The Bridge

People tend to think that a bridge is a place to cross over a body of water.  Or maybe a gully or even an industrial complex.  A structure to get from here to there.

That would be missing the point.  A bridge is a symbol of where you are in accordance of where you must go.   It represents your birth into adulthood.  Your loneliness into romance.   Your success and your failure.  How you adjust to your surroundings.

Almost every day I pretend to fish on a certain bridge where over the horizon lies Cuba.  Its contemplative fishing.  I like being there totally alone although I’ve shared it with people important to me.  Its a place where the sun shines on my face and infuses me with happiness.  And exceptional joy.  There’s palm trees and mangroves and tarpon and birds of every size and color.  There’s waves and the tide and manatees, and, finally, just me and the universe.

One day I’ll have to cross it.  See the other side.  I don’t fear it.  I believe there are other bridges far beyond here.  Hopefully when I get there no one will stop by after seeing my fishing pole and ask me if I’ve caught anything.

The bridge is you and your life.  Careful how you cross.

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Social Security

After 10 years my job was done.

For all of those years I worked under contract for the DEA, ICE, ATF, NSA and once for the CIA.  Ten years of my life basically undercover and pretending to be retired with a fishing habit.  I made more money than I can ever spend.  Especially now.  I have been diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer.  I put the Bogart in Bogart!  Forced to retire and given a death sentence.  Oh well, I’m not in any pain.

Most of the work I did was investigating large drug cartels in the Florida keys.  I’ve put hundreds of people away.  I’ve also let some people slide.  As judge and jury I found some people that were not a detriment to society.  Just good people that took some wrong turns.  They never knew the power I had.

During these years I was befriended by some people that made my life a bit less lonely.  There was Max, Jack, Joe Beans and Flo.  The first three were also connected to the federal government in some way.  I knew about this in an awkward sort of way but none of us talked about it.  We did, however, work in conjunction from time to time.  Mostly dealing with bad people that needed a good ass kicking.  Sadly but rightly several of these people were removed from the roster of the living.  We didn’t work as a government team.  We worked as individuals that saw something horribly wrong and attempted to rectify it.  Flo had something going on with Max but none of us talked about that.  To all the world we looked like a bunch of aging retired fishermen.

Joe Beans appeared to be an extreme eccentric.  He threw parties, ran for political office, and drank heavily.  He is a very wealthy man!  The other guys and gal are pretty secretive about their lives.  If Flo is with the government she never lets on..  She is certainly everyone’s best friend.

When I first found out about the cancer Flo came to visit me in the hospital.  She brought special snack meats from Fausto’s grocery market.  The doctors said there was no need for any kind of special diet.  I’m in no pain and I can eat whatever I want.  What a way to go.

In the capacity I was given by the several government agencies I did a lot of undercover.  My successes were achieved by the information I gleaned at the local bait shop.  A bunch of the local boys and myself would show up there at the end of the day chugging beer and smoking cigarettes.  They all told great stories.  They all used names in their stories while bragging about this or that.  All those names ended up in jail or dead.  The boys at the bait shop themselves were strictly off limits.  I made this damn clear to whomever I was working for.  To keep my cover I sometimes partook of some of the drugs they had at parties and cook outs.  A little coke.  A little pot.  I was always the first to go home.  I was the oldest.  They all expected it.  Besides there were reports to write.

When I first heard about the cancer I was working on a human slave trading organization.  The boys at the bait shop knew nothing about this.  They were good ole boys dabbling in the minor drug trade.  They looked at me as the old retired guy.  That was my front.  Carl Marsh.  Beer drinker.  Retired guy.

The human trafficker was a Cuban.  Had all his papers in order.  Appeared to live a sedate life.  But he didn’t.  He mostly smuggled teenage girls and he acquired a desire to befoul each and every one.  From another undercover source I was able to get near him at the Green Parrot one afternoon.  His name was Franco.  He was the brother of a guy named Smut that Max and the county sheriff had disposed of some years back.  Smut was a piece of shit child molester.  Nobody misses him.  I’d bet that even the bull sharks that consumed him couldn’t wait to crap his remains out.

Franco and another guy were discussing a new cargo of girls in regular voices that no one was paying attention to.  Except me.  They had ALL of my attention and from two feet away I took it in.  All of a sudden I had a coughing fit.  I hacked for a good three minutes.  I went out on the sidewalk and hacked up pieces of lung and blood spattered phlegm.  Woke me right up!  Took a ride up to University of Miami hospital and checked in.  They said I was gonna die.  Nothing to be done.  Nothing to fix.  Weirdly, except for coughing spells, I wasn’t in any pain.

I went back to Key West and hung out with Flo for a few days.  We went out for drinks and dinner.  I told her I was dying.  She cried a little and then I cried a little.  I called Max.  He would take care of Franco based solely on what I told him.  I learned later that he did.  Again the county sheriff was involved.  Again there were bull sharks in the mix.

I continued to go down to the bait shop and hang with the boys.   Good bunch of fellas!  If I felt a coughing fit coming on I left.  Nobody needed to see the result.  My birthday came and I was officially retired from all government work.  I had a ton of money in the bank and few worries.  Except for the pieces of lung and blood that kept coming up.  I thought of ending this very suddenly but the doctors all assured me I would go peacefully.

I finally quit smoking.  My reasoning was that I didn’t want the cigarette smell in my clothes when I was viewed in my coffin.  I also converted to Judaism because I had heard that they don’t believe in hell.  Just wanted to cover the spread.  Max dropped in and told me the deed was done.  And seventeen teenage girls had been rescued.  Nice thing to have in mind as nature took its course.

I died on a Thursday and was buried the following Monday.  Joe Beans bought me a Gravestone.  It said, “Here Lies Carl.  He Liked To Hang Out On Bridges”.  The boys from the bait shop showed up all sniffling from a shared 8-ball.  After I was interred they all went down to a strip bar and paid $50 for lap dances.  Like I didn’t know that was going to happen!  None of them ever knew that I could put them all behind bars for over twenty years.  Whatever they were they were friends.

Joe Beans, Max and Flo rented a boat and went out into the Atlantic to throw me a ceremonial wreath.  Then they all lit up a cigarette and popped a Busch beer.

Nice to have friends.

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The Last Leaf on a Frangipanni

This guy from the marina told me about a bridge to fish at in the morning.  Says you don’t catch much but the location is a liberating experience.

Truer words were never spoken.  I was also advised to skip buying bait and just use a lure or a spoon.  You weren’t likely to catch anything anyway.  Besides, why spoil the reverie with cutting bait?  Just a bloody mess anyway.  I fished in the morning and usually met up with the guy from the bait shop and some retired football player and his ancient dog.  They mostly kept to themselves and were always swearing about Cubans that defiled the bridge.  They were right but they also picked up the trash and broken bottles every morning.  After my short stint I headed off home.

I live off the boulevard on a side street on an island called “the Loaf”.  To the locals its the half baked loaf.  No argument here.  In the driveway I see a leaf blowing around from my favorite tree.  Its winter and some of these sub-tropical plants shed just like up north.  Casually I empty the car of fishing stuff and my coffee cup.  When I’m finished I head over to the back yard.  Everything looks the same.  Hot tub didn’t blow up.  The dock didn’t float away.  The frangipanni still had half a dozen leaves on it.  That certainly won’t last.  Its the shortest day of the year and this tree needs many hours of sun.

*************

One night I head off to the Tiki Bar across the highway.  They have a girl playing guitar and she is above adequate.  I get a gin and tonic and gaze off into the distance taking in the mangrove islands and boats heading into the marina for gas.  A woman I’ve never met sits down next to me with her dog leashed to her bar stool.  She just starts talking.  She’s attractive, petite, well spoken and well read.  It was an entertaining two hours and she never accepted a drink.  Doesn’t mean she didn’t have several.  A smart woman who knew how to keep her distance.  Me and distance?  We’re good pals!  We made some kind of informal promise to meet again in a few days.  I went home and watched the History Channel.  They were blowing up an island, as they always do, looking for buried treasure.

Sometime before midnight I turned on the outside lights and checked the frangipanni.  It had four leaves left.  Always sad to acknowledge that winter is actually here.  The hot tub and dock were in their regular places.

Over the next several weeks I chartered several boats to fish for mackerel and tuna.  Its an expensive proposition but being so far out to sea brings a lot of release.  And peace.  On each charter I caught a substantial sized black fin which I immediately sold to the fish market up the street.  Completely washed out the charter money.  Breaking even has always appealed to me.

***************

Somewhere down the line I went back to the Tiki Bar.  As always I’m there early so that I get back by nine.  My friend is there.  Her name is Mary.  She knows me by Hank.  I didn’t say that that was my name.  She said I looked like a Hank.  How in the hell I look like a Hank is beyond me.  There was another girl guitar player at the mike.  Sweet voice.  Mary and I shot the breeze for a good while.  Eventually we were in the parking lot and then we were at her house.  There’s no sense in going on about that.  Things went how things go.  later we had a nightcap and I went home.  I noticed on my short drive that I was embraced in a sort of happiness and well being.  I parked in the driveway, lit up the backyard and checked on my tree.  Two leaves left.  I didn’t know if it was sad or appropriate.

There were more mornings at the bridge fishing and listening to those two nut cases talking about Cubans and football games.  They mostly left me alone and I never left any garbage for them to clean up.  I saw the marina guy at the bait shop once and we had a few beers.  A bunch of other guys showed up.  All drinking beers and telling stories.  Most of these stories had an element of illegality.  Low level stuff.  No murder, robbery or rape.  Guys who lived their lives to the fullest!

Eventually I went home and had another beer while the sun was still up.  I turned on the radio and listened to bad rock music from the late 70s.  I checked the frangipanni and found one leaf left.  Damn!  Winter can get you down.

***************

A frangipanni in the spring will flower blooms of several shades of pink and white.  A good gardener can create some other colors through their witch’s magic.  I never learned those tricks.  I just waited till April when the leaves would return.  Not long after I had beautiful blooms that grew out of soil that was manifested mostly of coral and salt.  And a tiny bit of fertilizer that I was always unsure about.  Unsure.  Funny.

One night I went to the Tiki to shmooze with Mary.  She hadn’t arrived yet so I got the obligatory gin and tonic.  A bunch of the boys from the bait shop were there telling stories and laughing it up.  We shared friendly greetings.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw a uniformed deputy sheriff walk in.  He was a casual acquaintance.  Conversed with him several times in Mary’s company.  He saw me and asked me to come outside to the parking lot.  Sure.

“Hank, Mary was broadsided by a dump truck on Marathon with a 20 ton load about noon today.  There was no chance.  I’ve notified her husband”!  Then he left me standing there.  Dump truck.  Husband.

I went home.  In the driveway was the last leaf.  I got out of the car and picked it up.  I put it in my shirt pocket.  I went to the tree.  It was naked and mostly dead to the world.   Dump truck?  Husband?   I…

*****************

In the late Spring I saw two dozen blooms on the frangipanni.  They were white and blessed and chaste.  I didn’t feel worthy.  I found the old last leaf from the previous year in the pocket of a shirt I hadn’t worn in months.  I put it at the foot of the tree on a windless day.  It was gone the next morning.

 

 

 

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Going Down

The local radio station sometimes has a trivia contest.  I’m pretty good at trivia.  Mostly because it doesn’t mean anything.  So, I won a free trip for two for the sundown cruise in Key West harbor.  I call Flo.

Several days later Flo and I get a little happy and walk on off to the waterfront.  We make a few stops including the Schooner Wharf.  Get happier.  At some point we walk down the pier to our sunset cruise boat.  We settle in, get some boat snacks and a couple of glasses of wine.  The boat with about thirty of us takes off into the harbor.  The sun still has 45 minutes of life.  There’s a few clouds but nothing that will block the sunset.  We head aft for a smoke and enjoy our wine.

There’s a lot of boats out.  Everybody wants to enjoy the sunset and the boat owners are making tons of cash.  Flo and I shoot the breeze with our shipmates and sip our wine.  The sky is full of biplanes and navy jets and airliners heading for the airport.  A damn beautiful day with no worries.  The wind blows through our hair and the world is all good.  The sun is beautiful and the world means no harm.

Suddenly there is a loud crash and the boat slows down.  The boat slows way down.  It has double diesel engines and a mainsail.  The sail is mostly aesthetics.  The engines die and the sail is taken down.  The boat begins to list to port.  We begin to understand that there is a problem.  I’m beginning to worry a bit.  Within minutes I’m worrying a lot.  The crew starts handing out life vests.  This may seem like a life threatening emergency but the harbor is full of Coast Guard boats, FWC, Harbor Police and hundreds of private boats.  I don’t see death as a possibility.  I just see a pain in the ass towards our evening.  The left pontoon on our boat goes under water.  We’re going to get wet!

Our wine glasses are empty.  On my way overboard I pass by the bar and grab a bottle of Merlot just opened.  Flo has her cup and I have mine.  We slip quietly into the water.  Harbor sirens are going off everywhere.  My only worry is that the deep channel surrounded by shallow water is the feeding ground of hammerhead sharks.  I keep that to myself.  Flo and myself are floating together near the sinking boat.  Somehow I pour the both of us a glass of wine.  We’re not worried.  Flo left her purse at home and my wallet was locked up in my car.  Its kind of a lark.  We see boats coming our way.  Another ship wrecked fool lights up a joint.  Don’t ask me how.  The weather and the water is September warm.  We watch our boat begin to go down.

Then Flo tells me that she is moving away soon.  Had enough of the rock.  The expense is just getting stupid.  This is a horrible shock to me.  I’m watching two ships go down.  I pour two more glasses of wine.  We just float around awaiting our rescue.  A private boat picks us up and delivers its human cargo to the dock at the Schooner Wharf dock.  The breeze dries us up quite nicely so we go to the bar where we are greeted like heroes.  We are given free drinks and shrimp cocktails.  It was an adventure but we were never in any danger.  A couple of hours later after much congratulations and more shrimp we walk back to Flo’s place.

We sat out on the porch on her second story apartment and called out greetings to the tourist parading below on the street.  Flo went to bed eventually and I crashed on the sofa on the porch.  I went home the next morning and a few days later Flo moved away.  It was a few years of good meals and cocktails in weird places.  Going to miss it all.

The harbor cruise company sent me two free tickets to a sunset ride of my choice.  On the same boat they had raised from the bottom.  Always liked Karma!

 

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Meanwhile, Back at the Bait Shop

I took the daily excursion to the bridge this morning.  On the way I saw all the regular joggers and walkers and waived appropriately.  Nobody gave me the finger.  Things are looking up.

Then I took a ride to the bait shop to get my daily supplies.  It wasn’t all bait.  It was still early but I enjoyed a black coffee as almost all of the regular members of the 5 pm MENSA members began showing up.  Was only odd in the AMOUNT of people showing up.  Apparently everyone had had a rollicking rolling night.  Nobody had any interest in going to work.  Everyone had last night in their demeanor and their faces.  One of them went inside and bought an orange juice.  He came back out and poured a nip of vodka into it.  Nope, he ain’t goin’ to work.

They’re all contractors and get 20% up front for their work.  Then there’s a party, sub-parties, multi-parties, hangovers and blackouts.  These guys are electricians, painters, carpenters and HVAC experts.  They’ll be back to work in a day or two.  Depending on how many complaints they get on the phone.  Another guy goes in to purchase an OJ.  As its yard waste day I skedaddle on home to put my trash cans out.  I’m positive I’ll see all the guys again at five.  Having accomplished absolutely nothing.  I got my trash out without the help of orange juice.  I’m a Key West success story!

After farting around a bit I call up my friend Flo.  Something you never do before eleven in the morning.  She’s an editor and works all night on manuscripts via her computer.  Hard working gal and a damn good friend.  Three hours later we’re down to Jack Flat’s sharing a huge hamburger and fries.  Flo is moving north soon to find more adventures.  I wish her luck.  We finish our meal and wander around for a while looking at all the imported weirdos.  Its a week before Fantasy Fest and the oddballs with lots of money are showing up early.  Lots of giggles.

Eventually Flo and I show up at the Green Parrot and take our window seat.  The corner of Southard and Whitehead has plenty of interesting, odd, and fascinating things to look at in the way of people.  And events.  A group of obvious bikers come in with “The In-Laws” stitched on the back of their leather vests.  I barely get to the bathroom to relieve my laughing colon.

Flo and I shoot the breeze in our easy way while watching these wannabe badasses go about their thing.  They’re just a bunch of middle aged guys looking for some adventure.  And adventure they found!

Out of the blue another group of biker badasses show up and what they had stitched on their vests was NOT “In-Laws”.  As a matter of act they took some umbrage.  To make a short story even shorter lets just say there were some black eyes involved.  Flo and I moved across the street to the deli and sat on the bench there.  Hell, we bought a couple of nutty buddies and had a grand old time watching the fight.  Then we headed off to south Duval to get a glass of wine where all the screeching parrots sit in  a cage and irritate the freaking bejesus out of ya.  After a while some guys showed up with black eyes.  My colon couldn’t take it.  We split for Flo’s second story porch.  We hooked up our computers and shared some wine.  We yelled greetings to the people on the street below.

Next week about ten thousand rowdy, near naked nuts are gonna show up.  Flo and I are committed to parade night only.  Who doesn’t like a parade?  Then we’ll return to her porch and yell greetings to all the revelers below.  Its nut time in nutsville!  This is how things go.

So many damn nuts!  The next morning I get to the bridge and I tell the Cuban with the full baby diaper that I ain’t gonna put up with his shit.  He has issues with me.  He can throw his damn baby diaper wherever the hell he pleases.  Then my old friend formerly of the Cleveland Browns shows up.  Happy to report that this particular Cuban could swim.  Sadly a truckload of Anglo adolescents show up breaking beer bottles and lighting firecrackers.  Being an ass is not specific to any one culture.  Glad to say they could also swim…to a degree.  Then me and my buddy talk about the Patriot’s game this past Sunday.  He played for Belichick in Cleveland.  We threw the baby diaper on the swimmers.  Seemed just.  They were told to not come out of the water without it.  A good day at the bridge.

Flo is leaving the keys.  Not sure how to handle this.  You don’t find a friend like this very often.  Not to mention I no longer have an overnight night spot on the porch sofa.  That’s just how it goes.

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Joe Tells me I’m Gonzo

Joe Beans had just became the mayor of Key West with a 2,000 vote plurality.  He was also drunk out of his brain.

At the time I didn’t know that he had just abdicated and given the mayoralship to his female adversary.  He met me at the Tiki Bar on Lower Sugarloaf.  Apparently he took the bus after calling me in the morning.  As he was already tanked we had Bloody Marys.  As it was Sunday the bartender, a very upstanding gay guy,  dressed up in his Sunday sarong,  poured the best drinks you can have.  Then Joe lit into me.

“Why can’t you be a fly on the wall kinda guy and report shit as you see it rather than being part of it?”

“And congrats to you, asshole, for being elected mayor.”

I thought he might take a swing.  But the old and engaging forever friends found ways to avoid this.  We hoped anyway.

“I don’t understand you”, he said.  “See a visual of the moon then paint it”!

“I see the moon and I howl”.  Things cooled down.

 

After a few bloodys we we took the bus back to Key West and got a seat in the outside corner of the Parrot.  We had big draft beers.  Joe told me of his fears of being an elected official and all the responsibility.  I told him he was no Captain Tony.  Captain Tony was one of our former mayors and owned an historical bar down on Greene Street.  Like Joe he wouldn’t shy away from a drink.  Then we observed a tragedy.

Coming down Southard was a guy on a bicycle going a bit too fast.  The guy in the box truck going north on Whitehead never saw him.  When I got outside there was nothing any of my CPR was going to help.  Joe and I had seen plenty of this in a foreign land back in the 60s.  The ambulance was there in two minutes.  There was nothing to be done.  After some police questions Joe and I split for the Schooner Wharf.  It was a long quiet walk.  We were both counting our losses in the Ia Drang!  I knew how this would affect Joe.  He had quite the assortment of drinks.  Politicians and well wishers came out of nowhere to buy him cocktails.  He eventually told them all that he was not going to be their mayor.  No one was surprised.  Even those that voted for him.

I decided to split thinking that a few hours on Flo’s porch would do me good.  I said my goodbyes but before I left Joe yelled out, “quit trying to be Hunter Thompson”!  Since I never thought of putting a gun to my head I ignored him.  Boy, I’ve got some asshole friends!  That I love thoroughly.

At Flo’s, after a serious walk, she popped a bottle of Pinot Noir and heated up some meatballs from Fausto’s market.  She lit a doobie.  I helped her with that.  We talked about all things big and small.  I pulled my laptop from her storage area (the sofa) and started writing things where I was in the mix.  Pretty Gonzo.  Wondered for a while if that made me a bad guy.  After some time I didn’t give a shit anymore.

Sometime around dusk a rooster crossed the street below with some cats hiding in the shrubs.  From our second story perch we watched all the activities.  A cat should never mess with a fully grown rooster!  The memory of the bicyclist and the truck began to overwhelm me.  The carnage with the rooster and the cats had some equal reality.  Flo came out with a new serving of meatballs and said nonchalantly that she had run into Max a few days back.

Well now.  I buried Max six months ago.  The chicken picked an eyeball out of one of the cats.  Quite a noise.  All the neighbors came out to watch and listen to the scene.  Joe was drunk at the bar.  He gave up his political office.  We watched a guy get killed outside the Parrot.  Someone had seen Max alive.  Roosters were ruling the roost!

Best meatballs I’ve ever had!

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Mayoral Run

Joe Beans called from Key West and asked me to return for his mayoral run.  I said no thanks.   I’m up to my ears in bluegrass festivals and seeing old friends from 35 years.  Besides, I’m 2,000 miles away.

New York in the Catskills is nothing like Key West.  Just as hot but without the mosquitoes.  And who the hell cares about whose running for mayor?  Actually, I care a lot.  Joe and Max and I served in a special unit in the Ia Drang Valley back in ’67.  We didn’t do nice things.  But we did what we were told.  As a result all three of us are damaged goods.  Damaged goods usually get into politics.  Its the way of the world.

Our heavenly departed Max was a sniper and an assassin.  Joe and I held lower logistical posts.  Probably better not to get into this.  Its all re-hash anyway.  One day we found that at some points in life we would all be in Key West at the same time.  We took advantage of that.  Had a lot of brews at the Green Parrot, did a lot of fishing.  Joe had uncountable money and helped every homeless bum he ever met.  Spent some time homeless himself.

Over the years he created great friendships among the locals.  Now, in sobriety, his neighbors think he would be a great mayor.  But there was always the chance he might fall off the wagon.  Its Key West.  What the hell!

I can’t return right away because I’m in the Catskills playing bluegrass music on an out of tune guitar.  Nobody notices.  Nobody knows but me.  The mayoral race runs on.  Joe is leading the polls.  If you had ever met the other seven candidates you wouldn’t even wonder why.  When a man has charisma it just sparkles like a set of blinking Christmas tree lights.  Joe is the twelve days of Christmas!  I just wish Max was still alive.  Nothing like having an assassin on your electoral team!

I’m heading off to Newport.  Not because I have money but because I got a great deal.  All I have to do is feed a dog everyday and vacuum up his discarded hair.  I sneeze a lot.  Apropos to the dog.  Joe has promised me a position on the Key West Parking Authority.  After what those pricks did to me I think I’ll take him up on it.  I’m gonna clean up this town.  “Atchoo”!  When I get back there.

I’m worried that the hurricane season has started.  We had a bad time last year.  Before Max passed he made sure that every social service in the federal and state governments got food and water down to us.  He had power.  He made salad out of a shit bowl.  So.

So, I may leave these mountains early to help my friend become the mayor of Key West.  No one deserves it more.  The drive down is gonna suck.  The hurricane season is gonna scare me.  The drive is gonna scare me.  Ever drive 2,000 miles with a spastic colon?  Even worse when the plumbing goes out.  Hey, its life.

The main thing is that I hope Joe becomes the mayor of Key West and I get to head the Parking Commission.

Then, once a week, a few beers down to the Parrot.  And watch all the weirdos walk by outside the glassless windows.  Its not a bad deal.  After September.

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