Gabriel Tucker is a globe-trotting, trust fundendowed twenty-nine-year-old who suddenly finds himself penniless and alone in the world, except for an old Miami Beach apartment building named the Venus De Milo Arms, the last thing of value left to him by his now-vanished family. Lacking skills or resources, he heads to Miami Beach to reconstruct his life, finding himself neighbors with an unlikely mix of tenants: an elderly Holocaust survivor, a lip-synching drag queen, a cynical two-bit gossip columnist, and a rebellious young performance artist who will eventually capture his heart. Within days, Gabriel is thrust into the outrageous world of South Beach, Miami of the nineties: temptations, quick fortunes, mountains of drugs, notorious murders, nonstop sex, and beautiful women (and men) for sale (or rent) are the order of the day. He is a ringside witness to the excesses and intrigues of Italian fashion empires, Cuban refugee supermodels, rapacious German developers, old-fashioned crooked politicians, and a cast of characters that would make Caligula blush. It is in South Beach that Gabriel will eventually discover the long-buried mysteries of his family and find a soul he never imagined he had and a love he never dreamed he deserved.
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Read an Excerpt
by Skip Bowling
What's happening on South Beach, aka God's Waiting Room, Mausoleum In the Sun, the Elephants' Graveyard, Varicose Beach, the Place Where Neon Goes to Die?
It all started when Christo wrapped beer can islands in Biscayne Bay and turned the eyes of the world not only on the flamingo pink crowns but on this lost in time deco land. It all started when Miami Vice realized that sherbet-colored decay would make a perfect backdrop promoting not only unstructured linen jackets and "three-day bender" facial stubble but South Beach itself. It all started when New York Anglo boys discovered Miami Cuban boys. It all started when the first fashion photographers, after a night at a "let us worship the erection" party, noticed the perfect light on their way home and realized South Beach was the perfect place to shoot not only their loads but their photos.
This led to a migration of tender young models who became little more than expensive chum, exotic garnish, for the straight moneyed and powered. Well-to-do dogs descended, accompanied by an entourage of sleazy crooks, visionary hustlers and hangers-on, and they all needed a place to screw! Real estate, the true Miami art form. Rehab it and they will cum. Sloppy seconds for all. Redo cheap hotel rooms while using each other like cheap hotel rooms. Forget about the beautiful old Jews that have lived here for the greater part of this century. They are an eyesore. Chic buildings don't go with shabby people. Glamour and geezer clash.
I checked out celebrity, local bad boy, actor-pugilist Mickey Rourke's bar — Mickey's Place (aka Mickey's Rats by locals because of the seedy-boxing-club-meets-mafia décor, a Cosa Nostra Friday's). There was the odd tourist trying to get a glimpse of the star of 91/2 Weeks. But, Mr. Rourke was nowhere to be found after his arrest last night for resisting arrest after an impromptu fight outside his club. I ran across Lord Michael Caruso, New York's hot club promoter (Tunnel, Limelight), who was in town scouting a space. He introduced me to his hunky-in-a-Guido-way partner, Chris Paciello, who showed me his lower-abs tattoo of a masked gangster, complete with a smoking gun, stolen cash and the legend "Easy Money."
Our eclectic island home has been christened by the magic word, "HIP." And God help us when fairy dust is spread from Lincoln Road Mall to Joe's Stone Crab. Where will this slippery slope of lust, this designer food chain, this fab Darwinian hand job lead us? Heaven or hell. Sometimes I think they are the same place.
Gabriel Gets the Letter
Gabriel Tucker's head was overflowing with a gobbledygook of been-there, done-that, bought-the-T-shirt. He was a twenty-nine-year-old rolling stone that collected a lot of moss. He kept telling himself that he'd know when to stop, kind of like you're supposed to know when you've found true love. Then he got the letter.
Gabriel could sniff out the sleaziest part of a place, could smell the edge. That's where he felt the best. He tried to live as cheaply as possible even though at the time he was worth millions. Gabriel checked into a hotel, called the Bee's Knees, in the Shinjuku neighborhood of Tokyo. Shinjuku was all covered in neon. He loved neon the way other people loved nature.
The Bee's Knees was for men only. Instead of rooms, there were fiberglass capsules, piled on top of each other, floor to ceiling. Each had a TV and an alarm clock embedded in the shell. It was like being in an incubator or a coffin. Gabriel liked it because he felt isolated and connected at the same time.
That afternoon, Gabriel went to the American Express office to pick up his mail and to get his monthly stipend from the trust fund that his grandfather Alvin had set up for him.
He had been traveling for over a decade now. The longer he stayed away, the fewer letters he received. People were forgetting him. The only mail he received were trust statements from his uncle Ian. He would use the back of these pages to write his travel journal. Gabriel would mail these pages to an apartment in a building he owned in Miami Beach called the Venus de Milo Arms, which his grandfather left to him in his will.
The key Gabriel had to the door of his apartment in the Venus, his official residence, was made of solid gold and had a diamond at the top. His grandfather left the key to him in his will also. When people asked Gabriel where he came from, he would stroke the diamond-studded, golden key and answer, "The Venus de Milo Arms." If there was any anchor in Gabriel's life, then it must have been the old, elusive "Venus," which his grandfather had never stopped talking about. It seemed like the only thing his grandfather missed about America since his forced tax exile to numerous tax havens right before Gabriel was born. Gabriel felt no connection to anywhere because they were always moving to stay one step ahead of extradition. He was sure his grandfather would have taken him to see the Venus if he wouldn't have been arrested for tax evasion the second he entered the United States.
Gabriel smiled to himself thinking that his one anchor was a building he had never seen, in a city he had never visited. But even rolling stones had to have a home, and for Gabriel, the old Venus would serve.
There was a letter from his uncle Ian waiting for him at the AmEx office in Tokyo:
I regret to inform you that when you get this letter, I'll be dead and you'll be broke. I lost all your money and my money in the market. Your trust is empty. You still have the Venus de Milo Arms because, as you know, Alvin's will stipulated that only you could sell it. I suggest you do because it's falling down. I am now going to jump off the roof of your Venus. I would rather be dead than broke.
No hard feelings,Love,Uncle Ian
Jesus Gets a Stop Sign
Jesus Mas Canosa shut his eyes and saw red — the red color of a stop sign. He lay naked on the overly stuffed, flattened-with-age, goose down bed of Senora Helena Ruth. He had absolute black hair, huge dreamy dark eyes and succulent overripe lips. He was a Cuban Billy Budd.
Senora Helena Ruth shivered with anticipation as she stared at Jesus' hard, twenty-one-year-old body. The only other man who'd ever made her feel this way before was Fidel Castro.
Helena was nude except for a new blue, faux-fur stole that she'd bought with black market U.S. dollars at the Hotel National. The sales clerk had told her it was the height of fashion in Miami, not knowing that it was the height of fashion not to wear, but to put on the floor around your toilet.
Helena lightly stroked the toilet rug that hung around her neck, as she reached her other hand between her long legs. She still had beautiful legs even though she was sixty years old, but the rest of her had surrendered to gravity.
Jesus stared out past Senora Helena Ruth, out past the billowing curtains of yellowed crochet, out past the leaking red barrel-tiled rooftops of what was once Havana's most exclusive neighborhood and even out over the indigo sea. He kept staring until he saw all the way to Miami. This was the last time, he told himself, the last time he would be a whore.
"Muy sexy," Jesus cooed. In truth, he didn't see Helena as she was, a fat elderly woman complete with brittle, black-rooted, peroxide hair and a garishly made up face. Instead, he saw a painting by Botero, one of the Three Graces, Mother Earth, an ancient fertility goddess. That was why he was such a good whore. He was always able to find something beautiful in everyone. But he was not only a whore with a heart of gold; he also had a dick of gold.
Jesus half-smiled at Helena, his pearly teeth glinting. All he had was beauty, which he knew he needed to trade on before it tarnished. That is why he had to get to Miami.
"Bad niño," Helena pronounced as if she were scolding a child.
"Lo siento!" he apologized in a little boy voice. "I'm sorry."
"I want that you must stay a boy," she ordered.
Jesus spread his legs shamelessly. He knew this script by heart. He just wanted to get to the last act.
"What this?" Helena asked, pointing at his sparse patch of blue-black pubic hair. Other than this and his underarms, his body was hairless and smooth and the color of molten copper.
"It just grew," he answered, feigning embarrassment. He was a gifted actor.
"You becoming a man."
"No," he protested.
"What do men do?" she asked.
Gabriel shook his head.
"Men hurt women, men hurt women, men hurt women," she repeated over and over like a mantra, removing her toilet rug and gingerly folding it and placing it on a hanger, then covering it in the plastic bag in which it had come wrapped marked "Bed, Bath & Beyond."
"So what we must do?" she asked, grabbing a tweezers from her bedside table.
"We must stop that I becoming a man," Jesus replied.
Helena's hands shivered. She plucked one of his pubic hairs out with the tweezers, dropped it into her shoebox marked "Payless."
"He loves me," Helena chanted. She touched herself with her other hand, took a deep breath. "He loves me not," she gasped.
Jesus distracted himself by practicing English in his head. He knew if he was going to succeed in America, he must speak English. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, he practiced. Helena Ruth picks a pound of pubic hairs.
Each pluck felt like a mosquito bite. Each pluck was a U.S. penny. Each pluck took him closer to Miami. He needed one dollar to buy the stop sign. She was sweating and giving off the sweet smell of Agua de Florida.
"This hurt me more than it hurt you," Helena announced, and Jesus knew this was a sign that she was about to orgasm. Her head rolled back. She was at number ninety-six.
"He loves me. He loves me not." She breathed heavy, ninety-seven. A black mascara tear escaped from her left eye.
"He love me! He love me not!" The stained tear trailed a snail path.
"He loved me!" she exhaled between gritted teeth. She came at exactly one hundred, as the seam of the mattress ripped, exhaling a cloud of fluffy feathers which hung unnaturally long in the sun-touched air before fluttering earthward.
Jesus thought it was a sign from God that he wanted him to go to Miami. She dropped the tweezers. He looked down, his eyes following falling feathers. He had no pubic hair left. He was totally smooth.
"How much, boy?" Helena asked, curtly. She refused to look at him, turned into a different person.
"One hundred cents," Jesus answered.
"As always, you cheat me," she scolded, taking a folded U.S. dollar bill from her purse and dropping it onto the wet spot of her bed.
Jesus grabbed the buck and dressed. He knew he wasn't supposed to say anything afterward. Those were her rules, but he couldn't help himself.
"Adios," he whispered.
Helena looked up angrily.
"I go forever."
"There is no place to go. I keep you a boy forever."
"No," Jesus declared. "I will be a man!"
"To where do you think you are to go?"
"Miami!" he announced, and it was like he'd said a magic word.
"And I go to the moon," she snickered.
Jesus fixed his eyes on her. She stopped laughing, instantly. She pushed a Polar beer and a brown paper bag into his hands.
"Gracias," Jesus answered, and walked out and sat down on the steps in front of her apartment building, El Edificio de las Cajas de Muertos. He opened the brown bag. There was a sandwich inside. He took a bite. It was sweet and salty at the same time. It tasted of turkey and cranberry jelly on soft white bread. It was the best thing he had ever eaten. He felt like he was eating America.
Gabriel Gets a Job
at the Lucky Hole
Back in Japan, Gabriel Tucker sat in his capsule in the Bee's Knees Hotel, rereading the letter from his uncle Ian. He felt like he had also jumped off the roof of the Venus de Milo Arms, though it bothered him that he could not picture the details: the stairs, the roof, the ground below. His anchor was a name and a key and not a real-life building. And his greatest fear had come true. He was broke.
He walked across the street to the sento, the public baths. He craved water, as if he could wash away what had happened. He sat on a dwarfish white plastic stool, wet himself, scrubbed his body hard with soft soap.
Japanese men stared at him as he gazed in the mirror. No matter how unhealthy a life he led, he continued to be six feet three inches of hard body.
As he washed off the suds, a gang of Kazuki, gangster pimps, sauntered into the baths. They stopped and stared at him.
Gabriel met their stare, thinking of Brutus from Popeye, their muscled, inked bodies reminding him of comic books. The biggest, toughest-looking guy's dick had a tattoo of a snake coiled around it.
Snake said something to him in Japanese. Gabriel didn't understand. The whole gang laughed. Then, Snake grabbed his hand and pulled him into the hottest tub. Gabriel's feet, his legs, burned up to his knees. Gabriel refused to feel, refused to show pain. He grinned instead.
Steam rose out of the tub like out of a pot of rapidly boiling water. Snake slowly submerged himself up to his neck, gritting his teeth. Everyone was watching. Gabriel took the challenge. He dunked his whole body and then his head completely underwater. He stayed submerged, holding his breath and boiling. He told himself he would hold his breath until he was dead. Being broke was as good as being dead.
The next thing he knew, hands were grabbing him. He heard Japanese voices grow more agitated as the water dripped from his ears. Gabriel opened his eyes right when Snake was about to give him mouth-to-mouth. Gabriel cringed, spat up water and wiped his mouth, and then he took a deep breath and air never tasted so sweet.
Everyone clapped. Gabriel stood up, bowed stiffly, very Japanese-like.
After they dressed, Snake led him through the Shinjuku Nii-Chome neighborhood, past the noodle dens, the twenty-four-hour love hotels, the okonomiaki stalls, the fetish mix boxes, the gay pride boutiques, the karaoke bars, the pachinko parlors. From street to sky, a carnival of neon signs repulsed and attracted him: "Transistor Glamour," "Glan's Freak," "Morning Tissue," "G. Shower," "Hotel Nuts" and simply "Cunt." Finally, they entered a club called Lucky Hole. It was mucous membrane–colored. A round bed sat on a circular stage, surrounded by mirrors on three sides. The other side had rows of velvet theater seats.
Snake stuffed a wad of yen into Gabriel's pocket. "Money, money for fucky, fucky, pretty pretty girl," he said. "You exit clothes."
Gabriel stripped, thinking, I'm broke now. I need the money, so why not? He lay down naked on the bed and propped himself on a pink lip-shaped pillow. He shut his eyes as the audience was led to their seats.
Then the show started. Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A.," played as the round bed started spinning slowly. Gabriel saw himself in multiple reflections on the mirrored walls and ceiling, spinning around and around, getting smaller and smaller, spinning away from himself into nothingness.
He felt like a celebrity, like an animal in a zoo, like a whore. People stared at him in Japan even when he had his clothes on, even when he was not on stage. They stared at his golden blond hair and steely blue eyes and deep dimples. They called him Brado Pitto.
Then a girl came out wearing some kind of geisha mask and a flowing silk kimono. The music changed to something Japanese. She did some kind of traditional dance that was graceful and robotic and looked like it was in slow motion. Then she took off her robe and she was totally nude, and alabaster and womanly and creamy and totally shaved, and he couldn't help but get excited and for an instant he forgot he was part of the show.
She danced over to the spinning bed and bowed formally to Gabriel. The expressionless cartoon mask mocked him. He focused on the dark eyes behind the mask.
She crawled on top of him, and he slipped into her and then she was pumping, pumping, silently, and a picture of that little naked girl running, running, after the bomb dropped on Hiroshima or was it some place in Korea flashed into his head. And he couldn't. It didn't. It got soft. Mocked him. The harder he tried, the softer it got. It just flopped around and bent in half as the half-cartoon girl tried to stuff it back inside. He couldn't believe it. His dick was the only thing he could count on in his life besides his trust fund and his Venus key.
The audience started to laugh behind their hands. Show's over.
"You shame me," Snake yelled as he took back the wad of yen and then the gang dragged him out the back door and threw him and his clothes into a Dumpster in the alley.
A flyer stuck to Gabriel's face. It was an advertisement for a restaurant called Fuku Fuku where:
"You are delicious cheaply and can eat a lot of blowfish dishes."
He walked to the restaurant and ordered a plate of blowfish sashimi because he had heard that it could kill you. He ate the fugu and waited to die, but the only thing that happened was a tingling in his mouth.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "South Beach"
Copyright © 2008 Brian Antoni.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
a charming little book about a group of quirky people living in south beach...what's not to love about a book about the Venus de Milo Arms??
This book is a really good. I took it to the beach and stayed so long I got burned because I couldn't stop reading. I wish I lived in South Beach.