Cranky in Paradise

Tony Gleeson

"Have a few beers and you never know where you'll go with it." That was the advice I received from a radio DJ when I called in to ask if there were a better Sunday-evening option to entertain my Canadian guest than reggae at the Banana Boat. So Brant and I took the bait. Dubiously. As we ordered our first beers at the Boynton Beach waterfront bar, we found ourselves awash in the glow of many strands of Christmas lights along a yellow striped awning.

The place definitely had a party feel (think: wedding or bar mitzvah rather than kegger) thanks to the three-piece band with the programmed drumbeats and the many families making the most of it. The island-inspired music moved many to dance on the wood-planked floor. At the bustling bar, some patrons were ordering two drinks at a time to minimize their wait.

As far as party spots go, it wouldn't be my ideal, but it was a people-watching paradise — from the aging guy in an open leather vest, showing off a scroll of weathered tattoos rolling down his chest and belly, to the prim housewife in a tidy bob and Bermuda shorts with her tightly managed children. And, of course, there were all the beach bums and bunnies as well as the boaters who'd docked there, from rosy to roasted. Many had evidently spent the day on the water, and the degrees of their sunburns seemed directly proportional to their levels of inebriation.

"It's a strange crowd," I said, my nostrils prickling at the mingled scents of black muck and cologne in the Intracoastal's gentle breeze.

"There are many generations," Brant sagely observed.

Exactamundo, interjected a woman in a black Hard Rock cap. "It's one of the few places you can get hit on by an 80-year-old," she said.

"Woohoo! Spring break!" squealed the young blond in the red bikini from across the bar.

And what better way to celebrate than a same-sex friction dance? The spring breaker began to grind her crotch on a middle-aged woman, who just laughed as another glassy-eyed blond pulled the dancer away in a tipsy wrestle. The two girls were definitely a pair, probably sisters. They flanked another attractive woman, with similar but matured features, who was flirting with a gentleman on her left while the girls celebrated their youthful beauty by pickling themselves.

Between them and Brant and me, another young group (green enough to be carded, anyway) had just arrived and was getting its drink on. I figured them for spring breakers too.

Not so, said a petite brunet with a Baby Phat foil logo across her chest. "They're here from France," she said.

"Pa-ree," added her tall, lithe friend before turning to her compatriots and spouting en français, which — thanks to my meager public school French — I understood enough to glean that she was discussing her French pronunciation of the capital city.

When I returned to the bar, the actual language barrier came in the form of a Bahamian beer label.

"How do you pronounce this?" Brant asked, handing me a Kalik, which was boldly advertised on a huge poster on the wall. "I asked the bartender, and he didn't know."

"Kah-LEEK?" I offered, then asked the new newcomers next to me for help.

"KAY-lick," the taller woman offered with a smile.

"Colic?" her fairer friend, who seemed otherwise bored, tried.

If I'd stuck with the Corona, the pronunciation challenge wouldn't have introduced us to Paige and Amy, New Jersey vacationers. They'd been told this was the place to be by "two separate and independent sources and an elder uncle in his 60s."

The ever-cheery Paige added: "My grandmother told me they were playing 'Ragu' music."

Overhearing my questions, a model-gorgeous brunet interrupted, boasting as if she owned the place: "This place is the bomb! It's got a good crowd, a chill atmosphere, it's on the water...," she said, punctuating her points with her hand by zigging on one point, zagging on the next. "I used to work here," she added, almost too proud.

"A lot of people drinking here used to work here... that's like the second one," Paige said. "Usually you don't see that. When I'm not working at a place, I leave."

Then again, her line of work probably didn't have banana-print miniskirt uniforms, tropical drinks, and a budget reggae band.

In the time it took me to guzzle the icy brew with the confusing name, I'd solved the beer pronunciation problem by switching to a Bahama Mama. As moonlight splashed across the black scrub and fractured in the little waves on the water, I took the first sip of my rum drink and spontaneously began to move to the island beat. I passed the drink to Brant. He was similarly inspired.

"Are those real or fake?" I wondered as a tall woman with double D's straining at her "Old Key Lime House" tank top stepped from a motorboat. Brant studied her.

"Go feel 'em... take one for the team in the name of research," I encouraged him.

But Brant's hamburger had arrived, and the only meat he was interested in was already in his hands. So I decided to let him eat in peace while I chatted with the newcomers.

"Are you using some magical hair product?" I asked, leaning over the railing to make friends with the big-breasted woman. "Your hair looks perfect."

"My hair looks like shit," she countered stiffly, though each of her nearly black hairs hung neatly in place. "I've been in the boat all day."

Well, at least the guy dripping water all over the deck was fun. He'd clearly been in the drink in more ways than one. He'd just swum over from Big Stuff, docked at Two Georges across the water. He stood on board a minute or two and then dove back into the fetid waterway.

"Who's that?" I asked the guy whose shaved head the sun had cooked until it looked like a hot-pink Easter egg.

"That's a jackass," he said with irritation.

Suddenly, a beer bottle sailed by, splitting the crowd as it splashed everyone before finally careening off the railing next to Brant. One of the French girls stood by with a pained look on her face. She'd just been bonked in the head by the flying Corona, now empty except for its slice of lime.

"Two parties interacted, and there was a collision...," a guy in a Billabong T-shirt and board shorts sketchily concluded as I dug for the details.

"Sounds like it's time for an After School Special moment," I said. He didn't seem to get my point. "You know, what did we learn from this experience?"

"Don't drink more than you can handle," he said.

"But does that mean throw it once you've had too much?" Brant asked dryly, clearly disgusted at our American drama.

By now, though, Egghead was yelling "Throw her in the water!" in the direction of the woman who'd slung the bottle, one of the spring break sisters. Others echoed his sentiments as management intervened and escorted the offender and her party from the premises. It wasn't long until the fête française also said au revoir to the scene. The exodus plunged the place into a comparative quiet.

"And then all the fun people left and the party was over...," Brant summarized.

But the real culprit remained.

With T-shirt as tight and white as her smile and as transparent as her malice, a girl with long, corn-silk hair freely admitted she'd instigated the crisis. She'd seen the spring break crew on Peanut Island, and the girls' drunkenness inspired a little patronizing inquiry.

"I asked, 'How ya doin'? Y'all right?' and the one girl was like, 'What? I've got a mother. Do I look like I need another one?' so I spilled my wine on her."

"Red or white?" I asked.

"White Zinfandel...," she replied. "And then she threw her beer bottle."

The guilty party sauntered off, guilt-free, as I settled the tab.

As we took the boardwalk back to the car, Brant reflected on our experience, providing that crystallizing lesson that I'd been after: "This boat needs more bananas."

I gave him a quizzical look.

"Too many apes."

And that's the de-evolutionary experience to which a few beers can take you.

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