The Heart Goes for a Haircut

How to be homeless on Miami Beach

 Ratman & Zarco

On the last stormy night of winter, a man with a flashlight went looking for the notorious Eby Loveland, the homeless "champion" who -- legend has it -- taught all the bums on South Beach how to use an ordinary Spam can key to open parking meters and liberate coins. Eby had worked for the City of Miami Beach as a meter man for ten years, and before that did eighteen years in the Coast Guard, but he'd always liked women and drinking inordinately, and toward the end of his municipal career, had been taken with the unfairness of the social order; so he'd begun getting loaded and using his master key to fill his pockets with quarters and dimes to buy his less fortunate drinking buddies beers. Naturally, when the law saw what was going on, it made short work of Eby's Robin Hood phase, confiscating his key and sentencing him to three months in Metro West. When he got out, someone -- "It wasn't me, for Chrissake!" he insists -- showed the bums the Spam can trick, eventually costing Miami Beach $90,000, and forcing the installation of hundreds of new parking meter heads, at another big bite to the poor taxpayer.

Since then, Eby has been literally lying low. On February 23, for instance, in one of those melodramatic paroxysms nature uses to remind us that weather still trumps BellSouth, the rainy wind was lashing the telephone wires like stagecoach reins, and it was hard to make phone calls, even by cell. So: the slick parking lot at the foot of the Helen Mar apartments; a soaking walk over the Indian Creek footbridge at 24th and Collins; a muddy slide down the bank on the far side . . . "Eby?" He lived under the bridge now. A 21st-century troll.

Steve Satterwhite
Bisente Martinez sleeps among the boulders on Watson Island, but not for long
Steve Satterwhite
Bisente Martinez sleeps among the boulders on Watson Island, but not for long

You couldn't see anything. Blueblackgrey, with some shiny shifts of light as the rain pissed against your glasses. Then, going forward, a darker black, dead center against the east wall. On the ground, a mound, moving as you approached it, an eerie skittering that raised the hair on your arms and legs, something really wrong, as if a werewolf waited . . .

Flashlight on the trouble spot. Wet moving fur. But atomized, surging in different directions, squeaking now, as 20 or 30 big rats rose off Eby's body, like the vault scene in Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula, disturbed in their slumber: "Who the fuck is that?" Eby said, grouchily.

"Eby, you all right?"

"Of course I'm all right, you pussy. Never seen a rat before? When it rains this hard, their holes fill up and they start to drown, so they haul ass up here and snuggle in around me to keep warm . . . Naw, they don't bite. They just tryin' to get dry . . ." He fished for a cigarette.

Loveland had been living under the bridge for two years, more easily at first than recently. That was because the tenants at the Helen Mar, an artsy group of writers, photographers, producers and performers, were so widely split on the tolerance issue. One lady, an English model beauty, would bring heaping platters of gourmet take-out down to Eby and his pals to cheer and fatten them up; others, like a policeman who doesn't want his name used, would drop $20s on them and slap hands as he galloped over the bridge on his morning run to the beach . . . but some, like Susan Rosler and her boyfriend David, or a media creature called Cyn Zarco, couldn't tolerate the scurf-troll funkiness, the skin pitted like lemon rind, the floormop hair, the sheer dirt of the homeless lifestyle, and would bring the cops down on the footbridge crowd a couple of times a week: "They're mangy!" Cyn hollered into the phone, trying for a sympathetic ear from New Times; she wanted help for her campaign to juice MIAB politicians into driving Eby out for good. She'd already had his mattresses, pillows, blankets and plastic water jugs confiscated through Officer Andy Kuncas, who'd busted Eby for drinking from an open container in public, the Beach's strange excuse-rule for arresting homeless types; but Loveland kept coming back, a fleshy boomerang: "That damp mud [under the bridge] ain't doin' me any good, I feel like shit, but I'm used to it there, it's like my home."

Told of this, and of the rat episode, Cyn snorted disdainfully: "He's drunk! He can't feel a thing down there! What are you, sorry for him? Whyn'cha take him home with you? We pay all this rent and have to see The Grapes of Wrath out there every day? Whyn'cha feel sorry for us? We can't even go to the pool in peace without these ugly fucks staring . . . I'm afraid to walk around naked in my apartment or to use my balcony because they're always looking . . . Whyn'cha get your priorities straight?"

Zarco, an enabler of fashion shoots, a sometime gossip columnist, aspiring photographer, would-be poet, intimate of club stars like Michael Tronn and Gerry Kelly, and of extreme exotics, like the gift shop help at the Delano, gofer/fan of megastars George Clooney and Danny Glover, despotic arbiter of "taste" for friends and less-than-friends alike -- in short, the sort of person that new Mayor David Dermer and the hotel and nightlife preciosi on the Beach would appear to prefer to see traipsing Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue -- simply can't bear the idea of the Eby Lovelands of Miami. Aesthetically, they just ruin the concept. If only Manolo or Georgio could design some velvet sea-going woodchipper to float them all out into the Shark Current and let them vaporize discreetly in the brine . . .

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