Wednesday, December 23, 2015

THE ASSASSINATION OF PRESIDENT RUMP




                                THE ASSASSINATION OF PRESIDENT RUMP
                                                      A  2019 News Summary


Washington D.C.  May 15 – The attempted assassination of President Donald Rump by an Irish ‘sleeper cell’ is having further ramifications in the Congress with the introduction of several bills to prohibit Catholic immigration to the United States and to detain all undocumented Catholic immigrants in ‘rehab resorts’ until extradited to their home countries. The legislation, sponsored by members of the Congressional caucus calling itself  ‘Real Patriots First’ also calls for a ban on Americans traveling to Ireland as well as a boycott of Irish imports ranging from whiskey to folk singers.

Responsibility for the attack on the president was claimed by the Holy Warriors of Bethlehem, a militant offshoot of the Knights of Columbus. The claim was posted on their website until the administration -- skirting free speech guarantees --   demanded that world-wide servers voluntarily shut down the site. However, the Chinese giant, Ali Baba, kept it running long enough for various western sources to publish the group’s intent ‘to wage holy war against the infidel protestants who have defiled God and controlled America’s evil empire for too long.’

At her morning news conference today, Vice-President Sarah Failin issued a statement that security cameras might be installed in Catholic Sunday School classrooms and suggested that church confessionals no longer be considered ‘above the law’. The Vatican responded almost immediately with a Facebook video by Cardinal Terrance Twist, head of the Papal Curia.

‘The Holy Father wishes the world to know that Catholicism is a peaceful faith and that the Mother Church – despite a few brief aberrations during the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition – condemns all acts of senseless violence in general and those of small revisionist groups in particular. To blemish the entire Catholic world based on the acts of a few misled radicals could be considered a mortal sin.”

In a related development, the head of Homeland Security, Ben Carfather, announced that the month-long encirclement of Boston by federal troops has been lifted along with the ban on Boston Celtics basketball games. The prohibition on St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, however, will continue as will the closing of St. Patrick’s cathedral in New York City until a more suitable name can be agreed upon. Mr. Carfather stated: ‘We now believe the principal threat to our security and to the nation’s tranquility  can be found in terrorist cells hiding in abandoned grain elevators in the Midwest. As a consequence, we now have a huge interagency dragnet covering wherever beautiful spacious skies and amber waves of grain can be found.”

Reliable sources have also reported that Secretary of State Ted Missile was preparing a NATO Resolution that prohibits the display of Shamrock flags, leprechaun images  and playing of the song ‘How Are Things In Gloccamora’ in member countries. These are believed to be recruiting tools for The Holy Warriors of Bethlehem.

    On the local level reports from around the nation indicate that mob attacks on Irish pubs in New York, Houston, Chicago and San Francisco are lessening, although credible bomb threats were reported last night in Kansas City, Atlanta and Charlotte; and  “No Irish Need Apply’ signs have proliferated in Alabama and South Carolina. In addition, anti-catholic graffiti is reportedly appearing on church properties and bingo parlors in the Rocky Mountain states.

Although the new legislation, which President Rump is expected to sign from his secret hair salon in the Caribbean, makes no mention of where the ‘rehab resorts’ are to be located, reliable sources say work has already begun to restore structures in the Mojave Desert that were used in World War Two to house people of Japanese descent.


                                                   (more, unfortunately, to come)
                                                                    
                                                           *************


      Please share this blog with friends. They can access it at http://keywestwind.blogspot.com or by Googling keywestwind.

And may everyone enjoy a full and satisfying holiday, and a 2016 more sane than the year now approaching its welcome grave.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

THE UNFORGETTABLE FALL OF JACK MCGRATH




                              THE UNFORGETTABLE FALL OF JACK MCGRATH

                               A Small Rumination On Friendship


       


      I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship lately – its contradictions and conundrums  -- because two very old and close friends have died in recent months. The first, Merrill Grant – born and bred in New York City -- was one of the most honest, self-effacing men I’ve ever known; and also the funniest. We first met over lunch many years ago when I was trying to recruit him into my company.  Halfway through the second martini (It was the ‘Mad Men’ era.), we were cautiously feeling each other out; gossiping a little about the television business and talking eventually about our families.

      I told Merrill that in a few weeks I was taking my kids on safari to Kenya and Tanzania and was really looking forward to the trip.  Merrill, who had a distinctly New York accent, broke into a cherubic smile and said:

       “Yeah? That’s wild!  My old man did the same thing when I was a kid.”

       “Really?” I said.
        “Yeah, really … except it was called the Bronx Zoo.”

        I loved Merrill from that moment on and for the next thirty-five years.

        My second friend – Bob Schneider – was of a different sort entirely:  cautious, loath to make decisions and always a bit defensive. He and Merrill never met; and it’s safe to say each would have disliked the other. Coming from a very modest background, Bob became a vice-president of Xerox Corporation and had a career that anyone would consider successful. Yet his attitudes and his opinions were usually tentative and unsure, and he was most at home in while sitting on the fence. He once told me a story that – in all probability -- played an important role in shaping his dedication to studied neutrality.

     When he was a senior in a small-town high school, he became enthralled with a girl whom he considered “way above his station”; the daughter of the local bank president. In order to impress her, he began saving money from his part-time job as a grocery clerk until – after a few months – he’d saved enough to invite her to dinner at the only “high class” restaurant in the area. Much to his surprise (and relief), she accepted. 

     When the night arrived, they were seated by a tuxedoed maitre d’ (intimidating enough, to say the least) and given menus the likes of which Bob had never seen. But he studied his carefully as if he knew what he was doing and finally asked the girl of his dreams what she was going to have.

      “I think I’ll have the lobster bisque.” she said.
                                                            
       “Good choice.” Bob told her. “But wouldn’t you like some soup first?”

          Bob’s life-long philosophy of ‘better safe than sorry’ may have been born that night.  In any case, he became in time a decent man who avoided risk, never again put his foot in his mouth and lived a satisfying and largely predictable life. I think of him as one of an endless and anonymous herd of executives who spend a lifetime in our giant corporations and retire without a trace. And yet he remained a good friend long after he faded to self-absorption and ennui in an assisted-living community.

        And then – inevitably -- Jack McGrath came to mind. I met Jack when I was eighteen and innocent. A year later, I was ten years older.

       I’d gotten a job as an attendant in a private mental hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, and had moved into a five-bedroom apartment with four other ‘psychiatric aides’ (as we were charitably called), including Jack who was in his early thirties. The apartment was a sprawling, five-bedroom wreck (cracked linoleum floors, one bathroom, green and purple wallpaper) within walking distance of the hospital and – more importantly – upstairs from a hangout called The Cardinal Bar and Grill, generally referred to as ‘The Bird’.

       My other three roommates – Carl Ringhouser, Howie Boudreau and Milton Kanzaki – were in their mid to late twenties and working on ‘advanced degrees’ in psychology and sociology. Since I was barely out of high school, and had never heard of an ‘advanced degree’, I was benignly tolerated but generally ignored; except by Jack who with enthusiasm offered to introduce me to ‘the real world’.

        I had no idea at the time that he was a satyr. I’d never even heard the word. (For anyone unfamiliar with satyriasis, it’s the male equivalent of nymphomania.) All I knew was that he was a tall, skinny Irishman who played hard and drank heavily and loved great jokes and said a lot of outrageous things. He was a great mentor, or so I thought, for a young kid who’d never been in ‘the real world’ and was aching to explore it. So Jack’s obsession with sex came as a shock, but not necessarily a negative one.

      Although his audacity with girls – his outright lasciviousness  -- was way beyond the bounds of my imaginings, I did get some vicarious pleasure from watching him ‘work the room’.  Hanging around The Bird night after night, month after month, he talked and laughed with ‘the guys’ while his eyes scanned the bar for any female, and I mean ANY female, he might take to bed.  Once he found a target, he managed to proposition her within five minutes of saying hello. If he were rebuffed, which was less often than one might think, he took it in stride and just targeted another female sitting a few barstools down. And needless to say, there were nights when we had to pull him away from near-fights with boyfriends or with husbands who were playing pinball at the other end of the bar. Even as we hustled him back to safety, he’d be laughing and joking and re-scanning the room. (At one point, Jack thought he’d died and gone to heaven when he met a nurse who turned out to be a nymphomaniac. The relationship was headed for disaster when a hastily-organized and very hush-hush intervention forced them to stop fucking in empty rooms, alleyways, broom closets, shower stalls, and stairwells. But that’s another story for another time.)

      Yet despite his sex addiction, Jack generated loyalty from an astonishing number of people because he had little malice in his soul and was, in fact, supremely generous; lending money to anyone who needed it and never asking for repayment. In fact, he seemed surprised when people did repay him. Even women who were at first appalled by him came to accept him and often to like him. He also earned people’s respect because he was brave beyond bravado and dedicated to his job assignment. As senior ‘aide’ on the most violent ward in the hospital, he was always the first to dive into a fight or to try to restrain a patient who’d gone ‘high’. Not easy, and often dangerous. But he was always there. Always reliable. Always in good spirits.

     And then, suddenly, he wasn’t. Our crazy, tough, free-spirited, sex-addicted Irishman was gone. I don’t remember how exactly: a heart attack, a brain embolism. Whatever it was, it struck without warning and killed him instantly. Nor do I remember how Milton Kanzaki ended up with the urn. But it was Milton, a shy and awkward intellectual, who remembered Jack insisting one night that when he died, he wanted to be buried at sea. And Milton – thinking Jack’s request serious but absurd --had soberly promised he would make it so.

     That’s why, after a few days of alcoholic debate, and using money chipped in by the Bird’s regulars, we chartered a plane in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to spread Jack’s ashes in the ocean. We could have rented a boat, of course, but the prospect of a plane ride (suggested, by the way, by an ex-girlfriend) captured our imaginations. And Jack, we told ourselves, would have loved it.

     We took off on a sweltering summer Saturday in a little plane that seated three plus the pilot. Milton sat in the copilot’s seat holding the urn, and Carl and I sat in back. The wings were above the fuselage – which gave us an unencumbered view below -- and the two side windows were open which gave us a welcome breeze.  As we climbed past the shoreline, we could see sailboats and motor craft all over Long Island Sound. Carl claimed he could even see an outline of the Empire State Building to the west. And when Milton and I turned to look, the inexplicable happened.

      Jack’s urn fell out the window.  Milton had balanced it on the window ledge for only a second and it had somehow slipped his grip. It happened so quickly that we could only react with shocked silence. Yet, paradoxically, time seemed to slow as we watched it plummet toward a raucous flock of seagulls circling a garbage barge almost directly below us; and saw it land – unbroken -- on a huge mound of human detritus being towed toward a dumping ground in the open ocean.

     And so our flawed true friend, Jack McGrath, -- whom we valued deeply and will always remember -- was consigned to the sea as promised; but not exactly as planned. 
                                                ****


     It’s been said that the true test of friendship is time. But that strikes me as  tautological and self-evident.  True friendship barely recognizes time. If Merrill or Bob or Jack were alive today, we’d pick up right where we left off; as if no time at all had passed.

     So it occurs to me that true friendship usually lasts longer than love, and is more trustworthy. Almost from the day we’re born, we’re fed the messy and misleading mythology of love: love conquers all .. all your need is love .. you’ll find the love of your life .. you’ll live and love happily ever after ..  etc. But whether framed in the language of sappy romantic novels or great literary masterpieces, we soon find out that we’re neither Cinderella nor Prince Charming; and that love is at best a moving target; fickle and ephemeral. And while that may sound cynical or even bitter to a romantic, the divorce rate alone testifies to its truth. 

      The fact is that love, in the end, rarely endures the test of time unless it’s based on and buttressed by friendship. If we’re not lucky enough (and luck plays a big role) to enjoy both with a partner, our friendships still endure and support us.

     We may separate friends for our own reasons, as I’ve often done, and we may not even acknowledge them for long periods. But they nonetheless last a lifetime, and the mutual loyalty that seals them yields its own reward.

     Thus the burning question is: why can’t more of us get past the deceptive mythology of love and realize that fulfillment can be found in true friendship as well?

     It beats me. But I for one am thankful beyond words for friends living and dead. They’ve made life well worth living.

  
                                                     ****

                                                
                                                 
                                        AFTER DINNER MINTS


I worked at the Hartford hospital for nearly five years and eventually started college. But after the eccentricities of an institution whose staff was nearly as dysfunctional as its patients, college life seemed only intermittently interesting. Ultimately, I dropped out.

After three years, we were summarily evicted from our apartment when Milton Kanzaki – finally learning how to drive --  lost control of Carl’s aged Lincoln Continental and ripped off an entire corner of the building. The bar owner also eighty-sixed us, but soon changed his mind when business at The Bird started to slump.

At about the same time, a new drug called Thorazine (a great-granddaddy of Valium) was introduced into mental health care. We welcomed it because violence in the wards dropped dramatically. That the patients seemed unnaturally mellow and at times trancelike was just fine with the staff and was taken as a sign of progress  .. which, of course, it wasn’t. A pacified schizophrenic is nonetheless a schizophrenic.

The nymphomaniac nurse was ultimately fired after a doctor caught her in bed with one of his patients.  Reliable rumor had it she was given a decent severance package. The patient’s family, as one might expect, was never told.


    
If you’ve enjoyed reading this, please share it with friends. It can be accessed at http://keywestwind.blogspot.com or simply by Googling keywestwind. Many thanks.


                                                                                           


   

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA DOG

    

                                                 

(THE FOLLOWING KEY WEST STORY IS TRUE. BUT BECAUSE THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS STILL APPLIES, ALL NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED TO PROTECT THE GUILTY.)

    
     Call him Howard. Or better, call him Big Howie because he’s built like a grizzly bear: tall, heavy-set and formidable. He doesn’t walk, exactly. He lumbers. His voice is gravelly and lubricated by Captain Morgan. Imagine a middle-aged linebacker with a nasty laugh and a slight paunch. He looks pretty much past his prime. But who’d want to risk finding out?
    
     Big Howie is a senior agent of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and has never been inclined toward kindness or compassion. (Something to do with having three ex-wives.) So his temperament is well suited to the job of patrolling the waters off the Florida Keys in search of anyone trying to sneak into the good ole’ US of A. Big Howie and his partner, Dan the Fan, have saved the country from more desperate Cubans, Dominicans, Haitians, Mexicans, Nicaraguans and Hondurans than they can count. Along with the Coast Guard, they are dedicated enforcers of our strange “Wet foot/Dry foot” policy which – should you not be aware of it  -- says that if you make it to dry land, the US government won’t send your sorry ass back to where you came from. But if you’re caught floating –- or even standing -- in coastal waters, we’ll ship you back to the misery and degradation you’ve risked your life to escape.
    
     So one afternoon a few years ago, Big Howie is out testing a new high-speed boat that’s been confiscated from some hapless drug runner and given to the INS when he spots what looks like a piece of flotsam bobbing in the distance about three miles off Geiger Key. It’s a hot, clear day and the ocean is flatter than a drunken tourist singing karaoke. Since he’s not technically on patrol and also alone (Dan the Fan has taken a sick day to attend a Marlins game), he decides to ignore whatever it is and powers up the Hawk Channel toward Palm Island where he spends an hour or more running the boat through its paces and playing tag with sea buoys.
    
     When he heads back to Key West, he notices the same piece of flotsam floating in the same place. Unable to identify it through his binoculars, and mildly curious, he heads toward it until it materializes into another of what he and his co-workers call ‘Cuban cruise ships’.  It’s smaller than a rowboat but bigger than a coffin; and made of pieces of old canvas tied to metal milk cans which somehow support a makeshift engine mount. But there’s no sign of an engine.  Big Howie’ s seen a lot of homemade ‘vessels’ in his day -- everything from rafted bathtubs to motorized surf boards --  but this one takes the cake.
    
      There’s an old man sitting statue-still in the middle, holding a piece of frayed rope looped around the neck of a grungy dog.  Big Howie circles them at a safe distance, calling out a ‘Hello!’, but the old man remains silent and rigid. Even the dog doesn’t make eye contact, emitting only a low growl. Maneuvering carefully alongside, Big Howie tosses a bottle of water toward the old man who reacts for the first time, picks up the bottle and empties it in one long, thirsty shot. Suddenly he manages a broken smile and -- with a voice that’s both hoarse and weak –- breaks into a torrent of Spanish.
     
     Unfortunately,  Big Howie’s foreign lingo skills range from ‘adios’ to ‘cafĂ© con leche’ and end there. So he has no idea what’s being said. But that doesn’t matter because his duty’s clear. All that’s required of him is to radio his position to the Coast Guard and wait for them to pick up the old man. In a few days, he’ll be back from whence he came and the American taxpayer will be saved from another welfare recipient.
       
     But then, as Big Howie picks up the microphone of the marine radio, something strange happens. Not being the introspective type, he doesn’t know how it happens or why it happens. But it does happen.  He feels a sharp stab of sympathy for the old man which confuses him long enough to have an alien –- and unsettling –- thought which leads to an impulsive –- and illegal -- decision. Looking around to make sure no other boats are in sight, he throws the old man a line and gestures for him to tie it to something. But there’s nothing safe to tie it to. So the old man clutches it like a lifeline – which it is -- while Big Howie slowly tows him further out to sea, steering with one hand and making calming gestures with the other.
    
     He heads toward an uncharted shoal a mile away, near the edge of the Eastern Sambo reef. Although it seems to take hours to get there, there are still no other boats around; which is just fine because what he’s doing is way out of bounds. The shoal  -- all sand and only about fifteen feet long  -- was created a year earlier by Hurricane Wilma and barely manages to stay a foot above the waterline. That means it’s a temporary but indisputable sliver of the good ole’ US of A. So after he reaches it and makes the radio call, and after a Coast Guard cutter appears on the hazy horizon, Big Howie – feeling mysteriously good about himself --  takes off for home; leaving behind a bent and barefoot old Cuban standing on a spit of sand with a grungy mutt at his side.
         
     Normally, that should be the end of the story: a random and impetuous act of kindness from an improbable source.  But once the kindness bug bites, all kinds of itches want to be scratched, and all manner of confusion arises.
                                                            *****************
       

     The next day is Big Howie’s day off  and -- never one to consider sympathy or understanding as motives --  he finds himself in unfamiliar territory. He’s attacked by guilt and wondering why he did what he did, and why he ignored his sworn duty. At first he tries to tell himself that it’s probably because he likes dogs. Which is true; finding them more compatible than women.  But that’s hardly a satisfying explanation because he’s nonetheless curious about out how the old man is doing. And the grungy dog too, for that matter.
      
      So he calls the INS detention center and learns that the old man has been shipped to Miami where, according to the records’ clerk, he has a grandson and various other relatives who are happy to welcome him and who are very grateful he’s alive.
         “So how about the dog? “asks Big Howie.
        “We sent it over to the pound.” says the clerk. “They’re gonna’ put it down.”
         Big Howie  is shocked. “Whaddaya’ mean they’re gonna’ put it down?”
        “You know, bubba …  put it to sleep. Euthanize it.”
        “They can’t do that!” says Big Howie loudly. “I mean … it’s the old guy’s dog!”
         “Yeah? Well, ain’t none of my business, man. You got a problem .. take it up with them.”
          And with that the clerk ends the call.
         “Asshole.” Big Howie says; and with his usual assessment of people he’s never met adds: “Shitheads … every fuckin’ one of ‘em.”                                                                                                                                                                                 
        Indignant, and anxious to take corrective action, he then jumps into his Ford 150 and drives out to the animal shelter on Stock Island. It’s still early and the only person there is an elderly female volunteer. He overwhelms her with official bluster, his badge and his size; and then wings it. He tells her the dog entered the country illegally and has to be sent back to Cuba. The poor woman is reduced to speechless confusion as he ‘confiscates’ a portable kennel and manages to get the dog – trembling and snapping – into the back of his truck.
      
      Only then does he recognize he’s given himself a problem. He knows what he wants to do, only he’s not sure how to do it. But since he’s an action kind of guy, he takes the dog by the horns, so to speak, and brings it to a vet he’s met a few times at Bare Assets. The guy’s not happy to see Big Howie at his place of business, which has several people and pets in the waiting room, and even less happy to see a defensive, flea-infested mutt with no license or papers. But he eventually agrees to examine the dog and to give it its proper shots on condition that Big Howie makes no mention of their favorite strip joint. He even arranges for the dog to be bathed and groomed the following day by his new fiancĂ©, also with the understanding that Bare Assets is off limits conversationally.
     
     So now Big Howie has a clean, healthy and somewhat calmer mutt who speaks no English; but is ready to be reunited with its rightful owner and its native language. (For the sake of convenience Big Howie calls the dog Pedro, the name he applies to all male Hispanics. Females, of course, are Chiquitas, as in bananas.) 
     After getting the number and address of the old man’s grandson, he calls on the phone and introduces himself. The conversation goes like this:
      “ We got your grandfather’s dog down here. You can come and get it anytime.”
     “What chu’ talkin’ about? What dog?’
     “The dog he came over wit’, bubba .. in the boat.”
      “Hang on.” says the grandson. A muted conversation is held in Spanish, with only the word ‘gringo’ recognizable. Then the grandson comes back on:
      “He says it’s not his dog.”
      “Whaddaya’ mean it’s not his dog? It was in the boat wit’ him! Whose dog is it?”
      “He don’t know. He says he picked it up on the beach near Matanzas.”
      “He WHAT? Big Howie is dumbfounded. “Jesus Christ, man! What’s up with that? He need company or somethin’?”
       “Naw, nothin’ like that. He says he figured if he ran out of food, he could eat it.”
       “The fuck you say! You be serious? He was gonna’ eat the dog?”
        “Thas’ what he say, man. What can I tell ya’?”
       Big Howie is rendered silent until the grandson says: “You still there?” 
       “Yeah .. yeah.” he answers. “So he don’t want it?”
       “Hell, no. We awready got two kids, two cats and a dog. Don’ need another one.”
       “You sure? REAL sure?” Big Howie asks in desperation.
        “Yes boss, fer damn sure. But thanks for pickin’ up the abuelo. He’s a little nuts sometimes, but we love ‘im.” 
       “Ye’re welcome.” answers Big Howie, as he hangs up. And then, addressing the general situation as he sees it, he  shouts “Aw shit!” because he accepts that the dog, like it or not, is now his and his alone.
       
       And that, my friends, is the best story I’ve ever heard about how to adopt a dog in this lovely, eccentric and unpredictable place called Key West.  
                                                               
                                                           *************   

     
                                                   
                                                  AFTER DINNER MINTS

I ran into Big Howie recently in Fort Lauderdale airport. He eventually resigned from the INS and now runs a charter fishing boat out of Key Largo. He says he’s found a woman who, while much younger, understands him and is happy to live with him. Her name is Maria and she’s Cuban American. He showed me a photograph and – I must say – she’s quite beautiful; and Howie’s opinions of people and the world seem to have mellowed.

Pedro, he told me, is still alive, still nervous and skittery around people, but is now bi-lingual. He’s sired six puppies ‘out of wedlock’ with a neighbor’s Labrador, and Howie and Maria have kept one. Howie named it Tonto after the Lone Ranger’s ever-loyal sidekick.

I think it’s a great name, but I can’t help but wonder whether Maria has ever told Howie that ‘tonto’ in Spanish means ‘stupid’. If she hasn’t, she’s wise beyond her years.

Finally, the ‘wet foot/dry foot’ policy remains in effect, despite the renewal of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States. It was and is an ill-conceived attempt to offer freedom and to deny it at the same time. Let’s hope our policy makers come to their senses sometime soon, and figure out that liberty cannot be both a carrot and a stick.

    
If you enjoyed reading this blog, please share it with your friends. It can be accessed at http://keywestwind.blogspot.com or by googling keywestwind. Many thanks and best wishes for a happy and satisfying 2015.    

                                                                                                                    

                                                   

       
                                                   


Thursday, December 4, 2014

A FAREWELL TO EAVESDROPPING

                   


                    
                  


                                



    

     I’ve always loved eavesdropping.
     I know it’s rude, nasty and sneaky. But that’s never bothered me. The snoop in me has always ignored any guilty hiccups I might have. Of course, unlike Facebook and Google, I don’t do it to exploit people. Nor do I eavesdrop on everyone everywhere like our government. I don’t need righteous justifications like ‘national security’ or ‘profitable growth’ to invade someone’s personal life.
      I eavesdrop because it’s fun and makes me feel, well, kind of powerful. And it occasionally teaches me something. That’s a kick too.
      Over the years, I’ve eavesdropped in bars, in men’s rooms, at baseball games and auctions, on a hayride, in a hospital emergency room and in a motel while a married salesman and his girlfriend were having rough sex next door. (The noise couldn’t be ignored so that might not count as true eavesdropping.)
      I’ve also developed ways to avoid being caught. The best is to seem totally immersed in a book or a magazine. (I prefer The New Yorker because it implies a touch of integrity.) People might glance at you once or twice, but that’s about it. Still, to be safe I always turn the page every few minutes. This technique can also be useful for discouraging chatty seatmates on airplanes or guys on the next barstool who think their life stories are interesting. (Or you can just say ‘Bugger off.’ and take your chances.)
       When I don’t have anything to read, however, I simply look as if I’m deep in thought; reflecting on theoretical aspects of the Higgs boson or pondering the advantages of a Walmart Lay-Away Plan. Once in blue moon, of course, my target’s eyes and mine meet accidentally; and then I’m in danger of being discovered. So I switch roles instantly. I look back at him/her with a weak smile, empty eyes and slightly slack jaw. I call it my Forrest Gump look. It works every time. The other person invariably looks away, satisfied that I’m an idiot and couldn’t possibly understand what’s being said anyway.
      
        But here’s the tragedy: nearly all my clandestine eavesdropping pleasures – my secret senses of power and superior knowledge – have vanished. For all practical purposes, eavesdropping is dead; cruelly murdered and mutilated by cellular technology.
       And so, with right and with reason on my side, I have come –with one exception – to hate cell phones.  
      
       Consider the two girls having dinner at the table next to mine last night: each was either talking on her cell or texting, pausing only to pick up a fork or to take a sip of wine. The most significant exchange between them came when one looked at the other and said: “Kim says hi.”
      Or consider the six local bus passengers I saw sitting side by side, totally lost; three texting, two talking into smart phones, and one head-down listening to music. I could have stripped nude or hanged myself from the handrail and no-one would have noticed.
      Then, of course, there’s the other side of the coin: morons who shout into their phones as if the person on the other end is stone deaf. Or who turn the speaker function on and broadcast hip-hop or rap or whatever at arm’s length. People like that are so removed from a sense of common courtesy – of simple decency -- that they’re not worth discussing. If I had my way, I’d simply cut out their tongues and puncture their eardrums.
     So I hope you can understand how I feel. Cellphones have ruined eye-to-eye communication. They’ve made privacy (and often, intimacy) into a loud broadcast medium. They’ve inured people to the daily realities and moment-to-moment events surrounding them. And they’ve made eavesdropping extinct.

      And yet, all is not lost. There is one ray of light in the dismal Twittery night; one life raft floating on the ocean of Facebook garbage; one gemstone hidden in the endless strip mine of cellular blah blah.
      I call it the ‘driplet’.
      The driplet is a shard of cell conversation – a mere fragment – overheard in passing. It can be a phrase, a sentence or perhaps even a paragraph. But it must be incomplete, and as opposed to a dribble which is inconsequential, it must suggest something that fires your imagination. In other words, it must prick your natural curiosity. It must scream out for a plot; a scenario, a mystery. A driplet – to be succinct -- must be drama in a drip.

      Here, as examples, are three driplets overheard on a recent trip to Manhattan:
      From an overweight and somewhat disheveled Englishman walking through the diamond district on West 48th Street:
           “Good God, all they sell here are diamonds. Can’t she be satisfied
            with something less?”
      And from a girl in battered Converse sneakers and pink knee socks standing alone in the rain in Washington Square:
            “FuckyoufuckyoufuckyoufuckyoufuckyoufuckyoufuckyouNO I
             WILL NOT LISTEN!fuckyoufuckyoufuckyoufuckyou ..” etc.
      And finally, my favorite from a well-dressed guy with a fancy briefcase walking fast in the garment district:
             “I’m telling ya’ .. this guy’s legit. He’s the financial advisor to the
              Dalai Lama.”

      Now ask yourself. Don’t those three tiny driplets suggest the human condition at its most vulnerable and its most gullible? Can’t you launch whole flights of imagination around them? If at least one of them doesn’t get your creative juices flowing, then your mind – I’m sorry to say -- has calcified; and you must seek help right away.
       Check yourself into The Monty Python Clinic of the Subconscious or the George Carlin
Happiness Center before it’s too late.
      And good luck to you. I mean it … well, mostly.




                      AFTER DINNER MINTS

If you’ve heard a driplet or two that’s stuck to your ribs, contribute it/them to the Comment section of this blog. Maybe we can develop an almanac of memorable driplets or even start a contest for the best driplet of 2015. If successful enough, the word itself might even be recognized in the next edition of Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

This driplet just in, overheard from a Wall Street type vacationing in Key West. “This chick thinks she’s an IPO.” That’s short, in case you didn’t know, for Initial Public Offering. The mind boggles wondering whether she has a share price.

I hope you’ll ask friends to read this blog. It can be accessed by googling keywestwind or by going to http://keywestwind.blogspot.com
                      Many thanks and Happy Holidays.


                         



Tuesday, July 16, 2013

HOW TO FULFILL YOUR DREAMS ...KEY WEST STYLE

 
 

 
 
 
 
     Hearken to the life of Michael Avery: surfer, sailor, street vendor, handyman, author, drug dealer, raconteur, convicted felon and dedicated gentleman.
      I’ve long struggled to capture Michael in a single phrase; but all I can say is he occupies a unique space between Peter Pan and Jack Kerouac. For example, he and a friend once tried to sail from Hawaii to Australia by following the contrails of passenger jets. They weren’t sure whether their first landfall would be Australia or Japan. It turned out to be New Zealand. On another occasion -- sailing alone in the South Pacific-- he was thrown from his boat and clung to a chartreuse toilet seat for two days until someone --no doubt drawn to the seat -- rescued him.
     But those were only waypoints on a journey that led to Key West in the late 1980s.. He was by then in his mid to late thirties, and was searching for a home; a place that not only tolerated eccentricity and individuality, but encouraged them; a community where you were rarely asked why you were there or what you did; and where most people lived hard in the present. Key West seemed to him a perfect fit.
     He also fell in love with a local girl who was blond, bright, attractive and gregarious. I’ll call her Charly to protect her privacy. She was at the time a bartender -- popular and well respected -- in a town whose bars were the principal venue for almost all serious intercourse; conversational, political, and otherwise. Michael fell so hard for her (and she for him) that on their first date, he trusted her with his longest-held and most-cherished dream which she promptly forgot until one afternoon twenty years later.
     In those days, it wasn’t easy to make a buck in Key West. The cruise ship boom was in its infancy, the real estate developers were exploiting the geriatrics up on the mainland, and the local bankers were sleepy. In fact, it was sometimes hard to tell the difference between the oddballs and iconoclasts who were ’down and out’ and the oddballs and iconoclasts who were ’up and coming’ (Come to think of it, it still is.).
     So for a number of years Michael --with Charly as a stabilizer -- lived a life of conventional unconventionality. He worked at a lot of things, including selling jewelry as a street vendor, writing short stories for a local newspaper, house-sitting for snowbirds and, when things were slow, dealing cocaine to a select group of friends. At the time, half the town seemed to be selling drugs to the other half. Even a Key West fire chief with the exquisite name of Bum Farto had been convicted of dealing. (Three days later he jumped bail, never to be heard from again.) Michael was also convicted, served time in prison, and came back to Charly in a less adventuresome frame of mind.

     Then, sometime in mid-1998, his life went permanently awry. He was diagnosed with liver disease and told by doctors that he wouldn’t survive without a transplant. Two years later (’two bumpy years later’ according to Charly) it became clear that no transplant would be forthcoming. And as predicted, Michael became more and more ill; his behavior sometimes normal, sometimes nearly irrational. He was drinking heavily, still hanging out with buddies at his favorite bar, and as always reading books about life and death. But he was slipping physically as well as mentally and, in Charly’s eyes, struggling to come to grips with the inevitable.

     On a November day in 2000 -- when the nation was riveted to Florida’s Bush/Gore election battle -- Charly asked Michael to go to the bank and make a payment on their car loan. He agreed to go that afternoon; so she gave him a check and the payment book and left for work.
At some point in the day, he did start out for the bank but stopped first at his favorite bar for a few drinks with cronies. When he left the bar, he said he’d be back shortly to pay his tab.
     He then drove to the bank -- the Key West Federal Credit Union -- and fulfilled the dream that he’d confided to Charly twenty years earlier. Instead of paying the car loan, he robbed the bank.
     After passing the teller a note demanding money, he politely told her he wouldn’t harm her and asked her not to include any coins because he wasn’t planning to travel through any toll booths. Frightened anyway, and following strict bank policy never to interfere, she complied. So carrying a sizeable bag stuffed with cash, he left the bank as quietly as he’d entered it. When he reached his car, he turned to see if anyone was following him. Surprised that no-one was, he started the car, took time to fasten his seat belt and drove away.
    
     And that’s the dream he’d had since early childhood; the fantasy he’d confided to Charly: he’d always wanted to rob a bank. And over the years that dream had been nurtured and sustained by the mythological lives of Jesse and Frank James, Butch Cassidy, the Dalton boys, and later by ‘Baby Face’ Nelson, Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger and Willie ‘The Actor’ Sutton. And now Michael Avery had done it!
 
     Immediately after that, however, his train went off the tracks. Here’s what we know and have pieced together, partially from what Michael remembered and from what followed:
    He went home and burned all the dollar bills he’d been given because, as he later explained. ‘they were too bulky.’ When Charly got home that night, not having any idea what was going on, she found a small mound of ashes on the patio stones with a few charred scraps and a piece of George Washington’s face.
    Then, for reasons Michael could never explain, he hid a bundle of money in a Kleenex box at a neighbor’s empty house; and another stash of money in a friend’s outdoor garbage can which was due for pickup the next day!. And finally, he returned to the bar, got drunk, paid his tab and distributed fistfuls of money to everyone in the bar; cronies, strangers, a few tourists and the staff. He left behind a happy gaggle of people and disappeared into the night.

    At five o’clock the next morning, a convenience store clerk called 911 to report that a injured man had entered his store. When the police arrived, they found the man slumped in a corner with a serious gash across his forehead. He was conscious but seemed groggy and confused.
“I think I got robbed.” he told them, then added. “No, that’s not right. I robbed a bank .. and I feel awful about it.’
    Thus was Michael Avery, bank robber, apprehended by the constabulary. The cops quickly recovered the stashed money, but seemed disinterested in how their captive was hurt. And to this day, no-one knows what happened.

    For Charly, the following month passed in a fog of confusion.. Michael was held at first by the Key West police, then transferred to the Monroe County jail and put into its infirmary. Since bank robbery is a federal crime, the FBI asserted control of the case and transferred him to the Florida Keys Hospital. Charly was permitted visitation when he was under local control; but finally -- as his condition became more and more serious -- she was denied the right to visit him in the hospital for reasons only a federal bureaucrat could think of. In fact, A 24/7 guard was posted outside his door. She kept trying, however, and on one occasion -- and one only -- a compassionate guard swore her to secrecy and let her in.

    Then, on the evening of December 15, 2000 she got a terse phone call from a Justice Department prosecutor. Without explanation, he told her that Michael would be released without conditions the next day. If she wanted to, she could come and get him. Which of course she did.
     Two days later, on December 18, comfortably ensconced at home and after having said goodbye to his closest friends, Michael died. He was fifty-nine years old
    Only a month had passed since he’d fulfilled his dream.

     I have no idea what he was thinking when he faced death. But I like to think the Peter Pan side of him thought he was off on another wonderful adventure. And if not, then I hope the Jack Kerouac side approached it as just another waypoint on the road. Whatever it was, God bless.
 
 
 
 
                                                      AFTER DINNER MINTS
 
 
A few days after the robbery, the Key West Police Department issued a public plea for the return of the money Michael gave out at the bar. As far as I know, they never recovered a penny. What a surprise!

The arresting officer in Key West doesn’t remember the case. Neither do the detective in charge or the then-chief of detectives who is now the city’s chief of police. The reporter for The Key West Citizen who wrote two stories about the robbery doesn’t remember it either. He’s now a Monroe County deputy sheriff. The FBI said I could file a request under the Freedom of Information Act if I wanted to see their records, but didn’t tell me how long it would take or even whether it would be approved. And finally, a nice lady at the Key West police department’s records office found Michael’s case file and promised to call me back once she’d gotten permission to show it to me. I never heard from her again. Hmmm.

After distributing Michael’s ashes to several of his friends, Charly spread some on the lawn of the Key West Federal Credit Union. Whether the grass became greener is unknown.

Many days later, she found several hand-written notes hidden in a way that she’d eventually find them. They said, in effect, not to worry .. he’d be okay .. and she should get on with her life.

She did move away from Key West and returned to the island only recently. Although now married, she always smiles nostalgically when talking about Michael and readily describes him as the love of her life. And why not!
     Even bank robbers can be lovable.
 
 
 
 
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