the best of the fest / fantasy fest 2018



The first Key West Fantasy Fest, a masquerade party extravaganza, was held in October 1979, the brainchild of a few local businessmen to boost tourism during the beautiful, but not so bountiful, month of October. Since it’s inception, Fantasy Fest has grown to welcome upwards of 75,000 visitors each year; costumed, painted, half naked or whole, whoop-whooping through town for 7 days of partying, parading and drinking—lots and lots of drinking. And being that I just celebrated my third Fantasy Fest (FF), and being that I managed to stay sober through all of them (I’ve been sober forever), I feel somewhat qualified to weigh in on all the hoopla.

The events are non-stop; daytime parties are tame (although I’ve only attended a few), mostly hotel pool parties with live music and games, open to everyone. But as the sun goes down, and as one might expect, the party level goes up; zombie bike ride, tutu Tuesday, headdress ball, pajama parties, people’s parade, every variety of shenanigans imaginable, built on heavy drinking, nudity and a city full of tourists. [Please note: the majority of bodies one sees during FF are not pretty—a little liquor hides a whole lotta ugly] There are closed parties (available to anyone for a cover) filled with hetero hell raising—yes, they fuck in bars in swings–I’ve never witnessed this but its been confirmed by several reliable sources. And worth noting, while Key West is often thought of as a homosexual haven (and it is), FF is primarily a heterosexual event—tits and ass proudly displayed all over town. There is, thank goodness, a FF zone—a designated area (all of Duval Street) for nudity and shenanigans. My home, six blocks from ground zero, is unbelievable removed from it all. I wonder in this “me too” time where sexual harassment and unwanted advances make headlines and destroy lives, what can one take away from all of this revelry and debauchery. Big surprise: the sexual underbelly of America is alive and well in Key West.

I participate in only a few events—but I have a ball. The Zombie Bike Ride and People’s Parade are a must, either as participant or spectator. Tutu Tuesday is hysterical and the Green Parrott, this year and every year, was throbbing with way-too-loud music and big-bellied, dancing ballerinas. [If you’re ever in FL and Patrick and the Swayzees are in town—go see them]. I don’t do the late night events (geez, I’m almost seventy) but a night walk is a fabulous freak show, a must—if you’re into that kind of thing. Sadly, a woman I know was offended by a burlesque show in town at the onset of Fantasy Fest. I saw the same show and thought it was a hoot; women who bumped and banged and striped down to pasties, not unlike many of the shows my ex-husband and I would sometimes catch on Baltimore’s block in the early 80’s. I suspect there are many reason why I woman would choose to make a living off of her body, I just can’t weigh in on that. The offended lady left at intermission and I absolutely respect her decision, but this small-town burlesque show was but a tame introduction to Key West’s fuck fest. I suspect she didn’t take any late night strolls down by Sloppy Joe’s or pay the cover into Kelly’s.

I’m comfortable with a “don’t worry, be happy” approach to Fantasy Fest. It’s not an event for the newly sober, for feminists, evangelicals, for those connected to piety or sanity in any way. Fantasy pretty much says it all—people acting on zero inhibitions and mindfulness, behaving in ways they only imagined. One can participate or not. Is it alcohol induced? You betcha. I would drink if I could but I can’t and I’m not haunted by abstention. Truly. I love my Key West, filled with shock and awe and once a year, men and women strolling down the sidewalk on leashes.


hot, hot, hot




I never thought of myself as an island girl or a beach girl. Never. I have a girlfriend who once stayed in Guadeloupe after the end of our Club Med vacation to live on board a sailboat with a Frenchman—and I was not at all jealous of her staying behind (maybe jealous of the boyfriend, but not jealous about living in the Caribbean). I have another girlfriend who lived on the Jersey Shore for many years, in the beach block, and I never envied her locale. I was never a sun worshiper, snorkeler, surfer, surfer groupie, or boardwalk whore. And it was because I didn’t like the heat, and I still don’t. And here I am, about to be living full time in Key West, a sub-tropical island.

It makes no sense, I know. I typically spend a Maryland July and August as most spend January and February—indoors—and it now appears that I will be spending a Florida June, July, August and September indoors. I always claimed that the best summer vacations were in Upstate New York, specifically Lake George, where the average air and lake temperature in August is about 80 degrees—perfect. And yet here I am, in Key West, where island breezes absolutely make it bearable and palm tress make it exotic, but it’s crazy hot, and humid. A couple of days ago, I had to stop and put my grocery bags on the sidewalk to wipe the sweat out of my eyes. Yesterday, while sitting on the porch and waiting for housekeeping to finish up cleaning my rental, there was a steady drip of sweat falling off my jaw. I actually looked up “do higher temperatures thin your blood?” (the answer is no, just in case you’re as heat or body or blood ignorant as I am.) And yet here I am. Here because this island is beautiful, and because there’s an artist’s community, and a pot community, and a community of tolerance. And if I can survive August, I can survive whatever Florida dishes out.

I’m coping, adjusting, I am learning the heat-busting basics—like…drink a lot of water (I’ve never peed so much in my life) and don’t go outside between 12 noon and 4 p.m. unless you absolutely have to. Always walk on the shady side of the street and take whatever detour is necessary to make sure you have a shady street available to you. And should you get caught in the mid-day torturous temps, forget about hurrying home to dip into the sadly tepid, bath water pool—dunk yourself in the icy air of the CVS or Faustos Grocery and spend a half hour there—getting your blood viscosity back to normal.


artwork: Linda Monfort / Island Girl


p.s. – I have yet to go to the beach – 1) I don’t have a car, 2) I’m too cheap to rent a bike, and 3) it’s too hot and too far to walk.

p.p.s – I hope the winter here gets cool enough that I can wear a cashmere sweater at least once or twice.


tan lines




an excerpt from the humorous Key-West-newcomer-primer, Tan Lines, by Mandy Bolen. And no, have not seen the bumper stickers mentioned below, but I’m definitely looking for them.


“…Some people opt to affix sarcastic, sappy and self-deprecating stickers on the back of their vehicles, and I want to thank them.

The 40 seconds spent at a red light in the middle of a hectic afternoon are often infused with humor and a new perspective because the guy in front of you stuck a “Would-you-drive-better-if-I-shoved-your-phone-up-your-ass?” bumper sticker on the back of his truck.

I want to thank that man for changing my day last week. And no, I don’t think the phone’s new position would improve my already-questionable driving skills.

But the sticker, accompanied by one that read, “You should be the poster child for condoms,” did remind me to turn the radio up loud enough to drown out the cell phone ringing in my purse.”


art: andre ajibade / fine art american

Tan Lines


key west 2


IMG_1484-1 (1)


I’ve been in Key West for a week and a day now. While I feel I’ve had a first-rate introduction to the town by the delightful, unofficial-gay-mayor (who is also my realtor) and his partner, I have much to learn. Today I learned that after the mortgage crisis, FL law became all about protecting the buyer. Very nice. I also learned that the pool at the cottage cluster where I’m renting was one of the last two, naked, heterosexual pools in town—the rental’s current pool rules require bathing attire of some sort. There is still one hetero/naked pool resort remaining (and there are several gay, naked-pool places), but I’ve forgotten the name. I wasn’t planning on going, but if anyone’s interested, let me know and I’ll find out. I learned that I need to wear deodorant here and that your bra can be damp for two days, even if you hang it on the door knob under the fan. I learned that my hair spray obsession is money down the toilet. I already knew it was a big drinking town, and already knew that it wouldn’t be a problem. I learned from my “naked realtor” (a title earned for his brain-child—the enormously successful, gay extravaganza, Bone Island) that in Key West you are free to be whoever you are—which I felt unable to do in my previous home—and a big part of why I left.

I know nothing about tropical flora but am bursting to learn. I’ve yet to go to Harry Truman’s Little White House, which I know I will love, if for no reason other than it has White House in its name (I love all things “White House”). Bike rider that I am, I’ve yet to rent a bike because I want to know the streets better, and there are a lot of amateur and crazy bikers down here (beer koozies and dogs in baskets the norm. Can you imagine texting while riding a bike—to me, it’s the equivalent of a circus act, a feat I could not fathom, never mind perform!). I don’t know what that green monster was that ran across the porch of my rental today, probably an iguana, I’ll look him up. He was huge. I don’t mind the little newt things, there are way more and they are larger in MD, but this brand of lizard was very big, cat size, and very prehistoric.

In many ways, this week has been a headache-inducing, visual and mental overload, but in just as many ways, I want more and more. Not that I’m in a hurry to learn the culture, but I don’t want to rest and miss something, something new and different. I’m the kid in the candy store, the wide-eyed freshman, the older woman traveling alone who has been romanced by a foreigner. One of the many nicknames for Key West is “End of the Road”—the end of the continental United States, the end of U.S. Route 1. Ha! It’s only the beginning.


photo: The Colony, Olivia Street, bathing suits required – name probably coming from “nudist colony,” don’t you think? Will ask my guy, rather, my two guys. Love to Keith and Dean.


key west 1




“I’m back! I’m back, James Brown, Get Up Offa That Thing


I’ve been “a little behind in my writing” (the perfect graphic), transitioning in the mightiest of ways, approaching, no tackling, my journey back to self with resolve and positive energy that I pulled from somewhere I never knew existed, let alone name. I came to Key West to house hunt, the city had already checked off many of the boxes on my wish list. I arrived last Monday, and today, Friday, I bought a house. Oh come on, you’ve heard of houses buying and selling in a day, it happens plenty—5 days is amateur work. But I’ve been in Key West only once before—and what on earth, you ask, would compel me to take such a leap into this uncharted water? What do I know of the area, the economy, the culture? What was the hurry? It was the property. The property made me do it. This house is a sanctuary. It told me so the second I stepped inside.

I’ve read of such impulsive acts in my interior design magazines—people who fall in love with a place and buy it on the spot. But they’re typically the super wealthy, those who have pockets deep enough to fuel the fancy, who may or may not use the property as their primary residence. I’m a middle class gal, impulse buying doesn’t usually go beyond a second pair of shoes at DSW. But this house, this house. This was not impulse, this was destiny. It spoke to me in no uncertain terms.

“Here is your palette of green and brown, to place roots, to grow, to thrive. Here is the coolness of shade, a haven from the heat, respite from a chaotic world. Here is the work of artists, of craftsmen who built a thing of beauty for you to respect and admire. Here is a small and simple lifestyle that will satisfy and sustain you. Here is your sanctuary.”

I’ve had many conversations with friends and family this week, most were of a discouraging nature. I’m not going to give you my go-key-west speech, but suffice it to say, I’ve done my homework, I know what I’m doing. As I move away from a less than fulfilling lifestyle, I’m relearning to trust my instincts, and I am finding out that while the opinions of friends and family has over time swayed and often determined many an action on my part, this time I am acting on my own decision making capabilities. And the voice of a house that spoke directly to me.


I could not have created a better graphic than this!  Thank you,