Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Don't Stop The Carnival

Dawn smiles on Key West and South Roosevelt Boulevard is where I go to check it out.
It's an interesting headline in the newspaper, followed by a bunch of contradictory statements and very straightforward numbers. From what I read American and Delta are handing Southwest their lunch in terms of numbers flying to and from Key West. Southwest says their last flight is June 7th 2014 which gives everyone lots of time to talk, which is good because Southwest says the airport gives bad customer service to the airline with broken equipment and shabby facilities. Then they say their numbers are good and getting better but their profits are down. Sounds to me like they might reconsider for more favorable fees and judging by the knock kneed response from the Chamber of Commerce who are "shocked, shocked" that the airline is quitting Key West, they will fold like a cheap suit. And doubtless keep calling for cuts in wages.
However they are getting here they are here right now and the balmy Southernmost City is packed. That's what frigid winters Up North when it's a comfortable eighty degrees right here.

I guess this kind if behavior goes on in cities across America, otherwise they wouldn't do it here. What makes it so peculiar in Key West is that running in odd looking clothes is a seasonal affair only. In summer when it would take real sweat glands to go jogging there's only me and my panting dog. In winter the sidewalks are littered every morning with horribly active people.

I feel like an extra in Don't Stop the Carnival watching the Norman Papermans seeking a reconstructed reality on this little island yet like the hero of the novel unable to save themselves from their true natures. Everyone seeks the elusive Leprechaun of Laid Backland but like any self respecting leprechaun this one can't be found if the seeker searches too hard. You won't find it by running after it.

Pause for a moment. Two seriously uncomfortable cars on Whitehead Street. I am not a car fanatic, as much as I do like motorcycles...but these bath tubs looked real to me, they were driven, had touches of rust and did not look at all like trailer queens. I liked that. They had the swagger of use.
You know how car shops advertise check ups and "lube?" Well, once upon a time cars really find need lubrication. Oils needed changing every few thousand miles, spark plugs wore out and joints needed grease. Imagine that, every few thousand miles your car needed a work up. If you recognize the little grease nipples on the cross beams you are either an old timer or an old car freak. If not, you are used to cars that go a hundred thousand miles with nothing more than an occasional oil change. How d'you like your Yaris now?

Anyway when I see Norman Paperman jogging his cares away I wonder what Conchs think of all this carnival of money that comes surfing into town each winter. I guess if they made out when the money rolled into town they are okay with it. If not, probably less so. I was listening to a couple of lawyers outside the courthouse a couple of weeks ago as they stood sping coffee waiting for something or someone. They wore shapeless suits and one had extraordinarily bad teeth, which surprised me in the land of perfect dentistry.

For some reason I cam across the Southernmost Lump almost unattended. And the only woman there, attired in proper running gear, as far as I could see, had her back turned to the famous monument. Good job, not everyone has yo have their head turned by fame! I am proud to say Cheyenne also paid no attention to the buoy seeking more interesting sensations. Good dog.

Anyway those two lawyers started reminiscing about the good old days, fishing without regulations, crashing about in the mangroves (which are protected now) and Cuban coffee, a colada, and sharing it among a group of friends, not a care in the world. And yet, I wanted to point out to them as I overheard their longing, you had no lap tops, no instant view of The Game, no contact with the outside world except by newspaper, crackly telephone or very long drive. A flight out in those dark days was as expensive as a "long distance call" - and who now remembers phone calls cost by the mile... I remember when Atlantic Shores welcomed one and all at the spot shown below. I used to delight in describing it as "straight friendly" but more importantly they also took dogs. Even at the Thursday night open air movies when I would watch the film, eat popcorn, drink a beer and pet Emma lying on the lounge chair between my legs. Things have changed, and like the attorneys I too could go all rose tinted when I see this:

Cheyenne gave this kid a friendly sniff and he looked up from his intricate pencil drawing, quite lovely actually and I hope his parents recognize his talent incidentally, and it was only on my return trip up Whitehead I noticed him still there, waiting. I have no facility with kids and they are rather mysterious beings to me so talking with them is not easy, even when I know them. I wanted to ask how it was growing up but Cheyenne in any event walked the other way so the opportunity was lost. I've heard good and bad about growing up in Key West, the duality of freedom versus "nothing to do," and as hard as it would beyond convince them otherwise boredom is a constant for of youth everywhere. Adults too actually. Every young person I have crossed paths with has been very polite and respectful to me in Key West, despite the stories I hear to the contrary.

I tried to live in mainland Florida but Tampa, St Petersburg and Fort Myers did nothing for me. I don't fit in very well in suburbia. Key West I like. It's a bit startling to find I am attached but here I am. I am as much an incomer as anyone though I have found it easy to set out not to disturb the natural order of things. At work I have no particular feelings about how the job gets done as long as it gets done the way we are told. Because of my peculiar attention to detail I get vexed if it isn't done as we are told, but as to an opinion how it should get done, that I leave to the bosses to devise. Key West rewards those that don't arrive in town ready to upset the apple cart. And lots of things upset local people, like toilet manners:

Just like anyplace across the planet we celebrate the pagan rituals of a Nordic midwinter, translated into the Bohemian story of Good King Wenceslas, and flipped into story of the Son of God bearer of the season of goodwill, born into a Roman census mysteriously carried out for once in mid winter in Palestine. So we put out evergreens and color them red and play German hymns and in honor of the gifts from the East for the newly born King we exchange presents we cannot afford at the urging of merchants whose goodwill only goes so far. Toilets and seats require specie.

I love reading the Citizens' Voice column with its daily dose of anonymous community whining. Then you get the odd protest from some sane citizen who whines about all the whining. The trouble with living in Paradise is that it isn't always sweet loving heaven. Sometimes it sucks. The trick is to keep a sense of perspective and don't bitch about people. In a small community one disparaging remark can set you up against a phalanx of opposing opinion. You just don't know who sleeps/slept with whom, who wished they had slept with whom, who is related, who went to school, who lives next door, etc... Key West is more Byzantine than Byzantium when it comes to causing offense.

In the picture above I was struck by the young bucks sitting on the porch looking down at the dude maneuvering his bike loaded with his life on the street below. Even the poor like warm winters, but it's not a life I envy on the streets. Lose your job and it's that or a move Up North, Key a West is quite reluctant to offer second chances to working people. There's nowhere else to commute for a different job.

My dog could use a cooler climate but there again she isn't stuck in a yard anymore on a chain. Like I always say if there wasn't a pound with abandoned dogs I'd not have one. But she does polarize people, just by virtue of being a dog. Everyone has opinions about dogs, landlords don't want them, passersby disagree with how one walks them, they bark at neighbors (not Cheyenne happily), and so on. In a world filled with aggression among humans dogs to the uninitiated represent our feral natures at their worst. Even Cheyenne.

Norm Paperman's laid back escape is starting to look not quite so easygoing at this point, still the carnival keeps going and binging money to Kinja. In some quiet corners of this little town one sometimes gets a hit of Kinja, the way it's described, as not all Key West is in tourist use. This complex has been abandoned as long as I remember and it's a block from the infamous Southernmost Point.

Which is sporting a Menorah from the Chabad temple in Key West. I also noticed a similar public display at the entrance to the city. Florida's oldest temple is the venerable synagogue on United Street but the Chabad crowd according to the literature are even more conservative than the Congregation B'nai Zion and apparently now they are advertising their way into the city. I don't understand religion really, perhaps as little as I understand children, but when religion acts like a business my ironic sense of the absurdity of life surfaces.

We are closing in on the end of the big Non Event of 2013 in the Flowery State, which was the celebration of five hundred years of white people living in the peninsula, principally the settlement of St Augustine where Spaniards settled long before the protesting English refugees landed in Massachusetts. In order to mark this auspicious occasion the great state of Florida led by our absentee Governor put out more flags like this rather misleading advertisement for a local branch of a multi national corporation:

As for recycling in Key West, I think I have said enough on that unhappy subject. They are recycling pay phones though and I have to say I am delighted about that. I used to feel sorry that those symbols of my youthful independence were disappearing and then I became a 911 operator. It pains me to say it but some people take pleasure in walking past a pay phone and taking it off the hook which prompts the phone to automatically seek help. We are required, because we know where the pay phones are located to send an officer to check the phone. Therefore the fewer of these nuisances are left, the better as far as I am concerned.

I acknowledge my status as a fly in the wall, and honestly I have spent most of my life observing, as a reporter and as a disinterested human being so there is no reason I should stop now. Simply by being in Key West it is reasonable to argue that I too am playing my part in keeping the Carnival going, keeping the influx of money coming in some very small measure, as an outsider negatively affecting the native population. It's a bit of a leap from observing Key West's evolution to quantum mechanics but I think of myself sometimes sitting here looking out and wondering whether to open the box on Schrödinger's cat to see if it is alive or dead. In the end it doesn't matter because the cat will be alive or dead no matter what I do. Thank you Niels Bohr. And the buggers will keep on jogging!

So whether or not I care how they spend their time in Kinja, they will keep coming and bringing their frantic habits with them from Up North. Still too, they will seek the illusion of laid back-ness which is illusory for us who live and work in the most expensive city in Florida, but the mirage of "island time" is made real for them by their efforts exerted far way from this island paradise. There they labor, here they recreate and bitch about how their island paradise is being ruined by the local pursuit of lucre. Like the peasant said to me years ago: "Anywhere is great to live when you have money," and he went back to his dogged tilling of the soil for very little financial gain. Some of us are just born to be peasants and live on the margins and lucky we are when the margins actually suit us.