Gay Siamese Twins, watercolor, 18" x 24," $425
Painted in Key West, 1976
From the Journals, 1976, Key West, Florida
Me in Key West, 1976
I have lived at the Grove now for exactly three months. The Grove is a two story white house on United Street at the foot of Duval Street and is right near the marine base and the gay beach. The gay beach is a scene, but I seldom go there or if I do it is to walk out on a very long pier which serves also as an extension of the gay beach. The Grove is thus ideally located for its clientele which is by and large gay. In fact, the Grove is a gay motel and rooming house where I have a large efficiency apartment, and it caters mostly to couples from the Northeast who come for a weekend or a week or two. Mostly couples: that's the interesting thing. No orgies, no noise, no whips. The Three Gay Cold Fish who run the Grove came originally from Manhattan. They quit their jobs in New York ( Whatever these jobs may have been. In three months I have not had a personal encounter with any of the Three Gay Cold Fish who live next door to me. ) and opened the Grove in October. I do not know what the relationship is between the Three Gay Cold Fish. I do not even know if Boris who works in the ice-cream parlor downtown is one of the owners or an employee of Steve and Donald. Steve and Donald are about thirty-five. Boris is pushing thirty and walks a black scrofulous poodle. Donald and Steve are obviously very happy. I overheard Donald saying in the garden, "I do not remember what I did before I got here." Donald and Steve are very subdued and speak almost in whispers. For Steve to speak is almost painful and the closest we have come to a conversation occurred today when Steve began to work out on the weights in the garden and I commented that weightlifting can get absurd if you don't also exercise your legs. Steve muttered a few words and wandered off. Half the time, especially at night when they bicycle off to the Monster downtown, Donald and Steve are stoned on pot. In fact, the one time they spoke to me in the Monster was while they were passing around a joint which I refused.
The Monster has three bars, a disco, and a restaurant but doesn't get moving until 1:30 A:M: when there is a constant promenade moving back and forth from Delmonico's around the corner. The Monster is wild. No other word would be appropriate to describe what goes on in dark corners. Hundreds of Narcissuses pose along a gauntlet of icy stares and they dance, drink, and flirt until 4:00 A:M:. The most beautiful of the gay-boys have a constant Jackie Onassis smile on their faces and flock together like penguins near the dance floor whereas the saddest are the old men who ogle the young. Being gay is a young man's game. At a certain age being gay becomes very sad. It becomes a variation of satyriasis. A male who suffers from satyriasis is constantly in heat and on the make. Inside the Temple of Gaydom at the shrine of Priapus youth calls the shots and the elders are on their knees.
To contrast Tennessee Williams and Captain Easy as Key West personalities might be an interesting enterprise, but since I am not into such things these days I must pass over Tennessee Williams who is entertaining only because of his gossip about gay bordellos and comment instead on Captain Easy. I first met Captain Easy in an unusual place. Key West is one of the centers for dope smuggling in the world ( The amount of dope the cops seize each week is mindboggling-- today thirty tons and three days ago 140 tons from the Mystery Ship caught after a three year search. This is an island still of pirates. ) and in this world of dope Mom holds a special place. Mom is 58, dying of cancer, and has two kids, Butch who is 19 and a transvestite and Roger who is 16 and a punk. Mom sits in a tent all day and presides over an unending stream of visitors. Anything can happen at Mom's. Last week I dropped by and found myself at a wedding orchestrated by Mom who ended the ceremony by screaming, "Okay, motherfuckers, let's get stoned!" Though Mom was once the deaconess of a California church, she is not the height of propriety. This is not to say that she lacks a certain saintliness. Yesterday, in fact, I bumped into Mom at Mallory Dock where hundreds of people congregate every day to watch the sun set and where she was handing out bread pudding and dollar bills to the indigent. Ever since I gave Mom a painting with her name on it I have become one of her family. One member of this family is Captain Easy. Captain Easy, a craftsman, has been in Key West for five years and with his Greek sailor hat is a fixture at Mallory Dock. Mallory Dock is a Key West institution, like the Pier House where I had lunch with Tennessee Williams and Harold. Harold, who is staying at the Grove, is an international design salesman who knows Tennessee Williams from New York. Today I decided to introduce Harold to Mom. Mom's tent was unusually crowded. Present were Pluto the dog, Amarintha, the Buddha and Captain Easy. Mom was not her usual self. She was on LSD and therefore somewhat flighty. Harold was commenting how nice it was that Mom lives diagonally across the street from Hemingway's place, but Mom, catapulted into some stratospheric dimension, was not particularly taken by Harold's comments nor, I should add, by Harold. Harold earns $300,000 a year and Mom sells dope: that was the first barrier.....It's now an hour later. I heard a band outside and rushed out to see what was going on. It's New Year's Eve in Key West.
Five gay couples from New York moved in yesterday at the Grove and since the weather has been superb I have joined them on the chaise lounges in the garden. Each of these couples has been together for some time. They are all friends, are in the fashion design business, and are very chic. Sipping banana daiquiris, I have become an habitué amidst the rhododendrons in the garden. This is not to say that the place is entirely peaceful because next door live two lesbians one of whom regularly screams at the other in lengthy tirades heard all over the neighborhood. As for the New Yorkers, here was the next generation after the Boys from the Band-- after Christopher Street and a decade of gay liberation: a new breed of mutants, gay-boy chic. Successful sybarites, happy in the hot sun, flirting, wrestling, bantering, they went at it all day as Hyperion streamed across the sky.
The sun becomes dangerous in Key West after four or five hours, and as I was getting ready to go in Harold appeared for his Last Hurrah before departure for Paris. Harold is a fashion designer who hopes to retire soon to Cannes. He travels back and forth to the Orient and Europe to attend fashion shows and is important enough in his milieu to be given VIP treatment at airports. Harold is a very young fifty. When I first met him in the garden, he thought my chewing on chicken wings hilarious. I found his comments on Oriental sex habits mesmerizing. Going to brothels in the Orient is one of Harold's hobbies. Harold is the type of sybarite who could only exist in the jet age. The content of his monologue in the garden could not have been dreamed of by a Roman emperor. Harold has his Japanese-decorated flat in New York, his house on Fire Island, a boyfriend in Bankock, a Chinese servant in Zurich, a crew of Geisha girls in Osaka, his fantasies all realized. Harold exudes a slick swankness softened into Manhattan decadence a la S&M. When the subject of New York S&M bars came up, Harold shrank into a knowing whisper. "You have no idea," he confided, "to what depths of humiliation people are subjecting themselves to in these bars-- eminent doctors, famous people, professional men-- hung up on racks, bottles stuck up their rear ends so that they require surgery. Sure, I've gone to these places, but enough's enough. I wanted to take this buyer from Paris to the Anvil. So I put on a brand new pair of suede pants. And you know what happened? I'm standing in the Anvil and this guy cums all over the rear of my suede. Ruined. Impossible to clean. Anything goes on in these bars. Bestiality, orgies, you name it. There is a bath in New York outfitted with chains and whips and all kinds of equipment." The periphery of Harold's perceptions is confined to bodily pleasures and pains, in-group gossip, and the record of his amours. On the last subject he pretends to be a Casanova of the Gay Scene. Harold tells about an incident in the Borghese Gardens in Rome at night. He corners a number who tells him to drive to Ostia. Somewhere in the Roman countryside the number pulls a gun on Harold and demands his money. It is stories like this that spice Harold's repertoire of tales about his conquests on the road from Hong Kong to Budapest. Not that Harold likes danger. Harold is too refined, too convinced an Epicurean to crave below-the-belt blows. He enjoys his second-row orchestra seat at the Met. He will watch Die Gotterdammerung but doesn't wish to be one of the victims. "The most I've done," he confesses, "is stick my arm up a guy's ass, and frankly I found it disgusting." Listening to Harold is like an encounter with someone from Fellini's Satyricon. The dress is different, but the manner is that of an habitué of gay baths. In Cannes Harold plans to construct a pleasure dome in the manner of Tiberius. There will be a pool where his minnows will swim in a style of sheer Babylonishness. Harold coos softly describing his plans. He couples his hands in a gesture of pseudo-prayer.
I was at Christine's bookstore today. I know Christine now sufficiently well that she gives me her Sunday London Times every week. Christine is British and has been in the Carribean for about ten years now. Once or twice a week I stop into her bookstore to chat. Today Christine found my description of the Grove hysterical. The New York crew vacated leaving the Two Spinsters upstairs, two guys in their late 20s who have been married for six years and teach the fourth grade in Connecticut. But the rooms are now full again with a group from Boston. Today I was sitting in the garden with the Two Spinsters-- this is their description of themselves--sipping beer and smoking THE BEST GRASS IN THE WORLD. How I came into possession of THE BEST GRASS IN THE WORLD is itself a minor story. Two days ago I was sauntering up Duval Street when Captain Easy stopped me with the question, "Do you want to buy some weed?" And he added, "I've got the best grass in the world. Here try some." Captain Easy put some into a bag and so now I have some of THE BEST GRASS IN THE WORLD and as a result my paintings now have gigantic suns. The sun is everything here. And the sunsets! Usually I go to the Wall rather than Mallory Dock for sunsets because few people go to the Wall. And from the Wall I trespass on to the Casa Marina, a large bordered-up hotel with only cats as occupants. Key West is great for cats. Hemingway's house has about about sixty cats-- down from an original population of about a hundred. Hemingway obviously had a thing about cats, and the thing about his cats is that most of them have six toes. The Casa Marina has a little beach where I watch the sun dip into the sea. Ever since I got THE BEST GRASS IN THE WORLD I have been running around wild. Last night I went to Delmonico's where I met Skat whom I know from the Jesus Freaks on Poorhouse Lane.
Like most people I first met the Jesus Freaks on the street. Chiasko, the minister, was with Little Bear, an eighteen-year-old who grew up on a farm in Missouri, never got past the sixth grade, and now works in a shrimp factory cutting off the heads of shrimp all day. They were handing out their tracts, I took one and then went to their house on Poorhouse Lane. What is commonly called Christianity is a mansion with many rooms, but even if I were to live in this mansion I would certainly not want to live in Chiasko's room. The most offensive person at Chiasko's was Francis. Meeting Skat at Delmonico's last night brought out one important fact about Francis. He is even more of a freak than he appears because he has no nuts. They are inside his body. Yet this is not surprising. For there exists about Francis an extraordinary discrepancy between his voice and his appearance. At twenty-five Francis is a Dirty Old Man who for two years has been sleeping in cemeteries. Before moving into Chiasko's he belonged to the Christ Family, a sect that walks barefooted preaching that the Messiah has come in the guise of its guru. Francis is ugly. He smells and is filthy. When you see him coming you want to run the other way. But when Francis opens his mouth to talk you hear the voice of an eight-year-old girl.
The other night the Two Spinsters told me that there is a gay bath near the Grove. Curious, I decided to investigate and discovered the bath in a run-down motel on Truman Avenue. The entrance fee was only $5.20 but it was the tiniest and seediest gay bath this side of Istanbul. Aside from a minuscule bath and locker room the establishment consisted of one dingy motel room with two beds and a bureau with a T.V. The place was empty and depressing. I took a bath and lay down on the bed to watch T.V. when someone soon entered. It was Francis. We both ignored each other and pretended that we were alone. Francis lay down in the next bed and rudely switched on another program which, curiously enough, was about cemeteries. Suddenly in the corner of my eye I noticed some activity in the adjacent bed. Francis was engaged in a pelvic massage whose climax catapulted him out of the room. I continued to watch the T.V. and then left. Was it mere coincidence that the only person I detest in Key West should have been the only other occupant of the gay bath?
Mom's been busted. I dropped by this afternoon and Captain Easy told me the cops arrived on George Washington's birthday. ( It's been about a week since I've seen Mom primarily because of THE BEST GRASS IN THE WORLD which I flushed down the toilet four days ago. Enough was enough! ) and Mom's no longer dealing and is now working in a flower shop downtown. At night I made my way up Whitehead Street to Mom's. Mom was sitting on the floor and there was a constant procession of people coming in and out. Mom was looking more cadaverous than ever. She wasn't worried. The bail was $3000 but she's been through this before. In fact, this was her third bust in six months. In the previous two busts nothing happened. The cops just confiscated the dope, all fourteen pounds of it, which they either smoked or sold. Mom is very philosophical about it all. "Things that go up have to come down." she commented, "You get what you need." I sat on the floor and listened. The conversation got quite heated about some dude who murdered the guy who runs the dirty book store on Duval Street and who has been released from prison and is now an habitué of Mom's when Captain Easy began a long rap. Captain Easy is in his own category. To get out of the army he got dressed up in drag for a party and stabbed his best friend whereupon he was sent up for five months of hard labor at San Quentin. Then after a dishonorable discharge he rode with the Hells Angels. "I just wanted to be a hippie in the army and instead they turned me into a dope fiend and a biker." Captain Easy is hard-core. At Mom's they're all hard-core. I went into Mom's tent to say good-bye and to tell her that I hope she feels better and Mom replied that with all her friends around she can only feel good.
Key West has suddenly been inundated by droves of college kids on Easter vacation and the Mallory Dock sundown ritual has acquired not only a bonafide fire eater but the Iguana Man who sits at the edge of the dock holding five iguanas on a leash. Most people don't know what to make of the Iguana Man and his pets, ugly creatures who are interested, he says, only in food and a comfortable berth. The iguanas are so lazy that they refuse to walk on the ground and have to be picked up and placed on the Iguana Man's shoulders. Today at sunset the carnival atmosphere included banjo players, troubadours, acrobats, African drummers, Mom dispensing bread pudding to the needy, Little Bear handing out tracts, epicene gay-boys, tough bikers with their old ladies, small-time craftsmen hawking jewelry, sailors, fishermen, marines, tattooed exhibitionists, middle-American voyeurs from Ohio, faithhealers, teen-age punks, dope peddlers, conchs, yachtsmen, redneck hippies, the Three Gay Cold Fish, Captain Easy and his chick, and last but not least George Peach.
Ever since George Peach moved into the Grove last week he has been trying to gain attention. At lunchtime today as I was eating my chicken soup in the garden he sat down at my table and whined how ever since his arrival in Key West he has been harassed, beaten, arrested, even thrown out of the Monster. George Peach, a rich queen from Manhattan, schizzy, neurotic, keys dangling from his belt, regimental red handkerchief in his back pocket, is both obnoxious and insecure. When he was thrown out of the Monster last week, he retaliated by throwing two parties at Delmonico's. His printed invitations were to be seen everywhere. But each party proved to be a fiasco, the second even landing him in jail. As I gobbled up my chicken soup I said, "Why don't you hold another party?" Quicker than one can say Jack Robinson he was on the phone; and when I returned from the pier next to the gay beach in the late afternoon notices were strewn on the tables of the garden announcing a sunset party at a bar on Front Street near the Monster. So after the sunset at Mallory Dock, a spectacular sunset that washed the clouds with rainbow hues, I sauntered over to the bar where George Peach was holding his party. The first thing I noticed was that I was the only person to show up. George Peach's attempt to ingratiate himself into whatever exists of gay society in Key West proved to be a dismal failure.
Ever since Mom was busted she's been dealing on the sly out of a flower shop downtown, and when I visited her this afternoon at the shop Captain Easy and her brat were sitting at her feet. Upon my arrival they quickly dispersed which made me feel a bit uncomfortable but Mom explained that she has to keep things cool. Mom was looking surprisingly well, her hair clipped short, and she was coughing less than usual on her one lung. I told Mom about the Urantia Book, which I discovered in the public library, a tome of 2097 pages which purports to have been written by angels on another galaxy. I got into a rather heated argument with Mom about the origins of the Urantia Book. Mom who had heard of it insisted that it actually was written by angels. "You have to be skeptical, Mom," I cried and she replied, "What's this bullshit about skepticism?" I saw that the conversation had reached a danger point and quickly excused myself.
At the Grove I found a group sitting in the garden sipping champagne provided by George Peach who now rides in a chauffeured limousine. As I said to the Three Gay Cold Fish, whenever I meet people like George Peach I become a communist for the day. Present in the garden were also four new arrivals: a typographer from New York, an elderly gentleman called Picasso, and Tits and his lover Stanley. Of Tits who is about thirty it might be said that he exudes an air of lubricity. Before Tits rolled up his shirt to reveal the two gold rings hanging from his nipples ( According to Tits every Roman Centurion had tit rings to which he could attach his cloak. ) the most conspicuous thing about him was a tattoo of a black spider on his forearm. While sipping my champagne I commented to Tits that I find tattoos very sexy. Whereupon Tits rolled up his sleeve to reveal another tattoo, an image of seven cocks in a state of ejaculation. Since Tits works as a guidance counselor in a New York high school, I can only speculate about the relationship between his public role and private fantasies. But speculation was not really necessary. When the typographer introduced some very strong pot into the party, the atmosphere around the table began to get charged. The Three Gay Cold Fish left and I was sitting next to Tits who after entertaining me with anecdotes about tattoo ceremonies began to stroke my leg and mumble about my visiting him in Manhattan. All this while Stanley, a very ethnic Jew, was growing livid. Stanley, big and burly, was the first guest at the Grove since Harold whom I would describe as cultured. As the camaraderie between Tits and myself grew more obvious, Stanley who was mumbling about the Czech Philharmonic became more menacing. Tits then insulted Stanley by calling him "a Molly Goldberg." At this point Picasso arrived with his gin. I don't like Picasso and I don't think Picasso likes me, but I liked his gin. In fact, gin and pot go so well together that within twenty minutes I was completely smashed and turning to Tits I said, "Come into my apartment and I will show you my paintings." But Tits didn't budge and I walked alone into my apartment with a glass of gin in my hand. My mind was in a fog and collapsing on the couch I fell into reveries about Tits and his rings in some Manhattan sideshow until I fell asleep.
The Three Gay Cold Fish have suddenly become friendly. They have started a sundown cocktail hour in the garden, and today I joined them, the two hairdressers upstairs and some other gay-boys at a round table beneath pots of begonias. The hairdressers were insisting that it actually was Gloria Swanson whom they saw at the Pier House, a fat Gloria Swanson to be sure, but still Gloria Swanson, when I interrupted to comment that it was she because while I was standing in the bookstore today talking to Christine she entered with Tennessee Williams. To the two hairdressers the presence of Yours Truly, artist-in-residence at the Grove, is a "find" they can gossip about back home in their hair styling salon. We all hit it off so well that we arranged to meet at the flat of the Three Gay Cold Fish and then have paella at a local Cuban restaurant. This was the first time I had stepped into the landlords' flat. We smoked some pot and it came out that Boris and Donald are lovers. The flat was well decorated with a large lacquered Japanese screen dividing the living room from the lovers' bedroom. The Cold Fish are classic queers and speak a kind of argot mostly in semi-whispers. At one time to be gay was to live an underground existence. Now gays engage in a whole range of chatter unknown to them in the closet. Once at the restaurant we were sufficiently stoned and drunk that no one even commented when Donald removed a bottle of poppers from his pocket. So in between mouthfuls of paella we sniffed poppers. Back at the Grove we continued to smoke pot and the two hairdressers insisted that I bring in my portfolio of watercolors. So there was an exhibition which, of course, raised my status considerably in the eyes of the Cold Fish. They all applauded at the end of the show and then we drove to the Monster.
We danced and sniffed at the Monster until about two in the morning when I, exhausted and thoroughly drenched, sauntered into the back room and collapsed on a couch. Next to me was sitting a blond number who introduced himself as a writer. His admission of admiring above all Irving Stone immediately eliminated his candidacy to Mount Parnassus. The number was very handsome and I was very drunk and stoned. The number was also drunk and stoned, but he was twenty-three and I am thirty-eight, and that makes considerable difference. When the number confessed that he was sleeping on the roof of McGory's, the local dime store, I suggested that we return to the Grove but that first we locate some pot. The number said he knew someone in the Boat Bar who could sell us some. So we strolled down Duval Street to the Boat Bar, a topless joint frequented by gangs of bikers from Georgia and Alabama, where people are often shot in the john, a place so disreputable that the cops just stand outside ogling the flotsam drifting in and out, a place where people simply disappear. I sat down at a table. The number made his contact and whispered that he could get a nickel bag of dynamite pot. So I slipped him five bucks. Once outside the Boat Bar the number flagged down a car and told the driver we would give him some pot if he drove us to the Grove. The transaction took place and we were soon sitting in my flat. After smoking a joint the number collapsed fully dressed on my bed. I do not deny that I had designs on the number. I kissed the number but he said he couldn't breathe. That was the last thing the number said. When I asked him if he was okay he was silent. It was at this point that I noticed that the number had a gun in his pocket. I began to panic. To have gone to sleep, even had it been possible, would have been mad. I did not know whether the number was asleep or feigning sleep. I therefore decided, though it was four in the morning, to remain awake and to paint. So putting on all the lights I spent the next three hours creating a painting I now call Gay Siamese Twins. The number meanwhile slept. Every now and then I glanced over to see if he was still there. I decided to awaken everyone in the Grove if the number tried anything. I saw the headlines: TWENTY QUEENS DISARM A NUMBER. At about eight I collapsed on the bed next to the number. Soon I nudged him awake and told him I had things to do. He went into the bathroom and brushed his teeth with his own brush. Then the number left without a word.
This morning I trespassed on the Casa Marina beach where I stumbled upon a pelican asleep at the edge of a log. The pelican's head and neck were bent down against its chest so that at first I didn't know it was a pelican but thought it was some kind of vegetation until I woke it up. But even as I approached and stood near it the bird continued to sit nonchalantly at the end of the log. I had never before seen one close up. Usually you see them silhouetted majestically against the sea on a reef about thirty yards from shore. They are always there no matter what the weather is.
This I was telling Mom who had a heart attack yesterday, though you wouldn't know by looking at her. When I arrived Mom was sitting in the tent with Butch who had just returned from an assignation in New York with a number he had met at the Pier House and who is the son of a millionaire. Not any millionaire either, but the guy who runs the Government passport office in New York and who has made a fortune selling illegal passports. Butch, lounging on the mattress on the floor, was looking only slightly less effeminate than usual. New York had not agreed with him, he commented. The number had wanted him to play some sort of dress-up game and Butch consequently hit the road. Mom's tent is tiny and is filled with enough momentos and doo-dahs to stock three rooms. Amidst her collection of junk there are photos of two of her other kids who live with Mom's third husband in California. Mom's plan is to hitchhike this summer with Butch and the Punk to abduct the two kids from the father. We were discussing this when the Punk entered the tent. It was ten days since Mom had seen either of her kids and they arrived because of the heart attack. ( Though Mom herself decked out in a sailor hat and smoking pot looks fit as a fiddle-- that is until she coughs on her one lung which really makes you wish she had a second lung for emergency's sake. ) "So how are you, Fucker?" Mom said to the Punk who announced that he was going to get drunk, really drunk tonight because he hasn't been drunk for a long time. This got Mom and Butch very angry and suddenly the two of them stood up on the mattress and did a hate routine belittling the Punk's intended drunk. Mom threw the Punk a bag of the best Colombian with the suggestion that he keep dry. When Captain Easy then entered the tent, Mom shouted to him to roll a joint. Mom isn't one for sentimental partings and when I told her I was leaving Key West in a few days she said, "You'll come back. They all come back." Mom then said something about Key West that was memorable. Key West is an island such that if you are good to the island she'll be good to you, but if you're not she'll get rid of you quick. I've been in Key West for six months. Maybe another six months might be fun, but I think I have to get out of the Bible Belt and back to civilization. I didn't say it this way to Mom. Instead I told her I had to get back to my roots and she smiled understandingly. (c)