lost, for a little while

destination: miami
May 2, 2011, 5:41 pm
Filed under: trips

Four-p...oster bed with kama sutra carvings

The entrance to the World Erotic Art Museum was designed to make you feel ashamed for visiting.

The glass doors, which are propped open, frame a shallow lobby with walls decorated in a bold, seedy red. In the lobby, front and center, is a single elevator which guests must take to the second floor where the museum is housed. During those endless seconds between the time you press the UP button and the moment those blessed doors slide open, you’re at the mercy of looks from people on the sidewalk, who can easily zero in on two things: (1) the large “WEAM” sign by the door, the W and M looking very much like voluptuous pairs of breasts, and (2) you, the scandalous pervert that would choose to visit this den of sin.

I may or may not be biased by my 24 years of deeply-ingrained Catholic guilt, but trust me when I say the wait is a little awkward.

I found myself visiting this less-than-conventional museum while staying with my friend, Katie, in Miami for a week. Katie is, essentially, living the dream: the girl who’s talked about fish and scuba diving and coral and conch fritters for as long as I’ve known her is getting her master’s in marine biology, lives ten minutes from the beach, and is surrounded by a dozen other students just as pumped about nitrox diving and coral degradation as she is. Unfortunately, getting your master’s involves, you know, going to class, so, left to my own devices, I ended up in South Beach at the WEAM. (I had yet to reach the “tan” step in my “pale-burn-burn more-peel-tan” cycle of sun bathing and needed a break from the beach.)

Once I made it to the second floor, a bored-looking man behind the front desk took my money, gave me a little WEAM sticker to wear, and I was in. The first thing I saw when I rounded the corner was a large poster depicting various Disney characters in extremely compromising positions. All those rumors about curse words and erections that are secretly illustrated into the background of Disney flicks? They have nothing on this. Lady and the Tramp doing it, doggy-style. The Three Little Pigs having a three-way. Tinkerbell stripping for the Lost Boys and Captain Hook. And those are just the parts I’m comfortable discussing in a blog that my 75-year-old aunt reads.

The rest of the museum ranged from barely suggestive to overtly pornographic, mixing contemporary paintings and designs with older pieces whose age makes it easier to pretend you’re studying ancient artifacts, and not just leering at a wooden pipe etched with a horny satyr. Surprisingly, a good portion of the collection, which takes up twenty different rooms, is comprised of beautiful, if not always tasteful, artwork. If nothing else, it’s impressive to see that erotic art existed long before the Internet made porn so easily available, and intriguing to see the different ways that artists would hide their suggestive images so that patrons could enjoy them without embarrassment. At $15 for admission ($13.50 for students — yes!), it’s worth the price, but I recommend going during a weekday when it’s relatively empty, if you can. Because let’s be real: it’s just uncomfortable studying a 9-foot-tall golden penis when surrounded by a bunch of strangers.

One of the many cormorants

One of the many cormorants

Once Katie’s classes were done for the weekend, we drove south to Key Largo, the largest of the Florida Keys, for the day. Our first stop was the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center, which I’m proud to say was my suggestion. The sanctuary houses injured birds, from turkey vultures to pelicans, in outdoor enclosures that are available to the public for viewing. Along the boardwalk that connects the different enclosures are open areas that attract wild birds for more photo ops, as well as plenty of information about the different species housed at the sanctuary. The center has two official ambassadors to greet guests: a sleepy green parrot that ignored us the whole time, and Pickles, an energetic cockatoo with a crooked beak and dancing feet.


We spent the afternoon at the beach in the clear water of the keys, the temperature absolutely boiling in the shallow depths of the sand bars, but refreshing and enjoyable out where the current picked up. Katie found both a horseshoe crab and a hermit crab as we walked the sand bars back to the shore and gained the admiration of two older ladies who, we decided, were essentially us, 20 years and dozens of gallons of ice cream later.

Katie insisted we stop and sample one of the more popular snacks of the Florida Keys: Frozen Key Lime pie, dipped in chocolate, on a stick. No argument from me there. Eating one of these out in the hot Florida sun is a race to inhale it before it starts to melt all over your lap, but an enjoyable race, nonetheless. There’s enough sugar, tartness, and richness to keep you satisfied until next year, but if you find yourself in the Keys having never sampled one, do it. You can thank me later.

Giant lobsters from outside space!!!

After some obligatory stops to make fools of ourselves in front of gargantuan marine life statues, we set the course for Alabama Jack’s, a biker joint on the mainland that boasts the best conch fritters in the Keys. The restaurant is literally on the water, and we snagged a table on the edge so we could lean over and watch the fish swim by as we waited for dinner. A live band was playing country music while spunky white-haired ladies in long skirts and cowboy boots showed their moves on the dance floor, and I felt a pang of nostalgia for Santa Fe.

We saw a manatee float by just as our waitress brought out meals: two styrofoam plates loaded with conch fritters (Katie) and crab cakes (me), along with huge baskets of sweet potato and spicy, seasoned fries. It was glorious; delicious in its own right, but made so much better after a long day in the sun and water. I was feeling awesome, both from just being where I was, and also due to my rum punch, which was so strong I could have sworn it was mixed by a frat boy. Miami was a little too busy and congested for me, but this? This I could get used to.

For our last night out in Miami, Katie and I were determined to track down the kava bar she’d read about. Kava is a plant native to islands in the South Pacific, and something I first read about in J. Maarten Troost’s book Getting Stoned with Savages, which details the author’s time living in Fiji. The root of the plant is mashed up until it forms a liquidy paste, to which a bit more water is added, and then the mixture is served as a drink.

Once we found the bar, Mystic Water, Katie went to move her car to some better parking, and I was left alone in the empty bar. I decided to fill the quiet (not silence, as there was some flute music playing that sounded suspiciously like that of the Hostel in the Forest) by chatting with the bartender, who introduced himself as Strawberry. Shorter than me — and probably skinnier, too — Strawberry had a lip ring, a soft stoner drawl, and was wearing Aviators in the dimly lit bar. His red shirt was sleeveless, and I suspect that if I had leaned over to look behind the bar, he would have had on black skinny jeans, as well.

Kava, Strawberry explained, is known for its calming effects, and has been used as a remedy for anti-anxiety and insomnia. It’s supposed to have all the positive effects of alcohol, but none of the pesky negative ones. When enough is consumed, Strawberry told me, it sometimes has hallucinogenic effects. When Katie finally returned (/saved me), we held our coconut half-shells, clanked them together in a toast to Pula (as Strawberry instructed us to), and downed the murky liquid. It was gritty, almost muddy, and I had to pause in my drinking, unable to shoot it in one gulp. Not…awful…but I gladly sucked on the pineapple slices that had been provided to chase it with.

“How many of these did you say people should drink if they’ve never had it before?” I asked.

“At least three, but eight if you really want to test the limits,” Strawberry said.

Katie and I looked at each other. It was still early, not yet 6, and the Happy Hour special was two-for-one kava. I signaled Strawberry for another round.

“Is your tongue getting numb?” Katie asked.

I didn’t know what she was talking about until I tried the traditional kava, with no flavoring added. My tongue tingled for the next hour or so, and I couldn’t stop clearing my throat, but duuuuuuuude was I was feeling chill. It’s hard to tell whether this was solely due to the kava; sitting in a dimly-lit bar decorated with fake vines and tree trunks while you listen to the bartender and another patron discuss astral projection can have that effect, as well.

I sucked on some more pineapple wedges while Katie attempted to read my palm, using one of the many books that were laying around the bar as a guide. This was my last stop of the first leg of my trip, and from here on out it was almost entirely new places that I’d never been before. Would that make a huge difference? Would I enjoy traveling more now that I’d be on my own a lot more of the time, or less? Would I find a place that felt like it could be home? I felt pretty open to letting anything, even the lines on my hand, give me some answers.

“Um, according to this, you aren’t really going to do much traveling in your lifetime,” Katie said, pointing at the palm-reading manual.

Guess the universe is just as confused about my life as I am.


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