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What Fresh Hell Is This? 

I've been to South Florida enough and written about it enough times to think that there isn't another thing I can say about it. I know that Miami doesn't look like CSI because they use special lenses. I know that South Beach is one big meat market where muscles and behinds are traded as casually as snorting coke off a car key. A Lexus, most likely. I've seen long-legged models strut before cameras at twilight like underfed spiders soon to be squashed on magazine covers. I've seen poor Israeli youngsters selling souvenirs and waitressing for their Wunderjahare, before going home for military service. I know that everyone in Miami Beach is either rich or good-looking or crazy and that there is a special lavender shimmer in the air that makes you want to spend money like corn chips under an umbrella in the sand at the Delano where drinks can cost $100 a pop. These days that's a bargain to the snowbird Euro-trash who come with huge shopping bags to take pieces of America (made in China) back to the frigid climes of Copenhagen and Oslo. I knew that South Florida, from Miami to Ft. Lauderdale, is where we stack the old to prune in the sun so that we can say, without guilt, that our parents have moved into a postcard and are having the time of their lives taking samba lessons and Viagra. We could say that, but it still rings false somehow. What we really do is stack the elders like cords of bamboo in hellish compounds surrounded by medical vultures and pharmacies, and we feel, obscurely, that a big hurricane will take care of business.

What I didn't know about South Florida is that it is only a long strip of realtor-constructed malls along the coasts, and that the huge inside is not inhabited. You can take any number of roads straight out of neon-lit malls and end up in a huge swamp. The swamp used to be a real paradise for birds and fish, but the developers drained and criss-crossed it with canals for future building, so it's only a depressing grass desert now. What little remains of the great swampy interior is the Everglades National Park that has its water slowly sucked out of it to feed the growing insanity of the coasts. And insanity is about the only thing you can call it as you drive hopelessly lost on weirdly numbered roads, highways, toll roads and overpasses. They have names like '145th SWN Miami Park 12 Blue Cove 1234," named and numbered as randomly as they were built. As your focus adjusts and you figure out where you are (after throwing out the useless Google maps!), you are hit by a feeling and a smell. The feeling is one of nauseated pity at the psychological condition of the natives locked in squares and circles flanked by boring malls. The squares and circles repeat inside the loopy roads like fast-forwarded viruses replicating in a test tube. The smell is one of car exhaust and dying flesh. You realize that the feeling and the smell are one and the same thing, and that this is what America wants the whole world to have. No wonder some people want none of it. Not everyone is a Euro-rich tourist with rose-colored glasses.

Andrei Codrescu's latest book is New Orleans, Mon Amour: Twenty Years of Writing From the City (Algonquin Books).


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