Maria sighed. “I really love Doug,” she said, as she dreamily stared at the bartender.
Maria was attractive in a wholesome, earthy way—not skinny like some of the anorexic babes we’d seen that day, but not overweight, either. Her yellow-and-black striped, stretchy tube top barely contained her ample bosom. She looked like a bumblebee chock full of honey. Brunette locks brushed bare shoulders of tanned, freckled skin. More skin peeked out between her top and her cutoff shorts. One long leg crossed its mate and dangled from the barstool; her feet loosely adorned with strappy sandals. Almond eyes gazed at the last few ounces of her margarita, and she let out a second sigh.
“So wha’s wrong with that?” I said. “Love can be good thing.” She had spoken to me since I sat next to her, and I felt obliged to be polite and respond. I didn’t want to get into a deep conversation with this woman. My wife Mary Lou had gone to the restroom, and even in my inebriated condition I knew her to be sensitive about these things.
“He doesn’t even know I exist,” she pouted. “I come here all the time, and he pays me no more attention than any of these other chickees.” She spit the last word. “I’ve had enough. I’m going home tomorrow. For good.”
“Michigan. I came here three years ago on a winter vacation, and never left.”
Maria was the fourth person in two days we had met with a similar story. A tourist would arrive and succumb to Key West’s charms. The island’s slow pace, campy bars, and balmy weather united in a siren call to escape the rat race of the frozen north. He or she would call home, have a friend or relative sell their belongings, and send them the money. They adopted a Bohemian lifestyle, worked hand-to-mouth jobs in the tourist trade, and lived for sunsets and beach parties. Maria was luckier than most—she had a real job as a bookkeeper for the local school system.
Doug the bartender slid up to us with an infectious grin. “Another round of ‘ritas for everyone?” He wore a towel draped over one shoulder, and a bottle opener on his belt. His white polo shirt and green shorts revealed the battle stains and wet spots from tending bar like a flamboyant juggler. This was a man not afraid to work in the trenches, sloshing and splashing at will.
“Everyone” included our two traveling companions, Rick and Donna, plus an additional couple from Buffalo they had met at the bar. Doug also included Maria in our group, as well as the fellow sitting on the other side of her, another local known to both Doug and Maria. I didn’t catch his name. I’m not sure he threw it.
We all agreed more drinks were in order.
“This round is on Jimmy,” Doug declared, not for the first time. We’d been at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville for several hours and thought every fourth or fifth round being on the house was a good policy. Maybe it was just Doug engendering customer goodwill for a larger tip, but we liked it all the same.
Doug was a local celebrity. While skin diving a year ago, he had found a World War II practice mine and had brought it home. He used the porcupined object as a doorstop on his front porch and proudly showed it off to all who visited. He even had a framed photo hanging over the bar showing him holding the object.
The Navy heard about the unexploded ordnance, and they were not pleased. News of the UXO hit the airwaves. Shore Patrol officers flooded the area around his home. Firefighters evacuated the neighborhood and police cordoned off the streets. The Navy’s Explosive Ordnance Detachment arrived and set to work. The EOD team excavated a hole in Doug’s front yard, placed the mine and a brick of C-4 plastic explosive in the pit, and covered the hole with a 10”-thick, steel-reinforced rubber blast mat.
The detonation resulted in noise ranging from a loud boom to a thudding whump, depending upon one’s distance from the explosion. While no windows were broken, a cloud of dust blanketed the nearby homes and Doug’s prized bougainvillea never recovered. The Navy used the operation as a public teaching moment on the dangers of UXO, and the local press idolized the dashing bartender in a front-page article complete with a photo of his perfect smile and bushy hair.
Which is where we first laid eyes on Doug—on the front page of the local paper we found when we checked into our hotel rooms. The incident only occurred a week ago, and Doug’s fifteen minutes of fame had yet to fade.
We might not have made the connection had the young bartender not had a copy of the paper propped up on the bar. Our friend Donna saw it, and immediately wanted photos of us with the handsome barkeep. Doug was only too happy to oblige.
Doug returned with our drinks. I had to admit he was a looker. Wavy brown hair bleached by the sun topped a tall and slender frame. He danced behind the bar, mixing drinks with flair, whisking away the dead soldiers with a flourish. His smile made one feel he genuinely cared about you. Everyone, apparently, except Maria.
Doug left us and headed to the opposite end, not paying Maria any special attention.
Maria and the guy next to her sat on the short edge of the bar, just around the bend, facing the pit’s long axis where Doug traveled between patrons. She had a morose look on her face, when suddenly she yelled down the alley of the bar pit, “Hey Doug!”
Maria lifted her tube top and briefly flashed her bare breasts in his direction, grinning hugely. Doug glanced over his shoulder but failed to see the display before it ended. Everyone else in our group did, as evidenced by our gaping mouths and slack jaws. I checked with Rick, and he affirmed we indeed were in Key West and not New Orleans. Just then, Mary Lou returned and sat down.
“Yur not gonna b’lieve wha’ happened,” I said, and I told her.
Mary Lou peered over at Maria and replied, “You’re right. I don’t believe it. You’ve had too much to drink.”
“No, really! Yesh, I had lots of ‘ritas, but it did too happen. Ask Rick and Donna.”
Our traveling companions confirmed my story, but Mary Lou still shook her head in disbelief.
Then Maria exposed her breasts again. “Hey, Doug!” she called. Still receiving no response, she repeated the action. “Dougie…!” she yelled. Doug turned and finally took notice. He raised his eyebrows to the ceiling and with a big smile used the two-fingers-to-the-eyes ‘I see you’ gesture.
“What is going on here?” Mary Lou’s mouth sagged open and caught some flies while it all sank in.
At that point, a conga line started on the main floor to the tune of one of Jimmy Buffet’s songs. Buffett’s original bar boasted loads of glass and brass, along with a kitschy island décor. Tables on a mezzanine level overlooked the main action below.
Uncounted rounds of margaritas caused us to stagger off and join the fun, snaking around tables and up and down stairs, brazenly hanging on to the hips of strangers as they wiggled their behinds in our faces. By the time we returned, thirsty and gasping, things between Doug and Maria had progressed several levels higher.
Maria’s tube top was down around her waist. She supported her breasts with both hands over the bar top while the young barkeep produced a can of Redi Whip and squirted some on her bare left breast. Maria was all smiles. He proceeded to remove the white confection with his tongue.
The second time he covered both breasts and drizzled drops of Grand Marnier over the topping. Both he and the fellow sitting next to Maria enjoyed mouthing off the alcoholic garnish, one on either mammary. Maria tossed her head back and emitted squeals of delight. The crowd at the bar accompanied this activity with a variety of hoots, howls, and applause.
I will admit to a sweet tooth and was strategically positioned next to the aforementioned left breast, but Mary Lou glared at me.
“Don’t even think about it,” she said.
“What?” I grinned. So near, yet so far.
I could no longer say the word, ‘margarita’—it kept coming out ‘margarootie’—so Mary Lou decided we had had enough hedonistic debauchery for the evening. She grabbed my hand and dragged me back to the hotel. Rick and Donna stayed for more fun and games. We did have one incident on the walk back, when a street sign seemed to jump out in front of Mary Lou without warning, causing her to walk directly into it, producing an egg-shaped lump on her forehead. We both agreed the street sign had been rude and disrespectful.
It was noon the next day before we were up and human. We met Rick and Donna for a late brunch and discussed the previous evening’s events. We asked Donna about a purple bruise on her forehead. Apparently, a rogue street sign had come out of nowhere on their stroll home, and she walked into it. We told her it could happen to anybody.
We visited Margaritaville one more time before we returned home. Neither Doug nor Maria was there. I like to think she never went back to Michigan, that they live together in Key West, and that Doug keeps his can of Redi Whip at home.