ORLANDO—A neutron bomb hit this place just as I got off the airplane, killing all humans but leaving the buildings intact. It was a horrid, unpardonable crime, and I blame the scientists. They should have done it the other way around: Kill the buildings and save the humans, however brain-dead they are in Orlando. I knew we were in trouble the moment I deplaned. There were five of us: two competitors and three coaches. We were in Orlando for the National Judo Championships, yours truly the defending champion for ages seventy and over. The neutron-bomb landscape was the first thing I noticed after we hired a van at the airport from a woman so dumb she made lower-middle-class ugly female Guardian writers sound like intelligent parrots.
Orlando’s sterility is the first thing that hits you. We had established a male locker-room atmosphere on the plane, and it continued as we drove into the city lined with crappy food joints, junk-selling megastores, and other horrors too terrible to describe in the elegant pages of Taki’s Mag. We saw no humans, just a lot of minivans gliding endlessly through the flat, hot, unbearably sticky air. There are roadside motels, gas stations, and diners interspersed with some incredibly homely faux-Gothic monsters that pass as tourist attractions. There is even an upside-down building with Greek columns. The oldest building in Orlando is three years old. There’s a new Roman temple with hamburgers as pediments, a Gothic pile with ice-cream cones as pillars, and a McDonald’s Monet tableau of cheap, gaudy edifices beckoning us in a come-hither-and-spend-a-few-bucks manner. The place gets to you in no time. We debated whether it was better to live in Orlando or die back in New York. The latter won hands-down. “This place is haunted by unsold hot dogs,” said our group’s intellectual, Mark Brennan. “It’s a Cecil B. DeMille movie set on acid,” said Teimoc Johnston-Ono, a coach. “I’d rather be back in Uzbekistan,” was Alisher’s contribution. Bryan, the US university national champion, said little, but being a student he threw in a reference about sterility and Lady Chatterley’s hubby, the cuckold being fecund in comparison to Orlando.
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