Just before sunset on a hot winter Sunday in Hialeah, 60 or so guests are squeezed onto the brown lawn behind Rafael's yellow-stucco Hialeah home. The truck driver's deep-blue Mack rests in the driveway. Frank Sinatra croons tinnily from a couple of grass-nestled metal speakers designed to look like rocks.
The centerpiece of Rafael's 57th birthday party is on the tail end of a six-hour roasting cycle. The hog from Hialeah Gardens now appears as a tableau of an unenviable fate: body flattened as if by steamroller between two sheets of chainlink fence, broken face frozen in a leer, skin roasted the mahogany hue of a South Beach tanning addict.
Johnny, Rafael's eight-year-old grandson, gingerly pulls a chunk of meat from the beast's flank using a metal fork and hams it up for whomever is watching. "Yummmm!" he moans. Rafael eschews the caja china — or "Chinese box," a method for roasting a hog in a wooden casket — instead going with a technique he learned online: fashioning a web of chainlink over two metal poles and placing the spit over a cinder-block pit.
It's a family undertaking. His wife, Laura, marinaded the pork in an onion-garlic sauce overnight, and six male relatives maneuvered the flesh into the contraption. It's been roasting since late morning.
Rafael, who wears nothing above his belt except a lei and a black tennis visor, has been chugging Bud Light all afternoon. He reclines in a beach chair like it's a luge, surrounded by spent cans. Johnny brings him a forkful of pork, and his thick eyebrows lift as he tastes the crisp bite. "The pig is ready!" he announces, hopping to his feet to remove it from its prison.