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golf clubs of the dead and the voodoo bowl

No, there's nothing very old here in Florida. And yes, it drives me nuts. When I moved here in 1993, it felt like moving to the bottom of the universe--the far flung place where nothing happened--the place where people came to get away from places where stuff happened. It took me years to look at it a slightly different perspective. In fact, it is the top of an entirely different universe--the quiet apex of the Caribbean, the top wisp of South American continent, rather than the dragging, soggy tail of the Northern one. Turning to this different point of view, Ecuador is closer than Ames, Iowa, and Lake Titicaca is no more remote and exotic than Lake Superior. It is cheaper and easier for me to travel to places that previously seemed outrageously beyond: Colombia, Trinidad, Lima--than to Chicago, Cincinnati, Hartford.

And, in fact, geologically speaking, Florida truly is the New World, having really only just raised itself out of the water a few relative moments ago by the sheer industry of billions and trillions of little creatures toiling away on their little microscopic bits of real estate before moving out--maybe in disgust.

It's the true tabula rasa--even the dirt is white. So nearly everything has been imported and transplanted--even the silent and admirably truculent Seminoles are transplants from somewhere where things were happening that they wanted to get away from. People who have worked their whole lives to get their own little slice of Paradise bring their fantasies of starting over: white carpets and pastel couches--no more of that fusty, dark wood furniture, no more dark wool! I want brass chrome plating, pink Orlon and turquoise vertical blinds to match!

They come, they decorate, they die. The kids come and clear out the condo--all the heirlooms have been divided up years ago--now, the most valuable thing left is the empty space and new paint. The rest is one sad estate sale and a drive-by to the Goodwill.

And while it's true that the resultant jackstraw pile of unremarkable golf clubs aren't particularly odd at first glance, on second thought, my god-- there are just so damn many of them! Those golf clubs represent a mind-bogglingly vast graveyard of dashed hopes, cruel shanks, and out-and-out lies. My sister dubbed these "The Golf Clubs of The Dead," a veritable Elysian field of second hand sports equipment for an overpriced sport. But there was also "Bridal Wear of the Bitter;" and its begrudging relation "Mother-of-the-Bride-Shoes of the Dead," "Florist Vases of the Dead," and "Dead Men's Clothes."

Seen in that light, even the most common object takes on a mysterious weirdness: the entire section set aside for the dozen or so portable toilets, the kind Medicare pays for when you leave the rehab center to go home to die; the groaning racks of overwrought, shapeless glittering beaded gowns, whose awful cut and sheer weight is outdone by their general hideousness--a visual testament to hundreds of cruises and the hope to cover up and weigh down the bariatric effects of the midnight buffet with pounds of dazzling, glass beads sewn in dizzying, disorienting patterns. Some woman in a slum of Beijing went blind sewing those fiddly bugle beads and tiny, iridescent seed beads; did she go home shaking her head and wondering what the hell it all was for?

But then, there's the flotsam and jetsam of the general disposable weirdness of the American melting pot. But South Florida isn't just a warm little fondue of American retirees, wiry, ATV riding crackers, European investors and Caribbean and South American Classists escaping belligerent Marxist regimes. It is a pressure cooker--4 billion pounds of different meats, crammed into a 1 million pound Lily Pulitzer-colored pot and set to broil on high heat. If you can keep things stewing at just the right temperature with just the right ingredients, everything comes out tender and tasty--if a little mushy.

The jetsam becomes just so much discarded driftwood and foamy surf, lying as it often does amongst the jumbled piles of aluminum cookware and rustic, wooden signs that read, "Laugh, Dream, Love." Tiny gold-plated coke spoons chucked in with the children's toys; the entire wardrobe of feathery, be-sequined ballgowns and custom-made leopard print salsa dresses in size 18; seven pairs of hard-worn lederhosen; a silver-inlaid, butt-shined parade saddle the size of a sofa; souvenir machetes; burnt out santos candles; bright blue mariachi jackets that looked to be stained with what one hopes was red wine.

Some years ago, I found a curious bowl amongst the other household geegaws. I still remember it--a brittle, ivory-colored thing, curiously light and thin--pocked and fissured. I felt its wrongness, even with the cheerful, multicolored plastic skulls that had been hot-glued onto the base as crude feet. It was a human skull, sawn at the crown. Scratched with a fingernail, it smelled of burnt hair and char and plain bad mojo. It's place there completely mystifying--did the witch doctors have too many skull bowls cluttering up the place? A cumulative case of the heebie jeebies? It was inherently a dark and awful thing, but I couldn't help wondering--if you put 10 cents on a tee shirt at a garage sale, Haitians will haggle you down to 7 cents. But this bowl made of someone's head was simply chucked into the giveaway pile? Weird...

I didn't buy it. But neither have I ever felt right about leaving it there amongst the Corningware and old coffee makers. I often wonder if some Marilyn Manson wannabe Devil-worshiper got himself the real McCoy for his unhappy, ridiculous, black-lit garage-goth rituals.

I'd hate it if he did. It was marked 99 cents.

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