Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

When Real Life Comes off a Page

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

When Real Life Comes off a Page

Article excerpt

THE PAST, IN ITS reality and its illusions, is never far from the life of this old city. You see it in the many museums celebrating some aspect of the local history, such as the fortunes from shipwrecks, and in the care with which the ornate old Conch houses are kept up.

You see it, too, in small ways, in the slow-paced life among the little wooden houses in the small streets in the western part of the island. Here the chickens run loose and in the cool early morning, when the roosters are sounding the new day, you see men and women chatting easily beside their bicycles.

As you pass through these quiet neighborhoods, it is easy to imagine what it was like when Key West was described by the WPA writers back at the time of the Federal Writers' Project, in the 1930s. They took note of the shuttered houses, deserted streets, the dogs asleep on the deserted sidewalks.

All of this has changed, of course. Then there were only five hotels in town. I counted more than 80 hotels, motels and guest houses in the Yellow Pages. The Chamber of Commerce says Key West has some 6,000 rooms for tourists, most of whom this week appear to be the "spring breakers" from college, whizzing heedlessly about on motor scooters.

As always, the past offers a refuge from the commotion of the present, and the best way to step backwards in time is to begin the day with the Key West Citizen. I need to explain this, because in some ways the paper is as modern as any other in America. That is, it has a color weather map and a color index on page one.

What I am talking about is the crime news, which is the crime news that other papers used to print, although usually in somewhat less explicit, more discreet ways. The biggest front page story last week was about the largest jewel theft in Key West's history. The haul was worth $200,000 and included a gold champagne cork, a gold toothpick and a 94-carat amethyst necklace.

The victim had been at a party at the La-Te-Da restaurant and afterward picked up a young man on Duval Street. One thing led to another, and the victim invited his new friend home, where shortly thereafter he blacked out. When the victim awoke, the young stranger was gone and so was the jewelry. A few days later, a personal advertisement began running in the Citizen, offering a four-figure reward for the return of the jewelry, no questions asked.

This was scarcely the only odd crime story to appear in the week. There was an article about a man who found an ammunition box under his house. It contained a children's doll, with its arms cut off and covered with fake blood. There was a story about a man who keeps moving a woman's car from its parking place in front of her house. He does this as often as five times a week by using his own car to push hers away.

There were stories about a man who poured bleach down a machine at the laundromat because his shirts came out dirty, a woman who jumped on the hood of a car parked near a bus stop, two women friends who got into a fistfight after they suddenly began calling each other racial names and a man who punched a bouncer in the eye at the Red Garter Saloon when he was stopped from going into an exotic dancer's dressing room. …

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