Won’t you be my neighbor?

Anne Rice moved in next door. Like a young Anne Rice. The Anne Rice that staged her fake funeral in New Orleans. By no coincidence, my new neighbor has Louisiana plates and I heard Fleetwood Mac playing from her apartment.

Before her, a forty-something Russian Patton Oswalt let that apartment. He hardly spoke English and rarely wore a shirt, proudly exhibiting his roundness. He worked nights as a driver and he regularly scraped and bumped his black Escalade against the wall, the pole and other cars.

The summer I moved in, his alcoholic, chain-smoking cousin, who strangely resembled a homeless Adrien Brody, slept on his couch. I can’t be sure that it was in fact his cousin, but the loud cyrillic yelling made me think my neighbor was pleading for this deadbeat to get a job.

That fall, Cousin Balki-Brody eventually moved out and immediately plunged into a life of crime. I know this, not because I breezed through Conversational Russian at Valley College, but because I applied my Miami Meter for Shady Neighbor Behavior and deduced that our favorite cousin had pulled a Scarface.

A few weeks after his move, his alleged cousin rolled up to apartment 9 wearing a bedazzled button-down shirt and thick gold bracelets. A few weeks after that, Al Putino had newly acquired a petite girlfriend who, I assume to the disapproval of his mother, was not Russian. This girl, whose name was most likely not Andrusha, would chauffeur him for his visits in a late-model SUV. And a few weeks after that, packages of large appliances began arriving at Chubby Tchaikovsky’s place with the same regularity of the cousin’s visits.

Throughout the winter, a refrigerator, a stove, a washer and dryer, flooring, and ceiling tiles made their way to different corners of our complex. They were not for the property manager, for she only makes appearances when there is a vacancy, they were for my neighbor. He often hid these large items in our community laundry room, in our shared parking garage, in his apartment and even in my apartment (the UPS guy guilted me into accepting delivery of three wall air conditioners when he wasn’t home). Eventually the cousin stopped making appearances, and a new tribe of young KGB-rejects began taking delivery of the Home Depot loot. Muscles under deep v-neck shirts, hidden eyes behind dark sunglasses and sweaty testicles squished by very skinny jeans lifted boxes onto trucks and whisked it all away, week after week.

One Saturday morning, I got one hell of a 3 a.m. wake up call that consisted of two quick, shallow bangs and a crash of glass. I peered out the window, but couldn’t see a thing in the darkness. It wasn’t until my morning dog walk that I discovered it had come from Boris Yeltsin’s Escalade. The entire back window was busted and millions of tiny pieces of glass were splayed across the concrete like shiny confetti.

I struggled with whether or not to knock on his door. Our conversations were limited to hellos. In the five months of being neighbors, he had knocked on my door twice, once for salt (which is supposed to bring the recipient terrible luck) and another time for duct tape (which I told him to keep, in case he gave it back with a dead person’s DNA). Yet, I felt obliged to be a good human and deliver the bad news. After knocking several times, he emerged, shirtless and covering his telephone with his man-boob. I said loudly, “Just wanted to check. You know about your car, right?” He answered yes twice and shut the door. And with that I was convinced the shattered glass was a failed hit against Beer-belly Baryshnikov.

A month later, he knocked on my door again. It was late. Maybe around nine, which is the equivalent of midnight in California. He was sweating, red and agitated. He began by apologizing profusely and then asked me for $20. I sent him away empty handed. Mainly because I didn’t have cash on me, but even if I did, I don’t think I would’ve given it to him. I wanted him as far away from my front door as possible in case Valery the Russian from The Sopranos was creeping around the corner.

I went to sleep that night anticipating to be woken up by a muffled argument, then the loud sound from a television, followed by the blast of a gunshot, but quite the opposite happened. The next morning there was a moving truck and before my coffee was brewed, he was nothing more than a missing Romanov. His apartment empty and the property manager  on the premises.

“I am very sad to see Vlad go,” she said.

Of course his name was Vladimir. Of course those appliances were not a complicated scheme to bill Medicare or resell behind the Brandsmart in Carol City. No. Clearly those were for him and his new place (which may or may not be a grow house). And his window wasn’t smashed in as a warning, but most likely it was his own doing because he is a shitty driver. And he was probably short $20 to pay the mover and not the mobster. And his cousin is just a dick.

I realized I was wrong and that growing up in 1980’s Miami has clouded by objectivity.

However, I’m incredibly certain that the new lady next door has already begun assembling her coven, and quite possibly purchasing chickens for sacrifice.

 

 

Farewell transmission

In a few weeks, I will embark on my most ambitious road trip thus far: An epic 40-hour, 2,700-mile journey from Miami to Los Angeles  — in a Fiat.

It is not the actual driving that will be my biggest challenge. Nor the inevitable lull in conversation, the ill-timed bathroom stops or the passive-aggressive “go ahead and play your music” that will break me. It is the fact that the car — the brand new, 7-month-old car — is already broken.

Bro-ken.

I had envisioned all sorts of  plot twists in my personal Cannonball Run movie, from getting pulled over to getting lost, but in every scenario, I imagined getting out of these messes with my Burt Reynolds-like charm (and mustache).

Yet, the thought of being stranded while driving through northern Florida, the southern tip of Alabama, and all of Louisiana, Texas and Arizona (or the states otherwise known as the places least qualified to handle a temperamental Italian Fiat driven by newlywed lesbians that are legal latinas in possession of a hairless dog from China) is making me rethink this whole adventure.

I was counting on my Fiat to whisk me through the deep South with little-to-no fanfare, but now I can’t be sure because the car, as if a perfectly constructed metaphor for the region its driving, only moves in reverse.

GuillermoThat’s right, I have a gearbox problem. More specifically, the problem stems from my 500L’s super fancy Euro twin-clutch, which, as it turns out, is not meant to be driven in heavy traffic, or in extreme weather, or too aggressively or too softly or…well, it’s not meant to be driven at all.

As I’m told, this dual transmission technology is the same system that is used in Ferraris. A fact that I will be sure to share with my car when its feeling bad about its appearance.

“Don’t be sad about your boxy figure Fiat 500L, you are really a Ferrari on the inside.”

I was informed of this ridiculous fact not by the sales guy 7 months ago, but by my service coordinator, Guillermo, who now has to fix my Fiatari. Like that bit of news was somehow supposed to make me feel better. That a group of Italian engineers had the wherewithal of installing the transmission of a Ferrari in a five-door wagon, but not, let’s say, I don’t know, a more comfortable arm rest. These brilliant men (I have full confidence they are all males), have done the equivalent of installing roller skates on a cow.

An analogy I’ll remember when I’m stranded on a dairy farm, pretending that my wife is my sister and my dog is a ferret and my car is a Chrysler.

Unluckily, the last one is not so far from the truth.

fiat

See you later, alligators

I think the first place to close down that truly broke my heart was Castle Park. They tried to rename it Malibu Grand Prix, but it wasn’t the same. My childhood memories of playing arcade games and crashing a go-kart into a stack of tires without a helmet was only associated with the original, not the imitation.

Miami’s landscape has changed dramatically since then. And so did my hobbies, as I traded soda for vodka and mini-golf for dancing. Along the same lines, I became saddened by the closings Circa28, Transit Lounge and even further back in time…what was the name of that place in the Design District that had four floors and just one exit…Power Studios!

Of course. Oh it was glorious. It had five performance stages that featured salsa, hip-hop, jazz, and rock musicians; a gourmet restaurant; an art gallery; and an outdoor film space, but the whole thing could go up in flames with just one miscalculated butt of a Marlboro Light.

It’s been all downhill since then, especially with the deaths (more like outright murders) of Van Dyke Café and Zeke’s. From the demolishing of the Miami Herald building to the relocation of Score, more and more of my geographical landmarks have been taken away. Now when I give directions I have to start with, “Make a right at the corner of where that place we loved used to be, but is now a yoga pants store.” Somehow Tobacco Road has been confined to live aboard a cruise ship, while Jerry’s Famous Deli and Wolfie’s are just condemned to live in my memory. As of late, I bade farewell to the iconic Cameo and Finnegan’s River, which wasn’t that heartbreaking because as a woman you could expect to be finger-fucked on your way to the bathroom in either establishment.

cameo
No. Thank you.

The latest rumor is that Yuca Restaurant is about to go and that’s just one bridge too far. Gloria Estefan once shut down Lincoln Road for an album release party, and I saw the whole thing from Yuca. Yuca, where Albita Rodriguez used to perform before she won a Grammy. Yuca, where members of the aging lesbian mafia can light up a joint and order Goat Cheese Croquetas without any judgement.

So, it is with deep sadness that I share with you my Miamian Resignation Letter.

see ya
I’m taking my talents to Skid Row.

Dear Miami, 

It is with deep regret that I inform you of my departure, effective two weeks from this letter.

This should come as no surprise, given your complete lack of attention to my interests. You refuse to have a gayborhood. You don’t offer well-paying jobs. You have done everything in your power to block the film industry and medical marijuana from taking residence here (is this somehow related?). And you hate live music for some reason. I should clarify that last point, live music as in sounds made from a band made up of real people playing real instruments at a bar and/or lounge, not a tween-aged DJ standing behind a laptop blaring out the Pitbull Pandora station.   

Perhaps that was too harsh. I’m sorry Miami. But, the truth is I’m mad at you.

I’m mad I can’t take my favorite parts of you in my suitcase, like the view from the Julia Tuttle and the entire menu from Soyka. I’m mad that people will ask me about my accent. I’m also mad that they will ask me about alligators because Miami happens to be in Florida. Bro, that’s so annoying. 

I’m also nervous.

I’m nervous about living in a city where Cubans are not the ruling class and where the mayor speaks perfect English. Will anyone know who DJ Laz or Pepe Billete are? Will the people that live there really have an uncle named Luke and not see the humor in calling him up and saying, “Capt. D Coming, Capt. D Coming, Capt. Coming,” and then hanging up? 

These jokes are going to fall flat in Los Angeles. Oh. Right. That’s where I’m going. 

I know what you’re thinking Miami, “OMG the traffic. If you would only wait until 2018 when we finish the Palmetto, then you are going to regret moving to LA.” And then you’re probably following up that thought with, “Pero, what’s wrong with you? The earth shakes there.”  

To answer your questions, yes, I know all of these things. I’ve also watched every episode of 90210 and Melrose Place, which, as I understand it, is nowhere near where I’m going to be living and is also not very current. But I can’t just stay here forever, Miami. I already gave you my youth, my money and in some corners of South Beach, my vomit.

I think the time has come to give each other a little space. Enough breathing room to actually miss each other. Because, in all seriousness, I have loved no other city like you. And although I’m really excited about starting a new life in L.A., you will always be my number 305. 

Con mucho, mucho amorrrrr,

Mari

 cc: Pitbull