Despite what the brochures imply with their bikini babes and sunny skies, paradise is NOT always the fragrance of frangipani from your front porch while sipping steaming, sugary Cuban con leche with supple breezes tickling your bare shoulders over the tinny voice of the Conch Train conductor, because – trust me on this – you will, occasionally, get stung by a mosquito.
Key West, FL
Did I come to Key West to feel sad, to desperately miss Billy’s baritone voice the second he slipped off the stage, to stand on a corner with two almost-strangers for twenty minutes waiting for a called cab that never came while thinking of home with utter longing, later looking into a car’s window, staring at my hair, wondering if I should get it cut short for some upcoming over-the-computer interview, then happening upon Finnegan’s Wake, a pub where I could already taste the English chocolate stout; the gull’s staccato screeches interrupt me, I scratch my itchy fingers on concrete, and feel less sad or maybe even happy.
-Jonathan De Young
The condensation on my glass of fruity sangria made my fingers wet as I lifted it to my face to smell the citrus, apples and red wine and then gulped down its cool goodness, like a baby that hadn’t been nursed all night.
As I sipped my lime infused Corona from my perch at Caroline’s restaurant, I watched the parade of hand-entwined couples in tie-dyed shirts walk below the New Orleans-style balconies on Duval Street while the old song ‘Sweet Dreams Are Made of These’ floated through the air; Ah – the 70’s.
The elevator ride up to the roof of the La Concha requires optimism—an expectation that this sunset will be worth the claustrophobic journey—because your arm will press into the flesh of the sweaty man on your left, and you will inhale the stench of cheap beer, practically tasting it, and you will be required to laugh when you hear a stranger call out both your first and last names because you’ve failed to remove your Key West Literary Seminar nametag—yet you endure it all for the promise of so much color drowning in the horizon; but, this is the dark side (not humor, not poetry though maybe science fiction) because when you step out of the elevator, your view is obstructed by the sight of your mother-in-law, here in Key West, along with half a dozen of her friends—their faces have all been signed by the same plastic surgeon, pulled and tucked into the facial equivalent of a frozen contortionist—and you know these faces wouldn’t have the same power to distract you if back in Boca Raton, but here in Key West, you totally miss it when the sun goes down.
Delray Beach, FL
Walking on Key West’s Duval Street licking my ice cream cone, I hesitated at the bar’s open door where loud laughter, the odor of stale beer, a sequined singer and a Drag Show sign caused me to push past the man at the threshold for a better look.
Although I sit alone at a café table for two, I am anything but, with steel drums pelting sounds of Trinidad by the hands of a giant ebony man, his skin glistening and slick as a baby seal’s, a wide welcoming smile beckoning me to join the fray of joy all around, roosters crowing, chicks clucking nervously under tourists’ tables and sandaled toes, waitresses passing by with Blue Heaven’s mile-high key lime pie and how can I resist when my lunch is set before me sending scents of blackened buttery shrimp and cool citrus coleslaw wafting through my nostrils, until I can stand it no more and take that first delectable bite that is Key West.
Key West requires a tolerance for icy cold chardonnay, kindness and chaos; unzoned, its mansions nuzzle raucous bars and noisy laundromats, as ocean breezes waft the silent scents of soap and honeysuckle.
Standing Outside Elizabeth Bishop’s Key West House
Standing outside the once stately 19th C clapboard house in Key West where Elizabeth Bishop lived for many years,
no smell of jasmine,
no taste of mango,
no purring of cats,
reading a tarnished literary landmark plaque on a once white wooden gate swung open to ruin:
an unsightly yard strewn with debris:
- rotten plants punctuated with rusted tools, sticking up like markers,
- a Harley parked on an overgrown path to an apparently always open front door,
I see another plaque of a bygone time that reads
HIPPIES: GO AROUND THE BACK.
It’s an average day as tree frogs laud the end of soft rains and the beginnings of fragrant breezes, and it matters not that the world is wet, I indulge in one more sip of strong coffee and board my scooter, hand twisting the throttle, and as I dodge the wave of boat people on Duval, I remind myself this average is paradise.
Where the Wired Go Slow
Key thing to hear when in this nest
is ease the pace of my endless race
so I can smell a rose’s rot
and feel the sand hot on my toes
as I taste life with gentle lust
before I watch my sun set west.
“Hello, darlings. How you girls doin?” the sculpted cabbie asked us as my mother, with a barely audible grunt and a radiant smile, hoisted herself onto the seat, the Fort Zach salt on our lips and the sunset receding behind us an even brighter pink than the taxi.
Key West Bed and Breakfast
Under a midnight blue sky at the moment before sleep, the moon visits my balcony and winds push through white cotton curtains, into the room, through halls of art and lemon-soaked pine, and all through this pink house, majestic in stature, humble in spirit, where warm coconut loaf awaits me in the morning and I know I’ve come home.
Joshua Tree, CA