Key West: The Dirty Bird


fiction by Maria Anderson


Last night I went to the Green Parrot, which locals call the Dirty Bird. Playboy voted it one of the best bars in America in the seventies. Bong Hits for Geezers was playing, which was sort of bluesy, a real piano as far as I could tell. You scooped some popcorn for yourself out of a machine. We’re all sitting on tall wooden stools, and the piano was wooden too and had these big old wheels like it has someplace to be after the music ends. Everyone is a little older, grizzled, the long type of muscles, tanned boatskin, weathered but strong, too—the pride of a past youth still echoing through the gills.

There was this woman dancing. Served herself popcorn right when she walked in, and I thought, she’s a regular. Moving, swinging her shoulders like it was jazz, eyes closed. It made the bar so much more comfortable, her appearances through the shifting crowd. She made me want to be beautiful.

I had not been in so long. I’m the kind of person who can be ugly when alone. Unwashed hair. I was kind of heinous all over, legs unshaven under my jeans, haven’t waxed in months. Worse when I have a stomachache, how everything sort of tips. I guess it’s a personal ugliness. The piano player opened his mouth to one side when he sang, like a cartoon character, which made me feel like one too. There I was, ordering whiskey and drinking it and ordering another and feeling nothing but the popcorn turn from crunchy to soft inside my mouth. If there was anyone my age at Fantasy Fest, I felt too full for that sort of pursuit.

After the Green Parrot I blacked out at a drag club called 101 Bourbon and woke up to pictures on my dad’s laptop of me with my thumb, forefinger, and pinkie out next to Maya Montana’s made up face and tan little cock. You have to understand that if you’re a straight girl walking into their territory, you better be on your guard. I remember seeing one put a straight guy’s dick in her mouth. He is too drunk to mind, and then the wife gets onstage and takes over. That’s probably the last thing I remember.

Sexuality is elastic in these clubs. The queens ply you with alcohol and push you into new moves in front of a complicit, barely-dressed audience. I expected to get ogled—or at least to be given some credit for being young and semi-attractive—but I soon realized that this was not quite happening. The people here have sensed the vanities of youth for a long time, and there’s something defiant even in the gropes you get walking by.

It reminds me of this fifty-year-old family friend, the boyfriend of my father’s ex-girlfriend Elena. His relation to me is a mouthful, unlike his name: Hash. His last name, really. Hash is a nice enough guy who when sober turns ugly as his steadfast booze addiction takes the reins for the night. We took a taxi from his house. My younger sister, his girlfriend, and I were already pretty high. I had the feeling things would go south when at one point I disagreed with Hash over something stupid. You don’t get to be a millionaire by being wrong, he said.

Hash sat in class at Bozeman High with shades on back in the seventies. He was arrested in Afghanistan for smoking weed on the beach while he was stationed there, only to be spared from an overfilled jail when a group of French nudists incurred the wrath of the more conservative police administrators. My parents were in high school together around then on the other side of the states, a German exchange student and a Montana-grown rancher’s kid.

Show me your tits. This happened suddenly over pot roast that Hash’s girlfriend made, several times, to a silence half stunned, mostly stoned. His eyes drooped. He leaned toward my sister. Show me your tits, said Hash, more insistent. He set down his knife and fork. Elena loaded the bowl, and we all relaxed for a minute.

After the pot roast Hash was back at it, going into some yes or no questions he would draw out patiently. His little eyes fixed on my sister as if he were being reasonable, his six-foot bear frame leaning at her over the counter. You’re a dyke, yes or no. Yes, or no. He fixed an eye on each of us while his girlfriend cleared our plates. If you were my age, you would fuck me, all three of you. The syllables were tight like he was entering them into a coding machine. He ended these missives by screaming, You’re only cute because you’re young! and I could feel the pain in his voice, the years of pain in the aftermath of something that happened to him. But because he was talking to my sister, I had to chew him out, call him pathetic and fat just to bring him into reality. This isn’t the sort of thing I like to do, you understand. We hugged his girlfriend goodbye. She was smiling and dancing to some music she had put on. Groovy mon, she said. Thanks for coming! Hash stood there like a kicked dog, and if I were less nice I would have gotten him wet with one of the sparkling wines on the counter.

This event reminded me of something I overheard a crackhead say: If I had all of the money in the world, I’d have all the crack in the world. Such a velvety thought, and here in the tropics I thought of Hash again and of how exactly I felt about myself and wondered how we all tied together. And of whether I would have fucked Hash after all when he was a handsome, young pothead soldier before he cracked his heart and bought all the tickets to these imaginary, blackout night fields where nothing counted against him.



Maria Anderson