Seven people with South Florida connections—from a fire-eating belly dancer to a World War II submarine cook—take readers inside the experiences that have inspired them, changed them, defined them and, in at least one case, slimed them.
Here are excerpts from the feature:
How Does It Feel … To be the king of slime?
David Aizer, Former host, Nickelodeon’s Slime Time Live!
I know this sounds ridiculous because I’m a grown man, but I’m not allowed to tell you what is in slime. I had to sign a non-disclosure. As you can imagine, Nickelodeon’s pretty protective. What I can tell you is that it’s cold and gooey—and, actually, fairly delicious. It tastes a bit like vanilla pudding. You’d be surprised to know what actually goes into it. I’ll just say that it’s a naturally occurring substance found at the center of the universe.
Here’s the other thing: You take a shower, then you take another shower—and two days later you’re still finding slime in your ears, behind your ears, everywhere. It does come out of your clothes, though.
To hear again?
Lucia Story, Cochlear implant patient
Hearing loss can lead to some embarrassing situations. One day I was at one of my children’s ball games, and a woman said, “Doesn’t that man have a good head of hair?” I thought she said he was having an affair. I couldn’t understand why she was talking about his private life in front of everyone.
I never wanted people to know that my hearing was fading. Ever since I was a child, I liked being the listener. I never wanted to be the funny girl. You learn when you listen. So when I started losing my hearing, I found myself being the talker; I’ve never been happy in that world. I had to work very hard to listen, and it was exhausting.
It started around 1970. I was a stewardess at the time, and I remember having a really bad cold. That’s what triggered it. I shouldn’t have been flying, but I did. The hearing loss was gradual. I would find myself saying, “Excuse me?” “Pardon me?” But I didn’t want people to know.
To be racially profiled?
Dr. Ronald Romear, Pediatrician
I was born in Trinidad, and I left there when I was 15. I moved to Silver Springs, Md., in the late 1970s with the sole purpose of continuing my education. People didn’t know where I was from. They looked at me like I was straight out of a Tarzan movie or something. I did not understand black America or white America. I was an enigma to both groups.
The first time I was stopped randomly, I was working as a camp counselor at a YMCA (near Washington, D.C.). I remember it vividly. I was getting off the bus and going to get ice cream. The police stopped me and said to assume the position. Then they walked me over to a squad car, and there was this older white woman inside. Someone had stolen her handbag. She looked at me and shook her head no.
I was a black male with a blue Adidas top on, and that was enough for them to stop me. I was angry. But then you start telling people, and you hear like six other similar stories. And you realize, “This isn’t about Ron Romear. This is just the way it is.”
To be lured into a trafficking ring?
Katariina Rosenblatt, Speaker, author and founder, there is H.O.P.E. for me
I grew up in South Florida with a very abusive father, both physically and verbally. That left me vulnerable. My mom had left my dad, and we were living at this hotel—a nice one, it wasn’t seedy.
That’s where the trafficking ring first saw me. I was at the pool, and they sent this 19-year-old woman, Mary, to befriend me. She was working for a pimp at the hotel. Over the next month, she got me to confide all my needs and wants. I was hungry for a father figure. I didn’t know the difference between safe and unsafe love.
Trafficking in America is a lot of trickery and deceit and false friendships. Mary told me one day we were going to play a game, and that I was going to be the bride. I put on this white jean dress and my mom’s makeup. I met her in the stairwell as she instructed, and she took my hand. I was 13.
She knocked on the door of this room I’d never been to, and there was this man, like 65, overweight, burly, hairy, and with no shirt on. He was wearing gray dress slacks. Mary locked the door behind us. I remember it like it was yesterday. I always tell kids to trust their instincts, and I wish I would have trusted mine.
To eat fire?
Vanneza Romero, Professional belly dancer
I’ve been dancing for 17 years, but I just started fire eating about six years ago [Romero is 31]. There are a lot of belly dancers in South Florida, and the profession is very competitive. So I took it upon myself to learn.
At one point, I actually was working with a fire eater, but she didn’t want to tell me her secrets. So I went on YouTube. There’s all kinds of stuff online showing you how to do it. The first time I tried it, I was in my mother’s garage and still living at home. She had no idea what I was up to.
The important thing to remember is that fire goes up. Always. I have to look upward, and there can’t be any hair or eyeglasses or anything in the way that could light up. Your breathing has to be very controlled. I am actually blowing out, but it looks like I am eating it. Obviously, you can’t put the fire in your mouth; you’d burn yourself. So you get it close, then extinguish it with your breath.
To be a wartime cook on a submarine?
Robert Wayne Wasson, Served on five U.S. navy subs between 1943-53
They called them fleet submarines. Roosevelt had ordered 20 of them in 1937. They were built to keep up with the (Naval) fleets, if they had to. They were about 311 feet long. The kitchen? It was about 12 feet long by 8 feet wide, small enough that you could mop it with your feet and reach everything.
I had made up my mind that I wanted to be on a submarine after Pearl Harbor, and I wanted to be a cook. Your parents had to sign the papers if you were 16, but I took care of that myself and left in the middle of the night. I was 17 by the time I went to boot camp in 1943.
The Navy is very stubborn. They said I should be a machinist. It took about two weeks for me to convince them. They sent me to school in Chicago to learn cooking and baking.