Memory Lane runs short in Miami, the arrival city par excellence.
But the love affair with soccer superstar David Beckham takes me back to recent history when The Man in White, national literary royalty, turned his honed, inquisitive eyes on us.
Everywhere novelist Tom Wolfe went to gather material for Back to Blood, wiping sweat from his forehead with a hankie but remaining packaged in his trademark white suit, Miamians-in-charge swooned and bestowed him with the key to the region’s pulse.
They hadn’t read Wolfe or they would’ve been a little more guarded, less giddy and self-congratulatory. They hadn’t read Wolfe or they would’ve known what was coming – nothing very flattering from the icon who built his legacy on dissecting the underbelly of American culture.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Hippies, Black Panthers, avaricious New Yorkers, oversexed college co-eds – that’s the company we now keep in Wolfe’s literary world.
In Miami, the ultimate immigrant city, Wolfe found fertile ground for caricature in every ethnic and racial group. Name a group and there’s plenty in his novel to make the blood boil, along with some bitter truths delivered in the midst of fake art-collecting and idol-worshipping, reckless boating and wimpy newspapering, and sexy bedroom romps.
Despite Wolfe’s sucker punch to the city, when his book came out, Miami gave him a heck of a launch party. Never mind that he couldn’t spell café cubano correctly to save the book (now available for $6.98 in some bargain bins).
The best explanation I’ve ever heard for our starry-eyed view of visiting celebrities – remember the Arab sheiks of the 1980s, buying up real estate and social pleasantries? – came from veteran Herald staff writer Andres Viglucci, who has so deftly reported for decades on our urban core’s unrelenting development.
In an interview with journalist Oscar Corral, who chronicled Wolfe’s time in Miami in the documentary Tom Wolfe Gets Back to Blood, Viglucci explains why Wolfe is front-page news.
"This is Tom Wolfe," he says. "The man in the white suit came to Miami to somehow make us feel important enough."
That’s the same spell some of Miami is now under with the equally sharp-suited Beckham – retired player, underwear model, investor.
He makes us feel important enough to be worthy of a Major League Soccer team and a world-class stadium.
What if his plans entail squeezing the mega structure on public, downtown waterfront we should be safeguarding for generations to come, land pledged to Museum Park?
What if the Tropical Audubon Society, in a long letter to elected officials, remind us that the boat slip that would need to be filled to make the project happen is a protected part, by state statute, of the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves?
None of that matters to those who have fallen under the celebrity enchantment.
We are worthy!
As one reader feeling entitled to his water-view seat to watch soccer put it to me, Beckham’s “jolt to the panache of Miami and its local economy” trumps the concerns. This reader, a lawyer, considers anything outside the waterfront “the middle of nowhere.”
Silly r us.
When he first came to Miami, Wolfe also liked us. He was attracted to our natural beauty, our incomparable diversity, the freshness and gaiety of it all! Same way Beckham likes us now enough to bring star player fútbol, to hustle a piece of our priceless waterfront.
But look in the mirror Wolfe gifted us – an on-point damnation of who we are at our worst – who we become in the presence of glitter, gab, and greed – utter fools who see castles (or in this case, stadiums) in the water with diamonds.