That was three or four hours ago and I had made good use of Frank’s car. The walk along the highway back to the Caribbean Club was a little further than I thought but I had been in no hurry. Without going into the Club, I hopped in the Chevy and headed back towards town. Being Sunday, I wasn’t sure if I could find a new wench for the mainsail but the Winn-Dixie would be open and Benny’s had a fresh water hose on the dock. I had already paid for the night’s stay so, if I thought of anything else I needed, I had plenty of time to track it down and bring it aboard.
I did find a wench. The only place open was one of those marine salvage stores that dot US # 1 in the Keys like pawn shops and bail bondsmen next to the County Jail. It was so cheap I couldn’t turn it down – especially after the guy threw in the handle for free. I wasn’t sure my old one would fit? Shopping was easy. The supermarket had everything I needed except block ice and that was no problem because I had passed a Gulf Oil station on the way down that had a “block & bag” sign out front. I was going to top off the gas in Frank’s car anyway, so…………
There was actually a real live Benny at the Marina and he lent me an extension cord along with his drill and a 5/8” bit. With the new/old wench greased and mounted, two blocks and two more bags of ice in the chest, and all the provisions stowed, I was ready to hit the town. No need for the gallon jug, Benny’s had a “bathhouse” half way down the dock. A single sink, lone toilet, and the rusty headed shower stall all shared some PVC plumbing running under the dock but there was no hot water and the only drain for the shower was a 2 inch open hole in the floor. Benny’s Bayside certainly wouldn’t qualify for four ****’s in Frommer’s Travel Guide but, for a single-handed cruising sailor ashore on the back side of Key Largo, it was “Livin Large”.
Driving Frank’s car back up to the Caribbean Club, the single northbound lane of the highway was bumper-to-bumper with boat trailers and homeward bound Miamians. The parking lot was almost full but I found a spot for the Chevy over on the side and away from the road. I was hoping I would meet up with Frank later and be able to tell him where it was parked but, if not, he could find it.
I was half way across the parking lot before I remembered the glove compartment instructions and the letter Frank had told me about. Retrieving the keys and opening the passenger-side door, I started to put the second key in the slot, lock the compartment and………..opening it to see if there was a letter……… there was a sealed envelope but I don’t think it was ever intended to be mailed. There was no address and no postage stamp, just “for Frankie” written on it in pencil!
The last time I saw Frank Matheson Junior, he was only two or three years old. He and his mother, Frank’s first wife, had left town soon after the divorce and, after that, I never heard much about either of them from Frank or anyone else. As I locked the glove compartment and car door, then replaced the keys on the tire, I caught myself wondering if I was destined to ever meet-up with Frank’s son again? If so, I hoped it would be a happy occasion and, for some unknown reason, that that envelope never needed to be delivered.
Easing in at the crowded bar, I was determined to get my mind off Cubans named Carlos and my friend’s predicament. Somewhere down the line, there might be something I could do to help him out but until that time came………
I recognized a lot of faces but Frank’s barmaid sweetheart from the night before wasn’t around. In the spirit of the Key’s and feeling like a change, I ordered a double Myers rum, tonic, & lime. The last 24 hours had been non-stop action and good times but I knew it was coming to an end. I struck up a highly intellectual, by Key’s standards, conversation with a head-boat mate named Vinny next to me at the bar. Without my prompting, he had carried an argument he was having with another guy at the bar over to me and began a dissertation on the advantages of lip hooking and feathering the dorsal fins of live bait fish. Vinny was too drunk to realize that the blank stare he got from me in response was not designed to signify awe and amazement – he rambled on and my mind began to drift.
I was alone again and would soon be searching for whatever was driving me and Le Esperance to sail further south. In the meantime I fell victim to the “single guy at the bar dilemma”. I don’t believe any serious research has ever been conducted on the subject but the body language, facial expressions, direction of gaze, and overall demeanor of a man seated alone at a bar surrounded by the fairer sex should warrant study. What we go through ranks right up there with the peacock prancing around with spread tail feathers and the male mountain goat lowering his head to ram a rival suitor. It’s just not as colorful, hurts a lot less and, unless your name is Frank Matheson, seldom produces any results intended to propagate the specie. I decided to concentrate on the ice cubes in my glass, do nothing, and fall back on the tried and true axiom that I had first heard in a seedy bar from an old drunk many years ago. He had just had his amorous overtures rejected by a rouge-tinted lady that had obviously seen better times and, retrieving his beer, had slid onto the stool next to mine. Lowering his head, he had whisperingly slurred to himself : “it’s always better to not get laid early than it is to not get laid late”.
I had been in the Club for about an hour and was on my third drink when it started! As a whisper at first, it moved from person to person. You couldn’t tell where it began and it would almost stop before picking back up again – the steady murmur would rise to a muffled chant before dying down and then coming back an octave louder?
Go down you mother, Go down! – Go down you mother, Go down! – Go down you mother, Go down! – Go down you mother, Go down! – Go down you mother, Go down!
All of a sudden one on the bartenders triggered a little hand held air-horn and announced: “She’s going down and ‘if you aint coming back in, pay your tab before you hit the door’!”
The bar erupted in movement and laughter as the chant resumed……..
……. Go down you mother, Go down!….
Sitting at the bar, I watched as some customers cashed out and everyone made their way towards the backdoor. Most took plastic cups or cans of beer with them and, from what I could see through the window on the other side of the room, the yard was filling up fast. I was slick on my check so, with a little wave to the bartender, I decided to see what the excitement was all about? My newfound buddy Vinny was standing with two other guys under a Buttonwood tree next to one of the picnic tables. Seeing my approach, he motioned with a nod of his head for me to walk over and join them. The yard between the Club and the edge of Blackwater Sound had filled with a raucous crowd. Some were standing while others were seated at the tables or on the ground down near the shore. All eyes were fixed westward out over the water. With my plastic Myers in hand, I didn’t know what to expect but I was definitely part of the group and it was only a matter of time.
What happened over the next few minutes was a beautiful and inspiring experience and the fact that I was sharing and celebrating it with a bunch of rowdy intoxicated strangers didn’t diminish the feeling. The sun was just touching the horizon and the chant began anew, but with different words and an almost reverent tone……..Lie down mother, Lie down! – Lie down mother, Lie down!….. A single white cloud seemed suspended in time over the dying sun and a distant ribbon of red-fringed mangrove and sea. The light breeze moved leaves on a Buttonwood that helped the short wooden dock frame a picture of Paradise. The crowd in the yard fell silent and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one delving into memories and saying a little prayer.
Almost on queue and at the very instant that the sun disappeared, the assembled throng erupted! The “down” chant ceased as cheers, applause, and laughter filled the yard. It was a Conch Republic version of Carnival in Rio, New Year’s Eve on Time Square, and Mardi-Gras all rolled up into one!
Turning to the guys on both sides, I almost shouted:
“This is really something…….really something!”
Standing to my left and without looking my way, my new found friend loudly replied: “This is nothing. You should have been here yesterday……..some ass hole, anchored out there on a sailboat, thought we were cheering for him! He was even taking bows!”
Hearing his comment, the guys and gals around me all nodded in enthusiastic confirmation and broke out laughing.
Lowering my chin, while raising my hand to my brow and being careful not to turn my head – I glanced both ways to make certain that no one had recognized me…………. then quietly murmured:
“Yeah, I bet that was something…….really something……………”