Friday, March 30, 2012

Miami After

Part of the title of this blog is "after 40" and to perhaps illuminate what happens in the life of one man in what we might called the "middle" of his life expectancy.  Granted I'm not shooting for 80, but considering gay middle age just 15 years ago was somewhere in your early 20's; I'm happy to have made it this far.  That being said, it's time  to pause and reflect about life, and sadly, death.

I have been meaning to write about this topic all month and try to write in my usual wry, sassy writing style.  How can you write about something that is as normal as going to bathroom (which is a place I might want to go, while I'm going).  At this stage in my life friends and family are passing and I know that I don't really want to be at the front or back of that parade. Today as my husband left for a funeral I asked "why are you going?"

He replied: "if I don't go to theirs, they won't go to mine." 

I want very much not to be schmaltzy and philosophical about death. It's a fact, we die. Yet our humanity desires immortality. How do I honor my Grandmother who showed strength through laughter and fearlessness. Or the handsome lawyer who was my team-mate who died alone yesterday after I told him he could always call if he needed to talk.  Or the 22 year old boy who swung from a tree in Morningside Park, who I learned this morning had committed suicide when I talked to his mom.

What is my responsibility after they're gone? I think this is point where at my age I look at my own mortality and accept and rejoice that I knew them or of them.  We are very small in the scheme of humanity, time and the universe. Our time here is a very small and very precious gift.  Sad to see such wonderful people go. I hope somehow I can learn from their lives and learn about humility, humor and grace: so I can pass it on through my own life.  Hopefully, those people who pass can live on through each one of us.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

So Your Neighbor is a Drug Dealer? That's so Miami.

So your neighbor is a drug dealer? That's so Miami.  I can honestly say that throughout my life in Miami I've always had at least one neighbor that was a drug dealer. Whether I was rooming in a chic Brickell Ave Condo, wealthy gated community bliss in Doral, starter condo in Fountainbleu Park, South Beach or the trendy Miami Mimo district; the one constant was the neighborhood drug dealer.

I can also say with certainty that if you live in Miami it generally means a cocaine dealer. However on South Beach "club drugs" were more popular. Run of the mill pot-dealers are a much rarer breed.  I've heard that having a pot dealer as a neighbor is not cool because of the smell. So I guess pill-peddlers and coke dealers are a bit "classier". However drugs are pervasive in Miami and I guess they are a mixed blessing which I learned a few years ago when I attended meetings of the South Florida Methamphetamine Task force. That's when the presenter stated: 

"Cocaine is so ingrained in Miami culture, that it has served as a prophylaxis against the national meth epidemic in that city.

Who would've thought? Cocaine saved Miami from meth. Maybe our city's tagline should read: Miami: come for the coke, leave with all your teeth. 

So, getting back to dealing with your neighborhood dealer. How do you know your neighbor is dealing? There are few simple clues.

Firstly, the vast majority of drug dealers are male and under 40.  They tend to live alone or with other males in the house. They are usually very attractive. Think "sexy bad boy" and you've pegged about three quarters of all the drug dealers in Miami-Dade.  Think, if I brought this one home.....damn,  are my parents going to be pissed.  I don't know what it is about about the drug trade, but being hot and buffed is part of the job requirement. Perhaps the drug cartels require head shots and full body stats for all potential candidates. More likely, they spent a lot of time in the prison gym. It's called "jailhouse hot" for a reason. 
                (Real drug dealers: You think they're pretty now, just wait till they get out of jail)

Secondly, they tend to wear a lot of jewelry. Rolex watches, Gucci bracelets, tacky, chunky jewelry. This, to me is the downside of the drug trade, is the tackiness of it all. Expensive cars too, are part of the whole package. I guess you need to be mobile, so pawning that 24 carat "nugget" style ring when you need to post bail can be useful. 

Thirdly, they're almost always renters. Now I know how we condo owners feel about renters, and I believe drug dealers have given renters a bad name.  Why? Because drug dealers don't take care of the property. They roll down the shades, don't mow the grass and have a steady stream of people knocking on their door 24 hours a day.  It makes condo owners cringe, when they learn there is a single male tenant in the building under the age of 40 who drives an Aston Martin when most of us are driving Fords.  Once you see the gold chains and the bulge at the know it's too's probably a drug dealer. Under 40, male and a pair of capri (hence better property values.)

Now you may think you can escape this scourge by moving to a gated or "restricted" community. Wrong. Doormen, security guards, security services are easily corrupted and quickly become "lookouts" for the drug dealer. So unless you tip your building or community staff really well (as much as the drug dealer) gated communities are no real solution.

Can you call the police? Yes, but don't expect much help, and you don't want to hurt your property values by having a major (or minor) drug bust nearby. Also, the drug dealer will know it was you who dropped the dime; remember.... he knows where you live. 

What's the best way to deal with them? Be nice. Get to know them. Ask them about their lives. Invite them over. Sit on your lawn and wave to all the "clients" who knock on the door. Stand nearby and say hello to them as they come and go to buy their drugs. Engage them in conversation. Walk your dog in front at 3AM. Always be floating around. Remember Mrs. Kravits? She had Samantha and Darren scared out of their minds that they might discover that there was witchcraft in the neighborhood. I am sure there were no drug dealers in her neighborhood either. Finally, say nicely "I know you have a lot of friends dropping by at all hours, and the neighbors are starting to take notice."  This has worked for me twice....the drug dealer usually stops dealing from the house or moves away....whichever happens, it's a victory. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Miami Manners - a Primer

In a city as polyglot as Miami sometimes what one group might consider "rude" may be just misinterpretation of another group's social standards. For example in some cultures good service means a "chatty" server that has a lot  of "flair" (minimum: 15 pieces) in another, the waiter efficiently takes an order and delivers food and removes plates in a very unobtrusive way. Yet in others, surly servers toss your plate at you and give you the stink eye and then expect a tip. 

In social settings different cultures have different concepts of "time" and "time" changes if its business or social.  Driving habits vary across cultures as well.  In some places driving is a community activity where everyone efficiently gets to where they want to go, or Miami where even the shortest drive is really a test of intelligence, guile and cojones. 

Since I am a product of two distinct cultures, Anglo and Latino, and have spent many years in Miami I thought I'd give some pointers that may help everyone understand each other.

1. Time. I could go on about time, especially since they changed the clocks this week, but I want everyone to be clear on what we mean by time in Miami.

     a. On-time Anglo: On-time to an Anglo means 5 to 10 minutes early.  There is no difference between "social" time or "business" time.
     b. On-Time Latino: On time for Latinos has many nuances. Latin business time is usually on-time if you arrive within 30 minutes of a scheduled appointment. Latin social time: there is no guarantee that any Latino will stick to any kind of social appointment time, with the possible exception of weddings and baptisms.
So if you're having a dinner say "dinner will be served at 8:30 Anglo time." most Miamians will respect that. However, Argentines will arrive at 8:30 and refuse to eat till 1AM. 

2. Invitations and RSVPs:  Expecting RSVPs for a dinner, event or party in Miami is like trying to catch moths without a flashlight:  You know as soon as you turn on the light they'll come but you never know how many will show.  Thank you cards are not a very Latino custom, but calling the next day to say how you got drunk and laid, or any good gossip acquired at a their party is the best kind of thank you any host would be happy to have.

3. Cheek kissing and lip kissing. In Miami its customary for men and women (and gay men) to kiss each other on the cheek as a greeting or farewell.  Lip kissing to me is creepy, and I usually turn to avoid the lips. This is not considered rude. Brazilians kiss on both cheeks, left to right.   When in doubt, shake hands.  Anglo people prefer a nice firm handshake, brief if possible. Argentinian men kiss everyone, they are not all gay. 

4. Speaking a language that not everyone understands. It's perfectly acceptable in Miami to speak your native tongue. However it is perfectly acceptable for a non-speaker to ask for a translation, and even demand the nuance and context of any obscure Cuban saying. Simply because they're usually pretty funny in English too.

5. It's perfectly fine to speak loud in Miami. Whether on a cell phone, in English, Spanish it's okay, just let it out. Passion is fine, even if it's just asking your husband where the pickles are in Publix.  You are your own world and nothing else matters but you. 

6. Children: children are meant to be seen and heard in Miami. Not unusual to see four-year-olds out partying with their parents at 1AM.  If this bothers you, and it should, there's nothing you can do. 

7. Appearance. In Miami you are expected to look your best at all times. Not thin mind you, just look as if you put some effort into "your look". You must be clean, all over. Cubans are extremely peste-phobic. Do not have peste!!! (peste to Miamians means stink)

8. Feel free to ask anyone about their background, in Miami it's okay to ask someone where they're from. It's not okay to ask them their immigration status, regardless of how wealthy they may seem. 

9. Miamians generally do not have a "resume fetish" like New York, LA or DC.  In social situations most people don't talk about work unless you are close.  Avoid talking about work in general, it's considered a bit rude. 

10. Safe topics: Your favorite Cuban restaurant, trips to Spain, real estate, weather, clubs, reality TV and local festivals. Miami is not really a sports town unless one of the teams is winning....

So there you have it, a few hints to make your life in Miami just a bit simpler. 

At some point I'll do a blog about driving in Miami. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

What Every Young Gay Should Know or Gay Culture Transfer

Usually after swim practice with Miami' s premier swim team(, several members go out to lunch or dinner. The other night I was joined by a young man who was 22. Usually dinner after practice is a group thing, but it turned out to be just him and me.  He's very sweet and has just returned home after graduating college.  He smart and ambitious and is proudly on the first few rungs of the corporate ladder for a very large company. He exudes the bravado and naivete of a 22 year old. Fun, smart and cute, he'll make someone very happy one day.

Initially I was feeling a bit uncomfortable dining with someone so young. I was thinking what could I possibly have to say to him. Besides swimming I didn't see much we had in common. Yet I have known him since he joined the team two months ago and he has made a good addition to the team. I don't know why I worried, turns out he just wanted some relationship advice.  Then he asked the question "how have things changed for gays in you lifetime?" Things have changed so much in my short gay lifetime that I didn't even know where to begin. So I had to go back before my time.

7 things about Gay Culture that every young gay man should know:

1. Why Judy Garland is our first "diva":  To start Judy was an amazingly talented individual. Her voice was strong and powerful yet at the same time innocent. She was charming, funny and a good actress. She could dance too. She was also a hot mess. Addictions and men swirled through her life, yet each time she pulled herself back up and went on singing....Judy at Carnegie Hall is one of the great performances of the 20th Century. Most importantly, she was the first superstar to acknowledge her gay fans. Nobody of her stature, except maybe Madonna 20 years after her death even cared about a gay audience.

2. San Francisco:  San Francisco is the original "gay mecca".  In this laid back city of incredible vistas and beautiful Victorian buildings a small working class neighborhood named The Castro transformed itself into the first gay neighborhood. It is important because it was the first place in the world where gays created a safe zone, where they could live as gay men out in the open. This neighborhood elected Harvey Milk, the world's first openly gay elected official. Supervisor Milk was murdered along side Mayor Moscone, his murderer received  just 5 years in prison.

3. Stonewall Riots: Gays fought the police for 3 days in front of the Stonewall Inn in the Village neighborhood of Manhattan. It was an extremely violent event, several police cars were burned and at one point the NYPD was surrounded by angry rioters who ran out of their apartments to participate. Gays were tired of being bullied rounded up and sent to jail just for associating together. The New York Times suppressed the story.

4. Anita Bryant: There must be some irony in the fact that a beauty queen was one of the gay community's first and most destructive enemy.  Her "Children First" campaign but laws on the books that banned gays from adoptions, equal protection under the law and set back work towards equality for 20 years. 

5. AIDS Epidemic: 50,000 gay men died in 60 months before the government decided to do something about the disease.  The gay community was forced to unite and fight this existential threat.  United, the community harnessed tremendous influence in fighting this disease. by 1992 years 500,000 gay men were assumed to have died. Most of the deaths were men between the ages of 25 -38. An entire generation gone.

6. Calvin Klein Underwear: Calvin Klein redefined the self image of American men, and gay men in particular. Prior to the Calvin ads, most guys were just happy to to have a penis. Calvin made American men,  especially gay ones, become extremely self-conscious about our bodies. It was no longer good enough to just have a nice face, but ripped abs and big pecs too.  American men were held up to the same beauty standards as women. 

7. Ellen DeGeneres: Her brave move to come out on television, the subsequent destruction of her career, and her reemergence and success changed the dialogue about being "out" in public.

So there is a lot more of course.....but this primer on pivotal individuals, places, and things is a good place to start.  I invite you all to join and add your suggestions: