|Chagrin River Review||
Audra Martin D'Aroma
The Hurricane Market
Buddy Allicaster’s face flapped back like a man in a convertible thanks to the manmade wind, a testament to the omniscience of his condo’s architects. Buddy was looking at a five-minute walk between the windstorm and his pad; it included front-lit jungle landscaping, a view of the iconic empty buildings of the Miami skyline, and Eastern prostitutes who competed viciously over being European. A couple of drunks were sleeping it off in the hallway, their faces still puckered into masks of belligerence. A girl lit up a cigarette in the elevator.
There was a price exacted for living in paradise and Buddy had learned to take the good with the bad. He frequently ministered to those who didn’t know how that transaction worked, usually ex-New Yorkers like himself that were throwing street tiffs about getting their rental scooters towed or finding that they’d tipped extra on a check where the gratuity had already been added.
Buddy lived on the fifteenth floor in a corner unit in an illegal sublet. He had lived in the apartment for sixteen months and even though many of the amenities had been stripped, his landlord had raised the monthly rent by fifty dollars. Buddy pretty much had the apartment to himself because his wife Patricia swung back and forth between the dinner and lunch shifts at a couple of restaurants. He didn’t know why she had panicked and done that but he guessed it was to prove a point. If she thought he was going to take the bait and jump on the first underpaid job that came his way, she was sorely mistaken.
When Buddy had arrived in the tropics and seen all of the wasted time and resources, he had thought that if he were valuable in New York, he would be a commodity in Miami. He had actually entertained the notion that he might become rich doing something simple. But there was a tax imposed on giving up seasons that seemed to be paid on the backend and the riches seemed to be saved for the people that quoted Tony Montana and imagined that the world owed them year-round beach weather.
Although he couldn’t say that he was completely happy, the thought of being forced to leave Miami made Buddy feel like killing himself. Managing paradise wasn’t simple and he had finally found something that was close to the secret, an algorithm that depended on the height of his wife’s heels, the quality of the prostitutes in his lobby, and whether he was roused from his sleep by trespassers who had jumped in the pool that was closed and the subject of a lawsuit. When Buddy thought about snow, he thought about two things, one real, and the other realistic. One scene involved getting up in his father’s face, shortly before he’d passed and yelling “A brain, scarecrow.” The other involved the closing of the Brooklyn Bridge due to budget cuts and the citizens flooding it by foot.
Some mornings, walking along the closed shops on Lincoln Road, Buddy would get a whiff of a sharp reality, like passing a plumeria or jasmine tree, and it was made all the sweeter by the signs of empty consumerism that lay around him like unwrapped Christmas presents. Throughout the high season, Buddy tried to remain positive and, sure enough, he found a job just before the snowbirds left and the discount tourists descended on the barrier islands. People who didn’t have the pleasure of living in Miami Beach didn’t understand that any job that allowed you to stay on the island was to be considered a good one. Buddy gave tours on a hybrid boat and bus route. He had to dress like a turkey and gobble at pedestrians but he also had the best views of Miami four times a week. Plus, now he had business owners on the route offering to give him a cut if he’d send business their way.
Buddy didn’t mind the turkey headpiece as much as he minded the sympathetic looks of some of his audience, usually from the Mid-Atlantic. Buddy was working on a plan to team up with his wife to start his own tour company. Witty banter came easily to them. He threw a few parties and stuck by her side and, sure enough, whenever they’d bicker people would howl with laughter. It wouldn’t make sense to buy a bus or a boat because he didn’t want to deal with the overhead. What Buddy proposed was finding a way to offer an additional service to his clients that wanted to see the real Miami.
Before Buddy got a chance to flesh that out, he had a run-in with a fat guy in front of the Jackie Gleason Theater. The guy kept making the same joke, in Gleason’s voice, about an optimist starting a diet on Thanksgiving. Buddy made a crack about Rhode Island, things escalated, and Buddy issued a casual threat to push the guy over the edge of the bus. A light breeze passed as the bus rolled into the water and all was forgotten. Buddy descended from the bus laughing, telling the tour company owner about the incident. The Israeli took in Buddy’s imposing stance and bald head, the low New York accent, all of the things that made his information more trustworthy and increased the humor of him dressing like a turkey, and fired him on the spot. Buddy couldn’t go to the competing tour companies because they were owned by the same Israeli.
For a few days, a restaurant manager paid him in wine to hang out at his restaurant, hoping that some of the week’s bus riders might recognize him. A shuttle bus driver felt sorry for him and gave him a deep discount on an empty seat on the Key Largo route. As Buddy passed through the swamp borders and was spit out into the Straits of Florida, something occurred to him. His landlord was a nasty man, drowning in bitterness about his neighbors not paying their condo fees. But if your neighbors are corporations in Henderson, Nevada or Vietnamese guys living in Seattle and you’re the one paying to have the elevators running and the pools chlorinated, breaking your bank while they’re waiting to pounce on you, who deserves to get their head broken? On the ride back to Miami, it became very clear to Buddy that he had been making his job search unnecessarily difficult by insisting on making money in the formal economy.
As soon as Buddy allowed a change in his thinking, things began to open up for him. This literally happened the next day when he went down to the mini-market in his condo to buy a bag of pretzels. It was owned by a squat short-haired Peruvian woman who treated the store like a train depot in some far flung Russian province. The pretzels had no price on them and had fluxuated 75 percent within the arc of two days in the woman’s favor. Buddy opened his mouth to reprimand her but instead asked if she knew of anyone that was hiring.
Wanda looked him up and down like a Russian woman inspecting a herring, her disdain seeking refuge under a thin veneer of Latin hospitality. For the first time since he’d arrived in Miami, Buddy felt that someone was truly and thoughtfully assessing him.
“Maybe, just maybe…” she told him and then she asked him to return in one hour. An hour later, she wasn’t there but an hour after that one of her sons told Buddy to meet her at a bar on Washington Avenue that night, on the late side.
The bar was a railroad style and had blue lights with a long faux-ice bar and white leather stools that looked rented. Wanda sat at the bar consoling the bartender, who had been offered a cut by a new line of vodka if he pushed it on fifty people. So far, it was only Buddy, Wanda, and the Russian representative for the vodka company. Wanda played mother figure to a whole host of tattoo artists, drag queens, and DJs. She turned her watch to show the bartender that it was only one-thirty. She bought Buddy a vodka drink and told him how she’d gotten started in business, hawking ceviche to local restaurants. She’d started on the outskirts of the city and, in a few months, had landed some of the famous hotel restaurants. The only reason she’d turned a profit was because she’d had a contact at a grocery store that let her know when expired fish was being dumped in the garbage.
“Why ceviche is what you are thinking. Right Buddy? Why ceviche? Why I didn’t make fish sticks or fish fingers? Well let me teach to you something. One. Nobody comes to Miami to eat fish sticks or fish fingers. Two. Nobody thinks that they can’t trust a taste bud. With grilled fish, they take a shit in the morning and blame on the grouper. With ceviche, they say, if was bad, would taste funny.”
She nodded to the bartender and sat back, leaving him to glean the ceviche lesson and apply it to his vodka problem.
“But if people get sick from ceviche, they get serious food poisoning,” Buddy wondered aloud, in an exaggerated way to set up Wanda, a strategy that pleased her.
“This is what I say to the manager of the restaurants. I say, tell the customer: ‘Madame, are you and your monsieur accustomed by ceviche?’”
Wanda spun her hands around Buddy’s second vodka and rustled the ice; she was just using it for a prop because she herself wasn’t drinking.
“Why you don’t turn on some music,” she asked the bartender, who responded by turning it up to its maximum volume, a throbbing that made conversation all but impossible although Wanda didn’t seem to mind it.
“Here it is,” she finally said. “I need someone to unload some boxes for me three nights a week. It’s around three-thirty in the morning. Nothing much. Just some food for the market.”
When Buddy opened his mouth, Wanda pinched his cheek.
“How much you are going to pay me for this? This is what you are asking, is right? Well, I tell you. You go tomorrow night and you see that Wanda is a good friend to you.”
She reached in her purse to pay for Buddy’s drink but somehow he ended up paying for it.
The next day, Buddy set up camp on the most Southern part of South Beach, watching the hung over tourists roasting and gearing up for another night. This was the true nature of the city, he thought to himself: nocturnal, informal, and felonious. This was a city where the CIA had set up hundreds of agents in fictitious pool repair shops that were never open. The guys that had made it a point to find a little patch of land in Brooklyn and force a garden on the patio were miserable. There had been a reason he’d come to Miami.
At three o’clock in the morning, Buddy met one of Wanda’s sons in the parking lot of the condo. The son jumped out without removing his headphones and left the keys dangling from the ignition of a white shuttle bus. Buddy was disconcerted to see that the van was a stick shift but he quickly got the hang of it as he crawled through the Alton Road streetlights and sailed over the causeway. The empty skyscrapers shined violently to compete with the moon.
He easily found the house in Hialeah that was painted in bright colors, a Haitian daycare. He pulled into the long driveway and loaded about fifty boxes. Two wiry men did not help him but observed him closely while smoking. It was about six in the morning when he backed into his condo and unloaded the boxes. Wanda handed him an envelope (more or less what he had been expecting) and pinched his cheeks.
“For you to remember Buddy. Profit is what you can get after your expenses. The day you start to think is something fixed the profit, is the day in business, you die an ugly death.”
Buddy thought that Patricia might mind the night hours and the secrecy about his income. But she began leaving him cold coffee and sliced bagels and trying to seduce him. The next three months were extremely happy for Buddy. He went back to Key West and this time he took Patricia. They stayed in a bed and breakfast and ate leftover fried conch fritters in the morning. He bought Patricia some expensive domed plants for the balcony and they threw a party in which they danced the tango.
At the end of August, everyone began to track a tropical storm in the Gulf named Rainey that produced a bunch of intolerable jokes from people who were just learning the language. Wanda was nervous that it would peter out before at least threatening storm surge.
“Hurricane’s arrival,” she said. “Big money for the market.”
That night Wanda accompanied Buddy on his nightly excursion because they were visiting depressed areas where, according to Wanda, Buddy was likely to either be picked up by the cops or shot. She pinched his cheeks when she told him this and instructed him that, were they to be pulled over, she would start to cry and he would say they were going to find a niece of Wanda’s who had suffered a pulmonary embolism.
At various stops between Hialeah and Sunset, Buddy played enforcement to Wanda’s ruthless bargaining. When they got back to the store it was eight in the morning and although Buddy was exhausted, Wanda asked him to help her stock the shelves. She had called the unsuccessful vodka salesman to hang around all day and act like he was panic shopping.
“You tell people that you don’t know if I’ll take returns if the hurricane doesn’t come through,” she yelled to the shopkeeper. “You stress that. You don’t know. Pretend to try to call me on my cell phone. Pretend it goes to voice mail.”
She disappeared temporarily and then brought Buddy a café con leche. Buddy declined because he planned to go home and sleep. When he said this, Wanda pinched his cheeks again. She always went for the same spot, and he sincerely believed that the sore on the side of his tongue might be a result of the consistent pressure of pinches.
“No sleep for hurricanes Buddy boy,” Wanda said in the special maternal voice she reserved for him; everyone had a slightly different variation.
“You’re going to do me a special favor. You’re going all day to do the stocking. To carry the boxes through the lobby for people to see and acting so tired that it is killing you. You help me do delivery tonight and then maybe you and your wife take a bus to a very rich man’s house in Palm Beach to ride out the hurricane in style.”
Here was something, thought Buddy, here was a story that broke through the dregs of everyday life and surpassed the monotony of existence. Here was an earned luxury that could not be bought. That evening, it began to drizzle. Even though it purportedly came from an unrelated Northern front that had nothing to do with Tropical Storm Rainey, the tenants of Buddy’s building began to stock up their pantries. As the goods diminished, Wanda began to get nervous that her sales would go to a nearby chain store. She posted four signs in her window that said “We have for you ANYTHING”.
That night, Buddy's eyes felt pickled, held up by toothpicks, and closed on their own agency. He sped through the dangerous inland underpasses to the neighborhoods where people took to the street often for the rumor that Fidel Castro had been assassinated. In Buddy’s exhaustion, everything seemed absurd and cribbed from the movies. He stopped at another bodega for their unsold coffee and macaroni and cheese. There was beer from a truck in a Wynwood parking lot and then it was off to Flagami to buy cigarettes.
Things got ugly in Liberty City at a house flanked by two shaggy palms with machetes stuck in them. The windows were covered in yellow burglar bars and there were four over ground pools covered in blue tarpon. There was a sign on the door that said “Come in ONLY Buddy”, with another name crossed out and Buddy’s written in a different handwriting. Through the doors, Buddy noticed three details: a chandelier shaped like a handgun, a tiki bar, and a decorative aquarium tank toilet in the middle of the living room.
A semi-attractive woman in a floral romper beckoned to Buddy to follow her to the backyard. She was having a heated phone conversation in a language that Buddy could not make heads or tails of. Lush landscaping in the backyard and three more pools set up in a semicircle. It seemed too Miami for Miami and, for some reason, made Buddy think of Singapore.
The woman signaled for him to go the garage and pointed to about seventy boxes, about a mid-sized New York apartment. Buddy was not a mover. When he shared that, the woman glared at him, held a phone between her ear and shoulder, and said, in intervals of increasing agitation, something that sounded to Buddy like: “And frick and frack.”
As Buddy was trying to understand what could possibly be happening, the garage door flew down, nearly shearing Buddy as he was backing out with one of the boxes. A tall Asian man rushed in and, thinking he was getting mugged, Buddy pulled out his wallet, which only got him a twisted ankle. The woman resumed yelling “And frick and frack” into the telephone, turning on her heels. Then she yelled at Buddy, in perfect English, “Call Wanda.”
Buddy ran out, keys in hand, jumped into the van and gunned it. The tall Asian chased the van down the street, and Buddy might have heard a gunshot. Once he was safe, Buddy began to honk rhythmically, as if he were an ice cream salesman. He didn’t know another way to express his sheer exhilaration at having pulled off survival. The sun broadcast signs of setting and the causeways were bogged down by evacuation traffic. Buddy pulled into an empty parking lot under one of the city’s freeways and got out, for some reason, waving his hands in the air.
He ended up in a low-lit bar in the round filled with an assortment of derelicts. Buddy saw a former neighbor and tried not to make eye contact. He patted the back of a mannequin with his head down, only to discover that it was a real man, either dead or sleeping. He ordered two tequila sunrises because that song was playing on the radio. A voice seemed to come out of the air conditioning ducts, and it vibrated.
“You’re such a douche bag Alabaster.”
The neighbor was wearing, as usual, a crooked sun visor and swimming trunks. He rose like a rooster, drinking straight out of a silver martini shaker. His lineage came slowly to Buddy; he’d almost been convicted for dealing drugs at a prestigious Manhattan school, and his parents had kicked him out of their vacation condo. When he’d moved in the adjacent apartment, he was going to DJ school and Buddy had called security on him often. When he’d been kicked out, he’d thrown a glass coffee table from his balcony, almost beheading a Russian tourist.
Buddy, still high from the day’s events, tried to ignore him. He even offered a shot of tequila but the neighbor threw it at his neck, yelling about the noise complaints that had caused his eviction. Buddy ordered two more tequila shots, drank them, and then punched his former neighbor in the nose, watching the blood roll out and then striding out calmly as if he had shot him. But then he went back and ended up staying a few more hours. When he got back to the empty parking lot, he realized that Wanda’s van had been stolen.
The next twelve hours were given over to wind, water, and transportation. There was a tall blonde gypsy driving a taxi and a near accident with a speeding yellow Ferrari. There was a carton of ice cream for Patricia that needed to be refrozen. When Buddy finally made it back to his condo, the sun was rising in a rejecting way, making fools out of those who had been carried away by the threat of the hurricane. And then Wanda was knocking violently at the door.
“Where is the van,” she demanded, snarling, backed by two weight-lifting tenants. “The lawyers are coming. Be careful Buddy, because if the van is not back in a few hours, the lawyers will be twenty, not two.”
Somehow, Buddy was out of money and as he did a combination of hitchhiking and walking over the McArthur Causeway, a cinematic scenario briefly played through Buddy’s head, in which he ratted on Wanda’s business practices and he somehow took down an entire corrupted city cabinet. The sun beat down now (no signs of the formerly impending hurricane) and Buddy had never before been glad to see the mainland portion of greater Miami. Buddy saw two hands waving at him across the desert of the parking lots. Buddy felt that he was dying of hydration. There was an animation of the hands that struck Buddy as familiar.
The hands belonged to a middle-aged, African American man named Bill. He sat in the middle of the parking lot, in a plastic lawn chair with a hole drilled into the left arm to hold an umbrella. A prostitute with flabby legs and high cheekbones sat on the right arm, seemingly wanting to consummate Buddy and Bill’s relationship. It only took a slight head shake from Buddy for Bill to push the prostitute out of the picture and to give him his own hug.
“There were eyes everywhere when you parked that van. You don’t know what I had to do to save it. You were lucky that there was a hurricane. You should have asked for me, for Bill. The Mayor of Overtown.”
Audra Martin D’Aroma was born in Houston and is a graduate from The University of Texas at Austin. She has a lifelong obsession with the Gulf Coast and with hurricane culture. She has previously published work in theNewerYork and her novel The Galveston Chronicles was published by Rozlyn Press in 2012. She lives with her husband and two children in Pescara, Italy.