NOTES FROM THE FRONTLINE: PALM BEACH DISPATCH

by Edward Wilkinson-Latham

BROKEN ATLAS

Ed Wilkinson-Latham joins the Broken Atlas fold with this inaugural dispatch from Florida’s poshest precinct. There he encounters a famous old friend nostalgic for circa-1980s technology.

The first thing I notice after disembarking the plane in West Palm is the herd of wheelchairs and electric buggies gathered like an assembled posse. Polyester-clad blue rinses and vintage toupées battle in slow motion to be the first to climb slowly upon these complimentary electric chariots. The nonchalant airport employees dressed in light green blazers and peach pink trousers watch with blank expression, their eyes dulled with tedium of seeing another plane load of aged lizards searching for warmth. What they crave is some drama, like someone who needs carting off the aircraft, bound and gagged after expressing a nasty dose of air rage. Hell they look so bored they’d probably be happy with a school party of ADD kids with hyperactive dysfunction.

The Intracoastal Waterway separates the city of West Palm from the more affluent Palm Beach; a 26km long spit of some of the most expensive sand in the world jutting out from the mainland like a dangling penis with erectile dysfunction. The harbour side is sheltered and serene where multi million dollar yachts are lovingly buffed on weekends while on the coastal side its not uncommon for bales of cocaine and dead Haitians to wash up on the beach as Mexican house maids take their master's tea cup poodle for its morning walk and business. Once over the bridge and into the heart of Palm Beach, convertible Bentleys, Porches and Mercedes patrol the green, well watered leafy boulevards. As well as these prestige vehicles there are the well kept Jew Canoes—near mint ’80s luxury automobiles driven by the undead, their tufts of silver hair barely visible over the steering wheel. They veer across the central yellow line with addled nervous aggression in their eyes as they nearly career into another oncoming vehicle. Car parks at sunset can seem like dodgems at a fun fair.

These days around Palm Beach you occasionally make out small white signs no bigger than a bill envelope, stuck in the turf outside the odd picture perfect mansion. These are the barely visible and tasteful ‘for sale’ signs which over the past few months have become more numerous, proof of the recent economic downturn and the familiarity of locals with the conman of the century—Bernie Madoff. Bernie used to have a lot of friends down here.

While the town’s restaurant patios lie largely empty, the supermarket is overflowing with socializing well-dressed facelifts. Trolleys are filled with wine and bags of hickory nuts while the in-house pharmacy dishing out pills and potions for a variety of complaints ranging from amnesia to chronic hemorrhoids.

For those who are still actively mobile and sober there is the bike path that skirts the lagoon, where groups of speed-walkers and cyclists dressed in stretched fabrics and designer baseball caps follow their daily exercise regimes. I’m cruising along on my bike weaving like a playful child from left to right when I spot a familiar face coming towards me. I recognize his large square head, buxom upper torso and slender dancing legs. He is dressed in a bright green Lacoste shirt, black shorts, sporting dark sunglasses and carrying a 1980’s yellow waterproof Sony Walkman. This is a man who still prefers cassettes. He is but eight feet away from me when I realize who it is and I hear myself uttering:

“Brian. Mister Mulroney. Hi.”

He steps to the side slightly and then stops. The look on his face suggests he is accessing the “D” drive of his brain, flipping through faces trying to place me. But I’m way too young for him. Maybe the son of a fellow lawyer or evening at a Conservative fundraiser he would prefer to forget.

“How are you Brian? I saw you and just thought I would say hello. I’m from Toronto.”

“Oh. Great. Down here on holiday are you?” His shoulders relax and he turns off his Walkman. I explain I am staying at a friend’s rather comfortable house in Palm Springs, but neglect to add that person is a former Ontario Liberal Minister.

“I have a house down here, too.”

“Yes, I know,” I reply.

“Right.” He pauses still unsure of my intentions.

“To be honest,” he says, “I’d live here all year round if I could, but I’m one of the few people ’round here who has to work.”

“Yes, Brian, working on your own defence,” I think to myself. He is remarkably calm for a former Canadian Prime Minister facing an impending court case that could result in him joining his old pal Conrad Black, two hours drive up the road at Coleman Federal Correction Complex in Orlando. Well, at least you’d still have the good Florida weather Brian.

What I want to say to him is: “How about that Karl Schreiber eh?” But I don’t.

I can see that our time is coming to an end and strive to think of something to prolong to the conversation.

“So Brian.. Still listening to cassettes I see.”

“Yes. I’ve got a large collection of tapes. Mostly classical and audio books.”

There is an uncomfortable pause. Perhaps he’s waiting for me to ask what he’s listening to.

“So, have a great time while you’re down here.” With that he presses play and starts up those slender legs again. He raises a large hand in salute and he’s off, speed walking down the path, the Florida evening sun reflecting off his black tuchus as it gyrates from left to right. That’s politics for you.

EWL©