The scene was supposed to be strictly bookish a recent Wednesday evening at the Luna Star Café. One of a series of literary salons the café (775 NE 125th St., North Miami) offers from time to time, the night was devoted to poetry and musical interludes. About 60 people packed into the coffeehouse-ish joint, crowding the little tables and clogging the bar. There was a textile riot: Pilled sweatshirts and frumpy cardigans mixed with elegant scarves, natty tweeds, a blazer or two, at least one pair of sunglasses, and one unsightly white fedora. The Bitch pressed herself invisible against a distinctly un-Algonquin-like Killian's Red advertisement.
Laura McDermott the big-boned Ashlee Simpson look-alike who organizes the readings buzzed around, apparently not quite hip enough for her own event. After reading an announcement for a local gay and lesbian film festival, she wondered, "What is GLBT?" Audience members tittered and explained the acronym Gay Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender. "Okay, well now I know," McDermott observed.
Conversation fell silent, and a few Chatterton-type boys leaned against a piano by the door, their arms crossed and eyes closed, as poet Campbell McGrath took the microphone. The author of the recently published collection Florida Poems waxed ugh! gag! about Bruce Springsteen, Seventies rock hits, playing in a band, and the Jewish summer camp he went to as a boy. The Bitch buried her nose in her paws when McGrath busted out words like historicity and phrases like propagandistic dualism, but otherwise nobly bore Mcgrath's meter.
One slightly preoccupied but hungry woman, lucky to have a seat, seemed more concerned with dribbling vinegar over her mixed greens.
Next up: Michael Hettich, an English professor at Miami Dade College, pulled his verse out of a crumpled Whole Foods grocery bag. The room sat in rapt attention, smiles and nods the counterpoint to Hettich's elegantly told childhood memory of feeding zoo seals. He played an electronic music-meets-poetry piece on a little boombox. One man toward the front shook his mop of gray hair without any apparent rhythmic concerns.
Later Hettich told The Bitch why he grabs every chance he can to read his poems: "It's almost like you're improvising something even though it's written on the page. You're making an argument that doesn't even make sense except through the music of it."
Then intriguing local composer and occasional Bitch brain teaser Gustavo Matamoros took the stage to perform a piece he wrote for the snare drum. Instead of using brushes or drumsticks, Matamoros held the drum's underside to his mouth every time he used the word right or write or rite or you get the point. The Venezuelan trilled his r's with an intensity that vibrated the drum and shook its snares. After a twenty-minute blizzard of rrrrrrrrr's, The Bitch was exhausted, and stepped outside to chat with Matamoros.
"There aren't many venues that would support this," he said of Luna Star, adding he'd like to see the city's bars and cafés embrace more experimental performances. Speaking of which, Matamoros said he's excited about a project he has planned for the Subtropics Music Festival in February. Together with Charles Recher, his partner in the wildly successful sound and light show at the Cars and Fish event at Art Basel, Matamoros will toy with hypersonic speakers. Although he wouldn't divulge much about the project, Matamoros said the speakers, which can beam sound with pinpoint accuracy, will make for an interesting aural happening.
The Bitch's favorite Spanish tutor is Sábado Gigante, the insanely popular, delightfully perplexing variety show en español. Recently gringos and gringas who have yearned to gain insight into the chaotic and ribald high jinks unfolding from their television sets have found hope in the form of a tall blond with hair straight out of a Pantene commercial. Aaron Hill, who came from Tampa and has lived in Miami for more than twenty years, began the gig as a guest star playing what else an American. For a little more than a year now, Hill has appeared in the show's most-beloved segment, "Cuarto para las Cuatro con la Cuatro," as Ronald Trumpet, a character who parodies comb-over king Donald Trump.
Seeing as Hill is a fan favorite and cast regular on a Spanish-language TV show aired in 42 countries every week, one might expect him to, y'know, speak the language. Alas, no.
"I'm just learning it now. I'm taking classes once a week," he says with an embarrassed laugh. Which leaves The Bitch wondering, How the hell does he read the scripts? "I've managed to pick up a lot of the words, and I comprehend a lot more now. It's a lot of physical comedy, so my timing has to be correct, and I have to know when they say something that I need to respond to. They gave me a couple of Spanish lines, but they usually keep it English," Hill explains.
Even before Sábado Gigante, Hill made a successful living as a personal trainer, often working at the posh Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort in Aventura. But his first love has always been acting, and after kicking around in bit parts on Miami Vice and in various advertising campaigns, he was bitten hard by the bug del sur. "I do embrace Latin culture, because if you're in Miami and you don't, you wind up out in left field," he says. Lucky for Hill, the Spanish-speaking community seems to love him.
"I was at Costco recently, and these two guys recognized me. They asked if I was on Sábado Gigante. I tried to talk to them, but they didn't speak a lot of English," he laughs. "I've been recognized in Publix too."
It fascinates The Bitch that this Aryan dream of a man has become a part of the international Latin scene, starring on a TV show listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest-running in the world.
"I think a lot of Americans might just click on the show because it's so visual, but if they had subtitles, I think they'd grab a huge American audience. It's a little racy for Americans, in terms of how the girls dress and the dancing ... but anyone who knows Latin culture knows that it's a little more ... flashy," he remarks.
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Besides the TV show and the personal training, Hill is also working on a book, The No-Diet Diet, which he hopes to sell to both English- and Spanish-speaking markets. "It's a lifestyle book, and it's very visual. I play with the influences of Latin and Caribbean foods that I've encountered. Even though I'm from Ohio, I've always been very adventurous with trying foods from different cultures," he says.
Jeez! The Bitch stares at Hill with eyes as large as saucers.
"I know, I know," he laughs. "How do I do all of this stuff, right? I guess I'm a good time manager." Learn more at www.aaronhill.tv.