The starfish parables

Meet the hardy denizens of Florida's last working fishing village — survivors of net bans, hurricanes and the Red Tide

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The Mermaid

For days on the docks, I waited and looked for Jasmine Brewer. In her 20s, she has worked for Star Fish in the market, cleaning and selling fish, for almost five years. Like her favorite legendary creature, the mermaid, she was elusive.

I made at least three or four appointments with the mermaid, but for some reason she was never at the appointed place — and I never got a call explaining why.

A week before she was to leave her job at the Star Fish, I cornered her at the register. She wouldn't meet my eyes. I thought it was shame for standing me up.

click to enlarge THE MERMAID'S TALE: Jasmine Brewer is leaving the Starfish, but she suspects she'll be back. - Max Linsky
Max Linsky
THE MERMAID'S TALE: Jasmine Brewer is leaving the Starfish, but she suspects she'll be back.

"That's a really great shirt," she says, looking at my ripped wife-beater. "I can't keep my eyes off if it."

Whatever rancor I felt melted under the heat of her white-hot mischievous smile.

She's the Angelina Jolie of this story, a fish-house hottie.

Across her back, she has a colorful mermaid tattoo. As a young girl, she spent a lot of her time swimming under the water thinking she was a mermaid. The beautiful carefree creatures are her familiars. Her house is full of their images.

Although she's leaving the Star Fish, she isn't leaving Cortez. There's a house she's interested in buying with her Cortezian fiancé Garrett Steger, charter boat captain with Git-R-Done Extreme Fishing. There's stone crab season, when she'll work off the docks for extra money.

She's left the Star Fish before, working as a draftsperson for an airline parts company. The cubicles got to her. And she came back. She suspects even now, she'll be back.

Another Parable

The residents of a village are gathered at their shore, picking up starfish and throwing them one by one back into the sea. A tourist says, "Now this is clearly impossible and a waste of effort. Shouldn't you move on to something else?" The villagers look up and answer in unison, "No."

All the starfish are saved but one — the one the tourist takes back home as a souvenir of "real" Florida.

This is the thing that is mightier than the pen. The sea. It reduced Charles Darwin to dribbling seasickness. It shipwrecked Stephen Crane. John Steinbeck was forever changed by the tidal pools at the edge of the Sea of Cortez near Mexico. And with all the scientists, conservationists, fishermen, grants and think tanks aimed at studying its depths, its checks and balances remain its own.

Note the Red Tide. Again.

RhondaK, a freelance writer, lives on a boat in Sarasota Bay.

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