When I was a freshman in high school, my friend Annunziata invited me to spend President’s Day weekend at her grandmother’s house in Ocean Reef, a vacation spot in Key Largo, Florida. Named by the Robb Report as “one of America’s most exclusive communities,” it’s not your ordinary Florida retirement community, but rather a year-round country club complete with its very own apparel brand, Rolls Royce golf carts, and a very disproportionate number of Bush supporters.
Ocean Reef, as to be expected of any conservative culture (the website’s dress code states that “tank tops, tank-style undershirts and jogging tops for men, crop and jogging tops for women, frayed cut-offs and tattered jeans are not acceptable attire”) invites a degree of juvenile delinquency, claimed by the grandchildren who come down for vacations.
From everything that Annunziata had told me about Ocean Reef, these self-styled juvenile delinquents, these grandsons, were nothing short of gorgeous. With their long blonde hair, blue eyes, and lacrosse bodies, she promised me a chance to hang out with “real boarding school boys – and they play sports too!” This was a far cry from what I was used to in New York City – intelligent, weak, Jewish. I was excited for a new outlook.
But it got old. Real fast. After dinner on the first night, Annunziata and I went “tiki hopping,” as she, and apparently all the cool kids in Ocean Reef, called it. “Tiki hopping” involves going out to the pool area after dark and spending about ten minutes under a small straw umbrella with a few kids, and then moving onto the next one. The first tiki we visited included about ten Rawlins kids and a radio blasting Bob Marley. At the next tiki, I was offered a beer. At the last tiki, Annunziata lit up a cigarette. It was crazy.
What a sad excuse for juvenile delinquency it turned out to be. Even the most delinquent moments were just plain embarrassing: picture reckless driving (golf carts, of course), rampant cigar smoking, and teenagers drunkenly and pathetically hitting on married adults. I guess if you have to wear a jacket to dinner every night, you can’t muster more than such frat-boy antics.
I missed home. I longed for sophisticated conversation – I had had enough of these infants. It was time for a real man. An intelligent man. A weak man. A Jewish man. This is where my real story begins. It was raining the next night so tiki hopping was out of the question. We had to find something else to do. Lucky for us, Annunziata received a call on her cell phone when we were finishing up dessert. “Who was it?” I asked when she got off. “Mark Spatt,” she said laughing, as if I should have been familiar with the name. “He wants us to come say hi to him. I haven’t seen him in a while. It would be rude not to go.”
Annunziata explained that the Spatts were somewhat of a nomadic bunch, and preferred the high seas to a boring life on land. They vacationed aboard “The Crown Jewel,” their family yacht. From the outside, the large, Connecticut based vessel was intimidating with its sleek design and pearly hull. The Crown Jewel certainly was a boat fit for royalty. Prince Spatt exited the interior of the ship and came to help us board. It was dark, so I couldn’t get a good look. But his chivalrous hand helped me from the dock and whisked me into the safe confines of The Crown Jewel’s living room. “It’s brutal out there, isn’t it? I’m Mark Spatt,” he said.
It was light now, and I could see him clearly. This was no sophomore in high school, but a worldly, refined man. His eyes were that of an old soul, his beard, luxuriant to say the least. This was no Deerfield quarterback; this was an author, an archeologist, a lover. This was the man who would become the Spatt.
He cordially asked us to be seated and offered us drinks. I don’t remember what he was drinking, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t Johnny Walker Black Label on the rocks. He spoke of philosophy, classics, world cinema – actually, he mostly talked about tiki hopping – but oh, with what poise! He seemed uninterested in all the Ocean Reef antics, as if he had outgrown them. He had no interest in being a delinquent. He knew he couldn’t pull it off, just like the rest of the vacationing teens, and he was fine with that.
When Annunziata asked him to come to one of the popular bars with us later that night, Mark said simply, “I don’t think so. I think I’ll stay in tonight.” And that was that. He had the confidence, the purpose to deny her his company if she insisted on being a vacation social climber. While I knew Annunziata to be someone to badger anyone into coming out with her, she took in Mark’s words without a fight (Granted, this may have been because she was just trying to be polite).
Mark regretted that we didn’t get to meet Mr. and Mrs. Spatt, whom I supposed to be at an Ocean Reef gala, and showed us out. We left our flip-flops on the dock, and mine had been blown into the water by the wind. The minute he recognized my dilemma, Mark busted open the door to the living room and vaporized into thin air. He reappeared with a flashlight and a long pole, and scurried along the perimeter of The Crown Jewel.
Soaked and winded, Mark returned to me holding my left flip-flop and panting, saying, “I think the right one got away.” He insisted that I take a pair of his flip-flops. I thanked him repeatedly, left the left flip-flop with him, and walked away, thinking only about how much more appropriate it would have been if my flip-flop had been a glass slipper.
Though only ten minutes long, meeting Mark aboard The Crown Jewel was the only redeeming moment of the weekend; it was definitely what I remember most vividly six years later. I feel fortunate to have met him before he hit the big time. At least he can be sure that my admiration for him has nothing to do with his campus celebrity; I loved him before all the hoopla, before he was the living legend, before he was the Spatt. He’s still just Mark to me.