My first flight was in the summer of 1959—to Florida of all places. Way back around 1946-47, we had all lived in Lake Worth, now a suburb of West Palm Beach. My Dad had the worst job in the world for someone with a delicate stomach: disposing of the bodies of dead alligators. My Mom worked as a checker in a supermarket. So when Mom wanted to hook up with her Florida friends a dozen or so years later, my Dad wanted no part of it.
Wait a minute! Florida in the summer? Were we out of our minds? Apparently. It was either June or July, and Mom had made a reservation at an apartment on Federal Highway in Lake Worth. So Mom, my brother (then seven years old), and me (aged fourteen) were off to Cleveland Hopkins Airport, where we boarded a prop plane similar to the one shown above and flew to Jacksonville, where we landed to embark and disembark passengers, and continued on to West Palm Beach.
That second leg of the flight was a real doozy. We were flying at low altitude through a violent thunderstorm. I saw a stewardess lose her footing and dump a tray of beverages into the laps of a row of passengers.
Then, when we finally landed in West Palm Beach and stepped out of the plane, it was as if we were hit in the face with a hot, wet towel. Cleveland in the summer was humid, but nowhere near so bad as Florida. We sort of got used to it. We even got used to seeing dead palmetto bugs as big as mice piled up along the curbs.
Bookworm that I was, even at that early age, I remember vividly that I was reading Lew Wallace’s novel Ben-Hur, which I completed there and started reading MorrisWest’s The Shoes of the Fisherman. Good reading for a devout Catholic schoolboy, though I couldn’t stomach it today.
One interesting memory of that trip: My Mom had worked for a rich widow in Palm Beach named Mrs. Gregory. One day, we went to visit her. Mom always thought that some rich person would out of the goodness of her heart shower us with money and gifts. It never happened. Instead, we went for a ride in her chauffeured Cadillac with no air conditioning and the windows resolutely closed on a sweltering day. Afterwards, she generously offered us a glass of ice water.
I have just finished reading all of Charles Willeford’s Hoke Moseley novels about a Miami police sergeant investigating homicides. Unfortunately, there are only four novels in the series:
Miami Blues (1984)
New Hope for the Dead (1985)
The Way We Die Now (1988)
Hoke Moseley is a decidedly soft-edged detective. He soaks his false teeth in a glass, has no ambitions regarding promotion, is helping to take care of his two teenage daughters as well as his pregnant Cuban police partner (he was not the father), and is actually an all-around nice guy. He drinks beer, plays Monopoly, and is, in many ways, quite average. Very refreshing for a change!
If you like the Florida crazies in the novels of John D. MacDonald, Elmore Leonard, and Carl Hiaasen, you will love Willeford’s Hokester. It’s too bad that he wrote his best novels at the end of his career (he died in 1988) instead of earlier. That way, he could have written more of the Moseley saga.
I urge you to start with Miami Blues and continue with the other three titles. In fact, I couldn’t think of a better series for summer reading.
Now that you’ve seen me without a stitch of clothing on, and facing you with the situation, I thought I’d bring you up to date about the second home of my young life. When I was only a little over a year old, my Mom, Dad, and I moved to Lake Worth, Florida. As I was much too young at the time, I have no memory of my first trip to the Land of Sunshine. My Dad worked for the city, which is a southern suburb of West Palm Beach, and my Mom had her hands full with the above illustrated hedonist.
Unfortunately, my father did not have the best of times in Florida. His job was to remove the bodies of dead and rotting alligators. Now Dad had a tricksy stomach, so instead of job satisfaction, he was mostly involved in projectile vomiting at the time. The move to Florida was declared a failure, so Dad insisted that the family relocate to the Hungarian neighborhood of Cleveland, on the East Side’s Buckeye Road. Which is what we did.
My third home was the second floor of a duplex at 2814 East 120th Street. I was able to put down some roots there, as we were to remain there until 1951, after my brother Dan was born. Since I didn’t know a word of English, Mom and Dad figured we should relocate to the suburbs, a few miles east of Buckeye Road. It was time for me to learn English and become a red-blooded American. Which I proceeded to do, with such dispatch that after three more years, I was no longer regarded as a problematical retard with a funny accent.
BTW: My Mom adored the above picture. She showed it to all my girlfriends….
The Only Part of Florida I Really Like Are the Keys
Whatever you may think of Florida, and whatever you may think of global warming, Florida is sinking into the sea. Back when I was an infant, I used to live in Lake Worth, Florida, just south of West Palm Beach. My Dad didn’t like it much at all: With his delicate st0mach, he didn’t like to pick up the bodies of dead alligators, load them into a truck, and unload them at their final destination.
For a while in the 1980s and 1990s, my parents owned a condominium in Hollywood, at a place called Carriage Hills. I visited them from time to time, but had difficulties with the heat and humidity. Not that I saw much of the state, but I did go several times down to the Keys, which I loved. The first time was right after Hurricane Andrew struck. I was so amazed at miles of houses and apartments sans roofs that I kept accidentally exiting at all the offramps.
The highest point in the state is only 345 feet, and that’s near the Georgia border. Miami’s elevation is between six and seven feet. As glacial and polar ice continues to melt, Florida will assume a different shape in the years to come:
What Florida Will Look Like in the Not Too Distant Future
The left is Florida as it looks today. At the right, you can see what a five- and ten-meter rise in water level will do to the peninsula. You can kiss Miami goodbye.
This is a picture that has a history in our family. My Mom thought it was ever so cute, so she showed it to all her friends and their good-looking daughters as I was growing up—while I cringed and swore offstage.I think the very existence of this picture postponed the beginning of my sex life by several years.
At the time the picture was taken, we were living in Lake Worth, Florida. In the 1940s and 1950s, it was a separate city; but now it’s more or less merged into the West Palm Beach metro area. While Mom worked as a supermarket checker, Dad had the all-time worst job in the world, especially for one with his delicate stomach: He was part of a crew that removed dead alligators from the waterways around Lake Worth. He didn’t last a year, so we moved right back to Cleveland.
I was a born critic even then. There was a family that I didn’t like that lived on Federal Highway, so I would go there and have my ripest bowel movements right on top of their welcome mat. After all, the sign did say “Welcome.”