Fish Swastika!

Tired togs, garbage, and fascism all around but not a drop of alcohol to drink

The Bitch is all for art in public places. Here in crazy town, it's even paid for: Miami-Dade Art in Public Places was established in 1973 with the passage of an ordinance allocating 1.5 percent of the construction cost of new county buildings for the purchase or commission of artworks. Sometimes, though, the intent doesn't match the result.

Take, for instance, Miami International Airport, a surprisingly rich repository of photography, sculpture, and painting by established and emerging artists such as Michele Oka Doner, Petra Liebl-Osborne, and Maria Martinez-Cañas.

Generally impressed by the travel hub's cultural offerings, The Bitch was puzzled recently by a circa-1994 installation of fiberglass fish mounted on the walls of the American Airlines terminal. Most are arranged with tails touching to form benign geometric shapes — circles, diamonds, that kind of thing. However, a school of four clownfish near gate D47 appears to have a different ideology. The tails form a perfect swastika."[The fishes'] unique arrangement throughout the concourse walls evokes sculptures that are at once fish, and as abstract shapes, represent something else," states the Website of Miami-Dade Art in Public Places, the agency responsible for the installation. So what do the clownfish represent? Nothing is the short answer.

Ivan Rodriguez, director of the art program, says the installation has "no message whatsoever." Rodriguez adds he hadn't heard of anyone noticing the swastika shape during the twelve years the work has been hanging at the airport. "I think one of the reasons that piece works is it's not meant to be contemplative," Rodriguez says of the fish. "I have seen, especially kids, looking up and smiling."

Donald Lipski, the fish installation artist, says, "For me, it's always interesting when people see things in my art that I hadn't put there.... I suppose you could find Jewish stars and pentagrams if you looked for them."


Crushed by the Wheels of Construction

In The Bitch's worst nightmares, a spindly parade of orange-and-white road barricades chase her through streets darkened by towering scaffolding. The axle of her Subaru breaks in a nasty sinkhole, and she's forced to get out and run until the barricades overtake her. Metal joints clapping and orange reflectors blinking, they devour her whole.

Her dog psychologist tells her it's posttraumatic stress disorder: a small canine mind's way of coping with the rush-hour commute on Biscayne Boulevard. Yet the addled dog must admit that some people have it much worse.

Take Rosaly Guimarães, proprietor of Manhattan Caféon NE Fourteenth Street between Biscayne Boulevard and Second Avenue, which is often frequented by local office workers with a fondness for tomato, basil, and mozzarella sandwiches. When her small shop and the neighboring Miami Arts Café were blocked off, the sidewalks and streets destroyed by an army of concrete-smashing machinery, the restaurateur's business decreased by 80 percent. But the worst part was that for ten whole days, garbage collection halted on Guimarães's street.

Manhattan Café is a breakfast and lunch eatery. Guimarães, in preparing and clearing food, must discard the uneaten bits. For a week and a half this organic refuse festered and street dwellers overturned the cans at night, leaving mounds of rotting garbage in piles around the restaurant. These piles, in turn, became a sort of Publix for the local rat population. So not only was Manhattan Café surrounded for two blocks by broken concrete, not only did most of Guimarães's delivery people quit because it was a hassle to reach their cars, not only did she have to pay to put signs on Biscayne, but she also had a garbage collection problem that would raise the hackles of even The Bitch's trash-scavenging hyena and jackal cousins.

After ten days, construction workers arranged to open the barriers so waste could be collected. But that concession came only after aggressive lobbying by Guimarães, intervention by the local NET office, and a heated discussion with bigwigs at the Performing Arts Center — all for something she says never should have happened.

"If it was in Bal Harbor and not a low-profile neighborhood with a couple small businesses and some bums, the city and the garbage people would have had to come up with a plan beforehand," says the disheartened café owner. "It was unsanitary, unhealthy, and illegal. No one wanted to come here."

She would sue, she says, but the construction workers now constitute the bulk of her business.

"They said the street will be open again [this week]," says Guimarães. "I can only hope that does."


What Never to Wear

The Bitch is a fashion-conscious creature. Pretentious and hypersensitive, she is keenly aware of any Tevas, pleated pants, or No Fear shirts entering her line of sight. So the Starbucks uniform — of its male customers, not the baristas — at the chain's outpost in Coconut Grove is particularly noxious.

On any given morning, up to a dozen men, waiting in line for caffeine, are dressed in exactly the same outfit: blue designer jeans, untucked oxfords, deliberately moussed hair. And these fellows do not appear to be litter- or pack-mates.

The Bitch began making detailed field notes. Of the 18- to 50-year-old white and Latino demographic, nearly 50 percent were wearing the standard uniform. A few aberrations were noted — textured shirt patterns and a few pairs of black jeans — but basically dudes seemed to be wearing the same tired duds. Then the observant dog began to catalogue this lame look everywhere — on Miami Beach from Privé to the Eden Roc; throughout Miami-Dade County, from Robert Is Here to the Aventura Mall.

So The Bitch called a fashionista friend of hers — Coral Gables couturier René Ruiz — to divine what the hell is going on in maledom.

Ruiz immediately sighed, "It's ridiculous!" and confirmed that, yes, the uniform is the scourge of Miami.

The designer first began detecting it following the Miami Vice craze of the Eighties. "A reaction to Sonny Crockett," he hypothesizes. Tired of unconstructed blazers with fuchsia T-shirt and dress shoes without socks, Miami guydom began moving to jeans and oxfords. And then, Ruiz says, evolution stopped. "It's easy. You don't have to think."

Most ridiculous about the uniform is its cost. Wranglers won't do. These are uncreative yet label-conscious men. The jeans — from Banana Republic and Diesel to Dolce & Gabbana — can fetch $900. "Even for jeans with holes!" says Ruiz. "If I could figure out an alternative, I would be a rich man."

In the meantime, Ruiz is content to help any would-be uniform shedders at his atelier at 262 Miracle Mile. "At least you'll have a nice shirt that fits right," offers Ruiz. "These shirts are too baggy."

Another Ritz-Carlton Rip-off

The Bitch doesn't get out to the Ritz-Carlton on Key Biscayne too often, gas prices being what they are and The Bitchmobile barely running and all. In fact it's fair to say The Bitch's economic situation often prevents her from paying the $1.25 toll to get onto the island, much less the valet fee at the hotel.

But the lure of the sea and alcohol is undeniable — which recently drew The Bitch to the Ritz-Carlton's "Tequila Sunsets," a Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday happy hour that supposedly features two-for-one margaritas and draft beer specials at the hotel's Cantina Beach bar. This past Sunday, she arrived around 5:30 p.m. with a pack that quickly settled on beachside settees, enjoying the illusion of being rich and different.

But a surly server seemed unaware of "Tequila Sunset." The Bitch — embarrassed at having hauled a few broke-ass canines to the Key with promises of cheap liquor and cut-rate opulence — persisted, at which point the refusenik said, "We used to do that." More bitching and the waiter went to ask a manager. When he came back, he said they were canceling happy hour "because of the weather."

The sky did look a little dark — because by that time it was gettingdark, not getting ready to rain. And what sense does it make to leave the Cantina open and just cancel the specials?

"It's still happening as far as I know," says Ritz-Carlton spokeswoman Michelle Sanchez. "That's an ongoing event."

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