Friday, January 2, 2009

The Wasteland

I was so glad to get home after our week long excursion Up North, I didn't even mind having to drive home instead of flying, so when I dropped off the car at Alamo on North Roosevelt I decided to walk across town to pick up my wife's car which we had left with a friend. As I strolled along enjoying the bright colors and 80 degree (27 C) sunshine, it occurred to me that in Key West even chain stores have their own charm, as I viewed TGIF, the restaurant across the top of the mangroves at Salt Run Creek:

I had had enough, frankly, of the mainland; too much traffic, too many people and too much chaos. "I don't think we're suited to this life anymore," my wife remarked as we sat in gridlock on the interstate. I was about fit to be tied after six hours of stop and go horsing about on the highway, so I didn't find her conclusions to be the least bit out of line.It was in this frame of mind that I took off on foot across Overseas Market, the shopping area around Winn Dixie where I found this sign of the times:

My wife tells me her high school students don't even know what payphones are anymore, and I'm sick to death of hearing about Noel's new iPhone. He's 25 and is ecstatic about a phone that downloads the Internet and plays music and games and God knows what else. I am starting to miss the simpler era of coin phones and no instant communications at all. I am getting arterio-sclerotic I think. But, despite all my gloomy ruminations on communications, I was delighted to be home so the wreckage in the rear of Key Plaza, the shopping center next to Overseas Market did nothing to dampen my mood. Even the long abandoned Tunnel drive through convenience store was looking good in the sun:

There used to be a U-haul and propane store in the grassy area which is now flourishing unimpeded in the open. Chickens are enjoying the grass too:

I was pretty much taking pictures at random when it occurred to me that J Alfred Prufrock might feel at home in this wilderness with his love song. Or that other great work by Eliot, The Wasteland had been required reading when I was a kid who didn't much appreciate poetry, or the genius of T.S. Eliot. I look back and feel my English Literature classes were a waste but then I looked around the loading dock at Albertsons and perhaps, I thought to myself it wasn't all wasted if this disaster area gives me poetic inspiration...

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow

Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,

You cannot say, or guess, for you know only

A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,

And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,

And the dry stone no sound of water.

And out there in the parking lot was an old float abandoned presumably following Fantasy Fest:

And I suppose it is a bit of a stretch to compare this papier mache construction with Madame Sostris, Eliot's tarot card reader, but the comparison I could not shake from my mind.
Here, said she,

Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,

(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)

Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,

The lady of situations.

Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,

And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,

Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,

Which I am forbidden to see.

Then, more prosaically I saw some graffiti lining the top of the Albertson's building and I thought to myself: How did they get up there? Up the fire escape ladder I suppose, and left their mark with some verve:

This is Key West's light industrial slum, the place where the trucks come and drop off food and toilet paper and local homeless people gather to pass the time of day. At first I thought this dude was an employee dithering around under the professional building. Later I saw him, pack on back wandering up Kennedy Drive. And other people who need to get across New Town take the winding path between shopping centers:

This isn't the place where one would come to be a tourist, or to seek out old historic Key West. This is the useful part of the city, rusty but useful:

There was a trolley of some sort, carefully chained to the railings near the loading dock:And the ubiquitous abandoned shopping carts all lined up by successive shoppers:

And would it have been worth it, after all,

Would it have been worth while,

After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,

After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—

And this, and so much more?—

It is impossible to say just what I mean!

But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while

If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,

And turning toward the window, should say:

“That is not it at all,

That is not what I meant, at all.”

But enough of this nonsense and nonsensical verse, The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock. I can see across Kennedy Drive the flag flying high above the baseball field and I am looking forward to the season starting up again. Conchs love their baseball and it's time I took my camera and checked out some of the games.

I am glad to be home. It puts me in the mood for poetry.