Happy Talk & Chivalry’s Not Dead


I used to live in an incredibly upscale community, one of the highest net worth areas in the country.  And I loved it there, but there was no wildlife, so I took myself hither to a less densely populated area of South Florida where wildlife abounds.  Here even when the weather is uncooperative–which is a significant percentage of the time in Florida–because my home has a glass room that looks out onto miles and miles of tidal estuary, I can watch wildlife any time day or night.  If the weather’s bad, I keep the exterior wall of glass closed, and when it’s nice, it’s opened.  The last day of September was the first day it’s been open for an entire day since last June.  It finally got cool enough.

And not a moment too soon.  The annual avian migration is just getting into full swing.  A huge biomass, so to speak, will be sweeping through in the next month or so.  The first morning the wall was open the sandhill cranes arrived, twenty of ‘em.  They flew in honking loudly enough to awaken me so I could watch them cross the river.  They are so beautiful in flight, and when they land they kind of hang glide in, feet first, making a huge racket and then start looking for breakfast.  If the tide’s low they feed in the shallows, if it’s high, they wander around the neighborhood and pick bugs out of the ground.  Except for a couple of year round resident pair, they’re only here for a few days before moving on, so I drop everything to watch.  One morning last year there were 44 of the cranes feeding on the flats below.  I love it!

The wood storks have started arriving as well and just after dawn they fly straight at my home, passing only a few feet overhead.  They are similarly beautiful to watch.  And a couple of days before they showed up, one of the eagle pairs I mentioned in an earlier post flew very close to the sun room in one of their courtship flights.  They were circling ever higher, but started out just a bit above eye level, so close I could see individual feathers without binoculars.  What a treat!

However, we’re having a cold front.  It got down below 70° Fahrenheit!  Even bundled up I couldn’t feel my feet.  It may actually be necessary to buy a pair of socks if this keeps up.  But it was so nice to have fresh air inside that I braved the deep freeze just to feel the breeze on my skin.  At least, I could have felt it if I hadn’t been wearing a jacket and huddling under the quilts.  (Native South Floridians can’t take the cold.  I keep my air conditioner set at a chilly 80° which is more than cold enough.)

But enough with my personal happy talk, it’s time to move on to a guy who’d make Pollyanna look grumpy.  He’s a local Palm Beach County community’s police chief, a man apparently so unremittingly positive that it defies belief.  I’ll skip the names, the poor guy has more than enough to contend with.  The  Palm Beach Post laid out the details for a skeptical population in some stories, which I’m summarizing here, in its October 2 issue.  (I strongly recommend the Post’s online edition, http://www.palmbeachpost.com to anyone who likes to read about jaw droppingly corrupt pols and bureaucrats and people who would be considered odd anywhere besides South Florida.)

Now this police chief was brought in a few years ago to clean up a notoriously corrupt police department.  And by all accounts, he’s done a good job.  Only four or five officers were arrested for felonies in August 2011 and only one–arrested for allegedly selling methamphetamines–managed to flee the country successfully, after cutting off his ankle bracelet.  (The Feds are after him now for fleeing.)  The others are stuck with administrative duty until the criminal investigations are completed for a variety of offenses such as. DUI,  perjury, filing a false official statement, official misconduct, stuff like that.  Hey, it gives that small department a chance to catch up on any typing and filing backlog.

Besides, the DUI was an off duty offense so that doesn’t count, right?  The cop got drunk and crashed his car through a gate.  No harm done.

Apparently the community appreciates the improvement in the police force because the folks interviewed were almost uniformly supportive of the embattled Chief and consider the department to have been much improved under the new Chief’s leadership.  And that Chief who is resolutely upbeat mentioned, of the citizenry that approves of a force in which only a handful get arrested in a month, that,  “They have to be able to trust the cops,…And now they know that they can.”  Uuuh?  What?  And as far as the cop selling meth, in the Chief’s own words that cop isn’t an “officer gone bad”.  Why not?  According to the Chief, “I think that whatever association he had with these people was established well before he got here…If you take that into account, then what he did essentially makes sense.”  Yep, he’s not a cop gone bad because he was already bad when he was hired.  Talk about happy talk!  That is looking on the bright side–relative term–for sure.  Did I mention that the fled cop was Officer of the Year in 2010?

See what I mean about “happy talk”?

But if you read the comments about the article, they are pretty upbeat as well, and even the disapproving ones are pretty mild.  Normally the Post readers are savage, and have been known to make vicious comments and cruel jokes about various genuinely heartbreaking stories.  They’re a tough audience for sure so if the Chief has won them over, and his performance is deemed a big improvement, then it must be so.  Did I mention that Palm Beach County loves its nickname?  Corruption County.  (We’re number one, we’re number one.  In corruption.  Woo hoo!  That’s a good thing, right?)

But all is not gloom and doom in my world.  In my new neighborhood people drive around in golf carts.  Many of the carts proudly fly the American flag.  No, there isn’t a golf course for miles around.  Men also drive around the ‘hood on their lawn mowers, which are a huge source of pride and attest a man’s manliness and virility.  They’re shined until they sparkle, and the neighborhood lawnmower repairman’s garage is a hangout place for the proud possessors of the manly vehicles.  (Tip:  Don’t take your lawnmower to be fixed late in the afternoon though.  It’s like driving on the Autopiste in Spain after lunch when the truck drivers have had their bottle of wine to wash down the meal.  Alcohol takes the edge off performance, whether it’s driving a truck or fixing a lawnmower.)

One of the neighborhood Christmas parade’s  premier features is the cavalcade of golf carts, a phalanx of rows of lavishly decorated carts, adorned with tinsel, Christmas ornaments and whatever happens to catch an owner’s fancy.  The parade also features the local bikers on their Harley Davidsons.  They’re all Christians and the name of the club is something along the lines of Harley Riders for Jesus.  Although I can’t remember the exact name, it’s stenciled on the backs of their black leather jackets and vests. (What would Jesus say?  “Don’t just ride that Hog.  Blast it!”  “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord–throttle up and gun it!)

Now it would be easy to go for cheap shots and make fun of the naivete and simple pleasures of the locals.  But they are wonderful people, help out strangers, would give ya the shirt off their backs (but not their black leather jackets) and are, into the bargain, full of useful knowledge and practical repair tips.  One (incorrigible) 84 year old taught me how to change the back tire on a twelve speed bike without removing the wheel or chain.  The incorrigible part was when he came over–as I was on the ground trying to figure out how not to screw up the gears when preparing to remove the wheel–and offered his opinion.  First that he’d better show me how to do it because he figured I was gonna get myself into trouble and second that it was good to see me the way a woman’s supposed to be–on my knees.  Hey, he’s 84 and helpful, and has no clue that men aren’t supposed to say stuff like that anymore.  I’m not gonna give him a hard time.  And he taught me how to change that tire without removing the wheel and chain.  You try that.

No, chivalry s not dead in this neighborhood of neat lawns and no fences.  Although these are not people of means, they keep their yards trimmed neatly and landscaped beautifully.  Most people might think that their yard decorations are tacky but I love them.  They’re very individualistic, if inexpensive.  The yard with the plastic penguins under the crucifix hung with a garland of plastic flowers just makes me smile every time I pass it.  What thought process went into that decorative scheme?  I don’t know but it seems like it must have been a happy and hopeful one.

Here in America it’s popular to disparage white males in particular and males in general.  I disagree, although they can be something of a mixed blessing on occasion.  But I’m here to tell ya, chivalry is not dead in my neighborhood.  And neighbors watch what’s going on, so they can see me struggling endlessly with my little sissy push mower which is pitiful compared to the monster riding mowers the men all have.

At this time of year, still the rainy season, days of rain had made it impossible to mow the lawn for too long.  Grass and weeds had grown up like wildfire.  Even after days of no rain the ground was still soaked and the grass pushing past knee high.  Yesterday I was trying vainly to cut the grass but he mower blades kept getting fouled so I had to keep stopping and clearing them, the gear that makes the mower pull itself burned out and after hours of trying I was still struggling to force the damn thing through the resisting grass and weeds.

One of the neighborhood guys drove past and hollered “You’re killin’ yourself!”  To which I replied grimly, jaws clenched, “Somethin’s gonna kill me anyway.  The mortality rate for everything is 100%.”  He drove off and a few minutes later I hear the roar of a riding mower and he whips around the corner, zips onto my lots without a word and finishes off the lawn in about ten minutes tops.  Even the drainage swales, which the county charges everyone $250 a year to cut but never does.  Everybody else just gives in and cuts theirs, I refuse to.  So it’s like a mini-jungle.  And when the mowing of my lawn by the good Samaritan is done, I yell out my thanks as the chivalrous Galahad on the lawnmower, still having said not a word, drives off into the sunset on his John Deere.

And I have this huge tree in my yard.  The trunk’s about eight feet in diameter.  The branches hang down so when I cut the grass I have to close my eyes and just push through the foliage, head down.  When I went outside today all those branches were trimmed and lying on the ground.  So I guess we have elves in the neighborhood too.  Or maybe it’s just chivalrous males.

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