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BIG TROUBLE

Dave Barry

one

Puggy had held down his job at the Jolly Jackal Bar and Grill, which did not have a grill, for almost three weeks. For Puggy, this was a personal employment record. In fact, after a career as a semiprofessional vagrant, he was seriously thinking about settling in Miami, putting down roots, maybe even finding an indoor place to sleep. Although he really liked his tree.

Puggy liked everything about Miami. He liked that it was warm. He liked that most of the police seemed tolerant of people like him—people who, merely by existing, tended to violate laws that solid citizens never even thought about, like how long you were allowed to sit in a certain place without buying something. The attitude of most of the police down here seemed to be, hey, you can sit all you want; we're just glad you're not shooting.

Puggy also liked the way, in Miami, you were always hearing people talking Spanish. This made Puggy feel like he was living in a foreign country, which was his one ambition, although the only time he had ever actually been abroad was four years before, when, after a long and confusing weekend that began in Buffalo, he was briefly detained on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls for urinating in the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum.

The funny thing was, Puggy had not been trying to get to Miami in particular. He had left a homeless shelter in Cleveland and started hitchhiking in the general direction of south, looking for a warm place to stay the winter; the trucker who picked him up happened to be heading for the Port of Miami, right downtown.

As good fortune had it, Puggy arrived on election day. He'd been on the street for less than an hour when a white van pulled up next to him. The driver, an older man, said something in Spanish and showed him a ten-dollar bill. Puggy, assuming the man wanted a blow job, said 'Not interested.' The man immediately switched to English and explained that all Puggy had to do, for the ten, was vote.

'I'm not from here,' said Puggy.

'No problem,' said the man.

So Puggy got into the van. En route to the polling place, the older man picked up seven other voters, all men, some quite aromatic. At the polling place, they all walked right inside and the man told them what to do. The poll workers did not seem to have any problem with this.

When it was Puggy's turn to vote, he gave his name, per instructions, as Albert Green, which he spelled 'Allbert Gren.' The real Albert Green was a person who had died in 1991 but still voted often in Miami. Puggy cast Mr. Green's ballot for a mayoral candidate named Carlos somebody, then went outside and collected his ten, which looked like a million dollars in his hand.

Puggy had never voted for anything before, but on that magical day, riding around in the white van, he voted in the Miami mayoral election four times at four different polling places. He got ten dollars each for the first three times, but the fourth time, the van man said the price was now five, and Puggy said OK. He felt he had already gotten a lot from the city of Miami, and he didn't mind giving something back.

Puggy cast his last ballot in a part of Miami called Coconut Grove; this is where the van man left him. There were palm trees and water and sailboats gently waggling their masts back and forth against a bright blue sky. Puggy thought it was the most beautiful place he had ever seen. He was feeling good. He was warm, and he had thirty-five dollars cash, the most money he'd ever had at one time in his life. He decided to spend it on beer.

He scouted around for a good spot, quickly rejecting the tourist bars in the central Grove, where a beer could cost five dollars, which Puggy thought was way high, even for a guy who was pulling down ten dollars a vote. And so, after wandering to the seedier outskirts of Coconut Grove, Puggy found himself walking into the Jolly Jackal Bar and Grill.

The Jolly Jackal was not upscale. It would have needed thousands of dollars' worth of renovation just to ascend to the level of 'dive.' It had a neon sign in the window, but part of it wasn't working, so it just said 'ACKAL.' When you walked in the front door, you could see straight back through the gloom to the toilet, which had lost its door some years back when a patron, frustrated in his efforts to operate the doorknob, smashed his way in with a fire extinguisher. The bar was dark and rancid with stale beer. The TV was tuned to motorcycle racing. There were names scrawled on the walls, and crude drawings of genitalia. Puggy felt right at home.

He sat at the bar, which was empty except for a bearded man at the far end, talking to the bartender in a language that wasn't English, but it didn't sound to Puggy like Spanish, either. The bartender, a thick man with a thick face, looked at Puggy, but didn't come over.

'I'll take a Budweiser,' Puggy said.

'You have money?' the bartender said.

Puggy was not offended. He knew he looked like he didn't have money. Usually, he didn't have money.

'I got money,' he said, and he put all of it, three tens and a five, on the bar. The bartender, saying nothing, uncapped a longneck and set it in front of Puggy. He took Puggy's five and replaced it with three dollars and two quarters. Then he went back to the bearded man and said something foreign, and they both laughed.

Puggy didn't care. He was figuring out, at a buck fifty a beer, how many beers he could buy. He couldn't pin down a definite number, but he knew it was going to be a lot. More than ten. He might even get some Slim Jims, if they had them here.

Puggy was on his fourth beer when a couple of guys came in, one called Snake, whose T-shirt said 'Gators,' and one called Eddie, whose T-shirt said 'You Don't Know Dick.' They both wore cutoff jeans and flip-flops, but their feet were black with dirt, so it almost looked like they were wearing socks.

Snake and Eddie referred to themselves as fishermen, although they did not fish. They did live on a boat; it had been abandoned by its legal owner because it had no engine and would sink if it were moved. Snake's and Eddie's actual source of income was standing in front of vacant parking spaces in Coconut Grove, and then, then a tourist car came along, directing the driver into the space, making arm motions as though this were a tricky maneuver that had to be done just right, like landing the space shuttle. Then Snake and Eddie would stand close by, waiting for a tip, which usually the tourists gave them, especially if it was dark.

Puggy figured that Snake and Eddie must have been to the Jolly Jackal before, because as soon as they walked in, the bartender was coming toward them, pointing back at the door, saying 'Out! I tell you once before! Out!'

'No, no, man, no,' said Eddie, holding his hands up in front of his chest, making peace. 'Look, we just wanna couple drinks. We got money.' He was digging into his cutoff shorts, pulling out some quarters, some dimes and

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