Posts Tagged With: DPchallenge

Stock Island

It’s strange living in a boat. The very idea of home becomes problematic. HOME IS WHERE OUR BOAT IS explains a little sign we found aboard, and in some way it is true. ‘Home’, the equivalent of ‘house’ is our boat. But ‘home’, the equivalent of ‘hometown’, where the mail gets sent to, or the geographical place where one feels one belongs is an ever-changing fluid notion.

Since we have been travelling we have become conscious of a peculiar occurring. As soon as we stop somewhere for two weeks or more temporarily living in a place, not merely visiting the touristic attractions, the place transforms into ‘home’. The transformation occurs slowly, by degrees.

As we learn where the local grocery store, park, beach, bus stop are; as we get used to the climate, flora, and fauna; as we establish relationships with new friends and temporary neighbors; as we learn bits and pieces of the place’s histories as remembered by the locals, the place becomes familiar to us. And we become familiar to the place too. We become familiar to the woman who sells us beer and ice cream in the grocery store, to the homeless guy who lives in the park where the kids play, to our temporary neighbors with whom we share food, drinks, and stories. It soon feels like home. We become locals.

Today, home is our boat Fata Morgana located in 3D Boatyard in Key West, Florida.

Actually (technically) we still haven’t visited Key West. The boatyard is in Stock Island, a small island which is part of Key West, Monroe County, but is also a separate city linked by a bridge north of the City of Key West.

Remember that big good-looking kid in fifth grade, with expensive clothes and a sleek haircut, smart, blond, and popular; and that other poor kid: dark, skinny, dirty, and mean, always getting in trouble, whose parents don’t speak English?

That other kid is Stock Island.

All the hotels, beaches, nice restaurants, nice bars, galleries and museums are in Key West. In Stock Island there is a military navy base, a sewage treatment plant, and a jail. All the fun-loving money-spending tourists go to Key West. In Stock Island live unemployed and low income families, mostly Cuban and Haitian refugees, no tourist comes here. The area is so poor that there is not a single full-scale grocery store (if we don’t count the small corner stores), but a food bank where the low-incomes can get loads of free groceries once a week. The jail is full with the Stock Island’s many homeless, who would do anything to spend more time there getting three hot meals a day, a bed, and good company.

In Key West you can visit the Light House, Hemingway’s house, or the Museum of Art. In Stock Island you can visit the trailer parks with no fences between trailers, laundry hanging out to dry, the smell of spices lurking out of open doors with dark interiors.

In Key West you can watch the sunset from Malory Square. In Stock Island you can watch Cuban fishermen gutting groupers at sunset.

In Key West you can sit in a coffee shop and admire the pink tourists in bikini and straw hats flip-flopping down Duval Street. In Stock Island you can walk down the side of a street covered with pieces of bleached corals and watch a group of black men in shorts sitting in front of the porch of a trailer, smoking and watching you back, suspiciously.

Here people have boats instead of cars parked in front of their houses. The ones who don’t have houses live in boats or repurposed motor vehicles of all kinds. And everyone rides bicycles.

If you were to wake up one morning here, say, fifty years ago, you would find the place pretty much the same: the same mangroves all around the shores, the same blue waters teaming with tropical fish, the same people and dwellings, only less. One change you might notice is that, in the old times, the bravest and most drunk party-loving tourists would come to Stock Island at three o’clock in the morning after the bars in Key West were already closed, because the bars in Stock Island would stay open all night.

This is the charm of Stock Island: its authenticity. If you are able to detect beauty in a pink trailer with an unhealthy stray cat sitting in front; in an old black woman with a wig and a bright orange dress walking down the street holding a heavy bag in each hand; in an old turquoise school bus turned house wild chickens running around; in a young Cuban boy helping his father clean fish on the pier; in a green iguana sunbathing on the edge of a boat; you will find Stock Island enchanting, like I do. It is home, really, for the time being.

Stock Island’s Dwellings&Dwellers

An old wooden house on pylons

An old wooden house on pylons

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Categories: Collection of Places, Key West Florida, Photo Essays | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

The Story of The Lance

George Orwell’s book 1984. That’s why I started telling you about Lance.

Tell me again.

He had some mental disability. I forget what his actual diagnosis was. He was homeless. But he never broke the law, always polite, mannered, and respectable. Very well kept and clean. Amazing exception for a homeless person with mental disability, I think.

Where did he sleep?

I don’t know where he slept at night. But all he did every day was walk up and down Duval Street in downtown Key West. He used to hand little flyers printed in a printing place to everyone passing by: The Lance Rules written on them. And bumper stickers. Would stick them on people’s cars. The Lance Rules. He loved attention.

One day, he found a big piece of cardboard, probably from a fridge box, about 12 x 4.5 feet, and he wrote on it with black paint and huge very elaborate letters: THE LANCE. Like an artwork. And he would drag the cardboard behind him, like an enormous banner, holding it at one corner, up and down Duval, the full length on the street, from beach to beach, all day for weeks, honest to God. THE LANCE. Until the cardboard got worn down on the opposite corner from too much dragging on the sidewalk.

How did he look?

This don’t matter. The hobbit in The Hobbit book was never described. It doesn’t pertain to the story. What matters is the story, not how he looked.

(pause)

He was a young guy, about eighteen- twenty years old. Slightly chubby. He looked normal, is how he looked. Like everyone. You wouldn’t know he was mental. Like Rainman, remember the film? Normal.

(pause)

He always carried a black Mead notebook. Every day he would write a wish-list of things he wanted that particular day. Things he needed right then. His list would start fairly realistic and the extravagance of his wishes would increase as the list grew. At the end you could read: I wish for a helicopter.

The first wish would be something like a cheeseburger from McDonalds, but with all sorts of stuff in it: mushrooms, onions, bacon, and ham. Something that doesn’t sound unrealistic, but is not on the menu. But that’s what he truly wanted to eat. If he really needed a watch because he didn’t have one and he wanted to know what time it was, he would ask someone sitting in a coffee shop, What is a real good watch? And they’d tell him, a TAG watch. A TAG is a good quality watch and it is expensive, no way he could get one. But he would write in his wish-list:

1.      I wish for a hamburger from McDonalds with mushrooms, onions, bacon, and ham;

2.      I wish for a TAG watch.

3.      I wish…

About 80% of the things he would wish for would realize in a mysterious way, honest to God. Like that TAG watch. One day he just showed up with a TAG watch. Someone bought it for him or gave it to him; he didn’t steal it for sure. I think people just liked him.

Once, he wrote in his notebook: I wish for Harley Davidson boots with bright orange laces (which they don’t make). And he got them for free, only with bright red laces instead. One of these guys in the shop just gave them to him. And they cost probably like three hundred dollars!

(He never showed up with a helicopter, though. If he did, I would buy myself one of those black Mead notebooks and start writing my own wish-lists…)

How many wishes?

A full page. You know these black Mead notebooks? It was always the same notebook, and the list was always a page long, every day, so as many whishes as there are lines on a page. Thirty two, I believe.

Thirty two whishes per day…

Yes… One page full of whishes… I got some of his Mead notebooks full of whishes. I kept them. Somewhere in a box in my boat.

Really? Can I see them?

Sure, I have to dig them up…

That’d be cool… What about the book?

One day he showed up with the book, 1984 by George Orwell. I don’t know where he got it from, could be from the library. He would walk up and down Duval Street, the full length, from beach to beach, holding it two inches from his face, not looking where he was going at all or who was coming in front of him (people had to avoid him), reading out loud from the book. So loud he was actually shouting. Everyone could hear him. He did this every day for two months, honest to God! When he got to the end of the story he would start reading it all over again. Walking and screaming all day so that people would listen. I don’t know how many times he read it like that. Every day, all day, for two months. He probably red it like ten times at least.

(pause)

I think that’s how the book was meant to be read… Shouted out loud in public for months in a row by someone considered outside the social (and mental) norm… Perfect

The book should be mandatory reading in high school.

It’s like a slap in the face.

A wake up call.

 

 

A conversation with my friend Richard Michael Jaworski in Key West. 

Categories: Collection of Stories about People, Key West Florida | Tags: | 36 Comments

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