Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Curse

I have never been particularly attracted to my birthday, perhaps as a result of being at boarding school on the fatal day during my formative years. Perhaps because i have only the vaguest sense of the passage of time. Yet here I am, 53 and still stuck with the attachment of Halloween to the date of my birth.There is a perverse element in my nature, inasmuch as everybody else seems to enjoy celebrating the holiday of All Saints Eve, but for me this mixture of harvest festival and children's kindergarten hour with adults regressing all around me and encouraging me to disguise myself for the day. Last year we were told we could wear "tasteful" Halloween outfits at work. I showed up in a Hawaiian shirt, shorts and Crocs claiming I was disguised as an "off duty police dispatcher." I work in an office where our modest uniform of polo shirt with a police badge and dress pants and dress shoes is viewed as an unmitigated burden, and my (lack of) creativity was viewed with some envy by colleagues who are always looking for a way out of wearing the uniform. I tell people it took me 35 years to find myself so don't expect me to take the time to disguise what I found at this late date.When I was a child Halloween was not a holiday at all in Italy and was limited to children in England. Apparently it is a holiday based on a Celtic celebration of summer's end or some such, Samhain (pro: sow-an) required masks to be worn to frighten off credulous spirits. The term Halloween, or more properly Hallowe'en came into use in the 16th century referring to the day before All Saints Day which falls on November First. "Hallow" means sainted, and "eve" refers to the day before. The orange and black colors refer to the darkness of winter and the glow of fireplaces.Originally Celts carved pumpkins as candle holders to ward off those credulous evil spirits, though gradually America, land of the giant marrow created the tradition of carving pumpkins. For some reason I can't quite figure Halloween is always associated with night creatures and general spiritual unpleasantness.
Key west is a town filled with people who will put on a disguise at the merest excuse and of course my birthday is the day when a lot of this nonsense culminates, especially as Fantasy fest generally falls on or around this fatal day. For Cheyenne the crowds are bothersome and she is attracted to the smells of garbage which make her awkward to walk. She attracts too much attention too, which makes photography a chore in a crowd. She got a bowl of ice cold water from Lobo's Grill and she liked that just fine, the orange and brown colors notwithstanding.When we lived -briefly- in Fort Myers my wife and I were astonished by the hot headed hatred towards the holiday by some of the churches in the area. They railed against Halloween as though it was some sort of satanic holiday designed to lead children off the rails of morality and godliness. I find that attitude absurd, in the same way that equating Harry Potter novels to satanism is the height of foolishness. I am simply indifferent to my birthday's particular meaning. And in the United States, where adults love their Halloween I hate admitting to the fact that I was born at ten minutes to midnight on the Greenwich meridian (near enough) and that all makes me a marked man. "Ooh, you were born on Halloween?" they say archly.And I am one who is not given to supernatural speculation so inevitably the fact that I was born on Halloween leads to disappointment as I have no horns sticking out of my head, no superpowers and I lack the playfulness, after a half century of being labeled, to enjoy the joke. It's a pity really someone with a better attitude didn't get the burden of being born on this day in my place. They might have done better with it.As it is, my birthday comes and goes and I feel the weight of the years a little at a time. Like most people I don't feel anything more than eighteen on the inside, however I seem to have been pretty lucky in my collection of genes as I continue to enjoy robust good health. My buddy Giovanni the cardiologist tells me in the 6th decade the weight of the years will press down much harder so we should have our fun while we can. He smokes, I exercise in an effort to age as well as I can. Pain sucks.I wonder what will happen when we die. Giovanni says he has heard from many heart patients who have "seen the light" in near death situations, a phenomenon more widely spoken of than previously. Whether it is a last burst of electrical energy or a pathway to another world who knows. I spend little time speculating on the unknowable. Meanwhile I look forward to a cake next week promised by Chuck and even though I am working this weekend, the fact that it is my birthday is a matter of some indifference. My wife kindly goes along with my eccentricity, but she was born January 15th so what does she know about Hallowe'en?As curses go, being born on October 31st isn't so terribly bad, it's just awkward like having a blemish on your identity that needs to be explained every time someone comes in contact with it. One day, perhaps when I grow just a little older and wiser, I will learn to deal with my birth day more gracefully. For now I shall resign myself to being grumpy about it.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Street Fair

"They had no idea!" Frank Duponty chortled as he held up traffic with one hand and talked over his shoulder to me. "These big biker guys had never heard of Fantasy Fest and they were wondering why there were all these naked men walking around? Hey, it's just another weekend in Key West," we were laughing. It's not really but for those who worry about public nudity and men kissing in public this is not a good time to be in town.The big parade is tonight when I'll be at work and my wife will be tucked up at home with Cheyenne, a glass of wine and a book. We aren't such big fans of the parade down Duval Street as it consists only in part of floats built locally to local themes. Too many big krewes from the mainland come down and bring their generic pirate ships and ghost trains and add a touch of mainstream boredom to a Key West tradition. We like the local's parade on Friday and we take a wander on Duval before what's known on the program as The Masquerade March. There's lots to see.Everyone shows up, including some startled looking young men with wide eyes and crew cuts.
Bead tossing is a big part of the main parade, supposedly to encourage women to expose their chests as the floats pass by. They were tossing beads from upstairs at Fast Buck Freddie's.Another big part of Fantasy Fest is to satisfy the need of elderly Mid-Westerners to expose themselves in public. Some do it with humor.Everyone was ogling the young things offering nude cruises.The rules of Fantasy Fest supposedly require genitals to be covered and female breasts to be at least painted.Silly costumes are permitted unfortunately. No, really they are. Across the street beer was offered for two dollars without the naked barker.
Horseplay is encouraged and you'd be astonished how good natured it all is.The street food was back, pork crackling and arepas but we went for a plate of something different. Braza Lena on Caroline Street is expensive so we had a taste for ten bucks.
And for dessert we wandered and watched.
And I watched the old men, my contemporaries, get their jollies with their camera. Sweet aren't they?These two looked effective and creepy. This is gross and illegal.
I figured she had a tough row to hoe, essentially selling ice cubes on a glacier.
I am always glad I'm just a dispatcher, hidden away upstairs at the police station.
A good day for people watching from the Whistle.
I wondered why she was scratching her butt.
"The Devil made me do it" he laughed.
I don't know what made her do it, I'm sure.
An amiable crowd, lots of food and some rather strange taste in clothing. We left Cheyenne at home, she doesn't do crowds."Five dollar foot long" read his t-shirt. "I wish I'd thought of that " said a passer by. He really did to my astonishment. This guy bore an uncomfortable resemblance to Jack riepe.
Fantasy Fest is a big deal. It raises lots of money for Aids Help it gets tourists in town during a quiet time of year and this year it got Tom Walker back writing a column in the Key West Citizen. He used to be a regular and is much missed but they gave him a return appearance this week for three of his trademark columns. He doesn't get it all right though. He mentioned in yesterday's column that pink Crocs make suitable footwear for a Fantasy Fest outrageous outfit. If he wasn't so funny (and a sworn law enforcement officer) I'd challenge him to pistols at dawn for uttering such a slur. Yup, she nearly hit me with a set of beads as I tried to get a better picture of the bead hurling from Fast Buck Freddie's. He threw me a set as compensation, which I passed to my wife. No harm done!
And that pretty much sums it up: no harm done. On Monday I'll have pictures from the Masquerade March which is known to most as the local's parade.
And then it's all over as one crosses out of the modesty-free zone.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Summer Seascape

In between wild and windy days there are still some quiet, windless mornings when the sea is flat as a pancake and as still.A while back I took Cheyenne to the north shore of West Summerland Key and started taking a few pictures on a whim, while she rooted around.I was enjoying some time alone here, on a morning when rain threatened possibly keeping anglers away. The last time I came here the parking lot was packed with cars and people with fishing poles.West Summerland Key is an oddly named island, far to the east of the better known island called simply Summerland Key, which is where my post office resides at Mile Marker 26. No one knows why it is called West Summerland, but it is between Big Pine Key (seen on the horizon, above) and Bahia Honda.I just wanted to take a few pictures of the water and not think about anything too much. Cheyenne apparently felt the same way. The rock formations here have been eaten away by the tides. The bridge connecting West Summerland to Big Pine is masked by the old Flagler railroad bridge when seen from the north. This little green cigar is a new red mangrove first taking root among the rocks. The natural causeway to nowhere. I had my newspaper and unable to resist the siren call of the day's headline I wandered out to the point, found a smooth rock and started to read.All was still. The sun kept making an effort to rise over the horizon and break through the clouds. I sat out at the far tip of my little peninsula and read the paper. It was most relaxing with my dog sitting at my side. The birds didn't mind us. The bridge to Bahia Honda, in sepia tinted early morning light.
Looking back at my seat among the rocks. I was too lazy this day to take a self portrait of me reading the paper.
This was not a day meant for a lot of effort. I got into the spirit of the thing and we slowly ambled back to the car.