If you are Up North you have had snow and really cold weather. Good luck with that, and spare a thought for me as I face a 55 degree night tonight after work. Or for him hoping his hung over has worn off and he has found his way to shelter. During the course of my ramble with Rusty yesterday morning he moved but as you will see not far. He's not dead, so don't call 911 breathlessly telling me you've seen a corpse: he drank too much because life got the better of him. It used to happen to a lot of people around here but they're much reduced in number.
Curry Mansion is there on Caroline Street to remind us that Valentine's Day is coming. My wife looked up from her Amazon page and said Happy Valentine's Day we're getting watches. I haven't worn a watch in decades, but the past is the future and by Wednesday I should have an article strapped to my wrist once again. Apparently it will note my physical activity so I hope someone will care, perhaps some Moldovan hacker will count my steps or squats or whatever it does. I know my wife will be making sure I get up every hour I'm sitting at work. I am become patient in old age, this too will pass and I trust the next fad will be less weird and intrusive and annoying on my wrist.
I like to walk and I don't need an Apple device on my wrist to make me walk. I walk early in the morning, well before six o'clock when no one is around, ostensibly to be social distanced but actually because I like walking with Rusty and no one else. Silence around us and a running commentary in my head. It's winter time here and there are more people around than in the sticky months of summer and some of them are exercising, some are stumbling and this homeless guy with a pack and a firm controlled stride compelled me to record him, a Sasquatch figure loping along with me hopping around urging my camera to wake up in time for this sudden vision of woodsy folklore. I caught a fuzzy image of the mysterious legend.
Key West has been a fabulous source of things to look at during the pandemic. I have found myself obliged to look deeper and think harder about what I see, and knowing this will all end before long has prompted me to remember what I felt as I saw. This page really is a diary and that aspect is becoming more and more apparent to me. Retirement beckons in one year and three months and with it I hope the end to the pandemic to allow easy roaming once again.
I was watching Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations on television this past weekend, avoiding rain and tired for the moment of the printed word, so I was seeking escape and journeyed to South Florida with the man whose television programs gave me hope for the medium. He killed himself yet I still think about him and I still miss his acerbic view of the world. His walk around Key West with Norman Van Aiken was a nostalgia trip for me seeing the Key West I used to know 15 years ago, long gone, and even then not a revolutionary phase of this turbulent island's life. But it was messier, it had more of the Bohemian and less of the conformist, the balance was still teetering even though the end was in sight. It was clearly not the Keys West of 1980 and yet there was a sliver of hope that fashion and style and symbols of wealth could be kept at bay a little longer.
I got some encouragement when Van Aiken declared Key West wasn't ready for his nouvelle cuisine and left the Town and Tavern restaurant for the wealthier pastures of Miami Beach. Nevertheless he took Bourdain to Conch Town Cafe and over his shoulder you can see the Lemonade Stand art studio now a bric-a-brac shop. I read Solares Hill, the weekly irritant to people in power, before time shut down the café and the Internet ended the newspaper assaults on the Keys bourgeoisie, replaced by online social madness unedited and allowing anonymous voices the freedom to throw up into the four winds of public opinion. I wonder what David Etheridge would have written on the events of January 6th. I should have liked to have held the newspaper with his words on it at the café.
At five in the morning I watch the cleaners hosing down Rick's, their loud voices reverberating around the tree bar and in my head I translate their Spanish jokes into the banter I used to listen to from the field workers on my mother's farm in Italy. The themes remain the same, sex money, time off, home and round and round. I never was any good at small talk, failing hopelessly to grasp the significance of sport in men's lives, unwilling to discuss women and uncompromising in my politics. You don't want me at the dinner table, nor do you want me on a work team discussing the above mentioned ways to pass the time.
The men (no women) who clean the recreational areas downtown disappear long before anyone of importance wakes up and only a handful of joggers will run through the shiny wet sidewalks, the only trace of the morning labor to prepare for another day of crowds and drinks and unmasked faces. I miss a few things about pre-pandemic life but substitutes have largely worked. My wife and I exercise at home, a half hour a day and I find I save huge mileage and money not driving back and forth to the gym. We buy new releases to stream though I do find myself missing movie theaters...I don't miss people talking during the show, that I need to remember before I get too misty eyed. Friends have fallen into a void and the exchange of ideas has dried up and that irritates me. But this period is a pause, a strange looking glass time when past is past and the future will be recognizable no matter how much the experts warn us it won't.
I get to walk and take pictures to please myself, I see the signs of pre-pandemic life lying around and I'm glad I leave it to others to gather in groups and act as though 430,000 Americans haven't died breathlessly in pursuit of herd immunity. My wife has been cleared to be vaccinated and all she has to do now is hope the supply of vaccine will keep speeding up. My relatives in Europe have not seen even a whiff of vaccine in their lives and despite the oddities of recent life in the US I remain firm in my belief we are better off here than there.
Key West manages to be insouciant and rigid all at the same time. Masks at all times, drinks at all times, take care but keep the economy churning. It's no wonder we all suffer from pandemic fatigue and confusion. I suppose Anthony Bourdain would have worn or refused to wear a mask as our own inclinations lead us but he isn't here to be pithily dismissive of one opinion or the other. The Southernmost City he walked in 2005 was in his mind full of artists and fugitives and other romantic characters but Key West has changed as has every city in the world over the past fifteen years. It would be nuts to expect otherwise. Defining the change for the better or the worse is all dependent on your perspective.
I think my problem lies in not knowing what has happened Up North over the past few decades. The glimpses I have caught on recent road trips leave me wondering what there is to discover. We drove Michigan last summer in our first effort to bed down the van, to sort out life in a small space on the road, not a boat, different, smaller, harder to handle in some ways. Two things we see looking back was how much easier van life would be today with a year's worth of experience under our belts and how gorgeous Michigan was in the green bloom of sunny summer. Wisconsin too, except they didn't wear masks so we sped past them. It wasn't the Michigan of protest and kidnapping politicians and all that flag waving stuff. We even got some pretty good cheese. And we didn't get the virus.
I look back at 1918 and the Spanish 'Flu that originated in Kansas and was spread around the world by war. We have to remind ourselves that outbreak lasted three years. We read those words and gloss over the implications: three years. We are starting out year two here and thanks to science we have vaccines, but human nature being what it is I am sure we will find a way to spread this aggravation out for two more years. Fear of vaccines boggles my mind and every day I join Thomas Jefferson in thanking Dr Edward Jenner for his life saving work. But Facebook makes everyone an epidemiologist and illiterate certainty will lay us all low for another year I am sure at this point. I used to hope vaccines and good sense would end this pandemic this Spring but I am reluctantly settling in for another year of mask wearing and isolation, grateful for my job and my bosses who take the risks seriously.
As I work my way round to the end of today's musing I find myself back on Duval Street a few doors down from the Smallest Bar and the drunk in the white soled sneakers had found his way to the stairs at the strip club. You'd think I asked him to pose but I promise I didn't. Sure as eggs is eggs there he was backside in the air balancing on his forehead in a manner that could only be produced by the mother of all hangovers.
I thought that in his way it was a piece of performance art, the feeling left behind by months of Covid, the loss of friends and family, the cutting off of contact, the isolation of the virus, the hopelessness of even trying to drink your way out of your aggravation. Wake up to another day and the headache will still blind you. Better to keep your head down and pretend the world is not there.