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They call him the Breeze
While the other kids dissected frogs in Mr. Swinford’s 10th Grade Biology class, slicing the little critters open and dismembering them bit by bit… Breeze went to work reinventing himself.
With an X-Acto knife scalpel, some newsprint, and Superglue, Breeze doctored up his school ID, changing his identity, and his life, forever.
This was both funny and tragic because after serving the mandatory 5-day suspension for destroying school property (his ID card), Breeze never got the itch to go back.
So he didn’t.
And who was going to make him?
His old man was in prison, his mom was long gone, and no one in the entire school district knew where the boy lived.
No one but me, that is.
Breeze was a blast. Super great guy, don’t get me wrong. But between you and me? That boy could’ve used a bit more schoolin’.
Take, for example, that one time with the monkeys.
Monkeys of the First-Magnitude
The Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park has been a magnet for tourists and enterprising entrepreneurs alike for nearly a century.
Known as "Nature’s Giant Fishbowl,” the 20-meter-deep natural spring pumps out over 64 million gallons of fresh Florida spring water a day, attracting manatees, fish, foul, and wildlife in every imaginable shape, size, and sort.
These days, the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is a sanctuary for injured wildlife native to Florida.
But there was a time when the park was full of exotic animals….including wild spider monkeys.
The spider monkeys lived on an island in the middle of a wooded canal that lead visitors to "Nature’s Giant Fishbowl,” and an underwater observatory sunken into the 20-meter-deep natural spring at the headwaters of the Homosassa River.
For a dollar, you could board an oversized pontoon boat, steady yourself in the worn, stained webbing of an aluminum-framed lawn chair, and float lazily down the river observing the captive wildlife in and around the canal from the safety of your seat.
Breeze was a riverboat captain at the park, shepherding passengers down the lazy river and back again on a rickety old tub.
Everything was going swimmingly well (catch that pun?-wait. there’s more) until one brutal summer when the sweltering temperatures kept all but the most diehard tourists away.
Breeze was at a crossroads.
No tourists meant no boat rides. And no boat rides meant no beer money (drinking age was 19 at the time). And the thought of being broke and beerless just didn’t sit well with ole’ Breeze. So never being one to take things lying down ole’ Breeze he hatched himself a plan.
Scrounging up what little change he had, Breeze emptied the snack machine at the local service station.
“Monkey Feed,” the sign said. And for twice the price of admission ($2.00 if you haven’t been paying attention) Breeze would park you in the shade, just off shore from the monkey-infested island where you could toss pretzels, Cheez-Its, and Jujubes to the little critters and watch them go ape (yes, pun intended) from a safe distance.
The plan was a smashing success.
Breeze raked in more money with fewer riders and when the weather cooled off and business picked back up, ole’ Breeze did better than ever.
“Rollin in the dough,” my buddy Breeze liked to say. And all was well and right with the world once again.
Well, it didn’t take the monkeys long to figure out where the treats were coming from.
Pretty soon, the little bastards were swinging tree to tree, chasing down boats, jumping aboard, stealing hats, sunglasses, picnic lunches, purses, wallets…
I saw one crafty little fucker swipe a camera off an old man’s neck, scramble to the front of the boat, swing around, snap a pic of the panicked passengers, throw the camera overboard, hump Breeze’s leg, jump back up, shit on the bow, then fling its fecal matter up into the air.
Then, while we all looked skyward, waiting for the green slimy monkey shit to drippy-drop-splat back down upon us, the cute little terrorist squealed, screamed, and grabbed the next low-hanging branch, skedaddling off into the sunset, never to be seen again.
The Ellie Schiller Episode (as it would later be called) long behind him, Breeze finally settled into his current occupation.
“Oh, I’m like any other Floridian ‘round these parts,” Breeze likes to say.
“Tanned, tattooed, tethered, and downright terrifyin’ if you cross me.”
We’re having a beer, Breeze and I, at Breeze’s favorite watering hole, ‘The Getaway Driver Bar and Grill.’
That’s what the menus read anyway, while the sign outside just says ‘Bar.’
Breeze flashes his silver toothed smile. “There’s lots of older people ‘round here need things done,” he says.
Breeze takes a long pull from a sweaty bottle of BudLight, eyes what’s left, then tips it again to drain the suds.
He slides off his barstool, spins on his cowboy boot heels, and leans a hip back into the bar between our stools.
With an elbow on the bar, his other hand holding the empty BudLight, he pushes the well-worn, sweat-stained cowboy hat up off his forehead with the lip of his empty bottle.
“And I’m just the kinda guy to do it…” Breeze winks. “…for a price,” he grins.
There’s an army of these guys.
Handymen, day laborers for hire, “contractors,” as some of them like to be called, and Breeze is their mentor, their leader, their god.
“He’s the OG,” Troy says, a middle-aged guy, never married, still living at home with his parents.
“If you’re tight on cash and need to make a buck, Breeze is the guy to see,” Troy says. “He’s just got an eye for opportunity.”
Richard, one of the regulars, gives me a nod. “Hey,” he says. “I hear you and Breeze go all the way back to high school. Is that right?”
“That’s right,” I say.
Dude leans in. “So, what’s his real name?” he whispers.
“His real name?”
I scan the room. Find Breeze over by the pool tables. Poolshark Breeze, tight black sleeveless t-shirt Breeze, 10th-grade education Breeze, no mortgage, no worries, no future Breeze. Tanned, tattooed, tethered, and “downright terrifyin’ if you cross me,” Breeze.
Cock my head. “Who me?” I smirk…
“Oh, I just call him Breeze.”
I love you guys! ☺️
Stay safe out there.