The Busy Snowbird: Florida Smirk #1

On Tuesday last Columbus, Ohio, my hometown, had a high of 16º whereas---get ready for it---the Fort Lauderdale area, where I’m snowbirding for the first three months of 2013, had a high of 76º.  I’ve been sending these “FS” (Florida Smirk) notices regularly to my friends in the Buckeye State, knowing it will make me ever so popular back home.  Today the temperature was 77---and . . . ah, what was it where you are?
This is my first adventure ever snowbirding, and it’s been wonderful so far.  Here is a précis:

1.  The Trip Down.  I watched the weather carefully before I left, wanting most of all to have a good first day (since the other two days of travel would be further south and the weather less of a factor).  As it happened all three days were perfect, so I lucked out, spending the first night in Knoxville TN, the second in Savannah GA, and arrived in the late afternoon on Tuesday, January 1 (the day my lease began).  I’m renting an apartment that’s half of a duplex, and it’s quite spacious and beautifully furnished by the gay couple who are my landlords.  I have no taste at all (and one of these days this is going to lead to the revocation of my "queer card"), but my landlords have splendid taste, and visitors who know me are dutifully impressed (“You didn’t decorate this yourself, did you?”---an observation, and not really a question).

2.  The Cats.  I’m told that cats focus mostly on their environment and are uncomfortable when taken out of it.  For two and a half years my cats, Barney and Mama (about which I’ve written a good deal, see “Related Posts” below) have lived happily enough in Columbus, Ohio, in a home where there are corners and details they know more about than I do (what’s under the shelves in the garage, for example).  For reasons I’ve explained before (see “Snowbirding, My iPhone 5, and the Coming Crazy Cat Trip”) I decided to drive the cats down to Florida, but rather than have them confined for the three-day trip in cat carriers, I had specially built for them the “cat condo,” which my handyman friend Allan Holmes constructed after much effort.  It consists (see photo) of two independent car carriers which can be connected first to each other and then to an area twice as large in which there is a disposable litter box, plus food and water.  Allan contrived clever sliding doors to separate the cats or allow them to move freely back and forth throughout the cat condo, which took up most of the back of my Prius (with the back seats folded down).  It worked fine except for a problem caused by the condo shifting in the car, which allowed the cats to escape into the car, but only after I was safely parked outside the Knoxville TN Holiday Inn at the end of the first day’s journey.  At least they weren’t loose in the parking lot, so I grabbed Mama first, walked her into the hotel room, put her down, and then went back for Barney.  I solved the condo-shifting problem the next day so there were no further mishaps.
The cats explored the hotel room with interest (it was a “pet friendly” Holiday Inn both nights---which costs $50 extra), figured out the disposable litter box (whew!), and slept with me in bed much as usual.  But the second night in Savannah GA, Mama climbed on my chest and frankly quizzed me: “Is this it?  From now on we’re just going to be stuck in that tiny cat jail all day and then live in these similar little rooms each night?”  I assured her that there was a permanent home coming the next day, and she suspiciously granted me the time in which to prove it.

Our rented home in Wilton Manors FL (a suburb of Fort Lauderdale) is quite wonderful.  The cats love the huge screened-in sun porch (large enough to comfortably take a ping-pong table), and I thought they were pleased to be here until the second night when Mama staged a protest.  At 3 a.m. she began pounding the front door venetian blinds and howling, “Take me back to that place with the garage!!!  I calmed her down, assured her she was a much loved cat, etc., but she tearfully asked me if we were ever going “home.”  I lied to her and told her this was home from now on.  Why did I lie?  Because if I’d told her the truth---that in three months we’d reverse the process and go back to the place with the garage---I’d have had venetian blinds protests every night until the end of March.  Let the return be a surprise.
In the meantime, Barney Cat (small of brain though large of size) was content enough with Florida, and the three of us have settled into a comfy existence.  Actually, that porch was the major selling point for the cats.  They’d learned the word “porch” (including Barney, for whom new words are a rarity) within 15 minutes of our arrival.
Barney and Mama on the Porch

Me, Judy and David
3.  Too Busy.  I thought I’d just sort of settle back and do nothing in Florida (well, I brought some legal work with me, but never mind that), and I was wrong.  First thing was the difficulty of getting settled, which is quite a task, and then meeting up with my friends down here, particularly Wayne Pawlowski and Ted Heath, a married couple I’ve known for decades (I went to college with Wayne at the University of Maryland---he was 18 and I was 21!).  They had me over for supper by the pool the evening I arrived, martinis at the ready.  My cousin Judy Calley, who lives in Florida (see “Long Lost Cousin at Flamingo Crossing”), came down to play bridge with me (and we came in second!), just as my first partner, David Merry (see “Milking Cows”), arrived for a three day stay with me.  Wayne took the photo (and in the mirror you can see his knees and Ted sitting watching him take the picture).  I told Judy that undoubtedly it was a lifelong dream of hers to be surrounded by gay men, and she confessed this was true.

It turns out that if you’re living in Florida in the winter, people will come to visit you.  A friend from Palm Springs flew in for two days, a gay couple from Columbus is visiting Fort Lauderdale for a week and we’re going out for supper on this coming Sunday, and next Monday I will have the number one fan of my novel, “Imaginary Friend,” Barbara Williams, President of the Great Lake Atheists as a guest for three days while we explore the possibility of setting up book readings of my novel here in South Florida.  More friends are filling up the calendar.

The local gay bridge club is outrageously called “Quick Tricks,” and I’ve been regularly playing in their games.  I joined the Island City Fitness Club, which has, according to the handsome young man who signed me up for a three month membership, a clientele that’s 98% gay.  It’s a real pleasure to workout there.  A real pleasure.

John and Mama
 My next door neighbor is a gay man name John Rossetti, and he’s a joy to have as a friend.  He is originally from Columbus (quite the coincidence that), and he’s possibly the nicest person on the planet.  He let me tap into his wi-fi without charge, and he’s always bringing in my trash bins, and doing chores unasked for, just out of kindness.  He loves animals, and we’ve been going to movies and having the occasional meal together.  With Wayne and Ted I’ve been to the theater, I went to a cabaret with friends from Pennsylvania who own a home here, and I’ve even had a minor romantic encounter with a man I met the first week I was in Florida.

What can I say?  I’m living the good life in Wilton Manors FL.  Call that Florida Smirk #2, and then come down and see for yourself.  Mama, Barney, and I will welcome you to the Sunshine State as if we were the Ohio branch of the Chamber of Commerce.
Snowbirds in Florida [Click to enlarge]
Related Posts:
"Mama, Biopsies, and My iPad," May 19, 2010
“Milking Cows,” June 8, 2010
"Teaching English to Cats," August 6, 2010
"The Purring Heart," November 23, 2010
"Two Cat Stories: Mama and Barney in the Wild," July 9, 2011
 “Mama Cat Saves My Life,” October 23, 2011
"Stepping on Cats," February 8, 2012
“Long Lost Cousin at Flamingo Crossing,” March 31, 2012
“Doug Update: Health, Acting, Book Readings, and Snowbirding,” September 9, 2012
“Snowbirding, My iPhone 5, and the Coming Crazy Cat Trip,” December 5, 2012
“Barney Cat and the Big Mammal Nightmare," January 7, 2013


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