Azendi “Forbidden Fruit” necklace, $490
“You can smell their desperation like perfume.”
I meet the cabbie’s glance in the review mirror: the cracks in the glass echo the red spidering through the whites of his eyes.
“That is how tourists are to the men and the women here,” he says, smiling. “You are going through rough time? They smell it, and they are ready to comfort you. You’re like a ripe apple dangling from a tree.”
I cackle with him. I’d just been telling him how suspicious I was of Miami’s mindless friendliness, and he had voiced my guess: “Oh, but you can be sure their niceness wants something from you.”
He had picked me up in downtown Miami, where I was looking at a high-rise condo. The rest of the country’s white-picket-fence dream was melting down from the heat of its greed, and its southern most tip was having a fire sale: luxury buildings growing out of Miami’s decrepit business district were priced too temptingly. So I’d gone to see what seemed like a ridiculous deal: what I’d pay for a humble apartment in Los Angeles would buy a thirtieth-story flat here. Part of a glass and steel sculpture stretching to the sky, the condo had offered a bay view that made me feel like god looking down on ant people, along with a 24-hour doorman, and a rooftop sauna.
It’d seemed fitting that Miami would place a hellish heat as close as possible to heaven.
And the apartment had been beautiful, its public places sensually groomed, but I’m not sure yet how Miami wouldn’t be hell compared to LA, which is already a dull purgatory compared to New York. I’m still building my career, and it makes me nervous that Miami’s carpe diem command is more explicit than in the desert beach town I already live in: forget any effort outside of instant pleasure, just chill out.
I relax into the black seat of the taxi, as we bump over the bridge back into touristy South Beach. Out my window are vacation villas, the plaster castles distanced from the cab by a lawn of ocean. My mind gets lost in that ideal island, its palm trees swaying like beckoning hands, its yachts bobbing like heads nodding “Yes.” I watch a couple writhing together on a pier.
“What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you in a cab?” I ask. “When’s the last time you were in this car and thought, ‘I can’t wait to tell someone about this’?”
He laughs, shortly. “Once, it was winter, so it was only five o’clock but already dark. I pick up these women from a hotel and it becomes clear they just met and they want to go to the next bar. So then they are drunk and laughing, and then they start kissing me, touching me, everywhere! They want me to go to the bar with them. They won’t stop.”
“They were hot?”
“Oh, yes,” he nods. “And this was before I was married! But they were drunk. Something about a drunk woman touching me, it is disgusting.”
“I agree,” I say. “It’s somehow insulting, right?”
“Yes.” He makes a left turn, onto the street of my hotel. “Plus I knew, women like that, the next bar we go to, they’d leave me soon as possible for ten other men.”
“Yes, this is a horny city.” He stops, hops out, and opens the door for me. “You’d be surprised what a conservative woman will do here, as soon as she gets off the plane.”
I face the decaying Deco hotel I’m staying in, its white walls streaked with cracks of black. It’d been cleaned since the 1920s, sure, but it seemed so sloppily spit-shined. Under the sun the building shrugged, “Good enough,” like the dark woman that painted my nails red earlier that day, unconcerned about a smudge until I’d tipped her.
Two days in Miami, and I’d already acquainted myself with a constant, carpe-diem carnival, a world where no one cared much about anything but the heavy hedonism dancing in front of them. And somehow that never-ending now made the city eternal.
I wander around the corner of my hotel, barely with Starbucks as a goal in my head: it’s so, so hot, iced espresso seems like the only way I’ll keep from forever falling asleep.
As I stroll, I look up into a boiling blue sky caged in by the tips of tall buildings. Miami is a sparse forest of skyscrapers, of towers of Babel, and its streets are little brooks babbling with accents: Texas tourists, Russian revelers, tropical women chirping deep from their throats… But we all melt together in the city’s heavy heat, its hellish humidity that keeps us all sweating, dirt sticking to skin whether it’s red or black, to coughing Fords or crashing Ferraris, to the crumbling buildings that clean condos lean on.
I slide in line at Starbucks. In front of me is a woman with a body built like a Roman statue, though in South Beach she’s just more flesh for an on-going orgy. In front of her is a father and daughter in hip-hugging jeans, both blurrily young. With highlighted hair, lean legs, they’re a reminder of Miami’s immortal youth, the beach’s deceptive, Dorian Gray beauty. I can’t tell their ages, and the only way I’m sure they’re parent and child is how their looks mirror one another, and how they are(n’t) touching each other. Their tanned skin sparkles with sweat, like they’re dusted with cheap crystals, like the sugar sparking off the pastries in the coffee shop’s display case.
I’m tempted by an apple tart, but I make myself only order espresso. Its icy cup is sweating as soon as I step back outside. I ignore men hissing at me from their cars, and when I turn a corner I pretend not to see the homeless man baking in the sun, ghost eyes barely blinking, his corpse hand dancing a bit in the breeze.
I walk into my hotel, straight to the lift. As the elevator creaks up, I stare at the rhinestone crucifix on the ass of a woman’s jeans.
I don’t leave my bedroom until it’s dark and I’m starving: I’d been slaving for hours, putting in hellish effort to build my own heaven on earth. When I step outside into the night, its dark is only exaggerated by street lamps. The wind fingers my hair, caresses my face, and the air is wet with the scent of designer vodka.
I roam blocks away from the beach before there’s more than just hotels. Music blows out of bars; sounds from different Me Decades dance: ’80s club throbs in the air, then I pass a wave of jittery jazz. The songs leak into each other, the eras blur together, strung together by their writhing rhythms, their same soul: a fast beat that makes me want to dance right now with whoever is nearest.
I step into a Japanese restaurant, and everything on the menu drips of grease, of sweet sauce, of indulgence. I order a plain-sounding salmon, and the waitress, soft as a geisha girl, says to come back in fifteen minutes. I walk outside, and see a flashing sign across the street. It pulses: Erotic. Sex. Museum.
I saunter into the building, taking a shaky elevator to the final floor. A dim gift shop of wrinkled Marilyn Monroe posters ends in a glassed wall and a sleepy cashier: $13 TO ENTER.
I pay, and walk into space littered with paintings of flappers revealing boyish bodies, androgynous Greek gods twisting into each other, Austrian jewelry boxes that reveal mistresses enjoying their men. Whalebone dildos glisten in a dull display case, a sculpted vagina yawns open to reveal a shark’s jaw, and an orgy of hard-lined, Art Deco-styled women wink at me in a painting from the 1980s.
I float out and pick up my dinner, then head back to my room, as crowds are finally flowing out of their hotels and into others, waves of bodies heaving through the shadow streets like a heavy breath on someone’s chest.
The next morning I wake up to sunshine burning through my hotel room’s windows. Out of their corner view of the street I can see little gremlins sweeping up midnight’s mess.
I stroll to the same Starbucks. Walking through Miami in the daylight is waking up to a woman from a bar: she looks aged under fresh light, the morning makes shadows in her face, and what was sexy and disheveled is simply sloppy. But 10 a.m. or p.m., the air is sultry, and I can feel myself moving through it, the humidity like a million kisses on my skin.
I order my coffee, then pause in front of the display of tempting, glittering pastries. I was always so careful about what I ate…
“Anything else, miss?” The cashier is that Latin flavor of friendly, quick to warm people without their realizing it, like a tropical cocktail. “Something to get you going in the morning? How about this one?”
He points to a sugary treat, its center dripping in gold and red, that same apple tart that winked at me a day ago.
I give in.
I bite into it, and taste what I’ve been missing: I’ve been so wrapped up sacrificing for a future heaven, when I might be naked without any concern but for my enjoyment of now.
I feel the heat of someone watching me, and I turn around to catch the eyes of a dark man. With boiled skin, in crisp black, he looks so vaguely familiar, an echo of someone from a dream life of mine. As I hand over my money, his hand interrupts me.
“I’ll pay for you.”