Monday, May 28, 2012

Capital Crimes

Latin America is not a country, of course, and as a region not everyone even agrees on which countries it comprises. So technically, Latin America has no capital. Nonetheless, I often tell my students -- often perplexing them unless they have been there -- Latin America does have a capital in some sense, and that capital is the Miami International Airport.

MIA is, of course, on the Dolphin Expressway, just next to the city of Miami, which is also not technically the capital of anything, but seems to exist in a perpetual state of pure imagination. I have long been intrigued by the city, which I knew only from the airport for many years before I ever go to visit in person -- on my way to and from the Amazon. Most of what I think I know comes from friends who have lived there or from the writings of Dave Barry and Carl Hiaasen, the latter being one my favorite literary guilty pleasure. It is no accident that Barry's writings often include the phrase "I am not making this up" and that Hiaasen claims that every time he writes something truly unbelievable for one of his romping mystery novels, he sees something more outrageous in the newspaper the next day.

It is amusing that a widely-published photo of author Tom Wolfe features not only his trademark white suit, but also a distracted look, digging in his pockets for something, and a presumably unrelated man text-walking. It does also feature the palm trees and colonnade architecture I associate with much of Latin America.
All of this was brought to mind by a recent article about Tom Wolfe in the Daily Mail (UK). The author of The Bonfire of the Vanities and other satirical tales is releasing Back to Blood in October. The book promises to explore class, race, corruption, and sex -- as is Wolfe's wont -- in a city that seems to be a perfect crucible. I look forward to the book, though I must admit I have only known Wolfe's existing work through film adaptations. I especially look forward to the documentary that is also described in the article. Blood Lines is being produced by Oscar Corral, who has served as Wolfe's guide and interpreter in the Magic City. It will be a deep look not only at the city itself but at the way a great writer does his research. The book and movie combination seems to be the perfect treat for a Miami-phile who will be on  sabbatical when both are released.

As I was mulling the Wolfe story and anticipating a rush of Miami indulgence as our New England autumn begins, I found the following story on AP. The dateline is truly superfluous:

Cop shoots, kills naked attacker
MIAMI (AP, May 27) – Miami police and witnesses say that an officer on Saturday fatally shot a naked man who was chewing on the face of another man on a downtown causeway off-ramp. 
The Miami Herald reports that gunshots were heard about 2 p.m. on the MacArthur Causeway off-ramp, which is near the newspaper’s offices. Witnesses said a woman saw two men fighting and flagged down a police officer, who came upon a naked man mauling the other man. The newspaper quoted witnesses as saying that the officer ordered the naked man to back away, and when he ignored the demand, the officer shot him. Witnesses said that the naked man continued his attack after being shot once, and the officer then shot him several more times.
I am reminded of Hiaasen's anecdote about a passenger being shot at MIA while in a plane, by an assassin on the ground. Fiction writers do not risk this kind of incredibility, and stories do not unfold in quite this way elsewhere.

UPDATE: The "Miami Zombie" -- as he is now known -- has been identified as Rudy Eugene, a name Hiaasen would have been proud to use in his novels, though I don't think even he could have conceived of the line "all that remained was his goatee," which appears in the Miami Herald iupdate. I decided not to click through to the photos and the inevitable "viral" video.

Incidentally, my curriculum vitae lists Miami University as the source of my master's degree, but I can assure you that the school in Ohio is older than the city in Florida and has very little in common with the city at the edge of the edge of the United States.

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