My birthday is next week.  I wouldn’t announce this event but for the circumstance of Mr. B.’s finding it next to impossible to buy me a gift.  I’m easy to buy for–there’s really nothing affordable or easily obtainable that I want.  That leaves nothing.  Simple! I like ultra-pricey niche perfumes that smell of Vicks VapoRub and tuberose and are only available at one tiny boutique in the Galeries Lafayette in Paris and I like, or would like to have, a supercharged DSLR.  Other than this, the usual stuff:  a left knee returned to a condition other than bum and an ability to eat tomatoes without producing vats of sulfuric stomach acid.

The topic of what to buy for the birthday came up as Mr. B. and I ended the long Labor Day weekend with a hop over to Flagler and Ormonde Beaches.  This was the only trip we took in the five days we had to do something stupendous; the heat and the kickoff Gator game had us glued to computers and the television.

Flagler Beach was the first Florida beach I visited after moving here in 2008.  It wasn’t and still is not the most spectacular beach around, but I have a soft spot for its pier since this is where I witnessed a man catch and then hack to shreds a large crevalle jack (locally known as a “Jack Carvel”).  We hadn’t intended to go to Flagler, but when I mistook Crescent City for Crescent Beach and headed south instead of northeast, we ended up just outside Flagler.

Flagler and Ormonde both are mini and less upscale versions of what one sees farther down the coast.  Just after Labor Day, both places were half boarded up, the hurricane shutters pulled firm for the winter. The condomiunium buildings that line the roads are of that odd bunker-like design intended to protect against gale-force winds.  They are tragedies of aesthetic values and they always look as if they might withstand not just a hurricane but an aerial assault or two.  I am always puzzled by their ground-floor units, whose sliding doors open up onto miniature cement “patios” no more than six feet by three, and upon whose cement always rest two cheap plastic patio chairs.  These units have no view of the ocean and no sense of privacy from the roadway since the patios are not in any way enclosed.  Still, these lower units make me question whether the residents live in hope of being invited to an upstairs unit for a sunset cocktail.

Walking on Flagler Pier is a cheap ($1.50) thrill.  It was low tide when we arrived, but low tide in this part of the Atlantic is not the marshy, odiferous affair it was in the Masschusetts of my youth.  In Florida, you can still swim at low tide, occasionally with a severe rip.  Flagler Beach’s hard sand had a reddish cast to it on this early September day and the few people who were on the beach weren’t swimming, leaving a lifeguard to run her fingers through her wavy dark blonde hair.

A few people were fishing off the end of the pier, an 806-foot length that used to be 200 feet longer until the Atlantic got at it.  A photo display at the entrance shows proud fishermen with their best specimens:  flounder, sheepshead, cobia, pompano, one fish, two fish, redfish, bluefish…

While Mr. B. stopped to take some pictures of riled and ruffled scavenger birds, I headed out to the end of the pier.  I stopped short of the macho preserve at the very end and I hung back a bit, snapping covertly, until a man with angry, reddened skin spoke up:  Hey! You don’t have ta leave!

I took this as an invitation to invade the zen of fishing and I did:  Within a few minutes one of the men jumped from the wooden bench to grab a pole that had suddenly wobbled hard.  The other two men abandoned their own poles to watch.  Black tip, one said.  A shark? I asked, envisioning the hammerhead I’d seen landed at Fort Pickens.

Yes, the fisherman said.  A shark. He didn’t seem to be working the reel too hard. Rather, he spun it around easily until a tiny shark popped up over the railing.  Sharks are catch and release, so his friend with the angry sunburn unhooked the tiny monster and let me photograph it before he dropped it over the side and into the sea below.

A bit later, after I’d been shown how to rig a line with a ladyfish, another line popped.  Up came a ladyfish destined as bait; this fish was not returned to the sea but was tossed into a bucket.  An elderly black couple who were fishing the left side of the pier looked up.  You got tall the luck to-day, the black guy said about that ladyfish.  Tall the luck.  His wife took a small battery-powered fan and pushed it closer to her neck.

It was hot enough that I couldn’t take more than half an hour on the pier, so after watching the men catch the two fish, we left and headed home through the Ocala National Forest.  And that is where I saw my birthday present, sitting right by the side of the road:  a 29′ Avalon Excalibur.  If you do not know what this is, you are not from Florida.  Please click the link. 

Poor Mr. B.  The guy was reduced to standing out in the glaring sun of a late summer afternoon asking if I might possibly be satisfied by a 14-footer.