Tribute to a Dying Breed: Key West’s Vicious Van Dweller Criminals

Michelangelo Peluso, Photo by Terri Brentnall
Michelangelo Peluso, Photo by Terri Brentnall

by Sloan Bashinsky…….

Something happened yesterday, May 19, 2016, which caused me to go to my website,, and find the February 16, 2015 post: “Michelangelo Giuseppe Peluso, a Key West living treasure, did it his way”. I felt moved to pull excerpts from that post into an article for the blue paper. So here goes,


What a sense of humor the angels have. A while back, I gave my Toyota Highlander to the mechanic who took care of it, for him to sell it for me, and last night I dream of it looking all spiffed up and shiny, and mounted behind it is a huge matching cab/trailer. I wake up figuring maybe that might be about vicious van dweller criminal (VVDC) Michelangelo Giuseppe Peluso’s pot luck memorial at Higgs Beach yesterday evening. His van was similar in color to my Highlander, which looked in the dream like a super upscale VVDC vehicle.

My count at yesterday evening’s memorial was 22 VVDCs. Somebody brought a folding table, which was set up to hold all the vittles. Some of Michelangelo’s friends seemed concerned about him, and I said he is doing a lot better than we are. He’s up there having himself a blast. His body doesn’t hurt any more, he can hear good again, he can have conversations with people again, he doesn’t have cops harassing him for living in his van.

I said I was at the city commission meeting when Michelangelo as much as told the mayor and commissioners they had made him, a World War II combat veteran, who had lived in his van a long time, a criminal for living in his home.

A VVDC told again of police, for ongoing sport, coming up on Michelangelo’s van in the later hours of the night and hollering at him to come out and rocking his van and making him mad and he would yell back at them. Support the troops. Yeah, right.

A fond remembrance expressed was several attempts to get Michelangelo to apply for senior housing and him snorting it off with he’d end up down on the first floor and would be flooded out by a hurricane, without acknowledgment that a hurricane would flood out his van. I said, well, he’s up in the penthouse now, no worries about hurricanes any more.

A VVDC recounted the times he had cooked oatmeal for Michelangelo, and it never was cooked long enough: Michelangelo wanted it cooked to mush; and the same thing happened after Michelangelo finally went to the hospital: he was giving orders how to cook his food, the carrots and peas had to be cooked to mush.

Another VVDC said the hospital killed Michelangelo, he went in there and two days later he was dead? I said, if so, that was Michelangelo’s plan; he was ready to check out and he was ornery enough to trick them into doing it.

Discussion turned to what had become of Michelangelo’s van? I said it should be turned into a shrine and mounted at Higgs Beach. It would attract more tourists than the Southernmost Point bouy! Amens.

I said that I had written a bit about Michael, as many of them called him, yesterday and the day before at

Michaelangelo’s memorial wound down for me with a VVDC playing on his radio Frank Sinatra singing “My Way”, which fit Michelangelo perfectly.

Then, VVDC Super Cop (retired), who did it her way, hugged me goodbye, just in case we don’t see each other again this year, she’s supposed to leave tomorrow morning. I told her not to be too hard on bad little boy cops elsewhere. Our mayor and city commissioners never took her up on her offer, conveyed by me to them at a city commission meeting, for her to teach their dysfunctional police force how to be real cops.

Let me back up.

I think Michelangelo was 94. A World War II European theater combat veteran, he was wintering in Key West when I arrived in late 2000. When warm weather arrived in May, he would head north, where he had a home. As the years passed and his body didn’t function as well as it once did, and his hearing got worse, and worse, he stopped making the annual pilgrimage north.

Eventually the Key West City Commission, frantic that people living in their vehicles were posing a dangerous threat to public safety and health, and to tourism and the local lodging industry, passed an ordinance making Michelangelo a criminal. I was at the city commission meeting when he told the mayor and commissioners what they were doing and that he had no other place to live but in his van. The city cops seemed to take delight in harassing him at night, but eventually they stopped. A 90-something year old woman friend who lives in an apartment in Key West told me yesterday at the Senior Citizen Center, where we were playing bridge, that someone told the cops to leave Michelangelo alone. I agreed.

The Key West cops who regularly harassed Michelangelo up to when he finally was so old and infirm he no longer could angrily respond to them, will not like their karma for the way they treated him. As they did to Michelangelo, they did also to the homeless man Jesus.

Celebrate Michelangelo is in a far better place now. He is with God.

His VCCD friends, however, have not fared quite as well in Key West. As they filtered down last fall, 2015, they were greeted at Higgs Beach by Key West police officers and Monroe County deputy sheriffs, and were told they no longer could park their vehicles there during the day, they were camping. So, they bought annual Florida state park passes, if they did not already have same, and started hanging out days in beautiful Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, where they were welcome.

That’s where I hang out in Key West outside during the daytime, when I want to be in Mother Nature.

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