Florida – The Rules Are Different Here

1970's AD CAMPAIGN FOR THE STATE OF FLORIDA

1970’s AD CAMPAIGN FOR THE STATE OF FLORIDA

If you’re under the age of 30, you’re probably too young to remember the Florida Department of Tourism slogan that was coined in the early 1980’s:  FLORIDA – THE RULES ARE DIFFERENT HERE.  I adore that campaign even though it bit us in the ass by becoming a well used punchline!  The thing is…it’s true!  The rules ARE different here.  

I love living in Florida.  I started out here by chance, I decided to stay by choice.  I grew up in New York, in a suburb that was 8 miles as the crow flies, or an hour in traffic, from NYC.  For as long as I can remember, I always thought New York was a great place to be FROM.  But I didn’t own it as my home.  From the moment I settled in Florida though, I felt at like this is where I belong.  It was 1979 and even before the Department of Tourism nailed it, I already knew that the rules ARE different here.

Some of the jokes about my adopted home are true.  “If you don’t like the weather, just wait 10 minutes.” When I first came here, I was lucky enough to live in an ocean front condo. From the balcony, I could survey the beach for miles around and see the sun shining right next to torrential downpours.  Seriously, I could actually see the rain clouds unloading on the terrain and tourists below…ahhhhh, good times!

thumbnail-1.aspxFlorida is heaven’s waiting room.”  Also correct!  I can’t argue about the extreme number of retirees here.  Certain pockets of the state are so crammed with old people that you can smell the Ben-Gay from the interstate.
But I think the thing that sets us apart from the rest of the US is that even a shitty day ain’t so bad in Paradise!  As Hurricane Isaac passed by early this week, I spent the greater part of one day holed up during an unusual Monday where the rain stayed constant.  It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t hurricane-y, it was just overhead all day!  Stuck inside for the day, it made me remember back to August 2004. 

SHANDS MEDICAL CENTER - GAINSVILLE, FL

SHANDS MEDICAL CENTER – GAINSVILLE, FL

Steven had spent the entire year fighting Stage 4 non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.  He was just starting to get his hair back, and starting to get a little color in his face, instead of that pasty grey look that comes with almost an entire year in bed.  We had an appointment at Shands Medical Center at the University of Florida in Gainesville (go Gators) with Dr. David Lynch, one of the country’s experts on lymphoma.  Our oncologist here wanted Steven to see Dr. Lynch for a consult to determine what we should do next.  The appointment had been made in June, and it was now the end of August…and a hurricane was coming…tomorrow night, probably.  But, dammit, we were not going to miss that appointment.  So even though I did as much prepping as I could between my real job, my nursing job at home, my dog whispering job and all the rest of the little part time jobs that filled my day, we were so NOT ready for 4 major back-to-back-to-back-to-back hurricanes…and a major road trip. 

As I drove us up to Gainesville, Steven sat quietly in the passenger side seat.  We left early in the morning to make a 10 AM appointment on time, and I was WAY under-caffeinated  But ever since Steven’s first chemo, he couldn’t tolerate coffee…even the smell made him shpilkes, so no To-Go cup for me.  We made small talk for hours, because we were both trying to ignore our nerves.  Our doctor had told us that the tumor was gone and that all the tests looked good, but he didn’t want to make a call without an Expert-expert giving us the ‘poll the audience-call a friend-final answer’.  So we were off to see the Wizard!

Dr. Lynch was great.  The appointment went great.  It was something neither Steven nor I will ever forget!  In the calmest and most laid back way, Dr. Lynch assured us that the red alert of lymphoma was over. He agreed with our home doc that radiation was a good next step just for shits and giggles (and to make absolutely sure all the cancer was crushed).  And then he gave us the easiest, hardest, simplest, most complex direction, “Go live your life, enjoy it and try not to worry.”  Oprah calls these ‘Ah-ha Moments’, I call them WTF?  Either name still designates something etched in your brain!

That little statement was massive.  But it changed Steven faster than any medicine he had been given.  It was a miracle.  We left Shands with grey and ominous skies overhead.  As we were walking to the car, Steven put his hand out for the keys and said, “I’ll drive.”  WTF?  

In the car, we were giddy, laughing, crying, kissing and fumbling around trying to adjust seats that hadn’t been moved since last year.  As we headed to the interstate, we passed a drive through of some sort.  I don’t remember what it was, I just remember Steven saying, “I need some coffee”!  WTF?

He drove straight through, without a single stop to get rid of that coffee that was sloshing in my bladder. 

SUMMER HOME DECORATIONS - HURRICANE PANELS

SUMMER HOME DECORATIONS – HURRICANE PANELS

He listened to the weather report as we drove through the alternating bursts of piddling rain and blinding sun that come with a nearing hurricane.  And he talked me though his plan for putting the hurricane shutters on the house.  Steven had been getting winded just walking from the bedroom to the kitchen, now he felt good enough to hang hurricane panels on 12 windows and 2 sliding glass doors?  WTF?  

We got home and he went right to work outside.  He was hanging shutters by flash-light well into the evening.  Each time I came out to help he sent me back in with, “It’s OK…I got it!”  WTF?  It hadn’t happen slowly or gradually or expectedly.  It was an instant.  He was better and ready to take charge during what turned out to be the WORST hurricane season the Space Coast had had in eons.

thumbnail-Palm TreesWe got hit with a succession of back-to-back storms that didn’t do any damage to our house, but wreaked havoc in our yard.  We had 15 palm trees that either fell, broke, uprooted or leaned over.  Two of which must have fallen in slow motion onto our house.  I say slow motion because the damage was only 2 cracked roof tiles, so we were blessed with a mess that didn’t cause any major problems.  Just projects…for Steven…that lasted half-way through radiation and kept him so busy that he didn’t seem to have any side effects.  Or maybe it was that feeling of getting a second chance at life that gave him energy and drive.  Or maybe it was weathering the hurricanes and coming out on top.  Or maybe it was because we live in Florida…and the rules are different here.

So as Hurricane Isaac passed us by yesterday, I reminisced of that 2004 hurricane season that was so horrible for so many people.  How odd that the same time brings a smile to my face.  As I was daydreaming, thunder rattled my windows and the BOOM was so convulsive that I could feel it in my chest, instead of being startled, how odd that my first thought was that it sounds like a Shuttle launch.  Flashes of lightning normally would make many people run for cover, how odd that I merely held my breath just hoping the AC wouldn’t go off.  And as the weather forecasts flooded the news, how odd I that just looked forward to tomorrow for the sun to come out.  Because that’s how we roll in FLORIDA-THE RULES ARE DIFFERENT HERE!!

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I’m Not a Rocket Scientist But…

I’m not a rocket scientist but…I love that phrase.  I mean I REALLY love that phrase.  It’s the perfect way to introduce an idea that has a sarcastic undertone and a brilliant top note!  Yet, it has a humble flavor of self-deprication and the lingering aftertaste of irony, just like a fine wine, that lures you in and then kicks your butt.  

So…I’m not a rocket scientist but…Diana Nyad…have you been following that story?  I have because her name is one that I’ve heard throughout my entire life.  Probably because she’s just a little older than me, making her newsworthy for just about as long as I’ve been keeping up with the news!  For those of you who don’t get your headlines from Yahoo! LISTEN UP!  Diana Nyad is a swimmer, just a couple of wrinkles past her 60th birthday, who likes to beat records for open water distance swims.

ap_diana_nyad_jef_120821_wmainIn 1979, Nyad jumped into the clear, warm, azure waters off Bimini in the Bahamas, and swam to Florida.  Whatever…it’s an amazing feat, but seriously…why?  I’d rather jump on a cruise ship, take in the sea air for the first 7 miles and then high tail it down to the casino table to play blackjack until they either docked in Bimini a few hours later or ran out of Piña Coladas!  But, that’s just me.  

Nyad set the record for that route in 2 days of non-stop swimming, without a wetsuit.  And I’m guessing, without a Piña Colada either.  To each her own, and I respect Diana’s right to be a pioneer.  But pioneers are also people.  And people typically make themselves To Do Lists.  And once a human gets started on a To Do List, watch out.  Where swimming across an ocean may sound nuts, haven’t we all gone whack-wild on a To Do Project?  And if you’re thinking, “No” just remember back to the last time you made yourself clean out a closet…and before you realized it, you were washing the walls…with a Q-Tip…to get those corners really clean!  That, my friend, is a swim to Bimini! 

So blah, blah, blah Nyad.  She did lots of swimming.  In 1975, she swam around Manhattan Island in just under 8 hours, without getting caught up in the ropes connected to Jimmy Hoffa’s cement overshoes!  We get it.  She swims good.  But for some reason, Nyad got caught up on a Cuba to Florida swim on her To Do List that started  in 1978, and she just CAN’T git ‘er done, no matter how many proveribal Q-Tips she uses! Remember the old Judy Garland chant, “Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh, My!”  Nyad’s problem is “Hurricanes and Jellyfish and Sharks, Oh My!”

So, I’m not a rocket scientist but…what the hell?

thumbnail.aspxAlbert Einstein Quotes:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

You gotta start thinking outside the box…or shark cage, Diana.  There are a few things going on here that aren’t going to work out for you unless you change your MO.  I want to see you do this.  I’ve been rooting for you since you were brave enough to jump into those syringe infested waters surrounding New York City.  But, seriously…let’s think this through!

I’m not a rocket scientist but…You moved to Florida when you were 7…you know what the weather is like.  I’m sorry your birthday falls smack dab in the middle of hurricane season! I’m sure you also got ripped off on good birthday parties as a kid becuase everyone was busy buying plywood and covering their windows!  But for cryin’ out loud, quit trying to swim the tropical waters of Cuba during the most dangerous time of the year.  Don’t you have another memorable date you can pick?  How about the day you published your first book, or the anniversary of your first speaking engagement gig…Hell use the first time you had a skin cancer spot removed.  Pick anything that’s not in July-September.  I’m not a rocket scientist, but that solves the strong current / bad seas problem.  And then just remember to hydrate.  I’m not a rocket scientist but if you keep drinking while you swim, you can make your own warm water!

facekiniI’m not a rocket scientist but…the jellyfish thing. Seriously? You don’t wear a wetsuit, I get it…that’s part of the record breaking thing.  But you wear swim goggles, right?  How come you don’t know about this Face-Kini thing that’s all the rage in China.  Apparently these things only cost about 2 bucks.  Chinese chicks are all over the beach with them so they don’t darken up their porcelain complexions. 

DIANA NYAD POST JELLY FISH SWIM

DIANA NYAD POST JELLY FISH SWIM

Why don’t you pick one up so the jelly fish don’t turn your face into hamburger each time you try to make the journey?

And lastly, the shark thing.  Still not a rocket scientist, but I am sarcastic enough to suggest that if you spend the 2 bucks on the face-kini, and keep peeing in the water,  you’ll scare the shit out of any sharks that cross your path.  And maybe, just maybe, you’ll make it next time.  I’m still rooting for you…standing on the beach…with a Piña Colada in one hand…and a Q-Tip bouquet in the other.  I’m not a rocket scientist but I sure know how to have a good time!  

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Why Am I NOT Embarrassed?

PORTRAIT BY STEVEN HARP

PORTRAIT BY STEVEN HARP

Steven has probably taken a thousand photos of me over the years.  I’ve probably made him delete 975 of those photos.  He’s so good about getting rid of the ones that I don’t like, but he almost always disagrees about the elimination.  We just see different things in the photos.  He sees me smiling and enjoying whatever is going on at that moment in time.  I see the wrinkles or the goofy eye or the snaggle-tooth grin.  Delete it!  It’s in my contract.  I get final approval of all images of my likeness.   (PS – I’m using the chemo-brain card here.  There is no contract and I don’t get approval…he just thinks I do…so I suck…whatever!)

That being said, I find it amazing that I will ignore all rules of vanity myself…if it’s funny.  Because funny trumps vanity all the time.  Case in point, I had my hair cut a couple of weeks ago.  I have to say I didn’t clearly explain what I wanted, other than, “Make it just like last time”.  And since I had a photo of the last cut, I showed it and just moved on.  However, I did stop my fantastic hair artist so I could take a phone call, which normally I would never do.  So when we resumed, we were both a little disjointed.  The bottom line is that I ended up with a cut that was not exactly what I wanted, and even though it looked good when I left the salon, I couldn’t duplicate the look at home.  And since it’s too short, I have no choice but to wait for it to grow to change it.  Not the route I wanted to go.

114 A - Natural Lightest Golden BrownSo then I got frustrated.  And then I got stupid.  After almost a year of wearing my hair the color that comes out of my head, I decided that what this short cut needed was some color.  So I ran myself down to CVS and picked out a color I’ve never had before…Brown.  To be exact, it’s color 114A – Natural Lightest Golden Brown.  When I got home, I served Steven a healthy glass of red wine so he wouldn’t freak out and retired to the bathroom to work my magic.  I followed the directions precisely, with gloved hands and timer clicking away.  And when all was said and done, I had given myself the one thing Steven asked me not to do…RED HAIR!

IMG_0179Now this is the amazing part.  I didn’t cry, I didn’t fuss, I didn’t even get upset.  I wrapped a towel around me, took a photo of myself, texted it to Alexis and then posted it on Facebook.  All because I thought it was funny and in Alexandra’s world, funny trumps vain.  I will readily relive any embarrassing incident, as long as the funny factor is there.  I’m not sure if that makes me incredibly secure or amazingly off kilter.  But it does make me a funny addition to any dinner party, so I’ve got that going for me.

Which all leads to the little ditty that just crossed my mind this morning.  I was about to get into the shower when I had a thought.  But instead of acting, I turned off the shower, redressed and then acted.  Because I’m home alone, and naked me gets into the kind of trouble that deserves an audience.  Has that peaked your interest?  Then please join me in the NAKED world of Alexandra.

One morning when I was still employed, I was running a little late.  Steven had already left for his office and I was standing in my closet choosing my outfit for the day.  I had showered and was, as our narration begins, naked.  The slacks I was planning to wear were wrinkled, and since I was both alone and late, rather than donning a robe I just grabbed the pants and headed to the ironing board in the laundry room.  I planned to just do a quick steam job, never thinking that steam and naked are a deadly combination.  

A little droplet flew from the iron, which made me jump, which made the iron fall out of my hand and tumble toward my naked midriff.  I swatted the iron to avoid a branding and burnt my arm.  Not horrible, but enough that I knew it was going to bother me for a good long time.  Thinking quick, I jumped to aloe…it grows in our backyard and works like magic on burns.  So I grabbed a paring knife and headed out to the back yard…naked.  No big deal really, since the back yard has an eight foot fence for the dogs and giant White Bird of Paradise trees, Bougainvillea trellises and towering bamboo clumps growing all against the fence.  We can’t see our neighbors houses, which means they can’t see us.  So naked isn’t really a big deal.

I cut a large juicy piece of aloe and started paring off the thorny edges as I walked back inside.  What I forgot was that live, fresh aloe is as juicy as a kid’s runny nose, and about the same consistency!  And it kind of smells like ass.  I can’t really define the odor, but it’s not good, which makes it really appealing to dogs, as does anything that smells like ass.  Fresh aloe may work like a charm, but it’s pretty gross.  And as I was peeling and rubbing the aloe snot on my arm, it was also dripping down my torso, leg and through my fingers, leaving a trail on the kitchen floor.  So after my arm was addressed, I grabbed a paper towel to wipe up all the grossness on floor and me.  NAKED.

As that Seinfeld episode explains, there is a good naked and a bad naked.  Bending over to wipe a floor, even if you’re one of Hef’s girls next door, is always a bad naked.  And it’s worse when you have splotches of mucus-like aloe dripping off your thighs.  To the rescue…the creatures who like anything that smells like ass.  Before I could get the mess cleaned up, my lovely 4 legged assistants came rushing in to help.  They were licking the floor faster than I could wipe it, until one of them realized that I had aloe ON me.  I don’t know who went in for the motherload, but instead of securing a mouth full of aloe snot, an unexpected move by me left doggie dearest with a cold nose full of real ass…MINE!

Naked is naked and cold is cold and never the twain shall meet…without injury!  That cold nose surprised the hell out of me, which made me lurch…right into a snot spot of aloe…which was just like an oil slick.  Once I hit that patch, there was no traction to be had and I went sliding across the kitchen floor, face down and stopping only when my head finally met the base sink cabinet.   NAKED!

So here’s the thing.  I was burnt, covered with aloe snot, dizzy from the shot to the head, being mercilessly licked by my dogs and knowing that I now needed another shower which was going to make me even later for work…and all that upset me was that there was no one around to see me.  It was too funny…and I couldn’t get a photo myself…the dogs were too busy pigging out on aloe to take a photo…and no matter how embarrassing or inappropriate this little adventure had turned out to be, it was driving me mad that Steven wasn’t there to see it.

So why will I demand deletion of a photo that shows a few crows feet, but yearn for a naked photo of me sprawled out on the kitchen floor being accosted by dogs?  I guess it’s because in The World According to Alexandra, funny reigns supreme…and isn’t that lucky for you?  Happy Monday – the joke’s on me!

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