It's never a good idea to visit a vampire by day. Even if the meeting takes place indoors, shielded from the sun whose rays would vaporize the night crawler. Even if the mirrors are covered, in this case with flyers and posters from nights gone by announcing The Church, the popular mid-Nineties weekly gothic party at the now-defunct South Beach club Groovejet. Never mind that Church promoter Frank Morales does not reside in a dark, spired Transylvanian castle, but in a single-story brick duplex off Flagler. Going there on a blazing afternoon is not a good idea.
A knock is greeted with a long silence, then the sound of clanking metal slowly advancing across a terrazzo floor. Slowly, slowly the heavy wooden door swings open to reveal a dim chamber lit only by the glow of a telenovela -- and a frail viejita in a blue housedress, leaning on a walker.
"This way," she says in a quivering Cuban accent as she clanks back across the room, leading the way with deliberate start-and-stop steps to an open doorway.
Rain, 323 23rd St, Miami Beach.
Takes place on Thursday nights. Doors open at 11:00 p.m. Cover is $10. Women enter free before midnight. Call 305-674-7447.
There, atop a queen-sized mattress and a bare box spring, lies Morales, flat on his back, like a corpse laid out in state. A thick comforter exaggerates the cathedral arch of his belly; one stocking foot and one bandaged leg jut out below the covers. The vieja (his mother? his grandmother? his maid?) announces the visitor in an excited whisper.
"Enter, enter," the vieja beckons to the visitor.
Morales squints as he adjusts to the light.
"Uh, could you go outside so I can get dressed?" he says as soon as he comes to his senses.
Bela Lugosi may be dead, but Morales is rising again, resurrecting The Church after a four-year hiatus in the old stomping grounds of Groovejet, now known as Rain.
"There was a need for me to do it," he explains, wide awake now -- seated, T-shirted, and shorted, although his belt still hangs undone around his waist and the foot without the cast is still without a shoe. The cast was removed the day before, Morales reveals, one small triumph in his battle against diabetes. The return of The Church, he hopes, will help pay mounting medical bills.
There is a battery of pill bottles arrayed beneath a lamp at his bedside. A pair of wrought-iron lanterns with spider-web filigrees rest on boxes of shoes stacked on the floor. Long-haired pre-Raphaelite beauties stare vacantly from the flyers stuck to the mirror above the bureau. Dressed in flowing gowns and angels' wings, the women invite fantasies of innocent maidens waiting to be ravaged. A poster of a woman wearing an Egyptian headdress and a more knowing look advertises the Church's third-anniversary Night of the Pharoahs party. A snapshot of a group of Churchgoers presents a more dapper view of Morales, done up in a scarlet and black smoking jacket.
Rifling through the shoeboxes, the promoter finds a packet of photos of a stunning young woman striking suggestive poses with a winding sheet. As he explains Church's sensual appeal, epitomized in special events with themes like the Kama Sutra and Full Fetish, Morales's twinkling eyes and pointy ears look more elfin than undead.
"Even though it's dark, the movement is beautiful, very Renaissance," he intimates. "The atmosphere is more sexual [than at other parties]. It's an alternative lifestyle. The vampire theme is very bisexual. We mix the gay crowd with the straight crowd, which nobody's been able to do as well. The atmosphere changes a person. People you see on the street and you think, 'That wouldn't be a Church person.'" Looking at Shake, he adds, "Even people like yourself, writers from newspapers."
And the music?
DJs Carlos Menendez and Danny Bled with New Wave, industrial, synth-pop, ethereal gothic, and electroclash in the main room. DJs Tommy Gun, Alex S, and Chucky with alt-rock, Brit pop, trip-hop, acid grooves, classic hip-hop, and breaks in the Sense Lounge.
As Morales describes the liturgy, Shake notices a rather plain wooden crucifix hanging among the flyers, the kind godparents give as presents for First Communion.
Does Morales also go to conventional church?
"Yes, I do," he states with conviction.
So what's the difference between church in the morning and The Church at night?
Morales thinks carefully.
"In one, you pray to the Mighty Man," he says with a smile. "In the other you pray for good music."
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