Port Charlotte, FL, 2010

There used to be a Sonic next to Jason’s car wash in Port Charlotte, Florida. Sonic is that retro ’50s fast food chain where you can drive up to a menu/intercom in a parking spot, place an order, and have a waiter/waitress on roller skates deliver your meal. Jason’s nickname is Cueter, given to him by his older brother Jimmy who sometimes answers to Pinky. Their younger sister’s name is Melissa or Floyd. Their last name is Evans. Jimmy’s married to Samantha Parkinson who goes by Sami and is nicknamed Nellie, and who’s mom lovingly comes up with the names. She calls me “Herb Tam,” pronouncing it with the no-nonsense cadence of a grade-school teacher calling roll. “How’s New York Herb Tam?” Her name is Dee (her own nickname is Fort) and she calls her husband Puny even though he’s named Sam. Their son, Sami’s younger brother, is named Stephen, called Stevie, and nicknamed Nibs.

The 41 is a massive road/highway that gashes diagonally through Port Charlotte, Punta Gorda and other towns just like them in this western part of Florida. Its banks are lined with new big box retail malls and older strip malls with mom-and-pop stores. Deeper to the right or left of this thoroughfare are vast flat expanses of single-family homes, many with backyard access to canals whose waters somehow find their way to the Gulf of Mexico. Sometimes, a large tract of Florida wilderness breaks up the low, horizontal monotony of the pastel houses. Above these lush fields, vultures can be seen circling around sagging, unceremonious tree tops. The greens of this forestry attains variations of color so subtle as to be undetectable; it’s a kind of monotone that achieves blackness and invisibility.

We fished once in Jimmy and Sami’s backyard where a little deck peaked out into the water. A glass table and white metal chairs completed the scene. Jimmy talked about how some expert fishermen could stick a piece of bread on their line as bait and wiggle it around in the water, mimicking the movements of a live shrimp, to catch some of the stupidest fish around. In the weakening late afternoon sun, we learned how to bait a hook, throw out a line, and reel in a fish if we got a bite. After an hour none of us did. The next day Stevie came by, grabbed a drink from the fridge like he always does, and without saying much, went out to the backyard to fish. It was a classic scene, full of the ordinary facts of life in Port Charlotte – Stevie’s hefty, relaxed frame perched at the edge of the grass with a line in the water, just waiting for something to happen.

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