Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Miami Refugees

There's a pasty young man from Wisconsin who spends all day smoking cigarettes in front of my door. He lives in the unit next door, bunking up with another guy.From the sound of it they are both very hetero. The pasty guy throws his cigarettes into the planter which I clean up.  Three times in the last year there have been eviction notices on his door, but he seems to catch up with the rent. 

A friend of mind has a newly minted law degree. He's brilliant, funny, and outgoing but can't find a job, although he's been looking for over a year. Soon he'll be looking nationally "for anything he can find."

I know a couple who used to live in the 20th floor of a very exclusive building. They now live in close quarters in a nice hotel in Boca where one of them is the manager which is rent free. It's not high-flying but it's stable, which is what is so hard to find here in South Florida.It required them to move almost 50 miles away from their previous life in Miami. One of them commutes to Miami everyday. 

In their eyes I can see that endless optimism that comes from living in America. That somehow a door will open and that they will achieve their dreams of stability, affordable luxuries and of better times ahead. I can also see the quiet desperation of young people who now moving into their late 20s and early 30s who are feeling the oppression of debt, fear of not finding work and living on the edge well past the age that you should be. 

So many of us are digging out of the "great recession" in slow steady increments. I got laid off twice in the course of a few months just three years ago.  I'm seeing signs of improvement near my home. Two construction sites within three blocks of my house, also there are signs of prosperity among many of my friends. In the adjacent wealthy neighborhood of Morningside several very large homes are being turned in mansions with new additions that look to be well over 1000 square feet. "Trickle down" much?

So will these be the end of the "lost years" where our salaries, homes, investments all took a nose dive and we're now beginning to catch up? I hope so. I'm tired of seeing refugees in front of my door. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Underwater in Miami

So my lovely condo is worth less than $100K.  I have a mortgage that is about $300K. That is my reality today.  Let's not be confused with being underwater and being in foreclosure. Underwater simply means that you owe more on your home than it's worth. Foreclosure means that you're not paying your mortgage and it's being repossessed by the bank. Big difference. However, there is an economic and emotional toll of seeing your most important asset turn into something else. 

Let's think about the concept of "home" for a second. What words come to mind? Security, safety, status, and much more. Now think about the term homeowner. You think prosperity, security, status and so on.  Now imagine if those words meant things like trapped, ambivalence, insecurity, debt, risk. Because for those of us severely underwater that's exactly what it means.

Don't get me wrong. I did not buy more than I can afford. I did not "overextend" to live in some kind of dream penthouse. No I live in a modest two bedroom condo that doesn't quite occupy 1000 square feet. 960 to be exact.  Most of us in our small building of 24 units are underwater. There are doctors, police administrators, designers and other very prosperous middle class people living here.  None of us can move. None of us can sell. The couple (one of which is a physician) with the 5 year old and the newborn cannot move to the suburbs for better schools. Why, because we're underwater.

Underwater means things like, should I plant a garden, buy a new sink, paint a room because it just feels like throwing good money after bad.  Every decision about the house is just a little bit bitter, because in your heart you feel like a fool for making such a bad investment.  Yes, it was a bad investment.....we are on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars and no real asset to back it up. Most smart business people would say walk away and take some kind of tax write off because it's such a bad asset. But this is not just any asset, it's the roof over your head and you can't just walk away from your home without ruining your entire financial profile. 

Underwater means that the lovely 2000 square foot, 3 bedroom Spanish Mediterranean Revival two blocks away, which now costs less than what you paid for this condo is forever out of reach, because despite the fact we make a large enough income to cover mortgages on both properties, you cannot get financing because: "you're so underwater on your property, how do we know you're not just going to walk away from it.?" "No, you'll need a 50% down payment on any property you buy in the future". I'm sure it'll be many years before I have enough money to even buy a modest property if I need to come up with 50%.  Seriously, I doubt I ever will want to leverage $200K on a piece of real estate after the experiences in this economy.  

So I'm stuck in a place that I love, there are worse problems.  My prosperity will be reflected in my choice of decor, vehicles, art and savings.  The "dream house" will wait. Underwater means staying put, paying off  something that's essentially worthless. I'm sorry I can't help the housing market as much as I would like to.  

Oh well, I guess I can still make a worthless property pretty. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Biscayne Boulevard, Facebook, Friends, Prostitutes and Little People

So for the last few years I've been posting something called "Biscayne Hooker Report" on my Facebook page.  They were jokes about the streetwalkers in and around my neighborhood.  I would write posts about what they wore like: "hooker in a jumper", "I'm In Miami Bitch Hoodie".  At least once or twice a month I would describe the latest girls working between 55th street and 79th street.  Granted the posts have been getting fewer and fewer over the last few years as the trade has moved over to NW 2nd Ave.  They were usually descriptions of their outfits but I sometimes would throw in things like "crackie chic" and "gummer girl".  Generally, I would get several LOLs and I figured people could get a taste of the neighborhood I live in. 

So I understand that people use Facebook for a lot of different reasons, such as networking, staying in touch with friends and family, political discourse and entertaining others. I've tried several experiments with Facebook trying to "take it to the next level" or just explore ways to connect with people and tell them that they are important to me, that they have contributed to who I am on some level and figure out ways to honor that.  For example I wrote all 350 friends a Haiku poem(blogpost 12/28/2011).  Because of this, some people warn me: "be careful what you post" and "it will follow you forever."  I find that the "friends" who make these warnings are more than content to read what's on my page, but post very little of themselves on their own. Fine by me. 

Back to the hookers.  So over the years I've considered taking pictures of the hookers in my hood: Long legged Trannie, Hot boy with a silver pail, Badonkadonk, Professional Blond, Girl with pimp who shadows her.  Each time I refrained from photography because of personal safety, proximity and because I thought it would be exploitative.  That is, until I saw her, the small person hooker.  I had two thoughts.....aww poor thing, then it was like, "you go girl." Strutting her sexiness for all to see.  How could I write about a little person hooker and not add a pic? Yes, I knew it was wrong. I knew it was exploitative. Yet, how could I not? The devil made me take that pic and yes, I posted it on this week's Biscayne Hooker Report.  

So you can guess the response...everything from "aw, pobrecita has a club foot" to "you go girl!"  The pic went kind of viral....friends tagging each other on the pic(which would keep it pushing back to the top of my page) 20 then 30 comments, it was a Facebook hit!  Shameful is what it was.  It was base....but hookers are funny.....and let's be honest with ourselves: hooker midgets are even funnier.  

My church lady friend(see blogpost 1/26/11) pointed out what a "cruel insensitive jerk" I was.  I have to agree.  Yet I ask myself, what damage was actually done?   Little miss hooker is out there working 81st in Biscayne right now, like so many other girls. Is the offense because the woman in question is a hooker? Or because we laughed at a little person? What should I do about the hookers? Call the police?(see blogpost; 10/3/2011)  Is it my duty and say, "hey girl sorry you're a hooker, go work on another corner so I don't have to see you." What do I say to her pimp that is ten feet away(and 100 feet away from my front door and new BMW)? No, I use the only defense I have: I laugh and joke about it. I even write about it. I took a picture of it.  It wasn't pretty, but yeah it was funny.....and like many things that make us was sad too. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Thank you New Yorker person, as a Miamian I live for your validation.

They have arrived to their winter nesting grounds: the ubiquitous New York Snowbirds (Egotisicus analholus). Arriving like most migratory and seasonal birds they appear in your garden one day, singing sweet songs, squawking,  and preening. You smile because you know winter has arrived.  Like all winter fowl you're grateful that they've shared their time in your locale, but you really get tired of them crapping on your head after awhile. 

I understand that New York is the center of the galaxy and that everything done outside of there is quaint and provincial. That me, as a mere local Miamian should rejoice that the New Yorker has cast a glance on my poor rugged outpost in the swamp and said: yes I will visit you, but I will make sure you know of my superiority and that I could have just as well have gone to some other city to make them feel inferior. Alas, it's Miami's turn again to be the "in" place to visit this winter.

Every decade or so, New Yorkers "discover" Miami. When I was young there was the South Beach phenomenon, so popular that New Yorkers renamed it "SoBe" because "South Beach" was apparently too hard to pronounce. I've never heard a local call it "SoBe".  Miami was invaded by fashionistas, models, beautiful people all loving the "exotic feel". Any WASP really knows that the term "exotic" is just another way of saying "I'm tired of sleeping around with white people."

So now, thanks to Art Basel there is a new type of New Yorker here: the hipsters and aritst-types and rich people. Instead of staying on the beach, like all good tourists should, they're combing my neighborhood and clogging up the Starbucks. AND they're complaining that there are no coffeehouses other than Starbucks. I hate to be the one to tell them, but we don't need coffeehouses here because it's nice and warm all year long and curling up on a bed-bug infested sofa is very much a New York thing.

So I guess I should be flattered that the denizens #1 rudest city come down to visit the #2nd rudest city and complain.  Yet I find myself annoyed. I was annoyed because I was given a "look" when I complained about the cold. It was 48degrees and the person in question was getting out of a car with Jersey plates, wearing shorts and a t-shirt. I doubt seriously that Snookie or the Situation would be wearing daisy dukes and halter tops in 45 degree weather.....wait....okay...well...somebody with sense would not be wearing such an outfit.

So they're here spending money helping the economy. I begrudgingly say "thanks" as Miamian, but if you New Yorkers don't like it here.....there are plenty of Brazilians tourists who do.