For my novel, I knew the when would be important. The waning days of 1999 were a peculiar blip in human history that had to be chronicled. Not only was it the last moment that wasn't over-Instagrammed for posterity, but also we had Y2K hanging over our heads and the uncertainty of what the year 2000 could bring. So that was when my book about two slackers searching for meaning, romance, and the Fountain of Youth would be set.
But the where was just as crucial. It had to be Miami. Everyone thinks their hometown is unique, and everyone is probably right. But as any regular reader of Miami New Times can attest, our city is a special kind of odd. It's the kind of place where the richest of the rich, the poorest of the poor, the most uptight, and the most laid-back are all melting in the same impossible heat. Through the eyes of two out-of-towners, I attempted to write not exactly a love letter to Miami, but a memorable postcard that would make its recipients wish they were here.
August 11, 1999
Matt had to ask, “What are you going to do now?”
“I figured I’d continue giving you the grand tour. I want to show you Key Biscayne where I grew up.”
“No, I mean beyond today. Now that we’re here in Florida and you got your money, what are you going to do?”
Jay relished receiving this question. He did everything but clap his hands in fulfillment. “See, thinking beyond today, that’s where you and most of society get it all wrong. Today is all we are promised. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow never comes, it’s always just out of reach, a day ahead of you, the dog us carrots keep chasing.” Jay got up to signify the end of his stoner wisdom class. “Come on, let’s take a drive down my memory lane.”
Jay was hazy with the directions, but eventually he found the road he wanted to go down. He was amazed how little Bayshore Drive had changed in the seven years since he last drove down it. The truck selling frozen lemonade was still parked on the side of the road. He pointed out the Museum of Science with the Planetarium. Then they cut a right and saw a three-dimensional model of a shark advertising for the Miami Seaquarium. Jay made a big deal about how he would cover the $1 toll to get over the bridges.
“This is Florida,” Matt thought as they headed uphill over the mile-long bridge. Downtown Miami with its skyscrapers on one side while the glassy blue sea faced the other. They kept driving. Over another bridge, past the wooded expanse of Crandon Park and then they hit the town. Jay quieted as he looked around, ready to jump on any difference from his memory. They reached a flat park with a children’s playground. “This is new. This was just trees before.” Jay told Matt to make a right and pointed out his old school. “There were these two old ficus trees. Hurricane Andrew knocked them down. They used to have these metal bleachers we’d use to climb into the tree.” Jay continued the navigation, right and then a left and then: “What the fuck! Stop the car!”
Matt did as commanded. Jay stepped out and watched as a plot of land was being constructed upon. There was no need for explanation. Matt could imagine this was where Jay once lived. Even though Matt’s parents had lived in the same house since before he was born, Matt could relate. Our pasts, the things we believe to be the sturdiest are constantly changing. Our pasts are disappearing, being razed and built over.
When Jay got back in the car Matt took one turn and then another. He figured since they were on an island he couldn’t get too lost. They reached a gas station when Jay began navigating again. “Make a u-turn here.” They pulled into Calusa Park. There were four tennis courts and a little concrete shelter. “What the fuck?” Jay said staring at the wild grass. “There was a tiny little playhouse here. I think it had been here since the ‘50’s. My sister and I were in a play. We were munchkins in the Wizard of Oz.” Jay kept walking. Matt followed him through a sandy playground. There was a four-story caged metal structure with a slide meant to approximate a rocket. There was a boat play structure anchored on the sand complete with ladders and poles and a steering wheel. They walked past a set of swings into the trees.
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“At least the mangroves are still here.” They walked on a muddy path dodging spider webs. “We used to sneak back here whenever we could. We said there was a ninja training camp. The older kids, teenagers on Key Biscayne that called themselves Key Rats used to hang out in the mangroves. Our parents warned us to stay away from them. It made my mind wonder what they did in here. They were probably just drinking stolen beers and having sex.”
Matt tried to sympathize, he really did, but as he skipped from one puddle over another and after his hand got bloody from swatting mosquitoes he was ready to get out of this mess. Eventually they arrived where they couldn’t walk any further. The water was knee high. Jay took a seat on a tree trunk and whipped out a joint. Matt sat down.
“Want to know what I’m going to do now we’re here?” Jay took a puff for the ages before passing it on to Matt. “I’m going to find the Fountain of Youth. I know it’s here. I’m going to search every square inch of this fucking place until I drink from it.”
The End of the Century Book Launch and Reading. 6 p.m. Sunday, April 22, at Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables;305-442-4408; booksandbooks.com. Admission is free.