By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
"On the way back, we spotted a group of rafters," he grinned. "We radioed Brothers to the Rescue and gave them their location. But, frankly, being four gay men, we just sort of wanted to keep them." He added that he and his crew simply docked his boat the following day and walked home, never checking in with the U.S. Customs house.
A local fishing charter captain and his first mate had both found wives in Havana and brought them back. So had a newspaper photographer, whose wife now drove him totally fucking crazy. He bought a couple of acres in the Cuban countryside for about $600 and plans to settle down as soon as cars and air conditioning become readily available.
An off-duty Key West cop denied ever going himself but vouched that the ocean continues to be wide open. He advised me, over Guinness, to duck through the Bahamas.
A city commissioner told me I'd need at least 2,000 euros to get to and from the island. As we chatted in the courtyard of his Duval Street strip club complex, he dropped tips on how to avoid eyeballs and keep my nose clean in Cuba. He knew I'd never get there, though, not by hitching. Not in this wind.
Fear and cynicism plagued the happy populace. People believed they were being spied on by their own government and that their property might well be seized for making George W. Bush look bad at the Versailles coffee counter.
Eddy sat with his feet kicked up on the cash register of the most lascivious sex shop on the planet.
Built roughly like a high school sophomore, the middle-age man had smoothly plastered his black hair over a sizable bald spot. His little cheeks drooped down at the sides of his face and stretched, often, into a boyish grin. His loud party shirt opened to the middle of his stomach, revealing a wealth of gold chains and chest hair. Eddy looked like the kind of guy who might hit on your girlfriend at a bus station.
Behind him a galaxy of cock rings, lubes, whips, and beads (for your asshole) hung from hooks on the wall. Butt plugs the size of garden gnomes stood in a row, like sentinels, on a shelf below his feet.
Eddy said he's working on the paperwork to bring his true love over from Cuba. "She's gotta stay with me for two years, as I understand it," he said. "Hell, I'd be a happy son of a bitch if she stayed two years."
He boats to Cuba, but only in the summertime. "If a cold front comes through," he said, "you could end up with 10-foot swells out on the ocean, and then you're trapped down there for a week."
During the winter, Eddy flies to the island. Which is a pain, because he first has to drive all the way to the "Miami fucking airport." Eddy hates Miami and associates it with only bad things.
Sometimes he jets into Havana through Costa Rica, where he enjoys cheap, pretty young women as well. "They don't hassle you as much," he said. "But everything in Costa Rica costs twice as much."
Cuba can cost big too. In response to Bush's new policy, Eddy said, Castro now forces Americans to change their dollars to pesos for an exorbitant fee. Moreover, everyone you meet there tries to steal from you. Eddy imagines he would steal whatever he could too.
While he ruminated on the economics of being an international pervert, tired, unshaven men wandered in to purchase tickets to the store's numerous jerk-off booths in the rear. Eddy, ever the pleasant shopkeep, obliged them all with smiles and kind words.
He never moved from his position at the counter, a fact he thoroughly prided himself on. Even the arrival of his miserable grandpa of a boss, Bob, didn't seem to irk Eddy at all.
Bob, a retired jeweler from up North who got into the adult-store business out of boredom, was dressed in typical bland snowbird fashion. Unlike Eddy, he took little joy in life. "Key West," he grumbled, "I can take it or leave it."
Bob, too, had been to Cuba — under Batista. "It was a giant whorehouse," he recalled. "You could get anything you wanted."
He pleaded with Eddy to stay away from Cuba and stick to the "señoriters" in "Cahsta Ricka."
Eddy could not. "I miss my sweet little girl," he said flatly.
Bob fumed. "She's a whore, bitch, conniving whore."
Eddy smiled, unfazed. "Everybody's entitled to his opinion."
The next afternoon, I eyed the Garrison Bight Marina, just across Overseas Highway from the VFW. Charter fishing boats pull out in the mornings and return in the afternoons to hang huge grouper on a row of hooks. A world-weary attendant at an information booth on Duval Street had insisted someone at the marina would be crazy enough to take me to Cuba.
Nothing stirred in the quiet along the docks. The sound of opening beer cans drew me to the back of a sizable fishing boat, the H2O Bilge Management, cluttered with a miniature Zen garden, a bicycle, and a potted rosemary bush.