By: Keith Cranmer
Toss…turn….flip….flop….adjust….fidget…I can’t sleep. I can’t help but think of all the things that I have got to do. Moving to Venice from Orlando was not a decision that I made, but one that was made for me. Working four jobs after the tornado destroyed my house and living with that lesbian Jackie, who was the founder and president of the National Man Haters League, made it impossible to have any kind of life to even talk about. When she kicked me out because she had other lesbians moving in, who hated men just as much as Jackie did and were more than happy to join her league, I had no choice but to move in with my parents. Not having a job, little money to work with, and more bills than resources seemed to be getting to me. I decided to go to the beach and work off some of this energy. I find that the sound and the feel of the environment tend to relax me and put my mind at ease.
Getting out of bed and putting on some clothes takes no time at all, and then I sneak out of the house as quietly as I can. Sliding into the driver’s seat of my 1986 Mercury Grand Marque I start the engine. Even though the car has been in the shop a few times, it has served me well. I pull out of the drive way with the windows down and light a cigarette. Smoking is the only vice that I have other than eating. The two are not really a great combination as I am overweight and smoke a pack a day. The doctor says that I am out of shape and need to quit the smoking and lose weight fast. On the way to the beach, I stop at a local convenience store to get a bottle of soda for my evening walk.
I had been to Caspersen beach in the daylight hours a couple of times since I came to Venice. My mother, aunt, cousin, grandmother, and I would go first thing in the morning to look for sharks teeth and I find it to be quite beautiful. It is quite striking with its’ black sand and sea grass next to the road to prevent beach erosion. I also like the fact that there is such a sense of conservation at this beach. When the sea turtle season comes, people find the sea turtle nests and cage them so they are not destroyed. You can even see when the eggs are expected to hatch and come to the beach to witness that wonderful occurrence.
Driving down the single road that lead to the parking area is enchanting. The beach and its sand are to the right and the woods to the left. It seems as if I am the only person on the face of the whole planet. The road ends in the parking area providing one way in and one way out. My car is the only one there, as I thought it would be. Who else would be up at this time of night hanging out at the beach? I park my car in the sandy parking area. I get out of the car and locked the doors while making sure I have my cigarettes with me. I cross the road and mount the board walk that runs between the sand and the access road.
Lost in my thoughts, I barely notice the cool breeze coming off the water and brushing against my face or the pleasant scent of the moist salt water in the air. Before I could take note of any of the wondrous miracles of God represented in this place, I found that I was at the end of the boardwalk. I turn around and retrace my steps to continue my stroll. By the time I get half way back to the bridge that crosses the street to my car, I hear a loud vehicle coming down the road. It was so loud that it caused me to stop to see if I could figure out where it was coming from. Soon enough, a white Ford truck comes barreling down the road with the radio cranked so loud that it almost eclipsed the shouting coming from the back of the truck. I focused on the people in the back of the truck and my survival instincts kicked in noting that there were six young men who appeared to be high school students in the back of the truck. As it passed me I also noticed that there were two more in the cab. I realize that it may be time to go as I am not looking for any trouble and this situation has trouble written all over it.
The truck entered the parking lot, and the young men piled out of the back of the truck and the cab. They all had large paint buckets containing fishing poles and assorted tools used for that purpose. I thought to myself that it must be the way young men pass time here in sleepy old Venice, but I still think that I should get out of here. I watch the young men as I walk calmly down the rest of the board walk to keep track of where they are going. Two of them stepped onto the boardwalk with their fishing gear and headed in my direction while the others fanned out.
I saw that there was no way to not be noticed, as I am six foot four inches tall and weigh over three hundred pounds, so I put my back straight, my shoulders back, and my gaze forward. The two young men came upon me quickly. When I got about ten feet from them one of them said to me:
“Hi, how ya doin?
“Fine how are you?” I replied.
“Fine you friggin faggot.” He said in reply.
I was in such shock that I could not think of anything to say. I also realized that my initial assessment of the situation was correct. These boys were here to have fun, but not the kind of fun that was going to be beneficial to my health. Another thing hit me at this time, I may be a big guy but I know that I can’t dispatch eight young men, all of whom are well-muscled. I continue to calmly walk without showing any sign of concern. It was then that I notice where the others had disappeared to. At the end of the bridge, leading to the parking area where I had left my car, were two more young men just waiting for me. It seems like they almost knew I was parked there from the start. I thought at that time that I would just continue walking down the boardwalk to the next bridge further down.
I pass the first bridge and the young men stay where they are, almost like statues. I am a little concerned by this, but I have no time to wonder about their actions so I continue on. Up ahead of me there is a curve in the boardwalk that is slightly masked by a huge oak tree. Its branches are bent over the boardwalk and I can’t see beyond it. As I approach the curve another young man steps out from behind the tree. This one is shadowed, but seems to be of a bigger build that the others and I am not sure, if it were just him and me here, who would be the victor in a fight. When I get a little closer to him he calls out to me saying:
“Hi, how ya doin?”
I reply to him ”Fine, and you?”
And he replies “Fine you friggin faggot.”
As he says this to me he throws out his foot causing me to stumble but not to fall. My head is reeling; I don’t know what to do. The one thing I do know is that I need to stay calm. I can’t let these guys get into my head. That would give them a huge advantage. I continue walking like nothing had happened. My giant of a foe turned around and said:
I turn to look, but continue walking. He grabs his crotch and says “I’m gonna rape you!”
Without batting an eye or allowing any time to pass I respond to the threat “Not with that little dick you aren’t.” and I keep walking. He pauses for a minute and starts following me.
“Oh! You are a big man! Why don’t you stop and show me how big of a man you are? And I reply “Obviously bigger than you are…peewee”
On the boardwalk I hear a cacophony of footsteps being made by all the other boys. I turn and run for all I am worth. I was never the slowest kid in school. To be honest I was pretty quick, but I haven’t had to do this in years. I ran to the other end of the boardwalk where I saw a homeless man with a bicycle leaning against the rail of the boardwalk. I stopped long enough to tell him to hide because these guys were chasing me to beat up a fag. He got on his bike and rode away into the night. I can hear them coming again so I leap over the side rail of the boardwalk and onto the powder sand of the beach. I double back in an attempt to get to my car and my pursuers are hot on my heels. I come upon stairs leading back to the boardwalk and the access bridge that goes back to the parking area. I fly up the stairs and onto the bridge. The young men who had been waiting like ominous statues earlier, were now gone. I hear one of my pursuers comment “Damn, this faggot can run!”
I am so out of breath, I think my lungs are going to explode. I can hardly hear anything over my racing heart and my ragged breathing. I can see my car and I know that I can get to it. I also know that I don’t have the time to cover the distance, get my keys out of the pocket of my jeans, unlock the door, start the car, and pull away before my stalkers are upon me. Next to my car, another had appeared. As I come running to my car, the car parked next to me starts to pull out. I run to the passenger’s side door, open it up, and jump in. I scream at the driver “Go! They’re trying to kill me”. The driver of this vehicle, who was not a day under eighty, hit the gas and off we go. I am heaving uncontrollably and I can’t seem to catch my breath. The driver of the car asks me where he should take me. I ask him to take me to Sharkey’s Restaurant so I can call the police.
We get to Sharkey’s and they are about to close. I go inside the restaurant and ask the hostess if I can use their phone as I was just attacked at the beach. She is nice enough to bring me a cordless phone. I numbly dial the numbers 9-1-1 and wait for the operator.
“911 what is the emergency?”
“I am at Sharkey’s Restaurant. I was just at the beach and was attacked by eight high school aged boys.”
“Do you need an ambulance sir?”
Huffing and puffing I reply “No, just the police.”
“The police are on their way sir. Please do not leave the premises.”I thanked the hostess for her help. She asks if I need a glass of water. I thanked her for her kindness, but declined her offer. I went outside to wait for the police officer. As I exit the building I realize that my savior had left, he must not have wanted to be involved with the police. I sit down on the ground and start going numb inside. I still can’t breathe and all I want to do is to go home and get into my own safe bed. I was also worried about my car, the only asset that I have in this world, as it is back there with those criminals and I think that if they could not get me then maybe my car was going to be their next victim. Visions of smashed windows, flat tires, and ripped up seats blasted through my head.
Red and blue lights flash through my hazy awareness and I hear someone far away asking if I was ok. I look up to see an ambulance and I can’t believe that the 911 operator didn’t listen to me when I said that I didn’t need medical attention. They gave me oxygen as I still could not catch my breath and I hear someone say something about me being in shock. The only thing I could say was “My car! My car! They have my car!” The officer introduced himself and says that he is here to help, but the look on his face says otherwise. He asks me what happened and I went through the story in a mechanical way. He informs me that the beach at night is an attractive place for queers to meet and have sex and he asks me, in somewhat accusatory way, what my intention in going to the beach was. I assure him that the only reason I was there was because I could not sleep.
The ambulance team advises the police officer that I would be ok and the shock would have to wear off on its own. The officer takes me back to my car. On the way to the parking area he tells me that he knows that I am new here, but if he sees me at the beach at night again he will know that I am up to no good. When we get back to the parking area I find that my car is ok and that my attackers are nowhere to be found. The officer wants me to show him where it happened; he wants to see a walkthrough of the alleged crime. I am feeling really unsafe with the officer and I tell him that I just want to go home. I ask him if I could have a report number as I want to follow the case and make sure that everything was being done to ensure the capture of these young criminals. The officer look me dead in the face and tells me”You were not even injured and there is no proof to your claims. No crime has been committed here and no report will be filed.” I respond to the officer “I come from a large city, and I can walk down one of the most questionable streets there with five hundred dollars in my pocket. I can be surrounded by hookers, and homeless people and never once worry about what will happen to me. I come here to a beautiful little sea side community, and I have to worry if someone is going to kill me simply because of what they think that I am doing. It doesn’t seem quite fair. Officer, if I were a woman, and this had happened to me, would I need to be beaten beyond all recognition before local law enforcement decided to do something about it?” I ask. The officer could not respond to that question and I responded to his resounding silence “I didn’t think so.” I got out of the squad car and got into my car. I started the engine and lit a cigarette. I put the car in gear and went home.
When I got home I found that the lights were on and everyone was awake. There was no way that I was going to be able to sneak back in without being noticed. I prepare myself for the onslaught of questions that I know will come from the women of the house sitting around the kitchen table, probably playing Yatzee or Phase 10, and I enter the house. My mom was there, at the table, along with my aunt and grandmother. They ask where I had been because they thought I was asleep. I sit down at the table and tell the story, yet again. When I was done my aunt commented by saying “see what happens when you go out like that?” I feel wonderful knowing that she thinks that I was there for nefarious reasons. I tell them that I just want to go to bed now and that I am tired. I get up to leave and my mother stands with me. She tells me to come to her. I walk over to her and she tells me that she loves me. I tell her that I love her too and go to walk away when she reaches out and grabs me in this bear hug that tells me that she is scared and doesn’t want to let me go. I am shattered into a million pieces like a mirror blown apart by machine gun fire. I start to cry and fall into heaving sobs, evidence that my shock has worn off. We stay like that for several long moments before I compose myself and go to bed.
My mother ends up calling the police department the next day, and she is informed that no report will be filed no matter what is said or done. Instead, she writes a letter to the editor of the Sarasota Herald Tribune…she never heard anything from that communication. It will be about two years and I will be online, having a chat with someone I had just met. They will ask me if I was the one who jumped in their friend’s car that night at the beach. I will confirm that, and they will tell me that their friend wanted to let me know how happy they were to help me, but they could not be known by the police, because he is married and goes to the beach at night to find sexual entanglements with men while his wife sleeps. He will also inform me that these young men had become quite brazen in their attacks. They beat someone up pretty badly. They were arrested and convicted with a couple of hate crimes, but not the one against me. It will be several more years before the anger and hatred slowly stop eating away at my soul. I will pray to God for the strength to forgive the young men who terrorized me that night, and eventually I will, but I will never forget the crime that never happened to me.