Recollections of Orlando
Friends Not Forgotten I
When I first came to Orlando in 1997, it was for the most part a blind leap. The only person I really knew in town was Christine, who broke off our relationship and told me she could not bear to ever seen me again because I could not give her the kind of love and devotion she wanted from me. We're both Scorpios, so sometimes it goes that way. This left me deaf, dumb and blind after I was moved in to my apartment. There wasn't really anyone I knew, I did not yet have a job and I wasn't sure why I was even here in the first place.
Friends of mine in New Hampshire had put me in contact with a friend of theirs who lives in Orlando. The friend in question was Meg, who for a while became my closest friend and confident. An online writer's group put me in contact with Liz, who lived in Lakeland, but was more interested in participating in a kind of swinging couples deal than she was in writing. What was most important about Meg and Liz was that we had a completely platonic relationship. They were my friends in the way that I was friends with guys. We talked, we went places together, we went out together as a group, we went to parties and football games and baseball games. We just hung out together, although Meg and Liz never really connected because they had philosophical differences, most of them relating to Meg's distast for Liz's lifestyle.
It was Liz who would introduce me to Chris. In the midst of weird events surrounding what started to become a running list of waitresses named Christina or some variation of Christina, Chris arrived. Her actual given name was Tina, but she went by Chris and pondered endlessly her desire to legally change her name... all while I was obsessed with a waitress called Tina. There was something about it that kept me constantly amused, but after the first year of my time in Orlando, Meg and Liz drifted away and became involved in details of their own lives and we stopped talking and seeing each other regularly. Chris stuck around and for the next two years became my partner in crime, my sidekick and my friend.
Chris is probably the smallest adult I've ever known in my life. To call her 4'10" would be generous, and she had a childlike body. She was tiny and often looked like she could be carried away by a good wind, but she also had given birth to three children, all through natural childbirth. I used to ask her how she was still alive, but she was a survivor. She had been married and living a stable life for several years, anticipating that her husband and she were going the usual route of having a house with children and happiness and all that we read about in books, but it did not go that way. After three children, her husband decided simply that, "This is not the life for me. I don't like this much responsibility." With that, he left her and the children, moved to another town and she spends most of her free time tracking him down to pay child support, which she regularly has to bring him into court to convince him to pay.
Chris' struggles were nothing out of the ordinary, which was the part of the story that really troubled me. Her life was in a holding pattern, a tiny woman with three kids living alone with barely enough money to scrape by, feeling alone and outcast, and she was often driven to attempts to numb herself by drinking vodka and Pepsi until she needed someone to wrap her in a blanket and drive her home.
Chris struggled with many things, but the one thing that she bled over more than anything else was the feeling she would spend the rest of her life alone, or at least until the kids grew up and moved out, "And then I'll be an old lady, so what's the point." Men tend to not mind a roll in the hay one night with a woman who has three kids, but they tend not to hang around very long. Even breakfast is a stretch. She became more and more miserable until she met Mark, a decent and caring guy who had one tragic fault, he bored her to tears. He owned his own business, worked intimately with computers and had no real concept of warmth or intimacy. Yet, he wanted to be with her, he wanted to marry her and he wanted to spend time with and live with her three young sons. It was a lesson in trading and compromising, because in the months that followed she would call and complain to me about how boring and cold her life was. Sometimes we have to make these trades. As she pushed me to help her have affairs in order to satisfy her sexual cravings, distance grew between us.
For a while, my name was Drew Peterson. The first job I landed in Orlando was with a real estate company that worked exclusively in timeshare resales. It was the best paying job I've had since being down here, but there were a lot of very questionable and even some openly crooked things going on regularly and I had to get out of there. I changed my name to Drew Peterson, using that name on the telephone and in correspondence with people because I did not want to be associated with the company. Instead of seeing why I was doing it, the company thought it was the funniest thing they ever heard and bought a nameplate for my desk. "Drew Peterson."
My best memory of that job was of Lillian, an older African American woman who had serious style and attitude. She was more appalled by the things going on in the office than I was, but she had a different route. When a client actually came into the office, complaining about what amounted to paying $600 for us to print a page off the internet, she threw open the door to the company president's office, walked the guy into the office, smiled broadly at the president and said, in an exaggerated and pronounced accent,
"Help the man."
Denise was the company's receptionist and she was one of the most scatter-brained women I've ever met, wired in such a way that she processed information in seemingly random fashion. Her logic and methods tended to be convoluted, turning a five minute job into twenty minutes of madness, but she always knew what was going on and why. She had come to Orlando from Los Angeles, where in addition to working as a secretary and receptionist she had done bit parts in a number of syndicated television shows along the lines of Highlander and Renegade as well as a few B-movies. She was tall, thin and always looked like she was within seven seconds of completely losing her mind. Outside of work she wore long, flowing skirts accented with moons and stars, flip-flops and excessive amounts of odd costume jewelry. She generally looked like she had been hit by a bus in the late 60s and had been wandering around for decades trying to find her way home but not having any idea where it was. We became good friends for a while, often going out to the movies or taking a drive along the beach.
Denise had this strange psychic tuning fork in her brain. I saw her read other people, through their eyes, and tell them stories about themselves without knowing anything about them. Talking to a waiter in a restaurant one night while we were having dinner, she asked him a question about his father and if he felt he made peace with him before he died or not. She would feel in no way strange about asking these questions. She said she simply had to know, and in fact the waiter's father had died recently and they had not spoken in years. The first day she met me, my first day on that job, I was trying to get acclimated when she walked over to me and said, "Hello. I was trying to figure you out all morning and then I realized why I can't read you. I think you're dead."
"Do you pledge to honor and defend Demi Moore's leg, sailor?"
One of the many temporary jobs I took during my first two years in Orlando involved unloading trucks for the company that handles storage and warehousing for a number of entertainment companies, one of them being Planet Hollywood. In those days I would take any job, keeping with a philosophy that no job was beneath me and that I was just like everyone else, a common man making his way in the world.
I worked with a gigantic man named Tyrone, who had just gotten out of the Navy after eight years. All we did for two weeks was unload and move boxes and crates, at least until the last days. There was only one trailer left to be unloaded and it was a rusted wreck of a trailer, overgrown and sinking into the pavement. Inside was a collection of, for lack of a better work, junk. This trailer contained items that were used in promotions or had been discarded after Planet Hollywood decided they no longer needed them or that they had been a bad idea. The centerpiece of this trailer was a giant replica of Demi Moore's right leg. Apparently they had once built and had monstrous versions of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis outside one of the restaurants, but likely decided it was a bad idea because it frightened potential customers away. I don't know what happened to the rest of Demi Moore, but her leg was jammed in the back of this trailer. It was constructed with the knee bent, and when it was shoved into this trailer, the knee jammed against one wall, the hip against the opposite wall and the foot against the forward wall. It took us all day to get it out of the trailer and in the end, believe it or not, we used baby oil to lubricate it because it was the only lubrication we could find (and I'd rather not think about why the warehouse supervisor had baby oil in his office). To this day when people ask me what the most bizarre job I ever had was, I answer, "Rubbing baby oil on Demi Moore's giant leg." The image of two guys, sweating in the Florida sun, in the back of a trailer that was two hundred degrees inside, rubbing baby oil on a giant leg, remains one of the most surreal memory images in my mind.
There were a number of strange temporary jobs I worked at that time, including a night warehouse job for a large office supply chain where my co-worker showed up for his first day on the job with a t-shirt that said "Fuck you" on it in bold letters. There was the supply room at a department store where I was locked in with a young man who had his own roofing business and was trying to pick up some extra income with part time temp jobs, later deciding that if he was going to be locked in a hot, dusty room by a white man he might as well live in a dumpster. I worked for a resort hotel, managing the purchasing of supplies, and dealing with a little old lady who raided the ashtrays outside the service window for butts because she believed purchasing cigarettes was foolish when there was so much free tobacco sitting around. Most of it was very entertaining, but eventually I needed to move into something more stable, because I was beginning to lose my shirt... and my mind.