Breakfast and a Cigarette: A Novella in Four Directions
(page 9 of 16)
Ray hustled to the phone booth in the back of the bar. He closed the accordion-style glass and wood door but the music man's digitally enhanced super-deep bass and high-end titanium tweeters blasted like lasers through the quaint apparatus. He finally managed, using toll-free numbers, to reach his bank, report his card stolen and request—as soon as possible—a replacement. Because he didn't know the account number he was subjected to a exhausting barrage of personal questions including family history, recent purchases, and the amount of his last bill. Ray did not score as well as he might have. As a result, the customer service rep insisted that they could not simply mail this valuable property to him at some general delivery address but that he must pick it up in person and produce proper identification.
“But I'm traveling, I can't exactly go back to New Jersey—For chrissakes don't you get it? I don't have any money!”
The pleasant bank voice informed him that he could pick up the card at their nearest branch—one of their “partner” banks.
“Miami! How the hell am I going to get to Miami? I'm four hundred miles away in Key West!”
He was politely told that his card would be waiting for him there in twenty-four hours.
“Is there anything else I can help you with today?”
Ray walked toward the end of Duvall and sat on the steps in front of an old church. He tried to bolster himself with the thought that he wasn't really broke. He still had his savings, he just couldn't get to it. And he would be back in the money in just two days. Suddenly, to his surprise, he felt a rush of exhilaration. He felt challenged in a way that he had never felt before. Now he was really living on the edge. His safety net was gone and he was on the street. Now, he thought, he would see where his wits would take him. He would see how he could survive without privilege or advantage. Of course, it was only temporary, but already a tiny seed had been planted and it seemed to indicate that this might just be part of a permanent cycle of plenty and poverty, the price of freedom. Unburdened from his money, Ray felt at liberty to spend his day in utter indolence. He followed the crowd toward Mallory Square and prepared to witness, along with a brace of overly-festive tourists, his first Key West sunset.
As the sun dropped lower in the sky, people began the ritual that occurs there each night. Street performers and tourists packed the small waterfront in anticipation of the brilliant sunset that sometimes occurs. The tourists were all clutching giant containers of beer and brimming plastic cocktail glasses; drunkenness was a requisite in case the sunset was a bust and in case it wasn't. Performers and vendors crowded the small space at the end of the street with their props and carts, outnumbering the tourists at first. Soon everyone was there: the Cookie Lady on her vintage bicycle, the jewelry hawkers and jugglers, hair wrappers, unicyclists, mimes, magicians, and fire eaters. Ray thought the spectacle too contrived, as if Disney was pulling the strings. He wondered where the sax player was. He left Mallory Square a few minutes after the sun had set quite ordinarily and the crowd had ceased clapping. He roamed the streets in the sheltering darkness. For dinner, he ate a falafel prepared by a greasy man at an outdoor stand. He watched the street kids—hippies, rainbows, drainbows, gutter punks, and bliss ninnies—playing their guitars, singing, dancing, and spare-changing while the cops chased them from one corner to another. He saw the clusters of prostitutes, the drug dealers with the mirrored sunglasses, heard the music of Jimmy Buffet pulsing from every tourist bar, and watched as reckless young men pointlessly raced their cars up and down Duvall. He looked in storefront windows but saw only overpriced souvenirs and T-shirts. He wandered down narrow, crooked side streets and found lush gardens bursting with bougainvillea, chickens scratching in cramped yards, and the outlines of grand old homes with fragrant porticoes and ancient porches kneeling in flowers.
Breakfast and a Cigarette, Part II continues...