I'm fifty six today which gives me the duty or perhaps the obligation to reflect on the passage of time. Which is a perfectly pointless use of a ticking clock hand. Time passes, if it exists at all and we have to spend it on this little blue ball suspended in the darkness of space. Which is a rather portentous way of thinking about how serene and peaceful the night sky can be, especially when close to the ocean.
I took a lunch break at White Street Pier, where the cool night air was blowing and everything felt contaminated by salty dampness at three o'clock in the morning... Fall is upon us but in Key West that means something a little different compared to places where leaves change and frost kills plants and dogs chained outside grow winter coats and howl at the demons of the night. In the Keys humidity drops away, lips chap and one's Labrador starts to perk up after a summer of avoiding direct sunlight. "It's cold outside," Shannon said cheerfully when she got back from her lunch break at ten in the evening. By the time I took a Vespa ride to the beach four hours later it was in the mid seventies and decidedly parky. Just like people Up North who look forward to the first snows and loathe the last, I like the first signs of a break in the weather though by January I will be waiting for the return of summer, a time when sixty degrees is nowhere to be seen outside an ice box.
I drank a large ice cold can of Coke Zero while I watched the half moon move across the sky, ducking in and out among the clouds, and I felt pretty good. We got through Fantasy Fest in good order at work. I spent the night of the parade dispatching ambulances and taking calls from severely intoxicated people who had lost, it seemed, all the appurtenances of their complex modern lives; the city was adrift in a sea of missing cars, bicycles, cell phones, wallets purses and family members. Through it all I managed to keep above the fray and stay cheerful such that Shannon, new to 911 call taking, asked me how I managed that. Nine years of Fantasy Fest in dispatch I said, and in saying it I was surprised how long I have worked at the police department. It's the human condition, you get used to anything. One caller got mad at me because I didn't get all in a lather when he reported a man passed out at Higgs Beach. I got all the information to make sure the officer could find him with minimal effort and the caller was acting like I was supposed to get myself worked up as he was. "Oh I don't want to get involved." the caller said when I asked him if he wanted to meet the officer. Of course he didn't,but I noted his request for anonimity as I calmly did my job, because thats what we do in the modern world. We aren't our brothers keepers anymore, unless we extend ourselves to call the government for help, and I am grateful for that; its my job security, other people's fear, and that makes my job weird. It always amazes me how people can drink themselves insensible in the streets of our fair city, and leave themselves to be picked up by perfect strangers. I wonder what they think when they wake up next day in the drunk tank at the jail. Mostly they call the police department all angry as though its our fault they got pick pocketted while passed out. By then I'm home asleep with my dog and their loss of dignity is long forgotten.
Most of the time I have worked nights because I like night shift and I have been out to the White Street Pier before now in the middle of my lunch break. It sticks out south of Higgs Beach like a finger pointing at Havana and the tour guides like to joke it is the stump of the former road bridge to Cuba closed by the embargo. It is in point of fact just a fishing pier, a nice one, but nothing more. And I like to come here from time to time and contemplate the night time mysteries of the universe and the pleasure of being alive and intact. This time I was impressed by the utter blackness of the night surrounding the tiny specks of light I caught in my camera lense. I hope that in the event my body fails one piece at a time before my demise i shall still be able to take pleasure in the vastness of the unvierse around me.
While buying my coke I met the sergeant in charge of our shift at the convenience store and we chatted for a while. He is enjoying a new relationship which is helping him overcome the unhappiness of a recent divorce, and the new relationship makes for a much happier shift. When the sergeant ain't happy ain't nobody happy, believe me. We talked about the subtle pleasures of working nights, and he showed me a video of his latest high speed track driving exploit and we laughed at the prospect of one day being retired and not having a reason to stand around at the Circle K shooting the breeze. The best is to have lived with no regrets he said. Or as few as possible, as he admired his new companion pictured riding in the race car next to him at the Homestead Race Track.
The landward end of the pier is an area dedicated to the AIDS memorial, a remembrance of the time when people were dying all over the island in droves. And from time to time a new name still gets added. At three in the morning ruffled by that cool autumnal breeze the memorial gains in strength as the black shiny memorial slabs reflect the infinite darkness overhead, the place where those memorialized have gone and where we are bound to follow. No regrets.
It strikes me as telling that these kinds of thoughts only seem to be permitted in the dark of night in this town, which is a place dedicated to having fun, and that diversion is held as the highest ideal. Sun sea sand and music and restaurants and costumes and parties and all that stuff pushes thoughts of age and the darkness of eternity to one side. Just as well I suppose, but I am content and I feel lucky, in the face of decay. At the Big Pine dog park I met an old white guy radiating contentment along with his cheerful Collie, so happy Cheyenne got tired of him in a hurry. We were sitting there in the dawn's early grayness and he talked about a fellow he knew, a computer repair wizard who rescued a Ridgeback dog from South Africa and flew it home to Key West. They are inseparable and if you want your computer fixed you have to welcome the Rhodesian right alongside the tech into your home.
It kind of surprised me, my conventional interlocutor remarked, suggesting love of dog could cut business prospects. Cool I said, tired as I am of being nice on command, as necessary as it is in our overcrowded world. Lose some work (gasp!) love your dog. Nice indeed. He's a good dog the dude in the garden chair across from me went on, idling ruffling his Collie's coat. They live for 25 years, Rhodesian Ridgebacks. Hell I said its too late for me, the bloody dog would outlive me! He started chuckling, you'd be 80 as I told him my age, claiming 55 for the last time. Yes I said, if I get that far. I figure I've got maybe two more Labradors in me yet.
It's not possible for normally engaged Westerners to be constantly aware, as the Bhuddists would like us to be, of our status as a small speck of stardust suspended in Carl Sagan's dark and lonely cosmos. But from time to time it's nice to remember our main obligation is just to get through it and do as little harm as possible while being as kind as one can manage. Growing older I am finding it easier to be a human being rather than a human doing, and that can't be all bad. Living, working and having a life in Key West is icing on this very temporary cake.