April 28, 2011

Along the dotted line

I spend the odd weekend at Fort Myers Beach with Andy and Elle, who live in a 
cottage on Estero Island now, a short walk from the Gulf. It’s a comfortable old 
place, both leafy and sandy-sere, full of whitewashed wood and colorful throws. 
Carpets and cane. After a slow start, coffee, coffee talk, we wander into town.

Spring Break and its annual influx of college students, along with their local teen 
infiltrators, was upon us. We stopped at a local fast food joint to grab some 
snacks. Once inside, we were engulfed in a crowd of nearly naked teenagers, 
which wasn’t as pleasant as it sounds. Amassed locker-room style at the
counter, all that rangy, nervous, slightly unformed adolescent flesh was barely 
this side of odious.

“I don’t understand pedophilia,” said Andy. Elle snorted.

“Neither do I,” I said, “At least not from the adult side.”

Some of the nearby girls giggled, the boys grew restive and alert.

“I was desperate to seduce an adult in my adolescence,” I said, adding sadly, 
“There weren’t many takers.”

Always fun to rattle the twinks.

Out on the street the sunny glare cast everything, the rambling beach town 
shops and jellybean colors, in a jumble of deeply shadowed rectangles and 
shards. We passed a shop offering henna tattoos.

“Everybody wants a tattoo,” Elle said.

“They do?” said Andy.

“It’s human nature. We’re hard-wired to desire being tattooed.”

That had enough cred to send a frisson of warmth up my solar plexus, generally 
a sign of plausibility perceived. None of us had tattoos, however, an apparent 
triumph of our wills over our wiring.

“I’m not against tattoos in principle,” I said. “But too many people decorate 
their bodies with the same disregard for context as their living rooms.”

“Yeah,” said Elle. “They fall in love with a fancy lamp and plop it down on some 
fake retro console radio.”

“I like the ones with the little lines of plain text.”

“I always liked Melvin Van Peebles’ tattoo,” said Andy. “A dotted line around his 
neck. It said ‘cut along the dotted line.”

We were about to pass a driveway when a car cut in front of us, thought better 
of it, but stood blocking our way and forcing us to walk around the front of the 
car. A guy in the Mustang convertible behind them yelled at the driver. “Nice 
move. Real nice.”

“Sorry,” the driver, pinched by his aborted blunder between our glares and the 
Mustang’s reproach, said sheepishly.

We wandered out to the beach, found a table at a resort, and ordered 
margaritas. We people-watched the crowded beach, crowded with boats 
anchored offshore. The timeless family dynamics, children on the cusp of 
awareness squealing at the sea, the clamorous teens feinting for attention, the 
subtle mating dance of singles on the make, the serenity of seniors. Bodies, 
stripped to their essentials at the beach, are interesting to a photographer, their 
architecture, gesture, interactions, the personality of the flesh writ plain.

I remembered reading about a recent anthropological study suggesting that the 
modern West is producing the most robust race of human beings since the 
paleolithic age. Taller, stronger, healthier. That’s what we saw, men in their 
prime with their quarterback builds, wearing their fin de si├Ęcle American wealth 
on their handsome bellies. Lean women, buxom women, radiating competence 
and concupiscence.

We watched a parasail ride, its minute rider slung in a seat below a huge yellow 
smiley face canopy floating high over the gulf. “It’s so high!” I exclaimed. Elle 
laughed. “You have a wonderful knack for stating the obvious,” she said. The 
tow boat circled back, drawing canopy and rider across the sky again, and again, 
then finally slowed, the rider splash landed, and the smiley face drifted slowly 
down, collapsing with a grin on the water.

April 25, 2011