Greatest Show on Earth
The first time I tried absinthe, I didn't feel compelled to hack off my ear. Nor did I see any green fairies. In fact the only things I remember are sugar, a lighter, a shot glass, and the booze hitting my lips. That's it. Well, that and the flush of a toilet right before I passed out in a bar bathroom in Prague.
Tonight I'm giving Absinthe another go, and this time I'm seeing some serious visuals — like a woman flying overhead, using only the back of her neck to hold onto the seat of a swing at Spiegelworld (Collins Park, 21st Street and Collins Avenue, Miami Beach), the world's most beautiful and bizarre nomadic nightclub/circus.
"That's nothing," Voki Kalfayan says with a snaky, jagged-toothed smile. "For three years I thought I was a monkey and living in Borneo."
Onstage he plays Spiegelworld's ringmaster, its Rajah of Raunch. He's called "the Gazillionaire."
It's 2 a.m., and we're sitting in one of the 15 wooden booths that line the stained-glass perimeter of the cozy 100-year-old Spiegeltent that is the show's home. It arrived in December following a stint at New York City's South Street Seaport. A mix between low-rent carny weirdness and $150-per-seat Cirque du Soleil, Absinthe ($69 general admission) and straight-up filthfest The Gazillionaire's Late Night Lounge ($25 general admission) have drawn big crowds. There's no counting clowns exiting a Volkswagen here. Instead you might watch a flower plucked from the junk of a dancer's Spandex pants, an aerial kick to the face, or a lap dance.
Or you might catch a glimpse of a cute, short-haired female audience member showing her nipple. The Gazillionaire actually talked the young lady into doing this as I watched — and that's what the crowd of about 70 is talking about as they stumble out of the small tent and into a starry night. Their faces, pink and warm from laughter, are soon fanned by the ocean's cool breeze. They're greeted by a live brass band, a midsession yoga class, and green Christmas lights.
Outside, a long silver bar serves up a mild form of absinthe, mixed with vodka and garnished with sugar cane on a stick. It's tempting, but I opt for champagne, since the only bathrooms available at Spiegelworld are the beach's public stalls. The Gazillionaire claims in a fast-paced, lounge lizard rasp he's high on a cocktail of crystal meth and baby powder. He drinks nothing.
He doesn't want to tell me exactly who he is or give me his real name, so I ask about his mustache. It's a pencil-drawn, Daliesque thing that looks something like a new breed of facial pubes.
"It's a very thin hair that I've glued and grown on to my face," he says proudly. "I have [someone] who actually does all my grooming. She's behind the scenes because she's pretty disgusting and has a broken hip. She also does other stuff really well too — stuff you wouldn't want to watch — but she's toothless, so that helps."
As we talk, an eclectic group of performers — acrobats, musicians, and tiny blond hula-hoopers extraordinaire — dashes across a circular stage located in the center of the burgundy tent. They all run in different directions yet share the same goofy look of an after-show high.
Just then, Penny, who plays the Gazillionaire's petite, squeaky-voiced sidekick, bursts through a curtain from backstage (where there's sand and a few trailers squeezed between beach showers) and skips across the stage. She's wearing an insanely short tutu that reveals the bottom half of two firm butt cheeks.
"Penny works really hard, and she's not very bright, but someday we'll toss her a bone," the Gazillionaire says.
I suggest that he'd like to, um, bone her.
"I don't think so — that's like shitting where you eat and all that. Or eating where I shit. Or work. Or shit and eat. Shit ...," he pauses and pops out the gold sequined lapel of his white blazer with his thumbs, "I don't eat shit.
"I mean, I've been around that area a couple of times and it's not necessarily appealing because there's those cling-on things around there and sometimes you might get a little taste.... I'd imagine it tastes like a melted ice cream cone dipped in a swamp and mixed together with piss and dirt and stuff like that."
Next, the beautiful olive-skinned Raphaelle Boitel comes sauntering our way. She has mastered the art of lying on her stomach and curling her legs over her head so her feet dangle in front of her face. Then comes the cross-dressing knife juggler, Nate Cooper.
"Hey, what do you guys think gives this show an edge over something like Cirque du Soleil?" I ask them.
"There's so many things that separate this from a Cirque show," says Cooper, his sweaty forehead glistening in the light of large orange bulbs. "There's level of production, high skill level, and capacity of the tent. Because of the size of the venue, we can afford to take lots of risks because we're right in your face."
The Gazillionaire, a former circus clown, adds, "I've been around for a long time, performing and doing stuff for Cirque du Soleil and Ringling Bros., shit like that. Then I got sick of doing big stuff and corporate crap because I want to appeal to people. PR says we're supposed to say, 'The Spiegeltent is so intimate' — but it's really true. The audience is all there, and pretty much, if you're in the audience, I will at least see you, whereas when you're at a lot of other shows, the audience is so dark or there's so many people you can't really see them. I want people to feel my sweat."
As Boitel and Cooper say their goodbyes and walk from the tent, the Gazillionaire stares longingly at the exit. He seems anxious and vulnerable, which makes him attractive.
"So what's you're idea of a perfect first date?" I ask.
"I like to get dirty on a first date, see where you can draw the line. Third, fourth date, anyone could do anything. First date you want to put caviar in your ass, eat it out, put a spiked collar on, act like a dog, and get beat like a little doggy."
Which, to me, sounds like the greatest show on Earth.
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