The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Florida’

Welcome to Paradise

March 5, 2014 | by

The sounds of Key West.

Key West 3

Photo: Ann Beattie

Key West 5

Photo: Ann Beattie

Key West 2 Spiderman

Photo: Ann Beattie

Key West 4

Photo: Ann Beattie

Key West 1

Photo: Ann Beattie

What do writers want? (Forget whether they’re women or men, Uncle Sigmund. Forget money and fame.) They want quiet. Where do they go? They gather in Key West, Florida.

Sure, the subtlest sounds—the personally groaned sounds—begin with deep sighs, as other people discuss pools being dredged by the jackhammering of coral next door, leaf blowers switched on at eight a.m., drunks on the sidewalk talking to themselves even more animatedly as the police car pulls to the curb. Last night I hung over my balcony to hear a staggering gentleman informing the officer that he did have a destination. He was “gonna shuffle off to Buffalo.”

In the background, birds express opinions from people’s shoulders on late-night walks (“Pretty but what else?”—a bird clearly meant to call one’s life into question). All around the island cell phones go off, their ring tones arias from operas or a hip-hop version of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Dogs bark, cats hiss, and the bird on the shoulder of the guy in the trilby continues to wonder aloud what to expect after “pretty.” Maybe the fire truck, or the ambulance that makes just a few high-pitched noises, as if the vehicle itself is dying. As it races away, it’s sure to set off a car alarm. Read More »

2 COMMENTS

One Human Family

January 29, 2014 | by

Key West Serge Melki

Photo: Serge Melki, via Flickr

I have never been one to moon over resort collections or sigh enviously over my friends’ sun-drenched Instagram photos. The truth is, I dislike the beach and sort of enjoy the misery of living through an unrelieved winter; it makes spring that much sweeter and, as the Byrds told us, for everything there is a season, etcetera, etcetera.

Nevertheless, lured by cheap rates and the promise of a haunted local doll named Robert, a few winters ago, my best friend and I decided to take a brief trip to Key West. We rented bicycles, visited the six-toed cats at the Hemingway House, posed with the Sponge Man, avoided Duval Street and the Parrot-heads eager to show female visitors around the “Conch republic,” and took a “fruit tour.” This involved having to pedal away really fast whenever a property owner approached, and culminated in our guide playing “Strangers in the Night” on, yes, a conch shell. A gentleman in a bar band told us that the island’s official philosophy is “One Human Family.”

At a bookstore near our guesthouse, I picked up a book from the “Local Interest” section called Undying Love: The True Story of a Passion That Defied Death, by Ben Harrison. And I read it obsessively. When I think of Key West, it’s not of sunsets or Margaritaville or Tennessee Williams. It’s of Carl Tanzler and his obsession with a dead woman. Read More »

Comments Off

Kerouac in the Sun

July 30, 2013 | by

KerouacTypinglarge

Fred DeWitt for Time magazine, January 1958. Courtesy of Orange County Regional History Center.

“Yesterday, in 4 hours, I typed up the 12,000 word Diamond Sutra on a long 12-foot scroll, beautiful, with my final transliteration, one of the most precious religious documents in the world, even you’ll like it when you read it,” Jack Kerouac writes to Joyce Johnson in November 1957. A little more than two months have passed since the publication of On the Road and Gilbert Millstein’s glowing review in the New York Times. Kerouac and Johnson, a budding literary talent in her early twenties, have been romantically involved since January, their sporadic visits in New York interspersed by a lively correspondence. Kerouac had gone to Mexico City in the summer of ’57, but left after falling ill. He landed in Orlando, Florida, where his mother was renting a 1920s bungalow. From August to April 1958, he would make several trips to New York and celebrate his newfound literary acclaim. No one at the time, including Jack himself, could have realized how this small, sleepy house would figure in his life: becoming not only his refuge as On the Road climbed the bestseller lists, but the site of his last, prolific outpouring, resulting in a novel that many consider to be his greatest work, The Dharma Bums. Read More »

20 COMMENTS

Swimming Upstream: A Memoir in Pools

October 25, 2012 | by

Because I loved the water and because I moved all the time—in search of what, I wasn’t yet sure—I found that swimming laps was a good way to get somewhere without booking another ticket. Wherever we were, I’d search out an open lane, and sometimes I’d surprise myself, encountering the person who emerged on the other side. You could learn a lot with your eyes closed.

Way back, before we moved to the Middle East, I loved the thrill of swimming at Hamilton Fish, the big outdoor pool on East Houston Street, where the Europeans swam fast in skimpy suits, but where there was always plenty of room for everyone. We lived nearby, in Chinatown, and I rode my bike a few blocks to my first big editor job. We were young and it was hard to imagine anything going wrong.

Then my wife got the fellowship in D.C., which sent her to southern Russia, where she was detained for three days by Russian authorities, who took her passport, laptop, and notes, and then threatened to take her to trial in Chechnya. When she landed in Virginia, her friends and I were relieved and waved little American flags. Later, recuperating at a hotel near Dupont Circle, she and I swam laps at the National Capitol YMCA, on Rhode Island Avenue, but all the other swimmers were super aggressive—with as many as ten to a lane, shouldn’t these august people have known better?—and I found the crush of writhing bodies too exhausting ever to go back.

Read More »

4 COMMENTS

A Singular Southern Gentleman Goes Out “Biting”

April 25, 2012 | by

Whenever I rang the phone at a certain house in the kudzu-covered college town of Gainesville, Florida, I knew what I was likely to hear: not a polite “hello” or “good afternoon,” but a gruff-voiced, rural Georgia-accented statement of self: “Harry Crews.” And whenever I visited my friend Harry, the notorious American novelist and essayist who died (“bit the big bagel,” he’d say) in March at the age of seventy-six, I knew what I’d likely find: a great boulder of a man in a bathrobe sunk into a brown recliner chair in a living room filled with books, photographs, and, on one wall, the framed quilted image of a typewriter.

“Come on in, blood, grab a seat, how ya been?” Harry would call to me as I stepped inside. He took pride in rarely locking his home’s front door, just as he prided himself on keeping his number listed in the Gainesville white pages.

“All’s good,” I’d say, dropping into a chair that faced his. “New York’s fine, how you been?”

“Well, I’m hurting.”
Read More »

NO COMMENTS

Paradise Lost

July 19, 2011 | by

Photograph by Little Sophie.

Four years ago, I embarked on a relationship with a man twenty years my senior, whose Florida home, a few streets over from my condo, boasted wall-to-wall carpeting with a space-galaxy motif, a vintage circus-sideshow banner in the master bedroom, and a six-foot-tall statue of a gecko dressed as a jester, which overlooked the backyard. My family was reluctantly supportive, in that “you’re our daughter and we love you, even if your choices worry us” manner. I had survived, just barely, one brutal heartbreak after another in my midtwenties. It was refreshing to find someone who embraced the eclectic, rallied friends to swing by for dinner, and appeared with surprise snacks when I was scribbling fiction poolside. But mostly, I felt relieved at finding someone who was nice, a champion of my own long-stifled quirkiness.

He had spent eighteen months in federal prison twenty years before, on a fraud felony. Ah, but wasn’t the past just the past? It wasn’t fair to hold a human being to a mistake made so long ago. Didn’t I have my own shameful moments, perhaps not felonies or arrests, but black marks when I had been less than my best self? Don’t we all?

In the spirit of loving kindness, as I watched my fiction burst to life under my new love’s backyard Buddhist prayer flags, I dismissed any signs of cautionary red. A mentor of mine calls fiction writers “literary cannibals.” I was having fun, and my writing responded to the offbeat environment of vinyl Jesus figurines embedded with Magic 8 Balls, wind chimes, and the Grateful Dead. Halfway through a grueling semester in a low-residency M.F.A., I had been questioning my ability to master fiction. Now my adviser proclaimed I had achieved a breakthrough—“a talent for inventing loopy comic situations.”

Things only seemed to get better. My man and I came up with affectionate names for each other—I was Babette and he was Babu. Real monikers fallen away, the relationship carved its own offbeat identity.

Read More »

17 COMMENTS