Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Miami River

I’ve been intrigued by the Miami River since I moved to South Florida, some twenty-seven years ago. Its five and a half miles snake past empty lots and high-rise hotels, fading shipyards and condo towers, connecting Biscayne Bay to the Everglades, and has been a commercial transportation route since the first white men came to these shores and began trading with the Seminoles and Miccosukees.
In the 1970s, the Miami River was a major port for cocaine smugglers. That trade climaxed with a case called the Miami River Cops Scandal in 1985. The Mary C, a fishing boat loaded with $12 million in cocaine, docked at the Jones Boat Yard, and soon after a dozen policemen were alleged to have ransacked it and stolen the drugs. By the time the dust settled, about a hundred officers had been arrested, suspended or reprimanded and at least twenty were sentenced to prison for robbing dope dealers of cash and cocaine.

I worked in downtown Miami in the mid-80s, and my co-workers and I used to go to a little waterfront café right in the middle of the industrial zone, where we could watch freighters glide by, bound for Haiti stacked with stolen bicycles. Wrecked and abandoned boats littered its shores, and its waters were polluted. It served as a point of entry for illegal drugs and illegal aliens.
I was fascinated by the river, and even wrote a screenplay that took place there, called River Heat, about a naïve young Anglo with a powerboat who rescues a beautiful Nicaraguan revolutionary running along the riverbank. I spent a lot of time cruising around the river, looking for settings that evoked the images I wanted.
Even though I’ve moved a half-hour north of the city, I’m still interested in the Miami River. The climactic scenes of my newest book, Genie for Hire: A BiffAndromeda Mystery, concern arms smuggling from the backwaters of the former Soviet Union. The arms arrive at the Miami airport, smoothed along by a corrupt Customs officer, and then are offloaded to a freighter for shipment to Nicaragua.

The papers say the river has been cleaned up, but I’m sure there’s still a clandestine business going on there, which is terrific for a mystery writer.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

We wore what?

I’ve been going through old photos lately and digitizing them, and it’s very funny to see the kind of clothes I wore back in the day. I was a bit young to be a hippie-- I was only twelve during the summer of love, after all. But what I wore as a teen was definitely influenced by hippie garb.

When I was fourteen, my parents sent me on a summer study program in Grenoble, France, and I bought the gauzy shirt I’m wearing in this photo at an outdoor market, and it has the kind of hippie Indian-influenced look that was popular for a brief time, along with the Nehru jacket fad. (And yes, I had one of those, too.) Tie-dyed T-shirts were popular too, but I never got into those.

I wore white tennis shorts for as long into the season as I could, even though my time on the tennis court was sporadic at best. When I got to college, I was exposed to a whole different way of dressing. 

A Huckapoo shirt
Rich kids from Long Island wore Huckapoo shirts and Guess jeans. Friday and Saturday night frat parties were a riot of wild colors and patterns. 
A Fair Isle sweater

Preppy girls wore Fair Isle sweaters and kilts with big safety pins.

Prep school boys wore Lacoste shirts with popped collars and the little alligators on the breast. They retailed for $16 at the time, but my parents had taken me to an outlet store in Quakertown, PA, where you could buy seconds for only four bucks. You had to pick carefully through to make sure you didn’t get ones with noticeable defects, but there were plenty to choose from.

This was long before the prevalence of outlet stores and malls, and the Quakertown store, adjacent to the factory, was only open for sales a few times a year. When my parents would get notice of a sale, I’d go around my dorm and collect orders for sizes and colors. 

Then I’d take the train out to Quakertown, walk a mile or so from the station to the factory, and fill my orders, sorting through endless piles of shirts to find what I needed. I’d load up my backpack and a couple of shopping bags, then return to campus to retail them for $8.00 each. A hundred percent markup for me, and a fifty-percent discount for my customers. It was quite a nice little side business, and gave me something to write about on business school applications.

Everyone wore clogs. One of my favorite shoe memories was sitting in the Rosengarten reserve room in the basement of the library at Penn, where you went to get materials that might not be widely available. Professors put photocopied articles there, as well as books you couldn’t check out. 

Donnie Deutsch, a lot older!

Donnie Deutsch, who went on to success as an advertising executive, friend of Donald Trump and reality TV star, came clumping in one night in his clogs, making so much noise you couldn’t help noticing him.

I got my first pair of Earth shoes when I was in college, from a store on Walnut Street near Rittenhouse Square in center city Philadelphia. I was fascinated by the research behind them, the way anthropologists had noticed that heel prints were deeper. It took a while to get used to them, and fortunately the fad passed quickly.

When I was in business school at Columbia, I spoofed the preppy look for this skit for the Follies, in my popped collar and Kelly green pants. 

Those pants were such a symbol to me of a kind of lifestyle and income level that I wrote a whole mystery story that began with them. It's in the collection Mahu Men, by the way. 

Who knows where the rest of these clothes will show up in my fiction?