In a state of unharmonic convergence possible perhaps only in Miami Beach, the promotional tour for Yehuda Berg's The Red String Book: The Power of Protection brought its Kabbalistic babble to the China Grill (a.k.a. The Forge with windows) on Ash Wednesday. Hilarity ensued.
A crowd undoubtedly attracted by the names of Ingrid Casares, Tommy Pooch, and Alan Roth on the invite rather than the search for spiritual tranquility gulped cheap wine and milled around through a haze of Aquanet and soy sauce smoke. Many of the Catholics in the crowd seemed compelled to represent, sporting on their foreheads suspiciously pristine blotches of charred palm from morning mass, while yarmulke-and-wig-wearing Orthodox Jews made their own stand, trying to reclaim the once-mystical mood of the Kabbalah from the clutches of new-age aphorism-spouters.
The book itself espouses the same sort of justification for greed and callousness once the province of some born-again congregations, about how there are no victims, only people who choose to be victims (i.e. losers), and how to avoid the evil eye of unattractiveness, a small house, and a three-year-old car by wearing a red wool string tied to the left wrist.
Even people who believed seemed confused, somehow, about what they believed. Though the book says that Kabbalah is not a religion, one man proclaimed to The Bitch: "I'm a Gentile, but I'm also a Kabbalah practitioner. It's really working for my wife and me. We're going to convert to a Halal diet." Huh?
Another fellow offered a less muddled reason for his presence at the book reception. "I'm gay, and I wanted to go to a gay bar during the Super Bowl and watch the commercials," he complained. "Instead I had to go to a straight wedding and the bride was a real sourpuss. So tonight I just want to drink for free."
Speaking of drinking, the bottles of Madonna-merchandised Kabbalah bottled water handed to guests must've been a good vintage, or something: They were stamped with an expiration date of September 2002.
Not So Fast
Since it is Lent, The Bitch has given up all her vices for the appropriate period of time. All except one: coffee. Fortunately, a small but cool coffee shop has opened to address this need in the 1500 block of Washington Avenue on Miami Beach. Iván Teran Casabianca, Carla Alejandra López, and Luigino Cornielles, who run Cafetto, were, respectively, a dentist, a psychotherapist, and an electrical engineer in their native Venezuela, but the trio decided to try something totally new for their first adventure in Florida. Cornielles says he thinks people are ready for an independent, non-chain affiliated hangout that offers old-school coffee shop accoutrements such as chessboards and stuff to read.
"We just want to offer a really good coffee blend, prepared as it should be, in a öwant to stay here' place," says Cornielles.
A Great Disturbance in the Force, Continued
The Bitch admits she has not of late been performing diligently in her self-appointed role as the personal Savonarola of Public Radio Station WLRN-FM (91.3). The reason for this is, at least partially, the station's unpredictable unlistenableness during daylight hours, especially on the weekends. On Saturdays and Sundays it used to be that a dog could count on a few regular media morsels from Ira Glass or Mo Rocca and just shut the radio off during the unbearable, but scheduled and thus avoidable, Prairie Home Companion, Car Talk, and Folk & Acoustic Music Show.
But when WLRN added three blandly interchangeable programs to its weekend lineup this past November -- What D'Ya Know with Michael Feldman, Weekend America, and The Next Big Thing, it introduced the random terror element of scattered blasts of folk music broadcast sporadically through each of these programs. Not that WLRN isn't the perfect place for the personal soundtracks of those determined to get jiggy with the left-leaning do-gooder movement so aptly skewered, oddly enough, in the song "Easy to Be Hard" from the musical Hair. It's just that so few members of the station's potential public audience are actually served by the hysterical self-righteousness of Iris DeMent or fond recollections of (absentee father, overweight, drug-addicted) Jerry Garcia.
But as The Bitch spends more and more time listening to Internet radio, WLRN's wonderfully outspoken traffic director Kevin "Ital-K" Smith soldiers on, defending, among other things, his status as heir apparent to Sounds of the Caribbean. Smith is down to an on-air presence of one show a week.
"I'm on the air only on a Thursday night, Friday morning. The remaining four nights have been given to David Reuter and Jeanette Drew, who are not as experienced as I am. As far as I'm concerned, it's an effort to diminish the program, and disrespect Clint O'Neil's legacy," Smith explains. O'Neil, whose Sounds of the Caribbean show aired for more than twenty years, died in October 2004.
The Bitch asked Ital-K what O'Neil would have wanted to see happen with the program.
"Clint made it very clear to them, and he made it clear to the public, that he would want me to continue in his absence. He made that adamantly clear before he passed," stressed Smith. "But neither [radio station manager] Ted Eldredge nor John LaBonia, the general manager, will say a word to me."
"You work together and they won't speak to you?" The Bitch wondered. "When you see each other in the hallway, what's that like?"
"Just like two strangers passing in the dark. It's not a comfortable work relationship at all," he grumbled.
Ital-K's disenfranchisement strikes a bitter chord with loyal Sounds listeners, who use the call-in time on his 1:00 to 5:00 a.m. show to air their gripes with WLRN's lack of diverse, locally oriented programming.
"Let me put it to you this way," Smith said. "Every Thursday morning into Friday, my show -- the whole four hours -- is full of very frustrated listeners. I take nothing but complaints. It's very hard to do a positive show and remain positive on the air when there's so much negativity out there."
The station's ever-helpful communications manager Jeneissy Azcuy reports the opposite: "We have not received any criticism from listeners of Sounds of the Caribbean."
Azcuy wouldn't comment on Smith's tenuous hold on his show's slot, and when confronted with The Bitch's direct question: "Does the station have any plans to increase local programming to serve the Hispanic and Caribbean communities?" she offered the following remarkable logic: "By offering our listeners news and information we are serving all communities, Hispanic and Caribbean included."
Back in November (which was the last time the radio station manager would speak with The Bitch), Ted Eldredge said: "The management and staff of WLRN has spent a great deal of time in discussion looking at various alternatives before final decisions were made about what shows to put on the air, and when to broadcast them."
Eldredge wouldn't return The Bitch's calls this past week regarding his plans for the station in general and Smith in particular, leaving Smith to speculate in the following manner:
"The objective is to turn WLRN from a noncommercial format into a for-profit station, and to change the format from representing the diverse nature that we have here into one that just caters to the affluent segment of South Florida, period. Black people don't exist. Spanish people either. Currently, if you look at WLRN's radio line-up, there is not one minute out of the seven day, twenty-four hour programming that is devoted to the Hispanic community here. Not one minute. Whatever ethnic program they have here, they want to get rid of it. WLRN's current management has lost complete touch with our community. We do not serve our community in any way, shape, or form."
Fight Back with Fashion: The First Thrilling Episode
In a city rife with mandals, tank tops, backward-turned baseball caps, and faux Kangol berets, it is terribly vexing to The Bitch that it was Jorge Ramirez who was arrested for his fashion sense. This past January 11, two Miami Beach police officers on routine patrol stopped the 29-year-old, who moved here recently from New Jersey, while he was shopping on 74th Street. His crime? Wearing a black T-shirt with the word "POLICE" in white letters on the front and back.
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"When stopped the defendant stated the shirt was just as a joke," reads the arrest report. Though this type of humor is common in Passaic, the cops were not amused, and charged Ramirez with "unlawful use of police equipment." Ramirez declined comment.
Not Looking Up
A Discovery Channel special called Planet Storm explores what would happen if weather patterns on other planets occurred on Earth, a subject that occupies a strangely large place in The Bitch's imagination. So she was delighted to discover that one scenario on the program involved Jupiter's giant red spot pulverizing Miami-Dade County. A three-dimensional, computer-generated sequence showed a lone security guard walking through the Bank of America building (the one downtown designed by I.M. Pei that lights up in different colors). The sky turns red and in seconds, hot, swirling 700 mph winds rip through the building, sending the toy cop flying along with glass, shrapnel, and Metromover cars. Everything in southern Florida is pulverized. It's the best!
The real news site, spaceweather.com, reports that asteroid 2004 MN4 will come very close to Earth, according to new radar measurements by NASA and NAIC scientists. Skywatchers will be able to see the 300 meter-wide space rock glowing as it passes only about 9000 miles above our planet's surface. There's no danger of a collision, though. This will take place on April 13, 2029. Mark your calendars!