Friday, October 18, 2013

Getting Ready For Fantasy Fest

I was wondering how to take a picture to incorporate the bundles of barriers currently lining Duval Street in anticipation of the Fantasy Fest crowds next week. Then I came across a pair of sandals abandoned apparently in some drunken stumble of forgetfulness. There was the picture, unretouched as I found it:

No one knows how many people will show up for the week of street revelry but the guesses vary between 40,000 and 70,000 but in the event all rooms will be booked and the city of 23,000 full timers will be packed to the gills. Traffic will slow, parking will suddenly become hard to find and everyone in the trade gets to make money. Hospitality suddenly overfloweth after weeks of not many people coming to town in the slowest time of the year (which I really enjoy!).

Fantasy Fest is preceeded by Goombay which is a street fair on Petronia Street featuring the by now usual suspects when it comes to vendors present at every Key West event. So even though it is a celebration of island culture in the vein of the Bahamas' Junkanoo it ends up being thoroughly pleasant yet unremarkable, anchored as it is in Key West's inimitable cultural niche of a tropical, exotic town that is not tropical and is much less exotic than the travel posters advertise. This morning I watched them get ready for two days of music food and sales and I have no doubt I will have pictures of the fun later. As much as it is a Caribbean festival most people like food they know sausages, chicken and barbecue, not real Caribbean food like the goat stew put on last year by Blue Heaven and which I thought excellent.

Fantasy Fest's big schtick is public nudity, pun intended. The city creates a fantasy zone between Simonton and Whitehead Streets where people can ignore the rules of polite public behavior for a while, portable alcohol mixed with no genitals, no female nipples no lewd behavior but body paint and frequently tasteless displays of puerile humor are encouraged. It's a week of parties and find raising for AIDS Help and even if not everything goes quite a lot does. Tonight at six they crown the King and Queen of Fantasy Fest, the biggest individual fundraisers who raised money at parties and auctions leading up to this week.

The fundraising aside Fantasy Fest is big business capitalizing on the Halloween theme of this time of year. It's one of those things that tends to bring out the worst in city residents who abhor the crudity of the flesh, making it a point to mock those deemed too elderly for such vulgar displays, those most likely spending the most money by the same token, but these same locals could take a week's vacation right now to avoid contact with noisome festival but we don't. We go downtown ogle and mock. Weird but true.

Fantasy Fest is one of two scheduled times of the years (New Year's Eve is the other, plus all hurricanes) when police don't get time off. Because I work nights in dispatch and because of mandatory overtime I don't get much of a chance to see the big parade Saturday night and the local floats are worth seeing. The problem is that the whole Fantasy Fest thing has outgrown itself and floats come from all over the state, generic plastic traveling floats and they make the parade excessively long and dare I say it, rather boring well before the end of the evening

I had one particular phone call last week from some guy Up North who wanted to get police sanction for sleeping in his camper truck during Fantasy Fest. What if I'm drunk? What if I can't find a hotel? Where can I camp? I was nice to him but the truth is you can't do Fantasy Fest on the cheap. Hotels are in demand this year especially as the city has lost 500 rooms to renovations along the partially renovated North Roosevelt Boulevard. Everybody wants to make a buck and sleeping in front of anyone's home is going to draw attention. Sleeping in your car in the nighttime city is illegal. If they are selling seats imagine the cost of a bed... And trying to sleep for free violates the principal tenet of Fantasy Fest. Make Money.

My Key West is a place of my own making, the outlines of which appear here on the electronic page but the details, those irritating inexplicable wrinkles of daily life happen frequently when my back is turned, away from my iPad. I like my Key West the way I've tried to live my life, and that is on my terms. Some of what I like coincides with the general appreciation of Key West, the weather the architecture and the somewhat looser societal strictures. Other parts are mine alone, I like my job a lot, my home life, the Tropic cinema, swimming, my dog walks my motorcycle rides and evenings at home with my wife. But then there are the bits of Key West that don't work for me, things that I feel I should appreciate but that I just don't like. Fishing, dressing up, parties and public drunkeness are high on my lists. Not liking fishing is a bit like living in a ski resort and resenting the annual snow fall. I feel a bit silly on that count.

I have no understanding what life after death might involve, and I rather suspect the usually humorless insistence on belief in the fairy tale by believers is prompted by fear of the dark. I attribute my lack of interest to my cold Aspergian brain where logic rules but unhappily its the same cold logic that makes me cringe when someone suggests I dress up and assume a character. Why? I ask. Because it's fun they reply and I try to let them down gently. Walking my dog is fun! Riding my motorbike is fun. Pretending to be a ghost or an astronaut is ludicrous (a word rooted in the Latin term for play, ironically enough).

So I have been studying the schedule and forcing myself to ignore the absurd nature of public nudity and seek out some quiet corner of myself that thinks masquerades are fun, not absurd. Even for pets. I'd rather cut off a testicle with a rusty blade than subject Cheyenne, my love, to parading around in a costume. But other people like that sort of thing. Their animals? Who knows...better a costume than a chain and regular beatings if it were a choice between the two.

The odd thing about my Aspergers is that I don't judge, I'm not very good at it when I try, and I learned to give up expecting much from people a long time ago. Aspergers makes it impossible for me to understand a lot of social cues and facial expressions tell me nothing, so its easy for me to not be judgmental, to take things at face value. However normal functioning people think that because I don't like something I disapprove and it's impossible to convince them otherwise. I don't much like Bike Week here or at Daytona Beach or most likely at Sturgis though I've never been to South Dakota. That doesn't mean I disapprove of bike week, and even though I don't like loud exhausts I know that they are part of the Harley culture and bike week is all about parading around making noise. Have at it I say, bring money to our tourist town and then go home. See? I'm logical.


If only beautiful people could enjoy the cheerful stupidity that is fleshy Fantasy Fest it would be a small gathering indeed, so come one come all I say but just don't mind me if I don't participate and stand back and take pictures. I won't judge you whether or not you judge me. I'll be the poof in pink Crocs...

Official Fantasy Fest Website

And after that mess is over join the Parrotheads and Bob from Montana in a little over a week. Drunk yes, but happy and easy going.

And I'd be as likely to be seen with a foam parrot on my head as with an iguana hat. My loss maybe but that's not my Key West. You Enjoy!!



To walk past Sloppy Joe's and see the famous bar looking like this requires that you be an early riser.
The same at Hog's Breath (which they say is better than no breath at all).
An entrepreneur came through town a few years ago and as I recall offered the bars a five thousand dollar machine that sat under the bar. You fed it a bottle and the machine crushed the bottle into reusable powder. It seemed an ideal solution to the problem of heaps of stinking bottles being thrown into the trash. It never happened.
Bearing in mind it is illegal to walk with alcohol except during the forthcoming Fantasy Fest party zone, one has to wonder why bars and Shorty's grocery sell ethanol to go.
The city is littered with evidence of perambulating alcohol. I photograph it all the time...
The odd thing for me is that I feel like a cad when I say it but this town really does glorify alcohol to a degree that seems to me to be excessive. I like non IPA beer, I enjoy wine preferably red and not too tannic if you are offering, and I enjoy rum and gin if it has to be liquor. That said I don't feel it is necessary to get blitzed to have fun. Yet if I suggest there can be too much of a good thing I feel like a party pooper. But really here's another one:
Sometimes though I feel like Key West wants to force me to take the pledge, almost as a contrarian move. If alcohol was banned the town would shrivel up. There again why would people want to vacation in a dry town? Besides I would become an alcoholic if they tried to deny me the right to buy the stuff... I am perverse.
It's all about the bottom line naturally and when I see people drinking themselves stupid in public I admit I see job security in their public inebriation. I took a 911 call early one morning from a frightened woman alone at home who had a man hammering on her door. Why would he be yelling to be let in at two in the morning the frightened woman asked me after I assured her cops were on the way. Well I replied usually when people behave in ways I cannot possibly understand I assume alcohol is involved. She laughed which was a good sign she was reassured and soon the cops arrived and explained to the befuddled drunk that he lived temporarlily next door to the house he was hammering on. Not mean, not stupid, just drunk, and having a great vacation.
I m always surprised to see just how many establishments one person or group of people will want to own in Key West. One is never enough, and several restaurants and bars will end up with one owner or group of partners. I suppose that's why I own none, pure lack of ambition. It takes work to run a bar or restaurant and I cannot imagine trying t hire workers for these places. People make pots of cash from selling alcohol but not the workers that keep the places clean and functioning.
We humans are irrational of course. We know alcohol kills body cells a d impairs functioning but the initial rush is lovely and by the we have lost the judgement that tells us now is a good time t stop and over the edge we go. Hang over? No problem. By the time the ext opportunity arises we start the process again. Irrational it may be but it's well understood by all.
I recently saw the biography of J D Salinger at the Tropic Cinema and I found I fascinating. Catcher in the Rye was not a story that had a huge impact on me, I lived in a different world. But the movie made the point that Salinger, a man born with a silver spoon in his mouth and thus never had to work, felt the world was populated by sell outs and phonies. The adult world he believed was based on falsehood, so if one accepts that broad generalization alcohol seems like a good answer...after all we can't all afford to live in ivory towers in New Hampshire.
Lives get ruined by alcohol we know that and accept it. Drinking to seek oblivion is a fine little joke. It saddens me, yet I am also saddened by the need of people to seek oblivion when faced with the repetitive monotony of their lives. I have no idea how to change that but I do know in my bones that something is seriously wrong in a world where we live in a  state of apparent freedom yet feel the need to "medicate" with drugs and alcohol and prescribed medications.  better I suppose to make a joke out of it than let it get you down. perhaps alcoholism is a poor man's way out of the phoniness perceived by the idle rich Salinger who had no need to medicate himself out of a way of life he had chosen and was free to abandon at any time. Easy for him to pontificate and yet even he couldn't get another word to a world uncaring of his inner voices if they weren't Holden Caulfield's. He got pretty shirty instead with the people around him. Another way to "self medicate" I suppose.
The side of life in the Keys I enjoy involves the physical beauty of life by the seaside.
This is the week of Fantasy Fest and alcohol takes center stage to celebrate the end of the summer doldrums and the impending winter season of revelry.

And yes, I like it with the odd drink too. I keep a liquor cabinet and I make a mean dark and stormy.