Sunday, February 21, 2016

Meet Rusty

The past ten days have been agony, pure and simple. It started by saying goodbye to Cheyenne and it ended by bringing home a funny little dog who bears the burden of being asked to fill the hole in my heart left by the departure of the most extraordinary dog I have known. Oddly enough I think this little bundle of love is up to the challenge.

Rusty's life, all four years of it approximately, has sucked. This picture is from October last year when a Homestead woman who feeds strays in her neighborhood spotted this street dog. From what can be gleaned Rusty, formerly known as Bobo lived on the streets of an area known as Redlands, the agricultural heart of South Florida. Also where you go to dump your dog, apparently. Yet this little reddish-brown dog is astonishingly even tempered, loving and ready to fit in to a "normal" suburban life. Why people buy dogs beats me. Found dogs live out their lives in gratitude and make the best companions. You too can pick up a cat or dog that could light up your home. LINK.

I was rather nervous making my way alone to a giant mainland mall to find a dog. My wife got in touch with this woman representing a group of volunteers who madly enough find and rescue and foster hopeless dogs and cats and they make them whole. After my hopeless sadness at the Key West and Marathon SPCA and dealing with the rejectionists walking into Petco at noon yesterday was like nothing really.

I knew it was him immediately. He was smaller and thinner than I expected but he sat there in the crowd, serene as though he knew that today was the day. I lost the ability to take photographs for a while as I juggled paper pen, leash, emotions and strangers which as we all know give me hives. Bobo was fine in the middle of it all.

I signed, Lissa injected a microchip - no really, right in front of me- and I was officially driving home with a completely unfamiliar dog.

I don't think Rusty had ever spent three hours in the car- and that only got us as far as the Publix in Marathon where I completely lost my head and forgot to buy milk. But the entire week has been like that and taking 911 calls has been a trial in the Cheyenne fog I have been stuck in. Traffic on a Saturday afternoon sucked of course but Rusty only got up and protested mewling a couple of times. Mostly he just laid down on the back seat and let me drive.


At Publix he was ready to get out of the car and I put him on my (Cheyenne's) extenda-leash and off we went. There's a crazy old guy who hangs out behind Publix, a stray human as it were...Rusty is just sweet. Look at him with a stranger. He sat down and said pet me but the old guy was off on cloud nine:

Rusty is full of curiosity. Arriving home he trotted back and forth checking stuff out, and getting him up the stairs was a trial as he could see the void through the stairs. It took a couple of trips but he got the stairs down pat. The dog door through the sliding door held him up for 15 seconds but then he had the run of the house and the deck and when he gets reliable he'll have the yard as well. Only after we feel safe taking down the dog gate that closes off the stairs. He found the spot where Cheyenne died and his attention to it inspired me, the curmudgeon, to imagine the baton was being passed between dog generations.

I miss her so much and have to guard against my memories of perfection interfering with my expectations of what is a remarkable dog. Rusty is on his way and finding his place, and the more I see of him the more I like him. I hate to think how many other wonderful animals are bring abandoned. I want them all.

If he doesn't get used to her bed we'll replace it but it is the most comfortable dog bed I've ever seen.


JW says Rusty won the lottery, but I feel like I did.

Thanks to these good people for the chance LINK.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Mainland Chaos

I was an hour early for my appointment so I figured, lacking my navigator-who-must-be-obeyed I might as well stick to the chain eatery on the main road. I was on a mission and good was fuel. IHOP Homestead it was. What an experience. 

My first hint should have been the sign indicating available parking ... in a neighboring field. My mission to the mainland required the use of the car so I had four wheels to park and luckily I don't mind walking so I took a distant patch of grass for my Fusion. Once inside the restaurant I thought I was in some new form of hell. 

I was squeezed into a corner after giving my name to an Official Person with a clipboard and suddenly an inundation - there is no other word for it- of people poured into the restaurant. I clung to my iPhone like a castaway clinging to a rock, unable to read my book as utterly diverse America swirled around me. It is my observation Trump cannot win the Presidency, and if he does there is no wall he could build to keep America white middle-class and mid-western any more.  That ship has sailed. 
Across from me two generations of African Americans are at two tables. Mom and daughter exchanging giggles and smart phones at one table, shy young lovers glancing at each other at the next. At the table to my right a Latina mother kept two youngsters fed and in order. To my right my people, a family of Anglos sat prim and restrained eating the weekend breakfast out. As long as I keep my mouth shut  I look like I belong to the entrenched power structure, I don't look like a wetback. But twenty years ago I went through the same excruciating unimaginable process of legal acceptance. 

Were you to ask me today what color my wife's toothbrush is I would be forced to admit I have sbsolutely no idea. In 1985 in San Francisco my then wife and I rehearsed my immigration exam together, going over the minutest daily details of our actually shared lives. In addition I learned how many amendments there are to the constitution (27) and how many senators there are in the US senate. And Google wasn't a gleam in anyone's eye back then, not publicly at any rate. So when I hear people talk about sending people "back" I wonder how my Jew second wife and my Italian self will continue to be married in a country where Native Born Americans cheer Trump's nativism. A hundred years ago our confines were narrower than they are today. Hungarians, Italians, Irish, none of them were wanted. 

So I take heart in the appalling crush of humanity in IHOP and remind myself that must be why it is international by name and in aspiration and today at least in scope. 
I'm voting Bernie because I can vote. Native Born  Americans who stay home  are the ones I'd rather see sent back. Somewhere, preferably next door to Trump. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Goldman's Deli

Goldman's Deli in Key West is one of those eateries that persists and perseveres through dint of hard work and value for money. This is not glamour dining but the best kind of cafe breakfast and lunch joints. And because I work nights and I live up the Keys I don't eat here very often at all. Last Monday my wife and I had an hour to burn before we hoped to go and check dogs out at the pound so I suggested we have breakfast.
Really Goldman's is that kind of place, you drop in and try to merge with the flow of busy staff, a busy counter and ambling customers.  When we arrived it wasn't even that busy. Then it started to fill and I mentioned to my wife that the flow of customers suddenly arriving put me in mind of Charlie's Charts. Almost twenty years ago my wife and I and two dogs sailed our catamaran from California to Key West and we discovered this particular phenomenon that I shall try to describe and which has followed us into our life ashore.
The guidebook we used when we navigated Mexico's west coast was written by a guy called Charlie and his chart book was packed with gorgeous charts, all painstakingly hand drawn, with three dimensional of rocks, shaded lines for beaches and anchorages marked by little anchors. We loved reading the directions and planning stops. The Internet is a miracle worker so I can show you a sample map like this:
What we discovered was that all sail boats  would head for Charlie's anchorages as marked with the little anchor. We would often seek solitude in our shallow draft Gemini catamaran and in a large bay like Tenacatita we  might choose to anchor in a spot of our own choosing, away from the anchors. Then dammit other boats would spot us and think, hmm that looks good let's try it. We called this inevitable clustering phenomenon "Charlie's Chart syndrome" and to this day when an empty spot fills suddenly behind us we think back to that famous cruising guide.
Sure enough as we waited for breakfast sipping coffee Goldman's filled up behind us. "Charlie's Charts" we muttered to each other as a wave of people filled every table in sight.  

The breakfast did the job, eggs pancakes and crispy bacon, lots of coffee and NO TV. Brilliant, which puts this place head and shoulders above Harpoon Harry's which I never even think of visiting anymore as I am tired of blaring screens while I eat. This menu is  all you need: Goldman's Link
 Tables full we couldn't linger as long as we might have liked. And this place has that simple inviting feel that all greasy spoons have.
That the restaurant survived the death of its original inspiration is pretty cool. I gleaned this obituary from the January 2009 Citizen for the owner, Alison Goldman who died at the unfortunately tender age of 48 - and I remember she was a cheerful force of nature in the restaurant that bears her name.

 Alison was co-owner of Goldmans Bagel Deli restaurant in Key West, which opened in 1998. Alison took great pride in operating Goldmans, where every day she could be found greeting customers, cooking, and perfecting the delicious recipes, many of which were handed down from her parents and grandparents. She was active in many Key West civic and charitable organizations, and loved her family, her many friends and neighbors. Alison loved to travel, especially to the Bahama Islands, where she went often to swim, snorkel, fish and enjoy the sea and sun. Alison touched everyone she met and was loved by all who knew her. Alison's wishes were for her ashes to be spread upon the sea near the settlement of Black Point, Bahamas, where Alison was considered a Bahama girl by the many friends she had in the islands. She will be missed by all.
 And they use those great old heavy, traditionally shaped bottomless coffee cups. Very cool.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Houseboat Row

I was leaving Key West at the start of a cold front yesterday and the sky was a mass of uncertain cloud, strands of cotton wool barely hiding the blue sky. Suddenly the air felt cold and I thought how perfect for a dog freed from air conditioning.

This section of South Roosevelt Boulevard is still persistently known as houseboat row even though the houseboats were forcibly removed a dozen or more years ago. What happened was the empty land to the west was crying out to covered in expensive condos but the developer felt no one would pay one point eight million dollars for a rabbit hutch with a view of freeloaders messing about in boats across the road.

I never wanted to live at houseboat row, a messy cheerful place, an impromptu marina and community where people lived cheek by jowl in public view. I suppose the kindly developer, praised in the paper yesterday for funding an African American monument, just moved the process along but still...I cannot conceive such an impromptu community could exist in the Southernmost City in the 21st century. I was sad though when I watched the "boats" being barged to Garrison Bight to start a new life as respectable liveaboards. Being sad changes nothing and money does. But we still call it houseboat row.
There are still quite a few boats anchored in Cow Key Channel between Key West and Stock Island. I don't doubt someone will make it their business to clear out "hazards to navigation" even as the State Legislature works to outlaw residential anchoring. Living for free still bothers the good burghers in their McMansions. And Key West as you can see is no exception.
A half sunk dinghy is no recommendation for the alternative lifestyle but cleaning up after yourself does not occur to those living on the margins as a way to continue undisturbed.

Enough maudlin reflection. Time to ride home in the chill sunset air.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Dog Hunt

It's getting better but every now and again the loss of my Cheyenne still hits me hard and I look around through my tears and there's no dog waiting for me. Not at home, in the car, for a walk, or snoring alongside when I wake up in the afternoon. I don't like it.
After my last dog died, months of cancer ended with a needle, I took three long years to get over the trauma. Cheyenne died peacefully of her own will last Friday, in my arms, no vet and no decision on my part and that ease gave me hope that I can handle another dog much more easily and quickly. 24 hours after she died I found myself ready to get another dog. My wife felt the same way after a couple of nights home absolutely alone while I was at work. Then I got this message:
I don't buy dogs because I think there are too many dogs in the world as it is. So I turned to the SPCA website. My ideal dog is a Labrador and I like them because they are my personification of a true companion animal. I don't like controlling my dog, I like to share the road ahead with them and in that respect Cheyenne was ideal. She was stubborn but she was smart and we developed a trust that allowed me to live with her in a form of partnership. I know the next dog won't be the same but I know the next dog has to share that attitude.
There is a black Lab at the Key West SPCA called Kona and I got a chance to see him Monday night thanks to a friend of a friend because the pound was closed on the holiday. They are only open weekdays and Saturday so my wife who works in Marathon has no hope of being able to meet a dog here but once a week so she relied on me to get the first impression through their rather nice beahviorist Cathy a true animal lover. Kona was barking wildly at the cat pen and the unseen cats inside. Loud barking, unrestrained and full throated was followed by digging like a four legged back hoe.
I just don't see this as a partnership in the gentle middle aged style that I like. My modest plastic temporary gate to keep a new arrival contained on our deck would be no match for this eight year old bundle of energy:
So I went to the Marathon pound yesterday, a building behind the airport staffed by dog-friendly youngsters with sunny dispositions unlike the Key West dour city staff who prefer to treat their dogs as errant parking problems than sentient beings. Marathon is open weekends and my wife works ten minutes away so her lunch break was enough to convince her Murdock might be just the job. I showed up later and we went for a walk.
He's younger, around five but he is obedient though curious, he looked around and sniffed everything but didn't react to a fenced dog barking at him as we passed ( just like Cheyenne!) and he ignored a bird taking flight in front of him. He responded to my commands didn't tug and was ready to keep on going in the 81 degree heat. I was impressed.
He started out with this irritating habit of a cocking a leg but by the end of the hour he wasn't even fooling himself that he had any scent left to leave behind. It's one reason I prefer females.
 He looks to be the ideal candidate for us and we for him. Great. He is listed as ready for adoption but not so fast!
It seems he is in suspension until Thursday as  another family has "put dibs" on him. How one does that I don't know. It's not that complicated. You fill out the form, call ahead to your landlord to warn him a call will be coming (Mike is fine with us having dogs) pay the fee and take the dog home. Not here. Had I known I should put dibs on a likely candidate I should have been down last week when Cheyenne was on her death bed "reserving" her likely replacements. Grotesque thought. Simply showing up ready willing and able to adopt isn't good enough.
I walked in to adopt Cheyenne that December day in 2009 and we walked out together by lunch time (my wife worked five minutes up the road from the Key West SPCA in those days and came by to say she agreed and that took two minutes). Now it seems nothing can be that simple and I am filling out forms to become a candidate for Labrador Rescue adoption in Florida. I'm also thinking about going to the pound in Ft Myers and seeing what they have. I'm really not sure how ready the Monroe County SPCA is to actually give up their charges. Maybe they need to hang on to them for reasons I can't grasp. Too bad for me and the dogs.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Best Of The World

I was moved to write this essay by the title of a recent National Geographic Traveler Magazine. They selected twenty places for these irritatingly repetitive "bucket lists" that are so popular. All sorts of places were mentioned, including Bermuda, Winnipeg, The Philippines and San Diego and Glasgow (no really!) as well as Poland and Botswana. Lots of neat places but of the Florida Keys not a peep. Mind you, there never is in any of these lists.  Places to retire, small towns, resorts,you name it Key West is never listed among them. Ever. 
Key West Blog
I have to say it bothers me and not because I think Key West should be on one of those many over listed lists. What bothers me is that I can see why Key West is slipping out of the rankings of cute desirable places to visit and hang out in. On the one hand you could argue that's a good thing, staying out of the limelight, but Key West's  fame has already spread far and wide and nowadays it is attracting it seems to me the wrong kind of people to keep the community vibrant. A not untypical petulant comment posted in the Citizen's Voice:
So the question then becomes: do you want to live, even if you can afford to live here, in a small tight town with people like that? Cruel, tone deaf, rejectionist elitist- call it what you will, perhaps even severely practical, the problem is that it doesn't allow a  town to pull together and be creative and without creativity you end up dead. The mayor has had one bee in his bonnet for a long time and it's coming together the new twenty million dollar  city hall. He absolutely wanted it built at the old Glynn Archer School on White Street and there it is, coming together behind the grand facade of the school, a building properly imposing as  a seat of government. Aside from that it is practical, in a good location with easy access while not cluttering up Old Town and lots of parking, not too far from the Police Department, the other major organ of city government. The mealy mouthed angry little people call it too expensive but it will do the job and look good, its form of artistry worthy of a city that promotes itself as creative. And with less and less reason to think of itself as a  hib for creative people.
Glynn Archer School, Key West
One big issue for people who don't have enough money is the cost of housing. The military built housing on what could have been a public park decades ago and then decided they decided to abandon the housing and give it to the city. The city has the opportunity to buy the housing and has decided to hold a referendum on whether or not to spend $55 million dollars to buy the property whose houses currently rent for $2400, affordable perhaps in some other universe. The thing is the developers bought the land a few years ago for $35 million and half the city is wondering why they get a twenty million widnfall for nothing from the city.
Peary Court, Key West
Like everything that happens in this city the deal has an opaque quality that would make Machiavelli proud. The terms of the deal, the repayment terms the cost of the housing to renters none of it seems very clear. And the referendum is split in two, one to consider the deal the other to authorize the borrowing. One without the other would be an interesting result...Meanwhile life in Peary Court trundles on. This field is where the credit union used to be:
Peary Court, Key West
One beacon of light downtown is the Studios At Key West which managed by some miracle to buy the former masonic lodge on Eaton at Simonton. The vast Art Deco style building is being transformed into all sorts of good things for artists and it includes a book store recently opened on the ground floor which merits exploration. The Studios is the kind of non profit that should be nurtured and should flourish in a  town with pretensions toward being a desirable community in the 21st century. Key West is relying on the weather  which admittedly is brilliant year round but there has to be more of this sort of thing, despite the sour puss attitude shown by some heathens.
TSAKW, Key West
For me the measure of the possibility that this city might turn into a cultural hub will be demonstrated by the development plans for Truman Waterfront. Another deed to the city by the Navy here we have 34 essentially virgin acres, cleaned up and ready to be developed by the city. A waterfront gift from the gods. If the Spottswood juggernaut gets its way this will be paved, cemented and sealed as a restaurant, marina, amphitheater, sports fields and soulless center of industry and commerce lightly disguised as pay-as-you-go recreation.
Vespa. Truman Waterfront
If Key West is to attract young people with talent and old people with souls it needs to do something radically different from the current slide into obscurity as a laughing stock of outmoded urban values and endless pursuit of the easy dollar. Now we hear that Fantasy Fest is losing money for the company that runs the October strip tease on Duval Street, not to mention the money spent by the city for this absurd spectacle. Shops not associated with the week-long bacchanalia report lost sales and somehow the bars and eateries who make money prevail over everyone else's opinion.
I cannot say I view this sort of thing as a substitute for something more appealing though if one wants to seek a middle path between the Conchs that loathe it and the business leaders who push it strenuously I'd say it's easy to ignore if you choose by getting out of town for a week. But if it can't make money then I have no clue why it continues to flounder on as a festival anyone needs to see.
I feel a certain amount of anguish about Key West these days. My life here marches steadily on to retirement in a  job I enjoy with an easy commute and a quiet canal with tidal water in my back yard. I have no complaints but I do want to live in a community, a place where the ecosystem matters, where people can make a living and even if the halcyon days of the cookie lady and the Copa and adult movies on Duval are gone there is no reason the city can't restore a sense of wonder to the tired old painted tart Key West has become.