By Chuck Strouse
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By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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Joining the party is Joe, an old friend of Santa's from Miami Beach. Joe is a 53-year-old homeless cat with white-blond hair flowing down to his shoulders, a bushy mustache, and ornate tattoos covering his arms. He speaks with a slight lisp because he doesn't have any front teeth. Joe left Miami Beach because, he says, police were making life miserable for the homeless there.
"I went to jail four times in one week for an open container," Joe grouses as he stares at his beige work boots. "Cops are down on anyone who is a ragamuffin or a bum," he adds. Joe recently served a stint on a domestic violence charge after he and his wife fell off the wagon. "She came home drunk one day and started throwing shit at me," he explains. "But I'm the one who went to jail."
Santa tells Joe he's better off. "They didn't arrest you," he quips. "They rescued you from that crazy cunt. Ah, there's nothing like a trip to the gray-bar hotel."
Like his buddy Joe, Santa is quite familiar with the bed-and-breakfast accommodations of county jail. According to Miami-Dade court records, he has been arrested under the name Anthony Gregory on charges of assault and battery, cocaine possession, drinking in public, indecent exposure, obstructing street traffic, petty theft, and panhandling, among other charges, since 2000. He was convicted on the cocaine possession, petty theft, and panhandling charges. A rock in his pocket won him 45 days in the county pokey.
Recently he served three days on a felony charge of attempting to purchase cocaine. In September he was arrested for resisting an officer without violence, a misdemeanor. A few days ago he was picked up on a bench warrant for failing to appear at his arraignment hearing. He was released after one day; time served.
The cat-and-mouse game he and other street people play with the cops is a topic that gets Santa's brain percolating. "It's kind of weird how every dope fiend in this neighborhood knows Tuesdays and Thursdays the Jump Out Boys are coming. Yet a lot of them get busted anyway. What the fuck is wrong with that picture? If you know there is a good probability the Jump Outs are going to be at the dope hole, it just doesn't make sense to go there."
By now Santa is routinely stopped by vice squads when he goes out on his bicycle trips. Whether the cops can find drugs on his person is a different matter. "A couple of nights ago, me and my boy went to a dope hole and we saw this short, scrawny-looking nigga waiting to buy some shit," Santa says. "He makes eye contact with me and says öwhassup' as we're walking out of the hole."
Santa says several blocks later an unmarked police car pulled in front of him and his cohort. "Just as the car stops, I'm putting the shit in my mouth," he says. "One of the cops tells me to open my mouth. I didn't open it fast enough so he slammed me down to the ground. I end up swallowing the shit. He picks me up, yelling: öI know you swallowed it motherfucker!' That's when another car full of pigs shows up," Santa says. "Guess who comes out?" Santa asks before answering his own question. "The little nigga who said öwhassup' to me at the dope hole. The son of a bitch was a fucking undercover cop."
The cops had to let Santa go. "They had nothing on me," he says. "By the time they catch up to me, that shit is either on the ground or down my gullet." Sometimes, however, Santa will use some levity to get by with the police. "When they ask me if I am a veteran," Santa says, "I tell them I was part of the war on drugs. I couldn't say no to that draft.
"It really irritates me that the cops will wait for someone like me to come out of a dope hole so they can catch me with drugs and transport me to jail," Santa complains. "They know who is selling and supplying the shit, but they let these Who Dats run dope holes for months. Well, if you know where the crackhouses are at, why don't you just lock them down? Why do they allow the dope holes to stay open for so long? What do they accomplish by arresting dickheads like me?"
Dusk on December 4: Santa, as usual, is knocking back a Schlitz and tightening a bolt on his bicycle. He's wearing a black Zoo York T-shirt with a picture of an M-16 assault rifle underneath the words "Gotham Gun Club." Joe is lying on Santa's beach chair. "Yo Joe!" Santa barks. "It's six o'clock, man! Get your ass outta here because I have to go."
Earlier in the day Santa received a free ticket to attend Bakapalooza, a hip-hop concert being sponsored by a local radio station. "Man, it's been a long time since I've gone to a concert," he says. Before hitching a ride to the University of Miami's Coral Gables campus, where the concert is taking place, Santa plops down for a quick smoke. The smell of burnt plastic fills the air. Santa lets out a brume of gray smoke from his mouth. He repeats the cycle three, four times. He is wide-eyed and ready to go.