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November 03, 2008


Captain Tony Tarracino, a great Key West character, has died. Here's a nice obit by the Herald's Cammy Clark. Among his many other accomplishments, Captain Tony somehow got himself elected mayor of Key West. I was fortunate enough to interview him back in 1990, when I was doing a story about the danger of thousands of research monkeys escaping from their island and getting loose in the keys. The whole story is here, but this is the part about Captain Tony:

Let's say that you lived in a small town, and one night there was a huge community beer blast and everybody got loaded and some prankster shouted, "I know! Let's elect (name of some total reprobate) as mayor!" And the townspeople thought this was so funny that they actually DID it. Your mayor would probably be something like Capt. Tony.

Capt. Tony is a 74-year-old former saloon owner and charter-boat captain. He has 13 children by five women, three of whom he was married to. He has a creased, weather-beaten face with a lot of character (defined as "eye bags the size of adult gerbils"). Over the course of his amazing career, Capt. Tony nearly got himself killed by the mob, escaped to Key West in a milk truck, ran guns to Cuba during the Revolution, worked with the CIA, helped in a plot to kill Castro, and had many other truly incredible adventures that some people think are not true, but nobody really cares because it's fun to listen to Capt. Tony tell about them.

What is true, and in a way most amazing of all, is that last year, on his sixth attempt, he actually got elected mayor of Key West. And what is more, he seems to be doing an OK job. As he himself puts it, in all sincerity, "Hey, I'm a pretty f ------ good mayor. I'm surprising myself."

I went looking for Mayor Capt. Tony one afternoon at the Key West City Hall, which has a sign on the door that says SHIRTS AND SHOES REQUIRED. There was no receptionist, so I went upstairs to the mayor's office and was just about to knock on the door when it opened. There, in the darkness, blinking like a man who had just got up from a nap, was the mayor.

"Hey!" he said, turning on the lights. "Come on in!"

"Thanks, " I said. "I'm Dave Barry, with The Miami Herald, and . . . "

"Hell yes!" said the mayor. "I know! Dick Barry! Sure!"

"Dave Barry, " I said.

"Dave Barry!" said the mayor. "Sure! What the f--- can I do for you?"

I briefly explained the monkey situation, and the various chilling implications, and asked the mayor what he thought. What follows, to the best of my ability to write it down, is his verbatim reply:

"Way, way back, Tennessee Williams and I were very close friends. Very close. He was going to Russia, and he asked me to take care of his two monkeys, which were named Creature and Lioness, only because Tennessee was gay, Creature was the female and Lioness was the male. I was supposed to have them for six months, but I had them for years. We kept them in a cage in the bar. They were lovers, but he could never bang her -- I guess you can't put this in the newspaper, but I'll tell you anyway -- he could never bang her unless I got her excited. I'd make these noises like this (here the mayor makes monkey noises) and she'd go crazy. She loved it. So one day, Creature, which is the female, died, and Lioness, it was so pathetic, just wouldn't let go of her for days, but we finally got her out of there and buried her, it was a nice ceremony, and Tennessee really felt bad.

"But we had Lioness for many years. He loved marijuana. That monkey was always high. But one day we came in and he was just lying on his shelf there, and we knew it was all over. Am I talking too fast? And so we buried him, it was beautiful, with a little cross. Tennessee called up -- I can't tell you how close he was to them, they always knew when he walked in -- and I said, 'Tennessee, he didn't suffer.' But talking about monkeys, they're the most human things in the world, once you get to know them. I'd LOVE to have monkeys in Key West. Key West is an outdoor insane asylum anyway. We just never put up the walls."

If this man ever runs for president, he has my vote.

I still think we could do worse.


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Oh wow! Heaven (or Hell) is gonna be a FUN place! I don't worry so much about going there now...

I met Capt Tony last year during a Key West fishing trip. My son had just turned 21 and was heading to USMC basic training in Parris Island in a few days. That was the sad part. A female friend of the family was also there a got seriously groped by Capt Tony while standing at the bar. That was the good part. I can't wait 'till I'm 90!

RIP Captain.

It will have to be Heaven, as Lucifer won't like the competition!

i don't think rest in peace is appropriate as i doubt he'd enjoy it much. perhaps rest in rum.

So whatever happened with the monkeys, anyway, Dave? Did they get elected to Congress?

RRRRRIP Capt. Tony

I do wonder if it was the monkey or Capt. Tony that loved pot so much. Not that it matters now ;-P

What a fun dude.

I remember that. I was only four years old back then, and it was a pretty tough read.

'He'd say, `You know, ladies, I'm like the Model T. My tires are worn out, my headlights don't work, my horn doesn't work, But ladies, my clutch is still working,' '' TJ recalled.

*snork* @ the Capt!!!

*smacks* Elon. Smartass.

If he's gone to that place with the 72 virgins, they're all in for a pretty fun time.

Sail on, Captain!

Dave, with the possible exception of yourself, Capt. Tony would've been way better than the current candidates for POTUS

Capt. Tony, here's wishing you smooth seas and the wind at your back.

Suzy Q - if he sinned too much, he'll get 72 virgin cocktails.

We always visit Captain Tony's when we hit Key West and met the guy briefly once. What a great character and Dave's piece brought it all out.

For those not familiar with Jimmy Buffett's song "Last Mango in Paris" (which he sang at the concert in Las Vegas last week):

I went down to Captain Tony's to get out of the heat
When I heard a voice call out to me, "Son, come have a seat"
I had to search my memory as I looked into those eyes
Our lives change like the weather but a legend never dies

He said, "I ate the last mango in Paris
Took the last plane out of Saigon
Took the first fast boat to China
And "Jimmy, there's still so much to be done."

I had a third world girl in Buzios
With a pistol on each hand
She always kept me covered
As we moved from land to land
I had a damn good run on wall street
With my high fashion model wife
Til I woke up dry beneath the African sky
Just me and my Swiss Army knife

I ate the last mango in Paris
Took the last plane out of Saigon
Took the first fast boat to China
And Jimmy there's still so much to be done

We shot the breeze for hours
As the sun fell from the skies
And like the sun he disappeared before my very eyes
It was somewhere past dark-thirty
When I went back to the head
I read upon the dingy wall
The words the old man said

I ate the last mango in Paris…
….so much to be done.
Why don't we wander
follow la vie dansante.

RIP Captain Tony

R.I.P. Captain Tony

What a character. It's very sad to hear of his passing. My best to his family and friends.

I never had the pleasure, but rest in peace, Captain.

And we already have, Dave. (Done worse, I mean).

Decisions, decisions. Got to Heaven for the scenery, or Hell for the company.

You are right, Mot. I'm voting for the Lioness/Creature ticket, even if they are dead.....

RIP Madelyn Dunham.

It's a shame she couldn't make it one more day.

Wow. RIP Ms. Dunham. Truly sad.

Met him at his bar myself once. A friend mentioned Buffet to him and he growled a tirade about how Jimmy ruined Key West by making it so popular. Then he had to admit that at least he's made more money as a result. A Pirate looks down on us now.

Boat drinks for everyone, in honor of The Captain.

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