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Florida boy 

Fish in and out of water

Grant just got back from Florida, where I guess he is from, but that's always been a little hard for me to believe. I lived in Florida myself once. Some of my favorite childhood memories are from that time, like when I used to set fire to underbrush in all the undeveloped lots on our block, or when, at 11, I reached the pinnacle of my pack-a-day cigarette habit, or even my foray into marijuana use a few years earlier. Those were some good times, which causes me to think that Florida is full of certain types of people -- cigarette- and pot-huffing amateur arsonist types of people -- and Grant is nothing like that.

For one, Grant is way too fastidious. The Florida guys I knew were surfer boys in swim trunks with sun-dappled streaks in their long hair. And they were barefoot. That is a big detail, because I know for a fact that Grant has 67 pairs of shoes. He has whole closets in his house that are devoted to nothing but shoes, and each day he'd wear each pair in an endless shoe-parade succession if he could. Even back when he moved to that island off the coast of Mexico in that big fanfare of faux retirement that lasted all of six months, during which he was supposed to have lived the rest of his life on the sand like a big hairy horseshoe crab, he somehow managed to cover his feet in designer sandals and his face in $300 La Prairie moisturizer.

And like I said, in six months he was back here in the city, using his grown daughter as an excuse to return, even though today that same daughter now lives on that same island Grant escaped to (and then from) all those years ago. So I guess all this says is that Grant likes the beach like any of us like the beach, but there is just too much city in him for me to believe he's from Florida.

Daniel, for example, is from a tiny town in Texas located a frog-spit distance from the Mexican border. And even though Daniel wears designer sandals, too, there is still a certain sweetness to his countenance that makes it believable that his father is an avocado farmer and his mother is a Wal-Mart greeter who sends him things like "The Famous Limited-Edition WilliRaye 'Boy Bunny with Backpack' Figurine!" That's right, and when I look at Daniel, even though he now lives in a beautifully preserved midcentury modern California split-level ranch with bamboo flooring and a built-in espresso maker, I can still see him sitting under the pomegranate tree in his aunt's backyard as a boy, barefoot in overalls next to his brother, feasting on fresh fruit while the big metal head of an oil drill seesaws in the background.

Grant, though, I can't see him fishing off the end of a pier like people born and raised in Florida are bound to do before they leave to make their way in other parts of the world. That's what I did when I lived there, and I wasn't even born there. I just landed there literally out of the sky when I was 11. We lived in a neighborhood that was hardly bigger than a sliver of land between the river and the ocean. It could barely stay above water during a downpour, but I loved that place. To this day, if I could, I'd pitch a tent at the end of the dilapidated wooden pier and live there like a troll until the end of my days catching blowfish as I did as a child, letting them puff up like a crusty party balloon before extracting the hook and throwing them back in.

But in my case I can't go back because I have no family remaining there, whereas Grant has to go back because most of his family is still there, especially his father, who's had four toes taken off his feet due to diabetes, causing Grant to fret that major organs will soon follow suit. And let's not forget Grant's mother, who, in her 70s, adopted a full-grown Newfoundler dog, which is the size and weight of an average silverback gorilla and yanks Grant's little mother along on its leash like a tin can tied to the bumper of a newlywed's limo. Even though her bones have been broken and her arms are now so bruised and scabby they look like they've been covered in topography maps of the Rocky Mountains, the thing that irks Grant the most about his mother these days is that she let the dog take over the house, which is now, to hear him tell it, practically encased in a giant dried cocoon of piss and crap.

"When I was a kid she covered the couch in plastic and wouldn't let us into the living room!" Grant gripes, and I have to laugh, because this is his family. They are his water and he is their fish, and no matter how hard he tries to separate himself from Florida -- no matter how many time he extracts the hook -- he will always get thrown back in.

Hollis Gillespie authored two top-selling memoirs and founded the Shocking Real-Life Writing Academy (www.hollisgillespie.com).

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