CHAPTER 12 — Chaos and a hot shower

“You ever hear of the butterfly effect? Basically, it poses the question ‘if a butterfly flaps its wings in China, can it start a series of minor wind changes that ultimately results in a tornado in Nebraska?’ Some guy named Lorenz came up with the idea and it forms the whole basis for the theory of Chaos.”

The substance of this conversation had really strayed from your typical Key’s dockside parlance. When, on the rare occasion I find myself tied up in some marina, I usually have a plan for the day and it starts with my morning coffee. Seated in the cockpit of Le Esperance, mug in hand, my solitude had been interrupted when a man had emerged from the aft-cabin of the yawl in the adjacent slip. Larry Brenson was my new neighbor. He was tall, extremely slender and, what stood out the most … as white as a sheet. His pallor would have been noticed anywhere but in these sun-drenched islands it was … my North Carolina cousins would have termed it … “right peculiar.”

After introductions, I found out that voices I’d heard coming from his boat a little before dawn were exchanges he and his wife had had before she departed for work. June was a nurse at the nearby Mariner’s Hospital. It wouldn’t take me long, after our ensuing conversation, to determine that she was, more than likely, also the primary bread-winner in the family. Seated on his own deck with his legs dangling over the rail, I soon found out that Larry spent virtually all of his daylight hours and much of the nights inside the boat’s cabin. He was totally immersed in some commodity futures trading scheme that involved a rich man in Miami, the man’s stock broker, and a few South American business associates. I was told that the only time, during the day, my new neighbor would see the sunshine was when the postman tapped on the deck next to his cabin to hand him his “USPS over-night data package” and pick up one just like it. That’s when I made my big mistake–I asked him about his work.

After confirming that … no I had “never heard of the butterfly effect”, Larry continued with the description of his scholarly but by his own admission, to date, unprofitable pursuit.

“Well, the theory of Chaos centers around the concept that extremely small momentary changes will be replicated and produce enormous future effects. All sorts of analogies have been formulated involving, for example, the cumulative distance between grains of sand in a one inch segment on a given beach versus the commonly accepted length of the Florida coastline. The finer the increments you choose to measure, the greater the outcome will be. People that have studied such patterns have concluded that the changes observed in seemingly random minute segments of time or distance will repeat themselves on a much larger scale in the, not too distant, future.”

I fancy myself as, at least, a pseudo-intellectual but this conversation was off the deep end. I jumped in … “Get to the point Larry, what do you do for these guys in Miami?”

He continued, “Using this theory of Chaos, I work with my new Osborne 1 portable computer to identify patterns in short-term futures trading. Tuesday thru Saturday, I key in the minute by minute trades from the ticker-tape data print-outs they over-night to me from the broker’s office. The other two days I run match queries to ascertain subsequent results. All-in-all, it doesn’t leave me with much free time. I’m not the only one trying this approach but most of the others are college profs and their studies and published results have been exclusively in cotton futures. My guys in Miami want me to hone in on pork bellies. It’s their call and I can’t concentrate on more than one market at a time so, hopefully I’ll be able to, no pun intended, bring home the bacon.”

Realizing I needed to get to a phone and call the office … ” I guess that means you count on your ‘shore power’ account with Lil and Harry quite a bit, ever have any problems?” As I jumped up on the dock and started to walk away, Larry paused, got a questioning concerned look on his face, and disappeared below deck on his boat.

By the time I had gotten the cutter squared away yesterday afternoon, there was no need to try to call the warehouse. Wholesale food distribution is a nighttime and early morning endeavor so most of the drivers and all of floor crews have gone home by mid-day. I had checked in with my wife, got the results of two of my son’s basketball games … he was only a sophomore and seldom saw action. I told her where I was and how best to get in touch; call Harry at Banana Bay Resort–didn’t have the number but she could get it from Information … didn’t mention Lil or Ace Hardware. Love you … you too … bye.

As it turned out this was Harry’s morning to come in early so, once confident that my phone call was indeed “Collect”, he set me up in the back room of the motel office. It also served as the laundry but this early in the morning none of washers or dryers were running. Judging from the lack of cars out front and the piles of dirty sheets and towels lying around me, this may not be wash day … no, judging from the odor in the room, there may not be a wash day … at least not very often.

Now to follow-up on last night …

Every Florida Key has its favorite spot to hang out. Marathon actually has two. Depending on how late you are out, it’s either Dockside or the BM. You have to walk right by the Brass Monkey (you thought it meant something else?) to get to Dockside but, anytime before 10:00 PM, this is where the action is. As its name suggests, it’s by the water. Boot Key Harbor is a very large natural protected anchorage and home to every transient, homeless, or just “down on their luck” vagabond in the middle Keys. Most of the vessels are sailboats that have obviously been “on the hook” for an extended period of time and their occupants fall into a very common Conch demographic … “live-a-boards”.

It’s dinner time, the bar tender asks if I want a menu, and a waitress periodically appears with a tray of greasy creations from a small nearby kitchen. The bar crowd is about what you would expect. They all seem to know each other and, for the most part, are paired off in couples or small groups. The only exception, and seated almost directly across from me, is a white-headed older guy, probably in his 70’s, that seems to be watching my every move. It’s not a creepy or sinister motive he projects with his gaze, just an intense and warm level of interest like a father might have for a son. It’s almost like he’s telling me a story, without a word ever being said, about him being in this same bar thirty or forty years ago. At his age, he knows that the drink in his hand will offer the only exhilaration the evening has in store, but I feel he’s telling me that he just wants to relive some night from the past and maybe, by vicariously swapping places with me, he’ll be able to do so. I just sort ‘a nod my head in his direction and he returns the same. There is, however, one little thing that disturbs me … I think I know this old man … no, just my imagination …

Turning away from my observer, and casing out the bar and the marine parking lot it sits next to, there are things that immediately convince you that Dockside is not your conventional “watering hole”. Sure, they serve food and libations, but it’s a number of other features about the bar and its operation that catch your eye.

There is a huge brick enclosed bar-be-que grill at the far end of an adjoining semi-permanent tent enclosure. The charcoal fire appears to be maintained by a bar employee but the men, women, and children that are gathered around it are mostly in bathing suits and, obviously, grilling their own food. No sooner does one family plate their meals and move to a collection of nearby wooden picnic tables, than another group materializes, hand-held coolers are opened, and the process begins anew. While this communal food preparation is going on, there is an ongoing flow of participants, both male and female, adult and children, to and from a large door near the end of the bar where I’m seated. My first thought was that some private party was going on pool-side but where was the pool? … and why are many of them still carrying their towels? If there wasn’t a party of some kind, how can Dockside make a profit providing this “freebie-cook-your-own” and why the bathing suits? No one ever goes swimming in Boot Key Harbor … the water isn’t filthy but the word “pristine” would never come to mind. There’s virtually no tidal flush and every resident living on the hook by-passes any head toilet holding tank their craft may have. Just as well–there’s not a pump-out station this side of Key West.

Looking out past the bar, I saw an 8 foot dingy being tied up at the dock running along the seawall. Only then, did I notice that there was an endless line of both fiber-glass and inflatables … some with little kickers but most with only oars, tied up along the “dingy dock” below me. Getting out of the little boat and walking up the ramp, an exceptionally good-looking but obviously exhausted woman in her mid-20’s, with a 3 or 4-year old little girl in tow, entered the bar pavilion area and proceeded directly to the cash register. Both mother and daughter were in bathing suits and carrying towels. It was only then that I saw the small sign …

SHOWERS    $ .25 per person / $ .50 per family (bring your own soap)

GRILL            Free with shower or beverage purchase

Her raven black hair was back in a short pony tail and her tan was a creamy blend of Latin lineage and latitudinal adaptation. Her canary yellow bathing suit was a revealing, yet pleasingly modest two-piece. While they were paying the cashier for their showers, I caught her eye and, with a benevolently sultry smile, I winked ever so slightly. At first, her expression was more curiosity than chemistry but that soon changed. She sheepishly smiled back at me and lifted her hand in a coquettish, little finger fluttering, wave. That was with her right hand … her left was firmly in her Mommy’s grasp. Glancing his way as I check out the menu, I see a slight chuckle on the old man’s face.

… a cheeseburger, onion rings, and a draft. The band got back from their break, spent a few minutes tuning up, and …

Down to the Banana Republics, down to the tropical sun
Go the expatriated Americans, hopin’ to find some fun
Some of them go for the sailing, caught by the lure of the sea
Tryin’ to find what is ailing, livin’ in the land of the free

Some of them are running from lovers, leaving no forwarding address
Some of them are running tons of ganja
Some are running from the I.R.S.

Late at night you will find them
In the cheap hotels and bars
Hustling the senioritas while they dance beneath the stars ……

at the bar               dockside-tropical-cafe

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