I’m down in the outskirts of Tampa, FL visiting Cousin Phil, and also his friend Blaine Templeton with whom I’ve corresponded a year. I was supposed to meet “Blaine” when I visited Phil last February. But apparently, Blaine got caught up in some sort of bender three hours away, and wasn’t around. I seized Cousin Phil’s phone during that trip and texted Blaine. We continued talking until now. I’m not sure how or why we kept in touch. Signs pointed to this Gemini party boy and I being soulmates. I even sent him a few butt pics.
Blaine is a troubled chap adopted from the UK by his aunt. His voice is a cross between Mike Skinner from The Streets and the gecko from GEICO commercials. Most interestingly, Blaine has been staying with Cousin Phil for the past two months! He told me he’s sleeping in the weight room and I’m in the guest room, and we’ll be sharing a bathroom. There’s no way we won’t cross paths. How is this really gonna go?
“You can meet me at the airport with a rose if you want,” I texted him.
“Woman,” Blaine said. “I am sober and in therapy. I will not be much fun whilst you’re here.”
Blaine had to go and dent up Phil’s stainless steel fridge while he was home for Easter, and he’s taken a vow of sobriety. Why did he have to fuck everything up right before I got there? He previously told me he was getting the “troops together” – aka a bunch of guys – for a night on the town of Prince Harry proportions!
“Well, I’m just looking forward to sun and sand,” I said. “I’ve been doing squats.”
The words Gun Show Weekend loom on a giant billboard overhead. Semi-Automatic Showcase. Mobile homes are sprawled around palm trees, their pastel hues bleached by the sun.
Phil and I are driving through the small town of Gibsonton, FL, where it is rumored circus and carnival workers crash during the off-season. Blaine is staying home, again. He hasn’t done anything social with me this entire time. My new term for Blaine is Spores Boy (like in The Secret Garden) a.k.a The Catfish/Hermit Crab. Now that’s he’s sober all he does is sleep. He’s lying in bed just like Brian Wilson did, except for odd moments we smoke cigarettes in the yard and he tells me his woes.
“There’s a bar over there that was on one of those travel shows,” Phil says as we roll past in his overbearing Escalade. “Look.”
He hands me his phone. A YouTube video is playing with blurred-out faces lumbering around a dimly-lit room. “Freaks do come out at night,” the narrator says. “It’s a veritable hotbed of circus-folk.”
“We obviously have to go,” I look out the window at this bar, a disintegrating plywood shack covered in paint flakes. “No question about it.”
It’s three days into my five-night stay, and by the way, it’s confirmed – I’m delusional and histrionic. I brought a see-through nightie with me, thinking Blaine and I would probably have a late-night hookup in the bathroom. But he wasn’t exaggerating when he said he wouldn’t be fun whilst I’m here.
It’s 4/20. Cousin Phil and I cruise to “Showplace” in his innocuous work van. Phil gelled his hair down into a devil’s lock and paired it with a teal Florida logo tee, in an attempt to “blend in.”
As we drive up, I notice the flashing lights of police cars.
“Oh damn, the cops are here,” I look out the window. “But it’s probably something minor. Let’s keep going.”
Conveniently, patrons enter this place from the side. We go inside the dark shack. I walk across the room, and look out the window to scope the drama. Two men are standing across from each other, bathed in blue/red light. Maybe it was a brawl?
Cousin Phil’s at the bar and it’s stocked up with guys drinking. I turn my back to the illuminated shelf of vodka, and survey the room. It’s karaoke night. A curly-haired DJ in a long hippie skirt is on the other side of the room. There’s a skinny girl singing in a crop top and skull-patterned newsboy cap.
“I’ve got no roots cuz my home was never on the ground, I got no RoooOOOO O-OOTS, I got no roots..…” she croons, grinding her hips to the melody. I rush towards the DJ, awoken by this cacophony.
“I’ll do…” I look around hyper-actively. “I’ll do ‘Gimme the Light’ by Sean Paul…But I’m not sure I’m good enough.”
“You ARE good enough,” says the scrawny singer in the hat. She walks up to me; her teeth are sharpened to a point, and she’s still grooving her hips to the melody.
“Thanks.” I walk to the bar and sit next to Phil. There’s a tan dude on my right. He has an earring and a backwards camo-print cap.
“Hm, he could be cute, I can’t tell,” I say to Phil out the side of my mouth. I’m squinting through the smoke. Oh Florida, the shamelessly smoky heartland… At that moment, the tan dude gets up and walks past my barstool, kind of knocking into it with his shoulder.
“Oops, sorry ma’am,” he says, backing away with hesitation.
“No, it’s okay,” I give him my most flirtatious gaze.
“Der – duh – doo,” the tan dude says, coming closer, and I see that he only has two front teeth, and no other teeth at all, not on the top row anyway. I don’t compute. “QQQ mmm?” he says. My mind goes blank.
The tan dude walks outside. A few guys have pulled their motorcycles up by the front door, and have formed a little circle. That’s hot… Several chubby dudes lean against their bikes, basking in the glow of a hillbilly moon.
“Ann Marie, come on up here Ann Marie,” says the curly-haired DJ, who reminds me of the clown girl from Big Comfy Couch. She hands me the mic as the chords of Carrie Underwood fade away. The girl who was singing the tune looks like a cross between Taryn Manning on Orange is the New Black and Avril Lavigne. Her hair is tangled as a tumbleweed, with a bow stuck to the side. However, if I closed my eyes right now I’d swear it was actually Underwood, albeit an MTV Unplugged version. “She caught the eye of an oil man, dancing one summer night in a dime store dress…”
I assume the mic, and as the words appear on the faraway television screen, a table full of faceless ladies starts to hoot and howl. The beat begins…a man’s voice from somewhere booms “Four twenty!” I pace around.
“Jus’ gimme the light and pass the dro…” I crouch low to the ground. “And I gots to know…” But then the speedy chorus starts up and I botch the whole thing. But thankfully I’ve got some real dro in a flattened Marlboro pack in the pocket of my tattered miniskirt, and I cannot wait to join the erotic-looking bikers out in the parking lot. “Can I be your protector, your boyfriend, wanna come wreck ya?” I slurp my Corona. “Got the dro in my cornrow. Yo yo yo yo.”
Once I’m done, a zombie juggalo in ankle-grazing, wide-leg denim approaches. He seizes the mic. Out pours a beautiful country hymn. That was certainly unexpected. Despite his dead-squirrel hairdo, he’s got a voice like butterscotch candy – suckable, and dare I say, fuckable?
The skinny girl with fangs grinds her pelvis to the melody. Another young female with “Bossy Girl” on the back of her tee moves close to her, presses against her, and they fall in sync with the rhythm. They are moving their hips in unison back and forth, pressed together, until the song ends and they drift into a dark corner together.
Back at the bar, I knock back Coronas to the last bitter drop. It’s a damn good thing this place doesn’t sell wine. If I was on a pinot grigio high, let’s just say I’d be here until dawn and probably join the circus, too. Everybody here is outrageously talented. There’s not a bad singer in the bunch, except me.
“I’m moving to Gibsonton!” I proclaim. “I’ve found my people!”
I’m facing the entrance when in he walks: a Johnny Cash enigma on a Jack Sparrow streak, clad in head-to-toe black and spit-shined shoes, with a short black ponytail and get this, an eye patch. Ever so slightly my jaw drops, and my eyes widen. He walks past me, nonchalant.
“Do not look,” I murmur. “That’s the man of my dreams.”
He pulls a pack of Reds from his pants and I strike up a convo. He lights my cig and his nails have chipped black polish. Is this a real life pirate, a Goth, or does he just work at some Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney World? Maybe it’s all the above, and I don’t care.
“I’m Joe,” he says, exhaling smoke. “Actually I just moved here, from P.A. I just moved to Riverview.”
Joe…from Riverview…I’m reduced to the drool-face emoji. Joe and I have a personal, but not too personal, chat. The air between us is hazy… and then I say goodbye…I think it’s best to end this night on a high, without even getting Joe’s number. Because what’s the point? I’d rather keep him as a fantasy. I hop up to the passenger side of Phil’s van, still inside a full-blown swoon….
“WILL YOU MAKE ME A SANDWICH BLAINE?” Unfortunately, I think I’ve gone deaf. Blaine’s frying up paninis in a pan, and Phil’s gone to bed. “CAN YOU OPEN THIS BOTTLE OF WINE?” Oh, and I’m drunk. “ALEXA, OPEN THIS WINE.”
“Woman, god damn it,” Blaine is pissed, and puts his two lovely paninis on a plate. “Make your own sandwich.” He doesn’t even look at me.
“PHIL, BLAINE IS BEING ABUSIVE,” I yell, to no one. It echoes. Blaine ignores me. “BLAHHHH!” I pick up two pieces of bread along with a floppy piece of deli ham and fling them towards Blaine. He is hunched over the sink and cowers with his arms raised above his head.
“Woman!” he says, “Damn it!” He takes the sandwiches into the dark weight room with video games still playing and I’ve just about had it. We correspond for a year, then when I’m here you act like I’m chopped liver? Nothing to get out of bed for?
“SPORES BOY,” I stand outside the room with Blaine slumped on the bed.
“I don’t like that watermelon perfume,” he says.
“NOMMMMMMM.” I snatch a sandwich off his plate and take a giant bite, chew dramatically, and then strut off towards the guest room. “IT’S VICTORIA’S SECRET BITCH.”
We kind of made amends before I left. Kind of, not really. I apologized and got him a little dominatrix action figure from the flea market. That’s something we talked about, anyway, dommes and dominas. Blaine did not initially accept my apology.
But then one day, just today in fact, I got a text from Blaine. Thank you for the dominatrix-looking action figure, he wrote. Well, then. Maybe hate sex is in our future after all.