Bon Voyage, Manuel

Bon Voyage, Manuel

Filed under: News

Manuel Noriega's swarthy, acne-scarred mug will be missed in our fair city when he is released from prison Sunday.


Manuel Noriega

Where else does a corrupt, militant South American cocaine trafficker really belong anyway? Certainly not France. All of his friends are here.

The Federal Correctional Institution in South Miami-Dade, where Noriega has been held for the past 15 years, looks like a middle school campus. Located amid tracts of prefabricated housing and restaurants specializing in chicken, the pleasantly manicured warren of red-roofed bungalows hardly resembles a prison.

This past Labor Day the front doors were wide open, just begging for visitors and getaway drivers, so I decided to drop by to say goodbye. On a large field near the parking lot, prisoners in red uniforms played soccer, seemingly with no supervision.

The main office was abandoned. Portraits of our intrepid presidents hung on a wall behind a complicated, unmanned x-ray station similar to those found at airports. After waiting about a half-hour, I had a Wizard of Oz conversation with a pair of guards behind barred two-way glass. Apparently no one can see Inmate No. 38699-079.

Poor Noriega will probably have no one to play with over in France. Asked about the former dictator's extradition to her homeland, an ornery secretary at the French consulate in Miami insisted in a heavy accent that Mr. Noriega did not work there.

For everyone who had a ball during the Eighties, cry a tear for Manuel. And maybe try to slip him a baguette with a nail file in it — before it's too late. — Calvin Godfrey

Tied Down

Filed under: News

Martin Karp, Miami-Dade County School Board vice chair, is a bit colorblind. So he adds a careful splash of color to event attire by pairing one of his 50 education-oriented neckties with gray suits. During his 14-year elementary school teaching career, he collected the ties — typical teacher's holiday booty, which can also include cookies and mugs, both of poor taste.

Ties from the Karp collection are conversation-starters, like wearing a motivational message around your neck, he says. One is dotted with heads of former U.S. presidents ("It's actually a nice one. I've been complimented on it a lot," says Karp). Another shows children with linked hands in dreamy racial harmony ("That's really nice"). 

Karp's select neckwear caught the eye of Gov. Charlie Crist, who offhandedly remarked "nice tie" after seeing him at a Tallahassee press conference in late March. Karp unlaced the tie — which bore the equation 2 teach is 2 touch a life 4 ever — and handed it to the governor. Crist declined, telling Karp to keep it and send another by mail. If the governor was trying to say no in a roundabout way, it didn't work. Karp ordered a second tie online from Ralph Marlin (, a company that sells innovative neckwear featuring designs such as the Three Stooges; the fall collection will highlight King of the Hill and Family Guy.

A couple of weeks ago, when the governor visited Miami, Karp tried to give him the tie again. Crist declined a second time, saying he couldn't accept anything worth more than $25, per state ethics rules. Karp looked up the tie's retail cost: a cool $14.99. "I thought, Geez, my ties are $14.99? What are people going to think about that?" says a chuckling Karp, who plans to ship it in the mail. — Janine Zeitlin

King of Wrong

Filed under: Culture

Joystick maestro Billy Mitchell first set the world record in the arcade game Donkey Kong in 1982, manipulating the popular gnomelike action hero Mario, dodging and hammering Kong's colossal barrels on his way to becoming named "Video Game Player of the Century" at the 1999 Tokyo Game Show. He was the first to record a perfect game in Pac-Man, and once logged more than 47 straight hours playing Centipede.

At the moment, though, the 42-year-old gamer from Hollywood is having technical difficulties. "My computer's not the best machine," he says, fumbling through his AOL e-mail interface. A Portland Website has just reviewed The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters — a newly released documentary about Donkey Kong in which Mitchell costars — and he's trying to author a response, saying his reputation has been tarnished by the film. He pokes at his keyboard with a single outstretched forefinger, making a steady clacking sound like an antique typewriter, like someone's technically challenged grandfather trying to log on to the Internet for the first time — not the gaming genius he has been perceived as throughout his career.

Mitchell clicks on a link and up pops the review he's responding to. At the bottom of the page, written in all capital letters, are the words I HATE BILLY MITCHELL.

It's a harsh review, but not an uncommon one. Since The King of Kong debuted this January at the Slamdance Film Festival, Mitchell has heard countless reports of how deceitful and villainous he appears onscreen.

The documentary, directed by Seth Gordon, opened locally last week at Sunrise Cinemas Las Olas Riverfront. Mostly it follows Steve Wiebe, a middle school science teacher from Redmond, Washington, who's on his own quixotic mission to become the best Donkey Kong player in the world. It seems like a reasonable goal, until Mitchell shows up as the film's mulleted scoundrel, thwarting Wiebe's efforts at every turn. He appears to plot to undermine Wiebe's scores, evading every chance to play in public, even pitting a sweet old lady against his rival. Audiences hiss at Mitchell's seemingly unprovoked malice as passionately as they cheer for Wiebe's naive resolve.

Mitchell says the image of him is simply not real. He insists he never avoided Wiebe or stood in his way.

"I had been ignoring this for months," he says. "I can be called a bad guy — so what? But it really bothers me emotionally to have my friends and family get portrayed in a negative light. I want to do this so people know the truth."

For the record, Wiebe and the filmmakers say the movie captures Mitchell authentically.

"The idea that we hate each other is crazy," Mitchell says of Wiebe. "If I operated the way the movie says I do, I'd feel like I always need a shower." — John Linn


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