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« Off Line | Main | Apropos My Last Entry »

The Sun Also Sets

Key West is a sand-covered mountain, almost 2135 millimeters above sea level. It is said that it is one of the highest mountains in the range called the Florida Keys. They jut up far above the Atlantic, and can be seen from hundreds of yards away by the approaching sailors. But only when the pull of the moon is low, and the seas are calm, and the two-foot waves don't blot out the view.

Key West is the furthest southern point in the land they call the United States of America. Except for Hawaii. At that southern point, there is a buoy that says "Havana--ninety miles." Havana, where the young women roll the cigars between their dusky, unshaven thighs, after tromping the leaves with their muy sexy unshod feet.

Lying in the road by the buoy is a dead six-toed cat. It has been there for days. No one knows what the cat was seeking at that latitude.

We went to Key West. The woman and I walked the streets that he walked.

Key West was hot. It was very hot. Imagine the hottest place that you have ever been. Then imagine ten times that hot. Then imagine harder. You still will have no conception of how hot it was.

The sweat dripped down our faces, searing our eyes with the salt of our dessicating bodies. The sweat poured down. It poured down like the thick, rich red blood gushing out of the buttocks of a fat tourist, who did not outrun the bull in Pamplona.

The sun blazed above us, like a giant ball of flaming gases, burning at temperatures of millions of degrees.

It burned our skin. It burned our skin in such a way that even the soothing balm of aloe from the CVS could not cure. It reddened it, reddened it like the lobsters on which we supped in the evenings, after the sun had dropped into the sea, with the sweat still running down us. The lobsters were out of season, so they were fresh-frozen. But they were lobsters.

We drank drinks. Strong drinks. Manly drinks, though she was, and still is, despite the fact that we were in Key West, a woman. Not a fresh-frozen woman, though the women were out of season as well.

We also drank sweet drinks. Drinks with umbrellas in them, to forget. To forget what?

We don't know. We forgot.

Was it the drinks? Was it the low ceiling in the converted attic in which we stayed and for which we paid over two hundred bucks a night? And because we were not munchkins, or hunchbacks, continually confused walls and ceilings, and disrupted them with our noggins, and bled profusely from our scalps?

It could be the concussions talking, but we forgot.

It made us rethink our lives, and their purpose. It made us rethink our vacation planning methods. And then, with the skin peeling from the backs of our arms, and the backs of our legs, and backs of...well...our backs...we left.

Posted by Rand Simberg at July 15, 2007 12:47 PM
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I think spend more time under water would help alleviate this problem.

Posted by Mike Puckett at July 15, 2007 01:08 PM

Beer,Rand,lots of ice-cold beer.

Posted by Frantic Freddie at July 15, 2007 01:12 PM

Oh & nice little pastiche too!

Posted by Frantic Freddie at July 15, 2007 01:13 PM

I think spend more time under water would help alleviate this problem.

There is a limit to how much time one can stay under water, what with the need for oxygen and accumulation of nitrogen and whatnot. We did do a couple dives yesterday. In fact, the burns occurred while snorkeling out at Dry Tortugas. When the sunscreen glop says "water resistant"? Don't believe it.

Posted by Rand Simberg at July 15, 2007 01:30 PM

It's clearly hotter due to global warming.

That said, humans can tolerate such a small range of acceptable temperatures. Anything else is just not comfortable.

Posted by Offside at July 15, 2007 01:41 PM

Hear, hear!

Next up on Masterpiece Theater, Mr. Simberg remakes "Old Man and the Sea". More sunburning, no doubt.

Posted by MG at July 15, 2007 02:17 PM

Other than that, how was the trip, Mr. Simberg?

Posted by Jim Bennett at July 15, 2007 02:44 PM

I recall being rather tickled by this piece:

The Old Man and the Flea
by Kathryn Bold

He had been bad. He knew that. He had been bad and peed on her bed and in the end there was nothing anybody could do about it. She had yelled at him that time, screaming terrible things in that way women do when you have broken their trust and trampled on their hearts and urinated on their pillow. Bad dog, she’d said. He remembered it now. Bad dog. And he was a bad dog. A bad, old dog with a cranky disposition and a weak bladder.

It was at times like this that he feared life had no meaning. What was life anyway, but lying around on one’s blankie, waiting for the next bowl of kibble. Life was nothing. Nada. Nada y nada y pues nada. Woof nada. Then she came along and gave him a treat and for a brief time life was good. Then he puked the treat on the rug and life was bad again.

At times he would strike out in frustration. How vividly he recalled the day he bit a man, drawing blood as he had so many times before. He had been sitting in Harry’s Bar on a hot August afternoon when the strange man approached. “Go,” said the man. “Go fetch.” The man had tossed a tennis ball across the tile floor. It was an old tennis ball, and yellow, and he remembered liking the way the lights from the bar reflected off the ball’s fuzzy skin. So he had chased the ball, and the ball offered no resistance as he put it in his mouth. Then the man wanted the ball back. So he had bit him. He had earned the ball. It belonged to him. He knew it and the people in the bar knew it and the ball knew it and now the man with the bloody hand knew it, too.

Yes, he was a bad dog but one could blame his poor health for his surly disposition. There was the ear trouble in August. She had taken him to the vet that time, just as she had on so many other occasions. She took him to the vet and the vet had performed surgery and he had spent the next couple weeks walking around with a cone on his head. It was a large white cone, and plastic, and when people saw him they laughed. They laughed at him and they laughed at the cone and there was nothing he could do about it. Life was bad.

Now it is Christmastime. He will try not to eat an ornament off the tree and land in the emergency room, as he had done with such reckless abandon the previous year. He will try, but the ornaments are very tasty, and time is very short. It is Christmastime, and he has already consumed half a red candlestick from the candelabra she had sitting by the fireplace. Life is good.

Posted by Jane Bernstein at July 15, 2007 03:07 PM

My Fiance and I took a trip to Anguilla a few years back. Getting off the plane at St. Martin there is a big sign saying. "Warning: The Sun is much stronger at this location. Wear sunscreen at all times." Or something to that effect.

I was obedient in my application of sunscreen, however, I forgot the one body part that gets hits most directly all day long - my lips. I had huge blisters after a few days that stuck around for a couple of weeks well after I had headed back home. A parting gift of sorts.

I found that straight shots from a 1/5th of Cuervo Gold chased by a cold 'Carib' was the best remedy by far.

Posted by Josh Reiter at July 15, 2007 06:13 PM

"There is a limit to how much time one can stay under water, what with the need for oxygen and accumulation of nitrogen and whatnot"


Beside have you ever noticed what your plain air NDL is on shallow dives? I.E. under 33 feet?

So large that your gas supply limits bottom time, not nitrogen loading.

Posted by Mike Puckett at July 15, 2007 06:19 PM

I have to admit, I was underwhelmed by my own arrival in Key West. The prices are outrageous, the beaches are rocky, there are too many mangroves and stinky tidal pools, chickens in the street like a third world country, etc.

By the way, as someone who's been here since last October, I have to say you picked the hottest three days so far this year to visit our tiny 1 x 3 island. Mini lobster season starts in August. That's when the lobters are fresh.

I suspect you won't be back ;-) trust me, I won't stay here any longer than the Navy tells me to.

Posted by cuddihy at July 15, 2007 06:20 PM

I was born in Miami in 1963. I lived there all my life until I moved up to Orlando in 1999. And I went to Key West exactly once, on a day trip some time in the 80s, and afterwards I never told myself "wow, what a great place, I really should go back someday!" That ought to tell you something.

Posted by Andrea Harris at July 15, 2007 07:13 PM

The cat was either chasing the chickens, or the brown Cuban anoles (we still have some green anoles) that seem to be pretty much everywhere here in JAX. The geckos only seem to come out at night here. Honestly, they congregate by the 10s on the roof of my garage.

And I've never had a cat drag a gecko in. Palmetto bugs (cockroaches), brown and green anoles, birds, but I haven't found any geckos. Yet.

Posted by Bryan Price at July 15, 2007 08:57 PM

I visited Key West once, with a buddy, in 1991. We drove down from Miami, intending to spend a few days. I immediately hated the place and wanted to leave. It felt like being stuck on a boat. My friend was a bit more tolerant of it. I considered buying a plane ticket back to Miami and leaving my friend with the car. We compromised by going out to eat a couple of times, having some key lime pie, and then I waited while my friend fulfilled his dream of jet skiing. He returned an hour later with his eyeglasses askew and a knot on his head. We drove back to Miami the same day. I have never been back.

Posted by Jonathan at July 15, 2007 10:25 PM

My wife and I visited Florida as a delayed honeymoon. We did both coasts and parts of the middle. This was a few months after Hurricane Andrew, btw. The trip included a two day down-and-back to Key West.

The trip through the Keys was memorable; neither of us had ever seen so many shades of blue.

When we got to Key West (mid-October) it was hot. We parked the rental and checked in; the sign in the lobby told us the time of sunset. We dumped our stuff in our room, turning the a/c to high as it was hot. Then we walked along Duval Street, and it was hot. We had a couple of drinks to kill the heat (because it was hot), and did some tourist things.

After sunset along Mallory Square we stopped for drinks because it was hot. We had dinner at the end of Duval Street, and it was hot. After sampling a couple of bars we went back to our rooms and took a swim in the pool, and it was hot.

The next morning we visited the Southernmost Restaurant for breakfast, and it was hot. After a visit to the library (where it was cool) we did some more tourist things, and it was hot. We finally left for Orlando (and our flight home) about 11:30 in the morning, and it was hot.

By the way, did I mention how hot it was?

Posted by Bruce at July 15, 2007 11:36 PM

I remember a time back in the early nineties. I was in the keys shooting a commercial. It was so hot none of the equipment could be touched without gloves. Several of our crew had to be withdrawn from service due to heatstroke.

One particular day we rose well before dawn and drove out to shoot on this certain beach. About 3 pm we packed up and headed back to Biscayne Bay to shoot sunset from a barge in the middle of the bay.

Right as we got the shot and then started to head in, thunderbumpers had already formed and began to unleash a torrent of rain, lightning and thunder on us. Lightning bolts screamed down and stabbed the bay around us.

As our boats reached the safe harbor we used as a base camp, we were bombarded by a swarm of mosquitoes that made that scene from The African Queen look like an inconsequential mist. We spent the next agonizing 20 minutes unloading equipment from the barge before being able to find refuge. I think several bottles of Tequila were consumed that night. As a matter of fact, I'm sure of it.

Good times, good times.

Posted by Edgar Burlson at July 16, 2007 12:17 AM

I have better memories of my own visits. I'd travel down with my college SCUBA club and we'd camp on Sugarloaf Key for a week, either over New Years or during spring break. The climate was a bit more agreeable; good friends and lots of alcohol didn't hurt either. New Years Eve was a blast in Key West. I bought a shot to benefit a nationwide non-profit that typically wouldn't associate with such activities.

Posted by Tom at July 16, 2007 04:55 AM

I suspect you won't be back ;-)

I may be back (I'd like to see a couple museums), but not before December or January. And I'll probably stay further up the keys, where the prices are reasonable, and make it a day trip.

Posted by Rand Simberg at July 16, 2007 05:32 AM

Welcome back Rand. By your exposition to open, I assume you had a good trip. The beach at Padre Island "Malaquite" was rated poor for shells on Friday and moderate for Man-O-War...

Found 80% of a two-inch conch and didn't see any jellyfish. Kids had a good time. The only downside was driving back to San Antonio with four tired kids....oy.

Posted by Mac at July 16, 2007 05:43 AM

Apparently, Mac hasn't discovered the miracle of in-car video.

As squeamish as I still am about it, for long trips it's a must.

Posted by Tom at July 16, 2007 05:49 AM

Ha! As the saying goes, "Very witty Wilde. His majesty is like a dose of the clap... One of Simberg's!"

Posted by chester at July 16, 2007 07:24 AM

I got the worst sun burn of my life snorkling at the Tortugas. It was raining when I went in the water so I figured no need for sunscreen, right? The rain stopped, the skies cleared and two hours later I resembled a freshly steamed lobster (on one side). Now I always wear a t-shirt when I snorkel.

Quick sunscreen Bleg.

I am going to the Grand Caymens later this year and several of the snorkel areas state that only bio-degradable sunscreen can be worn. A quick google search revealed no "brand name" screens claiming to be bio-degradable. Lots tree-huggy holistic looking stuff.

My BS meter tells me I am going to pay twice the price for something half as effective. Afterall, to be biodegradable wouldn't it need to be water soluble and wouldn't that defeat the point?

Anyone have an experience with this stuff?

Posted by teej at July 16, 2007 10:18 AM

Forget Sunscreen except for your neck and legs.

The gear rubs it off your back anyway. Wear a medium weight darker color t-shirt.

Posted by Doc Brown at July 16, 2007 01:28 PM

Forget Sunscreen except for your neck and legs.

The backs of my arms got roasted as well.

The gear rubs it off your back anyway.

Ummmmm...I don't wear gear when I snorkel. But I will wear a teeshirt next time.

Posted by Rand Simberg at July 16, 2007 01:37 PM

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