Tag Archives: world hunger

The Great Orange Grove Miniature Cliffside Village Urine Fire Disaster

A lot of peo­ple have, in the process of becom­ing my friend, had a moment where they felt the need to ask me, a man of leisure and refine­ment, why I had not used my obvi­ous intel­li­gence to make mil­lions, end world hunger, or improve the World Wrestling Fed­er­a­tion, and I always have to chuckle and tell them “I wasn’t always this smart.”

Here’s proof.

The bulk of my child­hood occurred in rural Florida, only a stone’s throw from Walt Dis­ney World, dur­ing the time when Cen­tral Florida was just begin­ning to boom. Old Florid­i­ans were sell­ing off their land as fast as they could. Entire coun­ties worth of Orange groves were lev­eled, paved over, and sub­di­vided into curbed, storm-drained, cookie cut­ter neigh­bor­hoods with names as com­pelling and imag­i­na­tive as Brook­glenn, Glennbrook, Brent­wood, Glen­brent, Wood­glen, even Oak­wood. Each one had a dra­matic entrance flanked by swoop­ing stucco but­tresses with the name painted across them in big loopy cursive.

The idyl­lic, pas­toral fugue these names were sup­posed to invoke didn’t affect the pop­u­la­tion much except when they were buy­ing the home. I sus­pect my father got a glazed look in his eye when he looked at the brochure for Whistling Pines, never sus­pect­ing that as rag­ing, bored, highly lit­er­ate pre-teens, my friends and I would dis­cover late one night the let­ters on our entrance were eas­ily removed with a Philips head screw­driver. He lived in Whistling Penis sub­di­vi­sion for 14 hours before any­one noticed. If only we’d had YouTube then.

With­out the nar­cotic effect of cable or video games, our minds were free and quickly turned to the detailed and some­what destruc­tive explo­ration of our new home.

As my pop was the plumb­ing super, we got a dis­count on a house. We vis­ited it nearly every day from slab to roof beams and moved into it’s gleam­ing vinyl inte­rior in 1975. The sub­di­vi­sion had space for 400 homes. Only half were started. For the next three years, I lived in a con­struc­tion site.

Which makes a lot of waste. Which has to go some­where. Which is expen­sive. So to cut costs, they’d drive a bull­dozer at a 30 degree angle into the ground, dig­ging a long slop­ing ditch. Over the next year they’d fill it up with trash, cover it with dirt, then build a house over it.

Of course, as 10 year olds, we didn’t know any­thing about all that. All we know is one day we’re tak­ing a short­cut home from school. We stop at the bait shop and buy nickle cig­ars and we’re smok­ing them in the dark shad­ows of the aban­doned orange groves when we come across a huge hole in the ground.

It started at our toes and sloped gen­tly down until the rim of the hole was sev­eral feet over our heads. You could see stri­ated clay in the walls, cit­rus roots dan­gling like sev­ered limbs, a lit­tle water seep­ing into the very bot­tom of it. And there was a tiny pile of trash way down there. We walked all the way in, amazed at the tufts of dill weed and long grass pok­ing over the edge of it over our heads.

No one else knew about it. It was ours.

We imme­di­ately set out to cre­ate thrones. I found a big brass plate in the trash and used it to carve a hole out of the wall. My buddy, Tim McDon­ald, dug his throne with a board and we stuffed our­selves into them. Then we used the trash to build a tiny vil­lage. We got into it, carv­ing roads and garages and using twigs and pieces of card­board from the trash pile to cre­ate huts and cor­rals and a ramp. Even­tu­ally, we had to step back and admire out work, a minia­ture prim­i­tive encamp­ment a good yard wide, sev­eral lev­els with con­nect­ing roads. It was a mar­vel of imag­i­na­tion. It was the Anasazi ruins. It was Rome.

Nat­u­rally, we had to set it on fire. And just as nat­u­rally, it only made sense that, in order to put out the fire (which was get­ting pretty big pretty fast) we should use our pee.

Our pee.

Now, if we had really thought about it, even in our wildest imag­i­na­tion, we would never have con­sid­ered that in Florida, where it rains almost every day, where the tan­gle of weeds is so preg­nant with mois­ture that even on a dry sum­mer day in the after­noon if you walk across a field you’ll be soak­ing wet, we would never have believed that trees might be dried out.

But appar­ently they were, because the orange tree hang­ing directly over our minia­ture inferno promptly burst into flames the very sec­ond we ran out of pee. We stood there in the bot­tom of this pit, hor­ri­fied, as the next tree exploded, then the next, then–

We ran like hell. We dove between house rows and crept around garages and took another short cut through the lit­tle woods behind my house and snuck in through the slid­ing glass doors and were sit­ting in the liv­ing room watch­ing Gilligan’s Island when my dad burst into the house.

Sirens were wail­ing and smoke was drift­ing over the sub­di­vi­sion. Dad came in and told us half the orange grove just burned down. We acted rather aston­ished. Thirty years later, I gave it up and told him and he didn’t believe me.