The Grim Keeper

The sexton's post at the Miami City Cemetery is a burial ground for troublesome municipal employees. But Clyde Cates wasn't about to just roll over and die.

Counters Cates: "I told them before, to me it is just a matter of compensating. You treat the area where I am at and me like dirt, then I am going to compensate. By compensating, it kind of equalizes the situation where they are not getting away with leaning on me without paying some kind of price."

His yen to equalize matters is so strong that he stays on a job he could retire from at any time. Cates has logged enough years to have earned a $35,000 annual pension. Not enough to make him rich, he concedes, but not bad for a 44-year-old who dreams of kayak trips in the Amazon. He says a union official recently encouraged him to quit rather than jeopardize the pension with his activism. He would have none of that.

Certainly, though, there is something attractive about just getting out, taking the money and leaving the problems behind. Sitting at his desk and contemplating the idea of retirement, Cates grows silent for the first time in an interview that has lasted nearly two hours. His shift ended long ago and he should be getting on home; two cats -- the vagabonds from Virginia Key -- are waiting for him in his South Miami apartment. He tosses some paperbacks into a box, replaces Korsekoff's log in a file cabinet.

"When the city offered early retirement last year, a lot of employees vowed to address the problems of the administration from outside," he reflects. "My response to them was that you are more effective working inside the city, especially if you stick your neck out and speak up."

As far as that goes, he points out, the vandalism has been a good thing. "I think it was right in as far as it focused attention on the cemetery and its problems. I plan to bury my dad in here, so I want this place to be in great shape," he says, gazing out at the darkening grounds.

"It has been a good thing for me," Cates adds. "It has opened up doors, yes. But it remains to be seen how the epitaph will be written.

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