Saturday, March 05, 2005

South Beach, Part I

Play the Podcast (downloadable sound file).


I think I would have been okay with the boa constrictor around my neck until its owner put another one on top of it. He was a skinny hyper guy with tanned leather for skin. This was not pleasant. The snakes -- each about 6 feet long -- were writhing restlessly over my shoulders and one was putting its head disturbingly near my left breast. The second boa constructor was yellow - the color of maize, and it was definitely edgy.

"Hey, it's hungry, tiene hambre y me da asco," I said. The skinny guy moved the yellow one closer to my neck and laughed.

"Si, she's hungry, but if you don't smell like a rat she won't bite you," he said. I looked at his face. He had blue eyes and dark curly hair, tangled, but not dredlocked. I didn't want to hurt his feelings, but I hated his snakes. I thought it was exploitation, too. Exploiting my fears. Exploiting the reptiles. Exploiting people's fantasies about what it means to be in a place of the eternal carnivalesque. I loved it. Welcome to South Miami Beach.

Versace was murdered 500 yards from here and his sister still lives in the house. 2:00 am and a light on in a second-floor bedroom window.

He was savagely killed in a moldering Italianate Sunset Boulevard-esque mansion facing the beach. And now, the mansion was a featured stop on a "Graveline Tours" bus. Flashbulbs blinded us as we stood on the sidewalk in front of the wrought-iron fence that skirted the house. Fame was equally glaring and painful.

"Look, the snake he bit me once, but I had been carrying the little ratoncitos by their little colitas --- look here at where he bit his sister snake," he said. He then wrapped the two snakes around Nick, my "compaƱero," who was being surprisingly good-natured about all this. After all, if the boa constrictors got any more restless, we'd die together, our necks crushed in the same, loving, snakey embrace.

"This makes a good photo for the two of you -- something to show your grandchildren." Obviously he thought Nick and I were married. The truth was, we had met each for the first time about six hours earlier.

"Saca la foto, please - me voy a desmayar, te juro, and if I faint, I'll fall on them," I tried to keep the panic out of my voice. Maybe they were pythons. Or anacondas. It didn't matter. I didn't want them to think I smelled even vaguely rodent.

"Ja, you've got a good sense of humor, sister -- they're stronger than you. You can't hurt them."

"Too bad," I thought.

In the photo he charged Nick 15 bucks for, I was shamming a smile, I guess the best approach would have been trying to look hip and cool, with the yellow?maize python flicking its tongue over the space between my breasts, and the dark-brown sister curling itself itself around my shoulder, lifting its head and staring straight at the camera.

Nick looked pretty relaxed about it all, amazingly enough. And, now I had a Polaroid to prove I had actually handled a baby boa (or python). I could picture myself in a boat trip down the Amazon or the Orinoco, with boas and anacondas dripping like sap from the low branches. Heart of Darkness. The horror. The beauty. The thrill of losing yourself and then realizing you'd never lost yourself at all, you'd just stopped relying on the mirror to define you.

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