Tale of the Miami
got a cousin in Miami...."
"Say you were drunk when you did it -- it makes you look better than saying you thought it was a good idea while you were sober."
GreenWoman thought later that she should have remembered that sage advice, although it probably wouldn't have done any good. By the time they had decided on their plan of action, the Key West Foreign Legion was as unstoppable as a California mudslide. And just about as sentient, considering the condition we were in, she remembered ruefully. Mob rule is a scary thing.
It had seemed like a good idea at the time, as most foolish ideas do. A large contingent of the KWFL were in Miami, on a variety of missions. The primary reason for our trip was to reclaim La Vie Dansant, our sailboat, which had been taken in to a large Miami marina for hull repairs after a little skirmish with a coral reef earlier in the month. Whino, Drifty, Blackbeard, and Gardner McKay had only just started speaking to each other once more, although Whino was still forbidden from ever again using the words "trust me" while crewing for the others. But all had agreed to buy each other drinks to seal the peace.
Mayday's task in Miami was a happier one. His first check from Amazon.com had arrived; our fellow Legionnaire's on-line bookstore website had raised $56.31 for the preservation of Florida's manatees, and Mayday had come to present his contribution to The Manatee Project in person.
As for the rest of us, after a while even our little paradise on Key Lime Key got a bit too quiet, and we weren't about to pass up a trip to the big city. The crowd included Desdemona, who had some old friends to visit, and Drifty our Gypsy, who had come along with the intention of making some new ones. Steph7, the newest member of the KWFL legal team, was taking the Florida bar exam (the one for attorneys; all of us had passed the other with flying colors), with FMA and Dawn the BB tagging along to offer coaching and moral support. Emilie wanted to visit airline offices in hopes of working out sweeter deals for our transient members. Raven needed a new pair of penny loafers, having split the saddles on his old ones trying to force Susan B. Anthony dollars into a space that had previously held quarters and was only meant for pennies. Bob Robinson wanted to register some new lyrics with ASCAP, and Federal Express didn't come to Key Lime Key. Skip Wiley, Sumo Ken and t.a. barnhart had flown in after leaves of absence out in the real world and had been collected for ferrying home. Bill Hoffert and Oyster Cracker came along because Bill and O.C. always came along (or led, to hear them tell it) any time the KWFL went anywhere as a group.
All of these Legionnaires, and a few others, had crowded into the giant flagship Cadillac belonging to the KWFL SAW's Cabana Boy and Chauffeur, Gator Dave, as well as GreenWoman's old Ford van and Raven's restored VW bus. Our business finished and the long day over, we had gone off in search of food. Whino had joked that we looked like a clown act piling out of our strange caravan upon our arrival at the restaurant, and predicted darkly that after we'd eaten our own weights in crabmeat, we'd have to tie a few of our party to the hoods of the cars because we'd never get everyone back in again.
We commandeered a couple of tables at The Rats Nest, an old crab joint in one of the suburbs of Miami not frequented by tourists. It was our kind of place: large tables covered with newspaper were laden with crabs, shrimp and other hapless crustaceans who had succumbed to Darwin's Law and local nets. We'd been there a few hours; our cuticles were red and swollen from crab boil, our brows moist from ingesting tabasco and horseradish, and our jeans subtly too tight around our middles. Various beverages were being swilled and spilled, and a peaceful lull had settled over our normally boisterous crewe. GreenWoman, an obsessive reader, was scanning the newspapers beneath the wreckage on the table when she let out a small chuckle of delight and began tugging at the sodden newsprint, heedless of the avalanche of of crab and shrimp shells which showered into the laps of those sitting too close to her.
"Hey, guys, check this out!"
"Hey, Green, check out the stain on my new aloha shirt!" shot back Drifty, attempting to wring crab juice from the fabric.
Desdemona laughed. "You're just upset because she beat you to staining it, Drifty."
"Hey, I like to maintain some creative control over my own state of dishevelment," the Gypsy muttered.
GreenWoman was ignoring them both. "Look, Mayday! Dave Barry did an article on manatees!"
"What? Let me see!" Mayday lunged across the table, sending a confetti shower of shrimp shells flying.
"Wait, it's falling apart, it's so wet," she said. "I'll read it to you."
She held up the translucent newsprint and squinted.
" 'As a nature lover, I enjoy seeing animals in their native wilderness habitat, provided that it is within 20 yards of plumbing and fast food.' "
"Sensible man," remarked Oyster Cracker, sipping his beer.
" 'So recently I journeyed into the heart of the city of Miami (proud motto: "No Top Elected Officials Indicted So Far This Week") to see the wild manatees.' "
"Hey, everybody's got a cousin in Miami!" laughed Sumo Ken. "Even Bob and Jollymon!"
GreenWoman kept reading. "'Manatees are large, benign, vegetarian creatures.... '"
Several paragraphs and rounds of laughter later, she glanced up, smiling across the table. "Hey, he mentions The Manatee Project, Mayday."
"Really?" Mayday, delighted, hushed the group. "What's he say?"
GreenWoman read on.
"'Fortunately, the manatees have friends, including a Miami group called The Manatee Project.'" Much cheering and patting of Mayday's back, shoulders, head, and ... well, we all know how popular Mayday is with the SAWs. GreenWoman continued to read, growing excited when she reached the part of the column that described wild manatees living in a waterway in central Miami.
"'The Secret Manatee Hangout turned out to be in what is sometimes called 'a changing neighborhood' ... although ... some of the criminal elements are quite protective of the manatees: when these elements are not threatening to kill people over drug deals, they are helping to preserve the planet's delicate ecological balance by threatening to kill people who hassle the manatees.'"
"Good for them," asserted Desdemona.
"Hey," said Whino. "Let's go tell 'em about Mayday's check!"
"The criminal element?" asked Raven.
"No, The Manatee Project," corrected t.a., foolishly assuming he knew what Whino meant.
"They know about the check, Whino," said Mayday patiently. "I gave it to them today, remember?"
"No, no, no," said Whino firmly. "Not The Manatee Project. The manatees!"
Mayday laughed out loud. GreenWoman, Desdemona, and a few others who were slightly less under the weather than the rest of the group, shot dubious looks at each other.
"Whino," Emilie ventured, "we don't know where the manatee hangout is."
"Actually, I do," said Mayday. FMA shot him a venomous look.
"It doesn't sound as if it's in a very good part of town," tried Steph7.
"Hell, that's all right," said Gator, with a generous, if unsteady, wave of his hand. "I know the mean streets. I'm a knight of the lesser boulevards. We'll be fine."
Dawn jumped in with both feet. "And I'm a Piratess Esquire! I'll get us out of any trouble Gator can't keep us out of!"
"We may end up in trouble that never has a chance to see a courtroom," growled Hoffert. O.C., unable to agree with Bill on anything, automatically fired back, "Aw, come'on, it'll be fine. It'll be fun."
Hannibal may have told his troops "It'll be fun" when he encouraged them to cross the Alps. It's possible that King Richard told his Christian legions that they'd have a ball in the Middle East. We know that Horace Greeley never mentioned Donner Pass when he said, "Go west, young man." And by now, everyone knows that it damn well does rain in Southern California.
But we were living on things that excited us, be they pastry or lobster or wild manatees who hung out in questionable neighborhoods. We'd had margaritas and rum, we had vehicles and designated drivers, and we would not be held back by the cooler heads among us.
We were off to see the manatees.
As the Legionaires climbed into our cars, GreenWoman thought fleetingly about what had happened to Jimmy Stewart's character in "How the West Was Won," when he "went to see the varmint." But Gator Dave in his battleship Cadillac (with Mayday behind the wheel) pulled out of the parking lot, and GreenWoman dutifully followed, the rest of the caravan falling into line behind her.
It would be a night we'd never forget.