Interview with celebrity diarist Albert Knox

Interviewer: We’re here today with Albert Knox, the famed diarist who made his living documenting the day-to-day lives of high-profile celebrity clients. Hundreds of people, from pop stars to presidents, can rest easy knowing that their mundane emotional moments were preserved for posterity by Mr. Knox and his ubiquitous spiral notebook. On the eve of his retirement, Mr. Knox was kind enough to grant The Diary Journal an exclusive interview reflecting on his career accomplishments, his plans for the future, and his own dear diary. Mr. Knox, thank you for joining us.

AK: It’s a pleasure to be here.

I: Let’s begin with some softballs. Can you describe a typical day with one of your long-term clients, say Katy Perry?

AK: Katy hired me to write her personal diary for her California Dreams Tour [2011-12]. She told me that she’d kept a diary as a child, then got too busy to maintain it, so she was thrilled to be able to delegate the job. On a typical day I’d start by writing down her dreams and what they might signify, then we’d eventually move into thoughts and feelings on musical performances, meals, social interactions, and outfits.

I: Did you ever have trouble gaining access to the talent?

AK: I was always competing with photographers and film crews for access [Katy Perry’s California Dreams Tour was the basis for the documentary Part of Me], but as a diarist I usually developed a more intimate relationship with my clients than most full-time staff members. For example, Katy liked seeing pretty pictures of herself, but by the time we reached Japan she was even more addicted to reading about her complex emotions, as captured in my longhand prose. Only I could offer her that. They say a photo tells a story, but I told actual stories about Katy’s mental trajectories as she coped with the ups and downs of everyday life on the road.

I: Did the talent ever object to the way you depicted them in diary entries?

AK: If I couldn’t wrangle a client’s vanity, pettiness, insecurity, cruelty, rage, and selfishness into an endearing diary entry, then I wasn’t doing my job. I would not be where I am today if I couldn’t turn a celebrity tantrum into a profound existential crisis through my gift for language. I remember Justin Bieber throwing a fit on the tail end of his Believe Tour because he found out there was no coconut water within a 100-mile radius and his hydration depended on the unique chemical properties of the coconut. I sat in that armchair in Iceland with my spiral notebook in my lap as Bieber hurled whiskey bottles at his hotel wall, and I wrote, “I feel sometimes as if I’m living in a desert of my own design. It might seem from the outside that I don’t understand the vapidity and ephemerality of my fame, but I thirst for genuine human contact, a relationship to God that isn’t beset by panoramic ego challenges, and the liquid warmth of a nut.”

I: When I think of Justin Bieber, I think of those words, and they are precisely why I own eleven of his albums.

AK: The power of the diary can’t be underestimated.

I: As our readers know, your ample skills were put to the test by more than Caucasian pop singers. Political figureheads came to you as well when they needed someone to articulate their hopes and dreams in a diplomatic and easily digestible format. Let’s talk about the former President of the United States.

AK: He was committed to our collaboration more than any client I’ve ever had.

I: Why do you think that is?

AK: He thought about his family more than most world leaders, and many of his geopolitical and military decisions came from a place of anxiety about how his father might judge him. So that conflicted pattern of wanting to please a parent, wanting to rebel against a parent’s expectations, wanting to exceed a parent’s accomplishments, etc., was particularly conducive to the diary medium, for obvious reasons. And tear stains always lend authenticity to the page.

I: Whose tears were they, if you don’t mind my asking?

AK: Sometimes his. Sometimes mine. It was a long eight years.

I: Did you ever feel limited as to what territory you could cover in a client’s diary?

AK: The parameters were usually dictated by the client, but my expertise and literary finesse got me through most doors. When I first started working for John Travolta, for example, he was skeptical about my work. I think I was originally his publicist’s hired gun, meant to squelch some scandal or another. But once John saw what I could do, he began dragging me into the bathroom with him. He told me I was a fecal alchemist. I spent hours in there, sitting on the edge of the crystal bathtub, just jotting down notes. He still calls me sometimes when he’s shitting.

I: Do you keep your own diary?

AK: I did for a while, but when I was working I realized that I was just writing a diary about writing other peoples’ diaries, and then their diaries became about what it was like to be in my diary, and it became this weird sort of ouroboros literature, so in my meager free time I just focused on my poetry.

I: You’re a poet, too?

AK: Like diary entries, poems aesthetically temper experience so you don’t despise everything.

I: Do you despise everything?

AK: Let’s not talk of hate. I’m in love with elevating life to the uppermost reaches of linguistic activity. Does a photographer try to reproduce exactly what he sees, or does he try to filter the image through his particular aperture, and in so doing make the world seem like a more beautiful place? Do the right words make people more likable and humanity less bland and disgusting? Be honest with yourself: would you rather be purple or periwinkle?

I: A few final questions. Would you ever write a novel?

AK: Fuck no. I have to draw the line somewhere.

I: Are Jay-Z and Beyonce really headed for divorce?

AK: They’re considering a personal unpeopling, but their erotic energy will forever be united on a cellular level.

I: Were you ever starstruck on the job?

AK: If anything, my celebrity clients were starstruck by themselves. They were often moved to tears by the impact of their own words. As transmitted through my hand, of course.

I: Do you think your position will soon become obsolete because of video diaries and Vine and the like, or will the famous continue to need professional emotional translators?

AK: The inner world is in less demand every day. I don’t think anyone would care to read Kim Kardashian’s diary when he could see a photo of her bare bottom instead. But I continue to hope that other people like me exist in the world. People of great depth who yearn to know what Kim dreams about, and what she desires in her heart of hearts, and where her deepest doubts reside. People who value psychological substance over superficiality. But between you and me, the older I get and the fewer diary entries I write, the more I just want to see Kim’s ass and leave it at that. You could bounce a pencil off that ass.

Sea cow

I am a manatee. I excel at being a manatee. I am a manatee in a man’s world. I swim amidst the yachts at the marina. Sometimes I feel compelled to poop on them. My thoughts are all tremendous. It’s a wonder this ocean can hold them. My tail is worth its weight in pearls. The dock pilings lean orgasmic when I make ripples, swimming by. If you are a boat propeller, you have another thing coming. That thing is my dong. In the end, everything will sink, but I will still be on top. There are fish, and there are sea cows. It’s an unhappy fate if your lesser heart can’t grasp the distinction.

 

Minor improvements on the Space/Time Directory

This morning I read about the New York Public Library’s Space/Time Directory, an interactive Google map that will employ historical data to walk users through a virtual Manhattan of yore. This is a terrific idea, and I should know because I thought of it way back in 2008 when I was snorting amphetamines, day-trading away millions of dollars, and decoding the lyrics to Britney Spears’s “Womanizer.” [I was a happy housewife at the time, but my internal biography reads more like David Carr’s (RIP).]

Granted, my idea was a little more inchoate than the one with a $380,000 grant and the full support of the NYPL juggernaut behind it. Let the historical record show that I wasn’t envisioning a simulated time machine for New York City alone, which would have been a good place to start. I was thinking of one for all of human civilization (much harder to beta test). I imagined people being able to wander digitally through their neighborhoods 200 years prior to see what the land looked like back then. Or, if their homes were standing 50 years ago, they could virtually knock on doors to see who lived in them. They could look at photographs and read diary entries, birth certificates, obituaries, etc., of the people who once inhabited those domiciles. And while all this historical data was being explored, contributors would be populating the present moment with the same material, so people could rest assured that they’d exist in time and space long after they were gone, even if they hadn’t left behind a bestselling memoir or a compelling Twitter feed or something.

But this is basically what the NYPL plans to do. The Space/Time Directory is an aggregator of information, information that is then applied to an interactive atlas in limitless layers. It’s a way of taking everyone’s photos, documents, and personal histories and bringing them back to life in one interactive organism. The directory has the potential to revolutionize the entire concept of the past. I foresee people moving to the S/TD (ha) like they moved to Second Life, and watching their great-grandparents grow up as avatars.

Which is all well and good, but I have my own system-wide improvements to propose to the NYPL:

1) Once you’ve compiled the history, so the entire human journey is contained within a single computer program, hit the button that will determine whether or not any of it makes any fucking sense.

2) Let’s say it does make sense. Then you can build an algorithm! Out of math. And the algorithm will give S/TD users the option of messing things up in the past and consequently changing the future, a la Marty McFly. I imagine this will be a fun learning experience for the kids, so they’ll stop putting their grubby little fingers all over everything.

3) Include astronomical data so we can know what the moon was doing at the exact moment of our conception and we won’t have to pay our astrologers so much money.

4) Make cemeteries interactive so zombies actually pop up when you scroll over graves.

5) When your users click on a virtual movie theater in the distant past, they should be able to watch the films that were showing at the time. When your users click on a virtual bookstore that’s since gone out of business, they should be able to read digital versions of the books that sold best on the shelves. That would be the way to attract nerds, as if nerds weren’t the only people cruising the past anyway.

6) Other entities that should be in the Space/Time Directory: dogs, bugs, extinct mammals, Best Buy phone booths.

7) The S/TD as conceptualized by the NYPL has 4D but if we could step it up to at least 5D then we could see different universes that might have arisen in human history and they might be awesome and this whole project might merge into World of Warcraft oh my god.

8) I suspect that 6D might just be pornography and very few people want to see their great-grandparents having sex. But I’m not an astrophysicist. In this non-computer-generated life, anyway.

9) My head is exploding my head is exploding. The implications of this technology are infinite! If only I were a little smarter and could think of everything! But I’m all jacked up on speed (spinach frittata) and history is moving too fast into the future. I’ll come back to this later.

One honey bee, four near-death experiences

Spring

The drones sent me into exile. They said that I was worthless to the hive if I wasn’t going to mate with our queen. But I only want to mate with the boy bees. It almost makes me wish I were a worker, because the workers don’t have to put out. They just get to sit upon the flowers. I’ll have to find someplace new to live. Yesterday I landed in a bucolic meadow, but a black bear almost stepped on me, and then I flew up his nose for a second, and it was just bad times all around. Until I met Mulligan sucking nectar from a dandelion.

Summer

This afternoon I fell into the deep end of a swimming pool. It was stupid, I know, but I was only trying to skim the surface of what I thought was a pond. It took me a while to realize that not only was the blue water undrinkable, but its vessel was a death trap. My wings became sodden and useless. I could barely stay afloat. I knew it was only a matter of time before I drowned. But then a flightless man spotted me as he swam by with a pincher on his nostrils. He seemed to take pity on my frenetic form. With the flat of his hand he began pushing the water in which I was sinking toward the edge of the pool. He never made contact with my body, presumably so he wouldn’t be stung. As if I’d be so ungrateful! At this point I was about to lose consciousness, but the thought of Mulligan in the meadow kept me going. At last the man splashed me onto the concrete, my antennae still clinging to life and love, and I felt my wings slowly begin to drink up the sunshine. I would be reunited with my fuzzy, striped companion after all.

Fall

Mulligan seems to be ailing and I’m afraid he’s not long for this earth. I wonder if he stung one of the old lady’s cats while I was out foraging in her garden. He wouldn’t have told me if he had. And his anatomy seems to be intact. That handsome, bulging thorax. That perky stinger. But what is he saying now? Speak up, Mulligan. You make no sense. All I hear is buzzing. Don’t eat the goldenrod? But I love… oh. The old lady sprayed it with poison, didn’t she? That explains the collapsed colony behind her garage. I saw the corpse of the queen herself. You…you saved my life, Mulligan. Here, let’s lie together on this purple flower petal and watch the setting sun.

Winter

I see the geese flying high with their mates and the horses stabled with their foals, and here I am, alone, luckless, deprived of all society, just trying to keep my compound eyes from freezing in this malicious cold. Though I miss Mulligan terribly, I’m grateful he never had to suffer like this. All my enzymes are shivering. I’m drawn to the fragrance of a smoky chimney and I know my time has come. But frost glazes my wings before I reach the rooftop and its eternal stupor. I tumble like a pistachio nut into a snowbank. So this is it. At least the ants won’t eat me in this icy weather. But what’s happening now? I’m perched in a human palm. Warm clouds of air heat up my wings. The old woman holds me like that, enveloped in her breath, until I thaw back to life, and fly once more toward the promise of honey.

Because I love Kelli and Daniel from Fitness Blender

“Please get off me,” says the husband. “Your body reminds me of work.” The wife clenches her toned abs for the 61st rep that day. They’d shot two grueling workout videos in the studio that morning. Now that they were back home in their bedroom, she just wanted her man to peel off her sports bra and spank her with it.

“That’s like turning down sex from a nurse because she reminds you of disease,” says the wife.

“I would never turn down sex from a nurse,” says the husband, massaging his left tricep.

The wife unglues the sweaty leggings from her preternaturally toned thighs, then pulls two 10-pound barbells from the nightstand.

“You’re just lifting those out of spite,” says the husband. “And your breathing is all wrong.”

“Fuck you.”

“Sweetheart, you know our bodies aren’t for pleasure anymore. They’re a business. People stream our exercise videos because we’re ripped and we look good in Spandex. It’s hard for me to sexualize our bodies now that they’re our only source of income.”

“I thought people watched our videos because we’re in love, which gives us positive on-screen rapport, which inspires people to feel the burn, which makes them think that by doing the fitness, they can find love too.”

“No. You think we’d have all these downloads if we were as fat as we were on our wedding day?”

“We weighed a combined 12 pounds more than we do now.”

“Exactly.” The husband adjusts himself on the mattress so he can stretch his hamstrings. He’s never been as flexible as his wife. “Most of those were yours, by the way.”

“If I gain it all back,” says the wife, unable to take her eyes off her husband’s gym shorts, “will you have sex with me again?”

“Gaining it back is not an option. We have bills to pay. More importantly, we have fans who count on us to stay in peak physical condition.”

“What if you wear a blindfold?”

“As if I wouldn’t be able to feel those rock-hard glutes.”

“Then what?” says the wife, starting a set of lateral raises. “I can’t go on like this.”

The husband flips over onto his bare stomach so he can perform a cobra stretch.

“I wonder if porn stars have this problem,” he says.

“I’ll be able to answer that in about two months after I leave you and move to the Valley.”

“Don’t be like that, baby.” He moves into a child’s pose. “Maybe if we could just, like, repurpose our bodies somehow, after work, so when we get home, they’re no longer elite athletic machines.”

“And how do you suggest we do that?” says the wife, dropping to the rug for overheard bridges.

“I don’t know,” says the husband. “But I’m feeling like we didn’t get enough cardio today. You wanna do a round of burpees?”

The wife drops her barbells. “Can we do them naked?”

“Good idea,” says the husband. “That way I can review your form.”

Two insignificant things that didn’t really happen

Revenge

Rebecca worked for a small marketing firm that handled accounts from a diversity of clients. Last summer she began volunteering to head the ad campaigns that no one else wanted, e.g., the gastrointestinal disorder remedies, the spray-on hair. She did this because her ex-boyfriend had turned out to be a piece of shit who’d moved into her Soho apartment with no intention of ever getting a job, contributing to rent, or helping out in any way unless he could do it through singer-songwriting. Her ex-boyfriend had also posed for a series of stock photos back in the day so he could buy himself something nice that he didn’t deserve because he liked to stick his slimy crooked penis into everything.

Rebecca happened to discover this cache of stock photos of her ex-boyfriend not long after she’d confronted him about several items gone missing from her jewelry box, then kicked him to the curb. Revenge was sweet. Rebecca threw herself into work at the agency, and soon her ex’s face began appearing in ads aimed at those suffering from jock itch and hemorrhoids, uncontrollable diarrhea, chronic facial fungi. Rebecca had a girlfriend who worked for a popular online news outlet and she got in on the fun as well. The article “How to Identify a Hipster Douchebag” featured a close-up of Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend drinking an iced coffee in a rowboat in Central Park. The article “6 Signs Your Dude Is a Manwhore” was accompanied by a photo of Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend laughing into a slice of cheese pizza.

Rebecca had originally applied to the ad agency so she could earn a regular paycheck just until her online fan fiction landed her a Big Five book deal, but after the breakup she decided that she’d stay in the business at least long enough to see her ex on a billboard warning people about the pedophiles who live among us. Besides, she thought, pictures tell the best stories.

Photographer Emergency

An amateur photographer named David walks along the Florida beach in early morning, taking pictures of the sunrise. He squats on a dune so he can get the right angle on the light colliding with a lifeguard stand. He also takes pictures of a seagull. “Please, God,” he thinks, “let a sailboat pass by.”

A quarter mile down the beach, David passes a large crew of people staging shots of fashionable accessories in the white sand, probably for a Land’s End catalogue. A man with a camera barks orders at the handful of assistants holding white discs who are trying to reflect the morning light onto an array of vibrant products. Then David watches as the professional photographer suddenly drops to his knees, clutching his chest. The panicked crew surrounds him, but the professional photographer has collapsed face-down in the sand and is giving off every impression of being dead.

“Oh my God!” yells a woman with a clipboard, scanning the beach in every direction. “Is anyone here a photographer? Are there any photographers on the beach?”

One of the assistants scrambles up the steps of a lifeguard stand and grabs a bullhorn. “We have an emergency!” he says. “Someone please help us! Can anyone here shoot a purse?”

From a distance David takes in the undocumented fashion accessories, then looks down at his camera. This is his moment. “I can,” he says quietly. Then more loudly, toward the crew, as he speeds across the sand. “I can!” he says. “I can shoot a purse!”

Scenes from a Florida horse track

The minimum bet is one dollar. I bet five. When my horses come around the bend and stampede toward the finish line, I scream so loudly that a nearby baby starts crying in his mother’s arms.

I’m surprised that I’ve never been to a horse track before today. I’d always assumed that I had, because it seems so characteristic of me, but in retrospect I think all my familiarity with the racing world came from reading Seabiscuit.

People here are deadly serious. Most of them operate alone. They sit at picnic tables in the shade of the tiki bars, poring over stats in their official daily programs. One man’s future seems to depend on the performance of Bingo Kitten.

What is a horseman? Is it a jockey? Is it a centaur? Is it someone who enjoys the company of horses? And why am I not allowed to park in the spots designated “Horseman”? Is it because I’m a woman? I enjoy horses just as much as anybody.

I send my mom a text about being at the race track. She responds, “Slippery slope, that racing. When I lived in Florida I used to bet on the dogs.”

M and I win $15 and do an end zone dance. Everyone glares at us.

No one here seems to be rich, even the gamblers who bet with $100 bills. The only individual who appears to have done well for himself at the track is a man exiting the compound in a Ferrari. But his smugness seems less about winnings and more about taking money from poor people, so I assume he’s a manager.

According to the program, Bingo Kitten’s parents are Kitten’s Joy and Bingo Queen.

A statue of a horse towers above the palm trees at the entrance to the parking lot. The horse is ten stories tall. He is fighting a dragon. I rack my brain for a similar scene in mythology, but come up with nothing. Maybe the artist based his work on a cartoon. In any case, it takes my breath away.

For all of those gamblers who are down to less than a dollar, there are slot machines.

Post-time is at 12pm next Sunday. I will wear a sunhat and bring lots of quarters. My mom will be in town, but I’ll hold her to a budget so we can still afford tacos after the races. And I’m not leaving the track until my horsewomanhood is acknowledged, at least by the babies.

 

 

Miami shut-in

She hasn’t set foot outside her seaside condo in eight years. She cannot think of a compelling enough reason to leave. The delivery guy drops the food outside the door. She’s had pretty good luck with the hurricanes, and has enjoyed a long spell of adequate health. The ocean is there whether or not she puts her feet in it. Plus she has a flatscreen TV and two floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the beach and approximately seven places to sit, including the bed and the toilet, though she dislikes the yellow armchair that can never seem to swivel the right way when she’s reading old magazines.

Eight years ago, when she first moved to South Florida to finish her book, she had every intention of exploring the local terrain. But in order to get in and out she had to ride the elevator with various combinations of strangers who lived inside her building. Riding the elevator with other people was an intolerable situation. When she pushed her own button and stared straight ahead she felt ashamed of her misanthropic tendencies. But when she made small talk, it always petered out before her floor (the 80th), and then she and her neighbors were just standing there watching the floors tick by in awkward silence. It was enough to rip your guts out. And she wouldn’t dream of taking the stairs because when she tallied up the number of times she might get assaulted in the dark stairwell over the course of 80 stories, she didn’t like her odds.

The plan was to be in South Florida for three months before returning to the Land of Winter. But after a few weeks went by she realized that climates and landscapes mattered much less to her than the quality of her apartment, and the television set in her Miami condo was a full third bigger than her flatscreen in the Land of Winter, so she settled in.

And now she sits. Sometimes at the kitchen table. Sometimes in the abominable yellow chair. Sometimes she wishes she could go to a pet store and buy a turtle terrarium, but then she thinks of putting on sandals and riding the elevator, and she stays where she is. Her book used to be about life, but now it is about dog food ads and funny things she finds on the internet. Anyone who thinks shut-ins don’t have a sense of humor is dead wrong. She finds it hilarious, just goddamn hilarious, to stand at her window and wave and wave at the ocean, like it’s a boat that is sailing away.

A word on public toilets

I once stood in a bathroom line for 25 minutes at a Starbucks near Central Park, only to have a European woman barge in front of me holding her child’s hand when I was next to go. “My little girl she has to tinkle,” the woman said. “She will wet her pants. Please can we go first?” I gave them my coveted spot, and I’m pretty sure they both used the toilet while they were in there. Or perhaps just the woman used the toilet because the kid had no bladder urgency whatsoever and had only been classically trained in the peepee dance.

Imagine giving a $5 bill to a homeless woman on the street because she’s holding a baby in her lap and the baby’s face is all grubby and sad, and you assume that your $5 will buy the baby some medicine for her drippy nose, then you find out later that the homeless woman actually lives in a penthouse apartment in Tribeca and earlier that day she’d smudged expensive chocolate into her baby’s cheeks right before bundling them both into rags for the sole purpose of extorting $5 of sympathy money out of you. Well, I would think better of that woman than someone who cuts in front of me in the bathroom line of a Manhattan Starbucks falsely using her child’s bladder as an excuse. She might as well flush all my good will down the toilet with her five lunchtime martinis.

That is a lengthy preamble to my point: anyone familiar with New York City knows how precious a commodity a commode can be when you’re walking around, which is most of the time. I have bought unnecessary cups of coffee, bottles of water, and once even a cheeseburger to earn the exalted privilege of using a Manhattan business’s restroom. There are no public johns anywhere. It really sucks. And if you do manage to find one, it’s probably disgusting because Lavatory Grinches steal the toilet paper, soap, and toilet seats. If they could steal the water out of the bowl, they’d probably do that, too. The real reason that native New Yorkers don’t watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve in Time’s Square isn’t because it’s cold outside and the whole thing is kind of dumb, but because they know that if they have to pee at any point during the evening, they will never be able to thanks to Manhattan’s egregious restroom deficit.

Which brings me to Miami. [OMG a white sailboat is passing by right now OMG] I took a jog along a beach trail this morning and counted no less than seven public restrooms. And I don’t tend to jog very far. In Miami, toilets are everywhere for the taking. They’re so prolific that not once in my first week here have I ever felt the need to urinate. It’s as if the bathrooms come to ME, saying, “In five minutes you might have to pee, so why don’t you take a load off now as a preemptive measure?” and I’m like, “Thanks, I think I’ll take you up on that,” and then it turns out I DID have to pee, but it just wasn’t urgent yet because the nerve pathways between my bladder and my brain are so retarded (until they’re not), but that’s okay because the bathrooms here totally bypass those nerve pathways and sense my body’s yearnings before cognition. And they’re really nice bathrooms! Only once have I gotten the sense that I was interrupting gay beach sex when I arrived to do my business. The hand dryers are modern, the TP is fully stocked, you look tan and beautiful in the mirror, and after you pee you kind of want to hang out until you have to pee again. But you don’t because you know that the next sunlit bathroom will be even better. I’ve never seen so many doors marked WOMEN in my entire life.

I can’t get over how different this is from New York. The palm trees and the blue-green ocean and the short pants are all wonderful, of course, but I could also see them on a Jumbotron in Times Square. If I looked hard enough, I might find an authentic Cuban sandwich in Manhattan. But the wealth of public restrooms is what distinguishes this city from its northern rivals. That and Gloria Estefan. But she has no need for brick and mortar facilities. She just uses the ocean, like a starfish.

I’m sorry I’m not sorry I now live in Miami

I’ve temporarily relocated to Miami, and I want to write about all the ways in which this place is paradise, but meanwhile my friends and family members are actively catching hypothermia in climates north of here, so I can’t describe paradise without sounding like I’m gloating, but on the other hand I kind of want to gloat because I can see green ocean and palm trees from the balcony of my condo, and because it’s 80 degrees and at any moment I could go swimming with the local dolphins, and I don’t think you should resent me for my change in fortune because it’s entirely possible that I froze to death a few weeks ago in Brooklyn and am now enjoying a sunny afterlife in a place masquerading as Miami, and most people would rather be cold and alive than warm and dead, so if it makes you feel any better we can all operate under the assumption that I’m deceased, or that these palm trees are fake, or that soon this entire metropolis will be underwater, and then everyone in South Florida will have to relocate to the island of Kokomo, which I found out recently doesn’t exist.

A few of Miami’s key (get it?!) elements:

1) Donald Trump

Once upon a time Manhattan real estate mogul Donald Trump gazed across a pristine white beach where Floridian children were playing with sea turtles and listening to the hallowed voice of the ocean through an abundance of conch shells. “I would like to erect forty thousand condos here,” Trump pronounced, “and their foundations will be strong with the crushed bones of blissful children. And I will also sell sea turtles in vending machines down by the seashore.” Two decades later Trump’s dreams have been realized. When M and I drive up or down A1A, Vanilla Ice’s beachfront avenue, the view goes like this: Trump condo, ocean, Trump condo, ocean, Trump condo, Trump condo, Trump condo, ocean, Tony Roma’s. Every evening M and I stand on our balcony and watch hundreds of ominous black vultures circle the rooftops of Trump’s extensive skyline. We think Trump commands these birds like a storybook witch. He hovers on his penthouse balcony with arms raised to the sky, calling to his pretties. But I’m sure the lobbies of his condos are quite nice. I know at least one of them has a waterfall.

2) colossal fishing boats

Every weekend a fleet of colossal fishing boats emerges from Biscayne Bay and takes to the Atlantic. These boats are usually stark white and about 20 stories high. Some of them have colorful, curly slides on their decks, which must be the chutes down which the fishermen send their catch at the end of the day. The fish spiral down into the boats’  chlorinated aquariums where they can be kept alive until they go to market. A massive crew of sailors and deep sea anglers—mostly hailing from Chicago, mostly wearing flip flops, mostly drunk and bloated—keep the boats on course in the Caribbean’s prime fishing grounds. These working fleets might strike you as old-fashioned, but many people in Florida still depend on traditional fishing boats for their livelihoods, and to feed their families, so they continue to take to the sea blaring ancient maritime Disney music.

3) nudie beach

To be frank, the primary reason I chose to rent our particular condo is because it’s directly across the street from the biggest public nudie beach in America. This means that if I veer left when walking toward the ocean, I encounter white lifeguard stands and the bathing-suited denizens of Trump’s condos, but if I veer right, I encounter pink lifeguard stands that herald all the pink, untoned flesh to come. I’m not talking about topless sunbathing either, which is a rampant and delightful custom in South Florida. I am talking about naked penises that look as if they were shrunk by evil shamans and I’m talking about jelly rolls that could have been liposuctioned from a herd of manatees. I love it all so much.

4) weird birds

M and I are determined to become ornithologists while we’re here, but only if we can juggle the binoculars and our wine glasses at the same time. This place is full of weird birds that chose to migrate south for the winter just like us. If we’re not being captivated by Trump’s avian minions, we’re watching pelicans fart in trees at the marina, or speculating about what makes the giant flocks of starlings vacate the telephone wires all at once. My favorite bird by far, however, is the one that lives in the parking lot of the shopping center where we ate Cuban sandwiches yesterday. Food was scarce because we weren’t sharing, so the bird snatched up a packet of Splenda and proceeded to jump from one car hood to another pecking wildly at the sugar, playing keep-away with the rest of the birds, and generally enjoying a decadent lunch. I never knew that birds liked artificial sweetener, but now I will be sure to bring some Equal when I go to feed the ducks.

5) tennis

I insisted on bringing our tennis rackets to Florida because I want to improve my hand-eye coordination. My mom gets beamed by every ball I throw at her and I really don’t want to end up like that. This morning M and I went to the condo’s tennis courts for the first time. We were feeling cocky because last spring we played a few matches at the only court in Brooklyn that didn’t shake us down for expensive permits and tennis decrees from the mayor and such. The court belonged to the Marcy Projects and its net was a chain link fence. Much like Jay-Z honed his rapping skills and street smarts at the same housing project, M and I both assumed that we had improved our tennis game by playing in the ‘hood. But we were not prepared for the vigorous competition of Florida retirees. Ten minutes after we arrived at the court this morning, two elderly men challenged us to a doubles match. It was a brutal defeat. I hadn’t known you were supposed to hit the ball hard, or straight across the net, or within the white lines. I’d thought tennis was a game played with gentle lobs and a lot of flirtatious teasing, but suddenly a gray-haired Austrian man was shouting “Forty-love!” and whacking balls toward my floppy sunhat. The Marcy Projects tennis court had not been the elite training ground I’d thought it to be. Those facilities will probably not host the U.S. Open anytime soon. Though if they do the security costs will be minimal because the neighborhood already boasts a strong police presence.

And now, while you manage your long underwear situation up north, I must excuse myself to go perve on the nudists. Adios, amigos.