Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Book I'm In

Here's a cute cartoon from

I guess I'm carrying a lot of books around inside my head--although I don't remember all the details. But that's the reverse of what this is about; it's not about the books in me, it's about the book I'm in: Callahan's Key, by Spider Robinson.

If he hadn't mentioned me in the book, I would not have read it, but it's a fun book and I respect the obvious fact that Robinson loves Key West as much as I do. I don't think he really succeeds in capturing its ambience but I'm on record as believing that the essence of Key West cannot be captured in prose. Poetry might come closer, but the island is such a multi-sensory experience that in the end, you really have to experience it first hand.

Before I get to the point, I will just mention that Robinson is a fan of the John D. MacDonald Travis McGee novels, which are set in Florida. In Callahan's Key the main character and his entourage visit the Fort Lauderdale marina where the fictional McGee keeps his boat:

It was there. The place we'd all spent countless happy hours in, and had never laid eyes on before.

Not a lot to see, really. A parking space for a boat, like hundreds of others here. An empty one, at that: no vessel was moored there now. But there was something to see. Someone had placed a ceremonial brass plaque there on the dock, just in front of one of the shoulder-high wooden pilings...We stood around like pilgrims and read it silently together.


FEBRUARY 21, 1987

For the second time that day, I found myself grinning and leaking tears at the same time. (P.144)
So we know Spider is sentimental. And so is our fellow-blogger, yellojkt, who blogged about the McGee landmark last year.
But this isn't a story about Fort Lauderdale; it's about Key West, and it's about how I'm in a book. When Callahan's group arrives at the End of the Road, they are amazed and delighted by what they find in Cayo Hueso. He describes some local characters, and the nightly Sunset Celebration. Then Will Soto, a real person who becomes a character in the book, describes briefly the history of Sunset and how it changed from a free-form happening into a slightly more organized (but still sufficiently chaotic) nightly event. That's where I come in. I was the person who wrote the Articles of Incorporation for the Key West Cultural Preservation Society, the non-profit corporation that took responsibility for the nightly festival in the mid-80's. So, Will mentions me along with my husband--we're on page 177.
[After sunset] we stayed long enough to introduce ourselves to Will Soto, and found the conversation illuminating.

"In the late Seventies, early Eighties," he told us, "vendors and buskers were setting up here illegally, and the tourists loved us, and the merchants loved us too, but the city had eyes to put a cruise-ship dock here, so they started hassling us. Recognizing the levity of the situation, we got organized about five years ago. Karen and Richard Tocci and Featherman Louie and Marylyn the Cookie Lady and Love22 and Sister and me and a bunch of others formed the Key West Cultural Preservation Society in '84, and managed to cool the clem. We got a great show of support from the nearby merchants, and that helped a lot. We finally cut a deal with the city, where the Society leases this dock for four hours every night, and then turns around and rents space to the various artisans and performers. We clean up after ourselves, we keep out the drunks and dealers and dips, everybody's happy."

I shook my head. "Jesus. A town that makes a fair deal with its buskers, and then keeps it. I'm gonna like it here."

Will grinned like a pirate. "Don't get too starry-eyed, Jake. They got idiots here like everywhere else. No place is perfect." Then he blinked. "No, I take that back: this place is perfect." He sighed faintly. "But no place can stay perfect.
[Please note: "cool the clem" was, when last I checked, a googlenope, meaning that (1) this is the first it has appeared anywhere on the internet and (2) probably I'm not the only one who has no idea what it means, other than just guessing from the context here. It's SpiderSlang, I guess. ]

1 comment:

Baylink said...

While "cool the clem" is still a Googlenope here in 2015, appearing only in your blog post about the book, which I am presently rereading, I think this webpage suggests the usage-probably from carnie slang-that Spider intended: it was "a brawl, particularly with townspeople."