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The president’s days in the White House are numbered — and Robert Gewanter is counting them down for all to see.
“Nine days or 25th Amendment,” read the luminescent sign Monday at M&M Liquors, where, for more than 30 years Gewanter has posted limericks, witticisms and political commentary about everything from Hialeah politics to social justice in 16 words or less.
“People called it the original Twitter,” he jokes.
For the last four years, Gewanter’s muse has been the U.S. president, Donald Trump. And his medium has been six-inch-tall letters for the store’s sign on the corner of Le Jeune Road and Southeast Eighth Street in Hialeah. On the day after the election, Gewanter posted:
“No concession required
Donald you’re fired”
“It’s easy to be a political humorist when you have Donald Trump working for you,” he said. “So, yeah, I’m really going to miss Trump.”
Let him rant and rage, but we will turn the page. Don't need him to concede. He'll be plucked like a noxious weed.
The notes sometimes cross over into the blue but are rarely obscene. On the other side of his Monday reference to the 25th Amendment, which would remove the president from power, was an off-color rhyme comparing the impeachment of Bill Clinton over an affair versus Trump’s call for insurrection.
“It seems like the more prurient the message, the greater the response,” he said. “I always wonder, ‘Is this the one where I go too far?’ ”
Gewanter, 65, came quite by chance to become The Bard of Hialeah.
His parents had moved to Miami Beach in the 1940s from Brooklyn, where his father’s family owned a bar called The Bucket of Blood. Sol and Rose Gewanter eventually opened 26 Tiny’s Liquor Stores, before bad dealings with a partner left the family with only enough money in 1964 to buy a Hialeah strip mall with the M&M Liquors store at 794 SE 8th St. Still everyone called them Mr. and Mrs. Tiny.
Gewanter, the youngest of three boys, told his father he had no interest in going into business because he’d seen his father “became a slave to it.” He graduated Beach High at just 16 and Johns Hopkins just three years later, fully intending to go into medical school. (“I just loved to learn,” he said.) But while he was interviewing for medical school at Jackson Memorial, his father suddenly died at the age of 65.
“My mother said, ‘It’s time to put on your big boy pants and come work at the store,’ ” he recalled.
Gewanter didn’t even drink. (“It’s all poison,” he said.) Derailed and frustrated, Gewanter found an unlikely outlet when the store needed to replace the neon banner out front for a letterboard-style sign. But Florida law prohibited advertising liquor on the sign, and posting blithe messages “proved boring very quickly,” he said.
He got his first big laugh when he tried something different, posting:
“Santa was here, stopped for some beers
Left behind a deer, venison for New Year’s”
That was just the encouragement he needed. Gewanter started to comment on all manner of political and pop culture zaniness. He went after everyone from the local fire chief to President George Bush (both of them). He went after mayors, commissioners and commented on Hialeah’s general lawlessness.
“Please vote, that would be nice
Heck, it’s Hialeah. You can vote twice”
“The more provocative, the more they loved it,” he said.
He has even posted messages in Spanish, which he has picked up over the years (“Es la ley de Hialeah,” he said). But he insists his Spanish is “solamente bastante para vender bebida y hacer el amor,” he said: Only enough to sell liquor and make love.
“And you don’t have to speak to make love,” he joked.
He starts the day off listening to MSNBC host Rachel Maddow’s show while he’s showering in the morning to stay caught up on talking points he often uses in his signs. He comes to work with his older brother, Allan, and the two, now in their 60s, take turns napping in the back during the day. That’s thanks to an employee of 42 years, Charlie Jones. And the three run the shop like a comedy club with their regulars.
“Where’s Al?” asks one woman.
“He’s on his honeymoon,” Robert says, an old gag.
“Oh, you keep saying that.”
“Well,” Robert tells her, “I need better material.”
We see only a glimpse of a video, and are forced to extrapolate what happened before and after. We don't have all the...
Gewanter isn’t afraid to grab the third rail with both hands, writing commentary that would alienate neighbors and clientele. During a summer of protests, sparked by the police killing of George Floyd, Gewanter wrote:
Just a cop
With his knee”
He knows his signs have cost him as many clients as it has earned him. Maybe, in conservative-leaning Hialeah, it has been a detriment to business.
“But as you can see, I’m not missing any meals,” he jokes, rubbing his belly. “I regret that I have but one sign to give for my country.”