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WELCOME TO MIAMI
"I am indulging in my humanity," I said.
I took a long drag from my spliff and then passed it matter-of-factly to the blonde seated next to me (without looking at her). She took it as I continued, "And I can say to all of you now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I"-pause-"have earned it. Eh, brother?" I smiled at Lovedrop, my trusty wingman.
"Mystery, you're damn right," said Lovedrop, "and this is going to be a great year." He raised a glass of chocolate protein shake and took a swig.
"I'm just living in the Now," I said, making a grand, sweeping gesture with my hands. "The Universe presents itself. I mean, look at all the math. It's absolutely brilliant." My straight, dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail, an expression of fascination fixed on my angular face.
The blonde next to me wore my trademark fuzzy black hat. I had used it earlier in the night as a lock-in prop. It was too big on her, and she looked very cute with it on. She had almond-shaped doe eyes and wide, Slavic features-my favorite type. She smiled at me. It was on. I'd been working on this one for a few hours; I was just comfort building now.
"This couch looks like something out of The Jetsons!" said the other girl, a brunette with long, straight hair. She wore a green cocktail dress and dark eye makeup. "I love this rug, though. It must cost you a fortune to have it cleaned."
The four of us-Lovedrop, the two women, and I-relaxed on a white shag rug. Lining the wall around us was a futuristic, white leather couch. Everything was white. The fourteen-thousand-dollar custom curtains were white. The giant avant-garde, plastic light fixtures around the house were white. Even the dog was white.
Seated in a nook nearby at a glass table was our acquaintance, the Rat. He was using his debit card to crush a few small blue pills on the surface of the table. The Rat flashed a sagging, loose smile from wet lips.
"Hey LD," he said, a slight whine to his voice, slurring, "you want one of these Roxies?"
Lovedrop smirked. "Haven't you had enough already? You look like you're about to drool all over that table."
The girls giggled.
"Is that a no?" The Rat kept smiling greasily as if to say, You know you want some.
A projector played music videos on the far wall of the room, and a bouncy hip-hop song came on. Lovedrop got up and started to dance to the music, bathed in the changing light of the projector. "I love this song," he said, and he was only half lying. It wasn't what he would actually sit around listening to through a pair of headphones, but it was perfect for dancing with girls.
The brunette stood up and started to dance with him. "Do you guys own this house?" she asked, the shag rug feeling oh-so-soft under her bare feet. All the pieces came together as a vibe: the beat of the music, the light from the projector, the dancing, the laughter, the smoke in the air. He put one hand on her hip and circled the other in the air like swinging a lasso.
"Hey Mystery," said Lovedrop, "remember the Matthew McConaughey chicken dance? In Vegas." He started flapping his arms like a chicken.
"I don't know about Matthew McConaughey, but you're in Miami now," said the Rat. "Hey LD, you look like the Backstreet Boys with that dance you're doing." He snickered under his breath and licked his lips.
"I guess I was lucky all I got was their dance moves," said Lovedrop. "And meanwhile you got stuck with their goatee, smack-dab in the middle of your face."
"Ouch," said the brunette. She smiled at Lovedrop and tucked her hair behind one ear.
The Rat scooted back in his futuristic chair and placed his hand on his chest indignantly. "LD, I'm hurt," he said in his whiny voice. "I'm hurt that you would say that. After everything that I would do for you." He actually sounded sad; it was good.
The Rat paused and then pushed it a little further. "LD, you know I love you like a brother, don't you? You guys, you're like brothers to me. I love you guys."
The brunette joked, "The girl is supposed to say 'I love you' first." She tossed her hair back and forth with the music, little green earrings swinging.
"Do you really know Matthew McConaughey?" the blonde asked me as she handed me the spliff. She touched her cheek and then ran her fingers back through her hair.
"No, no," I said, holding the spliff daintily. My nails were freshly painted black, matching my toes. I paused to take a drag. "I met him once in Vegas. In a small club. Not Tangerine, but near there. I saw him do his chicken dance."
The girls both said, "What's the chicken dance?" and then they looked at each other and giggled.
Lovedrop explained: "It's how McConaughey was picking up women. It's his game."
The blonde shook her head. "Matthew McConaughey doesn't need game to pick up women. He's hot."
"I deduced his game plan," I continued, "at least for that night. But I presumed he must have used this particular tactic before." I took a final drag from the spliff and then extinguished it directly onto the glass coffee table, then continued: "I was at this club in Vegas and there he was, doing this weird chicken dance, and of course it gets a reaction. McConaughey's flapping his arms around and walking low, and bobbing his head up and down. Just drunk as a skunk-"
"It provokes people!" said Lovedrop.
My voice took on a conspiratorial tone as I continued: "They make comments to each other about how funny he looks, and they start to ask each other, 'Who is that guy?' And then finally someone says, 'Wait, that's Matthew McConaughey!' and it starts to get around."
I spoke with a certain rhythm, and a fascinated glint in my eye. "Soon, McConaughey's got everyone whispering, 'He's that movie star' and 'Wasn't he dating so-and-so?' His value demonstrations got uploaded into everyone's head. People are looking at him, talking about him; the whole room is warmed up for him."
I paused, opened both of my hands, and continued: "And it worked. He started chicken dancing with this girl. And he was crossing some barriers, he was socially violating a little bit, but knowingly. I'm more than certain he knew what he was doing."
I suddenly produced a plastic eyeball and held it up for everyone to see. Then I tossed it into the air and it vanished, eliciting a gasp. I grinned and said, "McConaughey made his own chicken splash, all over the room."
Everyone laughed. "Did you talk to him?" asked the blonde.
"Well, I talked to him for a few minutes," I said. "He and I had dated the same girl, Jackie, and we talked about our dogs . . ."
The blonde squeezed my skinny arm and said, "Do you guys know what Mystery said to me tonight, when I walked by? He looked over at me like he's curious about something and then he says, 'You ever dump in a gold toilet?' "
The brunette's jaw dropped open. "Are you serious?" she said.
The blonde giggled. She started to apply some lip gloss and said, "I couldn't believe it at first: That was his opener! And then he says it again: 'I said, you ever dump in a gold toilet? It's divine!' "
Both of the girls burst out laughing, and the brunette looked at me and said, "Oh my God! I never would have talked to you if you had said that to me!"
The blonde continued, " . . . I mean who talks like that?"
No one talks like that, my dear, I thought; not when they're trying to impress you. That's the point. I'm a firm believer in disqualifying myself as a potential suitor early on; the pickup just seems to go easier that way.
The blonde started toying with the strap on her purse, and then she said, "We were curious about you guys, though. We thought you were in a band or something. Are you in a band?"
The brunette said, "Yeah really, what do you guys do? Were you serious about that pickup artist stuff?"
You couldn't blame them for being curious. Our house, Project Miami, was a fifty-four-hundred-square-foot mansion in Coconut Grove. It looked like a work of modern art, white, angular, and rising above the surrounding lush vegetation. Our driveway was like a luxury auto dealership, filled with different models of Mercedes, a white Bentley, and the Rat's black Lexus with cheesy custom rims. With the exception of the Lexus, not a single car was worth less than a hundred thousand dollars. Not that we had paid for any of them with pickup artist money-we were onto a new caper in Miami.
"It's true, in a way," Lovedrop admitted. "We teach seminars on how to be social and meet people. We call it the Venusian Arts. And we help guys learn how to talk to girls." He paused and then said, "We just want everyone to have as much fun as we do, because so many guys in the bar don't know what they are doing."
The blonde nodded in agreement. "That's for sure. Most of the guys in the club are such douchebags! Seriously, you guys were the most fun of any guys that we talked to all night." She's pretty, I thought as I looked at her. She reminds me of my ex-girlfriend.
"For sure," echoed the brunette. "You guys were definitely the most fun."
"Yeah," said Lovedrop, strutting with faux arrogance. "All the other girls were jealous of you guys because you got to hang out with us."
The brunette laughed. "Oh my God, you are so full of yourselves." She shook her head.
"Oh, hey guys," I said suddenly, "do you want to see the piece I did for Current TV?" I pulled out my iPhone, started a video, and handed it to the blonde. There I was on TV before her eyes, being interviewed like a big shot. The whole night I had been uploading my own value demonstrations into her head. It was like I was going down a checklist:
Fame? Current TV clip. Check.
Center of attention? Matthew McConaughey Story, everyone listens eagerly. Check.
Preselection? I dated this beautiful girl. Check.
Leader of men? "Are you ready for this? I am the tribal leader." Check.
Strong identity? Grounding routine. Check. Avatar. Check.
Social alignments? "I want you to meet my cool friends." Intro Lovedrop. Check.
Presently, the blonde said, " 'World's Greatest Pickup Artist,' that's what it says on this video." She looked up at me.
I said, "Yeah, are you ready for this?" My pale skin gave me a vampiric charm in the glow of the projector, a reminder of my nocturnal lifestyle. "Turns out, some people think I'm the world's greatest pickup artist! Isn't that crazy?" I said it as if I found it strangely surprising.
The blonde snorted derisively. "Yeah right. I'm the one who picked you up tonight. And you were easy."
"Easy is just a word that people use when they're feeling overconfident," I replied. "But beauty is common. There are models all over South Beach. Personally, I prefer a woman with more flaws, more character. That's what I like about you. There is beauty in imperfection." I nodded at her seriously and continued: "You're one of us! I can tell. All that boy/girl stuff aside. You're in your humanity like the rest of us."
The Rat rolled up a one-dollar bill and made it into a straw, and then he leaned forward and snorted a fat line of blue powder from the glass table in front of him. His spiky black hair glistened from too much hair gel. "Hey LD," he said, "you should check out my modeling portfolio. I was a professional model, you know. I used to be in really good shape. I was even skinnier and more ripped than you."
"And you can be again," said Lovedrop. He took another swig from his protein shake and said, "I was overweight when I moved here a few months ago."
"Really?" asked the brunette, squeezing his bicep. "You look good now."
"Do you really mean that?" he flexed proudly.
"Of course." She giggled. "You're buff."
"Now I feel validated," Lovedrop said, beaming like a little boy. Then, as if with resignation, he said, "Oh, all right, you can have a hug . . ." and he rolled his eyes and looked away, opened his arms to her, and gave her a big hug. Squeezing her close, he paused momentarily. He was about to say, You smell good, but then he felt her stiffen just a little, and so to err on the side of caution, he said, "All right, that's all you get, now get off of me," then he pushed her away and rolled off.
Lovedrop thought to himself, I'll just keep plowing her comfort levels and see how far I can get tonight. No big deal. I'll just go back and escalate again in a minute . . .
Just then, we all heard a sharp muffled crack, followed by a distant sound like a woman's moan.
"What was that?" asked the brunette.
"What was what?" said Lovedrop.
Then they heard it again, a distinct slapping sound followed by a woman's moan, and then again. It sounded like she was being spanked.
"That's Johnny," said the Rat. "He's down in his room with that flight attendant girl."
The brunette raised an eyebrow.
"Who all lives here?" asked the blonde.
Too many questions, I thought.
"Johnny just rents a room here," said Lovedrop. "He has his own place across town. He's a good guy. And he's also into bondage." Then he joked, "You should see the dungeon at his other house!"
"Wait a sec," said the brunette reservedly. "Are you saying there is a dungeon down there, with whips and chains and stuff?"
"No, no," I said, "he just has a bedroom here. She visits sometimes; they're into spanking." I sounded certain, sincere, no big deal.
I better make this quick, I thought. Next thing you know Matador will come walking out here with his shirt off. "Oh!" I said suddenly, "that reminds me. Have you guys ever seen Google Earth?" I thought, bullshit baffles brains.
"Oh yeah," said the blonde, "you were talking about that at the bar, right?"
"Oh my God, you have to see it." I was enthusiastic. "It's the most amazing thing. I have already flown all around Miami in Google Earth. Come on, I'll show you on my projector." I stood up, tall and skinny, and grabbed her by the hand. I looked like Tommy Lee; my avatar was an image I had created through years of experimentation. She looked at the brunette, and the two locked eyes.
From the Hardcover edition.