West, July 18, 1999
letter from Frank I., says he might move
to the naval station here. There are four
intelligence positions in the drug
interdiction program; the humidity would
be better than the heat in AZ. He's
curious why I come. I reply:
to Key West in 1987 after a total freeze
smashed the heating system of our London
apartment building for three months. My
secretary checked with Pan-Am. Remember?
It used to be an airline, which
incidentally made its first-ever flight
from here: there's a monument to Juan
Trippe right outside our International
Airport building (I've seen McDonald's
that are bigger).
said the sun was currently shining in
South Africa or Florida.
secretary Susanna was very
politically correct, and said Not South
Africa. We flew to Miami, and stayed on
Collins Avenue a few days but became
thoroughly depressed by the peeling paint,
the geriatric and penniless population,
the boarded-up shops and the Cubans. I was
Missing Years of Rudolf
at the time. I said: "I've heard of the
Keys. Let's drive down there."
drive down US.1 -- the Overseas Highway --
you become more and more depressed at how
the Americans can ruin a landscape: huge
billboards dotting the Everglades, fast
food and gas stations all down the strip
-- until you get to Marathon and the Lower
Keys, beyond the Seven Mile Bridge.
it becomes just as you imagined it would
be. Windswept; deserted; shallow turquoise
waters, pelicans, huge butterflies,
mimosa, poinsettia, and bougainvillea all
the year round. The city of Key West
itself, the Old Town, is all white wooden
houses and picket fences, with wreckers'
lookout platforms on the roofs, and with
(sigh) tourists (I of course am not one of
them) riding round in guide-buses and
been writing here on and off for twelve
years now. The city is unaccountably proud
of the welcome it extends to homosexuals,
and it has paid the price. I used to say,
"Get on a plane in London in a dreary,
drizzly November, and step off in Key West
in high summer, surrounded by people in
bikinis -- many of them women." Not
homosexual population is, I have noticed
for the first time this summer, dying out.
Not just thinning out, but perceptibly
polished marble stones let into the
monument at Higgs Beach are multiplying
fast. Waiters who minced around us a year
ago are already dead from the plague.
city too has finally fessed up, a month
ago, to its dirty little secret, that for
a decade the seas and beaches around it
have been polluted with human fecal
bacteria that is three times deadlier than
permitted by federal limits, but just
within Florida state measuring standards.
So there are advisory notices on all the
suggest that it might be safer not to have
a swim right now. In fact it would be
safer to smoke a cigarette instead -- in
England we'd say "to have a fag", but in
Key West this might be misunderstood. As
things stand it would certainly be no less
deadly either way.