setima, sagrei, sir, and a bukkit

Note the Oxford comma in the post’s title. You can have my Oxford commas when you pry them from my cold dead hands, which is important, because this means I can Talk All Southern and still maintain some semblance of grammatical coherency. Sometimes. More importantly, I know how to point out when I see the lack in others, a trick my mother taught me and probably has regretted ever since.

A conversation from yesterday:

MY MOM: “You want some cwafee?”

ME: “Watch out, Ma, yer Jersey’s showing.”

MOM: “My what?”

ME: “Cwafee?”

MOM: “Oh god, did I really do that?”

But she gets her own back, on a regular basis.

ME: “So we’re laughing, we’re joking around, then he turns all serious and says, ya gotta do it like this, and I go very serious too, I’m all, yessir.”

MY MOM: “Sir?”

ME: “Huh?”

MY MOM: “You actually said, ‘yes, sir’ to him?”

ME: “Yeah.”

MY MOM: “You are so Southern sometimes! God!”

This is what happens when English majors are allowed to reproduce, and then produce offspring with a decent grasp of linguistics aided and/or abetted by a walloping big case of dyscalculia. Not that I knew what that was, when I was a kid. Not that anyone else did either.

We get into it about words all the time. It’s a thing with us, a habit, a tradition. We’ll dissect sayings and accents, we’ll pick apart lines on television. Which is why this next item had me, and then my mother, so horrifically outraged.

The best part of Tampa is a little place called Ybor. It was originally Ybor City, its own entity entirely, back a hundred years when Port Tampa was still the port and Henry Plant was drawing railroad schematics and Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders were digging tunnels under the UT hotel in case the Spanish-American war went badly. It looks like the French Quarter in New Orleans, all wrought-iron and brick, but it’s more accurately the Cuban Quarter – well, that and Italian, there’s a lot of Italian history there too. Recently Ybor was decided to be the official historic birthplace of the Cuban sandwich, which ends the sub/hoagie/grinder debate entirely because they are none of them Cubans and, thus, substandard. Ybor is small. It is also very pretty, very old, and very important.

Image shamelessly ganked from the TB Times. I will shoot some of my own before they’re torn down.

The recent to-do concerned the main drag, Seventh Avenue, which is not always actually marked as such within the confines of Ybor proper. It is La Setima, a slangy alternate spelling of septima, which means Seventh. The newer street signs say both Seventh and Setima, one above the other, but the old brown ones ditch the English entirely, which is as it should be.

At least, it was. Until today. The City Council, in possibly the dumbest move in their recent history (and man, have there been some doozies with that lot) decided that, because the RNC is coming, we cannot have one of our most important streets misspelled. They are ignoring a hundred years of tradition and renaming that strip of cobbled brick – down which I drove this very afternoon – La Septima.

I’m so angry I could spit. (Is that Southern enough for you, Mom?)

Nevermind the fact that fancying up the town for the RNC is like having a house redecorated before the ghost of John Belushi throws a frat party. Nevermind that all these outta town tourists are going to be asking how to get to Why-bor City. The council has decided that this one particular quirk, in a town bursting with them, is something that they will not be having with for a moment longer. Because the RNC might make fun of us. I’m shivering in my flip-flops at that notion, I really am.

Besides — if they can say ‘Houston’ wrong in Manhattan, we can bloody well call it Setima.

And so help me god, the next tourist to ask me how to get to “Why-bor City” is being directed onto I-4 and told to turn left after the Plant City exit.

Speaking of Setima and highways, I spent a decent amount of time today on both – heading out across town for therapy, because it is apparently a law of my universe that the quality of a therapist increases in inverse proximity to my house. I bet the shrinks in Alaska are amazing. A friend lives out there – the one who has the frog fear – so I pop by and see her after my sessions.

I hopped into the car, plugged in my music, stowed my ever-present water bottle, and gunned it twenty miles across town, weaving through the suburban assault vehicles and the everpresent construction – all perfectly normal.

Until.

I had a guest. I’m sure you know what this means.

Lady, you drive like a crazy person.

I keep my phone in my pocket when I drive – or in my bag, if I don’t have a pocket handy. I shot that photo while stopped at a particularly long red light. (So don’t worry or fuss.) The long red light was an intersection between a four-lane road, where I was, and an eight-lane road, which I was waiting to cross.

That, of course, is when the anole peeped out from under the windshield wiper and took a good look at me. We crossed the eight-lane road safely and made it a couple of blocks before the little critter started tap-dancing up and down the hood of the car. I’m sure you can guess what happened next.

I pulled over onto a side street, hopped out, grabbed another Useful Paper Bag from the trunk, and set about trying to catch the lizard. It skittered away to the ground and under the car. I rolled the car forward about five feet, hoping I hadn’t squashed it, then hopped back out to replace the bag in the trunk. There, in the same place but on the opposite side as my first anole stowaway, was this new lizard. So I did what I do: caught it, bagged it, folded over the bag, probably scolded it for being difficult while I was catching it, and then lizard and I were on our way.

While I was doing this, a rather unkempt man with a large and darkly-furred beer belly peeking out from under his wifebeater stared from the front step of his house. He didn’t ask me anything. He just watched.

Pal, you live in FLORIDA. If you think a girl with a purple bandana on her head pulling over a car blasting the Beatles to catch a lizard on her windshield wiper is weird, you need to get out more.

The anole was safely released by a lovely large oak tree behind my therapist’s building, and as I folded the bag up I tried to figure out what would be a better lizard-catching apparatus to keep in the car, because clearly this is becoming a theme in my life. The best thing I could think of would be one of those plastic pitchers with a lid that snugly fits into place: no danger of animals getting crumpled, or getting out. I need a lizard bucket, is what.

After my session I met up with my friend, and for a treat we popped down to the nearby burger joint and got ourselves some delicious deep-fried American gastronomic atrocities. While we ate, I told her about a concept I’d learned on the internet, a long time ago. I can’t remember the site where I first read this, but it is called the White Queen Threshold. In Carroll’s book, I think it’s Through the Looking Glass, the White Queen tells Alice: “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” The White Queen Threshold, then, is when you don’t have to work on believing the impossible things anymore. You are no longer surprised, whatever happens.

“But that’s our entire lives!” my friend pointed out. “That’s every day for us.”

“Yeah,” I told her, “that’s my Florida version of the theory. We hit the threshold when we’re about six months old and just keep going from there.”

When a man in a dark grey coverall barged in and dashed off behind the counter as though he owned the place, I did not bat an eye. He reappeared and started arguing with the store manager, I assume, over a bucket. HE CAN HAZ BUKKIT? In tones loud enough for everyone to hear, the man explained that he’d come to fix the leaky water heater that morning, and when he left he’d forgotten his bucket, and some tools inside it, and they were not there anymore.

“Must’ve taken them with you,” the manager was saying.

“I left my bucket here and I need to get it back!” the plumber kept telling him. “Now I don’t know what you did with it, but you need to find it!”

The moral of this disjointed jumble of stories is: don’t sit on the hood of a car in heavy traffic, always rescue the lizard, don’t change historic names, own your regionalisms, look calmly upon the unexpected, and never get between a plumber and his bucket.

“You know what else?” my friend said, later on. “Costumes. I am never surprised when I see people in costumes. Doesn’t matter where or when it is. Just, oh, hey, guy in a costume. Whatever.” This is true, too. Pirates and Rough Riders, mostly, and that one memorable time in Ybor with a leprechaun; though, that’s a story for another time.

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chupacabras and/or velociraptors

Last night I found myself, as I so often am, looking at stats for various invasive animals. (Animals being a ‘thing’ of mine.) Earlier last night I was at a rally, but this isn’t about that. I was telling my Canadian friend, who is of the prairie and not the subtropics, about the Nile monitor problem and looking at interesting maps that told me a good-sized one had been captured at a Very Busy Intersection which I pass through quite frequently, on the way to see a friend and a therapist.

I suspect that the map is not entirely accurate and that bit was put in as a sort of placeholder because, as I told Badger — If a monitor lizard can cross six lanes of traffic on SR60 on Friday at five in the afternoon, it has bloody well earned a toehold in this ecosystem.

I went to bed with visions of macaques and giant lizards bouncing around in my head, and I didn’t stay there for long, because at seven twenty-two on a Saturday morning I got a panicked text from a friend who, of course, lives very near the Nile Monitor Intersection.

There was something in her bathroom. Her dog had been growling and grumbling at it all night; he’s a terrier with a fondness for small prey like frogs. She was in a panic.

I awoke, about ten minutes later, to a buzzy phone that wanted my attention, a message about Wildlife In The Loo, and a head still full of pythons and monitor lizards and eight foot gators in peoples’ kitchens. So I counseled calmness, which I know is easier said than done, and thought, laboriously, in my half-asleep-escaped-exotics mind.

If she can’t hear it scuffling around in there, I reasoned, whatever is in there is most likely small. That ruled out things like possums or raccoons or a neighbor’s cat. Snakes, rats or mice, various lizards, a bird perhaps: all of those were possible. Once I was done with this thinking, which took some time, I sent back a plan of attack: put on shoes and pants, get a broom, and go in just to see what’s in there. Then, if it’s a bitey thing (snake, rat, etc) get thick sleeves and gloves before you try to trap it.

This is better advice than I give myself; when my dog downs a possum on her evening bathroom break at oh dark hundred, I run out there barefoot in pajamas to pull her off the damn thing.

Suggestions were made on Facebook as to the nature of the monster, and I hypothesized: chupacabra? Velociraptor? Because, when you’re half awake and have escaped exotics on the mind, anything is possible.

My friend’s biggest fear, her room 101, is frogs. Which is really unfortunate, given that, you know, Florida. That is why she made it far enough into the bathroom to spot a pair of grey frog legs and then bolted in a panic.

A bit more awake at this point, I processed the variables – what I knew of her house and its environs – likely a tree frog, green or Cuban, or a cane toad. (Kill all the goddamn cane toads with a shovel, or a plank with nails stuck out the end.) What I sent back was this: If tree frog, no worry; if cane toad, swab down the floor before you let the dog in there, because if it glopped on the floor and he licked it off his paw, that could be dangerous. The part I didn’t mention was that I had no idea what frogs are grey and was vaguely wondering if it was in reality the back end of a rat or mouse with the tail tucked away.

But — no. This was not happening. She would not be having with a frog in her bathroom, dead or alive, and she certainly would not be removing it. Pest control people were called, and they said they would charge two hundred and fifty dollars (this is the price of a red-light-running ticket hand delivered by Tampa’s finest, mind) to scoop a dead frog out from behind her toilet. That was clearly not an option.

“If you weren’t twenty miles away I’d go get the damn thing for you,” I told her.

“I really wish you could!” she told me.

In the end, she got an acquaintance from her church to come and dispose of the thing; he went in armed with a bucket, and said what I probably would have said in that scenario: “THAT LITTLE THING?” Pictures were sent to me; it looked like a dead tree frog, so no worry, but likely she’ll pressure-wash the whole bathroom with bleach and napalm before setting foot in there again.

She sent a text, about half an hour ago: “I’m getting ready to take a shower in the FROG DEN!”

I did not say that I’d be delighted if tree frogs took up habitation in my bathtub. I do these things, you see, to keep the peace, because everyone’s Room 101 Fear is a thing you take seriously. Even if it’s two inches long. And cute. And chirps.