Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Green Parrot

This is an essay about me stepping out of character. I was looking forward to a nice evening at home with my wife. There was turkey soup to polish off, a box of red wine fermenting on the kitchen counter (these are hard times we live in and decent bottles don't come as cheap as boxed wine) and for once I had no overtime to work. My life is filled with overtime at the moment as Alpha nights is short one dispatcher and my colleague Paula, the overtime hog bless her, is out of town. We got a call from a friend, her husband was playing at the Green Parrot Bar on the corner of Southard and Whitehead Streets. It makes all sorts of claims, the oldest bar in Florida, the first and last bar because of it's proximity to the Mile Marker Zero sign, and so forth. It boasts no air conditioning and lots of musical acts. A combination that makes it fortuitous I don't live nearby.
Sunday night the place was packed for the regular "sound check" performance. None of that helped me, as my least favorite position is to be in a smoky room standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers and a few friends in an environment so noisy I can't carry on a conversation.Lots of people everywhere. There was a reason for the crowd and as soon as everyone started flashing their cameras I took advantage to snap a few essay-worthy pictures. I liked the representation of the migrant-spotting blimp seen flying over Cudjoe Key: Television is the curse of the modern age, and I loathe eating in restaurants where there is a television (I stopped going to Harpoon Harry's diner when they got a TV). Even in bars I would rather see the TV chopped in half by a ceiling fan, thusly: The reason we were here was to see a woman sing. She was celebrating her 90th birthday, feat enough for most of us but the remarkable Norma Miller celebrated her birthday with some jokes, some singing and astonished the audience with her vivacity and sheer physical strength. She cussed and joked ("I put my teeth on the night stand, I put my wig on the night stand, I put my titties on the night stand- he don't know whether to jump on the night stand or jump into bed!" gave me a rather startling appreciation for the vicissitudes of old age). My only photograph of this remarkable woman left a lot to be desired and my best efforts to brighten it up barely do her justice. She was, in my defense, the center of a very large crowd of attentive fans:Apparently she is known as the Queen of Swing and no one at the Green Parrot could tell me how she got that grandiose title. Google came to my rescue and it turns out she literally wrote the book on the swing era in New York in the 1930s. She says she entered a Lindy Hop contest almost by accident with her partner Frankie and they were spotted winning, which success led to a job at the Savoy. Skip forward a couple of generations and she was in Key West at the Green Parrot Bar:I made do with a glass of Bass and we listened to what turned out to be Miller's only set and then the band, as they say, played on. The main reason for our visit was Phil who was playing keyboard for this guy, a friend of his from Up North.
Crude flash photography does a good job of illuminating, as reluctant as I am to use it.
Space opened up, a little, with Miller's disappearance...

...and I managed to catch Phil smiling a little. His wife Cathy says he was feeling a little out of his element though you wouldn't know it. Phil operates the piano at Little Palm Island, the swankiest resort in the Lower Keys, a job he has held and enjoyed for years. I was extremely ready for turkey soup by now, so I sucked down my second beer of the evening (Newcastle Brown this time, as the Bass seamed rather flavorless compared to my favorite Smithwicks) and took some pictures.
Bar people enjoying The Life in Key West Florida.
I had a ways to go......but the women were still nattering, until finally we discovered it was time to go.
I was surprised by the demographics of the people I saw in the bar, mostly older perhaps a function of the music or the time. Apparently the music is brought forward to an earlier time to accommodate the sleep patterns of the older generation. It worked for me, I was home and supping soup before 7:30. With a glass of mineral water as I had had my quota of alcohol for the day, old man that I am. I make an appalling barfly.

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Thanks to bobscoot who sent me some improved versions of the shaky dark pictures taken across the room. Norma Miller in her black hat is actually quite visible as a result, as are her musicians. Trust a thoughtful Canadian to step in selflessly.