Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Stephen King says the secret to his fecundity is stability. He’s struggled with addictions, but his domestic life has been steady. I suppose a five-day absence from the keyboard isn’t so much stacked against the dissolution of a marriage, the loss of the defining relationship of one’s life, and of living alone for the first time, but how am I supposed to know what I feel about any of those things if I’m not writing about them?

For the non-writers: yes, it feels like that sometimes.

I haven’t written in five days, a stretch which feels like forever. When you’ve written long enough (apparently for me, dabbling since childhood followed by three-and-half-years of concentration is long enough) and you don’t put your thoughts on the page, they tumble over each-other like unanswered prayers in the mind of God. Right now, I want to deconstruct everything.


Why Andi and I can’t be friends.

Lip Service.

The pathetic mating rituals of the shy and bookish.

The quaint milestones of living alone.

Choosing writing over breakfast.

This need to put the roiling emotions and jumbling thoughts into tangibles led me to chose writing over breakfast this morning. Big deal, I skip breakfast all the time, you say. If you know me, you know how I love breakfast. I wake up ravenous. If I eat one tremendous meal a day, I’d rather it be a pile of hashbrowns, eggs, toast, bacon, and pancakes than a steak-potato-veggie thing or a pile of pasta any day of the week. Any time of the day, for that matter. Brunch? Hell, yes. Brinner? Betcha by golly wow.

But this morning, I decided to splash some coffee on my grumbling gut and tell it to keep for a few hours. This is a milestone for me. I’ve known writing feeds something vital for some time, but this is the first clear manifestation, a biopsy confirming the diagnosis previously based only on symptoms.

Still, a breakfast burrito sounds amazing about now.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Can't Explain Why, It Just Is

Of my eleven years in Miami, this has easily felt like the longest rainy season. Aristotle’s Poetics said that's part of building empathy for the characters, when the weather in plays mimics their emotional life. Ever notice how often it rains in movies during funeral scenes?

Coming out of a depression is marvelous. Getting your life moving again, feeling sunshine instead of just seeing it, laughing without desperation. Just… being. I’m something I never expected to be during the worst moments – happy and single.

I know it’s only been months, but it feels like I’ve forgotten how sweet life is for much longer.

The other night I watched Spring Breakdown, a bad Amy Poehler / Rachel Dratch / Parker Posey movie with rare moments of hilarity. In it, Amy Poehler exorcises her fat-girl demons by becoming friends with a group of super tall sorority girls who use bulimia to keep their figures. When Poehler realizes the sorority chicks are terrible people, she dumps them in spectacular fashion. Parker Posey brings Poehler a hamburger the size of her head. Poehler grabs it, tears a huge chunk free, and with her mouth full of burger, she growls at the sorority chicks, “This tastes so fuckin’ good.”

I rewound it six times.

That’s the way I feel about almost everything right now. Everything tastes fucking delicious.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Everyone Loves a Makeover

If I had to guess what happened in this kitchen, it would begin with the explosion of several dirt, hair, and grease filled balloons during a Santeria ritual. This would explain the layers of wax dripped all over the counter, as well as the splatters of orange-yellow goo around the drawers and oven. While the previous tenant mopped up the worst of this explosion - leaving the cabinetry off-white on the outside, white on the inside, and streaked with orange-yellow goo in all the corners and hidden surfaces – they forgot about the roast they had in the oven. The roast caught fire, leaving black stains on the walls and cabinets around the oven.

Thankfully, part of the roof gave in during a rainstorm to combat the fire. The fire was doused, but all of the pressboard cabinetry was soaked. The tenant stood slack-jawed in amazement, took a token swipe at some of the soot around the right of the oven, then moved out.

Over the course of a rainy season, the cabinets swelled and contracted several times. The “wood” on the lower shelves rotted out. The drip pans on the oven rusted through.

When it came time to rent (how long this funk was left to develop a life of its own is up for debate), the landlord sent his trusted handyman to fix the damage. The roof was patched. Instead of replacing the rotted wood, the handyman cut boards to size and laid them directly atop the bottom shelves. He replaced the doors below the sink, the fresh, white pressboard gleaming against the yellow-stained old pressboard. Although the water was taken care of, the new doors warped anyway. The handyman installed a beautiful oak ceiling and carefully stained it a rich sienna. Miami’s humidity caused the stain to sweat. So the wax drippings, dirt, grease, hair, soot, rotten wood, and “cosmetic” fixes were sealed beneath drippings of wood stain.

The landlord replaced the refrigerator, which had been destroyed in the explosion. A cleaning woman made every visible surface of the oven gleam (except for the rusty drip pans and electric coils). She then made a layer of clean on top of the wood stain and soot and hair and dirt and grease.

Then I moved in.

I know, without photographic evidence it might as well not have happened. But I was more about getting the place livable than having proof of the work I put it into getting the place livable. These pictures were taken after two of my friends had already taken passes in the kitchen, removing the largest and most obvious funk.

Pressure from the landlord and his realtor and my realtor to give a move in date so they know when to prorate the rent is far more frustrating than the clean up itself. What if I had gotten the keys to a clean, cozy little place and was able to move everything in one shot? I would have been standing there, surrounded by belongings which dismantling and boxing and moving had transformed into a mess. The door closing behind me would have been devastating.

The leaky roof, the weeks of cleaning, of getting the living space just so, of growing accustomed to the Treehouse as my home, the time has been ritualistic. I wasn’t sure why the Treehouse called to me the moment I stepped inside, but now I think my subconscious knew I needed a dirty penny to polish and put in my pocket for luck. The squalor I overlooked on first glance has been vital to my establishment of a new, single identity.

By the time I move in, I’ll be so ready all I’ll feel is sweet relief to have a home.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Writing for Myself vs. Writing for an Audience

How much of my fiction is therapeutic, and how much is meant to entertain? I can’t give up either aspect because I need both to live a happy life, but I hope to never confuse the two.

Here’s something which happened to me in college:

I saw the special on HBO a few months before the party. Greg is butchering it pretty badly, Chris Rock’s routine on which race has been fucked over in this country the most. I didn’t find it offensive coming from Chris Rock. In fact, I laughed my ass off. The problem is, beneath the jokes, Greg sounds like he believes what he’s saying. The other problem is that no one corrects him.

“You want to know how you know that Indians have it worse than anyone?” Greg says, “When was the last time you saw a group of Indians sitting at the next table when you’re at Denny’s? You never see a group of Indians eating dinner.”

The people within an earshot are laughing, sipping at cups from the keg, enjoying the show. Apparently, they’re not Chris Rock fans.

“I have,” I tell him, and by extension, his crowd.

“Bullshit.” Greg’s response is immediate and certain. He seems to think I’m trying to horn in on the attention he’s garnered.

“Every time I go home for Thanksgiving dinner,” I say. A few in Greg’s audience look me over.


“Yeah, seriously.” I look him up and down. He’s my height but much broader. “Have you ever seen a real Indian?”

“Sorry, dude.”

When I made this incident into a story, that’s where the truth and I parted company. I wrote venting the anger I didn’t fully express at the time. The story was too preachy to be any good, and like a lot of attempts at fiction, too limited by the reality of the situation.

I love Zora Neale Hurston because she didn’t subscribe to her fellow Harlem Renaissance writer’s racial ideology. “I’m not tragically colored,” she said. In her stories, whites are largely irrelevant. Her work is a lot more powerful and controversial than any Langston Hughes poem.

Meanwhile, decades after Zora Neale Hurston spurned commercial success in favor of personal truth, I was doing my best to be tragically-Red-colored. The reality is I need to announce my bi-racial heritage to not be lumped in with Miami’s Latino populations. On the reservation, some consider me nothing but a halfbreed. It was easier to hate than acknowledge my self-hatred of the identity which has keep me from a solid footing in either world.

Miami’s diversity has been good to me. Because I've lived somewhere where my difference doesn't matter, I can embrace that difference. The story you’ll never read called “Stand Up” helped me get here, but that doesn’t make it worth reading. That’s writing as therapy.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I Once Was Gay, Now I’m Happy

For management training at Borders Inc. I was sent to Ann Arbor, Michigan, for one week in November, 2002. I missed the shuttle that brought trainees from the airport to the hotel, so Borders allowed me to rent a car for the week. We had classes until around five and a thirty dollar per diem.

Since Borders hadn’t held a training session in some time, it was the largest group they’d ever taught. The youngest of us was twenty two, the oldest in her fifties. The first night I got the itinerary and my room assignment (with Steve from Boston), then I wandered the hotel. The second night, after a day of classes, I wandered the hotel again. I had a few conversations here and there with people I’d sat with at lunch (people who’d shared assignments with me, for the most part), watched “Snatch” on HBO with Steve from Boston, and went to sleep.

The conversations were superficial and work-related. I’d already seen “Snatch” in the theater, and Steve fell asleep during the movie. Clearly, the week was doomed to lifelessness.

On the third day, an odd group of managers-in-training somehow found each other. It started in the morning when I offered to chauffeur anyone who didn’t want to take the shuttle to the training center. A good-looking guy with two small, silver hoop earrings, square glasses with heavy, black frames, and a crew cut died white blonde asked if he could smoke. I said sure. The car ended up with five people, counting me. No small feat for a compact. We started off talking about work and making introductions, but by the time we reached the training center, we were breaking each other up with laughter.

Say whatever you like about smoking; smokers are the cool kids at the party.

After a rigorous day of training I’ve long since forgotten, we ended up shooting the shit in a corner of the hotel until the wee hours. There were six of us, three guys, three girls, from points across the US. We shared stories about growing up in our different parts of the country, debated movies and music, and told embarrassing stories about our sex lives like we were long lost friends who hadn’t seen each other in a while. A lot of people came and went that night, interesting people who seasoned the group, but over the course of the hours something cemented between our hardcore six-pack.

Maybe a shared perspective brought us together. Similar interests, similar experiences. We were all roughly the same age. The other two men were gay. I talked about my wife Andi a lot and they heard me talking about Andy and before I knew it I was gay, too.

The way the women relaxed and the men embraced me made me avoid using pronouns to feed the illusion of my gayness. I’d dated men in college and for a few years afterwards, so I easily swapped sex stories. I also found if I left out certain specifics, I could say whatever I wanted. Who you’re fucking might change the plumbing, but the emotionality and fumbling and fury and sensuality of sex stay the same.

The next night we went out for drinks. I made a great designated driver because I hadn’t had a drink in nine years and didn’t plan on starting. One manager was familiar with Ann Arbor and found us a very cool bar in the basement of a hotel. We toasted and laughed and enjoyed each-other’s company. Risking my new found camaraderie, I peppered my conversation with “she’s” and “her’s.” After a few clarifying questions, we shared a good laugh over my coming out as hetero. They were more fascinated with my sobriety than who I chose to sleep with.

The fifth day, we skipped lunch to save our money. Since the hotel provided breakfast, we each had thirty dollars each to spend on a nice Italian place downtown. I invited fourteen managers and everyone showed up. Given the vegetarians who didn’t spend nearly enough, and the few of us who didn’t drink, we were able to have several bottles of wine and a delicious, epic meal. Afterwards, I used the company card and everyone signed the back of the receipt with their name and store number. It was all Border’s money, but I felt like a high-roller.

We went bar hopping until the wee hours. I had left my reserve back home with the change in time zone. The nine o’ clock me would never sing along with the jukebox to a room full of strangers like it was a karaoke bar, but the ten o’ clock me did exactly that. The ten o’clock me would never bum a cigarette, knowing it would lead to buying a pack the next day and full relapse by the end of the week. The eleven o’ clock me smoked away, confident I’d leave the smoking behind along with Ann Arbor (which I did).

It was the first time I’d ever felt socially accepted by a group of people. For a nerd, the joy of college is reinventing yourself however you’d like. That didn’t happen for me. The New Yorkers at Syracuse University saw straight into my doe-eyed, small-town heart and turned their backs. Or maybe my lack of acting and singing ability in class made being my friend outside of class a poor choice when it came to building social capital in the theater department. Or maybe I just tried too hard.

Ann Arbor was the first time I’d ever walked into a group of strangers and made friends by simply being myself. I’ve forgotten the stupid corporate nonsense of those management meetings, but that’s one lesson I’ve taken away.

And if you don’t like me, your loss. Because I’m fucking awesome.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Lip Service Miami: Saturday, September 26th - 7pm

Here it is, proof that I'll be doing something I've always been against: reading a story in front of a crowd.

Don't misunderstand; I look forward to touring one day. I just don't plan on standing there reading passages from my book. For me, the only stories written to be performed aloud are screenplays. So set up a karaoke machine. Make it a writing workshop. Plug in a flat-top and let's make quesadillas. Anything but me doing storytime for a group of strangers.

Maybe I can pull a Sedaris and just read passages of my diary. But we can't all be David Sedaris. Spitting gum in a sleeping stranger's lap is a bit more compelling than I went bowling Wednesday and got the lowest score (again).

Lip Service is different; the stories are true. Instead of casting myself in the lead role of my narrator, limiting the enjoyment of the story to how well I can act, I get to be myself. It's been a while since I've worked a crowd (a sober one, anyway) but it should be fun.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Sense of Humor Helps

Standing in the shadow of Dan Brown's highly anticipated The Lost Symbol is first-time novelist Ivy Pochoda's The Art of Disappearing.

Pochoda wrote in the Huffington Post,

"I'm willing to bet that no two books released on the same day for the rest of the year will top our combined total sales. Dan Brown and I are going to make publishing history."
That alone makes me want to buy her book.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Instead of flying all around Dade to find her blind students, Andi’s home school is minutes from the house and all her visits are in the immediate area. Her day ends at 3:20 and she’s home at 3:30 most days (not that I’m there, but I’ve heard tell of it). She's seeing a psychologist and watching her diet. Most of all, she’s fulfilled a lifelong dream and become the lead singer in a band.

For my part, I got my first blog comment from someone I don’t know; I’m very famous.

In all seriousness, I’ve been more aggressive with my writing. It’s been something I’ve done, now it’s something I’m sharing. Agents, publicists, friends, whoever. Plus, pushing this cursor across your screen. I had an art show, my first since college. Algonquin asked me to write a marketing letter for the Cake Mix Doctor Returns! I’m reading for Lip Service at Books & Books on the 26th. I’ve started doing yoga again, and the fact that my hip hurts for two days afterwards tells me how badly I’ve needed it. I’ve added nightly pushups and crunches to my biking routine.

This sounds like a lot of exercise, but I sit at a computer in the morning for my personal work, all day for a job, then at night for fun. It’s get off my ass or become a pear, and no one wants to date a pear. Well, maybe arugala, lemon zest, and a pinch of cayenne want to date a thinly sliced pear and make an unexpectedly delightful side salad, but besides that pears are lonely.

My point is, our lives as individuals are going well, but I'm used to sharing these moments with my best friend. As much as I would have loved to see her singing debut, the thought was too painful. I can only take sharing a room with her in small doses, forget watching her light up a crowd. And her presence at the art show was awkward at best.

If my book(s) is/are published, I’ll take a group of friends out to celebrate. We will laugh and have fun and I will be happy. But as amazing as my friends are, and as lucky as I am to know them, none of them allowed me to take a fifty percent pay cut to have more time to write. None of them gave up a room in their homes for me to write. None of them know how badly I’ve wanted to make a career out of this, and how rare it is for me to know exactly what I want and fight for it. None of them has put up with my moodiness when it hasn’t been going well.

We separated. We stopped putting everything we had into each-other and worked on ourselves and we’re better people. I couldn’t strive for what I want and make good choices if it hadn’t been for the success of our marriage, if I hadn’t grown in ways I couldn’t articulate if I had a thousand pages.

Yet the tools for success would have gathered dust if my marriage hadn’t failed. Is that irony? Or just the way life plays out sometimes?

Often you lose good things to make room for great things.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Man Without a Home

Apparently, people who enjoy reading your blog like you to post more often than whenever the urge hits. Who knew? After writing fiction in the morning, I don’t always have the gumption to put something together I feel is worth sharing. I figured the State by State deleted scenes would see me through the move from marriage and a 3-bedroom, 2-and-a-half-bath condo to single life and a studio.

Well, the move is taking longer than it should. There’s a leak in the large closet (even though it’s a studio, there’s one huge closet and one small closet) directly over where the clothes would go, and a second leak over the shower. I guess if you’re going to have a leak, the shower is a good place for it. Except the water is brown. The other day when I assembled an Ikea book shelf and pushed it against the wall, trickles of water leaked from around the wall outlet where I’d planned on plugging my speakers.

The landlord has a favorite handyman. The handyman had eye surgery and won’t be able to look at the roof until Tuesday. If this is the same dude who replaced the toilet with two different colors of plumber’s putty, two different colors of grout, and waaaaaay too much silicone gel, then he needed eye surgery. It took me two hours to get floor around the toilet to the point I felt comfortable sitting in it, and it’s a brand-new toilet.

Since I heard someone use a word you seldom hear in conversation, a nickname less pleasant than Treehouse has haunted me every time I open the door. Dank.

This week has been biking from the old place, writing at Starbucks or the office, working a shift at Books & Books, buying dinner and putting it in my backpack, biking to the new place, eating, trying to get the place livable, then biking back to South Miami. Grease and hair and years of dust don’t come out of unfinished wood as easily as you’d think. Ha. I’m sore but it’s good to be busy. What’s not good is feeling rootless.

But grease comes off. The black edges where wall meet floor become cream-colored tile and wood floorboards. The LEBO will fit nicely above my cozy new dining table. A lovely paint combination in the kitchen and fresh corkboard shelf liner will hopefully obscure the fact that none of the doors and drawers close true (or better yet, maybe when I put them back together, I’ll be able to adjust them correctly). Trashing the clear vinyl clown balloon shower curtain felt intensely satisfying, and I can’t wait to replace the vanity above the sink.

I’ve also decided to hire an exterminator. The silverfish will have none of my books. Also, it took a year-and-a-half to see a roach at the Oasis. On day five at Wallace St, I pulled back from hanging an organizer for pots and pans on my kitchen wall and saw a palmetto bug the size of my thumb, disturbed by my drilling (and singing) not one iota. And me without any bug spray (FYI, bleach and degreaser sprayed in amounts copious enough to coat a palmetto bug’s wings and prevent it flying will also drown it once it hits the floor). I don’t see the logic in making car payments or paying for haircuts or buying cable, but I’ll pay the Orkin man a monthly stipend for peace of mind. I don’t want my first few months in the new place to be about fighting creepy crawlies.

Until Dank makes its full transformation into the Treehouse, I’ll have a foot in each world. I used to fear the first time the door closed behind me and there would be nothing but me and those walls. Now I can’t wait to brew some coffee, crack open my advanced copy of Stephen King's Under the Dome, sit in the window (or on top of the wall around the landing outside my door, I can’t decide), and enjoy some time alone in my new home.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

One Last Deleted Scene: Sea Turtles

This was a magical moment, and the cut hurt:

Jim took us out into Biscayne Bay, calmer and shallower than the ocean but still endless blue for three horizons. He and Andi coaxed me through the panic of hitting the water for the first time. Every time I hit the water, really. Under their patient tutelage, my fear diminished with each trip.

A lanky six-foot-five, with paddle-like feet and spatulate hands, Jim glides like a dolphin beneath the water. Some of us need help swimming like that, so he bought a diving board we use to drag behind the boat. You angle the board down to dive and angle up when you run out of air. You can’t boat over the reefs without damaging them, so there’s not much to see except sand and grass beds. It feels like flying, though.

It’s our second year swimming in the bay. Andi and I are using the dive board, seeing nothing much beyond the occasional barrel sponge and rusty piece of metal. We're shocked as a Green Sea Turtle approaches, dwarfing any turtle we've shared the water with before. Its shell must near four feet long, its front flippers easily span five feet. Sun reflects off the cream-colored lines covering its mottled skin, making it appear filled with light. Our lungs burn but we’re too excited to care. We watch the turtle glide through the water until it becomes a speck of wishful thinking in the distance.

We break the surface. Our excited waving and screaming make Jim cut the engine. We calm down and describe the turtle, stupid grins slapped across our faces. Jealousy colors Jim’s happiness for us. He’s been swimming these waters his entire life and has never seen a sea turtle larger than a dinner plate. We speculate on the turtle’s age. We bless our luck at seeing something few divers get to see here.

Andi says my presence in the water must have attracted the magnificent creature (to clarify, Akwesasne Mohawks have three clans, Wolf, Bear, and Turtle; I’m Turtle Clan). We bask in the aftermath of our encounter, knowing we’ll probably never see a turtle that large again. Jim starts the boat, and we replace our snorkels.

Within minutes of diving, we’re joined by a Loggerhead Turtle. The Green Turtle was enormous and beautiful, but the breadth of this four-hundred pound dusky sepia behemouth would stagger us if we weren’t floating. Its head is the size of a soft volleyball. One of us could easily curl up on its shell. Its proximity is humbling, awe-inspiring, like seeing the history of the sea embodied.

This time, Jim knows why we’re waving so frantically. Having all three of us in the water when the boat isn’t anchored isn’t the safest maneuver, but Jim’s not about to miss out a second time. He cuts the engine, puts his mask and fins on, and dives in. After fifty years in these waters, he’s due this sight.

By the time he joins us, the Loggerhead is gone. Jim handles his disappointment as gracefully as he can. We dub the Loggerhead the Granddaddy of the Sea.

Andi may be right. Bobbing in warm waters of pale cyan, squinting up at the sun, it feels like I’m being welcomed home.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Deleted Scenes 6: Cafe Risque

The signs begin fifty miles out, teased-hair and heavy eye makeup above the slogan, “We Dare, We Bare . . . All!” Each Spring and Mid-Semester break at Syracuse University is a reason to climb into the car and take the twenty-hour non-stop drive to Miami, so my girlfriend and I have seen these signs dozens of times and never felt the urge to stop. Blame boredom, seven hours of flat pavement, the same scrub of tree, the same field beyond, the same strip-mall towns. Blame curiosity; my wife has dated a stripper, but we’ve never been in a strip club. Blame Colleen, our six-foot, bisexual, Puerto Rican friend who doesn’t care one way or the other, but whose presence pressures us to entertain.

It’s the middle of the afternoon on a weekday when we pull into the gravel parking lot of Café Risqué. The signs assure me six bucks is a snip for naked flesh (a fact copious amounts of free internet porn have rendered debatable, but perhaps they’ve updated it to Live Naked Flesh since we visited), but I’m the only one who pays. Colleen and Andi’s vaginas get them in free.

Inside, all the men are truckers traveling solo. I’m the youngest by decades. Andi and Colleen are the only women not putting their skin on display. If this was a movie trailer, a *needle-scratch-across-a-record sound effect would kick in and everyone would turn and stare.

The front room looks like Johnny Rockets, if Johnny Rockets featured blue lights and ambient trance music and nearly nude waitresses and very nude dancers on the counter behind poles. They dance only by a generous stretch of the imagination. Mostly they sway back and forth, managing to look bored and worried at the same time.

It’s all too David Lynch, so we duck into the side lounge. We sit on plush velvet and order burgers and cokes. We act like we see ass cracks with our fries all the time.

The women of Café Risqué change places a lot. We notice they’re gravitating toward our table. We’re their age, Colleen and Andi are their sex, so we’re something of a novelty. Do they find us attractive, or are they simply trying to turn a dead Wednesday into a money-maker? Whatever the reason, this attention stops being flattering and begins feeling predatory.

We’re musical theater majors. Paying naked strangers to gyrate in our faces would require a complete personality change. Not to mention that those faces are covered in salt and grease.

We share a look, scarf our food, throw some cash down, and get the hell out.

* Vinyl is behind downloads, behind CDs, yet reality shows feature this sound-effect all the time after an awkward remark. How much longer will people even know what it means?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

State by State Deleted Scenes 5: It Will Never Snow

This was a different swing into the ending. I miss the conversation with my mom and the Golden Hour factoid.

When I was twelve, I told my mother I would never own a car. “American Flyers” and Tom Hank’s bicycling violinist in “The Man with One Red Shoe” were big for me that year. I’d like to say I was a particularly naïve twelve-year-old and leave it at that, but it’s carried into adulthood. No matter what life does to me, a healthy dose of naïveté will always be part of my make up. On good days, I see this as childlike and endearing. On bad days, I want to slap myself.

“How will you get to work?” my mother asked.

“I’ll bike. I’ll have a red, five-hundred-dollar racing bike and I’ll bike everywhere.”

“What will you do in the snow?”

“Where I live, it will never snow.”

I don’t know why I didn’t just say I’d take the bus. All I knew was snow, sometimes eight months at a stretch. Year-round sunshine was a fairytale.
Now I live in a place without snow and I ride my bike everywhere, but it wasn’t entirely a conscious choice.

Watching the news, I used to hear the phrase airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center all the time. Gunshot victims are fairly rare, but the snarl of traffic in Dade and Broward ensures at least one good airlift a day. That helicopter ride is the Golden Hour, the sixty minutes after a trauma when most lives are won or lost. I never expected to take that ride myself.

Once I graduated from the walker to the cane to my own two feet, I decided never again to take a healthy body for granted. Instead of getting rides, I started biking. Replacing the totaled car never felt like a priority.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Deleted Scenes 4: Snippets

I felt like I was on my soapbox too much here, although it hurt that the research proved pointless:
Folks gather on barstools in towns like Everglades City to gripe about the Miccosukee, or in places like Belle Glade to gripe about the Seminoles. They rail about the money casinos rake in and the taxes the State of Florida will never see, which is a way of lamenting the money they will never see.

As a member of the Akwesasne Kaniahkehake nation, I’m here to tell you casino money doesn’t affect the average Indian. I’m not about to tell hard-drinking white farmers or migrant Spanish workers or the blacks of Clewiston’s Little Harlem that there’s no money train fueled by native blood, no tax-free ride, no scholarships, and no fistfuls of cash, but I will tell you. Just like off the rez, money is reserved for a few. The rest of us just work.

I missed the chance to use the cliché phrase “six-hundred-pound-Gorilla":

That’s Florida’s problem. Once you have a destination city, it becomes the six-hundred-pound gorilla speaking for the rest of the state. I’m from Syracuse, central New York, and I know how folks from New York City dismiss life outside the five boroughs. Miamians are the same, forgetting there’s a whole state attached their multicultural soup which is better classified as deep south than urban center.

Fun Fact:
Each year, Syracuse vies with Seattle for the highest number of cloudy days in the US. Appropriate that I moved to the Sunshine State.

Different approach to the opening:

When I was in grade school, dad took mom, my sister, and me along on one of his work conferences, the only way we could afford a vacation on South Beach. I haven't thought about it much since then. Looking back, the jokes my sister and mom made about the many men cruising my tall, raven-haired, blue-eyed father have clicked into place.

My second trip to Florida was my first trip to Walt Disney World, and more importantly my first makeout session, with a Spanish girl named Larissa.

Neither experience sold me on Florida. As much as I loved visiting my girlfriend’s family in Miami while we attended Syracuse University, I never saw it as a place to live.

When I first moved here, my friend Amanda told me, “Sometimes Miami feels like a giant party, and it's your fault if you're missing it.” That’s stuck with me over the years.

Unless you’re going out (preferably someplace with waiting involved, be it waiting in lines behind velvet ropes, or with people waiting on your table, or waiting for the buzz to kick in) with fast friends wearing outfits that reveal a tad too much, Miami feels like a giant party you weren’t invited to.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Deleted Scenes 3: Hao

Part of the finished essay involved Floridians atypical the image the rest of the country has. If this essay gets in, I'll be disappointed that readers didn't get to meet Hao.

Florida isn’t Shaq or Sly or Madonna or Rosie. Florida is Hao, who heard the call of sunshine all the way from China. When Hao discovered his wife cheating shortly after they moved here, he decided to take some time to himself while his divorce came through. He’d heard that Key West was one of the most beautiful places on earth, so he rented a car and started driving US-1.

Unfortunately, Hao went north. Law enforcement in West Palm Beach clocked him doing well over eighty miles an hour. Hao apologized profusely, brimming with enthusiasm for the open road, babbling about the promise of Key West, effusing on the size and merits of his American Chrysler LeBaron. Instead of ticketing him, which would have been like slapping a child for misbehaving, the cop politely told Hao he was headed in exactly the wrong direction. Hao thanked him to the heavens, turned around, and set off for the Keys.

Somehow, Hao wound up in Tampa.

He refused sympathy over missing out on Key West, explaining that he found a place just as good. In fact, this place was so amazing that Hao spent his entire vacation there. For Hao, the happiest place on earth wasn’t Disney, but a Hooter’s in Tampa.
I'm enjoying this clip more now because a group of friends and I just visited Hooters in Coconut Grove. Hillary got a handful of ketchup before she even sat down and Maria got a slimy beer glass. I'd already had a litre or 2 (or 4) of Warsteiner Dunkel at Fritz and Franz. I kept telling the waitress, "We're locals. And we're at Hooters."

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Deleted Scenes 2: Becoming a Floridian

There are two ways to become a Floridian. Being born here is the less common method. The other Floridian was born elsewhere, and carries a hatred of winter so intense that the other three seasons might as well not exist. Enjoy summer while it lasts, this Floridian thinks. Foliage turning is only a sign that winter is eminent. Sloshing through the spring thaw, this Floridian promises herself she’s seen her last snowflake. Sooner or later, this Floridian tires of the few short weeks she’s allowed to swim and leave her sweater at home (she’s always cold) and moves to where she should have been born in the first place. Once here, something inside her cries in relief.

Snow angels and forts and sledding may have been years behind me, but I loved winter. Sun gleaming off crusted ice, or a powdery snow sugaring the landscape. Even slogging through the wet ash of exhaust-stained slush meant I got to wear my cool boots and knee-length leather jacket. A scarf crusty from a running nose came with coffee or hot chocolate once I got inside. Besides Halloween (even though it sometimes snowed in October), all the best holidays were in winter

Spring and fall both had their charms, but apart from barbecues I didn’t much care for summer. My skinny arms and pale legs made wearing shorts and t-shirts an embarrassment, and I really didn’t like showing my love handles (which I’ve had since junior high, thanks) for swimming. Yet I moved here, carrying my Northeastern stoicism like a chip on my shoulder.

I’m sure some of my resistance to becoming a Floridian was simple homesickness, but some of us need convincing about how great it is down here.

This innate love of Florida can’t be genetic. I have two cousins living in the panhandle, in a gorgeous, rapidly-expanding Gulf town called Destin. Growing up in a tight, Mohawk Indian family, these cousins felt more like siblings. Shawn, the oldest, loved the Miami Dolphins his whole life. In a family of Pittsburgh Steelers, Buffalo Bills, and New York Giants fans, Shawn looked twenty-five-hundred miles away for his team. He moved down shortly after he graduated college. Shane, the second-oldest cousin, visited Shawn for what was supposed to be a brief vacation after college, then never went home.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

State by State Deleted Scenes

If you haven’t read State by State, fifty writers’ essays on the fifty states (with an extra on D.C. from Stephen L. Carter) edited by Sean Wilsey and Matt Weiland, you’re missing out on a lot of good cocktail conversation. I’ve been savoring each piece instead of devouring the book, which is easy because most of the writer’s intense love for their subjects means you need time to absorb the sense of place they create. It’s still given me several tidbits I’ve worked into conversation which have made me seem well-read and intelligent. Isn’t that the point of reading? To appear to know something worth knowing so you’re someone worth knowing?

Harper Collins plans to publish a collection of booksellers’ essays on their homes, working in installments. They may not get to the southeast for some time, but cross your fingers for me.

To write one essay I felt worthy of showing to Carl Lennertz, I had to write several. Most of it was garbage – or process, we might say kindly – but some of it hurt to lose.

My next several posts will be like deleted scenes on the special feature of a DVD. Most of these passages were deleted to trim the length of the overall piece. Others, like the visit to Café Risqué, didn’t fit the tone.
I hope you enjoy these, as I enjoyed exploring why I love Florida.

Here’s an opening I thought of using:

A few months back, some friends and I went bowling on Bird Road in Miami. At midnight, with the lanes, bar, food counter, pool tables, and videogame room in full swing, Bird Bowl shut down two lanes. A DJ booth sprung up across these two lanes. Then a Stripper Dance Contest sprung up around the DJ. For people unfamiliar, this doesn’t involve poles and chairs and splits. The stripper dance starts with a wide-legged squat and booty shake, and any variation and amplification of this move qualifies as a stripper dance.

We bowled five lanes away, yelling conversation over the music. Two gay teen boys – and although my assumption of their sexuality is based on flamboyance, intimate mutual hip grinding, and staunch rejection of the girls flocking around them, it’s still an assumption - tied for the prize. It didn’t matter. A roiling sea of bodies continued to grind their hips and shake their asses to Latin-tinged hip-hop blasted at earwax-melting levels.

My friend Debra held her bowling ball to her chest, watching kids ten and fifteen and twenty years younger than us writhe into a frenzied sweat.

“This wouldn’t happen at just any bowling alley in America,” she deadpanned.