Sunday, March 06, 2005

South Beach, Part II

Play the podcast -- downloadable sound files.

What is it, precisely, that defines us? This is a question that only comes up when something ridiculous has happened, or you're trying your best to pretend something hasn't happened.

We were in South Miami Beach during hurricane season. That in itself was probably ridiculous enough, but to cheerfully allow someone I didn't even know to drape boa constrictors around me? This guy certainly had persuasive powers. What was he going to convince me to do next? Let him assume my identity?

Yes, it was September, in the middle of hurricane season. Luckily there were no storms, but we were able to get a good price on accommodations. I was working a booth at the IATA conference – the International Air Transport Association – the international body that governs air transport. I certainly did not define myself around air transport, although I love to fly.

I was with Nick, a blonde Irish-Italian American from upstate New York, who had a fresh-faced slightly goofy high-school football player look about him. Despite the innocent face, I suspected he could be easily pushed into obsessiveness, perhaps even of the slightly self-destructive type. Maybe he injected steroids into his buttocks every night. He was a tightly-coiled spring. He exuded drive and soledad from every pore.

At least, that was the romantic take. The other was that he was just a grown-up football player from New York here for a conference.

And, maybe he was here in Miami for something else. He ran a small airport near the Canadian border. What, exactly, did he say he was here to buy?

We walked away from the snake charmer and down the sidewalk jammed with women in tall platform sandals, spandex dresses, darkly tanned bodies. The men were wearing Hawaiian shirts, loose pants, sandals. It was another world, and I wasn't sure I wanted to go back to my "real" one. Ever.

Nick noticed my sudden silence but made no remark. We hadn't talked about it yet, but I could sense we already knew we were in the same business, and that could make things either very difficult or very easy. It just depended on how we wanted to play it.

In an open-air bar, chilled humid air poured out like boiling, tornadic clouds as a flamenco guitarist with Dimarzio pickups on his classical guitar burned the night with tanguillos and arpeggios, reminding me not so much of the Gipsy Kings as Al DiMeola or Paco de Lucia -- especially after a slim, sinewy dancer mounted the small stage. She was next to him, somewhere between two ceiling fans and the humid south Florida air, redolent with flamenco, joyous cacophonies of heel stomps, castanets, and other assorted juxtapositions to bring to mind life bursting out into the phenomenal world like blood on sand "a las cinco de la tarde." At five in the afternoon. Garcia Lorca's bullfighter was dead. The Spanish Civil War began at five in the afternoon as well, with planes bombing Granada.

A sculpted python was wrapped around the portal over the entrance of the bar. It was the classic Garden of Eden motif promising temptation and eventual seduction. The night was fetid with histories of those who had fallen before us.

"I can see why Versace stayed here. He could step outside his door and find inspiration for his fashions, his designs," I said. "But I don't quite believe the media -- it was a typical homophobic portrayal if you ask me. Gay stalkers, rough trade."

"The alleged murderer was a fake, too. But, you know I've met a lot of fakes like that -- they're everywhere," said Nick.

I looked at Nick. The snake was moving around my waist and my thighs. I could feel it starting to constrict.

Yes. Something was tightening around my body, squeezing the breathe out of me, crushing my feeble efforts to preserve my dignity.

"Fakes? Con artists?" I said. "They get to be pretty obvious. They try too hard and they don't even know it -- the fake Rolexes, the fake travel facts about world resorts. The more they try, the more errors they make. You can't say too much."

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