The Heart Goes for a Haircut

How to be homeless on Miami Beach

All kinds of things can happen during the day, while you sit there with your drinking pal from the suburbs, the one who brushes his eyebrows with a travel toothbrush and likes to talk politics: "Penelas is worse than Diaz, I'm tellin' ya! Diaz is an old-fashioned human corruption guy, but Alex is the corporate yuppie pervo type . . ."; Billy nodding, yawning, checking out the luminous legs of the sunbathers scissoring by and then -- as happened the first week in April -- a knockout stops in front of him in a nude silk criss-cross dress by Narciso Rodriguez, arms folded, abruptly waiting. He stands up, leaves his drink with Suburbs, and they take a cab to Twentieth and Collins. She's a hooker and this is some john's room, but he's been down in the bar drinking for hours and she's still itching, knows Billy's rep . . .

He wakes up with the cops around him and some 50-year-old from Ocala crying that he broke in. Nobody buys Billy's story, the girl is gone, but then nothing is missing either, so they hold him one night and the judge levels a $250 fine, which if Billy can't raise, will buy him another 20 days.

"Hey, he needed to get off the street," Bisente philosophizes later, "and anyway, you get three hots and a cot. Sometimes, like when La Copa Mundial is on TV, I'll go up to a cop car and piss on it. That gets me in for sure."

It's a condo down there: Life under the MacArthur Causeway
Steve Satterwhite
It's a condo down there: Life under the MacArthur Causeway

A Homeless Geography

Cherry and Tex are part of the Grunge Homeless, operating way west near 701 Lincoln Road (Douglas Gardens), between Euclid and Michigan. Tex is in and out of bands (mostly out now that he's an old man of 28 with a drug-and-alcohol problem), and Cherry, with red, yellow and blue stripes in her hair, used to hang around backstage. She still hangs around, with a squad of other late-teen runaways, and does what she must to support her boyfriend.

Officer Bobby Trinidad (name changed) says the punk homeless stick together, don't mix with the blacks in the north end of Lummus, or the Latino and Anglo strays who gather farther south, near the public restroom, or down at South Pointe. "They discriminate and sometimes fight among themselves. They're not the best-adjusted bunch you're gonna run into on the Beach." The really aged and mentally ill ones stay west of the Zone, around Jefferson or Meridian, and basically beg for their keep, like Mrs. Maupin, who also sells her art pieces near the Club Deuce on Fourteenth Street near Washington, or old Thomas Hunt from Kentucky, who's in a wheelchair down on Seventh now. Sometimes the criminal ones -- maybe ten percent of the estimated 600 homeless inhabiting the Beach -- will act in teams. Aside from just moving the ugly, dirty homeless out of tourists' paths, it's these guys the cops are really looking for.

On a night out with a predator, you can see why so many hoteliers and businesspeople have such low opinions of vagrants. One common scam is the "parking move": You drop your car off in front of one of the glamorous hotels or restaurants on Ocean Drive; a nice, clean-cut kid runs up, chewing gum industriously, takes your keys, shoots around the corner to a lot where he has a seamy-looking friend waiting; he wraps his gum in tape and sticks it in the lock-jamb, so that the door doesn't completely close, but the electronic beeper won't go off; a slice of tape protrudes; the friend, wearing kitchen gloves, yanks on it, opens the door, ransacks the car, then pulls off the tape and locks the door for real. Meanwhile the clean-cut kid has run back to Ocean and hung the car key on a wooden peg board in full view of everyone, often including the driver. When dinner or drinks are over, driver signals for his car, kid pelts to get the key, and gallops around the corner like a puppy, pulling up minutes later with the patron's auto, his tongue practically lolling. Driver beamingly gives big tip, usually doesn't discover the theft until later, and when he does, never suspects the hardworking kid, who he saw retrieve the key from the peg board! Kid and friend move their act frequently.

Then there is the "crab crawl," best used in the middle of the night, when the beach is closed to everyone for sleeping (12:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.). Romance is the fulcrum for this scam, salted with lust: Beautiful young couple have done the clubs by 3:00 a.m., are loaded and stoned, go for a walk at the water's edge, get the feeling, run back up the beach to drop their clothes, move into the sea and splash out to where the shelf starts dropping till they're in at least waist deep. Homeless, who aren't allowed to sleep, are creeping around Lummus, waiting their moment. When they see two figures sort of melding into one, they're on their bellies like infantry, flattened on the sand, taking advantage of a trick of the arc lights near the beach which create great cones of shadow-cover, so that if the amorous duo do look up, they'll see only black triangles against the lighter gray. The bums move in crablike, grab pants, wallets, pocketbooks, watches, and try to withdraw quietly, but if they're spotted, just take off up a side street, hooting like the Wild Bunch: "Aren't too many dudes who'll try to chase you past Ocean with their balls slappin' against their legs and everybody laughin'," chortles one New Times informant.

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