Thursday, December 6, 2012

Change In Key West

This parking sign at the county courthouse will soon become history ( and the glass of beer will, I expect, be gone already). Ward lost the election last month and loses his job in a few weeks when his Democrat successor takes over the top prosecutor's job. Catherine Vogel beat Dennis W. Ward in the party primaries and went on to beat her Republican rival Mark Kohl in the general election in November.
Like so much of public life in Key West the election of the State Attorney in Key West was riddled with the sort of small town politics that belies the urbane sophisticated tourist mecca image Key West likes to project. An e-mail came to light from a Conch king maker whose subject matter, "Payback is a bitch!" was worthy of a high school playground revenge drama. It turns out Ward, elected on an anti corruption promise, managed to piss off the Conch element in town, the real people in charge to the degree that they got together and fired his sorry ass. Their replacement choice Catherine Vogel used to be second in command in the office under Mark Kohl whom she beat and who has been offered an office manager position by the incoming Vogel his former employee. So the world turns among the powerful and would-be powerful in the Southernmost City. Expect prosecutions of Conchs to fade away rapidly come January!

Ambling The Alleys And Lanes

The light changes in winter, the sun sets lower on the horizon, more onwards the southern hemisphere where they are enjoying mid summer while we get the joys of winter up here. As close as Key West is to the equator the length of the days remains fairly even by nature, except that the time change each summer lengthens the summer days considerably, slightly distorting nature's plan.
As a result in summer it gets dark close to nine pm while here and now it gets dark just before six in the evening and with the sun lower on the horizon the light shines lower in the sky, especially in the evening. Which gives these pictures, taken before dusk a particular lighting effect. The colors are muted and the typical strong whites and lues and greens of Key West take on a pale shade of foggy light. Cheyenne was just happy to be out and about and not suffocating in summer's muggy heat.
It may not be summer's muggy heat but it's still warm enough for shirt sleeves most evenings, temperatures in the low seventies and cool dry air blowing off the ocean. Cheyenne likes it a lot and I do too. This is the time of year snowbound Northeners yearn for Key West if they are allergic to ice anywhere outside a cocktail glass.
I photographed the citrus fruit laid out on the railing above, and Cheyenne contemplating her future below, both pictures on Catholic Lane, so called because it butts up against the Catholic section of the sheer hated cemetery. It always strikes me as odd that in death some people need to be buried in their own sections of the burial ground.
Around the corner looking west on Angela Street into the sun I saw a typical Key West street scene, companionable cycling. Cycling as a way of urban life, and te riders aren't dressed for blizzard conditions either.
The dogs were out as we tried north on Margaret Street. Angela becomes Carey Lane and Molly was poking around minding her own business when Cheyenne came lumbering along.
While the dogs sniffed each other, a very animal yet civilized way to make an introduction, I peered up Carey Lane which is actually an extension of Anglea Street, renamed fro some obscure reason.
this nice lady was looking after her daughter's dog, Oliver the Terrorist who tried to scare Cheyenne who ignored him as usual and kept walking toward Carsten Lane, the street that connects Margaret to William.
Cheyenne was of a mind to follow the terrorist and his minded down Carsten but I was aiming at the car in the other direction. We tussled and eventually my dog yielded.
She got her reward at Michael's Restaurant where they weren't handing out volcanoes for dessert but they were handing out dog cookies. That was nice for Cheyenne but hell for me as I had the devil's own job separating Cheyenne from the cookie jar. It was all stop and start on this sunset walk.
My reward came at Finnegan's Wake after I poured Cheyenne onto her bed in the back seat of the car and settled down with my wife and a pint of Boddington's.
Christmas decorations had gone up on James Street I noticed. I played with my camera a bit which went all artistic on me. I liked the effect.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Key West Film Festival

We saw two movies out of a slew of films available this past weekend. The Tropic was a relentless unspooling of film after film after film. This was just Saturdays's schedule and the Festival ran Thursday through Sunday.

That we got to see two flicks was through persistence. We intended to see one Saturday night with friends but dinner at Santiago's was so successful the wine and the tapas kept coming and pretty soon it occurred to me the movie part of the evening was not going to happen. The port and bread pudding (made with a brioche) was brilliant and entirely worth it. The place was crowded!

I had the weekend off, as I do every other weekend, and was determined not to miss the movie festival. We had been advised The Sapphires was worth seeing. It's what those ponderous voice overs call "a heart-warming tale of the triumph of the human spirit" about four aboriginal Australians who get a job singing to US troops in Vietnam. The plot is predictable, the women's singing is pitch perfect and the ugliness of racism 44 years ago is put in its place. It's easy to despise the bigots of the past even as we tolerate the bigots today who call the Negro in the White Man's House a "Muslim" or a "socialist" and pretend the color of his skin has nothing to do with the denigration of his character. But the movie is sweet and has its funny moments such that it is decidedly worth a view.

The volunteers in green greeted new arrivals with the cheery words "Here to see a movie?" which I thought was overstating the obvious but imagine my surprise as I headed to the urinal (kindly supplied by the mysterious and unknowable Roger Westerlund) and the greeting was met with the curt "No we are just here to look around," a put down so cutting uttered by a matron with a bosom the size and shape and power of a battleship's prow I felt obliged to share the joke with the volunteer. We pondered for a few minutes why else one would come to a cinema, during a film festival no less, if not to see a movie. Wild bore hunting at the Tropic had seemed an unlikely occupation before that encounter.

Let me not be accused of abandoning my dearest companion to her bed in the car, she who walked more than she needed on Sunday and before we returned to see another unlikely movie she got attention and love and water on the cool breezy afternoon at the courthouse parking lot tucked into the winter shade.

The Festival favorite directed by Dustin Hoffman (!) Quartet was sold out by the time we got our disorganized expedition to the box office after a shared sandwich from Paseo, the Seattle-based sandwich shop on Eaton Street, but I have no doubt it will make it into art theaters in general release considering the high powered names attached. Instead we went to see a dubious documentary about the end of Polaroid Film. I had not known that Polaroid had ceased production, nor had I any idea there was a cadre of Polaroid fans who treat the instant pictures as Art. They were literally driven to tears by the news that Polaroid film was running out and soon would disappear forever. If Time Zero sounds crazy, believe me it is. What's even more crazy is that the movie sucks you in. Pretty soon you too are sitting there ready to abhor the loss of film you haven't seen or used for forty years. Suddenly you too see electronic images as fake and Polaroid as the only true photographic art form left. It will be an appalling loss if a generation grows up unfamiliar with the white framed oddly colored pictures of the instant camera. The SX 70 really was the pinnacle of photograhic camera manufacture. Wait a minute! This is just a movie! It's a stupid documentary! If ever you do get the chance don't miss this crazy stupid film. It will show you a new old way of looking at the world around you.

I hope the Festival comes back next year. I learned a lot about history, the world and my view of it, at this year's festival.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Homelessness As Art

I thought this photograph sums up best of all our middle class fears of ending up on an American street. We look at those we step over and prefer not to imagine that we too might end up in their situation. Social mobility works both ways in freedom loving America.
The Studios of Key West on White Street is holding an exhibit on the homeless of Key West through December 14th, with two dozen large black and white pictures of the subjects themselves, taken by one Sheelman for the creator of the exhibit Erika Biddle according to the TSKW website.
The irony of the stupid "life is good" product logo on the tired old guy's shirt is allowed to speak for itself but the images in the exhibit are powerful such that they all speak for themselves. Which is just as well as most of them have no identifiers except the name of the photographer and the name of the homeless person photographed. Around the exhibition we can find words scattered, a lengthy autobiography of the "How I Got Into This Mess" variety, but there were no biographies attached to the majority of pictures.
This work of poetry seems to apply to the woman above:
But these were pictures, unadorned. There is, for those haters of the homeless who believe living on the streets is the "lifestyle of choice" of the lazy, a certain common element of exhaustion and uneasiness I see in most of the faces, photogrhed with such care and attention.
The dog got to me in this one. The cruelty of seeing children living homeless is matched for me by the cruelty of the incessant regulations and limitations placed upon dog owners by their would be helpers who seek at all costs to separate street people from a reliable and loving friend in a world that prefers to treat street people as nuisances at best. Take a dog to a shelter? Hell no!
The exhibit includes a video loop presented by the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition which does a pretty decent job of advertising their success in helping turn around some of these lives lived on the street. The video can also be found on YouTube which should come as no surprise to we, the very models of modern electronic communicators.
The exhibit also includes the odd life story, snatches of poetry as shown here and then of course the innocent who clearly express those fears I mentioned earlier, homelessness is a lifestyle open to all, and for most it is thrust upon them not by choice, especially among the young.
It's when you are forced to listen to the haters that you realize they have no clue how many street people are mental deficients, or impoverished single mothers and their children. The haters always act as though the street people who grovel around us are able bodied educated and able to work and are simply choosing a life of squalor out of sheer bloody minded perversity. "If they were made to work..." yes of course I reply, and "what about the children?" To which question the haters-of-the-homeless have no answer.
I mentioned the exhibit to a colleague and she shook her head vehemently with blank horror in her eyes. "I couldn't go," she said, "I would be too sad." Which might explain why I was alone in the exhibit when I visited. Hidden in Plain View is a good title for this public display of public indifference. The refreshing thing about the exhibit is that it seeks to place no blame nor offer any solutions to the homelessness issue.
The homeless in Key West number in the hundreds, their winter population increasing in concert with the swelling population of conventionally housed visitors in the cold snowy months. It may come as a surprise but just as those with homes Up North like the mild winters down here, so do the hobos, the transient homeless, the "gentlemen of the road." solutions to homelessness in Key West are often framed as travel problems - give the bums a bus ticket Up North, as though the is a city somewhere in the US that might welcome Key West's human detritus. After Hurricane Wilma flooded the Lower Keys worthy citizens of the southernmost city wondered why we had to allow back the evacuated bums who were not welcome in Miami. The deal was they got bused to a temporary shelter and then got bused back. Just like people with homes.
the poem above was written about a man who lived in a tiki hut, a shed without walls really, on the waterfront in Key West Bight. He lived on the margins in a boatyard serving the shrimpers who used to pack the harbor where modern pleasure boats now dock. The short version of the poem is It got developed and now they call it the Galleon.
I used to find it odd that the homeless like their routines, hanging in the same places, seeking secuortychek in sameness much as housed people do. I had that romantic notion that being free of possessions might make one free of the encumbrances of those same possessions. Instead I learned to look and see the clutter that fills the average street peron's life. Collections of crap weigh them down just as crap weighs the rest of us down in our more expansive lives. It's just that you can look into the shopping cart of a homeless woman and wonder why she burdens herself with that garbage when she could be free of encumbrance. I guess I have come to accept that we all have a deep seated need to create security through stuff in our lives.
I knew I couldn't be a cop when I was out on a ride along as part of my dispatcher training and we came one night, across an old black woman bundled up, despite the summer heat in Bayview Park. Orders were to clear the park so in the headlights of the patrol car the old woman was roused off the bench, and ordered to move along. "Where do I go?" she asked. Away from here, was the answer, the neighbors are complaining. And off she shuffled. It was like kicking your grandmother off the porch as it were and I saw no purpose to it.
Like most people who living in housing I want some idea of how to separate the "deserving" homeless who ask for help, as opposed to the panhandlers who want to take advantage of our sense of guilt and fear of falling ourselves by the wayside. I don't know exactly if I have figured out the answer but I am grateful for theses pictures which bring,e face to face with the public issue of living on the streets.
Key West does a lot for people on the streets offering fod and shelter and programs to help those who want to get back into the rat race of daily life. For myself the idea of living on the streets seems like the most boring existence imaginable, combined with total disdain from all our housed neighbors encountered every day.
I know homelessness is going to get more widespread as the economy remains in the hands of people who think saving pennies by sending work overseas makes sense and thus deprive Americans of living wages and useful benefits. It's hard to remains self sufficient when the tools of sufficiency are taken away by employers. The solutions to homelessness it seems to me lie in properly paid work and commitment to work by employees while employers make their commitment to us the workers. In the meantime I look at these extraordinary pictures hanging on the walls of the Studios and wonder at what I see.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Lost Motorbike

My Bonneville is at Jiri's waiting for him to strip the valve cover off and measure the gaps on my bike's eight valves. From his previous inspection we know two need new shims ($8 parts!) to restore proper gaps. However he is backed up with too many motorcycles to fix and he has been procrastinating the job.

I realize as the weeks pass... I really miss my motorcycle. My Vespa P200 has been repaired in Iowa and should be arriving in south Florida by the end of the month. I wish it were here now so I wouldn't have to keep stealing my wife's Vespa to keep the not-riding blues at bay. I really do miss riding, even the same road every day. If he doesn't get on with it I'm taking the Bonneville to the dealer in Miami. There. I just said it.

Cheyenne And The Ham

Take ole yaller for a walk through old town and most of the time nothing much happens. She and I get along well enough I don't even bother with a leash in areas of low traffic. Here she is on Fleming in front of the library yesterday evening.

Then she veered rapidly off course. One minute she was dragging her elderly ass at the end of a long meandering walk, the next minute she was awake alert and a puppy. The dude in the orange made the mistake of opening the trunk of his Toyota just as the nose driven Yellow Lab strolled by. He had a nice big ham badly wrapped under tin foil. She knew. "Nice dog," he remarked appreciatively at the imploring face.

He had no mercy, giggling insanely he took off across the street to his dinner party. He needs to go to the pound and get a dog with his disposition. I am hopeless because faced with her big brown eyes I yield every time. She gets what she wants. Had she a little finger I'd be wrapped around it.