I had been in Gainesville for three days when it started.
They called him the Gainesville Ripper, which sounds comical, all but the ripping.
His name was Danny Harold Rolling.
It was August 1990.
Five students were slaughtered.
I spent early evenings huddled in the dorm rooms of my girlfriends, also from Orlando.
There were lots of p-words tossed around, like pull and prayer and pain.
When he was convicted, they sent him to Starke.
What a name for a town.
One always drove slowly through Starke, a notoriously student-unfriendly place.
Whites were safe to stop there.
Rolling had lobster tail before the injection, an excellent if slightly clichéd choice.
Red Lobster on Newberry Road was relatively fine dining.
I spent much of the nineties in Gainesville.
Got two degrees and STDs in Gainesville.
“The nineties sucked,” Marisa Tomei and Mickey Rourke declared in that great film The Wrestler.
The nineties sucked, for me, in Gainesville.
There was the straight bar called the Salty Dog, where once Sidney Wade held a poetry workshop in which I read an achingly bad poem about Io, in which I used the word “moo” without, alas, even a little bit of irony.
There was the gay bar, the University Club, where I wore my J-Crew shirt, the “evil flannel,” where I danced and swallowed whatever the fuck.
We raver kids dropped Blue Monkey and stood on the balcony in the rainstorm.
I was the shirtless teeth-grinder in the corner with the lizard.
I was the tweaky late-night stroll by the downtown green power plant.
I was the kid in the stacks of Smathers Library falling hopelessly in love with the poems of Donald Justice.
I fell in love, or what felt like love.
With a boy.
We moved downtown.
We moved into a two-section apartment complex, one blue, one pink.
We had a wedding, in 1993, and my parents came, and they stopped at Publix on the way and got a couple party platters; the wedding was in our pink apartment.
(I like to think I say all this better in poems.)
Michael Hofmann, who also lived in this apartment complex, described it thus, in his poem “Freebird”: “The setting was a blue by pink downtown development, / Southern hurricane architecture in matchwood: / live-oaks and love-seats, handymen and squirrels, / an electric grille and a siege mentality.”
An alligator crawled out of Lake Alice and ate a little dog on a leash, said the article in the Gainesville Sun.
I walked on Payne’s Prairie with Debora Greger, in winter, and imagined King Payne, the nineteenth-century Seminole Chief, on a white horse.
The egrets were white. The heron was blue.
I narrowly escaped the controlled burn.
Randall Mann was born in Provo, Utah in 1972, the only son to Olympic Track and Field medalist, Ralph Mann. He is the author of Breakfast with Thom Gunn (University of Chicago, 2009), Complaint in the Garden (Zoo Press, 2004), winner of the 2003 Kenyon Review Prize in Poetry, and co-author of the textbook Writing Poems (7th ed. Pearson Longman, 2007). His poetry often describes Florida, San Francisco and contemporary gay life. Mann currently lives in San Francisco.