Southern Legitimacy Statement: I am certified in using a picket fence, rubber flooring, and duct tape to seal a bedroom for a Florida CAT4 hurricane before running inside to drink. My blood is now mostly orange juice, BBQ sauce, and a form of ethanol from bourbon and grit residue.
It was a sticky Tuesday, that day Travis insisted he was royalty. We had just finished a long day pushing old Earl’s rusty mowers through the tall grass where no one lived or yet cared to live. Earl never told us how much Southern Utilities paid him, but we knew we had a hundred dollars each heading our way for a single day’s work. It was good beer money for two sixteen year olds.
Earl sat his fat ass on the tailgate, his boots comfortably swinging above the ground, waiting for us to fire up the mower. Travis smiled, asking me if I was ready. Before I could say no, he pulled the line laughing. I was not as anxious to see what happens when a water moccasin, rattlesnake, coral snake, alligator, python, or a wild boar faces a lawnmower head on. We knew things were there, beyond the solid wall of mosquitos dancing in the Florida summer sun. I quickly fired up the whacker to follow.
The nearest doctor was more than thirty minutes away down a dirt road, past all those signs that read “Coming Soon: Cypress Lakes Golf Community; a 50 and over gated community.”
We knew the land well. Many of the trails and deeper cuts through the vegetation, between the tall pines, were our handy work using our ATVs. Not too long ago the cops busted us after years of ignoring us. They told us to go home, but officially threatened us with trespassing. Travis’ dad told us some Indian lawyers claimed the land was sacred. They won and immediately sold it to developers to build golf course retirement communities.
Florida’s population was on the rise. Even the forgotten swamps west of Fort Lauderdale to Palm Beach became a huge commodity. Commercial growers sold their strawberry fields and their palm and orchid farms. Migrant workers from Haiti to Mexico to Guatemala had to traverse once again unless they were lucky enough to get a job at one of the new storefronts or the Casino.
It was the new cycle of Florida life. Our part was to slay the cattails and plow through the swamp so the utility workers could make their rounds with a running chance against the waiting wildlife. Teenagers like us were stupid and expendable. We wore combat boots and jeans that made us invincible. Anything to make a buck in the summer.
Travis plowed through while I did my best to keep up with the whacker. Things black, red, or green ran, darted, slithered, submerged, and scattered too quick to identify. Our t-shirts were too soaked to wear comfortably. We took them off, wrung them out, and wore them on our heads until the mosquitos became too much to bear. Every so often, Earl called us to the truck to drink water out of the old orange water jug he filled from a hose behind the Cracker Barrel. The water tasted funny and was hot, but we didn’t care. Earl was heartless, killing a cold Mickeys wide-mouths while “managing” us workers, smoking his Swisher Sweets, listening to country music.
Creatures evaded our spinning blades with the exception of a small iguana. It never stood a chance. My plea to leave him was ignored. Travis claims he didn’t hear me, but he did. Earl was just glad the blade held up, told us next time to call him, he had a machete for those. In the winter, whenever there is a freeze, those things fall right out of the palm trees and you lob their heads off. If it were a game, Earl would be the score to beat. He likes to eat them, says they taste like chicken. I always ask him why he doesn’t just eat chicken, but he ignores me and goes back to his drinking. A fat, drunk, hillbilly with a machete makes an interesting boss.
The paths we plowed to the utility boxes were looking professional, like a five foot parting of a greenish brown sea of weeds. In some small way, we felt like we bravely contributed to the safety of some father or son who had to do whatever it is they do. We also knew our trails wouldn’t last long as the summer rains would soon intensify. Earl said he hoped to keep the contract for an extended period but had a feeling the development of the area was going to be overnight. “Soon enough, you fellas won’t recognize these parts,” he said. “Damn shame.”
As the day came to an end, Earl dropped us off at Travis’ place. He gave us our money through the truck’s back window. Travis snuck a Mickeys out of the cooler and into his pocket before carefully hopping over the tailgate. Earl drove off and we ran to the pool, stripping to our boxers as we did it. Travis moved a lot slower, having difficulty. He had to stop to try and pulling his sore left leg out of his jeans. I noticed the purple and black bruise on his calve muscle. You couldn’t miss it. Travis started to squirm at the sight of it, realizing the pain he plowed through was real and it looked like a mess.
I dared him to touch it, but he didn’t laugh like I though he would. He lost interest in hitting the pool. I helped him to the old brown leather couch in his living room. He sat there in pain, arms folded, mad, staring at the ceiling fan, sweating. He eventually laid out on the couch and propped up his feet on the arm of the couch. He started to get sleepy. I called his Dad. He was stuck at work, told me to put some ice on it, so I did and kept him company waiting for his mamma to get home from the diner.
I was worried, but like with anything else, Travis was not. He kept talking about his royal roots. I didn’t believe him earlier but then he pointed at the small red shield with the blue crest on it. It was the newest display along the wood paneled wall in the family room. It had a gold lion on it, a sword, and a book of some kind with the letter R written in a fancy blue font. I saw one just like it on television, in a commercial where you pay some company to research your lineage for two installments of $19.95. It seemed legit. They research your name and tell you something about you.
Travis winced through the pain, telling me more about the letter certifying that they were Scottish, to their surprise. Their lineage was traced back to a member of a royal family. I asked him if the dude was like one of those guys we saw in Braveheart. Travis smiled, looked up to the talking bass on the wall, and said, “Yeah, those big fuckers… just like them.” I told him that was pretty cool and asked if he thinks that bite will be okay for us to work more land tomorrow. He closed his eyes. “Aye. It’s in my blood.”