THE CURIOUS LIFE OF A SLACKER
Many readers of this blog have sent me nice emails saying how much they enjoy it and how much they look forward to the belly laughs it provides. Well nothing funny happened this week. It’s been a serious, humourless week – the kind Calvinists would think we sinners deserve.
I am in Miami staying at a hotel near the airport. I don’t hear the planes except between precisely 5 and 6am when the flight path closest to the hotel seems to be in use. The hotel itself is an anonymous, faceless, concrete monstrosity. Its saving grace is that it is a manageable size and the staff genuinely nice. Grey light is filtered through curtains of an indeterminate shade of white. I turn on every light in my room to try to alleviate the lack of natural, bright light that my island eyes now crave.
Time has already lost its usual meaning and normal rhythm. Without the anchor of family life I am free. I am free to sleep all day and write all night if I want to. Instead of savouring the freedom I feel lost and drift through this city that I don’t understand. It is 11pm on Wednesday night. I have left friends at a fashionable bar on South Beach and decide to walk a few extra blocks before catching a cab back to the twilight zone of my hotel. I pass an impossibly thin woman self-consciously walking down the street. She is walking exactly as she has been taught she must on the catwalk. Didn’t anyone remember to tell the child that, apart from the catwalk, six inch heels are only for the journey from valet parked car to bar? Of course there are a few other uses for those heels but I’ll leave that for, ahem, another sort of blog.
The only anchor I do find in this city is Vinnie’s daily breakfast salon that takes place at Jim’s East Side Diner on Biscayne and 72nd. I started coming here on my last visit with Vinnie and continue to be welcomed. Perhaps because he is such an extraordinary man, one who has managed to be a medical doctor, artist and composer, he attracts extraordinary people. I have met every walk of life – from billionaire playboys to ballet dancers, artists, personal trainers and musicians all vying to be part of his inner sanctum. The conversation is intense as it always is when V. is involved. In three days we have covered the contribution of Jesuits to society in Guam, the bastardization of Italian cuisine in the US, Vinnie’s new music score, as well as living in the time of Obama and fifty ways to leave your Facebook friends.
It must be Vinnie because the diner is a dive - one with oodles of old-world charm – but a dive nevertheless. On my first visit I complained that the blueberries atop my pile of pancakes had come from a tin and the tea from a bag and a misshapen metal jug of hot water. Bruno, a linguist-turned-singer/composer, sitting next to me, gently takes my hand, “Honey, we know The Husband has spoilt you with posh restaurants but this is where the whores have their breakfast between tricks so eat the tinned berries and drink your tea without causing a scene.” Today I know I have gained some sort of acceptance when Shorty (yes, she insists on that name), the regular server, triumphantly placed fresh strawberries on the side of my pancakes. We have no idea how she managed this feat. Of course the syrup is still no relation to the maple variety but every bite of these pancakes, every sip of tea, brings more happiness than anything a Michelin-starred establishment could offer.
Once breakfast is over we scatter to different parts of the city. Many will be off to the gym. Miami is a city where everyone works hard at being beautiful. There is true dedication and commitment to keeping lithe, tanned and moisturised – and that’s just the boys. Halfway through eating sushi with a friend on Lincoln Road I realize he might be sitting next to me but he is not really present. He is preoccupied - ogling the parade of chiseled-boned, scantily clad, talent that passes our table. I would like to be annoyed but that would be a bit mean spirited. After all, this unending stream of youthfulness is walking along precisely to be admired for their devotion to the body beautiful. And in keeping with the pace of city life there is a fair amount of multitasking going on. One gentleman was keeping his metabolic rate up, taking his pet for some fresh air, and still managing to show off his pectorals and biceps, by roller blading down the street, without a shirt on, while holding his pet rooster in his hand.
I am not multitasking, rushing, or being my normal, anxious self. My days here have become one long, Situationist-style, derive - a rudderless drift from one part of the city to the next based on arbitrary factors. I find an exhibition in the Design District that catches my eye and wonder over to it. It features a solo show by a Greek artist using her subversive stitching to comment on the role of women in modern society. A young woman sits behind a desk in the gallery, her desk piled high with papers. I ask if she has any more information on the artist and the works on display. I assume this is a standard request as all the work is on sale. No, she hasn’t got a scrap. I find a typed up blurb pasted to a wall at the back of the gallery and ask if she has copies of this. No copies but she kindly makes one for me to take away. We chat a little. I ask if she is left or right handed. Her dominant hand is the left so I use this information to turn left out of the gallery.
From there I drift through more galleries and walk through different ethnic neighbourhoods soaking in the sights, smells and endless traffic. Most of the galleries have ostentatious art – the big stuff that you buy to match the sofa and paintwork of your waterside villa. Is there no edgy underbelly of work being made that is searching to understand what it means to be human? I see a cab and decide to take it. We head north to the Museum of Contemporary Art. The neighbourhood looks rough and MOCA dark and deserted. I pay the cab, but very touchingly, my Columbian cab driver says he will not leave until he sees me safely enter the museum. It is unexpectedly closed to facilitate installing a new show and I am grateful that he is there to take me some place. Any place.
I ask him what he would do if he had an hour this afternoon to himself. Without hesitation he says he would go to the mall. A man who understands the value of retail therapy is a rare find and I give him a big tip as I get off at the Bloomingdale’s entrance to a vast complex of shops. The choices are too overwhelming and two hours later I leave with only a small box of strawberries dipped in chocolate.
Back at the hotel I reread and edit what I have written during this interlude from ordinary life. None of it is good. I ring Kate in London, a proper writer, working on her third book. She is encouraging as always and has me in stitches with tales of a relative who has her bridal registry at a store selling all kinds of fishing tackle.
One last night of fitful sleep and I am back in the arms of American Airlines heading to a small rock where two little boys I am in love with have just finished losing a football game 7 nil. I am drifting off to sleep when the person next to me asks the flight attendant for a pillow. Without a hint of a smile she barks back that she has not seen one on board since 2001. I fall asleep with a smile – I haven’t had a week like this since before 2001.