Puerto Rico has the goat-sucking Chupacabra. West Virginia has the prophetic Mothman. Even Mobile, Alabama, boasts a dusk-dwelling tree leprechaun who climbed to fame in March 2006, when residents endlessly asked, "Where the gold at?"
And though nothing in the United States compares to the strangeness that is the Gobi Desert's Mongolian Death Worm (sorry, Sasquatch), in Miami, we have the Unicorn King.
And no, he never helped She-Ra save Unicorn Island and all of its beautiful, flying, rainbow-maned inhabitants, as described in Season 1, Episode 36, of She-Ra: Princess of Power on He-Man.org. But he definitely helped strike up a conversation with the overtly gothy Kirk (not to be confused with Kurt, as in Kurt Cobain, with whom Kirk is ashamed to say he shares a birthday) at The Vagabond (30 NE 14th St., Miami, 305-379-0508) on a recent Friday night.
"Unicorn Man is probably some idiot who comes to the club with a papier-mâché horn on his forehead and a Burger King crown," says Kirk, whose mouth is neatly lined and filled in with mauve lipstick. "We had a guy like that back home, but he was much cooler."
Cooler? How could this be? Nothing is cooler than the Magic City's Holy Trinity of Hip — The Vagabond, PS14 (28 NE 14th St., 305-358-3600), and White Room (1306 N. Miami Ave., 305-995-5060) — three funky clubs that light up the fringes of Overtown. They inhabit a space just west of the Arsht Center, brimming with graffiti, indie music, and suspicious bums who say they'll protect your wheels for $10. Like an American Apparel shop window, it attracts Miami's nomadic and artsy counterculture, including the Unicorn King. Gossip about him swirls around the area like hair spray on flatironed bangs.
People say he's a eunuch. Or maybe gay, being that many an attractive girl with flirtatious intentions has approached this six-foot-tall blond and been shot down or simply ignored. Some believe he is homeless, drives a rickshaw, and walks a cat on a leash in Coconut Grove. He arrives on the scene late, around 2 or 3 a.m., and dances quite intensely — sober and solo — until closing. No one is sure about the derivation of the name Unicorn King, but he once left a White Room staffer a crude Easter basket signed, "UK."
I began my quest for the elusive equine about a month ago. To me, His Majesty seemed like the Loch Ness Monster — heard of but never seen. I spent time on his turf, early, late, patrolling dance floors and searching the dark recesses beneath bars. Perhaps the quest wasn't as sacred as searching for the Holy Grail, but it was a hunt nonetheless.
Then, one recent Friday night, a Richard Cheese version of "Baby Got Back" sounded through The Vagabond's sound system, and Sarah, a honey blonde with platinum and bright red highlights streaked into her bangs, piped up. "I know who you're talking about. He came up to a group of my girlfriends and me once and asked if he could take pictures of us laughing. He said he was doing an art project or something."
She swept a flaming piece of hair from her eye and secured it in a thin scarf tied around her forehead. "He said he was collecting smiles."
Although drinks from the bar came quickly and the DJ was playing a fabulous set of Sixties R&B, I was none too happy. At 4 a.m., there was still no sign of the Unicorn King, so I headed for the door. On my way out, I ran into a heavily tattooed guy named Brooklyn. "I saw him riding a bicycle down 14th Street during the Winter Music Conference," he said, revealing a set of white teeth that seemed to shine against his full, dark beard. "He was zigzagging down the road with a full martini glass in his hand when a car hit him. He fell to the ground without spilling his drink." Brooklyn paused for a moment and tugged on a massively plugged earlobe. "And he did that while wearing an evening gown."
After failing miserably at The Vagabond, I decided to take a stab at finding the mystical unicornio the next night during PopLife, a popular Saturday hipster fiesta at White Room.
"The first time I saw him, I didn't know whether to kick him or to spill my drink on him," said Kevin, standing on the club's chic white canopied patio. Kevin, a handsome twentysomething whose fedora cast shadows against his chiseled face, was partaking of the same activity as the rest of the regulars in White Room's main outdoor area. He stood, seemingly bored, in a clique. Members whispered in one another's ears while taking drags of a community cigarette. Every few minutes, one would spot something interesting enough to whisper about. Then another cigarette was lit.
Wash and repeat.
"That guy, the Unicorn King, he tries too hard," Kevin continued. "He's probably a manager at Publix or something. If you want to find a person who's truly unique, sit out here and observe."
I took Kevin's advice and plopped down on a wooden bench near the entrance. Within a span of five minutes, four girls walked by in identical black jumpsuits that looked like an infant's onesie.
An hour and a false alarm later — just an ordinary joe in a leather Mexican wrestling mask, not the Unicorn King — I decided to head for a bar located inside a hot, red-lit lounge off to the side of the main area. During a 45-minute wait for a $9 Stoli Vanilla and Diet Coke (gratuity included), I had plenty of time to think. Then worry.
Being that I had absolutely no idea what the Unicorn King looked like, how would I know it was he when I finally found him?
"You just know" said Berto, who stood next to me at the bar. He wore a pink shirt, Aviator sunglasses, and fluffy elfin ankle boots. "He's pretty out there, even more than most kids who hang out here," Berto said as he dug through his mullet to scratch his head. "He's harmless, though; he keeps to himself. Although I did see him get into a fight a few weeks back. They kicked him out of here."
Then, right on cue and at exactly 2:45 a.m., I noticed a glimmering figure in the crowd.
He wore a Beavis and Butthead T-shirt and bedazzled boots. On his head was a sequined snowcap that read, "Geek," and around his neck was a long white lei with 30 to 40 eyeglass frames knotted into the plastic.
"Are you the Unicorn King?" I asked.
"I don't know," he said, smiling and blushing. "Are you the Unicorn King?"
"No, my name is Elyse."
"I'm Hermine," he said, and then abruptly turned and headed for the main dance room in the back of the club. On his way, he transformed groups of otherwise standoffish females into giggling schoolgirls by yanking a frame from his lei and placing it crookedly on the bridge of each pretty girl's nose.
One spunky, petite brunette named Paulina busted out a camera and demanded her pals take a picture of her with her new glasses and Hermine.
"Do you know him?" I asked.
"No," she said as she pondered which pictures would end up on MySpace. "But he told me to tell you that he's not the Unicorn King."
Then Paulina asked if I knew whether he was single. "He's kind of cute, right?"
Inside the main dance room — a long, narrow space crammed with a stage, bar, and DJ booth — Hermine jumped around with a large man who flamboyantly danced with a silk fan. He held a cold Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and his long, thin blond hair, which had been secured in a ponytail, was now flipping about, sprinkling sweat on patrons.
As The Clash's "London's Calling" played, Hermine trotted toward a dude wearing a T-shirt adorned with the British flag. Every time the word London sounded in the song, Hermine stopped and pointed to the Union Jack on the guy's shirt. He then took the confused man by the wrist and tried to spin in circles with him.
I cut in.
"Unicorn King, " I began.
"Hermine," he said. "Unicorn King is old; I'm Hermine now."
"Hermine, where are you from?"
"Where are you going?" he asked.
I was standing still. "Where have you been?"
Besides Miami, Hermine said, he'd been only to Tucson, Arizona, his hometown. As he handed me his last flimsy plastic frame, he told me he stole it from an old lady, especially for me. How sweet. But we had just met.
"Yes, but I knew you were coming," he said, twisting his lei around his neck, face, and head.
He described how he spends his days — sleeping mostly, except when he counterfeits cash at Kinko's. He added there are "no beautiful women in Miami, just sexy women."
I looked down and found him fondling his junk. Unicorn indeed!
Nevertheless, when he asked me to dance, I (sigh) reluctantly took his hand and we tangoed to Billy Idol's "Rebel Yell." "All you need to know about me," he whispered in my ear, "is that I'm a product of PopLife."
It was 5 a.m. There was no pop or life left. He walked me to the main outdoor area, and as we said our goodbyes, he asked for my number. He wanted to take me on a date.
"Sure," I said, and he offered me his knee. As I began to write my digits, I noticed his hand swaying back and forth behind my head, pantomiming a lewd, fellatious act.
A bunch of hipsters chuckled. Though I should have been embarrassed, it was difficult to ignore the new and odd sense of warmth flowing through the icy White Room. Guys playfully slapped Hermine on the back while girls swapped their newly obtained eyeglass frames.
Perhaps the booze ignited this social spark. Or it could have been my naiveté. Or maybe, just maybe, it was the Unicorn King.
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