Florida Keys

Dining In The Florida Keys

Lets Eat –

“Let’s Eat!” Jack barked out as he slammed open the porch door.  I was busy wiring artificial hibiscus flowers into my green plants. This is my version of gardening. If I can’t make something bloom, I fake it and no one has ever seemed to realize or comment that it’s not real.

I noticed he had a hole in his T-Shirt, his sandals looked like pieces of tire tread tied on with marine rope.   You have a hole in your shirt I mentioned. “Is it a big one?” he asked.  Welcome to the Florida Keys where millionaires dress like bums, most people go around looking like what I call “Mangrove Dwellers”. There are people, whole communities even, that live in those groves, complete with Mayors.

“Is it a big hole?” he wanted to know – “Gotta stapler? I could fix it!”  “Never mind I sighed, it’s small, maybe no one will notice.”  As the daughter of a true Southern Belle, no one will ever see me not all pulled together, matching, with makeup and my hair yanked into shape. Unless A) I’m doing yard or housework or B) I’m caught by my “unawares”.  He suggested putting his shirt on backward and his hat too, “So It’ll co-ordinate. – they’ll put me on Vogue!”

Jack’s idea of eating isn’t really eating – it’s drinking and eating finger food during Happy Hour.  He has his own stool at every bar in town and what he calls his “passenger seat” next to each one.  That’s for anyone he meets up with that he might want to “pound a few with”, the seat could be empty or full depending on what kind of mood he’s in.

Meeting Jack had to do with the Kentucky Derby. My friend Candice invited me for appetizers and wine.  When I got to the agreed-on place, the decision took forever due to Candice’s stipulations, she called frantically and told me she would be 15 min late because the Derby was starting.  “Don’t they do that race in the early afternoon?” I asked – too late she hung up. Great, now I’ll have to go in alone. I would have had the waitress seat me, but with Candice, you have to go through the “Seating Ritual”, by the water, away from the water, in the sun, out of the sun.  I knew we would be table hopping at least twice.  The bar was the only option – flat screens everywhere, the Derby all over the place.  One stool is empty.  I politely asked, “Is someone sitting here?”  Evidently, it was Jack’s “Passenger Seat”.  Yeah, you can sit there you look like a real nice lady.  I hardly drink, so I ordered Bud Lite in a bottle. I do that because the bottle is dark, no one can tell how much is in it and you can nurse one along for quite a while.  The race was over in a flash. I couldn’t even figure out who won.  Jack introduced himself and asked my name. He also asked why I had a vice grip on my beer bottle and purse.  I explained that I worked in the Hospitality Industry and knew and had seen bartenders swap out your drink before you finished one and smoothly gave you another hoping you were ”forsnoockered” enough not to notice to bump up the tab.  I also told him I did not much like drinking and was killing time waiting for a friend.  He said if I knew so much about bars why didn’t I know there was a hook under the bar for my purse so I could let go of the vice grip I had on it.  “Don’t think the Bartender will be swapping that out on ya.” he snickered and winked.  He asked my name, I told him, Edith – lying, like all, get out because I knew I’d never see him again. I knew his name was Jack because everyone that went by called out and said hello.

Candice ran up just then shrieking “Deborah, there you are! “ Jack snort laughed again saying “I knew you were lying about your name – no one your age would be named Edith!  We’ll be friends anyway, you and I – so I’ll call you Sissy since you don’t seem to like your real name (another laugh) “Lady Sissy”.  And to this day he does.  He only calls me Edith when he mad about something”.

Jack was right he did become my friend.  He lives on a sailboat.  He worked in Special Forces all his life and I’ve always secretly believed he came to the Keys to hide after retirement.  He was born here. He’s told me stories about the Island in the old days,” before it got all built up and touristy”.  How kids would play baseball in the center of US1 in the middle of July because you could do an entire inning before a car would pass by. He hates Air Conditioning for this reason, “No one used to come in the summer before air conditioning”.  He’s told me stories from his grandfather’s day about the Labor Day Hurricane in the 30s, the devastation from it, salt mining ponds as a source of living, dredging sand to build up islands, how they managed to get fresh water and tolerate the heat, mosquitoes, and rats.  He knows every shrub, bush, and tree.  He’s taught me to scuba dive and snorkel.   I have no idea how old he is – could be in his 60’s could be 100.  He swears like a sailor. I told him I couldn’t tolerate foul language. He’s gotten it down to only using the “S” word and the “F” word as verbs.  At least he says “oops” during a slip-up or backslide as I call it.   It’s weird to think that at one time I was mortified to sit in his “Passenger Seat”. Now it seems like a privilege.

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