It's gray outside. Blustery billows of dank fat-man breath blow down from the sky and up pleated man-skirts, chilling freckles on pinkish nethers into pubic spikes of discomfort. The whizzing gnats of bagpipes on top of bagpipes under bagpipes bleat out their miniature non sequitur laments of otherness in other places, but everything is remarkably right here. Maybe that's why I'm frowning beneath my bleach, maybe it's just the time-passing contrivance playing out in misshapen vignettes of the unnecessary — fantasy perfumed by haggis and beer, shuffling families in ill-fitting regalia from another time and place — pushing me into a sharp corner of wincing Trekkie convention pathos and pulling me down. That, or I'm completely wrong and Winter Springs does make a nice understudy for whatever the next overfed blob of humanity imagines Scottish heritage to really mean: apparently, some odd white supremacy front without much supremacy.
"Did you notice the cops?" Taylor pipes up from the backseat of my packed paddy wagon.
I periscope around past the swords and sorcerers and sordid lives peppering the landscape, finally lighting on the uniformed traffic director in front of me. A few years ago when we came here, Taylor reminds me, the "park over there" gesture bore a striking resemblance to a certain Nazi arm-kick. Now they're doing something weird with their index fingers from "eye" to "there" that bends at the bottom in conscious avoidance of offense. How far we've come!
Today is the day of the 33rd Annual Central Florida Scottish Highland Games, a chance to step away — far away — from my own minor-key misery requiem in 3/4 time and gaze upon the abject horribleness of others. Others in maiden dresses with flower wreaths on their heads, others downing meatpies between plastic-cupped beers. Today, for once, is not about me at all.
"Well, I am one-quarter Scottish," I grumble as I lay out $15 to hop into the social sausage casing of hairy geekdom.
Oh, it will be.
The real reason we're here is because I'm the last in line to meet our old Tallahassee friend Amy's new fiancé, Justin, an adorable hot-pocket of tattoos and puppy-dog eyes who proposed to her while knee-deep in mud at a Georgia campground. In order for this rite of passage to occur, I had to be peeled off my own Georgia-built Catherine wheel and rolled completely out of context. Otherwise, this bitch would ruin just about any relationship within 10 feet and that engagement ring would become but a filling in my sharpened snaggle tooth. No, the best way to handle this kind of polite function is right here among the heathen masses with sharp objects tied to their kilts.
"Are you writing anything down yet?" Justin puppy-dogs at a table in the trainspotters' beer tent.
"Just that I'm pretty sure that right here, right now, is scientifically the exact place where there are the least number of attractive people per square foot," I moan. Math.
"Somebody needs a happy pill," Taylor intervenes. I do. Gulp. I did.
"So, what say we play a game? Who is the least attractive Celtic Aryan you would fuck?"
All manners of pixies and sprites and wooly cows and bearded brogues parade by without so much as a peep from our peanut gallery, mostly because it's a rhetorical game fashioned by a mouth with nothing of merit to say. Instead, Taylor and Justin get wrapped in the Slade-Big-Country-isms of men banging giant drums while guitars whine out bagpipe lines. Bands with names like Albannach, Rathkeltair and, gasp, the Wyndbreakers play to a hill of eating people and Taylor and Justin, while Amy and I recline as our pupils ascend. We talk about their October nuptials and pumpkins, brown bridesmaid dresses and girl things befitting a 1992 food court.
"I'm so happy you found a guy who cares about nice things," I bite my ruinous tongue.
Our group grows to include sundry other celebrants with far better attitudes (and far more beer ability) until we're forced into the slow-motion slalom of the Scottish Highland experience. First, it's a trip through the tent-farm of the various "clans," most celebrating the propriety of their last names, but some paging through Freemason conspiracy leaflets while swigging scotch. One old man-in-a-kilt from Clan Ross nearly waylays our sad lineage waltz due to the emphysema hiccupping his long-winded tale — his sister found Wyatt Earp's pistol in a trunk sale and they're a-gonna sell it for $30,000! Further down the trail, a trailer-twat awaiting a different kind of pistol bends over a table with her legs unpleasantly parted.
"Oooh, she's from Clan Spread'em!" Taylor divides, then conquers.
But it's only at the athletic field that my own taut personage gives a little. We're just in time to catch the U.S. and Scotland battle it out in the caber toss — which, I point out, is a sport for fat men. However, the shining star of today's American team is none other than a bronzed beauhunk named Chad. Chad is the hottest Celtic Aryan I would fuck, and despite the fact that he can't manage to master the art of throwing a giant stick to be judged like the hands of a sundial ("11:30!" What?), my own caber tosses a little at the thought of him. Tellingly, some Scottish guy wearing a waistband that reads "Nelly" outdoes him. "I still love you, Chaaad!" I scream for no reason.
And then we're standing there. The wind howls, blowing tents over beer kegs and powdered sugar off funnel cakes; flowered headdresses bounce off freckled shoulders and kilts reveal bike shorts. This jig is up, I surmise as Amy and I stare off into the displacement of a medieval-themed Florida sinkhole-for-kids. But it was a necessary dance.
"I really like Justin," I smile against the whining bagpipe gnats and bloated salmon rush of costumed chivalry. "It's this passing of time I don't like."email@example.com