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Reading Joan Didion's Miami On The Eve Of Normalization Of Cuban-American Relations

Listen – I can’t pretend to be an expert on any of this. I can though share some things from having grown up in it.

I was 6 when this book came out and living in Coconut Grove. The events Didion describes form a partial background of my upbringing, but in the way they do for a child who knows something is happening but cannot frame it against anything else due to inexperience and naivete. I knew vaguely that things were going on but didn’t know specifically what, and my parents weren’t in any hurry to explain how the city they moved to 15 years ago was not the city it was today.

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If you are not already reading Ed Piskor’s serialized comic book Hip Hop Family Tree, you could start at a lot worse places than this week’s page outlining the origin of Miami’s own 2 Live Crew.

by , posted Jun 4, 01:16 PM

Pure Imagination - "Minimum Security" Part 4

The following is the third portion of the story Minimum Security, a tale concerning loneliness, insomnia, incarceration, Burmese Pythons, and Dadeland Mall. Previous episodes are here.

December / Die Hard / Lexus

December came to Dadeland, and on a special weekend detail my fellow inmates and I decorated the mall with fake Douglas firs, artificial mistletoe, and tinsel in preparation for the imminent holidays. It was going to be my first Christmas in prison. The thought made me a little sad, but most of my thoughts made me a little sad. At least this year there would be no guesswork on which column contained my name on Santa’s list.

The warden, in addition to being a clothes hound and a grapefruit and Häagen-Dazs enthusiast, was an aficionado of all things Christmas. He strolled the tiled floors of Dadeland in December with a carol ever on his lips and an extra bounce in his step. Every year the warden organized an extravagant Christmas show in the open area near Michael Kors and Auntie Anne’s Pretzels. It was called the Dadeland Holiday Minimum-Security Spectacular. Inmates reenacted the Nativity and sang Handel’s “Messiah” and performed selected scenes from A Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street, and Die Hard.

I had mixed feelings about Christmas. I liked all the colored lights people strung on their houses and around ficus and palm trees, but I didn’t like the presents. I had never gotten anything good for Christmas, and had never given anyone anything good for Christmas. On TV around Christmastime I’d always see these commercials where a man blindfolds his wife, walks her out to the garage, and then pulls off the blindfold to reveal a shiny new Lexus with a big red bow. Boy those commercials made me feel lousy. What could I possibly buy my sweet Maria that could compete with a shiny new Lexus with a big red bow? Usually I bought her bath soap. I bet those disgraced corporate executives had bought a shiny new Lexus for a girl or two on Christmas, though. One of the executives was going to be Joseph in the mall Nativity reenactment, and another was going to be the Virgin Mary. No one was surprised. Those disgraced executives were always pulling strings.

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Pure Imagination - "Minimum Security" Part 3

The following is the third portion of the story Minimum Security, a tale concerning loneliness, insomnia, incarceration, Burmese Pythons, and Dadeland Mall. Previous episodes are here.

Hierarchy / Pájaro Libre / Julian(n)a

Even after four months at Dadeland I still wasn’t sure where I fit into the prison hierarchy. At a maximum-security prison the social pyramid would have been clearly delineated: the bank robbers and drug kingpins were on top and the rapists and child molesters were fending off shank attacks at the bottom, but we didn’t have any drug lords or pedophiles, no sex offenders of any kind, and the closest thing we had to a bank robber was Cedar Rapids Brinkley, who blew out the engine of his mom’s Oldsmobile Cutlass dragging an ATM down Kendall Drive.

At Johnny Rockets my position in the doo-wop singing hierarchy was better established. I was the bass, by virtue of my being the only one on staff who could hit the low E flat on “Blue Moon.” The eldest of the hedge fund-embezzling tenors sang lead, but you could tell the younger hedge fund-embezzling tenor wasn’t happy about it. His harmonies were always spiteful. The codeine-trafficking baritone, on the other hand, was a consummate professional. He had sung backup vocals in an all-Cuban Lynyrd Skynyrd cover band before the Feds caught wind of his improprieties with cough syrup. His band was called Pájaro Libre. They were planning on doing a reunion show when the baritone got out of prison and their original Ronnie Van Zant look-alike recovered from injuries suffered in a mango tree-climbing accident. Possible venues included a quinceañera, a corporate awards dinner, and a middle school dance.

For incarcerated felons, the embezzlers, the codeine-trafficker, and I were pretty decent doo-woppers. We sang all the standards: “Sh-Boom,” “Book of Love,” “Earth Angel,” “Duke of Earl.” But we also did originals—the younger embezzler, when not managing or mismanaging hedge funds, had been a quite prolific composer. All of his songs were about girls who had spurned his advances in high school, in alphabetical order. He was currently writing “Juliana.” “Julianna” was next.

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Pill-Popping Astrologists, Activist Moms, and Lesbian Artists

Carry the One

I try never to read reviews or jacket copy for books I plan to read. I felt comfortable that reading Lisa Schwarzbaum’s rave review in Entertainment Weekly wouldn’t spoil anything for me because Carol Anshaw’s Carry the One was nothing I would ever read. I didn’t have anything against it, I just saw the little girl in silhouette on the cover, thought “To-Kill-a-Mockingbird-lite” and moved on. Schwarzbaum’s review dispelled this impression. So now I’ll try to help you. Should you find yourself browsing – virtually or through the stacks – and come across Anshaw’s lovely book, you should buy it.

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Only Two Days Left to be a Part of History during World Book Night

World Book Night started in the UK last year, and this year it’s coming to the United States. Hundreds of book lovers across America will be giving away thousands of free books. You can be one of them.

It would be way too easy to walk into a bookstore or a library and give books away, so the World Book Night is going after light readers and non readers. The goal is to take an awesome book, put it in someone’s hands who hasn’t held one in a while, and inspire them to read more.

I’ve seen this happen. So many people who don’t see themselves as readers just haven’t found the right book yet.

I’d say it’s fairly easy to find people in Miami who don’t read much, so what have you got to lose? All you risk are suspicious looks from people who think that getting a copy of Zeitoun from you requires listening to a speech about how shitty the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina was. You’ve got to believe in the power of one of these titles.

You’ve got to think of a public space where you can reach reading novices, then go here and sign up.

You have the span of Eddie Murphy’s prison furlough to make it happen. Or a CBS reality show. Or watching the extended versions of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy four times back to back. We believe in you.


The Marriage Plot: a probing review of Eugenides from a partly personal perspective

the marriage plot

I have not read The Virgin Suicides or Middlesex, even though I am a little obsessed with hermaphrodites, less so with virgins. Thus, before finishing up The Marriage Plot a few days ago, I had boringly not yet been touched literarily or physically by Eugenides.

Want to preface this whole long look at the author’s newest endeavor by saying that I enjoyed the book immensely. I will continue with the information that many elements of this book hit home with me, personally. Finally, I want to talk about structure and how the subject matter influenced, in a few ways, the manner in which Eugenides handled his characters and the unveiling of the story.

Let’s begin.

Superficially, the novel tells the tale of three characters transitioning from college to the real world, but that’s not something that I thought about much while reading, or I probably wouldn’t have finished this book. What attracted me was how Eugenides relates preppy but smart Madeleine’s emotional undoing during her break up with crazy ass but brilliant Leonard. What reeled me in more was thoughtful and religiously curious Mitchell, who is totally in love with Madeleine and who I kind of spent the whole novel being obsessed with, in a completely narcissistic way.

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Homecoming by Ray Bradbury - Halloween Reading Volume II

Recently I found myself wandering the shelves at the Brooklyn Central Public Library in Grand Army Plaza. with nothing to do and an hour to kill before meeting a friend for dinner. There I found a copy of The Stories of Ray Bradbury and aimlessly pulled it off a shelf.

I used to be obsessed with Bradbury. I’d chewed through Martian Chronicles in a matter of 2 days in High School and still count Dandelion Wine as one of my favorite books. I didn’t realize until a well after reading each that they were actually short story collections that had been glued together to form something resembling a coherent narrative. Conversely, the book I had just picked up was a large volume of Bradbury stories organized in some handpicked order and with an introduction by the guy who wrote Thank You For Smoking. The introduction is quite long and begins by name dropping Mad Men in the very first sentence.

This was not a promising start.

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Clive Barker's The Thief of Always - Halloween Reading Volume I

There is a special kind of book I would like now to address before discussing my first entry in this week’s Halloween Reading series.

There are morals present in these books. There is tragedy. There is fear, yes, but it is the fear we confront as children when we switch rapidly from the warmth of innocence to the cold of nothing. The rug is drawn out from under one who never knew a rug was there, leaving them spinning momentarily in limbo before a precipitous fall into abyss, down down down and further down forever.

The plots are one part Twilight Zone, one part horror and one part just plain fantasy, the last usually not too dissimilar from that of Roald Dahl or the sometimes disturbing fables from whence all childrens literature sprung. Dahl realized that the world was a terrible place for which there was no reason to sugarcoat it for children any more than there was to sugarcoat it for adults. Like in fables, the wicked were punished and the just luckily escaped with their hides. Good was served, but only barely and not without suffering a great many knocks in the process.

Ray Bradbury masterfully touches on this in many of his short stories about youth. Around every corner or within every dark spot lies an unknown that is wholly evil and will stop at nothing to suck even the best of children down forever. Adults have some names to assign to these things – sociopaths, pedophiles and the like. However mostly what’s addressed is the simple fear of the unknown and of the endless spectre of inanimate things that can cause harm but whose interjection is a result of bad luck or cruel fate. In short, the things that always seem to happen where the road is darkest and help is furthest away.

These books are hard to describe but lie somewhere between Dahl’s child drowning in a lake of chocolate and Bradbury’s lurking horror in the ravine. Within this nexus lies one of my favorite books of all time: Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always.

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Books and Books in Coral Gables is hosting a reading of Tigertail’s 9th literary annual Florida Flash. Editor of this year’s book Lynne Barrett gave each author a 305 maximum word limit. How could you not love that idea? The reading starts at 8 p.m. tonight and a few THL writers and friends are featured in this wonderful anthology, including Peter Borrebach, JJ Colagrande, Denise Delgado, J. David Gonzalez, Dave Landsberger, and Yaddyra Peralta. I’ll be occupying Miami later, but I’ll be with Tigertail in spirit.

by , posted Oct 17, 05:57 PM

THUNDERSTORM: a short story


Everything in the sky looked ominous.
“I’m hungry,” Zeus said. “Make me a salami and provolone sandwich.”
“Order out,” Hera said.
“Quiznos doesn’t deliver to Olympus.”
“What do you want from me?” Hera said.
It was the latter part of a dark afternoon.
“Come on—” “No.” There was a long, deep, bellow in the sky.
“Will you listen to my stomach? Do you want to scare the mortals?”
“Go fuck yourself, Zeus.”
“Baby.” He walked toward Hera and placed her head on his breast. “Is this about Semele?” Pitter, patter, pitter, patter, splat, splat. “She’s not worth your tears, Goddess.”
“I hate you.”
“Will you listen to my stomach?”
On the planet below a black Labrador yelped and ran into the bathroom to cower behind a white shower curtain stained with a brown chalky film.
“You make me sick,” Hera cried.
“Enough of your crying,” Zeus said, stomping his foot. “And fuck Semele.”
“You already did.”
“Go make me a sandwich, goddamn it.”

“I’ll get you, Zeus. I’ll get you and that fucking slut.”

J.J. Colagrande is the author of Headz, a novel.

“Thunderstorm” is part of the collection Are You Hungry? scheduled for publication Spring 2012.


A Poem: Fat Man and Little Boy


(After Marcus Cafagña’s “Roman Fever”)
A poem by Abel Folgar


This was no honeymoon, no way,
not in this humid heat
of wet crushed bodies
tilting this bar.
Overtown and Parkwest
and Wynwood blur by like snapping limbs.

I fall back into somebody,
a move that began with
a friend’s description of
Japan’s demise,
detonating slowly in pulses
while I stand sweaty and oblivious.

I want to save the moment
from the ATM receipts
I won’t remember tomorrow
that will pile up like Miami’s
congested and afflicted

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Yaddyra Peralta's poems about Miami in response to images we dragged off the web

Miami poet Yaddyra Peralta is quite fantastic in more ways than just being able to write some tight shit about her hometown. Her work has appeared in Cent Journal: A Modern Anthology of Miami Poets and Tigertail Poetry Annual and she was the winner of the Abe’s Penny and O, Miami collaboration for her poems responding to Lee Materazzi’s photos. Because we’re big fans, we hit up Yaddyra and much like we did with Dave Landsberger sent her a few photos of Miami hotspots that we dragged off of Google images and bam, she wrote us three amazing little gems. Enjoy.

opa locka city hall

O, gawdy and misdirected minarets,
like Brighton’s Pavilion planted
still to be a jewel. Still through
time a lodestone, drawing
each morning’s subsong in.

hialeah entrance

The arch stands balls out, all
wanna-be Coral Gables, as it welcomes
us to its network of canals
and factories. Oye!
when Amelia Earhart flew
away, did she know
what she was leaving?

hialeah expressway

In Mom’s Chevy Cavalier we flew
right past you, looking for a direct
route to the Beach, thinking
you’d take us further into
the place we wanted to leave.


Abu-Jaber: More Than Just a Name That's Fun to Say


Diana Abu-Jaber’s Birds of Paradise is on bookstore shelves now. Here are five reasons you should read it:

1 – You love Miami, and by extension, Miami authors, and stories set in Miami.

2 – Abu-Jaber responded to sexist remarks from V.S. Naipul with class.

3 – While the names have been changed in Paradise, playing “spot the location” appeals to you.

4 – You love the lyricism of poetry but hate reading actual poetry.

5 – Its an exploration of a family in crisis which will probably struggle to find the accolades afforded a Franzen Freedom or a DeLillo White Noise because the author lacks a penis, but the characters are richer and prose is worlds better.

Visit Aaron’s blog, because it’s good: Sweet With Fall and Fish.



by , posted Aug 12, 04:07 PM

Fashionistas AND Glitterati? Sign me up.

miami party

These quotes from various travel guides make we wonder, does Miami suffer from an image problem, or are these descriptions right on target?

“Ouch.  What did I drink last night?  An ashtray based on the taste in my mouth.  Best get some caffeine to stave off the hangover, and fresh Florida orange juice to wash off the tongue at Puerto Sagua in South Beach.  Then I believe I’ll sleep on the beach….
“Miami is a city made for tourists, staffed by folks who abase themselves before tourists as if they were Greek Gods.  As long as you can pay, expect some serious tropical coddling and cuddling.  Unfortunately, this town still manages to aggravate.  There can be snooty and/or self-absorbed attitude at some hotels and restaurants.  Driving through heavy traffic and around frequent construction sucks almost as much as the state of the city’s public transportation.”

- Lonely Planet Miami & the Keys: City Guides

I’m not sure how any of that is supposed to make me want to visit Miami. 

“SoBe (South Beach). . . is where the trendy, tanned, sexy, rich, and young play to excess. By day, supermodels preen in the surf and sand, the fashionistas and glitterati cruise the boulevard on shiny Harleys and in top-down convertibles, while the common folk stroll and gawk. By night, the SoBe crowd, believing that too much of a good thing is wonderful, has raised hedonistic celeb-studded clubbing to an art form. Put your sexy on and get naughty at top clubs like Mansion, Cameo, the Delano, or B.E.D., where you may catch a glimpse of Beyonce Knowles and You-Know-Who snuggling in the corner.”

- Fodor’s Miami and Miami Beach

Fodor’s thinks Beyonce dates Voldemort? That’s just weird.

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Get ready for Wildwood


Carson Ellis and Colin Meloy’s Wildwood comes out next month. Here are five reasons you should read it.

1 – You like the Decemberists not because it’s required by the Hipster Code of Conduct, but because of the story-telling inherent in Meloy’s songwriting, as evidenced here and here. And here, if you like murder ballads.

2 – You hung the dustjacket from The Mysterious Benedict Society on your wall.

3 – Imagining the original, unsuitable-for-children version between the lines appeals to you.

4 – It’s an instant classic that pays homage to some of the best epics in children’s book history – think Narnia, Middle Earth, and The Brothers Grimm – without robbing any of them. It’s quietly awesome, engendering nostalgia without being cozy and adventure without putting the entire universe in peril.

5 – You want to guess what Colin Meloy wrote about just to give Carson Ellis an excuse to draw it.

(Yes, that’s a badger pulling a rickshaw)

Check out Aaron’s blog Sweet With Fall and Fish.


Dave Landsberger's poetic stance on Chicago-Miami sports and a flamingo

heat bulls

Dave Landsberger recently contributed poetry to complement photos for the hard to explain, subscription postcard magazine Abe’s Penny. Landsberger lived in Miami for three years before moving home to Chicago last year. According to him, “I miss my Miami friends, the ocean, and el Rey de las fritas.” He currently teaches English and literature at Harper College. Read more of his poems here after you read the ones below. He enjoys writing poems about sports. We like to read his poems about sports. We sent him several photos and he added one and so we have his poetic reaction to some tense Chicago-Miami sports games and a clip art of a flamingo.

heat bulls

A Michael Jordan jersey is a white boy’s passport to the ghetto in Chicago.
Last week I got called a “face nigger”. Was it my beard? Who cares.
Chicken & fries & white bread & Flamin’ Hot Cheeto bags in the streets.

These blizzards combust you, cover you like white wicker baskets,
letting just enough sunlight slip in, so,
who cares, game’s on,

Bulls vs. Heat, who cares; always something to be proud about.
All famous black people come from Chicago,
The Harlem Renaissance 2: The Big Score.

marlins cubs

Be it a billy goat or an expansion team in teal,
Another reason will manifest from the prairie grass to contra.
Real Marlins fans exist; I’ve seen them Casino-style and cartwheel
To the scent of nacatamales, down and up three Kia Sephias,
Marrying the scent of Miami fall (live here two years, you’ll smell it too) outside the bastille
And bonkers of Whatever’s Paying Us Stadium. Cubbies, change your jerseys to aqua.
Name another blame: a farm animal, or yourselves?

Check out the other two after the jump.

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