It's been a week of limited social engagement, removed from the hoopla and horror, the spirits soaring amid a host of quiet rewards and epiphanies in the oddest places. For instance, dinner at Curry's Restaurant on upper Collins Avenue, the place that time forgot. For some unfathomable reason, the interior is a surreal homage to the vintage glories of Hawaii, festooned with faded murals and equipped with a soundtrack from 1955, Perry Como's and Don Ho's greatest hits wafting over an odd collection of discount-minded tourists. And a waitress who was a pure delight, a recent refugee from modern Hawaii who took the first available job she came across in Miami, hustling sizzling platters of steak in a demented luau-motifed eatery. Like all of us, she was counting the blessings of employment, while reaching for the big philosophical picture: "I'd be happy if I were in my right mind."

Actually, that's pretty much my take on life. The taste for psycho-Beach milieus whetted, it seemed appropriate to take in the Jekyll & Hyde cast party at Cheetah Club. Throughout, the place worked as a time warp to Forties glamour, the building having once housed the legendary Chandler's Steak House; before that, Fan & Bill's restaurant occupied the space, hyping Harry S Truman as a client. Since that heyday, the nostalgia-suffused ambiance A over-the-top and thoroughly wonderful A hasn't changed much; it's still dominated by whorehouse-red accents and an orgiastic, vulgar opulence. These days the decor has become a kind of permanent talisman. In between inhalations of French chef Bernard Marcel Goupy's excellent hors d'oeuvres A no onion rings or kreplach at the Cheetah Club A the place's regulars applauded the arrival of Jekyll & Hyde stars Robert Cuccioli and Linda Eder. Only sort of famous but very nice, and, God knows, nightlife people of any epoch can identify with Robert Louis Stevenson's immortal story, the study of good and evil.

In the purely good category, a dinner engagement with old friends (always ready with an item or a kind word) dictated a jaunt down to South Miami for economy sushi. One of the guests, who teaches kids in Overtown, brought along a handwritten dictionary of cutting-edge slang compiled by a female student. The language is rich stuff, perfect for an "up there" book deal with "green-cheez" potential. In the meantime, the juicier material will serve as fodder for some H.L. Mencken-inspired reportage, notes on the way we talk now. Yet again black culture serves as the wellspring for American popular culture, the vital creative impetus that eventually will make its way to white-bread malls everywhere.

The aging suburbanites in attendance immediately determined that they were "pimps" and "suckers" -- meaning "soft boys" -- and maybe a tad "chizad" (crazy as all get-out). Across the board we were "O.B.," played out and definitely missing out on the more lurid aspects of romance, the subject of some particularly vibrant terminology. "Ridin' on my dick," "sweatin'," and "jokin'" apply to both sexes, all of them defined as "someone all up on you because they like how you look, the way you act, or what you got." The term "deeze nuts" is affectionate shorthand for one's member, also applied to both genders. To lure in the opposite sex, one's words and style ("mack," "games," "tech") are important but do not guarantee success. A reluctant woman might be considered "crooked," some "fucked-up bitch ass" who may not be "strickly dickly" (wholeheartedly heterosexual). The word splak refers both to having sex and stealing a car. The promiscuous are "hoochies"; for them a "jimmy" or a "cage" -- a condom -- might be in order, or else they'll fall prey to the double-entendre inherent in engaging in carefree intercourse ("RIP").

In other strains of interpersonal relations, the critical issue of fighting for respect -- everyone's greatest challenge -- is thoroughly represented. To "size" is to try someone's patience, and if a friend is "willin'" -- acting stupid -- one either "eases" (rolls the eyes heavenward) or tells the fool in question to "recognize" A understand who they're dealing with. In some cases it's better to "flex," i.e., walk away. In extreme instances one can "smoke 'em" with a "gak" A shoot to kill. Conversely, if someone "breaks you off," they're giving you something big, from money on down. The world of recreation-meets-profit entails "cessed" (being stoned) and "slangin'" (dealing drugs). More innocently, one could go "jookin'" (dancing) or do a little "chillin'," a term that's already passed into cliche. The heartbreaker of mankind, "no love," means exactly what it does elsewhere -- no love.

Another night, another party -- the KVG Colour Spa and Salon debut in the Van Dyke Building -- and everyone's jokin' the joker, the social reporter without a grip. The salon, owned by acclaimed hair colorist Kelly Van Gogh, showed off its facial and massage capabilities, as well as displayed a talent for entertaining with a certain grandeur. An agitated rock combo played in one corner, and the place was packed with Brie-nibbling, martini-sipping guests of the I-want-to-be-beautiful-at-any-cost school. A floating covey of models A all brutal grace, like egrets with bad personal habits A rounded out the social nexus, fueling the eternal frisson of envy, loathing, and figure warfare among the less comely. I clung to an eddy in the whippet whirlpool and picked up a tale of a homegirl made good. Kerri Scharlin, the daughter of local banker/real estate tycoon Howard Scharlin and a faint acquaintance from my high school days, apparently has made something of an impression in New York City as a media-friendly neoconceptualist artist.

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