Dateland: The Kindness of Strangers


I’m lazing in a chaise, sipping a tequila gimlet and gazing at a fat tangle of moss hanging from a eucalyptus tree. My toes are dangling in an in-ground pool filled with party guests—all lesbian and all decidedly tipsy.  Our hostess is in the kitchen, baking a cream-cheese casserole that is completely inappropriate for the spring heat. Yet it appears at every pool party I’ve ever attended at this home. And it is welcomed by the drunks in the pool as eagerly as country club ladies greet a cool salad after a sweltering game of golf.

I’m in a strangely magical town on the Florida Gulf Coast known for its vibrant art community and its robust collection of tank-top clad lesbians. Both the climate and the local population’s temperament is subtropical—hot, moist, and prone to spectacular storm fronts.

Just as I lift my gimlet glass to my lips, a blast of thunder sounds from the poolside bar.

“She’s a whore!” bellows one loud-mouth teetering on a barstool.

At a party like this, in a place like this, that statement could be either an insult or a compliment. I’ve never yet been to a party here where someone hasn’t been accused of whoredom. The first time someone merrily denounced me as a whore, I knew that I had been embraced by this rag-tag gaggle as one of their own.

The women at the party are in their mid- to late-40s, but still refer to themselves as girls. And the name fits. Although they are respected professionals during the work week, come Friday night they put on those damn tank tops and surfer shorts and revert back to teenage habits of drinking beer from cans, yelling loudly over the hard rock blaring from a monster speaker system, and stumbling into romantic entanglements that they’ll regret the next morning.

My girlfriend and I first found this refuge five years ago when we were on the run from our own adult lives. We had each left long-term relationships and, as a result of the atomic breakup blast that devastated our social circle, we were highly hated by former friends in our big-city orbit. We had been living in exile for six months when my girlfriend reconnected with a childhood friend who lives in Florida, and she invited us for a visit.

So, battle-worn and mighty vulnerable, we limped south to Florida, a state that we snobbishly considered more than slightly seedy and not a suitable vacation destination for “ladies” of our discriminating tastes. Also, we were leery of spending an entire weekend with a woman who my girlfriend hadn’t spoken to in 25 years. As we nervously approached her home, I advised that we should keep our suitcases packed in case we had to flee in the middle of the night.

But we did unpack—and we’ve never really repacked—because we were embraced from the moment we arrived. This close-knit and incestuous community merely yawned at our roiling relationship drama. Ugly situations like ours were as common as Bloody Marys at Sunday brunch for this crowd of resilient drama queens. We were quickly classified as a couple of whores and invited to our first pool party.

Now we escape to this refuge whenever we need to shrug off our staid middle-age reliability and act like rebellious adolescents. Our girls are always at the ready to toss us a beer and fill us in on the latest drama. While I still refuse to wear a tank top (no one with adult-sized breasts should), I now can put away cream-cheese casserole with the best of them. And I’ll always be grateful for the kindness that this bunch of whores continues to show to two battered strangers who arrived as outcasts and return regularly as friends.

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