I’m a big fan of old. Old people, old houses, old towns. Old has experience. Old has depth and character. Old usually has wisdom. And old tells great stories. I’m also a fan of imperfect. Disheveled, dilapidated, crumbling. Imperfect is always, always more interesting than perfect and pristine.
So it should be no surprise that after laying eyes for the first time on Tarpon Springs, Florida, which is the oldest town in Pinellas County, I fell instantly in love. It also didn’t hurt that this little town is, essentially, a fishing village with a predominantly Greek population. I mean, really. Tarpon Springs and I were meant to be together.
I wish I had a picture that conveys the town’s charm and eccentricity, but this damn Prius. Seriously.
Blah, blah, blah, Greeks, sponges, oldness.
The downtown “strip” is lined on one side with boats that much resemble the crews who sail them. Careworn, craggy and smelling of salt, wind and sun. The spongers sit on the docks beside their gonna-need-a-bigger boats, their full-featured Greek faces seamed and tanned from years on the water, smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, laughing, shootin’ the shit and just generally being very Greek and fisherman-y as the warm Florida sun sets behind them and soft breezes bear the smells of grilling lamb, handmade soap and the ocean. Y’all, I almost turned inside out from happiness.
And what do the women do? They run the tourist shops, selling miniature statues of Greek gods and goddesses, glass jars full of “Evil Eye” talismans and handmade soap. The tourists eat it up, man. It’s so Greek. However, these ladies don’t play. You get ONE buy 4 get 1 free deal, my friend, and your free soap is the GREEN soap. Thaaat’s right. We will TELL you what your free soap is, lady. Have a nice day!
But for all their micro-managing of soap special offers, these ladies have a definite no-rules attitude toward libation consumption. It’s always time to drink right the hell here, so suck it, Buffett.
Now. Get ready, friends. I would like to take you all along with me on a photographic journey through the highlight of our trip. Remember how I told you I was a big fan of the old and decrepit? Well, I’m also quite fond of the creepy, unusual and just not right. In fact, if you put all these things together, old, decrepit and weird…well, you get the Pope, but you also get the Tarpon Springs Aquarium. This place was just so wrong. Which made it sooo right.
I’m just gonna go ahead and start out with something ripped straight outta your nightmares and mine. If I’m ever stricken dead from fright, put out an APB on this terrifying creature.
This is an Alligator Turtle who bears a strong resemblance to my 7th grade English teacher. The picture doesn’t really show the size of Mr. Alligator Turtle, but he is freakin’ huge. So, you’re probably thinking gentle giant, right? Wrong. This guy actually can be a threat to this guy:
Thaaat’s right. The Gentle Giant will straight up throw down on some gator. So, naturally, Tarpon Springs Aquarium put them both in the same tank. To make it even more morbid, above the tank, right in the sight line of Hannibal Gator Turtle’s current roommate, they hung the skull of the last alligator who bunked up with Satan’s housepet. You can clearly make out where the Gator Turtle chomped down so hard on its victim’s head, it broke through the skull bone. Sweet dreams, alligator!
Moving on to the big-ass snakes. The boa constrictors and pythons at the aquarium were very interested in Evie. While visiting their tanks, I kept turning around only to come face to face with one pressing itself right up to the glass. I’d yelp and yank Evie away and then try to explain to her why she shouldn’t be afraid of snakes. It’s just a lost cause, and I’m tired of the charade. You should be scared of snakes, Evie, because they will totally eat you. To wit:
The good people at the Tarpon Springs Aquarium felt inclined to post right much literature outside the snakes’ tanks that regales visitors with tales of toddlers being swallowed alive, grown men trying to fight off giant pythons with knives and losing and giant pythons escaping from this same aquarium and roaming freely through folks’ backyards. This little display was carefully pasted onto a small piece of cardboard that was leaned up against a snake tank. I made the mistake of taking the cardboard down for a closer look and came face to face with this:
And then I screamed and ran.
But we can’t move on from the snake area before I share this with you. Okay. A giant python was in the process of eating an alligator. Because of course. Now, the alligator was still alive while being eaten by the giant python. Because of course. So, in one final desperate attempt to survive, the alligator opened its enormous jaws and…split open the giant python from the inside out. What I love about this story is the picture. If I hadn’t told you what happened, would you have been able to make out what the hell you were even looking at? I know.
On to the shark tanks. Yes, that is totally a tiger shark getting ready to attack the head of our tour guide. No. But still! Given that Stephanie was, just moments before, actually swimming with sharks and feeding them, this picture could easily show up on a top ten list of eerie photographs one day.
You’ll notice there is metal screening completely covering the top of the tank except for a small square where guess what? People can stick their hands in and feed the sharks bits of raw shrimp skewered onto wooden sticks that could never, ever, ever be long enough for me to STICK MY HAND IN A SHARK TANK.
More informative literature about how sharks will most definitely wipe out all of mankind one day.
I’ll tell you what the hell happened, friends. A fisherman managed to hook a particularly large tarpon fish and was reeling it in when a tiger shark swam up like a bullet shot from the bowels of hell and, with one bite, ate half of the fisherman’s enormous catch. I guess he felt the need to reel the rest of the ravaged carcass in. I don’t know. I’d have just let the mother have the whole thing.
I think this expression pretty much sums it up. Also, she appears to be giving the sharks the finger, with which I wholeheartedly agree.
Friends, you might think I was frightened by our trip to the Tarpon Springs Aquarium. And I was. But that’s the point. Tarpon Springs charmed me and terrified me and thereby won my heart. Others may prefer Busch Gardens or Disney, but I’d take a python-induced anxiety attack followed by lamb gyros and cold beers by the water while watching the sun set any damn day.
Here’s the truth: When I envisioned Evie’s first day of kindergarten, it was a scene ripped straight out of an episode of Leave It to Beaver. There I am in my bright blue house dress, freshly pressed apron and pearls, standing at the end of our front walk and waving goodbye to Evie, all pigtailed and apple cheeked as she walks the two blocks to John F. Kennedy Elementary School, swinging her lunch pail and humming the theme to Bonanza. After wiping away a tear, I tuck my handkerchief back into my sleeve, brush the front of my dress and go back inside our pretty little ranch house to wash the breakfast dishes and make a list for the milkman.
Like many American dreams, this one’s gonna look a bit different once it’s all said and done.
Around here, getting your child into kindergarten at a school for which you’re not zoned is almost as easy as having frizz-free hair or finding a parking place at the good produce market during Snow Bird season. Which is to say, it’s not easy.
As far as I know, all the charter and magnet schools’ admission policies are based on a lottery system. All the applications are assigned a number and then randomly drawn. Fundamental schools also use the lottery system. For those not familiar, fundamental schools…well, I’m not sure what fundamental schools are. I just know that parents are required to volunteer and sign a bunch of stuff that’s sent home and everyone loves them and wants to get in. I toured one fundamental school, Curtis, and for reasons I find hard to name now, I loved it, too. I’m not sure what that’s all about, if there’s some sort of brain wave manipulation going on there, or even if Scientology is involved in some way, but after visiting Curtis I was all in.
The results of Curtis’s lottery were revealed this week. I heard there were 400 applications for 45 seats. I was still disappointed to discover that Evie is 175th on the waiting list. Nope, that is not a typo. One hundred and seventy-four kids have to mysteriously disappear before Evie can attend Curtis in the fall. I kid, of course, but the results were upsetting. I even debated crying about it, but it was the end of the day, and I just didn’t have the energy. I’m disappointed for several reasons. First, all Scientology jokes aside, Curtis is a really good school, and Evie would have gotten a solid education there. Second, fundamental schools feed into each other, meaning once your child gets in at the elementary level, they’re guaranteed a spot at the middle and high schools. Which also means I don’t have to go through this flippin’ lottery process again and can go back to eating bon bons and watchin’ my stories. Third, Curtis’s location is a very easy and short commute from our house. Given our reputation for getting our shit together and getting out the door in the morning, this was an exciting prospect. Fourth, and most important to Evie, her best friend, Meredith, will go to Curtis courtesy of Meredith’s big brother whose prior admittance secured her a spot. To Eve, anything in life is better with a little Meredith thrown in.
So, we’re sad. Or, I’m sad. I haven’t told Evie. She wouldn’t really understand, and I don’t think she really cares very much anyway. As far as she’s concerned, preschool lasts forever. Would that were true.
We have four more chances for the opportunity to shadow the elusive and hallowed halls of a charter school. The first school is Plato, which is a very good school, but sort of knows it, you know? Like, is all snobby about it. Shut up, Plato. You’re still a public school, and your mother buys generic soda. But, let us in! You’re awesome! Next is DaVinci, which is just precious. And small. Very small. But its focus is performing arts, and if you know Evie, you know why I toured that school first. Then there’s Pinellas Prep. This school is also very good but has no natural lighting in the classroom. As good as the school is, this is very depressing to me. Lastly is the Pinellas Academy of Math and Science. This is how desperate I am, friends. Math and freakin’ science.
I’m desperate because of the school for which we’re zoned, which is in walking distance, by the way. I’m very concerned that Evie be challenged academically and is well-prepared to progress successfully in her education. I don’t believe those things will be available to her at a level I’d be happy with at the school for which we’re zoned. Bottom line: There are better options out there for Evie’s education. And we will attend one of those options if she and I have to Mission: Impossible our way in there.
Does this mean my Leave It to Beaver dream has died? Well, yeah. Everybody’s has to eventually.
I’ll still wear pearls that day though, damnit.
I’ve toyed for some time with the idea of starting a “Five Favorite Things Friday” post series on The Evie Standard. A lot of bloggers do this sort of thing, and it’s kinda cute, I think.
But you know and I know that “Five Favorite Things Friday” will start off great and then become “Five Favorite Things Every Other Friday” and then “Five Favorite Things Fridays in May” and then…
But today’s Friday! Yay! And here are five things. I’ve used up all my commitment on watering plants and limiting caffeine intake, y’all.
1. Update on last post: After throwing up the last post, I noticed many more examples of Animals Gone Domestic in our fair city. This is good for the blog, bad for me. I fear I may end up starring in my own version of Life of Pi, trapped in a dingy in the middle of the ocean with a pissed off tiger. Or an armadillo. In my case it would be a pissed off armadillo. Maybe I could finally convince the armadillo to trust me, and we could work together to find rescue. Anyway. What? So, examples.
Evie and I attended a playdate at a local park this week. The day was breezy, overcast and a pleasant 84 degrees. As close to Fall as Florida is gonna get. The park’s amenities included a path that wound through the surrounding woods. Before setting off on a walk on this path, another mom casually informed us that someone had said they’d seen bobcats in the woods. Then what happened? Everyone set off for the walk.
??**%%!!** (I just don’t have words anymore, folks.)
Also, a friend of mine posted on her Facebook page that her husband saw a panther walking around their neighborhood. Ho-hum. Panther. Probably selling Amway. Pretend you’re not home.
Oh! And I wanted to show you guys this:
This sign is posted on Honeymoon Island, a state park located on a beach that we frequent. I mean, really. What’s a day at the ocean without a few rattlers?
2. Gone Girl. Readers, you know how sometimes you stumble upon a book that consumes your life? That you can not put down? My house is a mess, the laundry is piling up, and Evie’s Halloween costume is still not done. But I could not put this book down. I read it in three days. And if I didn’t have this pesky homemaker gig to do, I’d have finished it in a day. Or less. I had to make myself stop reading it. I considered picking it up at stoplights, and I almost, almost gave up nightly TV time with my husband, my favorite time of the day, to read it.
I’ve talked with others who’ve read Gone Girl, and they weren’t as impressed. They didn’t like the ending. They thought parts of it were unbelievable. I agree that the ending wasn’t on par with the rest of the book. It felt rushed. It wasn’t as tight. But I totally believed the rest of it. It was kind of like a really good Law & Order episode meets Dial M for Murder meets…a Lifetime movie if you could admit you watch Lifetime movies. Which I can’t.
Also, I read it on a Kindle, which I didn’t hate. It was actually kind of awesome. I recant my former statements about Kindles.
3. The Neighbors. This is a show you aren’t watching. Why are you not watching it? You should be watching it. Quick, before it gets cancelled! It’s about your typical American family who, seeing an opportunity to pounce upon a wicked-good deal in a tanked real estate market, buys a typical subdivided American house right smack dab in the middle of a community of aliens who have come to study our typical American ways. Hilarity ensues! Well, not consistent hilarity, but this show has so much potential, y’all! It’s quirky. It’s clever. It’s charming. It’ll probably never make it. Or maybe it’ll fly below the radar like The Middle or Raising Hope as a nice filler between the Nashvilles and the Revolutions.
Besides, it stars Jami Gertz, a woman who’s got riding on the back of a kick-ass motorcycle in a gypsy skirt, legs wrapped around a late eighties Kiefer Sutherland AND holding Robert Downey Jr’s hair while he pukes up whatever battery-acid cocktail of cocaine, booze and wasted youth he’s consumed and then crying on a mid-eighties Andrew McCarthy’s shoulder about it on her resume. And that, dear readers, make her awesome.
4. Cats. Why are cats such a pain in the ass? I recant my former loving statements about cats. Just kidding. Sort of. The newest little member of our family, Izzie, has upset the balance in our home. Which I knew would happen but secretly hoped wouldn’t happen. Sam, our other pathologically neurotic, always-on-edge cat, is determined to…just…just…make somebody pay for this! She’s righteously pissed that all the time she formerly spent being fat and shedding now has to be spent standing in doorways and at the top of the stairs, looking menacing. Seriously, folks, it’s like living with an early-nineties Glenn Close. I guess that makes Izzie Anne Archer and me Michael Douglas. I’m fine with that.
It’s really all worth it, though, because there’s this:
Evie and Izzie reading a book together. Izzie also sleeps with Evie every night. Granted, it’s because I shut the door to Evie’s room so Izzie can’t get out, but still. I have to protect Anne Archer from Glenn Close!
5. Growing my hair out…again. Oy. This again. Over the past ten years I’ve cycled through short hair, long hair, short hair again, highlighted hair, long hair with my natural color, badly highlighted hair, short hair again. Really short hair. And now I’m growing it out. As she’s expressed to me many times, Evie likes my hair longer. As he’s not expressed to me many times but I know it’s how he secretly feels, Gill likes my hair longer, too. And I’m ready for a change. I miss my ponytail.
But, holy moly, what a pain in the ass. Worse than the cats! I haven’t had my hair colored in a year, so the blond is now only at the very ends of a small section of my hair right in the front. And the cut I had was many-layered, so, depending on the humidity, my selection of hair products and my level of giving a damn that day, I can look like this:
It just depends, really. What I really want to look like is this:
Meantime, I’ve got Gene Wilder hair most days, my eyeballs have decided to reject my contacts on the same days as the Gene Wilder hair, and my skin, appalled and offended by my hair and 15-year-old glasses has decided to break out all over in mighty protest.
I’m about as far from Ms. Bancroft as one can get, friends.
But I live in Florida among the ferocious beasts. And it’s October 26th, and I still have a kick-ass tan.
Living in Florida is…different.
For one thing, there’s the weather. I remember glancing down at the temperature reading on my car’s dashboard last Christmas Day and seeing 72. That’s just crazy, y’all. I also fondly remember enjoying a day at the beach last January. And that is awesome.
Speaking of the weather, there’s the typical Florida wardrobe. Evie and I have gone grocery shopping in our bathing suits, and no one batted an eye. I mean, we were wearing cover ups, but still. Also, lots of bright colors and white pants. Oh, and sandals and jewelry bedazzled with tiny sea creatures. Gold jewelry. BIG gold jewelry. One day I wore a coral-colored flow-y blouse with a bright pink camisole underneath, white capris, gold sandals and lots of gold jewelry. I declared to my husband that I had gone full Florida. Like Downey, Jr.’s character in Tropic Thunder, I was “head to toe legit.”
Then there’s the darker side of Florida. The thing they don’t tell you, that you would never suspect. But I’ll warn you now before you get to thinking, “Hey, I’d like to grocery shop in my bathing suit, dress up like a Jordan Almond and decorate my Christmas tree with pink flamingo lights! Let’s move to Florida!” Wait. Just wait. You should know something.
So, you know how you’re just sort of casually aware of nature where you live? Like, you hear the birds, you see the squirrels, yada, yada. Maybe on an odd day you’ll see a little green snake or some damn raccoons will turn over your garbage cans. But that’s about it. Well, friends, here in Florida nature is aware of us.
I submit this recent news story into evidence. I mean, what the hell? Right? This poor woman walked out to her car one morning, travel mug in one hand, car keys in the other, thinking about her grocery list, and out of nowhere she was attacked by a monkey.
And that’s not all. A friend of mine posted this picture on her Facebook page.
This prehistoric and horrifying creature was, you know, just hangin’ outside her family’s hotel room. My favorite part were all the comments on this jaw-dropping nightmare of a Facebook post. Commentators casually shared their own stories of alligators coming up in their backyards, alligators charging across golf courses, alligators breaking into houses and mercilessly devouring whole families. Okay, that last part isn’t true. BUT IT COULD BE!
Another friend of mine shared a helpful hint with me regarding alligators. They can’t run in a zig-zag motion, so if you happen to be chased by one, run in a serpentine fashion so as to avoid being brought down to the ground and to your death. Just, you know. In case you happen to be mowing the lawn one Sunday afternoon and find yourself faced with an alligator and your own mortality.
My fellow Floridians! YO! There is something wrong here! This is not a normal way to live! It is not normal to be attacked by a monkey in your driveway! It is not normal to have a “neighborhood armadillo”. It’s not normal to go to the park and see a sign forbidding patrons from “feeding or molesting the alligators”! Yes! I actually saw this sign!
Obviously it is normal down here in the Sunshine State. Or should I say the State That Has Lost Its Mind.
For those of you still not freaked out and actually kind of over me right now, check this mess out.
This is a sign. Something is watching Florida. Something monstrous. Something sinister. Something with only one eyeball now.
Oh, and by the way, a GIANT EYEBALL washed up on the freakin’ beach!
I was chatting with a friend in her driveway late one evening when we heard a strange noise coming from the side of her house.
“What was that?” I said, not a little worried for our safety.
“This is Florida, Katie. It could be anything,” she replied.
OMG, you guys.