Damn, is it that obvious?”

It absolutely was, but Rupert respected the effort.

“No, it’s actually rather well hidden . . . out here, in the open.”

Tommy smiled, finished his banana, and pushed the peel into a leather car trash sack full of brown, dried banana peels. “You’re good at sales?”

“So far.”

“Well, let me tell you about my idea,” Tommy started, both hands animated now that he was banana-free. “I got this idea. Meth is meth, right? They make that holiday shit that turns it green with the Drainü. They make the blue shit, but, man, it all smells like ass.”

Rupert could see where this was going. “Bananas.”

Tommy grinned. From this angle below, Rupert now noticed Tommy missed a couple of top teeth: one central incisor on the right and the first bicuspid on the left. The rest weren’t exactly prize-worthy.

“Man, you’re sharp!”

Rupert shrugged.

“Not just bananas, though, obviously . . . I gotta start with bananas.” Tommy put his thumbs up and leaned back into the car, a little like The Fonz. “But I’m thinking bigger than that. Lots of smells. Apples. Pine trees. Caramel. Eucalytptus . . . ”

“Eucalyptus?” Rupert was still as impressed as one could be with this guy.

Tommy nodded like he knew it was damned impressive.

“Tommy,” Rupert said, serious now. “This could revolutionize the way meth is produced, marketed, and sold.”

Tommy clapped his hands and let out a whoop, from which Rupert cringed. His knees ached, so standing, grimacing a little, he stretched.

“Well, if you need someone to help you get the word and the stuff out, this sounds like a product I could get behind. Get creative with.”

Tommy got out of the car and grabbed Rupert’s hand to shake again. “I like the way you talk. You know, you don’t talk like you’re colored.”

Everything Rupert had found half-respectable about Tommy, in a context-dependent kind of way, dissipated and he almost—almost—turned around and walked away. But he was about to land a gig selling meth, not tickets to a fictional planet made of free crack. And selling meth was another step closer to making it, thus closer to finding the D.E.A.T.H. program. And perhaps, if he played his cards right and laid it on thick, this toothless asshole would teach him how to cook.

Rupert laughed, Tommy still shaking his hand. “Haaa, yeah. Haha. You know, sometimes I slip right into my peoples’ language. You know, it’s innate, that jive.”

“Whoa,” Tommy stepped back, laughing. “Innate? Jive? Damn. What is that, that eebonics?”

“Yep,” Rupert said, smiling. “Yes, it is.” Jesus Christ. This guy was a complete idiot after all. For now, Rupert felt a little better about the racism. Tommy’s idiocy, in this particular circumstance, made it a little more palatable, but stupidity was a funny, complicated thing. Is it willful, or does it come down to literal mental capacity and ability? Where on the idiot fault/some-fault/no-fault spectrum did Tommy fall? And it gradually dawned on Rupert that he was more comfortable around this level of moron. “Maybe if I teach you some Ebonics, you can teach me something.”

Tommy grinned his gapped, banana-y grin and nodded. “Yeah, man, that sounds good, Rupe.”

“Alright, I gotta get going,” Rupert said. “You here often?”

“Yeah, either here or at the Bean Ringer on Bahia Vista. They got the same kind of bushes.”

Rupert had to laugh.

“Right. I’ll iron some things out and I’mma find you.”

“Alright, my man.”

Christ.

Rupert trotted back over to Jesus, who was asleep with the radio now blasting Stryper’s “Honestly.” Rupert was honestly upset that he recognized it.

As Rupert opened the door, Jesus woke up, rubbed his eyes and turned down the radio.

“What the hell station are you listening to?” Rupert asked, sliding his awkward frame into the passenger seat, narrowly missing cracking the side of his head. “Goddamn, these cars are huge, but still, the low headroom.”

“I was listening to the news,” Jesus said around a half-stifled yawn.

“That wasn’t the news.”

“WWUT, the nation’s only 24-7 hair metal/news radio station, continually rotating sweet ass power ballads and political updates and commentary.”

Rupert said nothing for a moment, then: “Okay.”

“Clinton’s getting the nomination.”

“That’s not funny.”

“Not being funny,” Jesus assured Rupert.

“Today’s the seventh—we’ve got until the convention. Superdelegates can change their—”

Jesus laughed for an uncomfortably long time. “Sure they can.”

“They will.”

“Sure they will.” Jesus ran a finger under the left lens of his sunglasses, wiping away one hysterical tear.

“Fuck.”

“Also,” Jesus continued. “Did you know Muhhammad Ali died a few days ago?”

“I did not,” Rupert answered. “I had his album, The Adventures of Ali and his Gang vs. Mr. Tooth Decay.”

“What?”

“When I was a kid. 1976.” Rupert smiled big. “Never had a cavity. Saw him box Mr. Tooth Decay on Dental Hygiene for Children Day in 1980.”

“In real life?”

“Yep.” Rupert knew these facts bought him a certain amount of weird pop cultural social cred, and he would capitalize on it as much as possible, because his account was usually empty.

“Wait? How?”

“Chuck Wepner played Mr. Tooth Decay.”

Jesus nodded, but asked: “Who’s Chuck Wepner?”

Rupert was aghast. “Who’s . . . man, Chuck Wepner . . . former pro heavyweight boxer. Fought Ali in a 1975 title fight—fell short of a full fifteen rounds by fifteen seconds. Fifteen seconds. That fight inspired the Rocky screenplay. Rocky III was influenced by Wepner’s 1976 fight with Andre the Giant.”

“No shit. Andre the Giant fought Mr. Tooth Decay?”

“He did.”

“Who won?”

“Andre tossed him over the top rope.

“Tooth Decay lost?”

“Always.” Rupert felt pretty pleased with himself and flashed a reasonably white smile.

“Did you know that Rocky II is slang for crack cocaine?”

Silence.

“No cavities, huh?” Jesus redirected.

“Not a one,” Rupert said. “Thanks to Muhammad Ali.” He buckled his seatbelt, preparing to hit the road.

“What were you doing over there?” Jesus slipped into the conversation, effortlessly.

Damn. “Making some business connections.”

“With Tommy Bananas?”

“You know that guy?

“Everyone knows Bananas. And they don’t call him bananas just because he’s got that creepy thing with bananas.”

“Hey, it reminds him of his deceased father.”

“His father lives across town with a black magic woman named Alejandra and her forty fucking cat familiars.”

“Hmm.”

“Whatever the deal, Fulva won’t be thrilled.”

“Well, Fulva doesn’t have to know,” Rupert said.

“I won’t say anything, but, it’s a small world, you know what I mean?” Jesus started the car.

“I’ll be careful.”

“You better. I’m telling you.”

Rupert wasn’t sure how much of a viable threat Fulva really was. Or Bill. Or Osceola. Whatever the case, he thought he could keep this under wraps. He only had to do it as long as it took to learn to cook and see if there’s any D.E.A.T.H. program information to be had.

As Jesus pulled them out of The Gorge (Fine Men’s Clothing)’s parking lot, Rupert watched two shirtless men in the next plaza fight. One of them had a hammer, but only one arm. That could not end well.

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Stitches

Whoopsie. Looks like Stitches was also arrested at the Whole Foods. To be fair, some handicaps you can’t see…

So—there’s a lot going on here. This will involve some work on the part of the reader. Suffice to say, the rapper Stitches had four young women on stage to do coke with him and his wife was deeply unhappy about it. This story also features flour, his wife screaming “I’m going to fuck that bitch up!” off camera (yes, there is evidently video somewhere), and a mosh pit (obviously). Stiches is renowned in some circles for his cocaine doing and selling, as immortalized in the song, “Brick in Yo Face.” Definitely look into this incident—visualize the scene, view photos of Stitches, and then I strongly urge you to look up the lyrics to “Brick in Yo Face,” which I desperately wish I could reproduce here in its entirety. Preview: It’s very repetitive, but not in a meditative way, including a short refrain somewhere in the middle of “I love sellin’ blow!” (as cited in the article). When it’s not repetitive, it’s name-checking Dade County, referring to the AK-47 tattooed on his face (definitely view photos of Stitches), and, well, this: This gun will not reload/cause bitch I got extendos/bitch I got extendos/don’t play with me boy/don’t play with me boy/go play your Nintendo! It should be noted that, as a layperson, I’m not sure if by “extendo” he means an extended magazine clip, which would seem obvious, but “extendo” also refers to two blunts stuck end-to-end and packed with weed to form an extended super-blunt. I’ll assume the former, but the latter is reasonable as well. Whatever the case, well worth looking into.

Lavitt, John. “Rapper Stitches Invites Women to Snort Cocaine On Stage.”The Fix. Clean & Sober Media, LLC. November 3, 2014.

Read Florida Man: Battle of the Five Meth Labs: A Love Story here.

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