The entire “Swimming with the Manatees” will be posted in order on April 16)
Stacia, a server in the resort’s restaurant, was named after her grandmother, who lived in New Jersey but was born in Poland. The grandmother married a Native American of the Leni Lenape nation. Their son, Stacia’s father, was, thus, half Polish and half Indian. He married a woman who Stacia said “was Italian on both sides,” and thus Stacia is a quarter Polish and a quarter Native American and half Italian. Her maiden name, Grover, reflected little of this heritage. Instead, she said that other kids made fun of her name because of that Muppet. “Kids are cruel,” she said almost under her breath. Stacia’s now married, and her last name is O’Connell. This makes her son . . . an American, completely American.
“It’s as tall as the Empire State Building.” “It’s as big as a football field.” These are familiar phrases for describing something large, but in a Florida parking lot a man used a phrase to describe a capacity I had not heard before. He was pointing to the space in an SUV and told two other men, “There is enough space in there for three dead people.”
At a nearby table at the Biscuit Barn in Homosassa, Florida, a woman at the next table was explaining to her breakfast companion, “It was in Minnesota.” Her husband quietly muttered something to her, and she said, “It was in Minnesota or Montana. Montana. One of those states.” Provincial New Yorkers are not alone in knowing little of American geography of places that do not have a saltwater coastline.
The guest came up to the front desk and without preface explained to the clerk that he knew of a remedy for cancer, apparently any kind of cancer. It was a medicine or an herb that could be obtained online. He continued, “A woman was about to die of breast cancer. She took it and went home from the hospital cured in two weeks. Do you know anyone who has cancer?” Hesitantly, the clerk mentioned his mother, and the guest urged the clerk to get his mother this cancer cure. The guest’s parting salutation included calling the clerk, “Brother.”
As we were sitting outside our room near a path for guests to the pool, the spouse nudged me and whispered, “Look, a book.” A guest was carrying a book. After four days at the resort, this was the first time either of us had seen anyone besides ourselves with any reading material. In fact, I realized, I had seen few people staring at a phone. We were not in a center of reading. The resort seemed to have known its guests. Many hotels have some place for guests to exchange books. I asked a clerk if there were such a place in the Plantation at Crystal River, and I received a look of bewilderment. No books were on sale in the gift shop. On my last morning I was following my routine at the resort: I got a cup of coffee in my travel mug and looked for a place to read for a while. Every other day I went outside—to tables overlooking the golf course, a bench near the dock where fisherman departed for the day, a chair by the pool—but it was raining, and I wandered into an unoccupied room adjacent to the dining room. I had finally found the hotel’s “library.” On built-in shelves, thirteen Reader’s Digest condensed books were artfully arranged on the ends of four shelves. Stacked in the middle of one shelf were three legal books containing the reports of court decisions from the southeast United States. None of the books looked as if it had been touched since its placement.
We were in search of a book because the spouse had finished the Michael Connelly she was reading and was looking for something for the rest of our stay and the homeward journey. We went to the internet and were not surprised to learn that there was nothing other than a Christian bookstore in Crystal River. I said, “Let’s go to a CVS or Walgreens. They’ll have a rack of paperbacks.” We went to the more convenient CVS and inquired. The clerk with a bit of regret in her voice said, “They [left undefined] don’t give us as many as they used to.” She led us to a paltry selection of books. Luckily the spouse spotted one by Elizabeth George, which the spouse, saying it was not one of the author’s best, read. The internet also revealed a used bookstore further into Florida’s interior. When the spouse and I learn of a used bookstore on a trip, it warrants a field trip. We found it in a rundown, strangely-zoned neighborhood mixing residential homes and what appeared to be former residences now used as doctors’ offices and other businesses. The bookstore had a For Sale sign on its unkempt lawn, but, while not well organized, the store had used books of all sorts spilling off its many shelves. The owner said she had 35,000 volumes! We browsed for a half hour and bought a half dozen books which made our luggage going home needlessly heavy.
After we had bid our fond farewell to Crystal River and as we were driving to Tampa to catch the United flight to Newark, we spotted a truck sporting the sign, “Voted #1 Garage Door Company in Citrus County.” We pondered this. How many garage door companies were there in tiny Citrus County? If a company installs or repairs your garage door and does a good job, you probably would not see that company again for years, maybe even a decade or more. What information did those voters have about the present quality of the company? How was this referendum carried out? With these questions burning in our minds, we returned to our Brooklyn home where there are no garage doors.
“Swimming with the Manatees” in its entirety will be posted on Friday, April 16.