The RV Park has only a dozen tent sites available. They are in a row out in the open along the edge of the shore. The much better places to camp are in areas now undergoing construction. Not a problem to the park management, as very few sites are needed during the sultry Key West summer. Only the most hardcore outdoors-man, or the extremely tight-budgeted, would willingly elect to tent camp, bake to a crisp by day in the relentless tropical sun, and suffer through the long, sweltering nights, begging even a whisper of the trade winds. And so it shall be for my partner Brett and me, as we set up camp fifteen feet from the Gulf of Mexico, separated only by a small picnic table. Any discomfort from the heat we encounter will be far outweighed by the gorgeous panoramic view, and even more by the mere twelve dollars per night it’s costing us.
Struggling clumsily to erect our canvas condo, I notice a boy who seems to have come out of nowhere and is taking a special interest in us. From this distance, he looks to be about six foot tall, and has the most marvelous bushy head of hair. He’s wearing a white wife beater and khaki shorts with wide red bands down both sides. His attention is fixed on us and what we’re doing while he paces about talking on his cell phone…cute...very cute indeed... eighteen, or very close to it, I'd say.
There’s not much going on in the Navy Base RV Park once summer hits. Season is October through March, when the place is packed tightly with huge, shiny RV’s glistening in the sun, and the air is filled with the sound of electric generators and rooftop air conditioning units. In season, there might have been one or two boys his age to get into mischief with. But now, it appears that we and our bright orange love bus are the main attraction in this quiet, sparsely populated ghost town.
We drove down from Naples to Key West for the weekend in my 1970 VW bus to take part in the local Pride Fest celebration, and to see if Vintage van Go[gh], the old bus, would make it down and back. I love Vinnie, and enjoy showing him off. People always react so positively when seeing him, by waving, making peace signs, pointing, and no matter what, always smiling. However, on the military base, this icon of peace from the Vietnam War Era still carries the negative connotation of anti war protests, long-haired hippies, and everything else many of the military old-timers staunchly oppose, even to this day. I have offered many a friendly wave as I drive by, only to be looked at with disgust, have people look away, and even have had a few flip me the bird. If they have a problem with me and my bus, then they’ll just have to deal with it, because we both have earned the right to be here.
As a retired serviceman, I have retained full base access and privileges, allowing me to enjoy the many benefits that being on a military base provides, such as the Exchange, Commissary, cheaper gas, and of course, the weekend’s austere, no frills accommodations. I now sport long hair in a ponytail and derive a lot of pleasure driving onto the base and having the young military gate guards snap to attention and salute me and Vinnie as we drive through. It’s really the Department of Defense decal with the officer sticker immediately below it on my windshield that alerts them to render the courtesy. Nonetheless, it’s still always a rush for me.
A lot has changed with the military since I had first joined in the late 60’s. I put my twenty in long before there was ever a mention of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Even now with its repeal, and with growing public acceptance of gays in the military, I still find it especially exhilarating, and immensely satisfying that I’ll be sleeping with my lover under the stars on a Navy Base this weekend. It’s kind of an “in your face” to the system that had denied me the freedom to expose my own personal identity over my entire young adult, and adult life. Yes, this weekend we’re here, and we’re queer, so just deal with it.
With hardly anyone around at the campsite, the bushy-haired boy’s presence becomes even more noticeable over the next two days. He makes many trips to and from the bath house: a combination restroom/shower/laundry facility. Sometimes he disappears for long periods inside. Other times he simply sits on a bench in the shade along the wall, occasionally chatting on his cell phone. Like clockwork, I begin to expect him to appear within minutes of returning from our many treks out and about downtown, and he rarely disappoints me. I make no mention of these frequent sightings to Brett. The fact that I’m paying any attention to the boy at all would only serve to piss Brett off, and certainly tarnish the otherwise fun time we had planned for the two of us.
I make it a point to position our canvas chairs so that I have an unobstructed view from the bath house to the RV's. As silly as I know it is, I find myself growing more eager to see the boy. As we chill, chat, sip beer, and bask in the wonderment of our tropical paradise, I let my imagination run wild with thoughts of the young cutie pie, as he comes and goes. When Brett’s not looking, I track the boy’s travels with my eyes as he walks to and from his family’s RV, only two slots away from the bath house on the first row. He makes no effort to look away, or pretend not to notice, but also keeps his gaze fixed our way. If I’m going to look, he’s going to look back. I think we may have a new game started. I wonder whether his fascination is due to the novelty of the bus, that Brett and I are a May-December couple, or whether we are in fact a couple at all. I don’t have a clue what his intentions are. What I do know is that the boy has captured my full attention, and not only do I think he knows it, I believe he welcomes it.
Brett and me clean up and head out for a night on the town. As we drive by the bath house, the boy is seated on a bench, leaning back in a very relaxed pose, following us as we pass. As usual, once downtown, we allow ourselves to have more fun than we intended, and have enough sense not to attempt driving back to the base. So, our first night was not spent sleeping in the tent at all, but in the back of the bus parked somewhere in Bahama Village. I awaken at the crack of dawn, and drive us back to the base. The rest of the day we both nurse a whopper of a hangover. The tent proves to be much too hot to nap in, so we open all doors and windows on the bus and nap on and off inside.
In between naps, chewing aspirin, and downing copious amounts of water, Gator Aid and juice, I feel the need to do laundry and straighten up the inside of the bus. I don’t see the boy anywhere about, and think that it might be much too early for him to be awake yet. I’m wrong. Leaning back in the beach chair, I see movement under a large tree between the two closest RV’s. There he is, seated with his cute ass on top of a picnic table in the shade, and looking quite intently in my direction. I had made several trips to the bath house to shower and do laundry over the last couple hours, and wonder how long he has been sitting there watching.
Brett and I spend a full day healing from the night before. I’m sore from sleeping on the hard surface in the back of the bus, and go buy an inflatable queen-size mattress at the Exchange. It’s a little large to place in the back of the bus, so we decide it’s time we actually brave sleeping in the tent tonight. To assist the trade winds, I also purchased a battery operated fan. After an excellent dinner at the Sunset Lounge on base, we return to the camp site to relax and take in another fabulous Key West sunset. Situating ourselves in the beach chairs, I see the boy once again heading across the open area toward the bath house, this time with towel and shaving bag in hand. True to form, he’s looking our way the whole time.
The sunset is spiritually inspiring, and a perfect ending to a long day of healing. We agree that an early-to-bed night is in order. As Brett heads to the bath house to ready for bed, I see the boy exit it and stroll slowly back to his RV. He looks briefly at Brett walking by, and then turns his eyes toward me for the rest of his walk. By the time Brett returns, it has gotten dark. While he gets himself settled inside the tent, I go secure the bus for the night. Across the way, I see a light shining under the shade tree between the two RV’s. Upon closer inspection, it appears to be coming from a cell phone. As I join Brett, I imagine the boy sitting on his table outdoors, chatting on the phone, and all the while looking over at what are now just silhouettes of a tent and bus against the backdrop of a tropical starry sky.
The night is still. It’s much too hot for clothing of any kind. With all of the tent flaps wide open hoping to let in a breeze, the only relief we experience from the heat and humidity comes from the small fan. I’m so pleased now that I bought it. It’s too sticky hot to even think about getting close and cuddling, so we melt into our respective halves of the mushy, cotton sheet-covered air mattress, and drift off to sleep to the hypnotic whirring of the fan.
The morning sun immediately raises the discomfort level inside the tent. Growing increasingly hot, neither of us is quite ready to roll out of bed and face the day. A couple more hours of sleep would’ve been so greatly welcomed, but so impossible. Brett's first words are, “He was here last night.”
“Who was here?” I ask.
“That boy,” he adds, “the one you haven’t taken your eyes off of since we first arrived.” Oh shit, I think to myself. Busted!
“What do you mean he was here?” I probe.
“I woke up around 3 AM,” he says, “and saw the boy sitting on the table looking right in at us! It was creepy!”
“Are you sure it was him?” I ask.
“Oh yes,” he says, “it was that same bushy head of hair, and those same shorts. When I sat up, he stood up and walked away. I feel so fucking violated! ”
“Oh, bullshit!” I tell him. “You probably dreamed the whole thing.”
“Oh no,” he says, “It was no dream. He was definitely out there.” After pausing briefly, adds with a laugh, “I suppose our young peeping Tom got himself quite an eye full.”
“Only if YOU had been sleeping on YOUR back,” I say, hoping it might stroke his ego, and deflate the developing tension. It seems to work.
I’m the first dressed and out of the tent. To my surprise, right before me on the picnic table, glistening in the morning sun, is a silver whiskey flask lying on its side. I pick it up and go place it in a drawer inside the bus. It’s a very nice quality flask which had been engraved with someone's initials – most likely not his, but a dad's, or grand dad's. It was still about a third filled with Old Grand Dad. The nocturnal peep show, as the boy will soon discover, has come at a cost.
After a throw together breakfast of leftovers, we break down the tent and load up the bus. Driving slowly out of the camp site, I see him once again, this time standing in the shade of a large tree looking our way. Approaching closer, I look him straight in the eyes. No contest this time. He lowers his head. Is he ashamed, or simply saddened that we're leaving him behind? I guess I’ll never know. One thing I do know is he's walked out into the middle of the road now. I see him in the rear view mirror…just standing there… watching as we drive away.
He gets smaller and smaller, and then disappears from sight. Out of sight, perhaps, but definitely not out of mind. I knew what it was that I wanted the first moment I set eyes on him. What exactly he may have wanted will continue to haunt me for a long time to come.
For more by this writer, visit:
The Orangenous Zone
For more by this writer, visit:
The Orangenous Zone