Two years ago on the eve of July 4 I had just moved into this apartment in Little Havana and I was standing out on the sidewalk, sweating like a downpour, talking with a woman named Ashley from Crime Scene Investigation. She was here because my car had just been broken-into for the third time in one week; this time, rather than just a police report, they needed to dust for prints, and toss powders that reveal sweat or spit, because along with a camera that I’d forgotten was still in my backseat, the air bag had been stolen outta my steering wheel. Not a big deal from the cops’ perspective, all on its own, but apparently a few dozen airbags had been stolen from Hondas just like mine between roughly this part of town and a couple miles North over the past couple nights.
Ashley’s guess? Organized crime from the Caribbean. She tells me it’s likely that my airbag was in a shipping container with a hundred others within six hours of being stolen.
Honda airbags, as I’d come to find later that week, cost about $500 if you’re getting them from a dealership. They go for maybe $400 on the street.
It sounds exotic and interesting and, despite the inconvenience and expense, I’m almost amused to be involved with it. Organized crime? Nondescript shipping containers fulla stolen wares? Body shops in the Caribbean as the front for a crime ring?
(Although that sounds a little repetitive, doesn’t it? Saying that a body shop is a “front” for a larger crime network? The body shops are themselves criminal enterprises. I’m not making any accusations here, just musing on a theory, but I live right near a Honda dealership and my roommate and I still sometimes wonder if it isn’t a little too convenient that so many street-parked Hondas in the surrounding neighborhoods were quietly, inconspicuously, almost gracefully entered and vandalized—so gracefully, in fact, that the police were convinced these perps weren’t just typical smash-and-grabbers, but people with intimate knowledge of this particular car: its locks, its hows, its whys. Each one had its lock picked, no windows were broken for entry; the airbags were removed almost surgically, rather than being torn out; car-owners were generally only learning that their car had been vandalized once they woke up and tried to go to work, nobody was woken at night by the sound of a car alarm. All of this crime targeting Hondas specifically, in the immediate area of a Honda dealership, a dealership which no doubt went on to sell a great many airbags…)
The next day, with my Honda in the shop because it’s apparently illegal to drive without an airbag, my girlfriend came over for something like a July 4 celebration. We ate pizza and watched a reality show on TLC about single women in Alaska. At one point in the show we see a man and a woman on a date in small-town Alaska, both of them commiserating about how very few singles there are in the area, and the man says to her at one point, smiling: “We say in Alaska that nobody breaks up with a woman, you just give up your turn.”
Every now and then while watching the show we’d flinch or trade a worried look at the sound of some concussive firework going off in the street below us. Nothing that popped and whistled into the air and then busted open with a cosmic sizzle—every firework in my neighborhood sounded like people were just tossing explosives onto the sidewalk.
Every boom was accompanied by a car alarm somewhere nearby and sometimes, from a porch or balcony farther off, a weak and wondrous “coñoooooooooo.”
I remember that night as being a bit of a turning point in our relationship because we were kinda getting tired of what we were watching, but we didn’t want to admit it, and we got to a point, after so much pizza and so much reality TV, where we weren’t tired enough to go to bed, we were too bloated to fuck, we didn’t wanna keep watching TV—but also, since we didn’t really have money or means, we couldn’t go off to Brickell and have fun at a bar.
There was this dry purgatorial vibe like, “…so what do we do now?”
And it felt so poignant to be asking that unanswerable question of ourselves at this particular moment, one of our first nights together in my first apartment. My car was in the shop cuz it’d been robbed three times in a week, there were makeshift explosives and small-arms fire going on in the street outside my window, and I think there was this general vibe between us of like…this isn’t really the Miami idyll.
Things went downhill from there and we broke up in October, life moved on, but I’m thinking about it today because, in the same way that July 4 felt like a cold moment of awareness about my living situation two years ago, I had another cold moment of realization last night, at around 8 pm. I was having a drink in my living room, waiting to hop onto a Zoom call with some college friends, and I was breathing a sigh of relief because my landlord had just finished some construction in my bathroom, we had full access to our shower again for the first time in a week. It got me thinking about the spontaneous and blameless repair jobs that this apartment has needed over the past two years: a bit of tweaking to the kitchen sink, an unclogging of the air conditioner, the stanching of three different leaks during that crazy period, back in early May, of like torrential Vesuvian rainfall throughout Miami…
The randomness of huge expenses. I’m not paying for any of these repairs, unless they cost less than $200, but it’s making me think about the fact that, like the theft of my airbag (which insurance mostly covered) or the leak in my closet (which the building manager took care of), random shit could come outta nowhere and cost me some huge portion of my very meager earnings.
And then where am I?
When I spoke with my college friends that night I took acute notice of the fact that, while we all met and lived in Miami together for several years, everybody has moved slightly north. Orlando, Jacksonville, places like that. It’s heartbreaking to think that I might not be able to stay afloat here, because I love it so much, but I’ve also never lived any place else. The only time I’ve ever spent more than a week in some place other than Miami is when I went to New Haven CT for a writers conference. And even then: it was ten days and I stayed in a dormitory. I didn’t exactly get a feel for the place.
I’m not taking any immediate strides, and in fact I’m thinking of signing another one-year lease this August, but still.
On this July 4th, like the one from 2018, I’m thinking about the road ahead. And not quite knowing what to make of it.