Once again I find myself reminiscing, this time about the early aughts, when Willem Dafoe and I got drunk on a fan boat in the Everglades and wrestled some alligators, which turned out not to be alligators but were instead three swamp people with severe eczema.
Now I’m not sure how much you know about Everglades Swamp People (ESPs), but they are a peculiar lot. Some say they grew out of the muck of the Everglades themselves, while naturalists in Kentucky claim they have evidence that they migrated down to “the Glades” from the nearby Okefenokee Swamp. Personally, I have my suspicions as to why naturalists from Kentucky would have any evidence of this, and I have accused them on many occasions of fostering some sort of cover-up.
Now the Swamp People, they cruise around in the Everglades on top of massive swamp machines called “mud-buggies,” looking for muck with which to decorate their mud buggies and themselves. They also seek out local wildlife for various stewing purposes, what with opossum and catfish being the most-sought-after delicacies. They are also known to have taken to feeding upon non-indigenous python snakes, released into the wilds of the Everglades by mainland weirdos. This particular tendency of the Swamp People is widely regarded by ecologists as a benefit of their existence, as they help control the python population, which has no real natural predators in the area other than Swamp People.
Now Willem and I were admittedly out of our element, neither one of us having ever piloted a fan boat before. Willem said he thought he did it in a movie once, but later recalled that it had been hooked up to the back of a trailer and he had not, in fact, actually driven it. I, myself, can find no record of Willem Dafoe having driven a fan boat in any of his pictures, but he did pilot a goblin-glider thing in 2002’s Spider-Man, and that’s close enough. He also worked alongside Tobey Maguire, whom I believe DNA tests would show possesses at least 28% Swamp Person DNA. The Kentucky Naturalists dispute this claim, however, and refer to Mr. Maguire as “a quarter-bred duck-Indian.” I asked them what they meant by this, and they proceeded to relate a horrifying Kentuckian legend that I will not repeat in any company, let alone polite.
Speaking on the issue of Kentuckians, naturalists from Connecticut claim to have conclusive evidence that native-born Kentuckians are, in fact, half-bred tortoise-people, and they tout the continued political success of Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) as proof of this unholy union. The widespread practice of horse breeding in Kentucky has been attributed to the tortoises trying to breed faster animals that they could ride in races commonly held against the local hare population.
But I digress. Having unwittingly wrestled the Swamp People into submission, Mr. Dafoe, feeling terrible about our drunken mistake and being an honorable man, offered to take us all into the nearest town for some chicken wings and ‘possum stew. The Swamp People agreed, but as soon as Willem and I had let our guard down, they pushed us into the boot-sucking mud of the Glades and stole our fan boat. Willem and I struggled for a good thirty minutes to free ourselves from the viscous muck, each losing his shoes in the process.
We began our long, shoeless journey back towards civilization, smelling of swamp mud and defeat. We were low on funds, having blown most of our money on weed and booze. There were no ATMs in the Everglades, and we were certain we would not be getting our deposit for the fan boat back. Just when things looked their bleakest, they went from bad to worse when poor Willem slipped on some swamp slime, fell into a ravine, and was brutally sodomized by a pack of skunk apes. I would have helped, but I was preoccupied by trying to decide if the terminology for a group of skunk apes was “pack” or “troop.” I Googled it later when I had a good WiFi connection, and found out a group of apes is called a “shrewdness,” which I find very fitting, because these apes were very shrewd in the manner in which they overpowered Willem Dafoe and proceeded to ravage him. I know some people say animals lack emotional depth, but what I saw in the eyes of those apes as they made savage love to Willem Dafoe can only be described as true passion. Although I had no WiFi connection, the camera on my cell phone still worked, so I snapped a picture after wiping mud from the lens. However, Mr. Dafoe’s lawyers quickly put a gag order on any photos of him from our trip to the Everglades, and so all I can offer you is this blurry photo of a skunk ape pleasuring himself over the face-down Willem Dafoe, whose image is here obscured by flora.
The twilight hour found us trudging wearily into the Miccosukee Service Plaza off Route 75. We went into the minimart and spent our remaining $36.45 on beef jerky, Cool Ranch Doritos, bottled water, and disinfectant for Willem’s skunk ape injuries, which we treated in the adjacent lavatory. I won’t speak of the skunk ape incident again, but I will say that it speaks to the character of Mr. Defoe that he could pleasure two adolescent and three adult skunk apes and lose neither his confident smirk nor the sparkle in his eyes, made all the brighter by the tears flowing from them.
Still shoeless but feeling a bit better than we had felt in the company of the skunk apes, Willem and I started walking along Route 75. I wanted to try to hitch a ride, but Willem just said, “No. No, let’s… let’s just walk for a bit.” I suspect he didn’t want to meet anyone until the stink of skunk ape sex had been diluted a bit by the night’s breeze. I don’t know how long we walked in silence before a 1980 Chevy El Camino pulled up alongside of us. The window rolled down, and I could only see the glowing ember of a lit cigarette hiding the shadowy shape of what appeared to be a man.
“You fellers need a lift?” said a rough, two-packs-a-day of unfiltered Lucky Strikes voice. Willem and I exchanged an unsure look. My instinct was to run — run far and run fast, even if it meant ducking back into the Swamp People and Skunk-Ape infested Everglades just to escape that shady visage. However, I knew Willem was tired and sore, and so I decided to let him handle this with all of his Hollywood tough-guy bravado. He took out a smoke of his own and extended it, his hand steady as a rock, to the glowing cigarette behind the wheel.
“Can I get a light?” he asked, fixing his steely gaze on the shadowy shape inside the weird car-truck hybrid.
There was a tense pause, but then a gnarly-knuckled hand emerged from the inky blackness of the El Camino’s interior, deftly nabbing Willem’s Camel. It held the tip to the burning ember of its own, and then extended the smoldering death stick back to Willem’s waiting fingers. As Willem reclaimed his cigarette, I noticed a tattoo on the stranger’s wrist. In calligraphy font, it simply read “Sunshine State.”
“Thanks, buddy,” I heard Willem say. “Mind if we hop in the back?”
The two drew deeply from their cigarettes, the glowing embers now seeming to be the only lights on that dark highway, and their exhaled smoke mingled in the air between them, an unspoken communication that smokers seem to keep secret from us non-smokers. Then the stranger nearly whispered, “Sure, y’all just hop on in the back. Knock on the window when you’re ready. I can take you as far as the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing.”
Willem nodded. “Cool.”
We Hopped in the back. We got situated as comfortably as we could, huddled up against the rear window of the El Camino. Willem knocked twice on the glass, and we sped off into the darkened miles of I-75. Willem closed his eyes, resting up from his very difficult day, but I couldn’t shake the image of the tattoo I had spotted. Something about it got my spider-sense tingling, but I couldn’t pinpoint any reason for it to make me so uneasy. Had I been able to see the license plate on the El Camino’s rear bumper when we had climbed into the bed, I would have never gotten in that damn thing. The license, I later discovered, was a Florida vanity plate with the lettering FLA MAN.
Yes, we were riding with the infamous Florida Man, and if you know anything of Florida Man, you know our story was about to take a very dark turn.
TO BE CONTINUED…