Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Adios, Florida

We just got back from Florida.

It was a great trip. We had lots of quality time and laughs with the sister-in-law and brother-in-law.

I like Florida. Kathie has reservations. This is an ongoing debate with us: is this a place we should at least spend part of the year when we are both retired? I am in the “yes” camp, she is not so sure.

I like being outdoors and away from our Jersey winters. This one has been especially difficult and I have felt as though I have been sliding on ice for the last four months, when I haven’t been chopping it or falling on it. And since I am no longer commuting, the housebound thing has been getting to me.

Kathie doesn’t like all the out of control development. Granted, it is a little bizarre to see new shopping malls going up alongside recently abandoned ones.

This trip, however, we decided to get in touch with Florida’s wild side.

We took a drive to Myakka State Park, a wild life preserve that features air boat rides and canopy walks to observe the local flora and fauna.

As usual, we got lost getting there and drove through some scrubby areas that, while free of condos and strip malls, were heavy on ranches that all resembled the place where the Manson family used to hang out.

By the time we found the park it was well passed noon. Since we had to have the rental car back by 3:00, that pretty much ruled out the air boat trip since the next one was scheduled for 2:30. We took a drive around the park and stopped at the various observation areas. We saw lots of wild life including gators, feral pigs, and Osprey. We also saw a motorcycle gang which looked much more dangerous than any of the animals.

We went back to the concession area and got on a long line to buy lunch. In fact, we spent a fair portion of our remaining time on the line. When we got close enough to read the menu we saw that it featured such items as alligator stew and pulled pork sandwiches. I said to Kathie: "This is really neat; first we get to observe the animals in their natural habitat, and then we get to eat them for lunch." I guess they were out of Osprey burgers that day.

When we finished we took a walk on the Nature Loop. This is a schlep through the jungle where you have the chance to observe the infinite variety of souvenir tee shirts worn by other tourists. We did not see one animal, not even a squirrel.

The canopy walk wasn’t all it was cracked up to be either. You climb a whole bunch of stairs and then navigate a 30 foot walk suspended at tree top level. There is not much to see except, well, the tops of trees. It is fun, however, to jump up and down on the bridge and scare the crap out of your wife.

Although we didn’t see them, there are dangerous animals other than alligators in Florida. The coral snake is probably the one you would least like to have camping out in your pants, since it bite is deadly.

In all the years we have been coming here, I have gone out of my way to prevent Kathie from learning of their presence, since it is a remote risk that she would ever encounter one and since her knowing that even one was in the entire state would knock Florida permanently off the potential Andersen habitat list.

At Myakka, I pounced and led her away as soon as I noticed her starting to read about the snakes that reside in the park.

However, a few days later while touring a sugar baron’s restored mansion with my guard down, I saw her reading one of the exhibit signs and heard her cry out: MY GOD, there are coral snakes here!!!???”

Well, adios Florida.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Test, Part 2

Not been able to concentrate on the latest doings of the Bachelor? Oblivious to the current caterwauling on American Idol?

You must be on tenterhooks waiting to learn if our Dilated Dynamo recovered his eyesight in time to take the census taker’s exam.

Squirm no more, all is about to be revealed.

If you have not read The Test, Part 1, my last blog, I suggest you do so now. Upon completion you may decide you don’t give a rat’s ass and can spare yourself Part 2.

I arrived home from my eye exam with just 45 minutes to spare before I had to leave for Clinton, a ten mile drive, to take the census test. Still feeling like the girl with kaleidoscope eyes, I decided to snooze for a few minutes in an attempt to stabilize my vision. No luck.

Next I scoured the house in a search for sun glasses. No luck.
I stopped at Rite Aid on the way and picked up a pair of clip-ons.
Unfortunately, when I got to the car and attempted to put them on, I discovered there was a large tag affixed to the nose bridge with one of those confounded plastic gizmos that are impossible to break. Not having anything to cut it, I rode the next eight miles with the tag flapping in front of my eyes. It didn’t matter that much, since I was blind already. It’s scary to contemplate how many idiots like me may be driving around out there risking life, limb and the public safety to take a test for a low paying, part time job.

Somehow I made it to the Clinton Library, the site of the test, with 15 minutes to spare. I dashed in and asked the librarian to direct me to the test room. The fact that she took two steps back and reached for what I assumed was an alarm button, reminded me to remove my tag-encumbered sun glasses.

I entered the test room and found 12 other applicants already seated and filling out their preliminary forms. I took a seat at a table with three other men. All were retired and all had been employed by ATT or Lucent Technologies. A sense of doom crept over me: not only was I blind, but I was competing for a bureaucratic position with a bunch of bureaucrats. I tried to concentrate on my forms as they whined on about the sad state of their pensions and 401Ks.

The moderator, also an ATT&T vet, launched into his spiel about the exam. I don’t remember everything he said, but he stressed the fact that if we had a criminal record it was unlikely we would get a position even if we passed the test. One gentleman got up and left the room. I hoped I had locked my car.

He also emphasized the importance of not writing on the exam paper, and directed us to confine our notes and calculations to the answer sheet and scrap paper.

He passed out the exam and told us we had 30 minutes to complete the 28 questions which were divided into 6 categories. I don’t remember all of them but they included organization, math, reading and management skills.

Pencils ready, and off! Panic sets in right off the bat when I realize the questions are badly blurred. I discover the best way to bring them into focus is to remove my glasses and bring my nose as close to the paper as I can. This disconcerts the woman across from me who either thinks I am so brilliant that I have time to doze off, or that I am having a spell.

I struggle with the organization section of the test pretty much as I have struggled with the organization section of my life. The math is even worse. The 7s look like 1s and the 3s look like 8s. Half way through the math, the moderator announces there are fifteen minutes remaining. I glance to the right side of my answer sheet and see I have four more sections to complete after the current one. In addition, I notice that I have been calculating and doodling all over the test paper in clear violation of Federal regulations. Visions of spending my golden years at Levenworth pass through my head as I frantically erase.

Panic gives way to despair. I don’t want to be a Census taker anyway. Who wants to be crawling around a trailer park in the dead of night trying to figure out who is married to which cousin? Besides, what do you expect, I’m blind for cripe's sake.

I catch a break when I blow through the reading section in 2 minutes flat. The rest is a blur, mentally as well as physically. I answer the last question and put my pencil down just as time expires.

We wait while the moderator grades our exams. I am convinced I have failed and determine that I will not take it again. I just hope he doesn’t read our grades out in front of the whole group as the nuns used to do back in grade school or say something snotty about all the erasures on my test form.

He doesn’t. He calls me over and tells me that I have passed and answered 24 of the 28 questions correctly. How this can be possible, I don’t ask.

When I get outside I put my sunglasses back on, tag flapping proudly in the afternoon breeze, and head for home.