When you live in Florida, opening your front door means more than going outside. It means you’re inviting the bizarre nature of this place to interact with you. Past the givens of the climate, like near-unbreathable humid air, heat that hits you like a blast furnace, and prehistoric bugs, you never know what manner of lunatic scenario is waiting to greet you. No matter how routine your morning may be within the walls of your home, it was all up for grabs once you opened your front door.
I went about my morning as I usually do, rolling cigarettes and brewing a pot of coffee that was as black as my heart. I put the first of my bent and twisted rolls of tobacco in a holder clenched between my teeth and lit it with a wooden match, as a right-good gentleman of Florida is groomed to do. I poured the contents of the coffee pot into an oversized mug that read “World’s Dumbest Ass”, a charming birthday gift from my gaggle of children. Smoke curled from my nostrils as I slowly released my breath, preparing myself for the inevitably strange. I opened the door and was greeted with a living wall that reflected blinding pink light straight into my face.
Slowly my pupils adjusted and reopened, revealing a mob of flamingos stretching across my property, crowding nearly every single square inch of outdoors on my half-acre lot. It was literally an uncountable number of birds. They stood on my lawn, flower beds, lined the tree branches, stood on our cars, our mailbox, and sat on powerlines. They squawked and fluttered their wings, turning their heads on those lanky pink noodles that pass for their necks to stare at me as I stepped out onto my porch. This was not even in the ballpark of the oddest thing I’d ever found on my lawn, but it was, by far, the pinkest.
“A plague,” a voice from within the mass of pink feathers called out.
“Oh, for fucks sake,” I muttered to myself, recognizing the voice immediately. It was the wizard who used to sell me weed.
“A plague upon your house, Master Rood.”
The source of the babbling stepped slowly out of the flock, attempting a dramatic reveal without realizing that his shouting nonsense about a plague had already given him away. The sea of feathers parted, as if on cue, and revealed him. The wizard stepped forward and approached me while packing the bowl of his long-stemmed pipe, not noticing the pile of flamingo shit he stepped in on his way to the porch. His standard-issue wizard hat stood higher than I’d ever seen it, due to its not being restrained by the roof of the AMC Gremlin he lived in. He wore a ragged, beard that hung to the rope belt at his waist.
“What is this thing, now?” I asked flatly when he finally got to me.
“You’ve been telling people not to buy from me,” the wizard said, “and so I have brought this plague upon your house.”
“Plague?” I said. “I thought plagues were supposed to be locusts and toads and such.”
“Yes, well, it’s not quite Biblical, but…” He looked down at his pipe.
“So you got high and decided that would be the perfect time to try your hand at some Wrath of God kind of shit. Fantastic.”
“Actually,” he said, “I think this turned out perfectly: the biggest flock of flamingos in the world all in your yard? This makes you the biggest piece of white trash on the block!”
“I didn’t need these birds to claim that title,” I said.
The wizard went on to explain that he’d caught wind of treachery and betrayal by me. He’d heard that I had been in Rooster’s Lounge telling people not to buy weed, make deals, or engage with him anymore. All of these things were true… sort of: A future version of me showed up there one day and warned me about side effects and consequences from dealing with a grungy wizard and his magical pot who lived in a condemned car behind a condemned bingo hall… but that’s a story for another day.
Point being, the wizard lighting his pipe in front of me and holding his first toke for an impressive period of time had heard about the incident, but was not clear on the details enough to understand that the version of me with the warning didn’t even exist yet and may never exist at all so long as I heeded his warning. He also didn’t understand that the person Nonexistent Future Me was warning was Present Day Me, whom he was currently plagueing.
“I think you’re confused,” I said.
“I think you’re an asshole,” he responded, his voice wheezy, coughing, and weak as he let out his smoke.
“So you just put stoner plagues on people you think are assholes?”
“Pretty much,” he said. The hand that held his pipe extended itself toward me. “Want a toke?”
I started to reach for it.
No, no, no, you dumbass. When’s the last time this douchebag offered you a deal that was win-win?
I had a good point. Getting high with this shitbird wasn’t going to make him go away. I put my hands up, palms facing him.
“No thanks, dude,” I said, “I’m sticking with hugs, not drugs.”
I extended my arms wide and cocked my head with a smile.
“Come on, big guy. Bring it in.”
“Fuck you,” he said as he stormed off. As he approached the flock, he spread his arms wide and the flock parted, making a path for him. He fled my yard like a petty, stoned Moses, fleeing the Pharaoh’s army… if Moses had been mad about Pharaoh buying weed from someone else. He disappeared into the flock. The sound of a door slamming and an ancient starter laboring cut through the morning air. Eventually, the motor came to life; not with a roar, more of a groggy realization of consciousness, like a coma patient coming out of its fog. The car revved a few times, found a gear, and started moving, the sound of it soon lost to distance and the honking of a hundred trillion flamingos on my lawn.
I sat on the faux-wrought-iron bench on our porch and watched the birds as I pondered my options. If I did nothing, steered clear of the wizard and his weed as I had been doing, then Nonexistent Future Me would continue to be nonexistent, never come back and warn me, so word would never get to the wizard, and I would not be plagued.
But if Nonexistent Future Me doesn’t ever exist, how will I know to steer clear of the wizard and his weed? I won’t, and so I’ll indulge, the side effects will happen, and Nonexistent Future Me will come back and warn me.
“I’m not used to waking up to this.” From behind me, Patsy’s voice snapped me out of my examination of the paradox. “Most guys just bring flowers.”
“You should know by now that I’m not most guys,” I said.
“Oh, I’m fully aware,” she said, sitting down next to me. She leaned into my shoulder and curled her feet up to the bench seat. We sat in peace, watching the pink avian mob on our lawn. I soon settled into enjoying them and reflected on how, despite the efforts of its residents, Florida’s lunatic moments could be very peaceful and relaxing on occasion.
“Seems to me this would be a great day for us to call in sick and watch the birds,” Patsy said, clinking her mug against mine.
“Any chance ‘watch the birds’ is a euphemism for something else?” I asked hopefully.
It was not.