The Reporter and the Tranny

He kissed her, um, him, and that was only the beginning.

The shrieking sounds of a burglar alarm pried open my eyes. The noise, emanating from a nearby apartment, entered my bedroom like an ambulance on fire. I awoke, dressed in yesterday's clothes, with a mind-splitting headache, to find my front door wide open. An unfamiliar feral kitten laid its claws into my belly and pissed. I pushed it off and stepped into a bowl of milk laid out the night before.

Ten thirty. Time to go to work.

Two years as a New Times reporter will land you in some bad mornings. And evenings. And afternoons. But as I'm leaving this week, I find I'll miss all of that. I got paid to fall ass backward into weirdness.

I'll miss my editor most of all.
Shutterstock.com
I'll miss my editor most of all.

Take the night I played pool with a pair of Kentucky ex-cons at the Playwright, a South Beach bar. After discovering I worked for a newspaper, they invited me to their hotel room, promising something special (not gay). They opened their closet safe and took out a pair of handguns and a small sack of leafy greens that smelled like bubblegum. They said they'd grown the odiferous pot back home and flown two trash bags full of it into the Opa-locka airport. They said they do it all the time.

Then there was July 31, 2006, the night Fidel Castro's guts blew up. I missed out on writing the obligatory Eighth Street flag-waving story because I was too busy washing my mouth out with whiskey. While Castro lay "dying," I was trying to forget the pretty girl who had picked me up at a South Beach watering hole called Ted's Hideaway. The first woman ever to buy me a beer in a bar had a stubbly kiss and turned out to be a man.

Still, having faith in Miami worked out more times than not.

Almost a year after the mishap (older, wiser), I stood on the street about three blocks north of Ted's, holding my thumb out for the better part of an afternoon. When a car finally stopped, I discovered the driver was Charles Griffith, a recovery guru who helped the Miami Herald's Edna Buchanan win her first Pulitzer by euthanizing his ailing daughter with a .32-caliber pistol. He was a gentleman — true Miami born and bred. As we headed across Biscayne Bay, he told me about his radio show, Recovery Nation, and how he had found God in a pack of prison playing cards.

He dropped me off on the eastern end of Calle Ocho after handing over a water bottle from his dad's strip joint, Club Madonna.

Many of the things I did were just plain stupid. I swam around in culverts along Loop Road in the Everglades, looking for alligators — twice. When my party finally happened upon a four-footer, I baited the creature into the hands of a gator wrestler named Gus by using a soggy Subway sandwich.

For one article, I went door-to-door in a blue blazer trying to befriend boat owners. I made two boat friends that way: a millionaire and a shrimper. Both took me for a spin.

For another story, I piloted my beat-up car through the tollbooth on the Venetian Causeway while smashing dinner plates with a claw hammer as Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" blared from the stereo. I was trying to shake up the attendants. They didn't flinch.

The weirdest thing happened this past Thanksgiving and makes me smile every time I think of it. An Australian lunatic had called my editor, raving about Hugo Chávez and what a nation of pussies the United States had become.

I drove out to his hotel by the airport. The old man sat in a far corner of the wood-paneled bar, wearing a Cosby sweater and looking like an advertisement for a tobacco product. His hair was white and neat. His eyes shined like blue gems in his craggy, red face. Speaking in an absurd, Aussie accent made doubly ridiculous by his steady consumption of Bud Light, he told me his name was B.J. He had always liked America, he said. He'd holidayed here with his ex-wife when they needed a break from life on their dairy farm in Queensland.

But B.J. had come to Miami on business. He had a beef with U.S. foreign policy. Australia had always believed in us. Hell, they'd been in the shit with us during Vietnam. They'd ridden right beside George W. in the lynching party that finally watched Sadaam swing. Naturally, B.J. felt let down by our impotence of late. Except for the odd kidnap-torture scheme, Uncle Sam had degenerated into a toothless old crank.

He couldn't understand why we were letting all of these scumbags — Osama bin Laden, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, etc. — run their mouths like we didn't have the biggest nuclear dick in the world. For whatever reason, no one bothered B.J. more than Hugo Chávez.

So he had a plan. He was going to "take Chávez out." B.J. didn't want to kill him. He wanted to simply kidnap the leader and stash him away for a year or two. He would take the Venezuelan dictator on "a little holiday" to his secluded dairy farm.

To accomplish this feat, he had put together a band of retired special forces soldiers from all over the British Commonwealth — Canadians, Kiwis, a Scot. All B.J. needed was a few million dollars. That, he said, was where I would come in.

I didn't bother to ask if he was an idiot or a con artist. I just sat there and made a long list of Miamians who I thought might give him a haystack of cash to neutralize Chávez. When we finished, B.J. requested my silence in exchange for exclusive interview rights upon the capture of the most powerful man in South America. We shook hands and he promised to keep me apprised.

Things did not work out right away. "I'm beginning to think it's my marketing style," B.J. wrote in an e-mail a few days later. "Which is, I don't have one." A member of Brigade 2506 struck B.J. as afraid. "He just wants to raise funds to build a new museum," he wrote.

For the next two weeks, B.J. fumbled his way through the town's ultra-right wing. Rejection followed rejection. Some dispatched him rudely. Others didn't trust him.

Finally, during a meeting at — where else? — the Playwright, he said he'd found a guy who would meet with him in a few months in a neutral South American country to discuss finances. He remained mum on the details.

I pictured these men rafting up on Venezuela's shores like the Dirty Dozen, only older and probably disguised in fake mustaches. They would kidnap old Hugo and force him to milk cows until his big, fat regime disintegrated into an inefficient, corrupt democracy.

B.J. seemed pleased as we raised our bottles to the plan. He had been prepared to spend months scouring the States for the necessary dough, but it took only about three weeks. I bought our last round, as I recall, and insisted on the toast. To Miami.

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