Ladies and gentlemen, frosh and TAs, no, children of ALL ages, step right up to a macabre circus of horrors never before witnessed in this sleepy, snow-blanketed town of New Haven. I invite you all to travel with me to strange lands of foreign tongues, corrupt city officials and incredibly strong coffee. Come this way to learn of spectacles never before witnessed by naive New Englanders: Miami at wintertime.
Tickets to our sky-blue circus dome of sand and sun have been selling out! As you read this, planeloads of glistening white tourists are arriving at the extravaganza, carrying cartons of rum and cigarettes from duty-free shops in Jamaican airports, small children hanging off their discarded war-battered winter coats. There is always room for a few more, as the thousands that have flocked here via I-95, the Gulf Stream and that 90-mile long path from Cuba have space for one more Elian in the closet.
Something dramatic happened this winter, however, to the bustling tropical city that made a once-fashion forward town turn eerily tacky. The temperature has hit a record low –as outrageous as 48 degrees on one December afternoon — and the natives are restless. The tourists, plodding along the sidewalks of Ocean Drive (their tight shorts accentuating obese thighs), gaze in amazement at the locals swathed in leather, fur and small animals, shivering in outdoor cafes (there was a period in the 70s when zoning laws prohibited indoor restaurants).
For the ashen-faced Northerners, the weather is “balmy” (as the pilot of my plane from La Guardia to Fort Lauderdale noted), but for the tanned, feisty locals, the cold weather is so extreme that people once mildly normal have become colorful (and quite delightful) freaks.
For your entertainment, first wander through the streets of Little Havana. Driving down Calle Ocho (watch out for the terrible teenage tailgaters and old caballeros swerving in Cadillacs), you will view an old man waiting for a bus wearing a hot pink ladies’ ski jacket. At Sedanos, the Cuban supermarket of choice, plump old Cuban ladies push around men just like him, covering them in bright handkerchiefs, yelling at them in rapid Spanish (sparingly, however, as they try to conserve all body heat to combat the cold). As they reach for cans of Goya guava and galletas, the women themselves display exotic plumes. Many wear fur and leather coats with white linen Capri pants and flip-flops. Some are noticeably confused. Socks under sandals abound; tights under soccer shorts are a common sight.
One woman, while pushing a child in a stroller (bundled beyond recognition), hurries against the wind in a yellow windbreaker, shorts, no socks, white sneakers, a beach bag filled with groceries and the biggest wool ski cap known to man.
Next stop on our tour of foolish fashion faux pas is the mall, a habitat of slow-moving, loud and often crazy inhabitants. Don’t dare going any shade lighter than a cafe cubano or you will be met with those stares reserved in other places for boil-ridden necrophiliacs and burn victims. But if you are plagued with skin the color of New England Pasty (actually a nice indoor matte from Martha Stewart paints), stand in a dark corner and observe. Most viewers first flock to the Miami Chica, a rare breed of 18-25 year old that manages to show off cleavage in a sweatshirt and has on so much make-up that slight facial twitches take minutes to reach the surface. This season, unfortunately, finds the Chica in poor form. Usually appropriate tube-tops have sweaters layered conspicuously atop them, and many have had to resort to full-bottomed bikini bottoms in lieu of the preferred G-string.
If you are able to take your eyes off of this wonder, gaze upon other marvels, such as the Yenta Suburbanite, who can be recognized by her familiar call, “Take a sweater! It’s freezing out there! Aren’t you freezing? Have you eaten?”
This creature stalks areas heavily populated with the Cuban-American Princess, and frequently the two can be seen fighting over sweaters at Bloomingdales in between yelling at significant others over the cell phone about how damn cold it is outside.
For those still greedy for more freakish delights, go early to Miami International Airport on your way out. Hang out at the baggage claim with people who have been waiting for their bags for three-and-a-half years. Get cursed at in languages the United Nations calls “weird and incomprehensible.” Place lots of valuables in your luggage and marvel at their disappearance when you get home.
And if you have finally had enough, ladies and gents, do what I did. Put on a tasteful winter coat, take pride in your pallid hue, and go back to New Haven with the knowledge that snow and ice may be annoying, but you are safe on your boring cobbled paths and unthreatened by the brightly-colored fiends in the mosquito-ridden, traffic-clogged, Euro-trashed-out oddities of that crazy place called South Florida (insert tired election joke here).