Franky needed a small budget increase for the family clinic he supervised for the City of Miami. The money would subsidize parking costs for the clinic's impoverished clients. He remembers waiting day after day for the Miami official who held the purse strings, sipping warm Cokes outside the man's office till he had memorized every stain on the hallway floor. Franky says he could hear jokes being told in Spanish and howls of laughter emanating from cronies behind the bureaucrat's door, but he never got inside to make his plea for money.
Then an elderly Miami power broker died. "The newspapers said he brought his big family over from Havana and found them all city jobs," Franky marvels. "He was a man who knew how to get things done. But it didn't sound like he knew many black people. I needed a good story to get me some coffin time."
Franky concocted a mother who, he told the Cuban mourners, had been a humble yet gourmet cook toiling over the deceased's lavish parties and who was adored by him.
Mourners stood back a respectful distance from the casket as Franky gave the corpse a manly yet touching shoulder pat. "And I palmed a parking ticket stapled to a dollar under the pillow his head was on," he recalls. "I knew he'd understand."
One week later the unseen bureaucrat called Franky to say the funds were available. The clinic could now rent the parking spaces it needed -- in a lot owned by one of the paper pusher's relatives. "Yes, Heaven does seem to work a lot like Miami," Franky muses. "If I'd been caught doing obeah at a Cuban funeral, it would have been very embarrassing and impossible to explain. But it was fun! The adrenaline! And it takes skill. I used to do magic tricks with coins when I was a kid, using my hands quickly. It all came back to me standing at the coffin. I might try it again. The clinic where I now work needs a lot of things."
Earlier this year Sam, a student at FIU, decided he needed mystical intervention to help his floundering love life. He worshiped another student from afar but couldn't work up the courage to ask her out. He loitered outside her classrooms, peeking in the door "like I was twelve years old," he says, wincing at the memory. A friend newly arrived from Nassau pointed out the solution -- a choice of two funerals of men wise in the ways of the heart. The first man's obituary praised his 38-year marriage. The second man was famous in his neighborhood as a Casanova and would have four female pallbearers. "But he died a bachelor," Sam says, "with no woman at his side." So he went to the devoted husband's open-casket viewing. As soon as the sanctuary was deserted, Sam says he raced up to the coffin and stuck a red paper heart inscribed with the name of his true love inside the man's suit pocket. "Close to his heart," Sam emphasizes.
That month the coed miraculously experienced car trouble the very day Sam walked her from class to the parking lot. He gave her a ride home and had the "best conversation of my life," he recalls.
They're getting married in September.
"It's like any superstition," Sam shrugs. "There are a thousand times it doesn't work, but the one time it does, it's wonderful. And in a big city like Miami, an island man needs all the help he can get, even if he has to steal it from the spirits."
"If Cubans won't share power with us while they're alive, maybe we can steal a bit from their spirits.