South Beach, and the curfew incident, the ultimate moratorium on pleasure, passes into legend. Suffering from the doubly painful withdrawal of being encouraged to limit phone use and not being able to drink during prime-time hours, one prominent local reportedly breaking down at Paragon: "What do you mean you're not serving liquor? For God's sakes, I'm an alcoholic." Nicky the Party Boy, having been escorted home by Miami Beach police during a search for edgy fun in the ruins, opting to join the gay masses and seek out the entertainment possibilities of Fort Lauderdale. Another Beach celebrity longing for the time when the district "felt like a real neighborhood again," adding that "most people here want to pull up the bridges to the mainland anyway." The town, all in all, even more claustrophobic than usual.

Fleeing the Beach, one vast, nightmarish Tropic of Cancer, seeking out other entertainment venues. Treating hipster translator, Claudia Tapia, to dinner at Giacosa restaurant in Coral Gables, all hovering waiters, tasteful earth tones, scenes of old Italy. Unbelievable food, porcini mushrooms the size of steaks, stuffed veal chops oozing mozzarella and calories. Our fellow diners a collection of high protestants ("Oh look, there's mother") and Latin faux WASPs, lots of Clark Clifford types. At a certain time in our life, the whole scene would have filled us with righteous umbrage, being just another symbol of bourgeois-pig life. Now it all seems exactly right, really quite agreeable. Claudia, a tad out of synch in black club clothes, marveling at the breakdown of class barriers in the ladies room: "Some women actually asked me if I had any floss." Primed with red wine and a sudden nostalgia for the summer of love, regaling a captive audience with tales of actually witnessing Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, shortly before both legends had the good sense to leave behind a young, good-looking, eternally famous corpse. Claudia raving about slightly more alive musicians, the newest bleeding-chancre post-apocalypse garage band, interjecting a thought-provoking comment: "Hey, let's break for a reality check -- I was born in 1970." The last year, it might be noted, that we enjoyed life as a viable human being.

Time's winged chariot hurrying near, but pushing on anyway to real Miami central, Calle Ocho. The neon parade of bad taste and nonstop declarations of I-gotta-be-Cubanissima, past the El Dorado furniture store, the Exquisito Cafeteria, lots of el brillante dinero at the Latin Joyeria and credito facil at the Crazy USA store. A pit stop at the very weird El Meson Espanol Night Club, a wide-screen television set squarely in the middle of the stage, a Ricardo Montalban infomercial beaming out. Behind the bar, a shrine to Santa Barbara, with offerings of fruit, flowers, and a bottle of Mouton Cadet. Across the street to Centro Vasco, catching the last show of flamboyant flamenco dancer/singer/comedian Juan Pacheco, "Cacharrito de Malaga." The lounge an homage to the Spanish love of perversity and the legend of "Cacharrito," whose stage name roughly translates as "a broken down old car." A mural of old Malaga, a proclamation from Metro-Dade Mayor Steve Clark, oil paintings of the star looking sensitive and pensive, publicity photos taken with the late Alex Haley, Rita Moreno, Nelson Ned, and the one-name Latin universe -- Raphael, Julio, Gloria.

A warm-up act of two female dancers tapping around the stage, the hardest-working man in show business emerging to wild applause. Wearing one of his trademark outlandish outfits -- a red-and-white polka dot toreador-cut suit with flared disco pants, accented by stupendously tall platform shoes in the same color scheme, dripping bracelets and a vest with sequin strips -- the man, the legend, proving to be in fine shape and full of spite, piss, and vinegar. A real star. Launching into a parody of the Spanish ballad, "La Barca," a provocative opening line ("So, you came all this way to see a maricon show") and then a series of muy comico stories. The two Cubans making a sport of bumping into big behinds on the bus ("She feels it"), letting their manhood erupt. The groom on his wedding night, complaining about mysterious fish odors, begging his bride to put that thing in deep freeze. Some playful testing of sexual boundaries ("Oh, he's cute, Senora ...okay, okay, you saw him first") and a few Don Rickles-style insults: "Don't act like you're at home -- this is the most elegant place in Miami." A nod to his fellow superstars ("I respect Julio and Raphael as fellow artists and close personal friends, but come on, they're selling perfume while I'm still working") and glamour leaves the stage. A great show, and well worth the trip.

Downtown to the atmosphere-clogged, positively Casablanca-esque J.J.'s Bar Club on South Miami Avenue, Latin sociopolitical central. Two stray dogs wandering in and out, decor elements from the bar's previous incarnation as a working-man's sandwich shop -- Pabst Blue Ribbon signs, prints of dogs peeing like drunken Irishmen -- vying with newer stylistic elements, renderings of Elvis and Jose Marti. Through some happy misunderstanding, the patrons once again assume we're with the New York Times, and it's our duty to tell the world about the plight of the Cuban exile community. Patron Jorge Posado, full of the real story: "We are a little zoo here -- professionals, artists, poets, homosexuals -- looking for our roots, talking shit and gossiping. This place is an obligatory stop for everyone from Cuba; they can't believe the freedom here. Don't confuse Miami with a tropical Washington, with Vanessa Redgrave. This is not a cabaret."

Remarkable cabaret-like qualities, though, the carnival encompassing a rather attractive exile in a Pucci miniskirt, urgent dark whisperings, and a series of quick encounters. Painter Arturo Cuenca, very trendy in shorts and black nerd glasses. The poet Andres Puig, and another painter, Jesse Rios. Gisela Hidalgo from the Human Rights Commission. Dancing in the aisles to the wonderful La Pupila Insomne ("The Sleepless Pupils"), lead guitarist Carlos Garcia explaining the folklore: "This is pre-salsa, music for the public, son rhythms and la nueva trova lyrics: some politics, some folk." The band's repertoire also encompassing Beatles and Gipsy Kings medleys, all of it absolutely irresistable. And then it's off to more familiar, albeit less compelling, turf.

Sliding back gently into South Beach, where the inhabitants devote themselves to pleasure with the single-mindedness of heat-seeking missles, for an evening of jazz at The Music Room on Ocean Drive. Kind of an old Sempers look: costume displays, orange velvet drapes, oak paneling, a solitary crystal ball. The room full of nice people, tourists and jazz buffs, bopping along to the Arthur Barron Ensemble. Barron, a pioneer district developer involved with the Tropics International hotel, now living out Birth of the Cool full-time, about to release an album called Lost in the Shuffle. The band tearing into "Footprints" and other classics, marred somewhat by a drunk English tourist hectoring the blind piano player in the middle of the set: "What are you doing the rest of the night?" Afterward, Barron radiating the consolation of philosophy: "This place has always been a playground for speculators. I'm not a player, a roller any more, but now I'm into music -- not money. I've got two lawsuits going with the hotel, but to tell you the truth, I just don't give a fuck any more.


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