Here & Now: Of Mosquitoes, Hookers and Santa Claus
A look at just a few of our unique folks on the Gulfshore
The thing about Gulfshore folks is that you can’t categorize us in some neat little package. We tend to be way more relaxed than the national average. It’s easy to entice us to jobs here. Who wouldn’t rather work in a subtropical paradise than, well, anywhere else? Something in the air here also inspires more of us to follow our bliss, which often tends to be a tad, ah, unique. Consider these cases in point: mosquito man Jim Stark, Madam Tenacious and her ladies of the Matlacha Hookers, and twinkly-eyed, pink-cheeked Ski Olesky, the real Santa Claus.
If you plan to hang out at the shoreline around dawn or dusk after a summer rain, or you head out for some awesome backwater fishing without your repellant, guess what? You’re going to connect with our state bird, the mosquito, and not in a charming way. But after a recent chat with Jim Stark, I’ll be seriously rolling my eyes next winter when I hear one of my Minnesota friends ask, “How can you stay down here in the summertime with all the mosquitoes?”
Really? Well, dear reader, guess what again. Jim, the new executive director of the Collier Mosquito Control District, was lured here from his former post as executive director of the largest mosquito control district in the world. Which is not down here, or even the Amazon jungle, but up there in the heart of Minnesota. It takes 25 full-time employees to deal with our little biters. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, it takes a whopping 210. And another thing, gentle reader: Our mosquitoes like to take a long winter nap from about November to April. Not so in Minnesota, where, according to Jim, some varieties breed with gusto in snowmelts. Just saying.
The fine art of mosquito control has improved significantly since Barron Gift Collier’s crew had to battle raging clouds of mosquitoes while slogging chest-deep in the swamp to finish the Tamiami Trail. We’ve evolved from the defensive slap-and-scream technique of the early 20th century to the more take-charge technique of eco-sensitive chemicals and repellants of the early 21st.
You know how folks from up there sometimes like to come in and change things, and the folks down here are not always OK with that? Well, here’s one time that it’s not the case. Instead of the tried-and-true method of counting the mosquito population (stick out your bare arm and log the number of bites you get), Jim hopes to provide his surveillance team with butterfly netlike contraptions called sweep nets. The surveillance guys are extremely OK with this.
For $20 and a good heart, you can be a hooker in Matlacha, and I’m proud to say I just fulfilled the requirements for reinstatement in the Matlacha Hookers. To prove it, I have an official membership card signed by the Madam herself. It’s not what you may be thinking. We Hookers are actually a fairly respectable bunch of gals who love the artsy, quirky Pine Island fishing village of Matlacha (hence the name). Since that first car wash 16 years ago, the nonprofit organization on Pine Island now raises serious money through an annual fishing derby and other fundraisers to support education, elder services and other needs of their community.
Besides the membership card (great for raising eyebrows in polite company), my annual dues also entitle me to the coveted fish hook membership pin, as well as the obligation to help promote the Hookers’ good deeds.
So here it is. It’s a known fact that the sweetest, juiciest mangoes are grown on Pine Island. So, if you love quirky summer festivals and crave the taste of tree-ripe mangoes, head straight to MangoMania, Pine Island’s annual tropical fruit fair, July 19 and 20. It’s held at the German-American Social Club in Cape Coral. You’ve got your Mango King and Queen, your mango tasting table, your mango smoothies, your mango chutney contest, kids’ games, live music and exquisite people-watching (yes, some dress up as mango trees). This is where the commercial for the Matlacha Hookers comes in. At MangoMania you’ll want to stop by the Hookers booth, where you can meet Madam Tenacious herself (aka Theresa Kramer) and buy your “Support Your Local Hookers” hats, tote bags and other essentials. For $20, you can join supporters and fans all over the world and become a card-carrying Hooker, too.
Sometime around July 14, feel free to pop out to Immokalee to wish Santa Claus (the real one) a happy 72nd birthday. Right now he’s simply Edward (Ski) Olesky, longtime civic leader and soft-spoken gent, posing as the owner of a rustic marina, bait shop and airboat tour business on Lake Trafford. But very soon now, the haircuts and shaves will stop, and daughter Donna will soften the abundant shock of saltand- pepper hair to cotton-candy white. By December, when Ski rests his trademark rimless glasses on his naturally ruddy cheeks, he’s a dead ringer for the jolly elf in a 1930s Coca Cola Christmas ad. All month long, he brings thousands of gifts and Christmas stockings to elementary schools and senior and child care centers and surprises underprivileged families in Immokalee who had not asked for help. All with his own resources.
Even in summertime, first-time visitors to the marina might do a double-take when they catch the twinkle in Ski’s eyes. They rarely say anything, though. Who’s willing to admit they still want to believe in Santa Claus?
So, here’s to the glorious month of July, which belongs exclusively to us locals and smart summer season visitors. I hope you get out and meet some interesting people. And can you imagine a sweeter viewing spot for July 4 fireworks than a lush tropical lawn, the deck of a boat or a white-sand beach here on the Gulfshore? Neither can I.
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