Untouched Wilds

Land of pink stucco

turquoise deco

guitar players called Elvis, a bagpiper called Torston. A warm ocean, a best friend, mai tais and a convertible. This is Fort Lauderdale. This is Miami Beach.

Fat John is a plus-size foot model from Boston who we run into while slugging a bucket of beer on the beachfront of Fort Lauderdale. He yells to us over the rock cover band, a group from Denmark that combines drums, bass, guitar, and bagpipe. “I have a nail girl I take everywhere with me,” Fat John loudly confides, “—also for the happy endings.”

He tells us where the best pizza in town is and swears he played football for two years in college and, after that, was a dancer. “That was at least 100, 150 pounds ago,” he says, touches his belly, and looks up at the night sky. And though we nod, disinterested, and look away, he thinks we need proof. So he points out his feet, which connect to perfectly manicured (but not beautiful) toes. Then he grabs my travel partner and demonstrates his salsa skills; swinging her around to a particularly raucous, bagpipe-fueled rock cover.

I scribble down a mental note against the chalkboard of my brain:

Remember to seek the wilds, even at home. And to grab a book at the first sign of the blues.

A few hours earlier, the guitarist called Elvis has taken a seat at our table in the Japanese restaurant. His in-restaurant serenade was cut short by the staff, who are now standing in front of us complaining they've had problems with street musicians wandering inside the establishment. Elvis ignores them and, turning our way, tells us his parents are missionaries.

“Saving people,” I say dryly.

“Ruining the world with the best intentions,” he answers.

Back with Fat John hours later, a man walks into the beachside bar patio. He's all ponytail and no teeth save for a few; long, knotty hair and paunched beer belly, ice-blue eyes and overly tanned skin. His cheap Hawaiian shirt falls misshapenly over his sallow form. He's flanked by three scantily clad women who are way out of his league. Fat John instantly pegs the ladies as strippers, and wastes no time running up to them to find out exactly which strip club they belong to.

All eyes in the bar are on this ragtag, unlikely group; curious how this guy is with these women. Whispers behind us: Did he pay them off with cash gleaned in a recent drug deal? Is he a bouncer from the strip club? The ugly man dances with the prettiest girl he has with him: a black woman in a tasteful wig and unbelievably short sweater dress. The bagpipe and electric guitar are piercing.

When the song ends, the man walks over to where we sit, drinking the last of our bucket of beer. “What song are you girls going to sing?” We politely and quickly say we aren't. He keeps talking. I finally interrupt.

“How did you manage to find yourself in such lovely company?” I purr.

“I'm trickin'”, he drawls matter-of-factly, beady little ice-blue eyes locked in contact. “I'd be happy to push you too, if you'd like to get up and sing and give it a try.” He doesn't crack a smile.

This is the land of the pink stucco and the turquoise deco. The state of talking mice and senior living and ever-marginalized, untouched wilds; in the natural landscape and the human heart.