Monday, August 27, 2007
Bravo Night Shift said goodbye and took me by surprise. When Tamie Came by the Communications center with a bottle of plonk, a large bottle of plonk and a card I thought it was for her new boyfriend who shares my same first name... but it was actually for me instead. I really was touched and said so over the police radio, which of course I am sure they have come to expect of me after all these years...
I suppose that's the thing about working for a semi-military organization, great pension and health benefits, a tight working environment and orders be orders. The Captain says jump and we all start hopping like jack rabbits. Some of the younger officers say I should go to the Union, but I've seen what happens to people who file grievances and I guess I'm too middle aged to go tilting at windmills! Its a good job and I am going through an undesired patch. But its just a patch.
In the short term I am going from one shift to another with completely different schedules with no break and that will be tough. I am going to be the senior dispatcher though in deference to my desire to avoid promotion I will not be an acting anybody, just "senior." I will be training a new hire and that will be hard work, especially as I will be struggling to stay awake and alert at a time of day I am usually snoring. I will also have to drop two classes I have just signed up for ( full refunds at least!) at the college. That's the worst of it- I just can't attend and I can't get permission to be absent for a couple of hours to attend.
All this upending of my life with four days notice makes me feel I'm the one getting punished and instead I'm helping out by making the re-shuffle go smoothly for the bosses.
The good news is that I will be able to home nights with my wife. The thing is we have created lots of time to be together while i worked nights and there is just so much less stress at night in the office when all our work is focused on street work not administrative. I have a lot of adjusting to do.
Oh, and no word on my Vespa which for all I know is dead and can never be brought back to life. That's how I feel at any rate. Well, its all grungy but at least I'm not being murdered in Darfur, one needs to keep a perspective. Or flooding in Ohio. That sounds grim.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Its a Cuban paradox this time but the revolutionary leader who spoke passionately about Cuban freedom in the 19th century until his early death in battle, was the man shown here in marble: Jose Marti.
The paradoxical Marti is venerated by both the Communist Government in Havana and by the freedom loving far right wing capitalists in Miami who "Radio Reloj" From Havana always refers to as the "Miami Mafia" in their propaganda headlines on 950AM, perfectly audible in Cayo Hueso, which is the Spanish speaker's name for Key West.
I mean who doesn't love a revolutionary, right? He strikes quite the posture in the pre-dawn, a man with a mission: freedom!
The Cuban exile community in Florida gained steam after the revolutionary attempt in the 187o's, when their exiled socialist leader Jose Marti landed in Key West to lead the fight from this flowered isle that stood side by side with the struggle for a new Cuba, as mentioned in more or less poetic, incomprehensible Spanish at the Jose Marti monument in Key West's Bayview Park:Key West being a Paradoxical Paradise, Bayview Park is a park that has no view of any Bay; its all blocked by 21st century capitalist development, in all its cement glory. Jose Marti shares his corner with dozens of less fortunate "residentially challenged" local residents who huddle and drink and squabble behind his roccoco home in the corner. It has the flavor of huddled masses yearning to breathe free, but he is silent on that and they are more like chickens than revolutionaries, as they scrabble in the sun for alcohol and oblivion, not redemption and freedom.
And then there is the unfortunate violent history of the "Miami Mafia," a long bloody history of terroistic violence against anyone who supported dialogue with the Bearded One. And those of us Anglos, even immigrant Anglos who are puzzled by the need to focus on Cuba while enjoying the American Dream in gorgeous South Florida, we earn the withering scorn of oppressed middle class suburbanites in Spanish accents who would yes, go and take up arms in the Sierra Maestra, but you know they have careers and dental appointments and payments on home and Mercedes Benz, and the next best thing to the revolutionary struggle is to pretend Cuba doesn't exist. Truly a miracle of Latin American magical realism in the style of the Communist Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Strange bedfellows all. The paper reports today that a big voice in the exile community was in Key West yesterday to sing some songs about this political paradox, to sing these songs for the first time ever in public. The new album is called Noventa Millas, and anytime you mention ninety miles in Key West you are talking about the gap, the chasm perhaps between the Keys and Havana. Gloria Estefan sang for free for Key Westers on the waterfront of this multicultural little town. One day she will perhaps do the same in Havana.
Friday, August 24, 2007
Undoubtedly it helps not to have children in paradise, unless you are a millionaire, in which case you have all the help you need. It also helps to be connected. There is, it has to be said, an unusually healthy portion of the inexplicable in Paradise; inexplicable that is, were it not for the fact that there is always a money trail. Take sewers for example. The State government has oversight over Monroe County and has been asking the Keys for the past twenty years to please put a sewer system into the islands and replace all those leaky sewage pits. Well, the good leaders of Monroe County have been temporising for twenty years and the State has now decided that if all the islands aren't sewered by 2010 heads will roll and people will be fined. So now we face the prospect of getting sewers, and I might add saving the coral reef. A recent study showed conclusively that human sewage leaking into the nearshore waters is poisoning the coral. 'Nuff sed.
The city of Key West got done with their tertiary (three stage) sewage system a while ago, and very painful it was too tearing up city streets apparently at random. But now all that waste gets made clean enough to drink before it is ejected back to the ocean. I live with a septic tank, underneath a lid like the one shown above, and the county is mulling over how to put me on a central sewer system, at a cost to me of somewhere around $7,000.
Residents of Stock Island have been through the process and the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) voted to give the job to a private company called Key West Resort Utilities. This despite the fact that the publicly owned and run Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) did an excellent job of sewering the city with no cost overruns. Key West Resort Utilities is run by a man who is close friends with a long time member of the BOCC, and that's why they got the contract, despite building a system that did not meet specifications, that cost more than bid and that repeatedly backed up raw sewerage into people's homes. I'm not kidding- you'd come home from work to find a brown lake in your bathroom.
So, if you were the BOCC you would rather crucify yourself than risk giving another contract to Key West Resort Utilities, right? Especially with people on Rockland and Big Coppitt and Geiger Keys screaming "No!" Right? You or I would ask FKAA to do the central sewer system. Not the BOCC, they are thinking about awarding the contract to their buddies at Key West Resort Utilities.
And thats the flip side of living in Paradise, daily, public corruption masked as incompetence! You'd think the voters would be over it by now! Instead we open the paper and read another disturbing headline. The county is preparing next year's budget at a difficult time, especially as the state has mandated budget cuts in all 68 Florida counties. So this is the time the County Administrator, a public clown, decides to fire the Budget Director. On the face of it the Budget Director has been rude and unprofessional to co-workers, including the County Engineer (think sewers) but the BOCC, the Administrator's bosses have split down predictable lines. The majority of three, known as the Gang of Three for their Maoist devotion to cronyism, support the County Clown and the minority of Two, the sensible Republicans (another paradox in paradise!) wonder why the Budget Director is under threat by the Administrator, the jester of the Gang of Three. Which leads me to wonder what is really going on. Is the Budget Director an abrasive yet competent public official, duly worried by the Administrator's ability to run up a huge public deficit- currently $8 million and counting. Or is the Budget Director just another incompetent bubba wallowing in his job, and now facing getting fired because he has fallen out of favor with the rest of the gang?
So much for living in Paradise, this place sometimes is just ankle deep in shit- literally.
Monday, August 20, 2007
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Poor Eddie the salesman was hopping around trying to talk me into a "service" ($300) until Victor and I in unison turned on him, like twins: "There will be no service till the scooter's running!" we snapped. Eddie retired hurt. Victor and I bent our heads over the patient.
As Victor poked and I watched, a continuous stream of people passed through the shop's door. There would a respectful, brisk tap followed by a smiling brown face peering round the door. I understood their greetings in Spanish, the Spanglish discussion of scooter parts and the polite introduction I got from Victor in English. I had no idea there is a whole scooter shop subculture in Miami. Real scooters Victor said, for real people.
Victor introduced me to them so I have cheaper options for scooter maintenance. Perhaps too so I can keep in touch after he had the Vespa Miami Boutique part ways. Perhaps he just liked that I mumble Spanish, I'm an immigrant too and best of all I have a history with Vespas.
"I respect people who work," he announced emphatically and proceeded to tell me the story of the guy who just shuffled out of the shop loaded with sound advice from the Master. Stories of immigrant struggle and workers deprivations in the Land of Milk and Honey. I wanted to pull in a few of those self satisfied Gringos who bitch all the time about the shiftless migrants seeking welfare.
He told me stories of meeting wealthy Mexicans rendered prostrate by recalcitrant scooters. They were stories, parables really, about how mechanics makes us all equals, especially in this land that lacks proper social boundaries. "In Mexico, a guy like that, why he'd never even notice me!" Victor marveled as he wrapped up another story about a flat footed Mexican millionaire limping into Victor's life with a broken scoot. I never enjoyed a broken Vespa so much.
We don't yet know exactly whats wrong but Victor showed me how to purge the fuel line when the scooter stalls and I tried it this morning on the way home from work when she died at the Sugarloaf Fire Department. I rode home with a paradoxical smile on my face. I must be bonding with the broken Vespa bitch from hell.
I'm hoping to avoid hauling the scooter back to Miami for a second go round but Eddie is jealous and won't let me talk to Victor. I'm in love with Victor right now, his white bread wife notwithstanding, so I'll have to get his cell phone number to let me whisper sweet nothings in his ear without Eddie knowing.
I miss carefree riding but I do like knowing a little more about this complicated Italian beauty, and the fact that when she stalls I can now whip her back onto the road. Hah!
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Its a matter of putting a sleeve on the handlebars and snugging the straps down so the Vespa rides on its wheels not on its center stand.
At this point one rides off into the sunrise and head up the Highway to the dealer 144 miles North. Until one reaches the Seven Mile Bridge where traffic is massively held up by a film crew shooting the bridge (dead I hope). I called the shop and they said it might take "a few days" to fix the problem. More than that I'm guessing as undoubtedly another electronic box has probably fused. This happened about four months ago and they got that done in a week. Meanwhile I'm driving my spare machine.
We bought the 97 Geo Metro a few years ago as a "Conch Cruiser," thats what locals call a cheap and cheerful way to get around town. Naturally the $2500 "Conch Cruiser" has served us well, returning over 40mpg and blowing cold air all over us as we go. It takes a hundred bucks to replace all four tires and spare parts are mostly cheap and always abundant, available overnight from Miami. It puts my motorcycling econo-commutes to shame.
I haven't given up though, I still love two wheels, always have and always will. My sweet wife has seen my heartbreak and is gently encouraging me to find a way to keep on riding. The warranty on the Vespa runs out in November and I'm not sure I want to play craps with this machine much longer. In order to have a plan B I've been scouting Motorcycle Trader.
I've found a pretty decent motorcycle that might work for me. I'd love a shaft drive Moto Guzzi but I'm tired of unreliable Italian exotics so I'm aiming at a Japanese cycle, like my recent 650 Suzuki that ran perfectly for 20,000 miles and survived several hurricanes. I only sold it because it really was desperately uncomfortable to ride, with its cruiser seating and feet forward position.
When in Italy I rented and rode for a week on a BMW 650 single. It was a newer Enduro model with chain final drive and I enjoyed it thoroughly. There are used models for sale with a maintenance free belt drive which is one of my criteria. If you eliminate chain drive you have to pick a motorcycle with a belt (like the Vespa!) or a drive shaft (similar to cars). Or an ugly duckling like the BMW 650 CS. BMWs have a reputation for world girdling reliability and that's what I want. I want to know that I can rely on my ride to get me where I'm going. The Vespa is falling short in that department, which forces me to think at length about this and I am pissed. I hate buying and I hate selling and I had set my heart on growing old with my Vespa. I must have tempted fate.
Monday, August 13, 2007
It was all stuff that I lived with from day to day. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. I didn't depend on these skills to live or feed anyone. I saw them employed, I learned them in a dilettante-ish sort of way and I shared moments in the field with men who wore leather skin without a second thought for skin cancer. or the wrinkles of old age. My favorite task, myself a confirmed scion of a wealthy family, a dilettante like Paris Hilton on TV, was plowing a field. Ploughing you may not know, is usually accomplished in the Fall, after the harvest is gathered, the wheat sold and the straw piled high in conical haystacks like dunces hats. Harvesting is always celebrated in books and the arts, but that's because it's a collective experience and one of joy- money in the bank!
Ploughing is a solitary past time, in olden days a man worked with his oxen yoked to the ploughshare ( I told you it was Biblical stuff), and in more modern times that same man ignored the blandishments, the siren song of cows and harnessed horsepower to his plowshare in the form of a bright orange Fiat tractor. And with that tractor and even a single bladed plow an incompetent like me could turn soil at a rate far in excess of the most skilled peasant ploughman and his oxen. And that ploughing brought with it satisfaction. I like ploughing because I enjoyed the proximity to the machine, the power of the caterpillar tracks clanking and the sight of the blade neatly slicing through the turf and exposing an endless wedge of rich brown soil। At the end of the day you could see the work done and measure the brownness of the soil against the grayish green of the morning's field. It was good work.
I was put in mind of the olden days of farm work not simply because of my recent historic visit back to Umbria after a 25-year absence, but because, more prosaically I was cleaning my Vespa the other afternoon.
Unlike Autumn in Central Italy, summer in the FloridaKeys is a hot humid and breathless affair. Not here do we smell fresh soil, wet leaves and the cooling breezes of the change of season. I keep the Vespa under my stilt home, out of the burning, disfiguring sun, and I polish my red buzz bomb. I like polishing it because I have found the right tools for the job, and those tools produce a shiny red carcass where the scooter body previously was faded and dull with dust. Like plowing a field where sometimes a corner is left unturned I occasionally leave a wedge of dusty Vespa undone through carelessness, and on the Vintage Red Vespa body, the wedge of dust smears like a dull stain of remorse and I rush to take another pass with the soft cloth and rub All Kleer over the opaque patch. While I wipe out the dust, I'm put in mind of those far off days of my youth, my unhappy days punctuated by ploughing pleasure, and my pleasure filled days today, punctuated by the requirement, from time to time, to be annoyed or alone or frustrated, and it all falls away even now, with a rag, some goop and a shiny Vespa to show for my efforts.
Friday, August 10, 2007
So why not ATTGAT myself? I could spend a thousand dollars on the gear, but its not the expense. Its hot in South Florida, but they do sell vented gear. People think all the gear looks odd all the time, but I don't care what others think. No the reason I don't ATTGAT comes from somewhere else. Buggered if I know exactly where though. Force of habit perhaps, or the proverbial old dog and new tricks, something like that. Perhaps partly it comes from the discomfort and the complexity of a life bound in kevlar.
I have seen the needle pegged at 96 on the turnpike (possibly 87 "real" miles per hour) but I'm usually trundling along between 50 and 70 on my daily rounds. Dangerous? I suppose it could be. Yesterday I was riding in Big Pine and a car stopped in front of me to turn left. It was an older model Cadillac with faint brake lights and it gave me a fright- but I slowed, and swerved round it, in control and focused once again on the road. Had I been tailgating....As it is I have 37 years experience riding in all sorts of conditions and making all kinds of mistakes. Experience counts for more than even I realise. Its by exposing myself to the inexperienced on the web that I learn how much I already do know. I have yet to exhibit a death wish.
I have sailed a great many miles and have answered numerous fears about pirates and storms and getting lost and drowning and on and on. Not many people ever asked about the most joyous moment afloat, or the most beautiful sight or the deepest satisfaction. They make it a point to reassure themselves that by failing to act on their "dreams" they are being sensible.
Of course when one chooses to live in the Florida Keys one opens oneself up to that other charge of recklessness and foolhardiness. When I was a California resident it was earthquakes that kept my interlocutors engaged. Now its hurricanes, and all I can say is that i do my best to be prepared, and isn't it nice that the rest of the time the weather down here is so delightful?
I could be living in Missouri and facing the New Madrid fault, or drowning in monsoon flood waters in Bangladesh or Britain. Instead I live in paradise, they say.
I write these words in hopes that they may inspire me when and if I lose everything to a storm or mobility to a wreck. Its not a challenge to Fate its an acknowledgement that life itself is a risk and there is no way out but Death. I reinforce my belief that the only way to cope is to do one's best. I am luckier than some, their taste for adventure is such that they can only cross the boredom threshold by actually putting their lives at risk. They are the true risk takers, mountaineers, parachutists, record setters of an extreme type. I just ride a scooter for fun, until the end of the road, wherever that may be.
Upon diving into God Is Not Great I found a text that articulated for me, more precisely, more eruditely and more completely my own reasons for loss of faith.
I work with a two women who fit into this debate almost perfectly. One, the Mother, is a young mother of four married to a man of Christian puritanism that would it seems puts him high in the Boer orthodoxy of 19th century South Africa. He it is who lays down the law in the family and she it is who is subservient. I have endeavored to keep my feelings on the subject quiet, going so far as to remove the cover from my hardback when it has accompanied me to the workplace. I don't know the Mother that well as she only works with me occasionally, on her overtime shifts.
My other female co-worker is my regular companion on Bravo night shift. She grew up in a harsh uncompromising, but surprisingly variable series of religious edicts from her mother. She fled home and sought refuge in a world of disorder and unconventional living. From that she followed her older, and more passive sister, to Key West and fell into the lap of a good, hidebound job. This daughter repudiates religion in all its forms and coercions.
The daughter worships at the altar of modern living, television, and lives a restrained life such as monastic orders would approve, moderation in all things, faithfulness in matters intimate, and a work ethic that would gain the approval of the slacker Benjamin Franklin. Yet the mention of religion and all its ethical codes gets her out of her chair.
One night we stumbled across a magazine carried to work by the Mother, for her edification. It contained the Christian rendition of one of those banal magazine quizzes, which usually ask something ridiculous like how hard do you please men, and in this case qualified "men" as the Son of Man. With predictable results when the daughter got ahold of the quiz.
The Christian mother took it well, as I spluttered and tried to shut the Atheist up. On the other hand the mother says "fuck" more freely at work than I would expect her to be able to do at home. Perhaps working gives her not only money (to take the children to that den of homoeroticism, Disneyland) but also an outlet from the strictures of the Church.
Its odd to me to find confirmation of Hitchen's intellectual stance in my own workplace, the stark confrontation of abused religious victim and abused religious codependant. Even in my own family, my formerly staunchly anti-clerical brother-in-law, now a grandfather, takes his family meekly to Mass each Sunday, finding time to marvel at the preaching power of the parish's new African priest. Such is the shortage of priests that even in the seat of Catholicism, the former Papal States, they import priests from Africa.
When I was a child I believed God was an old white man with a long white beard and he peered at us through pinholes in a cardboard box, and in that box the earth and the sky were suspended. It seems odd to me that people, as educated as me, still hold this fundamental belief, and worse yet spend time and treasure seeking to prove the unprovable. I think its true that no matter how little we believe, those among us that do express a belief in a god, any god, are expressing a fear of death.
I have often imagined my own death, my departure on that journey to a borne from which no traveler returns, as the saying goes. It seems more satisfactory and productive to spend less time imagining and more time enjoying. Is this what they mean by God's Bounty?