Ten years ago, while living in a civilized country (Belgium), The Bitch read a book by Coerte V.W. Felske called The Shallow Man. In what the tome-loving hound took to be outrageous, over-the-top hyperbole, Shallow's protagonist Nick Laws is depicted as a party promoter driven to bed supermodels (which he calls "thing"), comment on their lack of intelligence, ("dial tones") and then repel normally proportioned chicas ("civilians"). Obviously the book is set in Miami.
Flashing forward a decade, The Bitch was recently amused (but not surprised) to find if not a dial tone then at least a Nextel chirp seeking dogged assistance. Here's the un-Rash¬mon-like story:
Summer Berge, who is now twenty years old, came to Miami in 2004, she says, because she could "go to a good school and model." Berge is from a family of nine in New Port Richey and says she was an academic star at Ridgewood High School before being accepted to the University of Miami on a partial scholarship.
While living in the university dorms in Coral Gables, Berge began cold-calling South Beach modeling agencies. Most said "send your photos and we'll take a look." But Deco Models asked Berge to come in; she met with agency owner Noemi Rojas, who told Berge she looked great, whipped out a contract, and told the eighteen-year-old she'd need to pay $750 for makeup, hairstyling, and photographs for a portfolio. "I know there are so many girls out there who are like me. They don't know how things work. And they can get scammed," Berge laments.
"I liked her look," Rojas recalls of Berge. "But a lot of girls don't realize this is a business. It's not glamorous. It's work. You have to get up at 6:00 a.m. You have to stand for hours."
The women agree a preliminary set of photos didn't turn out well. But that's not unusual, Rojas says, pointing to a recent Perry Ellis advertisement featuring a Deco model: "It took six months of shoots to get it right."
A second photo session was scheduled, but Berge didn't make it. Then Rojas says she arranged a booking with a paying client, for which Berge also failed to show up.
Berge, who says she was dependent upon public transportation, cites trouble with the Metrorail for both missed appointments and notes she called Rojas to say she'd be late. (To the Metro-loving Bitch, that sounds lame.)
Rojas says she cannot recall the specifics of the missed booking, that she works with 50 to 100 models at a time, and this incident was more than two years ago. But she says her business depends on people showing up: "I cannot have a business if models do not show up for the castings. It makes you look bad. [Berge] didn't show up for a booking. The client was upset." Berge was fired.
Now Berge, who has returned to Florida's west coast, wants her money back. She has filed a complaint against Deco Models with the Better Business Bureau and claims to have located other would-bes with complaints similar to hers, though she declined to give their names to the nosy animal.
Rojas counters that the $750 agency registration fee is the industry norm for inexperienced models, recalling that Berge didn't even have enough money and that the agency agreed to accept $500 on the condition Berge would pay the rest later.
Rojas has operated the agency, whose clients include Verizon, Arizona Jeans, Levi's, and Perry Ellis, at 1874 West Ave. in Miami Beach since 1999. She maintains Berge signed a contract and knew the costs: "She agreed that she would pay. Bottom line: Summer wasn't mature. She flaked out. I can't work with her. I think she might be a little bit crazy."
Berge sniffs, "Deco has some pretty girls working for them, but they're not, you know, model pretty."
The agency owner says she's surprised Berge waited two years to complain, but is skeptical of the young woman's claims of naiveté. "When models say something, you can only believe one percent of what they say.... I hate to admit it," Rojas sighs.
Art Barely in America
At the Art Miami expo this past weekend, The Bitch was shocked in a nice, almost Stendhal-syndrome way to encounter the works of the powerhouse trio of women Surrealist painters Dorothea Tanning, Leonora Carrington, and Leonor Fini. The Italian-Argentine Fini she died in 1996 holds particular sway with The Bitch, who, as a puppy, was greatly inspired by Fini's paintings of powerful, destructive, passionate women with the features and fur of beasts.
The proprietor of Galerie Minsky in Paris, Arlette Souhami, spoke softly as the swooning hound stared, enthralled, at La Gouvernante. "There is no other way to describe her work but 'extraordinary,'" purred Souhami, a tawny, feline, compact, eminently Continental woman perfectly suited to curate one of the largest Fini collections in the world.
The distaff surrealists all had long, prolific careers Tanning, who is 92 years old, recently wrote a memoir for The New Yorker and many generations of admirers.
Shoppie Seconds made heads turn during its three-year stay at 2344 NE Second Ave., thanks to an inspired combination of a funny name and a crazy-quilt collection of eye-catching tchotchkes on proud, often outdoor, display. After the furniture warehouse's lease expired in August 2005, inspiration struck co-owner Mark Scharnitz.
"There was a little bodega next to the old Shoppie Seconds. People would always come in, go next door, and buy Cuban coffee or buy a beer, and then come back to my shop and sit down to talk and hang out. So I thought, Oh my God, I have something here! I can fuse the two together and have a café and a furniture store," he explains. Thus was created the Corner Muse Café (210 NE 18th St., Miami), a funky second-hand furniture store/eatery where just about everything is for sale.
Customers enter a bright, sunny space with lime green walls, and sit down for meals at miscellaneous pieces of furniture. Some tables are ornate dining room sets with straight-back chairs, some are low coffee tables nestled between plush easy chairs, and some are more unique, with mosaics made from pennies or marbles.
That kitschy stained-glass chandelier you were admiring while you sipped your freshly squeezed fruit juice can be yours if you ask the waitress to take it down for you.
The menu offers a growing selection of soups, salads, delicious sandwiches, and refreshing smoothies. The back room is chock full of unusual home décor and artwork. A lantern made from a tin washbasin hangs from the ceiling. African masks stare vacantly from the walls. A plush beige sectional sofa occupies the rest of the space.
Scharnitz plans to add comfortable, well-lit outdoor seating, and he dreams of an organic produce market taking over the side street on the weekends. Once the Corner Muse Café obtains its beer and wine license, an intimate bar area will be opened in the back room, and most of the clutter will be cleared out of Shoppie Seconds. So far, business has been good. Sort of.
Seated in the café with Scharnitz, The Bitch took a bite of her tofu burger and gazed out the window at a hooker meandering down the street in the blazing afternoon sun. The colorful entrepreneur was wearing a pink candy-striped miniskirt and high heels with socks. A teddy bear backpack dangled from her thin shoulders.
Scharnitz's experiences as a proprietor in one of Miami's most notorious havens for prostitutes and vagabonds have prepared him for strange encounters. "At the old Shoppie Seconds, I would give [the prostitutes] water and be nice to them. Now I'm like, 'No, you can't come in here.' People have tried to break in. Even the gym next door has been broken into. You would think they would put more lights up around here, with all the money the city is getting. It seems like it's getting worse. I've called the city and talked to whoever I can get a hold of," Scharnitz complains. "I'm kind of disappointed."
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Scharnitz sighs. "If you want to make this a residential, pedestrian place, with all these people coming in they want somewhere to walk, somewhere to go then put some more visible policemen out. Put more lighting out. And work with the small business owners to make it a better, safer community," he says. "But you know, so far, so good. There's new people all the time. I have a good product here, and business is spreading through word of mouth. We're definitely a diamond in the rough."
Meanwhile a bar-lounge-hangout with the extremely unfortunate name Bullfrog Eatz has opened at the former Shoppie site. The operation's overseer, who will identify himself only as Chef Jeremiah, promises, "We have a high-powered team of professionals working very diligently at turning a raw warehouse space into the new hangout for Wynwood." (The Bitch thinks this will be some feat, because the stealth eatery is not actually in the Wynwood Art District.)
Passersby may nonetheless be attracted by Bullfrog's nighttime wall projections of bootleg cartoons, Iron Chef reruns, and kung fu movies. Chef Jeremiah insists a full-service kitchen will be ready for a late-February grand opening, followed by the acquisition of a liquor license in April. For now, beer, wine, and snacks are served along with some grandiose ambitions.
"Our team consists of five resident DJs, local artists, and mural, print, sculpture, and mixed-media artists," Jeremiah adds. "And we are currently seeking local bands and musicians for our live venue."