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[personal profile] saltdawg
I was in Willie T's and we were all smoking. They hadn't yet knocked down the street-side walls, and the smoking ban was new. I had walked in and while still sunblind, ordered a Ketel, rocks. I lit up a cigarette and before I could even down that first drink, the bartender and the other two people in the place were shouting at me to put my cigarette out. Gesturing at me, waving their hands with their palms down.

Now I'd been through this routine before. First on Cape Cod. Then Providence, New York, and so many others that I can't be bothered to remember them all. But this. This was Key West. The fucking Conch Republic! They Seceded where so many others had failed, after all. I was taken aback, but just before I actually snubbed out the camel, the bartendrix told me: Fuck it. I need a smoke too. She put out four plastic cups. a quarter full of water. All three of them lit up.

It's not that we care. I'm sure it won't last, the bartendirx told me: It's just that it's a new law and the gecko got fined just a couple of days ago. The bar and the staff. All of 'em got fined.

And one of the dudes piped up that Yeah, but that was the Gecko. This is Willy T's.

Well, that's why I say fuck it. Fuck 'em. He's not from here (she turned to me) you're from out of state right? We can just blame him, right?

Right I told the three of them. Right, I'll take the hit. I think that in this case, ignorance will be a viable defense.I sucked the last of the vodka from my wedge of lime and tapped the counter for another. I laid out $160 in jacksons, grants and dollar bills. I knew I was going to be there for a while.

I sucked the last bit of vodka from my wedge of lime and tore away at the pulp as my next drink arrived. The four of us settled in to a conversation about smoking bans, unfair fines and freedom as we understood it at the time. I pushed some more money into the gutter and played with the condensation on the bar. We were all done with our first cigarettes. and it was still daylight on a mid December day.

I had just returned from Africa, by way of Brazil a few days before and the company flew me out of Wilmington NC. That airport was small and the bar there only served beer and I was well sick of having the same conversations with my shipmates I was flying out with, even though I liked all of them quite well. I walked out to the smoker's "Patio" to abide the smoking ban there, and placed a call to an old shipmate. I hadn't been in touch with the old gang from the first research boat I sailed on in a long time. The conversation was short. I told my buddy I was fresh off the boat from Africa, by way of Brazil and that I was looking at three months of time off. He told me that the boat was short a couple of guys because of winter stand down. Wanna come work on this side for a couple of months? he asked. I asked where they were. When he told me they were in Key West, and would be at least until after Christmas, I got off the phone right quick and called the Marine Manager for that company.

I flew to the place where my mail gets sent, unpacked some shit, repacked some other shit and flew to the Conch Republic. And then a few days later I was sitting in Willie T's with a rapidly growing tip pile in the gutter. By the time the pile was high enough that I was worried that maybe a gust would take it all away, some of my shipmates found me. They knew I favored the place while I was drinking on Duvall. My shipmates joined us and it broke that intimacy you get inside a bar on a late december afternoon while illegally smoking cigarettes with strangers and drinking vodka. The intimacy was shattered, and we all broke into our camps. The bartendrix began attending to filling the coolers with beer in anticipation. My shipmates were asking me about my trip to Africa and telling me ship's gossip about the research boat. Someone was probably playing the MegaMaster. I can't remember if she put out any more plastic cups 1/4 full of water. But by the time people really started rolling in, and the sun had rolled down below Mallory, the dam was broken and the ban forgotten. My simple ignorance turned Willie T's into a smoke-easy for the night.

And then, as it happens, I was crawling easily into my cups and the bar was filling up and three people walked in. There was a great big fat girl. There was some dude that didn't make any impression on me which lasted this long, and a rather attractive girl in a Rob-Roy flannel shirt. For some reason, probably the reason that the only free barstools were next to me, I sized the three of them up. I figured the attractive girl with the long brown hair and the undescript dude were together, and the great big dumpy chick was the angry friend who ruined everybody's fun because she hasn't gotten laid in years. And they all three sat down next to me. Undescript dude sat down one stool away. I remember that. I am now also remembering that he was wearing a straw cowboy hat. The dumpy chick sat to his right. The looker sidled up right on next to me. Close enough that I could smell how nice her shampoo made her hair smell.

I was, of course, still embroiled with my shipmates, but they were reaching critical rumpunch mass and conversation was faltering, sputtering and degrading into grunts and loving insults. My attention was being lead by my nose. I began to realize that I wasn't smelling shampoo at all, but that she smelled of sandalwood. I'm a sucker for sandalwood. I was still embroiled, but my nose was making me drift away and I began to become acutely aware that the dumpy girl and the undescript dude were in a heated discussion. Words were being loud and short between them, and even though I had to pay closer attention to the slurry "I LOVE YOU MAN''s coming from my buddies which made it so that I couldn't actually make out what the short and loud was all about, I started to get anxious.

And so it started somewhere between drunk and anxious when she asked me for a Camel Cigarette. I don't think she even really needed one. I think she was just trying to talk to me because I was next to her and that the short, loud words had nothing that she wanted to do with and she needed distraction. And I was an easy mark for distraction.

We went through the usuals. I lied about my real name, and she told me hers. I told her where I was from and she told me her home town. Canada. She was from Canada. And somehow she was able to pry my mouth shut. Oh, she listened to african tales of derring-do, and storms a sea. She was really interested in my line of work, and my buddies even lent me some currency by telling each other stories of some stupid shit I'd been involved with. By the time she pried my mouth shut, her intimacy was held in our court, not the court of the short and loud, which was getting worse by the minute. By the time my buddies left to go get tacos or some bullshit, she pried my mouth shut. We just drove all the way from Alberta in X days and X hours. She told me. Those two have been fighting since Nebraska. I knew I should have never come. This, of course gave me a perfect opportunity to make a seemingly ignorant remark about her availability. I said something about why her friend was fighting with her BOYfriend.

Her eyes were black as high-s anthracite. Once she made me shut up and started talking about them fighting, I no longer thought about the pile or the condensation trails I was making on the bar. Her eyes. They locked me in. And she was talking close in to me too, so her friends couldn't hear her tell me about the fight. So they couldn't hear her tell me about how those other two were dating and she was the third wheel. Close enough in that I could already imagine I could feel the heft and soft of her breasts through her rob roy plaid. We started smoking our cigarettes outside on Duvall. And by some point that I can't really recall, the lovers had stopped fighting and the four of us were talking. The intimacy within Willy T's had shifted again.

They had driven down from Alberta on a whim. Dude worked in a video rental place or some bullshit. The dumpy girl worked sewing shit or something. And my girl? MY girl? She only smirked when it came time to tell what she did for a living.

You have to guess. You have three guesses and I'll give you three hints. If you can guess what I do, I'll buy all your drinks all night. As long as you buy my drinks when you can't.

My $160.00 was fairly well gone, but I had an ATM card. I knew I was taking a sucker's bet, but I was falling for this girl pretty hard, pretty fast. She was drinking the same stuff I was drinking. She was matching drink-for-drink. She was funny and honest. And had a vicious wit. I knew I was taking a sucker's bet, but either way, I would be spending the rest of the night with her. Right? Right.

The guessing game started and my hints were that she was one of three girls in all of Alberta that did what she does, her flannel shirt and something else. I failed miserably. I think I guessed "cowgirl", "truck driver" and who knows what else. The answer turned out to be "Lumberjack". So here is this hard-drinking lumberjack who was drop dead georgeous that smelled like sandalwood and seemed to prefer my company to that of her friends that she had been riding in a honda for X days and X hours while they fought over something I can't remember what. I bought her a drink. Another drink. I had been buying them all drinks, even the Bartendrix, but I bought her a drink on the loss of the bet and looked into er eyes and knew I could love this girl.

I really don't know how to explain it in any other way. And I'm sure it seems like it was pure, pure love because of the way things went down and I never had the opportunity to have my heart smashed in any other way than it was. But what was happening was happening, and I wish I could be more eloquent and shit, but I bought her a drink on the bet and her friends started in again. You could tell by the way they argued that this was true love. But the kind of true love that she nor I wanted any part of. I know this because we talked about it, out in the street. Smoking Camels. Drinking Vodka.

Fuck them. I'm so fucking sick of their Bullshit. Will you take me to the Southernmost point? That's what we came here for in the first place. We just stopped into this bar for a drink because we just got off the road.

I could feel something stirring in my guts. She put her hand on my arm and said: Please? and I could feel other kinds of things start to stir.

Now, you see, while I seem to have better luck with finding companionship than other guys, I've never been the kind of guy to meet strangers in bars. the (crazies) girls that tend to gravitate towards me start gravitating after they know me a little. And then they gravitate away after they know me a lot, you see. I've picked up exactly 3 girls in bars during my "adult" life. That girl in NYC who was reading the same book I was and drinking Jamesons&Bass, just like I was, and the crazy, crazy rich woman in NOLA that kidnapped me for a lost weekend in Bay St. Louis. But those, as I always say, are other stories for another time. But even despite those two aberrations, I still couldn't really grasp the fact that she was maybe on some sort of predatory thing. That maybe she was just as attracted to me as I was to her. That she was actually making a move by putting her hand on my arm the way she did. It really never occurred to me because I was just too selfishly enjoying her and not really paying much attention to myself. If that makes any sense.

So she asks me to go to the southernmost point. Please.

I got more drinks and flagged down a rickshaw. We were there in minutes.

Now the southernmost point in the US is one of those places that's clogged with touristicas taking turns having their picture took. Usually. But this was mid december, and a little chilly. It was the lull before the Christmas tourist season. That's why she and her friends got a pretty good rate on a hotel over on Flagler. So here's the big thing that I've forgotten to mention. This was long before everybody had cellphones and digital cameras and digital cameras in their cellphones. I mean I had a cell phone, but it was way before it was de rigeuer, or at least it was the very cusp of these things. Anyway, she had a cheap disposable camera that she had been taking pictures of me with. Then she was having her friends take pictures of the two of us. And then, down at the sothernmost point, we had been drinking and talking and smoking together for hours and she had one of the scarce other people take a flash photo of both of us in front of the upturned manhole they plunked down at the end of south street all those years ago. The other tourist took our picture and she asked them to take another. Just in case.

So the other tourist goes: OK? READY? One, Two...

And on TWO, she grabs me and starts kissing me. Like we are in love.

And if there was any hesitation of a doubt of a figment that I wasn't already in love with her in the deepest recesses of my heart, they evaporated right there, at the southernmost point of the USA. I'm sure the camera flashed, but I didn't notice. She pushed me back against the pylon and we were making out like jackals. Like teenagers and shit. The tourist with the camera eventually just put it on the sidewalk next to us, and we ruined the photo-ops for the rest of them. By the time we stopped making out, we were pretty much the only people around. It was windy and just cold enough for her flannel.

We sat down on the rocks and she held the camera out in front of us and took another. She actually said to me:

I always want to remember this.

and squeezed me tighter against her. For real. And then shortly after that she said I'd really like to smoke a joint. You know where to get some weed? and the sorry part of the thing is, The thing that made it all crumble was that I did know where to get weed. I can't smoke the stuff because of the randoms we get popped with (and believe me, I miss it!) but I knew that the Brazilians that peddled the rickshaws were always trying to peddle weed too. There was one dude that actually remembered me from years before. Now, we were drunk and in love and a mission. Jesus fucking christ. I can't even begin to tell you how fucking happy I was. That we were at that moment. On that night.

We went screaming and spinning off into the darkness looking for Brazilians...And eventually, after more rickshaw rides than I can count, we found my friend. More pictures were taken, and after a short stop at a head shop to get a pipe, we were pedaled back down to the southernmost point, stared off to Cuba and started smoking something other than Camels.

Now even back when I used to smoke weed on a regular basis, I was always much better drinking on top of smoke. And that particular night, I was well out of practice. Especially for smoking on top of booze. We sat there on the rocks at the southernmost point and snuggled and snozzled and smooched and so on. I think I had picked up a bottle somewhere during out mission, and we were pulling on that. It was a bottle of Crown. I remember that. I don't remember where it came from, but I remember that. We sat there for a long time and while my memory was starting to fail me in the way that it did to still hurt me to this day, we sat there long enough that we changed that spot from a place for a photo op into a little circle of people talking. Sharing pipes and bottles. And there was snuzzling and smooching and more pictures.

Eventually we left. Me and the lumberjack. We mad our way all the way down Duvall and back. That crawl was and still is less than a blur. The events of the crawl, that is. I remember we were getting a big kick out of starting our first orders in every single place we went to with the line:

A Merchant Marine and a Lumberjack walk into a bar...

I'm quite sure we thought it was much funnier than anyone else did, but then again we were quite stoned after all...

Anyway, I remember the joke. I remember all the bars. I remember all the times we had to go back to the ATM money fountain. I remember the smooching. I don't remember much else. But I DO remember the feeling. That pure, pure feeling of something NEW and exciting and right. I wish I could take that feeling and put it into a jar and save it for times when I'm feeling like I am today and just take a little sip. I wish I could take that jar and pass it around to all of you so you could take a little sip. I mean I know you all probably know what I'm talking about...I've felt it other times. As recently as last spring. I've felt it just as intensely too, but it's never really been quite the same as it was that night. I wish I had that jar instead of this journal entry. Just thinking about the jar is making me discouraged because there just aren't the words. There simply aren't the words for what the lumberjack and I had that night.

And so it was that we were sitting in The Bull. She had just been licking my earlobe and telling me that it was time to go back to her hotel room. Her friends had a separate room. She really couldn't afford it, but she was just so sick of the fighting. And: She Never expected this. We were sitting in the bull on our way back south and I was ready to go get a Brazillian to pedal us to her hotel room when she started to try and gather her things.

The disposable Camera was gone. It wasn't under our stools, it wasn't on the bar, it wasn't behind the bar. Neither of us could remember when the last picture on the camera was taken, but she wanted that camera. I suppose I can be cocky enough about the evening to presume that it was HER version of the jar I wish I had. Now here is the rub. we had been to just about every single fucking bar in this town that night. And we both wanted to be back at the hotel before we started attacking each other (worse) in public. The rub is that I had a "brilliant" idea. We would split up. She'd head south, I'd head north and check every single place we'd visited that night and find that fucking camera. then, we'd meet halfway back again on Duvall after one of us found the thing. I suppose I wanted to go to the hotel, but I think I wanted that camera just as bad as she did. I was really smitten, if you haven't already figured that out.

Yeah, the rub. She'd go one way, I'd go the other and we'd find the camera in half the time! Fucking weed-logic.

I kissed her good-bye and then we never, ever saw each other again.

I didn't even know what hotel she was staying in. I didn't even know how long they would be in town.

I rode a bicycle around town looking for a Honda with Alberta plates. I went and sat in Willie T's for hours after skating off the boat early every day for a week. I never saw her again.

And I suppose that's why this town is making me so sad right now. Because even if I had seen her again? Even if we had a fully realized fling? I'll never feel that again. I'll never meet a girl lumberjack in a bar and go wheeling off into the night on missions and adventures. I'm just going to go out and sit on the quarterdeck and drink beer until I can sleep and smoke all the cigarettes I want without having to worry about which bars around here pay any attention to the smoking ban or not.
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February 2011

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