Strange Man in a Strange Land

Mauricio Pavez came from Chile to Florida as a tourist. One mugging and eight months later, he refuses to leave.

Some assume he wants to try his luck here because he's on the run from someone or something in Chile, though he denies having any legal problems anywhere. If there's any criminal trouble shadowing Pavez at home, it hasn't found its way to the United States; he hasn't been arrested in Florida or California.

Still, one form of trouble seems to dog Pavez wherever he goes -- trouble keeping his story straight. In the past, he has claimed he's been offered work in Miami and is in the process of obtaining false Social Security documents so he could take the job. Now he adamantly denies the claim, although he offers a rationalization for anyone who might be driven to falsify paperwork: "If the system doesn't protect you, what choice does anyone have?"

Meanwhile, Pavez continues to tilt at windmills. In recent months he has written -- in literate and not-ungraceful Spanish -- two polemics, ostensibly requests for a personal interview with the INS director in Miami. In the letters, which describe his experiences since November, he reiterates the case for "tourists' rights," setting out detailed arguments for protecting tourists by conducting periodic evaluations of crime statistics in major tourist centers, incorporating tourism studies into relevant university curricula, and even passing laws setting "standards" for tourist treatment. To date he has not sent either letter.

The environment at Beckham Hall is sometimes grim, which isn't to say the currently minuscule staff doesn't do its best with what it's got. It just doesn't have much to work with. The small second-floor bedrooms barely house the two men who sleep in each, and the public spaces in the decades-old utilitarian building are colorless and bare. Residents are often enmeshed in dire and seemingly unresolvable personal circumstances. They're required to attend classes in "life skills" and "decision-making"; in-house Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are also mandatory for those with substance-abuse problems. Pavez, who says he has studied construction techniques, especially earthquake-proofing, in Chile, does something else at Beckham Hall that seems to greatly impress many of his peers despite its seeming incongruity with his often angry and secretive personality: He paints pictures of flowers.

They're unusual-looking assemblages because they're made of papier-máche, mostly bits of newspaper he painstakingly rolls into tiny balls and pastes onto a board. He says he learned the technique in Mexico City. The little balls make a gravelly background for a raised papier-máche image he forms on top, usually some variation on flowers in a vase. When it all dries, he paints it with acrylics and adds a frame.

He's taken the pictures to shops and galleries in South Beach and has placed several on consignment at one Lincoln Road shop. But so far none of the pictures, priced in the $25 to $45 range, has sold, he says. Much in the same way that his demands for "tourist justice" haven't sold.

But maybe he can find some inspiration, or at least consolation, in the Desiderata, which he continues to hand out to teens and tourists in hopes of earning basic spending money. The Spanish translation reads: "Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.

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