She’s a maneater

I’m used to the absurd news that my home-state of Florida produces. And I’m particularly fine with living in the Mecca of Ridiculousness that is South Florida.

Courtesy of NBC6 South Florida.
Courtesy of NBC6 South Florida.

This is probably because I’ve never lived anywhere else, as it was painfully pointed out to me by a wealthy and worldly gay man who was dressed in an unfortunate gingham pattern worthy of a lumberjack. The parts of his face that weren’t botox-injected dropped when he learn that I didn’t emigrate from somewhere interesting.

I tried desperately to change the subject, but it was useless. He had just droned on about how he was three-quarters this type of Anglo and one-fourth that type of White and lived in Amsterdam and then moved to Berlin, before he started summering in the Hamptons and wintering in Los Angeles and now he was here, in his new hometown.

But before I could ask him another question to keep him talking (so I could refill my plate with goodies from the free food spread) he asked me where I was from. I’m sure I could have lied, as it is customary at events held in my city, but for some reason, I surrendered to my truth.

“I’m from here,” I said.

And immediately hated myself for it.

How old was I? I’m from here sounded like I was worried he was going to report me to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, so I immediately followed it with the more appropriate, but still very honest, “I’m from Miami.”

Unsurprisingly, he was surprised. Or maybe his eyebrows were permanently like that and I hadn’t noticed.

He tried to hide his disappointment with “But you lived somewhere else? Like when you went away to college?”

My heart sank. “No, I went to school here too.” And then I just walked away. There was no recovery from that.

Unless I happened to have my passport on me, which only would’ve made things worse, as I would’ve screamed “Look!” after pointing at each stamp and “You see?” after turning each page. And anyway, the only thing that would’ve proved was that I actually had been somewhere, but only for a little while.

While loading up on free wine at the bar, I started thinking about my relationship with my hometown and began making a mental list of why I had never left her.

The list on the pro-side was something like this:

  • I love her,
  • she’s beautiful (when she gets dressed up),
  • she can cook,
  • she can throw a mean party and
  • Gloria Estefan lives here.
Primitive Love. I mean seriously.
Primitive Love. I mean seriously.

But, when I made the contrasting list, I made an important realization…

My hometown is the equivalent of a hot-mess of a girlfriend that gets shit-faced drunk at your boss’ wedding, gets in a fist-fight with your co-worker, spits at the bartender and pukes inside the bride and groom’s limo. Leaving you to utter the expected and unappreciated phrase, “She’s not always like this.”

Miami is a lot like this in that she’s a little embarrassing sometimes.

I’m a little more on edge about her behavior these days because, well, it’s wedding season. Memorial Weekend is known to be a problematic time for her. This is the weekend when police officers like to kill people waiting to get into Mansion and regular, every day people turn into zombies and chew off the faces of homeless people.

I feel the stare of the country on us, just waiting, salivating for Miami to take off her top and run through a Taco Bell. But mostly, I hear the music. That familiar duuuunnn-duuun.

OCEARCH's pings of Katherine the Great White Shark
OCEARCH’s pings of Katharine the Great White Shark

Just when I thought we were clear, Katharine the Great White Shark has busted a U-turn and is heading back our way. It’s not that I think she’s going to eat the tourists on Miami Beach this weekend. No. She’s a shark, not a shark playing the role of Jaws. It’s that I’m convinced that if she doesn’t get out of these waters, some dip-shit fishing off of his jet-ski near Elliot Key is going to catch her and then try to sell her to a Sedano’s butcher from the back of his Mazda truck. And when her last ping is located somewhere between Westchester and Sweetwater, the county government will declare martial law until the monstrous “land shark” is located and subdued.

Because that’s the stuff that happens here. In my hometown. My one true love. Miami.

 

Sweet home Hialeah

South Floridians love to use Hialeah as a punchline. And I get it. The city has a bad reputation for harboring corrupt politicians and nosy neighbors, as a haven for cheap rents and illegal workers, and as the home of the tackiest and loudest Cuban immigrants of the entire diaspora.

This place is so special that it only has one major street and outsiders still manage to get lost.

hialeah_entrance

Oh those outsiders. They think they can spend a few hours in the “City of Progress,” and then feel entitled to criticize and point fingers.

This weekend, I encountered one of “those” people – a pretentious beauty salon patron who wanted to lighten her hair, but didn’t necessarily want to go “Hialeah blonde.”

She said this loudly in an attempt to garner laughter. But when her punchline didn’t receive the clamor she was expecting, she tried it again, “Not a Hi-a-leah blonde,” this time emphasizing the “ah” in the middle.

Still, her joke was met with unbearable silence.

Partly because we were in a sophisticated salon, excuse me, hair studio located in Coral Gables and the insinuation that the stylist would be capable of doing a horrible job was met with a raised eyebrow and a slight puckering of lips. But mostly because, unbeknownst to her, the audience members of her comedy special were Hialeahan – myself included.

And at that moment, one of great impulse and little reasoning, I decided to go full blonde. Because I’m from Hialeah and I wanted to somehow prove a point that really didn’t require further evidence in the most passive aggressive way possible.

You see, Hialeah is twice my birthplace. The first birth came in the late seventies, when I fumbled out of my mother’s womb in the hospital that bears the city’s name. The second was a figurative birth, my entrée into adult life, which took place in the early 2000’s. Without a silver spoon or a safety net, the city welcomed me regardless of who I was or was no longer. Hialeah didn’t care that I was suddenly poor, she put her arm around me and said, “Honey, we are all broke.” Only she said it in Spanish.

I stuck around for five years and loved every moment. There is simply no place like it and here are the reasons why:

1. 49th Street is the parade route for every celebration and the road for every morning’s commute. Regardless of the occasion or the time of day, your speed is limited to 5 miles per hour. They had to build two Starbucks less than 1.5 miles from each other because by the time you get from one to the other, you’ll want a second cup.

2. Some crazy company swooped into Hialeah and decided they were going to change the mall’s name from Westland to Westfield. Two months after the name change, they changed it back when they realized no one could pronounce the new name.

westland-mall-hialeah-06

3. Hialeah is the last place in South Florida where you actually talk to your neighbors – and not just when there’s a Hurricane. Even when you don’t want to talk to them, they are talking to you. They want to know who you’re voting for. They ask for help reading and/or writing a letter. They show up with leftovers from the bakery. And, best of all, you can ask them for toilet paper in emergency situations.

4. Everyone knows where they can get anything at a cheaper price. Pick up a tomato at Publix Sabor and an old man from across the plantains will tell you that they are 10 cents a pound at Presidente Supermarket. Try on some shoes at Kohl’s and a woman will tell you that she just saw the same ones at Ross for $10 less. As you walk into Bed, Bath and Beyond someone will see you and give you their 10 percent coupon, claiming that they went inside and didn’t like anything.

sabor

5. Around every corner and at every turn there are some incredible stories – many of them tragic, many of them heartbreaking. From the abusive boyfriend to the victim of fraud to the lonely widow to the caretaker of an orphaned child – all of those stories live and thrive within these walls. But like the old adage goes, with great sadness comes great joy, which is why Hialeahans are so raucous and boisterous, why they defy fashion norms and trends and why they don’t conform or assimilate. They march to the beat of their own pots and pans.

And the reason why I’m not only blonde, I’m a Hialeah blonde.

blonde