Sunday, June 8, 2014

Miami: the First Two Months

I know this might sound incredible to those who know me, but I haven't dwelled upon how bad Miami has been for Adrienne and me.  Now that Miami is almost behind me, though, I am feeling an urge to write down the problems I've had here.  I am finding that writing this is quite emotional for me, too, but all my best writing is emotional so I'm not surprised.

Initially, I was going to make this one post, but I got done with the first TWO MONTHS and realized that I needed to break it up into several posts (the first two months were busy, don't worry, I won't be writing 18 of these things).  Apparently, I have a great deal to say about Miami.

Adrienne and I determined to buy a house when we moved to Miami.  At the time, we were entertaining visions of never doing a long distance move again and the housing market had bottomed out so it was the right time to buy and we knew it.  There were deals on the market and it was true - our house has doubled in value the two years we have owned it, after all.

As I do, I devised a plan.  The plan was to stay in temporary housing for two months, with the option to stay a third month, in a month-to-month studio apartment rental while we conducted our house hunt.  Our first studio was in Miami Beach - we thought this would be cool.  Miami Beach is supposed to be cool, amirite?  Objectively, I know that it is.  In practice?  Not so much.

The studio itself was awful.  It had only been partially cleaned.  Under the bed I found a thick layer of dust, an abandoned sock, some bodies of dead cockroaches, there were some interesting things behind the toilet, shall we say - the merest surface cleaning had been done.  The "kitchen" was a mini-fridge and a hot plate.  The hot plate was almost incapable of *boiling water* - so, a cheap hot plate.  There was also a small, not particularly good fridge.

The owner of the studio apartment lived in a different state.  There was, theoretically, building staff but when something went wrong - like I had trouble getting on the Internet router - I had to fix the problem myself.  (Fortunately for me, the password of the router was - this is no joke - "password".  No one had set up the router at all.  It would periodically take a shit and need to be reconnected to the ISP, but I could do that from my computer.  I almost changed the password but decided not to because I didn't want to make the experience there worse for everyone who relied on that router.)  The place also stunk to high heaven because the previous tenant was a heavy smoker, apparently . . . which was annoying and more on this later.

When we were in that apartment, I got my trike.  At one point, I took it down to the lobby because I needed a large, clear spot to work on it.  Some jerk who also owned the a unit in the building came in and told me to move.  I asked why.  He said the lobby was for tenants to come down and relax.  I pointed out that I was a tenant and I was relaxing by working on my bike.  This baffled him.  He ordered me to leave.  I told him to fuck off.  He said he would complain to the board.  I told him to fuck off.  We got into a shouting argument, me insisting that as a tenant of the building I had a right to be in the lobby - that there were no rules or regulations about bikes in the building.  It was stupid.  He eventually left.  It was the harbinger for things to come.

While we were there, I decided that since we would be there for years, it might be a good idea to get some friends.  I used the Internet to find people who gamed.  There was a Meetup not too far from us in Miami Beach, run by a dude named Bear . . .

I can't even say this was the strangest thing that happened to me in Miami, but it sort of shows what kind of place it is.

Well, we get there.  The Meetup is badly organized from the onset, with Bear waiting outside of the ice cream shop where we were supposed to meet while the rest of us found each other inside.  Eventually, Bear and his girlfriend wander in and we contact them.  We get at able, order some food.

It is immediately clear to me that Bear is full of shit.  He regaled us with stories about how he has - I do not remember the exact numbers, but they are definitely in this range - he has fifty bachelor's degrees, seven master's degrees and three doctorates.  He spun a yarn of a child genius who had been in universities since he was thirteen, which is where he got such impressive and preposterous academic credentials.

He told stories about how he would tutor hot chicks and charge them in sexual favors.  Yeah, it started to get creepy as well as ridiculous.

Then he mentioned his post-academic career as some sort of secret agent.  I swear I'm not making this up!  I swear I'm not even exaggerating!  He said his intelligence career came to an end when he was hit by a truck and dragged beneath it and lost about a cup of his brain . . . but he had things the government wanted to know "so they brought him back".  Apparently, the US government has the powers to resurrect people.  Who knew?

It wasn't actually Bear's BS that caused me to blow a gasket.  While creepy and ridiculous, it was funny as hell.  When I realized how willing he was to tell tall tales, I encouraged him to do so.  I had determined that this wasn't the social circle for me, hell, no, obviously not, but I was going to milk it for the story value.

Things started to seriously fall apart when one of the other guys at the table mentioned how he was an engineer and women didn't pull their weight in group projects.  Since pretty much everyone who reads this knows me pretty well, you'll know this is when my gasket blew.  I started to get openly hostile and mentioned that my wife, who was next to me, had a Ph.D from an engineering college in a research university.  Which, unlike Bear's bullshit, is actually the truth.  I asked if Adrienne had the same experience with women in those kinds of projects.  Clearly, she did not.

It had a pretty chilling effect, alas.  Bear stopped making outrageous claims, probably intimidated that a real doctor was at the table.  The asshole sexist also shut up, out of a combination of shame and me giving him the I'm about this close to slapping you, you motherfucker look in my eye.

What flamed me out altogether is when Bear's girlfriend said - vis-a-vis the situation in France where women were forbidden from wearing the veil publicly - that "they should go home".

Yeah, one dude sexist, another racist.  Fuck that.

I pointed out that their home was France, that they were French citizens, that Muslims had been in France for thirteen hundred fucking years.  It was like breaking a stone with a watermelon - a messy failure.

So I stood up and said, "Fuck you, you racist motherfuckers, I'm out of here."

Then, again, not joking, Bear asked if I would be attending movie night!  I told him I don't have racists for friends and walked away.

Funny now, horrible then.

Well, the search for friends continued.  Next up, the Secular Humanist Meetup.  I went into detail about it here and here, so I won't repeat myself - but the comments on that post are the real money shot.  Not only was there some big daddy asshole who lectured us about his horrors in a creepy way, making all kinds of terrible false assumptions about people with mental problems - when I wrote about it, some of the assholes came by to attack me.  Keepin' it classy!

We also started to look for a house.  Pretty much everything I'm going to talk about here is awful, but I'll repeat myself and say that looking for a house in Miami is one of the worst things that has ever happened to me.  The agents I initially contacted were all high pressure con men.  The first guy - a good old boy in cowboy boots and Southern drawl - tried to pressure me (Adrienne, blessedly, had no contact with the guy) into buying a house with ROOF problems.  In Miami.  Now, that doesn't automatically invalidate getting a place, of course, but when I said I would need some time to think about it, he called to pressure me and I flatly told him that I'd contact HIM when my decision was made.  The next day, another call, more pressure, and I said, "You're fired.  Never contact me, again."  I would go through, oh, I want to say four agents this way before we finally found Albert Labrada, who is great.  (Unsurprisingly, our FIRST real estate agent in Ohio seems to be really professional and pleasant to work with.)  It was very unpleasant and wasted time - I had expected the process to take about a month and it was clearly stretching out, threatening my plan to get a house in two or three months.

We also got a recommendation from the FIU credit union to get a housing loan.  I forget the name of the institution, but remember most of the events.  The guy was a caricature of Miami missing only the coke spoon around his neck.  He addressed me, ignoring Adrienne, who is the person who was actually getting the financing because people with doctorates earn more than struggling writers.  And the terms he gave us were abusive, just downright abusive, requiring up front fees and shit like that.

Fortunately, around this time, I read a book about buying a house.  The book basically said that this institution, suggested by the FIU credit union, was a scam.  We were referred to a scam by the bank, yeah, that's what that means.

Anyway, I fired the guy in an email.  He called me, I fired him, again, and told him not to contact me through any channels.  Then he called Adrienne to pressure her.  I was enraged but we had trouble thinking what to do.  He didn't call either of us, again, fortunately, though if he had my response would have been to contact the police.

During this time period, I also tried to get a psychiatrist.  I'm including a whole section on medical care, but the short of it is that the doctor changed my medication from stuff that had worked wonderfully in California to stuff that made me tired and, well, depressed.  Great going!  Giving a depressed person drugs that make him depressed!  It would hardly be the worst medical problem I had, here.

This was all during the first two months Adrienne and I were in Miami.  There is more, too, but the little things, like the nearest store was a Walgreens that we took to calling the Walgreens of the Damned due to spiteful and incompetent service.  We would eventually learn there are a lot of places in Miami like that, but at the time we thought it was first the particular store and then the particular neighborhood.  We eventually came to realize it was all of South Florida.  Every shop we went into, for whatever reason, there was a very good chance it would be staffed by hostile, incompetent people.

It has had an extremely chilling effect on the both of us.  The upshot is that we almost never go out.  In Santa Cruz and Maine - both places we had a lot less money than we've had in Miami - we would go out, including to new places, fairly often.  About twice a week!  In Miami?  Most weeks, we don't even go out at all and we almost never go to new places.

This changes when we leave Miami, I should add.  We go to Indiana for the week?  Suddenly we are quite willing, even eager, to go out because it is pleasant, once again.  Funny how that works.  Certainly it was true in Ohio, too, where everywhere we went it felt like people were trying to show off to us - but it was just people doing their jobs in polite, competent fashions.

The last thing that happened at the first studio apartment was we left.  Well, the owner managed to get down to Miami for our leave taking from his shitty pit of a place and wanted to keep our deposit, saying we had trashed the place or something.  I said, "No, that's not going to happen, or I'll sue your ass.  I took pictures of what this place looked like when we got here, the filth, dead bugs, you name it.  Also, you are legally required by Florida law to do a walkthrough two weeks beforehand to tell us what we need to do to get our deposit back, which you didn't do.  Take our deposit and we'll see you in small claims court."  He backed off . . . but when we got our deposit back it was a hundred light because he needed to get rid of the smell.

The smell that was there because of the tenants before us, the heavy smokers, and a couple of months of me washing every surface with ammonia wasn't enough to rid the place of the stink.  We choose not to do anything because it was just a hundred bucks and the hassle wasn't worth it, but it was the first time we would be robbed in Miami.  It would not be the last.

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