Notes on the Keys, part one

“Maybe I needed to return to Florida. Because it had always been my staging area. A place to collect my thoughts, and to gird my loins, for combat with the island of Manhattan.” –Kelsey Grammar, So Far

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Just got back from the Florida Keys, where Katie and I went camping for New Years. Because Delta’s ingeniously dickish new plan for getting out of bankruptcy is randomly bumping up departure times without notifying the passengers, we spent all of Saturday hopscotching our way down the East Coast’s airports. The usual airport limbo sensation was worsened by looping stock footage of Saddam Hussein gleering down at us in every lounge. There will certainly be TV news in hell. While trying to buy a magazine, I caught Andrew Card reminding an anchor, “We shouldn’t celebrate the death of Saddam Hussein, so much as we should celebrate the new life of the Iraqi people,” because clearly the former would be in poor taste.

It was a weekend of high profile deaths, and this psyched me up for what would surely be the highly anticipated bucket kicking of Fidel Castro on New Years Eve. History would shine its light on my vacation group, putting us smack down in downtown Key West at the precise moment that the Cuban people put his Adidas-wearing mortal frame on a boat and send it north to Florida. And we would be there, at America’s contentious southernmost point, as thousands of Cuban exiles, Republican hardliners, Floridian drag queens, Hemingway acolytes, and cruise ship passengers would pour out into the street, lighting up cigars and drinking mojitos, for the Orgy of Freedom celebration, as a makeshift conch shell some businessman stuck on the side of a bar drops at midnight to ring in 2007. There was no way Castro could make it another day. This, here, was historical determinism at work.

But Castro’s ghost never showed. Seems people down in Cuba live to be 115, on average. It’s the magic combination of rum, cigars, diesel cars and lack of economic opportunity. We may have Castro to kick around for another 30 years. But I’ll get back to the Castro thing.

It is hardly original (though surprisingly entrepreneurial) to claim that, when positing the American body politic as an organic living creature, Florida would be its penis. (Or, per Maude Lebowski, America’s “dick or his rod or his Johnson.”) Hardly original, but I still think it would be fun to really hammer the analogy into the ground.

Now. When anyone conceives of an object or a place or a concept as being particularly penis-like, the obvious marker of shape aside, it is usually through a combination of three related associations:

1. Any masculine sexual behavior or a generally upfront sexual presence. This is the most direct connection between penis and thing that we can make.

2. Any display of strength or unchecked aggression, or other unwanted creepy behavior. This had more currency as a tool of critique back in the 80s, but there is still a subconscious link between physical abuse and the male genitalia. Witness the standard and effective retort to male adolescent (or drunken post-adolescent) overexuberance: “Don’t be a dick.” You can even say “Don’t be a penis” and it works just as well.

3. Totemic associations. This is that old school, pre-Christian, Joseph Campbell shit. The penis is still, in the dark recesses of the human mind, still the magic wand bar none, and it was brandished in the ancient world to ward off evil and mark property lines for private or sacred space. this is the most powerful and eternal association of the penis.

1. To enumerate the sexual associations of Florida culture would be begging the point a bit, but as a taste just check out the trailer for Miami Vice, the remake. Without even pushing the cultural canonization that the big budget remake implies, just pay attention to the tools Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx take on as prosthetics to their own penises: cigarette boats, private jets, rocket launchers (really? rocket launchers? I’m just reading from the trailer here, I’m not going to watch the whole thing). Even the helicopters have long, tubular tails.

One curious detail about the state is the kudzu-like presence of adult DVD stores throughout Florida. These things are everywhere. Adult DVD stores are to Florida what Starbucks are to New York City. Until I get to a scanner, let me just quote to you from the coupon on the map of Key West that they gave out at the Tourist Center, sandwiched on the page between the Curry Mansion Inn B&B (home of Florida’s first millionaire) and Ripleys Believe It or Not’s admission discount: “$10 off / Key West Scrub Club / Live Adult Entertainment / One on One Private Rooms / Escorts avail. throughout the Keys / 24/7 Couples Welcome…NOW HIRING.” What’s really impressive is their pan-Keys escort policy. That’s like a three-hour drive. It is a testament to the sexual determination of the Floridian people.

Finally, let us not forget, there is the official Florida marine mammal, the Manatee.

Horny Manatee

2. Strength and aggression are nebulous qualities but there is a general recognition of Florida’s growing power, both its economic power and its political power, as its population also grows and it becomes a stronger player nationally. Tourism is a $57 billion industry in the state, led at least symbolically by Disney World. But the recent role the state has played in national elections is more topical. The state’s contribution to Bush’s election victory in 2000 was Katherine Harris, who later gained even greater notoriety by attempting to win a Senate seat with her chest.

Katherine Harris

By turning the election into a battle of lawyers, and taking the decision to the Supreme Court to prevent the recount, the election devolved into a lust for power overtaking all sense of reason (that is, waiting out the democratic process of recounting the votes). The Florida election was a case of America voting with the wrong brain.

3. Space exploration, based in Cape Canaveral, is a strong example of the intersection of technological and physical prowess with good old male wanderlust. But I place it under totemic usages of Florida’s penisness rather than in category two because the space program is essentially a display. It is a demonstration, using some of the most phallic vessels America has yet produced, of our supremacy to any potential aggressors throughout the world. The message being, of course, If this is the size of the penis we shoot off into space, imagine the phallic wrath we can rain down on you.

Florida is also the Sunshine State, and that may seem innocuous until you reassociate the sun with the good old sky god paradigm. The sun is not always depicted as smiling and wearing shades, and when it’s mixed up with traditional religious symbolism it’s often intended as a show of strength and even fearsomeness. The rays themselves are always clearly phallic, and as displays of the sun god’s polytheistic supremacy are often imagined as weapons, much like lightning bolts.

Florida’s third totemic association for its penis is its role in immigration and enforcement. It has nowhere near the traffic of illegal entry that the rest of our border has, but its symbolism as a near beacon for those Cuban refugees, its proximity to that country, the constant patrolling and general Miami Vice-ing that happens in its waters, puts the state at the forefront of the international imagination as The American border, while at the same time its natural geographic phallic form presents itself as a threat of physical violence rather than a welcome, just like the ancient phallic property markers that told strangers to keep away.


Q.E.D., or at least that’s as much as I can bear to write on the subject tonight. It was all meant as a by way of introduction to claiming that, given Florida is America’s penis, we should rightly accept the Florida Keys then as the nation’s ejaculate, its money shot. Since I haven’t even gotten to my vacation, I’ll have to TBC that as a subsequent post, provided I don’t lose interest in the thread before then.

Boycott Delta!

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