Sunday, March 06, 2005

South Beach, Part III

Play the podcast -- downloadable sound file.

The words of the snake handler echoed in my mind. "The snake, she is stronger than you. The more you struggle, the tighter the grip. You won't ever get away unless you relax."

Both snakes were still wrapped around me. It was fun, but getting to be less so.

"You can have them back, now," I said to the snake handler. "You can take another photo. I'll pay you more," I said. He had quite a racket. You had to pay him to release you from his boa constrictors.

I felt my hands sweating, my knees trembling. Nick at my side, and the thick South Beach air was getting more difficult to inhale as the night wore on. This was a land of con artists and people with pasts they needed to erase. His grown-up high school football player mask was and this could potentially be very tricky. His intensity was only partly masked.

"Felt pretty good to get the snakes off you, didn''t it?" said Nick. His words should have been said with a sense of irony, but they weren't. He wasn't really joking. Then he said something that made me startle.

"Sort of like being 'God's hostage,' isn't it?" he asked. I inhaled sharply and thought of the Vietnam vet in Arlington, Texas --my ex-husband's father, and the afternoon I spent with him, when he told me how God refused to let him leave the hotel. His words still echoed in my head. "He wouldn't let me leave this room for 8 years. And, then, when I disobeyed one time, He re-arranged my teeth."

I looked at Nick. I tried to keep my face a mask.

"If you resist, He'll crush you. But, you know He'll crush you eventually anyway, so your choice is simple. Struggle, and die quickly. Don't struggle, and die slowly," said Nick. He took a drink of his Dos Equis and looked off toward Versace's mansion.

"Sounds about right." I couldn't tell if he was trying to get a reaction out of me or not, or if the reference to "God's hostage" was simply coincidental.

"Yeah, I've seen the film. I've punched Bobo the Clown," I continued. I was referring to Albert Bandura's experiments at Stanford University, where children were shown movies of kids punching a life-size Bobo the Clown knock-down dummy doll. Not surprisingly, when they had a chance, they, too, threw punches at Bobo.

"Are you saying we're all hostages of our conditioning?" asked Nick.

"I don't know what I'm saying." I dug inside my pink faux crocodile bag for my lipstick. "I've met a couple of God's Hostages, and I have to say I'd rather be beaten up by a child programmed by Bandura to think I'm Bobo the Clown."

This was a good place for both of us to be - South Miami Beach. There were dangers, real danger, only partially cloaked by the art deco, the neon, the drinks with touristy names, the women kissing each other in the shadows, the clerks in gift stores giving clients back their counterfeit $20, $50, or $100 bills with a mildly embarrassed "it didn't pass the test."

I had a simple question. Why reject the fake bills? Won't they pass? And, even if they don't, so what? Isn't everything, to a certain degree, counterfeit?

We live in a state of existential fraudulence. The life we define by all the subtle and not-so-subtle connections, coincidences, and karma-driven awakenings is not so easily positioned in the "authentic" realm. Manipulate my perceptions and you manipulate my reality. Change my reality and you change my life.

Sometimes it felt like the only thing real were the bruises. Adrenaline surges meant you could tell when something was putting you in danger. Only things that were real could be harmed. Isn't that right?

All that glisters is not gold. You can't test for "real" with your eyes. I thought of my dad and his equipment for running radiometric surveys to detect the presence of gold, silver, and rare earth elements. He had been spending time in the Nevada desert for years now. Winnemucca, Carlin, Tonopah, Elko, Goldfield -- all were familiar names to me. They were the boa constrictors I was trying to be released from.

It seemed like a good time to change the subject.

"They claimed that Versace had a "quiet life" and that he always went home early, and that he was conservative. I don't believe that for a minute. I mean, this is South Beach."

In one quick moment, the shimmering world Versace had constructed was gone. Worse than Toto tearing the curtain back from the diminutive Wizard of Oz, the murder bared the machine behind the illusion -- the necessity of cruising, using, and furtive, dangerous encounters to construct a fashion so pristine that only the most elegant would wear it.

The boa constrictor tightens its coils. When you look, you see God's -- or Fate's -- hostages all around you. The same dynamics as in every industry -- the marginalized and disenfranchised were fed upon yet again. Calvin Klein used street kids (runaways, junkies, child prostitutes) to push a line of clothes that titillated even as it offended.

"Did his murderer die here too?" I asked Nick. His attitude had subtly changed. He took another drink of his Dos Equis. His polo shirt clung to his biceps. I didn't quite like it.

But, the truth was, such thinking made it easier to do the work I did in South America -- both the red herring activities that made it into the newspapers and television, and the things I didn't tell anyone about except my boss and the Ambassador. I had a copy of the Ambassador's latest book on my nightstand -- Savage Peace -- and I had been reading a few pages each day. It was better for me to do what I did without thinking, without contemplating the ramifications.

My dad was still in the desert. Farley Kritzoff's map was still in my safe deposit box. It had been there for years, and I still wasn't sure what to do with it.

"You have to know when a show of force is necessary. Sometimes you have to let people know you mean business in the only language they understand."

It sounded like a passage out of Savage Peace. Did Nick have an Ambassador (more precisely, an former ambassador) he reported to as well?

The coils would constrict. All knowledge and maps were locked away, inaccessible, for all practical purposes.

1 comment:

Koan said...

Hi Susan - I think you've added Part II as the enclosure on this post, instead of Part III... oh, the frustration, as I don't want to listen to (or read) Part IV out of sequence. :-)

Really, really enjoying this story; I'm guessing that it is inspired by events, places and characters that you've seen or met, and shows that observation and memory can provide *any* of us with the raw material for a myriad of short stories. As long as we make the effort to write them, of course!