It's August and I refuse to take the blame. August is always Florida's longest month — and not only because it lasts 31 days. It's the heat, man, it's the humidity and tropical weather, it's the mosquitoes. If you go swimming in the wrong place, an alligator might bite off your foot. A Florida August is Dante's Inferno come to life.
I am not complaining, really. I am only stating the obvious. I also want to point out a few good things about August, too. I will do so as soon as I can think of some.
Okay, here goes:
August separates the real Floridians from the fakes. Anyone can love Florida in January, when the air is cool and the mosquitoes, alligators and cockroaches are on their best behavior. But it takes a special person to appreciate a Florida August.
Like many gray-haired Floridians, I grew up in a house that lacked AC, a daily convenience familiar only to rich people. The rest of us usually lived in tree-shaded houses with big open windows, fans and porches. Nobody smelled like lilacs at supper time, but one reached a point of not minding.
Lightning bolts. Thunder. Then the downpour. We got used to it. Afterward we watched the steam rise from the pavement. The backyard air felt wet and unpleasant, kind of like the breath of a rottweiler. The whine of the mosquitoes? An obscene phone call from nature. But whatever doesn't kill you just makes you want a cold beer, I think Jimmy Buffett once said.
Somehow we survived. We were Floridians. Damn the heat and rain! Kids walked everywhere or rode bikes. Adults drove with car windows open to the elements — and to things that liked to bite. At dusk, I remember grownups up and down the block chatting on the front porches, at least until the mosquitoes and flying cockroaches drove them inside.
Florida is modern now. But underneath the glitter of the new is the primitive real Florida — at least in August, the month when nature enjoys the last word.
The sand on the beach is so hot the gulls are walking on stilts. Palm trees rejoice at the approach of dogs with lifted legs. Do the names Andrew, Charley and Katrina mean anything to you? Hurricane season begins in earnest in August. Real Floridians look forward to putting up shutters, gathering canned goods and frequent trips to the hardware store for batteries. It's what we do in August.
I am always astonished — and impressed — when tourists want to visit us during the year's eighth month. August is the time for a trip to the Yukon and not Hades known as Florida. So I salute the Grand Old Party, which will convene in downtown Tampa, starting Aug. 27, to nominate a presidential candidate.
Even with air-conditioning, margaritas and swimming pools, it's going to be hot, Republicans. Sooner or later, you'll have to run from the ice-cold hotel lobby to the shuttle bus that has been baking in the parking lot since morning.
It's this point in my column where I like to offer advice.
Gov. Romney, forget about the suit and tie. In August, real Floridians usually wear flip-flops, shorts and guayaberas. Pantyhose are optional, Michele and Sarah. Donald, I don't think your hair is going to survive.
September, by the way, is going to be better. Only 26 more days.
Jeff Klinkenberg can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8727.