Wilfrid Sheed

Having cheated so much on my delivery date, I might as well cheat a little bit more. Although I’d be happy to swear on the bible of your preference that all the previous pieces were written pretty much as they occurred, as a technological primitive I still have to wait for somebody else to download my hieroglyphs from the wall of the cave and onto the wondrous new machines I’ve heard folks tell about. And if you’re going to be slow anyhow, you might as well shoot for the record. So I took Sunday off completely, which means in effect that there is no Saturday in here, which is fairly true to life because all we did was go out and eat a superb, non-musical dinner with the great publisher and talent scout extraordinaire Bob Giroux and talk nonstop about New York memories: great stuff, but not Key West stuff. Then on Sunday itself, we went to an early and languorous brunch at the Navy officers’ club with our admirable neighbor Millie Tynes, after which I was fit only for crossword puzzles and book sections and the other assorted waste paper assault of Sunday.

But just because you’re half asleep that doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. The officers’ club itself is worth a note, if only because it seems so unlike one. The Navy is a major presence on Key West, but an extravagantly tactful one, and if the sailors ever wear uniforms at all, it must be in the privacy of their rooms. And the officers’ club could pass for a superior hotel cafeteria anywhere. Only the ostentatiously drab Navy housing gives the game away, because houses just don’t look like that in the subtropics, so they stand out like a plainclothes detective at a fiesta.

And our hostess is noteworthy too, because in a sense, Ms. Tynes is Key West, although you may not find her listed as such in the promotional material. Although born in Panama, she has resided in the African-American quarter of Key West for almost half a century, raising a family and obviously living life to the hilt as, on the one hand, a Navy officer’s wife and, on the other, as a member of what used to be considered the underclass that has never for one moment felt or acted underneath anybody. And it is, I think, symbolic of how this arrangement worked out that here we are in 2001 renting in an otherwise 100 percent black block and laughing pretty much nonstop with this unofficial queen, and nobody frown or fawns or pays any attention whatever. It’s a total nonevent and I feel quaint even bothering to mention it.

Then to end the day and the “Diary” we swallow our tales, so to speak, by going to hear Larry Smith once again, this time accompanying another old friend, Christine Naughton, who originally came here to sing jazz and has remained to do some of that, and some local newspaper reporting, and to raise a couple of cheerfully impossible little boys—and incidentally, to do some expert computerizing for your prehistoric correspondent here. It’s a typical Key West career. You come down for a few weeks to catch a little sun and work a few gigs, and you stay for life, because this is the last stop on the line, you can’t go any further than this, and going back somehow never seems quite good enough. Occasionally my wife and I bring a writer friend around to listen to a musical one—e.g., the novelist Robert Stone, who has just gotten over a most un-Key West case of flu and will be joining us for our last tryst with The Banana Café, and the great stylist Phyllis Rose, who, along with her husband Laurent “Babar” de Brunhof, really swings, which is the root of the matter. But on the whole, our two worlds spin their own ways, offering us two distinct types of evenings and numerous sub-types, and I haven’t even mentioned all the restaurants we rest up in between adventures. So while I know there are other things to do around here, we never seem to find time for them and don’t intend to look for any now until we return home in a couple of days to lie down in the snow and start working on next year’s dreams. And gradually the stars will come back to The Banana Café and the palm trees, which are actually potted plants, will resume swaying, and maybe their ambrosia chef will even remember to heat the plates this time. But first …