SOUTH FLORIDA, APRIL 2011, EASTER:
‘Are you from the United States? No? From Europe, aren’t you? I knew it because you are intact’
‘Yes. Uncut. Uncircumcised. I am from the United States and I am circumcised. I envy you.’
This guy from San Diego kept talking and talking, as we all gathered at the outdoor Jacuzzi under the torrential sub-tropical rain in Fort Lauderdale.
FLYING ON AMERICAN AIRLINES:
‘Your carry-on is too big, Sir.’
The solicitous air hostess, serving food and refreshments:
‘You, in the middle, anything?’
‘Is that David Bowie?’
I turned my head.
‘Is that Bowie on your shirt?’
I did a twirl to face her.
‘It’s fucking awesome!’
‘Would you like it with onions?’
‘Do you want ketchup, mayonnaise or mustard?’
‘Just onions with ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard? Or just onions?’
‘Just the onions only.’
‘I got you!’
‘Para ir al Downtown, es el C y el 120’
‘¿El 6 y el 120?’
‘No, el C.’
‘Ah, el S.’
‘No. El C. C de casa.’
‘This water is better,’ said the chunky hairy boy showering next to me at the outdoor showers by Haulover Beach. He was pointing at his own shower. I looked at the water coming out of his shower and then at the water coming out of mine. I couldn’t tell the difference. Both seemed to have the same water pressure and volume. In what way could his shower be better? Was it that the water he was getting was cooler than mine? How could he know? I asked: ‘Better than this?’ pointing at my shower. He said: ‘No;’ and pointing at his shower he added: ‘This one is better.’ I was confused. But he finally explained: ‘The other water is warm, salty, sticky… fucking nasty,’ turning his shoulder in the direction of the sea as he rinsed soap out of his hairy scrotum.
A few yards away, the busy public men’s facilities brought back memories of, ahem, 80s pop icon George Michael. Ominously idle butch men who at first appeared to be queuing for the cubicles would stand aimlessly without budging even after several of the urinals and cubicles were vacated. The mirror at the end of the row of urinals was grossly stained and cramped not only my attempts to check the state of my hair after swimming in the ocean but surely also the opportunities for many of the patrons to strategically keep track of the movements and glances of the other patrons, especially those who stood in front of the urinal a lot longer than would normally be granted. The stares were intense. The air was full of threat, as well as the stench of urine and faeces. Was there any user good looking enough to be suspected as an under-cover policeman? I washed my hands in a hurry at the filthy basin and left.
ON THE BUS IN MIAMI BEACH:
The old, grey-haired Latino lady standing in the middle of the bus was wearing a white working man’s helmet covered with ‘Dora the Explorer’ stickers. Other accessories included pink gloves, pink bracelets and a necklace made of pink plastic beads. Her hands gripped tightly a ‘Hello Kitty’-themed wheeled suitcase. Pink, of course.
Inside Miami’s buses, the air conditioning was very strong. So strong in fact that, whenever I got off after a long ride, my specs would steam up when facing the hot Floridian temperatures outside, even in the evenings. Not surprisingly, then, this pair of young Italian men, who boarded at Bal Harbour, felt forced to cover their mouths and noses with fashionable scarves inside the bus. So cold they seemed to feel that they stood uncomfortably next to the driver for the duration of the ride – just because it was the section of the bus less exposed to air conditioning. In spite of the merciless sunshine and high temperatures outdoors, they were wearing long trousers and long sleeved summer jackets over their shirts, which were perfectly coordinated with their scarves. Their hands were full of shopping bags from Bal Harbour’s fashion designer stores.
I was greeted to Fort Lauderdale by a colossal billboard commanding: “Continue your trip with us.” It arose from a big roundabout in the middle of the highway. On the billboard, an elderly priest and an elderly nun looked down on us, smiling spookily, to advertise the local Catholic temple. Who would have thought the Catholic Church would hire the services of David Lynch to design their publicity campaigns?
Fort Lauderdale: Men in uniform by the beach; men out of their clothes at “clothing optional” all male resorts; students on Easter vacation; northbound palm trees bent by the persistently soothing ocean wind; oversized yachts and millionaires’ villas at the seaside canals of the (cough; cough) “Venice of America”; overcrowded restaurants at Las Olas Boulevard; ‘calamari’ (uncircumcised penises) and ‘eggs and chorizo’ (Spanish genitalia) at the Battle of the Bulges at the Ramrod leather bar; good karaoke and bad drag at Bill’s; sunburnt Anglo-Saxon queers of all persuasions at the oversized Alibi pub in the queer Florida Mecca of Wilton Manors; multi-racial cab drivers greeting poor tips with a disappointed “thank you” (including the Jewish cab driver from the Bronx who scrutinised the Royal wedding for me – more about him later); teenage Latino ‘travestis’ bringing their mothers to their drag shows at 2a.m. in the biggest gay compound of them all; learning that ‘My name is Anthony and I am at your service for whatever you want’ translates as ‘I expect a tip at the end of the ride.’
I wonder if the watchful gaze from the old priest and nun on the motorway billboard was still on me whilst surrounded at The Alcazar/Worthington Guesthouse by the uncircumcised South African, the circumcised New Yorkers from Long Island, the uncircumcised Venezuelan from Chicago, the Lebanese couple from Oklahoma (whose organs, probably circumcised, always hid under their designer swimwear), the circumcised Texan, the uncircumcised Argentineans, the circumcised New Yorker from Colorado and the Coloradoan boy from San Diego (who was wearing shorts all the time so no one could tell for sure whether he was circumcised or not).
TWO DAYS AFTER THE ROYAL WEDDING, AT FORT LAUDERDALE:
The reception desk at The Alcazar/Worthington Guesthouse. Two men in their 30s had just checked out and were waiting for their taxi. They were concerned the taxi was taking too long to arrive. The receptionist filled the void with friendly chatter:
‘Did you see the wedding?’ he asked excitedly.
‘Erm… we saw the vows as we were changing planes in Dallas.’
‘I loved the impromptu part!’
‘The car?’ replied reluctantly the customer, the silent ‘r’ in ‘car’ betraying his English origin.
‘Yes! The thing Prince Harry did. It was totally impromptu. Not scripted. I loved it!’
The customers half-smiled with aloof British restrain.
My taxi driver arrived on time. He was a nervy middle aged man with blond curly hair and a big nose. It soon became apparent that he was a Jew from New York, from the Bronx specifically, a neighbourhood he claimed to miss. Florida was too sunny for him. As soon as I told him about my final destination, London, he asked:
‘Are you into the Royal Wedding?’
‘No. I came here to get away from it, actually.’
‘I can’t believe it! Everyone’s into it. Men, women, transsexuals. All! And such a waste of money.’
I agreed with him.
‘And what’s Westminster Abbey?’ he asked.
‘It’s the church where they got married.’
‘Is that near the Buckingham Palace?’
‘Well, it’s one of the two biggest churches in London. The other one, St. Paul’s, is where Diana got married.’
‘You see! You’re actually into it. You are a closeted Royal Wedding follower.’
He grabbed a newspaper lying on the front seat and flashed it to me.
‘This is the New York Times. It has a 15 page spread about the wedding. Do you want it?’
He read the paper as he drove.
‘It says here that there is a couple from England in New York who went there to get away from the wedding too…’
It was like being in a Woody Allen movie, only in sunny Florida.
Palm trees flanked the motorway. The blue sky was mirrored by the imposing ocean. The air was humid. Sweaty.
I was missing Florida already.