Archive for April, 2007

shades of Hemingway / part 9, good thinking and bad ideas

April 28, 2007

Immediately I assume I am in trouble.  I raise my hands up before me, palms facing the Key West policeman.

“Twice in one day,” Officer Jordan is saying, “and only a couple hours apart.”

“I swear I couldn’t have been in there more than a few minutes!”

“Hmm… long enough to get at least one person excited.”  he briefly glances at the bathroom behind me then turns his attention to the table and my research materials.  “What’s with all the textbooks?” 

“Just enjoying a little free time while my friends try and recover.”

Someone in the library does a shhh! and Officer Jordan motions to the front door with his head. 

“Let’s take it outside, shall we?”

“Am I in trouble?”

“Not if we take it outside,” he pauses for effect, “right now!”

With hesitant resignation I head towards the door, Officer Jordan behind me.  As I make it to the front entrance, an elderly woman exits behind me.  I hold the door for her and as Officer Jordan brings up the rear, I dutifully do the same for him.  Out on the front stoop the policeman’s tone changes.

“I see you found yourself a new mode of transportation,” he says looking at my electric car.

“Yes, thanks to your directions.  It’s really alot of fun, sure beats walking.”

“How about your friends?” he does a quick look around then turns back to me,   “Everybody comfortable?”

I wonder if he is testing me and my earlier story.   But one good thing about telling the truth is that you never have to remember anything.

“Actually they are still back at the bed and breakfast trying to recover from last night.  I’m just killing some time here until noon.  Then I’ll go back and see how they are feeling.”

Jordan nods.  “Oh yeah, you said that earlier, didn’t you?”  I volunteer a little more information trying to appeal to his better nature.

“We’re hoping to get off the beaten path a bit, check out some of the local hangouts.  Blend in with the natives.  You know, try some local color.”

“Local color?” he seems amused, “why would you want to do that?”

“Oh, you know, you get tired of being played for a tourist…”  I let my words trail off.

“Hmm… you want locals try the Green Parrot off  Southard and A1A.  All the color you could want.” But then his voice gets low.  “But be careful what you ask for.”

I offer a little chuckle, “Too much of a good thing?”

Officer Jordan walks over to his mountain bike and takes his helmet off of the handle bars.

“It has a bit of a reputation, but what in Key West doesn’t, right?”

“I’ll drink to that!”

Jordan gives me a slightly stern look.

“In moderation, ofcourse!”  I smile innocently.

“Ofcourse,” he replies, straddling his bicycle seat while he buckles his helmet on. “By the way, tell them Jordan sent you.”

“I will, thanks!  Hey, am I cool here?”  I point back at the library.

“… as a cucumber.” 

Figuring I had worn out my welcome at the library anyway, I decide it is best to doing a little more sightseeing on my own.  I wave goodbye to Officer Jordan and he is peddling up the street by the time I reach my little car.  I slide into the drivers seat only to find I have company.

“How’ya doin’, Sport?” I recognize the voice immediately.

It is Hem, I am both startled and happy to see him. 

“Get in a little trouble with Johnny Law?”  He looks out after Officer Jordan who has travelled out of ear shot.

I shrug and grunt a little reply.  

“Hey, you’re not sore about last night are you?  Those wenches can get a lil’ out of hand!” He offers a bit of a chuckle.

Then it dawns on me, my dream encounters with the 3 amigos is real, or as real as meeting an apparition in your sleep can be.

“No, not at all.”  But I am feeling a bit bewildered.  Suddenly I need to catch my breath and hyper ventilate a bit. 

“Comin’ at’cha a bit fast, eh?”  he looks back at me, “all this?”

“Just a bit.” 

Which was an understatement to say the least.  Another deep breath and a slight shudder.  I turned and offered a weak smile.  Knowing the guy sitting next to you has been dead over 45 years is a bit un-nerving and my doubts about spooks begin to wane.  But again my curiosity seems to better my fears.  Hem wasn’t here to frighten me!  I found myself thinking.

“I’ll be alright.” 

“Well, put this here contraption on the road and we’ll pick up where we left off.”  He slaps his knee like it is the rear end of a borrowed mule.  “Have you given any more thought to my offer?  I’d still like to have you go to work for me, weak constitution and all!”  He laughs.

I put the car into gear and eased onto the street.  He is grinning ear to ear, his manner flamboyant and carefree. 

“Actually, I didn’t know how to take it.”  I said, the electric car humming up the street.  “I thought since I dreamed it that it wasn’t for real.”

“Oh, it was for real,” Hem said, “I was dead serious…” and then he laughed again at his little joke.

The car is catching up to Officer Jordan on his bicycle, he moves off to the side and waves us by.  We pass on Jordan’s left, Hem watches as we come alongside.  For a moment we are travelling together down the street.  “Good morning, Officer!” Hem offers cheerfully.  Jordan gives us a solitary finger to the forehead salute and says nothing.  We move past him just as he turns off onto a side street.

“Nice fellow.”  Hem says.  We zip up and down the streets, turning little loop de loops as we make our way out towards the old Key West Cemetery.

“Listen, Sport, it’s like I was sayin’.  It ain’t about obtaining fame, you’ve got to maintain it.  Being famous is a full time job, you’re not careful someone else’ll come along and put you right in the back pages with the obits and want ads.”

“I’m just not sure how I can help you, I mean, I’m flattered…”

“Sport, it’s easier now than ever before! I’ll help you!  Imagine all the possibilities… we could do a reality show on television,  they’re all the rave now… everybody wants to be famous.  With my stories and adventures put in your words, E. M. Hemingway could become a friggin’ renaissance!”

“How would we pull that off? a reality series, I mean?”

“Listen, Sport, people don’t want to see pre-staged survivors, pre-arranged dating dramas or pre-determined boy next door idols anymore.  They want their reality real!  Put people in the circumstances like the ones that I have encountered and then let’s see how they make out.  The best part of drama is facing the unknown.  Those other situations mean nothing, everybody goes home in the end…  snug as a bug.”

Real reality drama?”

“Ever faced down a chargin’ bull in an arena?  How ’bout big game hunting in Africa? I used to hunt Nazi U-boats during the war, now there is somethin’ to live through!”

“But Hem, you can’t expect untrained citizens to hunt U-boats for television!”

We pulled up to the old cemetery and Hem was silent for a moment.

“You know, Sport,” he said wistfully,”I shoulda been buried here.” and with that he was gone.

shades of Hemingway / part 8, research and rescue

April 25, 2007

A public library is a sanctuary of the mind, a treasure trove of knowledge, a time capsule containing a wealth of history.  While the Internet puts data at our fingertips, a library places it at our feet like a peace offering;  all we need do is undertake the journey.  I enjoy the information highway for it’s speed and up-to-date facts (though some “facts” have to be taken with a grain of salt) but nothing embraces your collective consciousness quite like four walls lined with volumes of books whose many pages cry out to be read.  A library is where tables are the altar and hushed are the tones that read, rehash and absorb ancient scripture.  Here the gods smile upon thee and permission is granted to peruse the secrets recorded by generations past.  Then you are allowed to cross reference text and search again until finally you quench the thirst for answers, the need to know words. 

Whether you are at the Library of Congress or a one room school house tucked in the rurals of Iowa, libraries hold a religious experience, a befriending of the great minds that have gone before us.  These are the monuments that enshrine the yearnings for truth, justice, freedom and they hint of immortality.

The Monroe County May Hill Russell Library is actually only a few blocks down from our historic habitat on Fleming Street, but after a hearty breakfast I am content just to drive there anyway. (that electric car is such a gas!)  The library is a flamingo pink stucco, single story building, probably realized around the time that Francisco Marrero commissioned his own house to be built.  It is a humble place, unasuming and approachable right off the main sidewalk. 

As I enter I am greeted by that familiar feeling of awe,  a tingle goes up my neck.  I am anxious to delve into the catalog system and learn my way around.  I notice there are several bulletin boards dotted with pamphlets of local color and interest.  Further on there are sections devoted to Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams (another famous Key West resident).  Pictures of a faded time in Key West are  placed strategically throughout the small but amazingly efficient library.  Immediately I am fascinated at the many books dedicated to my subject and I immerse myself into a tranquil bubble bath of research.

One of the first things I found out about Ernest Hemingway was the pen name he used while serving as his school newspaper’s editor.  Ring Lardner, Jr. !  Apparently early on his literary hero was a man named Ring Lardner who was a sportswriter, humorist and author in the early parts of the twentieth century.  Paying homage to the first Ring Lardner, Hemingway added the junior, borrowed the name and (for awhile) used it as his own moniker.  (Later on there was a real Ring Lardner, Jr. who received an Academy Award for writing the screenplay for the movie M*A*S*H* in 1970.) 

Finding a link between Hemingway and the young man I met at Fort Zachary Taylor (and dreamed about the night before) increased my adrenalin level substantially.  Within minutes I found a picture of young Hemingway in a WWI military uniform and felt my face grow pale.  I had discovered that there were definitely spirits linked to yesterday’s  “borrowing” of the shoehorn and I was not a believer in ghosts.  With greater curiosity than fear,  I read on.

Hemingway left his early writing career to join the military, wanting to enlist for service during the first world war.  Unable to pass the physical due to bad eyesight, he volunteered for the Red Cross Ambulance Corps.  Soon young Ernest was sent to the Italian front where he witnessed death first hand.  Later while attempting to deliver supplies, Hemingway was wounded both by a mortar shell round and machine gun fire.  Plugging his wounds with cigarette butts, he was able to drag a wounded Italian soldier to safety.  This led to Ernest Miller Hemingway being awarded the Italian government’s  Silver Medal of Military Valor.  Quite the accomplishment for a young man not yet 19 years old.

An hour easily went by, the life of one of America’s most prolific authors held my attention so acutely that the activity of the other library patrons went virtually unnoticed.  That is until one person made his presence unmistakably known.

“I’m afraid we have not been formally introduced,” came the voice.  I looked up and saw a middle aged man with a more salt than pepper beard smiling down at me, a mischievous twinkle in his eye.  I knew right away who was speaking before he finished the sentence, “I’m Ernest Hemingway.”

My mouth hung open and I gasped for words, “Papa?”

He raised a finger to his lips, “Easy, son, no one else can see or hear me.”

I hadn’t realized how loudly I’d blurted the word but now all eyes were on me.  I froze for a moment not sure if I should tear out through the front door or just sit there acting dumbfounded.  Finally I got up unceremoniously, walked over to and entered the restroom, bolting the door behind me.  Papa Hemingway materialized sitting on the commode.  For the life of me I don’t know how I remained calm, but his smile was disarming, grandfatherly and genuine.  I never felt more relaxed.  I told him my name as I offered my hand but his phantom limb passed right through my flesh like a whisper of cool fog.  Hemingway shrugged with an impish grin.

“That’s fine, Chris,” he said, “pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“Mr. Hemingway,” I barnstormed, “what’s happening to me?  Why am I seeing you and those other you’s and why am I having these nutty dreams?  If this is about me taking that shoehorn, it was an accident!  I didn’t mean to steal your property!”

Papa looked at me contentedly, “You had it right the first time, Chris, call me ‘Papa’.  All my friends do.”

“I’m sorry… of course, Papa… just tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it!  I don’t want to cause you any more trouble!”

“Now what makes you think you’ve caused me any trouble?”

“The shoehorn!  I took it by mistake!  It all happened so fast!  First I was there in the study… I mean, I was in your study when I saw Hem, … I mean… the other you and I just panicked!”

Papa chuckled, closing his eyes as he did so.  Just then there was a rattling of the knob on the bathroom door but the lock was firm.  I ignored the distraction.

“The other you’s, now that’s a hoot, Chris!”

“Yeah, the other you’s as in three of you!  First Hem in the study at the Estate, then you in the parlor and Ring Lardner, Jr. at Fort Zachary Taylor who is in fact another you!”

Papa smiled, “Is that so unusual?  There are three parts to every person, Chris.  Three individuals that roll into one.  It’s quite simple really.”

“Three into one? like some trinity or something?” There may have been slight distaste in my tone.

“It’s not quite that vulgar, but stop and think about it.  There is the you that people see, there is the you that you want to be and then there is the you that you are inside.  Your id, the real you… your inner self.”

I absorbed that statement for a moment just as there came a sharp rap on the bathroom door.  I announced that it was occupied and that I’d be right out.  Papa Hemingway was obviously amused at my dilemma, my desire to understand what was happening and why he was there.

“Okay, three in one… Papa, Junior and the holy Hem… I got it!  But what does it all mean?  I’m getting to where I feel like I’m losing more than just sleep!”

“There’s more to it than that, Chris… what happened in those “nutty” dreams of yours?”

  “Well… Hem said he wanted me to go to work for him… write about his exploits or something to that effect.  Ring Jr. finds me all caught up in a firefight then tells me not to compromise…”

The doorknob rattles then a persistent knocking.  I press my face to the door.  I hiss the words,  I’m almost done!  and I lean against the bathroom door like I’m trying to re-enforce it against a strong tidal surge.  But facing Papa Hemingway he quickly begins to fade.

“Wait!  Don’t go yet!  Tell me what it means!  Tell me what to do!”

But he is gone, smiling as he vanishes before me sitting on that old porcelain toilet, wagging his finger like I’ve just been scolded.  With resignation I open the bathroom door and start out.  An elderly gentleman with no manners brushes past me with a hmmpf! and closes the door abruptly.  Stepping back into the main library a familiar face is there to greet me. 

With arms crossed against his chest and his backside propped upon my study table,  Officer Jordan gives me a curt nod…

  

shades of Hemingway / Part 7, come saturday morning

April 21, 2007

To really appreciate one of Key West’s finest you have to see him standing right in front of you just after you’ve groggily waken up from too little sleep and too much alcohol.  (not that I am a heavy drinker because I’m not, except when I’m on vacation and only then did I have two glasses of wine… honest)   Police officers dress in blue khaki shorts and white polo shirts, but their side arm is a standard issue 9mm Glock.  I imagine the semi-tropics and island atmosphere lend to the casual image, but the cop in front of me was being all business.  Since I was still sitting in that steel folding chair with Britney Spears face down on my lap his Glock was right at eye level.  I looked up and under his KWPD badge was his name tag:  JORDAN.  He appeared to be a man that smiled easily and I think he would have laughed at my predicament right then if not for the “official” look he had to wear.  He asked me for identification and I fidgeted in my seat trying to reach back in my wallet to produce it. 

After I became fully awake (which took all of 2 seconds) I started to explain what had happened the night before starting with the resturaunt with no name and the buffet from Hell, then the Hogs Breath Saloon (only two glasses of wine, mind you) and ending up at Marrero’s Mansion with Annette’s head about to start spinning around while I’m on the chair (I left out the shrieking part) and how I’d taken a pink taxi to M&M’s to wash the puke from our blanket because Annette couldn’t face the maid in the morning.  Seemingly unconcerned about Britney or the blanket he asked me if I was enjoying my stay at the infamous bed and breakfast.  I said that we were except for the obnoxious rooster in the morning (but I wasn’t being judgemental) as  I produced my identification but he finally smiled and waved it off.

“Nobody could make up a story like that,” Officer Jordan said, “besides… the laundromat appears to still be in one piece.” 

And it was, everything that had been blown to bits, sprayed with machine gun fire or burned beyond recognition seemed to have been restored with my awakening from that strange dream.  There were no soldiers, no skeletons, no top hats and canes, no boxes of soap or fabric softener on the floor, just other patrons doing their shameful best to attend to their own dirty laundry while Sandy’s workers were getting ready to open for business.

I stood up and went to my washing machine and opened the lid.  The bobbing, bubbling heads were gone and only the bed linen remained, thrown against the porcelain sides by the Maytag’s spin dry inertia.  I pulled the blanket from the agitator’s core, unraveling it like spun cotton candy.  I turned to show the policeman the evidence I had described and he gave me a thumbs up.

“Hey…” I said to my new found friend, “where can I rent one of those spiffy electric cars?”  I had decided that this day Keith, Laura, Annette and I would travel outside the boundaries of foot traffic.

Officer Jordan motioned with his head, “Back where you came in on the ferry is the closest place, but they are all over.”   

I went to throw the blanket into a nearby dryer.  Hoping to get an offer for a ride I asked over my shoulder, “Is that within walking distance?”  but didn’t get an answer.  I fished some change out of my pocket, inserted it in the coin slot then set the dryer into motion.

  “Say… do you think I could get a ride?” 

I turned around but Officer Jordan was already off talking to one of the locals, a pirate captain’s first mate looking character that even had a small parrot propped on his shoulder.  I looked over at the workers preparing the restaurant for business and caught a few sideways glances directed at me like I was doing something unnatural.  But that is the thing with doing your laundry in public, it always makes you feel self-conscience.  Officer Jordan had what looked like a mountain bike and was putting on a riding helmet.  With a turn, a smile and a finger salute to the forehead he was off.  So there wasn’t going to be a ride for me.  I walked back to my chair, sat down and read about Britney Spears until the dryer stopped.

It actually wasn’t that far of a walk from M&M’s Laundry to where the Key West Express docked.  I enjoyed the early morning air and sunshine as I passed through the old neighborhood towards the gulf waters.  Most of what I was looking at was off the beaten path and hardly resembled the touristy section of Duval St. and beyond.  I welcomed the walk, allowing myself to enjoy my surroundings while planning out the day in my mind.  We had seen these 4 seater electric cars buzzin’ all around for the past two days and I was certain we all needed a break from walking so that was first on the agenda.  Next I’d drive back, rally the troops and scrounge up some breakfast.  Then we’d check out Mel Fisher’s Museum, perhaps head out to the southernmost point and shoot the loop.

When I got to the Seaport I found the sign for the electric car guy.  It was one of those open for business signs that goes something like: “Hours 8-4:30, sometimes 9-5 or occasionally 10-6 except when we come in after lunch… which usually means we are here around 1 and work ’til dark unless we come in late then most of the time we’ll split the difference and go home early”  I never find these things humorous but today I chuckle politely because there IS someone there and he seems to know his stuff.  After filling out all the necessary paper work and receiving a brief bit of instruction I joined some of tourism’s elite;  I had wheels!  I couldn’t wait to pick up the gang and chart new territories on this island paradise.

I buzzed back to the bed and breakfast expecting to find everybody patiently waiting for me on the front porch.  I imagined them eating fruit ‘n’ granola and wondering where the heck I was.  But when I got there no familiar faces greeted me.  Puzzled, I went and knocked on Keith and Laura’s door.  After a few moments Keith appeared unshaven and woozy.  He started to explain that he and Laura must have gotten ahold of some bad oysters and had to lay low for at least the morning.  Then I told him about Annette waking in the middle of the night and we decided we’d meet back around noon to see how we all felt.  I tip toed up the stairs to check in on Annette and found she was still sleeping.  I had the entire morning to myself!

Our bed and breakfast has this honor system for it’s guests.  If you want a drink, say soda pop or beer, they have a refrigerator out by the pool.  There you help yourself; write down your room number, the type of drink and how many you took.  They in turn apply the cost to the running tab on your room and then you settled up upon checkout.  This all seemed very civilized to me so I went out by the pool and helped myself to a bottled water and dutifully filled out the required information.  It wasn’t until I was all finished and went to leave that I realized someone was watching me. 

 It was my first experience at a clothing optional pool and I wasn’t used to seeing the full frontal view of a nude man sunbathing himself on a lounger.  His companion was lying in a lounger next to him with pale butt cheeks proudly displayed for God and everybody to see.  The man facing me smiled.  I curtly nodded back and offered a subdued ‘good mornin’ ‘ and tried not to act like it was my first time at a clothing optional pool.  But for the first time I felt out of place in Key West.  I walked away slowly, trying not to act embarrassed but at the same time I didn’t want to appear like I was taking a lingering look at his genitals.  I smiled to myself imagining it would be a bad place for a sunburn and went off back inside.  

I stood out on the front steps and watched some baby chicks following their mother down the sidewalk, their little ‘peep peep peeps’  being cried out in unison.  I took a drink of my bottled water and felt a bit frustrated. So here I was with some time on my hands.  I had this amazing electric car at my beckoning call and couldn’t figure out where I wanted to go. I didn’t want to do anything that I couldn’t wait and do with the rest of the group so I pondered that a moment. 

There was one place I could go to that the others wouldn’t feel left out over.  Actually it never dawned on me until that moment but it made perfect sense to go there and once I thought of it (aside from me going out and having breakfast) it became a must.  Everything I had been exposed to since I left Hemingway’s Estate needed some clarifying and there was only one place I could think of that might help me get some answers.  A haven of sorts, a refuge… somewhere I could put all the pieces together and actually enjoy doing it.

I had to go to the public library. 

shades of Hemingway / Part 6, midnight in the garden of a good upheaval

April 18, 2007

I lurched up in bed like I had been lying on a compressed spring that just went… THWONG!  Annette had hurled vomit next to me and she was sitting there crying.  I did my best girly scream and leaped up on a nearby chair expecting to see her head start spinning.  I was convinced the ghost of Enriquetta Marrero had taken possession of my sweetie.

But after a moment I realized it must of been the combination of food poisoning with a bad mix of alcohol because she bolted to the bathroom and rushed the door.  I was feeling a bit sleep deprived though I did my best to console her amidst sounds of retching and other unpleasantness. Through her sobs she fretted about the mess she had made which I assured her I would take care of. 

I looked at the clock, it was past midnight.  For a moment I was stuck on what to do.  I stripped the bed down to the bottom sheet and searched our closet for more linen.  Fortunately most of the rehashed bits of seafood and vodka had pooled on the blanket. But Annette would not be comforted with simply wadding it up and tossing it in a corner, she insisted we had to clean it and by saying “we” she meant me and she meant right away.  I tried to reason that we could set the offending blanket outside our door and the maid would get a little surprise in the morning but Annette wouldn’t hear of it.  I offered to leave the maid a big tip (a couple of bucks) for her trouble but Annette couldn’t handle the thought of being embarrassed having to face the maid sometime somewhere in this life knowing what she did.  My only choice was to agree to find a laundromat and wash it… tonight.  All this cheerful banter was carried on through the bathroom door…

Our bed and breakfast hosts have the foresight of permitting their guests access to the front door of our temporary home via a personal key which allows us to come and go at will.  After making a phone call to the local cab company I dressed and quietly slipped down the stairs to the veranda in order to sit outside and wait.  Before too long a late model pink cab pulled up and the driver said there was a laundromat a few blocks down Fleming St. that was open all night.

M&M Laundry is at 1026 White St. and is one of the most unique places I have ever seen.  Not only can you wash your clothes but there is Sandy’s, a Cuban restaurant, tucked inside as well.  By the time my colorful driver and our pink carriage arrived the restaurant was closed and the laundromat abandoned.  I gave the cabby a generous tip (a couple of bucks) and made the pilgrimage from the street to the open air facility with the blanket thrown over my shoulder like a knapsack. 

I found a machine that I hoped could keep a secret, placed the disheartening comforter in the black hole and set the water temperature.  The vending machine that sells detergent was a one armed bandit that stole two of my quarters but finally I inserted the soap and $2.00 (!) in the slot which jump started the white porcelain turbo washer.  Satisfied that the soap and water would mesh properly after staring at the rising level for what seemed an eternity I closed the lid.  I found a steel folding chair, picked up a magazine featuring Britney Spears and after a gigantic yawn sat down pretending to be interested.  

There is something about being seen at the laundromat that parallels the humiliation of being caught buying toilet paper at the supermarket.  Everybody needs tissue and clean clothes but the fact that you are publicly declaring your grime is disconcerting for most people.  I proudly sat in the back corner and listened to the gush… gush… gush agitation of my modern marvel.  It wasn’t long before I lulled myself into a silent sentry, guarding against the forces of dirt and evil with the scent of mountain freshness.

I don’t know why a wash machine has to bump and stomp like an angry schoolmarm when it is caught off balance but this one clamored for my attention as no disruptive middle school hooligan could.  I quickly moved to calm the savage beast by opening the lid then looked inside.  Instead of seeing my puke riddled bedding there were about a dozen severed heads looking up at me gurgling their protests with reflective soap bubbles.  

A loud series of thunks caused me to turn and face the clothes dryers as each door had flown open.  Out climbed bleach white skeletons with top hats and canes.  They linked their arms together in vaudeville style and began a chorus of “dem bones…  dem bones…  dem DRY bones”.  Laundry carts pulled back on their rear wheels and drag raced between the rows of washing machines as the one armed bandit soap vending machine paid off in boxes of detergent and fabric softener.  Just as I was thinking this was all quite extraordinary I heard the unmistakable whistle of a mortar round which prompted me to duck under a folding table for cover.   

The ensuing explosion flared out from the street and tore the flimsy metal roof off the laundromat.  Darkness was accompanied by the sound of machine gun fire.  A couple of infantrymen with fixed bayonets appeared on either side of me and we tipped the table over on its side to form a protective barrier.  More mortar rounds whistled down and exploded outside the M&M Laundry perimeter and I could hear other soldiers shouting orders and returning fire.  I started picking up the detergent and fabric softener boxes that were strewn across the floor then did my best John Wayne imitation by pitching them like hand grenades towards the street.  The men that were with me began firing with their long rifles.  The lights had gone out.  Grotesque shadows kaleidoscoped across the walls as more flashes from mortar rounds, gun muzzles and exploding soap boxes erupted during the fierce fighting. 

One of my companions was valiantly preparing to “charge” when a ricocheting bullet whined past my ear and caught him in the shoulder.  His buddy fired a flare gun, it’s miniature roman rocket streaked up and ignited the sky as he cried out for a medic.  Through the shadows of mangled, smoldering carnage contained within the laundromat walls I could see a man whose silhouette was outlined in neon making his way towards us.  Bullets whizzed passed as he dodged in and out carrying a satchel tied tightly with a woman’s brassiere.  He vaulted over the table and began administering to our comrade in arms.  I eyed the red cross arm band then scanned the young man’s face.  It was Ring Lardner, Jr.  He looked at me and grinned.

 “War is Hell.” he said, trying to sound cavalier.

I grabbed a pair of men’s jockey shorts and attempted to fix them on the wounded soldier’s bayonet in order to offer our surrender.

“We must give up!” I started waving my fruit o’ the loom flag of truce.  “There is nothing left to do but compromise!”

“Wait!  Don’t do it!” Ring pulled the bayoneted rifle out of my hands then socked me in the jaw, knocking me off of my feet.  He bent down, took hold of my shoulders and began to shake me.  “You can’t compromise now!  You’re a better man than that!  Wake up!  Wake up!”

shades of Hemingway / Part 5, I’ll drink to that

April 14, 2007

We made it back from Fort Zachary Taylor late in the afternoon and after a brief stop to freshen up ( I stashed the shoe horn under our mattress) we decided to head down to Mallory Square for the “sunset festival”.  Mallory Square is awash with activity an hour or so before sunset.  Street vendors and circus like entertainers stake out a spot to practice their craft and on-lookers surround the particular group that holds their attention the longest.  One gentleman suspended himself in mid-air wrapped up in a straight jacket and escaped in record time.  Another man had trained cats (!) that jumped through hoops, walked narrow rope bridges and leapfrogged each other.  They’d jump up to his shoulder to get treats from his lips and he’d smack a little kiss to them.  His rapid fire little laugh annoyed me but Keith and Laura were enthralled.

There were a couple of young men doing an acrobatic act that was very good.  They sounded British or perhaps Australian.  They amazed us with their comical banter, unicycle stunts, juggling while balancing on pop bottles and on and on.  Every entertainer “passes the hat” towards the end of their act and we gave generously.  (a couple of bucks)  Annette made sure every performer we stopped for  (no matter how long we paused) got something from us.

Then, as if on cue, everyone went to the edge of the square and stood along the railing to await the sunset.  There were small sail boats out in the bay, the water was calm and sea birds flew over head.  A hotel had a cafe near the water and the patrons stopped what they were doing to witness the grand spectacle.  You wouldn’t think a sunset takes place every night the way these people reacted to it.  But there we were, holding our breath until soon the crimson sky turned off it’s source by dipping the sun like a taffy apple.  We all bathed in the afterglow.  Everyone applauded.  (Annette did not tip here)

We decided we were hungry and made the trek back up to Duval St. then started scouting out restaurants.  We chose one a few blocks up that was originally one of the historic homes on the same block as Sloppy Joe’s Bar.  Sloppy Joe’s is infamous for being a hang out for Ernest Hemingway while he lived and played in Key west.  It is packed with nostalgia and the walls are adorned with pictures of the era.  But there were people waiting to get in as we passed, so we walked on promising ourselves we would get an earlier start tomorrow and put Sloppy Joe’s at the top of our list.

I wish I could remember the name of the place we ate at, but I can’t.  I do know it had a buffet style atmosphere and intimate dining areas in several rooms.  We were happy to load up our plates with the amount of our choosing and found a nice table that allowed us to look outside and watch the pedestrian traffic.  I have a  rule about mixing meats, some just seem to digest easier than others.  I am cautious when it comes to eating chicken with steak or steak with seafood, etc.  So while Keith, Laura and Annette gobbled as much shrimp, oysters and maui maui they could scarf up along with chicken fingers, pork ribs and steak, I chose to eat grilled chicken. 

Soon we were back on Duval St. looking for a bar to wrap up the evening with.  We approached Sloppy Joe’s Bar but the line to get in seemed longer than before. We decided to cross over and moved down the street to the Hogs Breath Saloon, which was crowded as well but welcomed us with the stage up front right as we walked in.  Some guy was accompanying himself on guitar and singing a song about Key West.  It went something like this:  My home is in Key West, where drinkin’ is considered a sport.  I’d rather be here, just sippin’ a beer than freezin’ my ass off in the North.  We decided this was the place for us.  We mingled in with the crowd and enjoyed the solitary performance well into the evening.  I even requested a John Prine song, Paradise which he did in grand style.  (Annette made sure he got a tip.) 

I wish I could say we partied on like Wayne and Garth, but around 10 that evening the fun and frolic began to catch up to us.  We bid the Hogs Breath Saloon a fond adieu and once again found ourselves making our way up Duval to Fleming St…  not quite at a crawl, but feeling no pain.  I still hadn’t mentioned the shoe horn and had nearly forgotten I had taken it.  But the night was young…

It had been a long day and with all the walking, eating and drinking involved… we were tired.  Keith and Laura went off to their room as soon as we arrived back at Marrero’s, Annette and I were more than happy to do the same.  Hitting the sheets we were both out like a light in a matter of moments, at least until I heard that sound again.  rat-tat-tat ding! (carriage return)  rat-tat-tat ding!  (carriage return).

Suddenly I woke up though it was still dark outside.  I found myself walking towards Sloppy Joe’s Bar.  The streets were wet and empty, the neon from the sign reflecting ominously on the sidewalk.  One lone figure was leaning against the building  just out side the front entry, smoking a cigar with one foot propped up on the wall.  He was dressed like a sportsman, possibly for fishing and as I approached I recognized him as the man in the Estate study.

“How ya doin’ there, Sport?  Long time no see.”  I knew right then that it was Ernest Hemingway; young, vibrant and talking to me like we were old friends.

“Papa?”

“I ain’t your friggin’ papa!”  he snarled good naturedly.

“Mr. Hemingway?”

“I’m not my father, either.  Call me Hem, it’s easier!”  He clasped my hand firmly then patted me on the back.  “Come in here, Sport, we’ve got a lot to talk about.”  

We sat at the bar drinking shots of whiskey and chasing them with draft beer.  The only light was around the bar which cast long shadows on the hardwood floor.  We were alone except for the phantom bartender I never clearly saw.  Hem was in good spirits.

“I want you to go to work for me,” he was saying as he blew smoke rings with his cigar, “I want you to write a modern version of my life; my travels and adventures, do you think you’d be interested, Sport?  I’d help you, of course… sort of like a ghostwriter!”  Then  he jabbed me in the ribs with his elbow and laughed at the inside joke.

I couldn’t believe I was being offered tutelage by the great man himself…  ofcourse I was interested!

But I was puzzled.  “You’re world famous, Hem.  What could I possibly write about that could add to that?”

“Listen, Sport, it ain’t about obtaining fame, you’ve got to maintain fame.  Otherwise people will forget about you completely.”

I pondered that for a moment, just as 3 voluptuous vixens appeared.  One stood alongside of me, the other two hung on either side of Hem.

Hem put his arms around them and squeezed the women to him, making their breasts bulge.  He smiled broadly and winked, “The spoils of war, Sport, the spoils of war.”  The babe next to me started stroking my inner thigh.

“I must be dreaming!”  I said aloud.

“You think you’re dreaming?” Hem chortled.  He fondled a breast in each hand.  “Is this dreaming?”  The woman next to me raised her hand higher, smiling provocatively.   “Still dreaming, Sport?”  Hem was rolling his eyes with a ghastly grin and the whores joined in the laughter.  One reached for a glass of beer and threw it in my face. 

“Still dreaming…?” echoed in my ears…

shades of Hemingway / Part 4, later that same day

April 11, 2007

Keith, Laura and Annette were waiting for me by the entrance where we had come in, naturally thinking I’d gotten lost.  We left and headed down Whitehead St.  towards Angela St.,  Fort Zachary Taylor next on our to visit list.  We all talked about Hemingway’s house, how much we enjoyed the tour and all the things we learned about the author.  We have the Thomas Alva Edison Home and Museum in Ft. Myers so we compared the two tours as far as the grounds, guides and the men who had lived in their respective homes.  Laura was partial to Hemingway’s Estate for the cats, (of course) Keith leaned more towards Edison’s Estate for the inventions on display, Annette was non-committal and I was mentally incompetent.  

Over and over I ran the past few minutes through my mind.  I asked Keith if he knew if there were Hemingway look-a-likes on the tour (which he said was an awesome idea) but none of them claimed to have seen one.  I didn’t mention what had happened to me in the carriage house because… one, I still had the shoe horn tapping Morse code on the small of my back and I didn’t want them to think I was so totally uncool as to steal and…  two, I didn’t want to cause them to question my sanity and… three, I wasn’t certain of what I had actually experienced.  Maybe there were Hemingway look-a-likes hanging around the estate to add nostalgia to the place.  Could I have just been caught trespassing by one of them in his pajamas?  Maybe the guy in the parlor slipped out into an adjacent room that I wasn’t aware of.   My brief walk through the house didn’t make me an expert of it’s floor plan.  Perhaps I got turned around somehow and just panicked when the next tour group came in. 

As we walked up Angela St. I was more and more convinced that somewhere there was this 40 something Hemingway look-a-like laughing his hiny off at my being caught red-handed in the study.  But then I wondered,  if that were the case… why didn’t he try and stop me from taking the shoe horn?  I walked with Annette and our friends trying to add to the conversation the best I could so as not to seem distant, but my mind was on Ernest Hemingway and his relationship with Key West.

Fort Zachary Taylor is a brick and mortar Goliath that began being built in 1845.  So large a project it was that it took over twenty years to complete, but served as a post for the Union during the Civil War.  Another fort, Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, was started about the same time.  Fort Jefferson is the largest masonry structure in the Northern Hemisphere.  Both forts were part of a series being built to protect the coast from pirates and enemy forces, and Fort Zachary Taylor was used fairly extensively during the Spanish-American War of 1898.  But now both forts are National Parks.  One thing that distinguishes Fort Zachary Taylor is the fact that so many Civil War cannons have been found there.  On the map we had the structure looked much closer, but it is a hike from Hemingway’s Estate. By the time we arrived we were fairly pooped out and anxious to find a place to sit down.

Originally the fort had been surrounded by a moat with a single bridge leading up to it.  In more modern times the moat had been partially filled in and the bridge’s entry into the fort had been closed up.  It was there that park rangers had set up a series of benches for visitors and between Noon and 2 pm one would come in and give a brief history of the fort.  Much of the tour is self-guided.  After our orientation and a brief rest we ventured out into the parade grounds and the exterior walls of the fort.

My interest was the view from the top so while Keith, Laura and Annette wandered through the munition rooms and cannon batteries, I took the nearest stairs that led above so as to look out o’er the ramparts we watched that were so gallantly streaming.  Due to modernization early in the 20th century, much had been changed from the original 3 tier structure, allowing for state of the art weaponry during World War I and II.  Now as you walk along the top of the remaining first tier, (2nd and 3rd tiers have been removed) concrete foundations that supported military weapons now have only rusted iron  anchor bolts as remnants of Fort Zachary Taylor’s glory years. 

As I walked up to the top of the stairs and looked out over the Gulf, a young man possibly in his late teens was standing before me looking out towards the horizon as if in a trance.  He was wearing a uniform of some sort, possibly made of wool and in a style that I was not familiar with.  I assumed he was a park ranger or something official like that, though his uniform definitely wasn’t appropriate for the semi-tropics.  Not wanting to disturb him, I turned to walk in the opposite direction.  I hadn’t taken more than a couple of steps when I heard him utter, “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”  I stopped and turned, he was still gazing out into the water as if I wasn’t even there.

“Yes,” I replied, “very nice…  calm and peaceful…”  I lingered for a moment then turned to face the water as if I might have missed something and stood scanning the open view to the Gulf.  “I’ll bet on a clear day you could almost see forever,  or at least… Cuba from here.”  I got no response from my little joke, which irratated me slightly.  I began to feel odd just standing there with a mute so I leaned away from the young man just as he spoke again, still facing the water.

“They never fired a shot from here, did you know that?”

“No, I didn’t… not even during the Civil War?”

“No, it was occupied but never met any hostilities, isn’t that something?”

“I guess just the knowledge that it was here was enough of a deterrent, huh?”

“Yes…” he turned to face me, “war can sometimes be so strange.  Not what we expect…”

“War is hell.” I replied, trying to sound cavalier.  The dark haired man smiled and offered his hand.

“Ring Lardner, Jr… ” 

Just as I was extending my hand in order to shake his I heard Annette from the parade grounds below calling me.  I turned and moved to the edge to where she could see me, waved and called back.  She looked up, smiled and began coming up the stairs towards me but when I turned back, Ring Lardner, Jr. was gone. 

This is too weird!  I mused, looking back out into the gulf waters.  What person in their right mind names their kid Ring?

shades of Hemingway / Part 3, forever afternoon (Tuesday? nope)

April 7, 2007

After our mid-morning nap; Keith, Laura, Annette and I all met back out on the veranda refreshed and anxious to get the afternoon off to a good start.  Our first stop was the Hemingway Estate, just up the block and down Whitehead St.  We set out on foot taking in all the elements and characteristics of the old neighborhood.  There are several small, family owned businesses like fortune tellers in the old houses we passed.  Many had official looking plaques declaring their claim to fame or a brief history detailing the house’s place in local lore. 

Coming up on the Estate,  the first form of distinguishment is the red brick and mortar fence surrounding the property.  The second floor of the main house and the carriage house behind it peer out over the top.  We walked to the entrance where a modest plaque declares:  Ernest Hemingway Estate then posts the hours of operation and the admission rates.  Alongside the entrance is a little toll booth type of building where a man sits solemnly, takes your money and doles out programs.  We gathered out on the front stoop with other curiosity seekers and awaited our tour guide.  Almost immediately the polydactyl cats made their appearance, but we were already warned not to pick up or disturb them, much to Laura’s dismay. 

I stood there wondering how many times Hemingway strode up that sidewalk, full of the prime of life and confident in his future.  I wondered what could have been on his mind those countless times he approached… was he happy here? angry at someone?  too drunk to turn the key and open the front door?  thrilled at the sight and sounds of the tropical garden that surrounded him?  Our guide disturbed my musings with a hearty greeting… our tour was under way.

We entered through the front door and immediately turned into the parlor.  Our guide had us circle around the exterior walls, then began spewing knowledge, sharing little quips and barbs with the guests of the house.  He was an older gentleman, old enough to remember Hemingway’s time and even know the writer personally, though he claimed he did not.  (Keith had asked him) Each room held it own little bit of flavor, and displayed artifacts of the man, his family and momento’s from all over the world.  Finally we exited the main house and moved towards the carriage house, where Hemingway had set up his writing studio.  This was the room that interested me the most, where the creative process took place.

Our guide explained that there used to be a cat walk that connected the upstairs of the main house to the upstairs of the carriage house.  Hemingway would walk suspended across the back yard to his sanctuary early in the morning to begin writing in the cool of the day.  But a hurricane destroyed the structure in 1946, a winding iron staircase led up to the door leading in to the study now.  Because of the age and delicacy of condition only a few of us were permitted to walk up and glimpse inside.  I waited and let the others go ahead of me, not wanting to be rushed.  I was the last of our group to make the landing and one young woman remained to greet me.  She was a writer, too, and seemed to take more of an interest in the artifacts that were contained inside than the rest of the group.  We were not permitted to enter, we could only stand at the threshold and soak in the ambiance of what once contained the mind of the man who wrote, For Whom the Bell Tolls.

After a few minutes the woman left me alone to peer into the past and imagine the great man was there at his desk, pounding away at the keys of his typewriter.  Wait a minute!  My memory stirred,  the keys of the typewriter!  A raw chill scaled up from the small of my back and excited my shoulders.  I recalled the night before hearing those rat-tat-tat ding!  (carriage return) sounds as I drifted off to sleep back at the Marrero’s Mansion.  I looked across the room and sure enough, a hulk of black metal with magical looking appendages forming multiple rows was positioned on a table with a chair close by.  I gripped the wrought iron bars that formed the barrier between the modern world and a time too quickly passed.  I have never broken a rule in my life (well… not lately) but I was compelled to grab hold of the padlock that held the hasp tightly in place and give it a yank.  Effortlessly the lock opened and I gasped in disbelief.  I looked around below me and not a soul was in sight.  Carefully I removed the lock, rehung it on the hook and pulled what resembled a cell door open and entered into the study of Ernest Hemingway.

Right away I was taken by the musty dampness and smell of the room.  I walked up to the Royal and caressed it’s keys lightly with my finger tips.  I closed my eyes… this was heaven, I thought.  This was the holy grail… the golden fleece, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow… this was…  I opened my eyes.  Impulsively I tried to lift the typewriter off of the table but it was secured somehow.  Ofcourse, you fool.   What did you expect?  Immediately I dropped my hands to my side and looked around. The doorway I had come through seemed far away, the view outside obscured as if in a dream.  I turned and looked out to view the swimming pool below, feeling subdued.  I could hear our guide below talking about Mrs Hemingway and the cost of the pool, but his words did not rise up clearly.  Laughter ensued, I was obviously not missed by anyone, I felt calm.  Then I heard a slight rustle and an object dropped to the floor behind me.  One of Hemingway’s cats had been moving around the floor and knocked over a item that looked like a  horseback rider’s crop.  Seeing that I had discovered him he lightly sprang across the floor and disappeared outside.  I reached down to pick up the thing only to realize it was a shoe horn, extended on a crop looking leather handle about 18″ long with a tassle loop on the top.  The tongue itself looked to be ivory and I began to examine it carefully, only slightly aware that I was being watched.

“Wha’ cha got there, Sport?”  a gruff but friendly voice asked.

I looked up to where the entrance to the study was, another door off in the corner leading to a small bathroom had opened and a man of about 40 stood there drying his hands on a towel.  He was dark haired, mustached and stocky.  He wore a silky looking bathrobe over pajamas and dark, leather slippers.  He smiled at me as I gulped down my wildly beating heart.

“I’m sorry,” I stammered, then hopefully asked,  “are you part of the tour?”

The man laughed; a hearty, belly shaking laugh.  “Part of the tour, you ask?  Why, Sport, I AM the tour!” and he began laughing again.

I was at least 10 feet from the entry to the carriage house study but I bounded out the door in two steps.  Down the iron staircase I stumbled and out into the back yard running like a scalded dog.  Only after taking several steps did I realize I was not being chased.  I stopped to turn around and looked back up at the doorway leading inside Hemingway’s chambers.  There was no one there.  Only then did I notice that I had the shoe horn clasped in my fist, raised like I was about to swat a fly.  Immediately I shoved it halfway down the back of my pants and pulled my t-shirt tail over it.  I looked around.  Keith, Laura and Annette were nowhere to be seen.  I walked up to the house and entered off the porch through french doors leading into the parlor.  It was empty except for an older, white haired man stirring up the fireplace with a poker, his back to me… but there were no flames or coals to be had.  As I entered, he set the poker aside, stepped back and began admiring the picture of a young Ernest Hemingway standing alongside a huge Marlin hoisted up on a sling. 

“Ah, those were the days!” he uttered, then turned to face me.  Dressed in casual slacks and a smoking jacket he was the spitting image of old Papa Hemingway, white beard and all. 

“Papa?” was all I could muster.  He smiled, winked and motioned for me to follow him.

Two entrances lead into the parlor, one directly off of the front door where we had originally come in from the hall.  The other exited on the opposite end of the room leading back into the hall which in turn leads to a stairway and the bedrooms upstairs. In the opposite direction from the stairway was the kitchen and pantry, towards the rear of the house.  Outside the front door a new group was forming and as I moved towards the hall opposite from the first doorway I could plainly see another guide opening the front door to allow them in.  Turning back to follow Papa I was alone in the parlor.  He couldn’t move that fast!  But jumping as quickly as I could towards the hallway and distancing myself from the newly arriving tourists there was no sign of him ascending the staircase up or in the kitchen below. 

He had simply vanished.

shades of Hemingway / Part 2, early the next day

April 4, 2007

I awoke to the sound of a rooster crowing and thought I was back in Iowa for a moment.  Forgetting my surroundings, I stared up at the faded ceiling of a Victorian style room barely lit by the rising sun and started thinking my dreams had made a wrong turn.  Sitting up I remembered where I was.  Flopping back down I remembered why I was there.  Nobody gets up at dawn while they are on vacation.  I watched as the daylight shaded the opposite wall for a moment, then I dozed for another hour.

Later I met Keith on the veranda.  He was eating fruit and granola while watching pedestrians make their way towards Duval St.  Occasionally he would throw a chunk of granola out towards the chickens that were scrambling up and down the sidewalk.  A rooster strutted amongst them.  I cast an irritated eye in his direction but thought better than to make a fuss.  Free range chickens are part of the glamour of Key West and there were ordinances on how they were to be treated.  And the locals, for the most part, are fond of that heritage. The rooster spotted me, stood up straight, flapped his wings and crowed.  I scowled back.

 I had my tea and nothing else, breakfast to me is eggs, toast, grits (possibly potatoes) and bacon, sometimes sausage.  I decided to hold out for a bonafide restaurant, which usually occurred several hours after waking up.  I asked Keith if he had heard any women crying through the night.  He grinned sheepishly and replied that he had heard some moaning but that was about it.  Keith is a sexual juggernaut, thoughts of sex are constantly resurfacing in his mind every 3.5 seconds.  I usually feign naivety just to keep him going.  I told him about the typewriter I thought I heard before I fell asleep and he reasoned that it was probably some guy writing the great American novel on his laptop.  Early morning finds me more agreeable and less concerned about proving a point so I just went along with Keith’s thinking.  I didn’t mention the: ding! (carriage return) that I had heard along with the key strokes.  We sat watching Key West come to life until the girls came outside to meet us. 

At real breakfast we discussed our plans for the day.  Everything we were to see was within walking distance so renting a vehicle was not necessary.  We talked about more shopping and the trolley that runs through old town.  There were definite museums and book stores that Keith wanted to look up.  Despite all his virility,  Keith is a thinker and that is the part of him that I admire most.  He is a cut-up, raunchy and outspoken as they come, but he is also very well read.  He hoped to place one or two copies of his book, Happy Crickets, in a book store/head shop he’d passed the day before so that was a must.  Laura’s main concern was going to see the cats at the Hemingway Estate.  Apparently there are cats with 6 toes that reside there, perhaps as many as 7 or 8 toes for that matter. 

Keith and Laura love their cats, indoors and outdoors… cats rule.  They have scads of cats.  I once went to the grocery store with Keith and he loaded the cart with cat food and litter.  Cans of all varieties and bags just for the variety and kitty treats, along with kitty litter that absorbed and refreshed with every paw scratch and on and on.  He even bought toys for the cats and I imagined if they had candy for cats he’d bought that, too.  I like animals, but like my Grandma used to say out on the farm… animals belong outside.  I hadn’t given much thought to visiting Hemingway’s old stomping grounds but I wondered how Hemingway would react if he knew that the primary reason we wanted to visit his home was to bask in the glory of his ancestral cats.

We decided that for the remainder of the morning we would stick around Duval St. and perhaps catch one of the trams that buzzed up, down and around old town.  Later after lunch and a nap (!) we’d go to Hemingway’s home which was nearby and then walk to Ft. Zachary Taylor which was a jaunt several blocks away.  So we split up, Annette and I strolled down to Mallory Square which was a hub of activity and played tourist.  Keith and Laura remained up on Duval St.  hoping to catch the guy opening his little book store/head shop while they window shopped the t-shirt outlets.  

Everybody sells t-shirts on Duval St.  One of the favorites goes something like, “I survived the Duval crawl” which I wasn’t sure meant that the pedestrian traffic slowed and moved at a crawl or a person was so drunk they literally crawled wherever they went.  My better reasoning chose the latter.  It was here that Laura told me about the t-shirt guy that came up with the “Liver is Evil – It Must Be Punished” slogan only to have it embellished by another guy to read:  “The Liver is Evil – It Must Be Punished” and made millions on the altered slogan without having to worry about copyright infringement. 

Annette and I hopped aboard one of the trams for a little sight seeing.  Trams are a sore spot to the natives.  They worm around the streets causing traffic to snarl while the intercom speakers echo through the narrow streets of the rows of houses they pass by.  But they are a integral part of the tourism that keeps the city going so it is an uneasy alliance.  The drivers are very well informed and point out not only the architectural anomalies of the houses but some past history of former tenants as well.  One of the houses we pass is Marrero’s Mansion on Fleming St.  We already know the story behind our lodgings so our interests aren’t as acute as the other passengers.  We waved at the people sitting out on the little cabaret style tables.  They didn’t recognize us. 

Our driver tells us about the forming of the Conch Republic and the secession of Key West from the United States back in ’82.  The federal government was causing quite a stir because of placing road blocks at the beginning of the causeway that leads to the Florida Keys.  Pulling people over to search for illegal drugs or Cubans entering or leaving the U.S.A. was detrimental to the tourism that the Keys depended on.  Local Key West officials opted to secede from the union and set up their own republic, the Conch Republic on April 23, 1982.  After a declaration of war and ceremoniously ending a “battle” one minute later, the Republic succumbed to defeat and applied for a billion dollars in federal aid.  Ofcourse, it was all designed to make a point against the tyrannical approach of the federal government.  Shortly thereafter the road blocks were removed and the citizens and tourists were once again allowed to move freely back and forth to the Keys.  Such is the approach to life and politics at the southern most point of the United States.