One of the perks of living in South Beach is the plentiful supply and easy accessibility of hotel housekeeping carts, which are filled with the bounty of free toiletries such as lotions, bath gels and shampoos. I haven't paid for a bottle of shampoo in years. Whenever I'm running low, I pay a visit to one of the more upscale hotels in town, walk through the lobby like I belong there, and then roam the halls until I find a housekeeping cart unattended in a hallway. Theft? Well...I look at it as payment for helping tourists find Gianni Versace's house for the past 6 years. You're welcome.
This morning I noticed I was running low on stuff, so I made a mental note to plunder a neighborhood housekeeping cart in the near future. But today when I found myself downtown after a class with a few hours to kill, I thought I'd try one of the nearby fancy-pants business hotels along Biscayne Bay. They have spas on-property that also supply the rooms' toiletries, so their housekeeping carts should be good.
After I wandered around a few floors and picked up some necessities -- a few K-Cups for my Keurig machine, a chocolate or two, and two little bottles of wonderfully-scented Elemis shampoo -- I headed for my car, walking slowly due to the inconvenience of my pockets being filled with loot. I turned right, I turned left, I walked to the Brazilian cafe where I parked on the street.
Car: not there.
There is no reason to worry anyone would steal my junk car, so I looked around for some sort of evidence that it would have been towed, which hasn't happened to me in six years of living here, I know I parked in a legal spot because there is a meter right over there and oooooooh...there's the sign. "Loading Zone," blah blah blah. Damn.
I called the police; the officer transferred me to the towing company; the cordial man on the phone confirmed my car was there. I just needed to get to the intersection of 21st St. and 7th Ave., with a wad of cash.
Let me explain something about Miami. There is a very large section near downtown called "Overtown," and it is unlike anywhere I've seen before. Once upon a time it thrived, but to say it is now impoverished, and very unsafe, is an understatement. As I was located approximately 21 blocks south and 7 or 8 blocks east of the car tow lot, I had to criss-cross the Overtown neighborhood, and do so with a wallet filled with cash. I should've taken a cab.
But I didn't want to spend money. And the sun was still up, so I figured I'd be fine.
After a stop at an ATM, I started my 2+ mile trek. Three blocks in, I was drenched in sweat, and I could feel my face getting flushed. I undoubtedly looked like a complete mess. But I cared not. Up over up up over I cut across town on foot.
A turn around a particular corner let me straight into a group of about 6 guys, just standing in the middle of the street. When they saw me, they stopped talking and stared. I kept walking, but one yelled. "Hey."
I didn't react, so he yelled again. "HEY." I turned and looked; he pointed at his jacket pockets, and asked "Whatta need?" As it was far too hot for a jacket, obviously he had all sorts of recreational party favors under there. And he probably presumed someone like me, an unfamiliar face in his neighborhood, was wandering around in need of a fix.
I kept walking. He put his arms down, and started to follow me. So did the rest of his friends. I looked at the guy, without speeding up, and smiled a friendly I-learned-it-working-at-Nordstrom half smile, and said "I don't need anything, thanks." They kept following.
"Where you going?" he asked. I raised my hands and said "I don't need anything!" again as I looked ahead. But I still heard those footsteps.
Credit cards, all that cash, the driver's licence I need to get my car, my whole life is in that wallet. I CANNOT get mugged.
When I get nervous, I sing. The song that popped into my head was "Ya Got Trouble" from "The Music Man," which I performed when I was a senior in high school. It is incredibly difficult as it is mostly spoken in rapid-fire rhythm, with the words more spit out than sung. It was so hard to learn, the song is burned into my brain and I still remember every word. And I started murmuring the lyrics, with the rhythm helping me walk faster. "Ya got trouble my friend, I say you got trouble right here in River City, why sure I'm a billard player certainly miiiiiighty proud to say I'm always mighty proud to say it..."
As I walked, a new guy (now that's seven!) rode up on a bicycle next to me, and glided along. He just looked at me. I kept walking. There was a closed lot on my right; on my left were apartments. The next street was two blocks away. I could see people waiting for the bus on the corner. I could make it there and be fine.
"You got a cigarette?" he asked. I just looked at him, without blinking. His friends had now closed in on me and were in a pack just several feet back. I didn't answer. Instead I kept mumbling. "And the next thing you know you're playin' for money in a pinch-back suit...."
The sight of my red, sweaty face, the sweat stains through my clothes, and my mumbling undoubtedly painted a picture of a miserable drug addict in need of something which I already said I didn't want from them, or I was just weird.
He slowed down, as I walked ahead. When he slowed down, the rest of them slowed as well, and I walked on towards the bus stop. Maybe they weren't going to do anything anyway; maybe they all changed their minds because I wasn't worth it. Maybe the guy just wanted to see if I would be respectful and look him in the eye, since most people would presume they were looking for trouble just because of their appearance and their circumstances. I think the situation was choice #3.
But I wasn't interested in having a bonding moment. KEEP GOING DAN! KEEP GOING! MOTHERS OF RIVER CITY HEED THAT WARNING BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE...
I rounded the corner and eventually arrived at the tow lot, where I slapped down my cash and ID, and the cordial man asked if I had anything smaller than twenties as he owed me two dollars in change. I said I didn't. He went to look for singles.
I looked into the lot littered with cars, and saw my car on the side. Cats were running everywhere like a Stephen King story--on cars and under cars and jumping on each other. People think stray cats can tap into their wild instincts and fend for themselves, but really they last only a year or two until they get lung infections, and their kidneys fail due to eating things that are definitely not cat food. They die miserable deaths. Stray cats make me sad.
Under my car there was a little grey and black kitten, just sitting there looking around blankly. Cute.
The guy came back. "I don't have $2," he said.
"I don't care about the $2," I replied.
"I don't want to have to owe you money..."
As this man fumbled around in his desk looking for dollar bills, my head started buzzing--seriously, I heard a buzzing sound somewhere in my brain--due to the residual anxiety of my walk across town. I wanted to scream at him I AM IN NO MOOD FOR THIS JUST GIVE ME MY FUCKING CAR but that would get us nowhere, wouldn't it? So I clenched my fists and breathed, yes reminded myself to breathe in, and there we go let it out...
I looked outside. I don't know why I said it, really. I just wanted to go. "It's okay. For $2...I'll TAKE A CAT."
He laughed. Then he looked at me and realized I was serious. "You really want a cat?" he asked. "Take whatever cat you want, please. I don't want them."
I took my keys, walked to my car, reached behind the tire and grabbed a squishy ball of fur mixed with grease. I pulled the kitten out, without much resistance, and held it up in the air. It was a little female, and her green eyes were crossed a little. I noticed she wasn't really grey, but actually white and very dirty. How pathetic.
"I'm taking this cat." I held out my arm with the greasy kitten in my hand. "I'll buy her for two dollars." But suddenly the guy seemed to feel weird about it. "Okay...really?...well..uh..." He looked around. "If you're going to take that cat, you have to take the other white one, because they're twins..." as if suddenly he cared. But if I learned one thing today, it was to keep moving. So I sat down in my car and drove through the gate.
I plopped the kitten on my dashboard, and she stared intently upright with her green cross-eyes, her forehead against the glass, trying to figure out why she could see upward but not move upward. There was probably some freaking-out going on too, as up until that moment her whole life was a parking lot filled with cars and dirt, but her adventure was just beginning.
So yes, thanks to parking in the wrong place, I now have a new cat. She is currently sleeping right here on my lap as I type, probably happy that there's no mean cats bothering her and it's not a pile of chemical-soaked dirt. I tried to get her to sleep in a box in the corner, but she kept climbing out and crawling up this chair and up my shirt to rub her face on my chin, purr purr purrrrrrrrrrrrr. I think it's gratitude.
Maybe I'll name her Miss Elle. That's the syllables rearranged from the Elemis bottle of shampoo that she and I used for her very first bath.
It didn't go well...
...there was much splashing and re-lathering, so that shampoo bottle is mostly empty. That means I need to go back and get some more.