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Before dawn, while the rest of the nine-to-five world huddles in bed, Harvey Slavin is already up and ready for action. He doesn't jog, fish, or schlep himself to the sandy beach outside his oceanfront apartment building for an early swim. Slavin writes. Every day. And more often than not, his words offer a hearty thrashing for anyone or anything Slavin sees as unjust, dishonest, or just plain slimy.
His regimen begins each morning at 5:30 a.m. After he brews himself a pot of Publix Colombian decaf, he sits down at his glass-topped dining room table to read three newspapers: The New YorkTimes, the Sun-Sentinel, and The Herald.Once a week he'll add local weeklies like The Digest, City Link, and New TimesBrowardPalm Beach to the mix, and he always flips to the editorial pages first. Perhaps he'll punch in some jazz on his digital cable TV.
Then, clad in gym shorts and a T-shirt, with pen in hand, he abandons his beachfront-bourgeois life for a few hours. As he scratches his cramped longhand missives onto the yellow pages of the legal pads he buys in 12-packs at Office Depot, Harvey Slavin, mild-mannered entrepreneur, becomes Harvey Slavin, the undisputed king of unsolicited opinion, the scourge of letters-to-the-editor pages in South Florida and beyond.
And when Harvey Slavin writes, the media listen. Sort of. They also roll their eyes, groan, and laugh out loud. For the past 30 years, Slavin has shot off letters covering every topic imaginable to Florida newspapers. He's written about how Ronald and Nancy Reagan paved the way for America's downfall and how the U.S. Postal Service is in need of a collective lobotomy.
He has labeled Miami "the rudest city in the entire universe" and branded many local politicians as scumbags. He writes about the evils of the Republican Party and the Palestinians' quest to destroy Jews and the state of Israel. He slams sports commentators and restaurant columnists for banal observations and myopic reviews. He feels The Herald is good only for wrapping fish and the Sun-Sentinel reeks of hypocrisy.
Yet he keeps on reading -- and writing. "If something sticks in my craw, I write about it," says the 53-year-old Slavin. "It's good for the adrenaline, and it gets the blood flowing. It's better than taking speed.
"And it's good therapy," he adds. Slavin holds back nothing during his self-counseling sessions. A regular reader might find a thin sprinkling of praise within his letters, but only rarely. Most of the time, his tone ranges from critical to insulting to bombastic. Yet he writes with the passion of an iconoclastic monk jailed in a castle tower, and his letters are never snoozers.
"Stupidity and hypocrisy are always things I take stabs at," he avers. "I don't try to be politically correct in what I say. Why should I be? I don't want to be, and I don't have to be. I say what I think."
What makes Hanon [sic] Ashrawi, the female Christian used by the Palestinians to mollify such Western press dupes as the Sun-Sentinel's Editorial board, one of the "more rational Palestinian leaders"? That she is not a typical camel jockey towel head like Arafat makes her a more "rational" Palestinian leader? More rational than whom?
-- October 7, 1997, Sun-Sentinel
Outside the Flashback Diner in Hallandale Beach, Slavin rummages through the metal bin of New Times BrowardPalm Beach. "They don't have the new one in here yet," he says with a touch of disappointment.
While his scribbled rants might conjure an image of the writer as a wild-haired, frothing-at-the-mouth maniac, someone who might gladly pluck out the eyeballs of his enemies with his ballpoint, Slavin looks more like a pediatrician. He's a portly man, today wearing a charcoal dress shirt and matching slacks. A pattern of tiny blue roses adorns his black tie, and his thick silver hair is brushed neatly back from his forehead. When he orders a cup of decaf and a bran muffin, his voice is even, his intonations quiet enough that at times the clatter of the diner drowns out his sentences.
"I believe everything that I write. It's not theatrics. I'm a passionate A-type personality," Slavin says. His small eyes shrink further behind the hexagonal expanse of his brass-and-greenrimmed glasses. Slavin slices a chunk of muffin with his butter knife before explaining the disparity between his sedate demeanor and the often raging tone of his letters. "I don't see any purpose in sitting here with you yelling and screaming," he says. "I just believe in freedom of speech."
Much of Slavin's writing touches upon local, national, and international politics, with Israel leading his pack of pet topics. Yet his background is steeped in neither religion nor politics. After his family moved from New Jersey to Miami Beach when he was two years old, Slavin's parents owned and operated a drugstore on Arthur Godfrey Road for 35 years. He was bar mitzvahed when he was 13 years old, but his family had already opted for the more relaxed worship of Reform Judaism. "We didn't keep kosher. It was a liberal Jewish upbringing; my parents were typical Jewish Democrats."