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Posts Tagged ‘Florida’

Satan Comes to Oklahoma City

October 30, 2014 | by

Facing fears in the Sooner State.


Photo: the Satanic Temple

My ailing wife, Amy, had demanded that I take her to a Black Mass, a well-publicized one that would have meant aligning myself with Satan on local television. These people aren’t really Satanists, Amy explained. They’re blue-collar subculture types who’ve grown up and know their rights and want to thumb their noses at the judgy creeps who persecuted them growing up. Amy, who had seen more than her fair share of those creeps in her own youth, wanted to lend her support.

“Understand that this is all they’ve got,” she told me. “It may seem stupid, but after twenty years of getting shit it’s all they’ve got.”

Despite protests from the local Catholic community, the [Satanic] Church of Ahriman held a Black Mass at the Civic Center in Oklahoma City on September 22. The Catholics had also attempted to file an injunction against them, claiming they had stolen the Holy Sacrament they intended to defile in an unholy consecration. This was their fourth mass, but this time it was for real. The Satanists had won permission to build a monument to Satan on the grounds of the State Capitol, and the wild bad reverend in charge of the Church of Ahriman (also known as the Dakhma of Angra Mainyu) was new and media savvy. He basked in the attention, held interviews and press conferences, did all he could to whip his antagonists into a righteous froth. Those antagonists arrived by the busload and dug in, singing songs and passing out leaflets.

Much of the south refers to itself as the buckle of the Bible belt, but Oklahoma has a special claim to bucklehood: there’s the hard-line Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, and everywhere you turn there seems to be a crucifix; pricey little Amish general stores line the highways and tens of thousands of churches are sprinkled throughout the state, from hippieish splinter sects nestled in the foothills of the Ozarks to goliath megachurches with media teams and television studios and lobbying groups. Life in the Sooner State has a churchy feeling—the stickiness of Kool-Aid soaking through the seams of a waxed paper cup, bake sales manned from behind rickety card tables, devotional sing-alongs, gymnasium lock-ins—and there’s a creeping sense of menace for outsiders. Read More »


A Field Guide to the Ass-End of Hell

May 1, 2014 | by

On reading Peter Matthiessen in the Everglades.


I first encountered Peter Matthiessen in a hurricane, with the roof-flown certainty that we’d never meet again. Just passing through, the memory blurs at 135 mph. I was in the Bahamas reading Killing Mister Watson, sweating out a Category 4, trying to concern myself with an Everglades outlaw who produced excellent cane syrup and, in the wake of his murder, a bunch of conflicting yarn-burners. I only made it through the beginning, apparently no further than E. J. Watson himself, ventilated by thirty-three neighborly slugs upon stepping off his boat and into his own lore. This just after the hurricane of 1910 had wasted Chokoloskee. Announced by a comet, the storm upchucked the marl, catapulted Watson’s infant son through the mangroves, and, as Matthiessen had it, “blew the color right out of the world.”

My hurricane merely blew the color out of the TV. With an earful of low-pressure williwaw, I had problems getting all those Watson thoughts inside my head, preparing to duck shard as the windows bowed, wondering if the author’s next word would be my last. Kind of a morbid, if not meteorologic, approach to one’s literature, imagining the final line that accompanies you and your velocity into the whateverafter, joining LeQuinn Bass (last words: “Well, shit”), the Owl Man of Deep Wood (“Finish it”), Belle Starr (a screech—she was shot in the back, off her horse), and whomever else Bloody Watson managed to ether before it was all said and blown away. The last thing you’d want to read should be the first. Read More »


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 »


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 »

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Kerouac in the Sun

July 30, 2013 | by


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 »


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.

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