I was playing fast and loose with other people's money, and I came up dead one morning in a Dumpster wearing this amazing outfit," a guy named Jesse says as one of his brown eyes peeks down at me over the golden frames of a crooked pair of aviator sunglasses. "But I'm back, due to the power of zombies."
Jesse, otherwise known as Tall Jess, for his, well, tallness, complements his white blood-splattered face with Seventies-style pimp threads and a hat whose brim bears a bite mark.
Call it the death of fashion.
Tall Jess continues, "You want to eat brains with lots of information. If Hitler's brain could be eaten, for instance, it could possibly be the best thing for a zombie to eat. But personally I think I'd like the brain of a Teletubby. It's probably the most psychedelic experience one could ever have. Or maybe that baby-sun-head thing in Teletubby land. It's like the opposite end of the spectrum from Hitler — it's empty and pure, like a subtle delicacy."
Or perhaps call it the death of good taste.
Jess is one of 10, um, eccentric followers of the Detroit rap/metal "horrorcore" band Insane Clown Posse. His entire crew, all looking as dead as someone can look on South Beach, faces painted white and streaked with blood, is standing on the southeast corner of Alton and Lincoln roads as the sun sets on a humid evening that's made even more sticky by a rash of short, teasing drizzles. The group is preparing to shock the shit out of tourists.
They've come from Detroit, Kansas City, Seattle, and New York for something they're calling The Karmic Gathering: ¡Devastation!, which will climax a few days later at midnight with a ninja showdown in the parking lot of Santa's Enchanted Forest in Southwest Miami-Dade.
About 7-ish the zombies begin their slow procession east on Lincoln Road, holding large, seemingly bloody, fluorescent-color signs that read, "Zombies Are People Too!" and "Eat Brains. Free Hugs!"
As a pair of pretty girls in scarves and knee-high boots heads for the foggy glass doors of SoBe's Regal Cinemas, one of the zombies, a dude with ash-color circles under his eyes that match his Brillo-pad 'fro, runs up.
"Sure I'd eat your mother and father, but that doesn't mean we can't hug!" he screams into their faces through an electronic bullhorn. "Hug me!"
The girls practically leap out of their boots and head pronto into the movie theater.
Soon the zombies walk toward the Sushi Doraku restaurant and the Anthropologie clothing store. Forty-seven-year-old Harris, whose vile odor precedes him, tells me he is a self-described "bored rock star" and member of the band Letch Patrol. He says he showed up because he figured zombies would be cool to hang out with. "Zombies never ask you to join; they just grab you," he says with a smile, revealing a lack of teeth. "And you can only be attacked if you're wearing duct tape...."
"Why?" I ask.
"It's just the rules. They're just very attracted to duct tape."
Just then the event's 23-year-old organizer, puppy-dog-eyed David "Thug Je$U$" Tamargo, stops in front of Soprano Café (646 Lincoln Rd.) to get down to some blaring house music. He's dressed in a black suit, hat, and matching orange shirt and bandanna. His teeth are stained red, and what looks like blood is coagulated in his goatee. Wanting to join in on the fun, the zombie with Brillo-pad 'fro drops his sign and does the Michael Jackson "Thriller" dance. Then another zombie bumps into them, they all fall over, and three tiny, well-groomed dogs yip at them as they struggle back on their feet.
"What's this all about?" asks a cop hanging out at the Meridian Avenue crosswalk.
A willowy, heavily tattooed woman named "Blarrrg" yells back: "Love!"
"Love?" says the reality-buzzed fuzz. "You must mean retarded love."
Before the zombies can move on, two boys in soccer uniforms run toward them. A zombie walks toward them with his arms stretched wide. The tykes bop up and down excitedly and giggle until their father swoops in, places his hands on his kids' shoulders, and yanks them away.
"I thought Halloween was over," he says.
A half-hour later, the zombie crew reaches the end of Lincoln Road Mall and heads north on Collins Avenue to the boardwalk at 21st Street and the beach, where a rock-paper-scissors tournament is scheduled to take place. As the group passes the Shelborne hotel, an elderly gent in a black Panama hat yells from across the street in a nasal Woody Allen stutter: "What, what are you guys doing?"
"We're going to have a zombie beach party," explains a guy who calls himself Nathan Ninja and wears a black feathered boa, a dark purple suit, a Kangol hat, and shades. "Would you like to join?"
The man grabs hold of the back of his hat and runs across the street to us. "I've got to be a part of this!" he says and then introduces himself as Joel. "It obviously breaks away from fascist routines this Nazi regime enforces us Americans to follow like mindless sheep."
As we turn the corner onto 21st Street and walk past Free Spirits Sports Café, Joel confesses he'd love to move to San Francisco but is stuck here because of the large volume of Yiddish texts he's collected over the years. He'd never be able to carry them onto a bus or a train, he says.
"But seeing displays like this makes staying in Miami worth it," he adds with a smile when we finally make it to the boardwalk. "It just seems so positive."
Once the parade reaches the beach, the Juggalos (as extreme fans of Insane Clown Posse call themselves) begin discussing their, um, annual talent competition, Miss Juggalo.
"It used to be a contest to see which girl knew the most about ICP," Tamargo says. "Now it's all about just getting really slutty onstage."
"Yeah," says Blarrrg, whose thin brown hair drapes over one of her many layers of baggy black clothing, "that's why I never win, because I don't take my clothes off."
"That's how I knew you were a classy lady," Tamargo responds.
Blarrrg tells me about some of the quests she's experienced playing Morton's List, a game beloved by Juggalo society. In one quest, for instance, she had to construct a kite. Another entailed her taking a crap in the tank of a toilet in a CVS ladies' room.
Blarrrg's last story causes me to yearn for a good old brain-eating anecdote. I turn to Nathan, who is helping to unroll a giant $50,000 check endorsed by the Rock, Paper, Scissors Society that also doubles as a sticker, presenting a dilemma for the winner — cash the check or stick it on one's wall?
"So what's your favorite part of eating a brain?" I ask him.
"The texture," he says. "It's like shark meat. Have you ever had shark meat?"
"And what goes good with brains?" I ask.
"Mojitos," Jess quickly responds as the competition begins with a quick snack of bananas Tamargo serves us in a hollowed-out skull.
As we all unpeel the fruit, Jess proposes a toast. We raise our bananas in the air.
"To potassium!" he says.
"To potassium!" we repeat.
"To me," adds Jess, "it just tastes like chicken."