Florida, Land of Chads, is home to everybody's mother (or grandmother), so I was surprised to fly over it to reach my own and discover that most of it is swamp. The mothers are crowded on the coast, clustered in compounds smothered in jacaranda and bougainvillea, surrounded by hopping immigrant enclaves. Sticking like shivs between the compounded mothers and the sprawling isles of jook and hip-hop are the white-suited, Panama hatted gentry whose yachts bob in azure marinas like pearls on enhanced bosoms.
Somewhere in that mix, my dear mother makes a life keeping the ghosts of the past at bay and wondering how to stretch a government pension to move into a tighter compound. When she doesn't do that, she follows the Laci Peterson case with a passion bordering on adolescent and has deep but ephemeral quarrels with her best friend. Mostly they get along on the basis of the shared insight into the ingratitude of their children and the world in general. The children, you see, live far away and never write or call, and when they do fly to them over the vast swamps, they hardly eat the trays of home-cooked nourishment as vast, proportionally, as the swamps that surround them. And the world, pshaw! Let's not even talk about the world! In the past, the world was nastier than a swamp, inhabited by Hitler and such, and in the present it's the playground of men who dismember their wives. No good then, no good now.
The children, maybe they are normal, but is normal the way to treat your mother? So when they are not quarrelling, the mothers of Florida work on their Secret Project. My mother and her friend are part of a huge network of this super-secret Manhattan Project of motherhood some like to call The Guilt Machine. The core of the Guilt Machine reactor is the combined energy of the disappointment of generations. Powered by the whirl of synchronic and perfect mother-radar, this Guilt Machine, when finished, will power the state of Florida for centuries. Long after the rest of the world has spent its fossil fuels and decommissioned its nuclear plants, the Guilt Machine of Florida will keep air-conditioners humming and microwaves pulsing. Every day they work on it, the mothers.
You seem a little distracted, I tell her.
What do you know? she says.