Randall Mann

Gainesville, Florida


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.

No shit.

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 gin.

With Salems.

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.