By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Heather Baysa
By Calum Marsh
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Simon Abrams
By Alan Scherstuhl
Hey, who cares if you don't have the money for a ride if a Hollywood movie studio is sending a limousine your way? This past April 11, Lennie the limo guy stacked my mixed assortment of family and friends into his large, gleaming black Cadillac at the old-school Eden Roc hotel in Miami Beach. Realizing there was no room for me, he suggested I cruise next to him, in the front passenger seat.
Of course, sitting shotgun! Then Lennie — executive chauffeur, personal assistant, and security consultant — wheeled us to the opening night of an ancient dream.
I had been cursed with a vision for nearly 20 years. Don't believe me? Fuck you! Despite all signs, I was sure that someone, somewhere, some way, would feel compelled, yes, duty-bound, to make a big-ass silver-screen epic about "Pain & Gain," my masterful crime-time Miami comic thrill ride. I had penned this durable tale of Miami when I was backed into the corner — broke, jobless, and near bottom.
Now, Pain & Gain is a $25 million Michael Bay movie starring Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson, and Ed Harris. It opens in theaters this Friday, April 26.
But before I get to that, let me take you back to when I was a kid growing up in El Portal, back in the '60s, when Miami was a very different place. My dad was pure Marine, First Division, Fifth Regiment, a machine gunner on Guadalcanal and other tropical atolls in the Pacific. One Father's Day, I scraped together nearly $10 so we could watch Patton together at the old Lincoln Road movie palace. "Not everyone can be a Marine, Pete," he explained.
My mom taught me to love movies too. She insisted the whole family drive down to Coral Gables on South Dixie Highway in 1963 to see It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, a comedy about a dozen-or-so motorists who see a traffic accident, rush to help the driver, and hear his dying words about a big pile of missing loot. They all begin a scramble for the buried treasure. It was Jonathan Winters' performance as Lennie Pike, an earnest lunkhead truck driver, that I remember best. He had a manic, gleeful, outsmarted-yet-never-outwitted nature. Kind of like me.
I grew up in Miami and got a job as a writer at Miami New Times in its early days. I lost that employ after urinating on my editor's car (that's another story) but continued writing. I penned some freelance stories for the Miami Herald — tales of the early '90s that were all over the place. There were three cover pieces for the newspaper's Tropic magazine — a string of jailhouse yarns about Miami's most prolific con men that had landed me on 60 Minutes, Dateline, and Day One.
Then came a simple Saturday-morning jog in 1996. The outing was intended as a brisk, stringent corrective to mark the beginning of what I could still do in those years — rein myself in from increasingly long stretches of debauchery and begin a health kick, then stick to it.
In short, more water, less vodka. Less bar blather with bored brunettes, more reading and writing. I washed my face; stripped down; put on the T-shirt, white cotton underwear, long Russell sweatpants; and took off with a loping stride. I worked south and east from NE Second Place, determined to make it to Biscayne Bay.
As I rounded Grand Concourse and NE Seventh Avenue, I came upon a friend named Ed Du Bois, who was outside his house washing a van. Du Bois (who's played by Ed Harris in Pain & Gain) was a big-deal Miami private eye. He had been the NFL's lead security guy in Florida. When I stopped running and started talking with him, a stream of vapor smelling suspiciously like Sterno escaped from my pores.
Du Bois asked if I was ready for a great crime story. I surprised myself when I said, "Nah, I'm leaving the trade." I was losing interest. Dishonest crooks bugged me.
It was always the same: Someone wants you to write a story because it makes them look good — or someone else look bad. Really, they're the same thing. You listen. You finance the whole research, reporting, and writing thing, based on a prayer of getting a publisher. Sometimes it works. Usually not. That's when you lie to your cousin, your landlord, about rent.
So I was finishing a graduate writing program at Florida International University and picturing a cushy college gig.
But when Du Bois asked me to drop by his office to hear the case he was involved in, I said, "Sure." Out of respect. Later that week, I let him prattle for a couple of minutes. He described a group of sadistic bodybuilders called the Sun Gym Gang, as well as some guy from Colombia who wasn't from Colombia and who could, it seemed, survive nuclear winter like a palmetto bug.
I begged him to shut up. He kept talking. I'm a sucker for plot, and this story had an old Chrysler Hemi of an engine. It was roaring in my head from the first needle drop.
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