Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A New Bohemian In Old Key West

The lure of Key West refuses to dim for some people and often they ask me what to do about it. It's a question that perplexes me, not least because my cold logical Asperger's brain says if you want to do it, do it. But it's not that simple they say and it never is. When I was a kid learning to plough fields that I owned but that I had no money to maintain hence my ride on the tractor, I was in the habit of wondering out loud where would be a good place to live if one day my family could ever get its shit together and make some money from this biblically stony ground that held no appeal to me as a home. The old hand on the other tractor looked at me stonily and noted that with enough money anywhere is good enough to live. It's a lesson that has got away from me over the years but in Key West it has come home to roost.

George like me never even knew about Key West until he had an accidental brush with it. He flew over the town and throught the situation looked interesting, a town surrounded by turquoise waters. I rode there on my Vespa looking for a ferry out that wasn't there. Beorge became an accident two European ad spent a productive lifetime in Prague city of monuments and spires and writers and acommunism and bloody cold winters. Five minutes after arriving in Key West and abandoning his rental car for a walk George and his missus decided Key West was a lot better than Belize, the other short listed place with winter sun that looked better than Prague as a place to retire.

So here was my chance over tapas at Santiago's Bodega to find out why Key West. Weather? Of course. Fishing? Nope. Boating? Nope. Family ties? Nope, not at all. The literary scene? A big fat Yes for this literature major who first identified Prague decades ago by its Kadka/Kundera fame and only later discovered he could earn a living there. There was no unbearable lightness of beans in Prague for George who landed a volunteer gig there just as capitalism started to rear it's busy head behind the former Iron Curtain. By the time the chance for foreigners to get established in Prague had passed George was ensconced with local partners playing with money and learning to be happy working eighty hours a week in his adopted land speaking an adopted language with a cellphone glued to his head. Meanwhile back in Gotham City... I was living on a boat in California reporting news and making absolutely no money whatsoever. I met women though and learned the old adage they won't lie down in a cabin they can't stand up in.

So now George who grew up shuffling between DC and New York, his wife and their one year old live in Old Town a few months of the year scattered throughout the year, scattered enough for George to reject vehemently the snowbird label...
George has catapulted himself into a Key West that is alien for me, and thus that much more interesting. To me learning a language then learning to live that language is much more interesting than choosing to live in Key West which is a default position for a lot of incomers myself included, yet for George life is now beginning to flesh itself out for him. The monochrome world of finance in a country that is as exotic as it is distant has blossomed into the overly saturated colors of a primitive artwork that is Key West's fame and reputation. On the one hand it makes me a bit nervous because I am not terribly colorful. I don't pick fights in bars or solicit strippers, I don't commune with street people or lead impromptu jamborees on penny whistles and kazoos. I work overtime, pay most of my bills and fret about global warming, peak oil and bone spurs in my neck.

Yet here I am living in the Keys, living the dream as it were, unable to explain how I even got here except I showed up on my boat after years of flirting with Key West and finding it wanting, when suddenly the fog of San Francisco Bay was no longer tolerable and enough of the outside world had penetrated Key West to make it at last comfortable for me. I find tolerance to be a precious commodity as I grow older and tolerance in California is draining away under the pressure of too many people and too many golden dreams crowded into a state no longer large enough, or golden enough to give them room. Key West's reputation for tolerance may be somewhat overstated nowadays as traditionally not tolerated issues like homosexuality and unconventional relationships generally are tolerated far more widely across the country. It's tough to be a Bohemian nowadays, an irony that I quite enjoy considering George's many decades of actual residence in Bohemia....our neighbors at Santiago's were from somewhere else recording their visit for posterity. Perhaps they felt the bohemian vibe?

George wants to soak up life now he is here, smart phone free, unemployed, and ready to live. I find it flattering he wants to do it in Key West, and it seems to me he gets what he wants. My wife and I wandered around Eastern Europe for three weeks in 1995, driving through Czech, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Austria and it seemed like the land of opportunity as change was sweeping the drudgery of Communism away. But I had no conception of how, or why one might choose to make a home there. Nothing daunted George did and did it well. Settling in Key West, resuming his literary ambitions, mixing it up with colorful locals (there are some, just not me) and reveling in joie de vivre should be a piece of cake for the Bohemian re-born. My dog tends to reflect my Key West ambitions on a sunny afternoon off:

George will make a much better gauge of what happens when one moves one's life to a Key West of which so many dream and not everyone attains. You should ask him how it's done the next time he greets your cheerfully on the street and asks how you are doing. He really means it, he wants to know. It was a privilege to meet a nice guy and he will be very gentle with you. He was with me. Must be those European manners.