In his 2020 Netflix special, “End Times Fun,” Marc Maron did a bit about how, after speaking with his mother in Florida, he had concluded that the “lizard portal” was open, and reptiles were pouring into our world. I thought about that every day we were on vacation in South Florida last month. Not a day went by without us seeing a slew of salamanders and an iguana or two. These were not in some zoo or animal rescue program, but right there in the backyard of the house we rented.
The irony is Martha and I went for walks at a half-dozen nature preserves, where they have signs promoting the animals you might see as you stroll. At one, we were told to look for red-shouldered hawks, ospreys, otters, wild turkeys, and white-tailed deer. To our dismay, we spotted none of them — and not a single alligator, either. On the other hand, we were happy not to encounter three other animals native to that area: coyotes, feral hogs, and bobcats. I know nothing about any of those species except one important fact: they can outrun us.
The one place where we did see plenty of animals was the Wakodahatchee Wetlands, home to dozens and dozens of herons and egrets. We hadn’t brought our binoculars, but we didn’t need them, as the birds were perched in trees just a few feet away from the elevated boardwalk trail. It was the only nature preserve that delivered on its animal promise.
We also drove about 15 minutes from our rental house to the municipal beach, so I could say hello to my old friend, the Atlantic Ocean. One of the downsides to living in the midwest is being more than a thousand miles away from the waves, the surf, and the sand. On the first day we visited, I walked to the water’s edge, stepped right in, and murmured, “Hello again!” The water was plenty warm, so I dove through a wave, bobbed up and down for a while, then moved out past the break to do some freestyle swimming. So refreshing!
Back on the beach, while Martha worked on her tan, I went for a walk to take a look at the beachfront homes, the vastness of the ocean, and the humans basking on the sand. Weekday or weekend, there was always plenty of room for social distancing and all sorts of people to observe.
On one of my walks, I noticed a group of three or four millennial women. They were all lying on their stomachs, with their faces away from the ocean, propped up on their elbows, scrolling through their phones. There was no conversation nor acknowledgement of the water and waves behind them. Why pay attention to that when one of the Kardashians might have posted another photo on Instagram? Further down the beach, I saw another pod of young women doing exactly the same thing — no social interaction other than with their screens. And then a third. A few feet away, I noticed two millennial men, both of whom were sitting up on their towels. But instead of paying attention to their phones, their eyes were locked on the women. Some things will never change.
Before long, the quiet of the beach was interrupted by a propeller plane pulling a banner overhead. Usually, these are notices about a party at a nearby bar (in the before times) or promotion for some brand of sunscreen or alcohol. But this one had a different message: “We Love Trump! Things Will Get Better!” This was a full month after the insurrection at the Capitol, and a couple of weeks since Joe Biden had been inaugurated as our 46th president. But here, some MAGA-loser had hired the pilot to pull that banner which, frankly, had a mixed message. After all, the reason things will get better is because Trump is no longer at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I guess I shouldn’t have expected anything different in the state he now calls home.
On a similar note, Rush Limbaugh died while we were in Florida, and the governor ordered flags across the state to fly at half-staff in his memory. But the mayor of Palm Beach County, where we were staying, made me smile when he refused — even though the loudmouth lived there! If I hadn’t seen a news item about that, I would never have known. Even at home, I’ve driven by flags at half-staff in front of the Post Office or other government buildings and never known why or who they were honoring.
If I were in charge, the flags would have been that way every day for the last year, as a reminder of the hundreds of thousands who have died at the hands of the coronavirus. And maybe a couple who were attacked by feral hogs.