WINK & NOD PUBLIC HOUSE
28.7° N, 81.3° W
The end is nigh; it’s right there outback beyond the dumpsters where every month the sinkhole creeps an inch closer to the Wink & Nod Public House. A decade ago, the breezeless palmetto thicket was no more dangerous than the rattlers and wild pig roaming its sandy terrain. Then the bottom fell out; the earth gave way straight to hell, or the Florida aquifer, whichever comes first. Now existential crisis nibbles at the back door of the ramshackle pub. Out the front door, the breezelessness is replaced by automotive gusts off the sunburnt limestone highway. The stunted patio is humble and lonely, even lonelier during this spring’s quarantine. When Florida reopened in early June, this lonely stretch of front porch was crowded with reunion and revelry and unseen contagion. Then the bottom fell out; sickness spread like wildflowers along an unkempt roadway. Now existential crisis coughs at the front door of the ramshackle pub. On Friday, all Florida bars had their liquor licenses revoked due to the spike in coronavirus cases. The end was more than nigh, it came sometime around midnight.
Althea Fraank has seen enough. She inherited the bar from a favored aunt and has spent her forties keeping the lean-to cottage upright. A second coronavirus shutdown is too much for her to bear. “I’m heading for the hills motherfuckers” she said in an online post, speaking figuratively rather than specifically to those of a certain sexual persuasion. Her plan was to bleed out the kegs and most of her liquor to her favorite patrons and once the bar dried-up, excepting her special reserve stock, she was going to drive to Canada in her Winnebago she re-christened “The Yukon Ho”.
The swansong party for the Wink & Nod is this last weekend of June, the hottest weekend June has seen in a century. The Saharan sand cloud, named “Godzilla” for its sheer size, blown-in on a transatlantic gust, is not helping. The sky, the sun within it, has been dulled into a mellow blue, but the air is thick with hot grit. “Look around, mein herr…” Goshawks mumbles behind his coronavirus mask. “These are end times. What better way for biblical plagues to swoop in on central Florida than hitching a ride on an African sandstorm, right? Any minute now, expect to see a locust swoop in and Bernie Madoff your hamburger. I just wonder where the Four Horsemen are going to drink if all the bars are closed. Oh fuck me! Did we miss the Rapture? Did Jesus second come already? Did Jesus rapture his faithful, but no one noticed because there are only four virgins left in Florida, anyway? All I am saying, mon frère, is these be end of times.”
Althea Fraank, having overheard Goshawks’ rants, disagreed. “Ain’t end of times just cos your mom’s kicking you out of the house, Gwayne” Althea said, her voice as gravelly as the scraping of the empty keg she dragged out the back door.
There is little reason for us to be on the back porch, out of the air-conditioning, where little shade is offered beneath sunburnt palm fronds. The only source cool was the heady draft beers we sipped beneath our coronavirus facemasks. But on the patio, the crowd was sparse, unlike inside the Wink & Nod Pub. At least this weekend, when the daily Covid-19 count for Florida is nearing the highest anywhere anytime, the patrons are mostly masked, much more precautious of a crowd than it was a few weeks ago when I was the only one wearing a facemask. I had been called a “sheep” at least three times, though the second time might have actually been “creep” when I walked into an unlocked bathroom to discover Althea Fraank in a state of bareness far exceeding what one would have thought necessary to perform basic bodily functions. I profusely apologized for my gaffe, but my blushing regret only earned me delighted cackles from the bar-owner every time she passed by.
Rodney Rando, sitting in the limited shade beneath a banana tree, is still quietly chuckling at my reluctant carnal knowledge. Rod’s holding an unlit cigarette in one hand and in the other he holds an olive jar half-filled with chilled vodka and vermouth. Why dirty a martini glass when you can bring the party to the olives? He’s at peace with this heat, leaning his long frame back in a cast iron chair, legs casually crossed, footed in un-socked sneakers, his face burdened with a Pittsburgher mustache as he contemplates the searing meats on the nearby charcoal grill. “Keep your eye on your beer, dude.” Rod warns me. It is hard to judge his wry grin behind his sunglasses and Buccaneers branded facemask, but the very fact the quiet man spoke was enough evidence he was entertained. “Watch your beer or Althea will slip you a mickey and Shanghai you along to Canada.”
Rodney “Rando” Radonovic is a onetime county councilman (campaign slogan, circa 2007: “Rodney Rando – he gives a damn when it counts”), a sometime mortgage broker, a volunteer for the Seminole County Sheriff’s Search & Rescue Dive Team and the reluctant czar of the nearby Hawk Haven Neighborhood Watch. He never desired to be in the community espionage business (“I don’t want to be in my neighbor’s business any more than I want him in mine”), but after Gary Zimmerman’s 2012 execution of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, a mere 15 minutes north of here, Rodney created a “Neighborhood Watch-Watch”. Rodney Rando is not a proponent of “Stand Your Ground”, the Florida law which allows for trigger-horny home-owners to unload pistols at any sort of intrusion. “If we’re handing out guns to any knucklehead with $20 who can sign an ‘X’ at the line, we need to not deputize them to shoot at every bump in the night”, Rod has said. Thus began the Neighborhood Watch-Watch of Hawk Haven Country Club. Rodney Rando policed the local Neighborhood Watch, a nervous group he characterized as a squadron of side-armed Chicken Littles, chewing amphetamine and/or OxyContin, with licenses to conceal and nightmares of middle school wedgies. And those were the sheriff deputies assigned to work with the Neighbor Watch; the citizens in the other half of the Neighborhood Watch were even worse.
After a sigh, Rodney Rando responds to my incessant questions about guarding the community during a pandemic. He lights his cigarette first; it burns like an hourglass and once it is extinguished, he’s got other places to be. “I play peace-keeper mostly. People haven’t adjusted well. They’re all a little nuts. They run out of toilet paper and sneak around next door while the neighbors are out, rummaging about, drinking out of the milk carton, renting movies on the TV and falling asleep in the hot-tub only to wake when the neighbors return. I get a call and show-up to help calm them down. I’ve seen screaming matches between neighbors over sharing the sidewalk. Then you have the flesh-starved horn-dogs who can’t get their Wednesday night lap dance because Mitch’s TT-Bang Gentlemen’s Parlor has been shut down; or their favorite glory hole is unavailable because the interstate rest areas are closed; they get desperate and listless, walking the sidewalks at midnight, spooking the coyotes, looking for any piece of ass they can find. Only thing I can do is sell them some weed and tell them to go home and take a cold shower. It’s the least I could do. When spouses start breaking the good china or experimenting with arson, I hand out business cards to divorce lawyers who will kick-back a little extra cash my way for referrals. It’s financed the retiling of my master bathroom.”
Speaking of sex-starved suburbanites, I ask about the abandoned golf course at the heart of Hawk Haven. There has been a lot of police presence out there; Goshawks thought it was to break-up sex parties occurring beyond the bunkers.
Rodney Rando laughs a cloud of smoke, “Man, most of the times it’s the cops playing wife-swap on the old fairways. Yeah, no shit. When I see local constabularies driving out onto the golf course, I call the county sheriff to break it up. If I see county squad cars driving out there, I ask the city to intervene. The worst, though, are the damn state troopers. They are into some weird shit, dude. It’s all those hours spent on the turnpike. It’s too much time for a man to think. If a sober man thinks too much, only evil can come from it. They get up to some kink.” Kink? “Yeah, breath-play, furry, BDSM, CBT, Quasi-Necro, Ahegao, Step-Mom, butt-stuff…”
I ask about the anarcho-primitivists who were camped out on the golf course earlier this year. “Yeah, we had to run them off.” Rodney says. “They were eating all the neighborhood pets. At first we thought the missing housecats were from coyotes, but then we visited the anarchist hippie camp and saw they were tanning feline pelts. I’m not sure what for. Socks?” Rodney took a drag off a cigarette. “Couple days later, a few deputies and I went to flush them out. Goshawks let us know where to avoid booby-traps and twig-catapults set to launch bleach at intruders. We got to the camp and the hippie anarchists were half-starved, three-quarters naked and completely stoned; they didn’t put up a fight. I think they wanted an excuse to leave the wilderness. We took them to 7-11 for Gatorade and beef jerky; then dropped them off at Otter Cove Country Club. Let those assholes deal with them.”
Has there been any protest activity amongst Black Lives Matter, I ask, telling Rodney Rando I would assume the white-flight suburban crowd would be anxious over possible looting.
“Nope.” Rodney shakes his head, picking grit out of his teeth. “I’ve got Sahara sand in my martini.” After a pause he continues, “Look, I’d welcome any protesters. I’ll sign any petition for police reform or gun control. What I don’t welcome, but fear, is the semi-closeted confederate numbskulls who live in every other house in Hawk Haven and have been stock piling ammo for their AR-15s just waiting for a protest to march down these streets. Heck, someone stole an Andrew Jackson statue off of a front yard and the whole community is up in arms about it. My phone is ringing off the hook about people claiming Antifa has infiltrated the Hawk Haven Homeowners Association.”
“Is it funny?” Rodney asks. “They’re asking me to do the math. The HOA has four Goldwater republicans, old white dudes if you couldn’t guess, a fifth white guy who is a staunch Trumpian police detective and the sixth member of the HOA is a Chicago liberal born in Mexican bandit country. Can you guess which might be the Antifa radical in our midst?”
Is he suggesting Josefina Jesús-María is Antifa?
“I’m just saying there are two people who know which water hazard on the golf course Andrew Jackson was tossed into: me and your girlfriend.”
I decide to change the subject and circle back to the emaciated anarcho-primitivists Rodney Rando kicked out of Hawk Haven. They paint a grim picture of what the rest of humanity might resort to should the supply chains break down in this pandemic or the next calamity. Is he concerned with the general panic which might rise with societal collapse?
“Nope.” He says bluntly. “My role is a facilitator within society. If society goes to shit, I’m not going to stick around to sweep up the broken teeth.”
Cannibalism is not something the Neighborhood Watch would consider “within scope” of their mission?
“If society collapses, it isn’t my problem.” Rodney says simply. “If we have to resort to cannibalism, pass me a rib. But you can keep all the head meat. I’ve heard it is eating brains which make head-hunters go nutso.”
Otherwise, head-hunters are well-adjusted?
“To each their own.” Rodney Rando stamps out his cigarette and puts a wad of cash under his empty olive jar. He lifts his bandana back over his face. It is time for him to get back to Hawk Haven. I ask if he has any parting wisdom for these apocalyptic times. Rodney checks the watch on his wrist, “There is so much bullshit out there right now. I’d say if you’re going to give a damn, make it count. Give a damn about something you can feel with your own hands. Give a damn about the people around you. Give a damn about your community. Don’t waste your damns on petty gossip or bullshit you read online.”
Yeah, the internet is all a Russian misinformation operation anyway.
“And don’t be an asshole.” Rodney Rando points a finger at me. “I know it is hard, but we should all strive to not be an asshole. The world would be a lot better off for it.”