Miami 2009: Seven signs the End Times are nigh
As if from a modern-day Gomorrah — or a subtropical Cleveland — the residents of Miami are fleeing the city like never before. Approximately six people live in each shimmering condo tower downtown. In the burbs, "For Sale" signs outnumber soccer moms at an alarming five-to-one rate, experts say, and the only waterfront property in Miami-Dade County that's still sought after is the burgeoning molester colony under the Julia Tuttle Causeway. Marlins games draw less than a 2 Live Crew show in Vatican City, and the Dolphins' recent doling out of ownership shares to any celebrity with a pulse — Jimmy Buffett, Fergie, the light-skinned dude from the Fat Boys — is a stubborn ploy to enliven a fan base that has clearly moved back to Michigan. The daily newspaper reporters have all been laid off, and realtors are committing hara-kiri. Tourists decided that watching Miami Social was a handy alternative to a trip here, and the big-money cocaine smugglers have relocated operations to Juárez.
But those Miamians who remain (mostly sex offenders, club promoters, and any politicians that haven't yet been shipped to upstate prisons) have been picking up the slack for our missing neighbors by acting like the crazed denizens of a doomed hellscape. You know, even more so than usual. Our politicians finally went off the deep end. Roman Catholic priests got jiggy with strippers. The Fontainebleau Resort was crippled with debt, and its slain heir was discovered to have been into naked women with artificial limbs. Animal stalkers eviscerated cats, horses, and baby-killing pythons. A high schooler stabbed a classmate to death in Coral Gables, and outrage ensued. Several mass shootings claimed the lives of teenagers in Liberty City, and nobody noticed. NFL players and a millionaire artist drove Bentleys drunk, killed people, and fled the scene. Miami Heat demigod Dwyane Wade was sued for $100 million, formerly rich people clogged the waterways with abandoned yachts, and everybody who was anybody had a Ponzi scheme.
The sheer quantity of weird, frightful and/or blasphemically titillating (Yoo-hoo, Father Cutié!) news brings New Times to one conclusion: That bearded, screaming dude handing out pamphlets on a street corner in Overtown was right after all. The Rapture is nigh.
Behold the Seven Seals of Miami's Apocalypse. Repent, heathens. Or at the very least, stock up on bottled water and peanut butter.
Ye condos shall crumble
Everybody has heard that biblical parable about the guy who built his house on stone. His home was still standing even as his neighbor's abode, which was built on sand, sunk into the earth.
You don't have to be Bob Vila to understand that the story, taken completely literally, has some sound logic behind it: Don't build on soft shit. That's why a lot of developers were skeptical of plans for North Miami's Biscayne Landing — a $2.5 billion condo-plex built on top of a rotting landfill. This year, the project entered foreclosure as it slowly sank into the trash below, bringing with it 200 hapless condo buyers into a garbage hell.
But hey, at least those doomed residents have neighbors to commiserate with. Not so for your average downtown condo dweller, who is dying of loneliness. Boom-era planning combined with recession-era construction has surrounded the waterfront with buildings doing their best impression of a Kardashian: allegedly beautiful, extremely high-maintenance, and completely vacant. A bored Icon Brickell security guard told us that 15 people inhabit the two 60-story towers he's assigned to protect. Your average condo might be worth a quarter of the $600-per-square-foot it once fetched. The groceries-starved cockroaches have resorted to eating each other.
But sometimes yuppies complain just to remind you that they exist. Like the waterfront condo denizens who have suddenly emerged to bellyache about clamorous shrimp boats keeping them awake at night — only to be met with blank stares from cops.
As if a descent into a foghorn-blasting garbage inferno isn't dramatic enough, in September, New Times reported that 17 Miamians had leapt to their deaths from condo buildings since 2007 — making our gleaming towers a suicide destination unmatched in South Florida. If that doesn't make you seriously consider moving to a duplex in Homestead to wait out Judgment Day, nothing will.
And a false prophet named Ponzi shall seduce thee
The book of Ezekiel warns of "false prophets" manipulating the easily gullible: "Like a roaring lion ravening the prey, they have devoured souls [and] have taken the treasure and precious things."
That reminds us, Mr. Rothstein: How's our investment looking?
Here's some advice we wish we had published a few years ago: If your investment manager promises you a 200 percent return, that might be a red flag. If he has a single initial for a first name, be suspicious. If he dresses like a 20-something club promoter or has a MySpace page, run. And if he begins to sweat profusely and look around for the nearest window when you ask to withdraw your investment — well, go in front of your local news cameras and cry.
Now you know why New Times buries our savings in the back yard.
This past year, South Florida established itself as the nation's capital for Ponzi scams, the stunningly simple "Look, Ma, no investment!" scheme named for a dead Italian huckster. It wasn't just Bernie Madoff, who pleaded guilty to multiple counts of fraud in March and bilked a nice chunk of his $65 billion from our local aging country-club set. There was R. Allen Stanford, an eccentric billionaire who lived in a Coral Gables palace, faked a British accent, and in June was indicted for allegedly shaking down investors for $8 billion. How flush was he with your poor abuela's retirement savings? He threw at least $20 million at the obscure cause of bringing the sport of cricket to Antigua, a plan as fiscally reasonable as filtering cow farts to save the ozone.
And in December, the Holy Trinity of South Floridian mega-thievery was completed when Scott Rothstein, the politically connected lawyer and part owner of the Versace mansion, was cuffed for allegedly raiding at least a billion dollars from his firm's investors. As the economy crashed around him, Rothstein had spent money like he had found a magical vaccine against recession, pouring millions into restaurants and real estate, donating to charity, and buying off — um, supporting the campaigns of — big-time Republican politicians such as John McCain and Gov. Charlie Crist.
Of course, when the fresh cash infusions that lubricated these alleged scams, and dozens of smaller replicas, dried up, the Ponzis ground to a halt like so many 1987 Chevy Novas alongside I-95. And with Madoff, Stanford, and Rothstein potentially facing a combined 625 years in prison, it looks like we're not done supporting the lifestyles of these crooked moneychangers just yet.
And every four-legged beast shall get its style cramped
It's a phenomenon that's well documented in the Bible: When the cosmic shit hits the fan, animals are the first to take it on the chin. Like the time Jesus possessed a herd of pigs with demons and forced them to stampede into the ocean. Think he first asked the pigs if that was a sacrifice they were cool with? And then there's the Good Book's account of the ominous rain of frogs that splattered all over a village. Plus the countless sheep sacrifices. There's enough animal abuse in the King James to make Michael Vick blush.
We're seeing something similar now: Those furry friends that didn't RSVP in time for a ride on the ark have had a dreadful 365 days. They've been beset by violent stalkers and litigation.
For decades, rednecks and guajiros deep in the weirdest parts of Northwest Miami-Dade have peddled in a horse meat black market. This year, apparently, the demand for the high-in-fiber flesh really took off — something like the South Beach Diet for the shit-kickin' set. Thieves broke into barns and brutally killed their four-legged victims. The going rate: $10 a pound. Before long, a reporter called a politician who called a police sergeant, and — voila — Miami-Dade detectives were dressing up like the cast of Deliverance to make undercover horse meat purchases. After a handful of arrests, you'll now have an easier time buying a California roll than a quality Barbaro flank in the sticks of Northwest Dade.
Meanwhile, housecats in South Miami-Dade were preyed on by some creep completing the first chapter of the The Idiot's Guide to Becoming a Cliché Serial Killer. Nineteen felines were eviscerated before cops nabbed 18-year-old Palmetto Senior High student Tyler Weinman in June after secretly planting a device on his car that tracked his whereabouts. He'll be tried in January. There was even a purported "copycat cat killer" in Lauderhill until cops discovered that dogs had slaughtered the felines.
And then there was the seemingly never-ending legal saga of Mr. Clucky. New Times first made the bicycle-riding rooster famous by putting his photo on our cover in 2007, and by this summer, we were sorry we had. In July, an overzealous code enforcer ticketed the cock's owner with an animal ordinance violation, and within moments, you couldn't swing a dead cat in SoBe without hitting an anchorman tripping over his own dolly grip to report on the breaking "Mr. Clucky Eviction!" courtroom drama. Blessedly, the outlaw poultry took mercy on us all and left of his own accord, leaving on vacation to his winter home in New Hampshire. We couldn't make this shit up if we tried.
All ye holy leaders shall suddenly act like MTV spring breakers
When Moses first climbed down from the mountain holding his stone commandments, he encountered a crowd of alleged holy men partying like Ohio State spring breakers on Collins Avenue. Harlots, wine bongs, myrrh-huffing — these priests were going nuts. It enraged Charlton Heston so much he smashed the stone tablets over his knee.
Perhaps sensing the end is near, South Florida's religious leaders just gave up and punted their souls into the ocean this year. Yes, they finally left the little boys alone, but instead they passed 2009 chasing bikini-clad floozies and strippers around the beach like extras in a Lil Wayne video.
Jesus forgives. And if you're blandly handsome in an Andy Garcia kind of way, and really photogenic, The Bearded One forgives at double-speed. Such is the lesson that can be gleaned from the parable of Father Alberto Cutié, the Miami Beach clergyman who diced his priest's collar in a metaphysical Slap Chop™ — and was consequently rewarded with a doubling of his flock.
In May, a Spanish tabloid photographer snapped pictures of a topless Cutié canoodling with a woman on the sand in South Beach. The priest dubbed "Father Oprah" for his camera-magnetizing aura reacted the only way he knew how: by getting teary-eyed on Univision. Time magazine profiled him, and rabid Cutiéheads defended their priest's honor using their fists. By early June, he ditched Roman Catholicism, married his playa sweetheart, and was preaching to packed churches of the Episcopal denomination, a far more canoodlin'-friendly faith.
Cutié looked like a model of restraint, however, after the baby-daddy drama of his holy colleague David Dueppen made headlines. In September, the Pembroke Pines priest — or "Father Pacman Jones," as we call him — was sued for child support by a Porky's stripper he had knocked up during their years-long romance. Turns out the Archdiocese of Miami was well aware of the relationship and had even paid the stripper a settlement. Just another example of the Catholic Church's vaunted disciplinary model: Throw money at a problem until it shuts up.
If the Maury-style sexual debauchery was too jarring for you, Liberty City pastor Gaston Smith delivered a more classic example of clerical malfeasance, earning a December conviction for stealing $10,000 in county funds. Rounding out the batshit-insane contingent of holy losers: José Luis de Jesús Miranda, the "666"-tattooed cult leader who intermittently claims to be Jesus or the Antichrist. He spent the year as a fugitive from an arrest warrant stemming from a $2.2 million divorce settlement.
And ye politicians shall act like politicians
One of the passages that confirms our suspicion that whoever wrote the Bible was experiencing an incredible cocktail of hallucinogens is the story about the talking donkey. There seems to be no moral. Who is this ass, what does it want, and why are we listening to what it has to say?
Similarly, Miami-Dade County voters have a long-running tendency to give talking asses way too much credit — along with an official car, stellar health benefits, and, most disastrously, the key to our coffers.
When it comes to corrupt politicians raiding our municipal piggy bank, we've always been on the leaderboard. But the flag-on-the-lapel-and-a-feces-eating-grin set chose our most cash-strapped year in recent memory to make off with our last bits of flatware, the dining room drapes, and our great-aunt's brooch.
In her short political career, Michelle Spence-Jones has risen from the dead more often than that kid from Nazareth or his pal Lazarus. But in November, the newly reelected Miami city commissioner faced her most serious crisis yet when she was arrested for allegedly pilfering $22,000 in county grant money. She was suspended from office by Gov. Charlie Crist, but not before delivering the craziest acceptance speech we've ever witnessed. In it, she thanked and/or quoted God, Jesus, disgraced radio host Don Imus, boxing promoter Don King, and herself — in the third person. She'll try to top that speech in the new year: Spence-Jones is the favorite to win her seat back in a January 12 special election.
In contrast, fellow Commissioner Angel Gonzalez's saga was downright dull. After investigators probed the no-show city contracting gig he arranged for his daughter, Gonzalez agreed to resign in order to avoid criminal charges. The city commission was left with only two members, not enough to officially do anything. Inside sources tell New Times that Marc Sarnoff and Frank Carollo spent weeks at city hall rewatching old I Love Lucy episodes and drawing hand turkeys on construction paper.
And our annual Corrupt Politician Who Should Probably Wear a Helmet at All Times award goes to supremely dim West Miami Mayor Cesar Carasa. He was suspended by Crist (who reportedly has had to keep his suspendin' finger submerged in ice because of recent overuse) for racking up more than $70,000 in long-distance charges on his city cell phone. Turns out he was calling ladies in the Dominican Republic. In his defense, he complained he hadn't been given an official car, a good salary, or any other "perk." Then he began wailing until an aide stuffed a spoonful of mashed bananas into his mouth.
And the meek shall be mowed down by Bentley-driving douchebags
There was an alarming amount of chariot rage in biblical Israel: angels with flame-engulfed horses committing hit-and-runs on wayward prophets; Hummer-esque steel chariots that even God couldn't destroy; and the doomed hamlet of Dothan, where crazy villagers, distraught horses, and chariots of fire circled each other, cut each other off, and collided in rage.
Reminds us of Miami Beach. But these days, the rich and famous among us drive $400,000 British-made chariots with umbrellas built into the doors. This year, it seemed you couldn't cross a SoBe street without some Cristal-addled pro jock embedding a B-shaped hood ornament in your backside.
Luckily, we have something the authors of the Bible didn't have: police reports.
In the wee hours one March morning, Cleveland Browns receiver Donté Stallworth was driving his Bentley on the MacArthur Causeway when he plowed into and killed a construction worker headed to work. Stallworth admitted to cops that instead of using his brakes, he had simply flashed his headlights at the doomed pedestrian. His blood alcohol content (BAC) at the time of the accident read like Emilio Bonifacio's batting average. Stallworth must have sacrificed a lot of goats to the Big Guy Upstairs — or maybe he just hired a few very expensive lawyers. He served only 24 days in Florida jail for the manslaughter.
Less than two weeks later, atrocious-corporate-art millionaire Romero Britto, he of the Skittles-barf paint palette, was busted by cops for swerving on Washington Avenue in his Bentley. Unfortunately, no squinting yellow-blue-and-red kitty-cats were damaged in the escapade.
And in November, NFL Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor was arrested after allegedly smashing his car into a vehicle on the Palmetto Expressway, injuring the driver, and fleeing the scene. Tests showed his BAC wasn't above the legal limit, although his CAI (Celebrity Arrogance Index) was seven times that of the average human's.
No word on whether his iron chariot was insured.
Sailing into the End Times
And so it is written that in 2009, Miami embarked upon its slippery journey to the slimy bottom of the Atlantic Ocean — where it will become wedged among the lost city of Atlantis, the Castro brothers' secret lair, and Governor Crist's barnacle-bitten heterosexuality.
And when the last air bubble pops over our submerging city, there might be nobody left to write a thousand words about it the next day. Roughly one-third of Miami Herald reporters have already become adjunct English professors at Iowa community colleges, and the dailies in Broward and Palm Beach counties have resorted to massive layoffs as well. Local TV news stations are struggling to pay their monthly wrinkle-cream bills, and the formerly formidable alt-weekly SunPost is staggering like Kimbo Slice in a 12-round cage match.
The news items escorting us out of the year were as apocalyptic as ever. The posh Epic Hotel was forced to boot 400 tourists after an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease — a throwback affliction to the days when bums wore barrels and moonshine was illegal — claimed the life of one guest and sickened two others. An alert was issued for a yarmulke-wearing burglar wanted for raiding Miami houses of worship. And in perhaps the clearest signal yet that the cosmos has been knocked wildly off-kilter, the Dolphins still have a teensy-weensy chance of making the playoffs.
The year's final month did include one pleasant news item, though, a nice bit of feel-good frivolity of the sort that's been in extremely short supply of late. In mid-December, the world's largest cruise ship, Oasis of the Seas, departed a South Florida dock on its maiden voyage. Hundreds of locals took short breaks from the bread line to pack the harbor, waving dirty rags and screaming huzzahs as the boat chugged out to sea.
Somewhere a few knots out, an iceberg lurks.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.