Ass Good As It Gets

When the Beastie Boys asked, "Professor, what's another word for pirate's treasure?" artist Daniel Fila knew the answer: booty.

Early this past December, when thousands of collectors, curators, and critics descended on Miami for Art Basel, more than just the creations housed within the walls of galleries and the Miami Beach Convention Center welcomed them. Booty called to them from NE 37th Street and 2nd Avenue.

"I wasn't really thinking about Art Basel as much as I was looking for a good wall," says Fila about the expanse he spray-painted and then dubbed Erin, after a college crush. Set back about 100 feet from Biscayne Boulevard and visible to passersby, Erin was a thirteen-foot-tall naked woman viewed from behind, a very ample behind that distracted from a hint of pudendum. Miami native Fila, a former graffiti artist turned commercial illustrator, had the backup of the building's owner, architect Chad Oppenheim, best known as the design mind behind many of South Florida's built and soon-to-be-built loft projects.

Tanned and softly glowing Erin, her blond hair neatly rolled into a bun, was a sort of 21st-century Venus, arising gracefully from a grassy knoll in front of the wall. Erin earned many accolades and nary a bum rap during her expo, according to Fila.

"You didn't see anything from the road," Fila says. "You could see that it was a bare ass but you couldn't see anything else until you would go in front of that hill ... it was pretty well covered. There was no playground where kids were going to be. I didn't see any problem."

Someone else, though, needed to check their head. According to Oppenheim, on Friday, March 19, a woman stormed into his office and complained that she drove along Biscayne Boulevard with her children each day and the image offended her. Sure enough, by Monday morning, March 22, the mural had been buffed, in graffiti lingo, or obscured. Done in by a roller and a few coats of paint, Erin was now a big white blotch.

"I was waiting for something to happen like that," Oppenheim says in hindsight. "I'm surprised it lasted as long as it did." Fila was less sanguine about the work's fate. "What's ironic to me, it was treated like it was graffiti," he marvels. "But it wasn't. Graffiti is not legal and that was legal. What they did was illegal, erasing it."

But who is at the bottom of Erin's eradication? Vandals? A rival artist? The county's team of Graffiti Busters? Neither Fila nor Oppenheim knows. Officials from the city's Upper East Side Neighborhood Enhancement Team (NET) office deny any responsibility for the mural's disappearance, claiming that graffiti is removed only at the behest of a building's owner on private property and at each NET office's discretion on a public right of way.

No one has reported the incident to the police. Oppenheim is busy designing buildings. Fila is making new art and recovering from getting spanked by an unknown hater. "My fear is this is going to keep happening all over again," he says. "It's like I'm legit now, what's the problem? It definitely feels like I'm being muzzled, like I can't express myself freely."

Express himself he will, although maybe not with another Erin, who can still be seen in a smaller format by acquiring one of Fila's $300 limited-edition (of 50) giclée prints.

Oppenheim and Fila are considering embellishing the long white wall with something new, a piece they hope will be somehow above destruction. Giraffiti? It just might be, Fila says, "beyond graffiti."

Meanwhile a small drawing of a chirping bird, which Oppenheim likens to "a penguin," has recently appeared on the wall's south end. It is not Fila's work, and Oppenheim didn't commission whoever put it there. Nevertheless he doesn't plan on having it removed anytime soon.

Those religious zealots from Miami's Christian Family Coalition, led by the medieval Anthony Verdugo and the excitable Eladio José Armesto, are at it again. It seems the CFC, which parted ways with the Christian Coalition of Florida in 2003, is still having trouble collecting cash in the fight against the great "homosexualist conspiracy."

Last November, when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that gays have the right to marry under the state's constitution, the CFC cranked up and sent out a plea for $25 donations from Christian brothers and sisters. The money, the electronic missive read, would "save the sanctity of marriage in America!"

Now the CFC is begging for more moola to help defeat a Florida House bill that would address student discrimination and harassment in public schools. The latest e-mail warns readers against Equality Florida, one of several nonprofit groups supporting the bill, and its contingent of 100 "homosexual" students who visited Tallahassee to lobby legislators into passing the proposed law, which the CFC claims will "force kindergarten children to take homosexual and transsexual sensitive classes."

"If everyone receiving this appeal makes an EMERGENCY DONATION of at least $25, we will be able to defeat this homosexual indoctrination bill," the e-mail reads.

Bianca Mejia, sixteen, a tenth-grader at North Miami's Krop Senior High, says the CFC is "wack" because the group is validating all forms of discrimination in public schools. "They are sacrificing student safety to support their own bigotry," opines Mejia, a lesbian and one of the 100 straight and gay students who flew up to Tally last week.

Of course the CFC doesn't say how the $25 donations will help defeat the bill. Maybe Verdugo and Armesto plan to use the money for their own gay sensitivity classes. Who knows. Neither man returned messages left at the CFC's office phone number.

In the City of Mia-muh!, the so-called Gateway to the Americas, it is illegal for hard-working immigrant waitresses to engage in conversation with their sloshed customers. So says the city's ordinance 4-4, section 4-4: "It shall be unlawful for employees or entertainers in places dispensing alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises to mingle or fraternize with the customers or patrons of such establishment."

Miami's police department enthusiastically enforces this law in select areas, such as Little Havana and Allapattah, where the cops have been cracking down on low-rent cafeterías that allegedly double as houses of ill repute, gambling dens, and dope holes for immigrants hailing from Central and South America. Scores of camareras have been busted for engaging in unauthorized speech, civil rights be damned.

However, Miami Five-O may have busted the wrong Peruvian during a recent raid. Betty Fernandez, 24, claims she was falsely arrested on the evening of January 10 at Tú Rincon Latino at 2200 NW 28th St. in Allapattah. According to her arrest report, Fernandez was booked on one count of violating the city's no-conversation law. Fernandez says the cops messed up. "I have never worked there," she says. "I was there to watch my boyfriend play in a pool tournament and have some fun."

Fernandez says her boyfriend was asked to move his car so another patron could leave. As she waited for him to return, about ten cops dressed in black bum-rushed Tú Rincon Latino. "Next thing I know, the cops are asking me for identification, asking me if I worked there," Fernandez continues. "I said no. But ... another officer cuffed me and told me I was being arrested."

After spending the night in jail, she hired North Miami Beach criminal defense lawyer James Rubin, who says that not only did Miami cops wrongly arrest Fernandez, but the city's archaic ordinance violates the right to free speech. He seeks to have the charges against Fernandez dismissed on the grounds that the law is unconstitutional. "Under the ordinance, you can shill food and drinks, but you can't talk to the customer about the upcoming presidential election or anything else," Rubin explains. "You also don't see the city busting the dancers at that strip club Goldrush in downtown Miami for mingling with the customers. It's a discriminatory law."

Hialeah Housing Authority executive director Alex Morales claims he canned family self-sufficiency coordinator Miriam Valladares because she refused to stop talking smack to her co-worker Yvette Rosario. Coincidentally, the apparently loquacious Valladares's dismissal came right after she blabbed to a private investigator probing alleged absentee-voter fraud and other misconduct involving HHA employees, including Morales, during the city's municipal elections last November.

According to a whistleblower complaint she filed against the HHA and Morales, Valladares, 54, told the P.I. that the executive director worked constantly on the campaigns of the incumbent city councilmen in the weeks preceding the election when he should have been on housing-authority business. She also alleges that Morales asked her and other employees to do campaign work while on the city's clock.

In sworn depositions taken in March by Valladares's attorney Michael Pizzi, social services director David Bustamante, general counsel Alicia Robles, and administration director José Martinez revealed that Valladares was an "exceptional" and "above-average" employee who was never given a written reprimand. Her only problem, they all testified, is that she didn't know when to keep her mouth shut.

Robles, who helped Martinez prepare Valladares's termination letter, attested to finding nothing in her personnel file that warranted firing the former employee. "Why are we terminating her?" Robles said she asked Martinez.

In June of 2002, Florida International University's president Modesto "Mitch" Maidique was presented with a special recognition award from the Arts and Business Council of Miami for dramatically increasing FIU's cultural profile. Among other things, Maidique had presided over the university's acquisition of the Miami Film Festival and the Wolfsonian Museum on South Beach, and the establishment of FIU's music school as a premier institution. The school of music had undergone an especially impressive ascendancy since the mid-Nineties, when Maidique hired Fredrick Kaufman away from the Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts and built the $14 million Wertheim Performing Arts Center.

One of the linchpins of the music school's reputation was the Miami String Quartet. The group started in 1988 at the New World School of the Arts and has received international acclaim -- and awards -- for its performing acumen and recordings. They moved to FIU in 1996 and became ambassadors of high culture for the university and the city.

Fast forward to the present, and FIU's arts reputation has been dealt major blows. The film festival is gone entirely after a disastrous run at FIU, including the loss of $500,000 in 2003. Fredrick Kaufman will be resigning as director this year. And the Miami String Quartet is packing up viola, cello, and both violins, and moving to ... Ohio? "Ever since our inception we've always been busier outside Miami than inside it," says cellist Keith Robinson. Robinson denies a decline in FIU's cultural prestige, and says all the things a nice guy says when he leaves a job: "The university always treated us great." He also calls Kaufman's decision a coincidence. (Kaufman was out of town and unavailable for comment.)

Kent State was elated to get their hands on the quartet. "This is easily a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our university," says Jerome LaCorte, director Kent/Blossom Music, Kent State's annual festival and music school. "I was surprised to learn they were leaving Miami, without a doubt. It's rare enough to get a single teacher of such high-caliber performing and teaching ability, let alone four."

The quartet will become full-time artists in residence at Kent State this fall, bringing a prominence that LaCorte expects will help the university recruit top-tier musicians. "They're certainly one of the top four or five young to middle-aged quartets in the world," he says.

Got your Sissel tickets? Didn't think so.

As if the demotion of long-time Morning Edition voice Bob Edwards, the double-barrel weekend assault of A Prairie Home Companion, and the co-opting of the station's alleged reporting staff by Harold news readers were not motive enough to tear up the donation check to WLRN-FM (91.3), National Public Radio local affiliate, the station's recent spate of grating promo spots is.

Listeners lately have been forced to endure the aural spectacle of folk and acoustic music show host Michael Stock doing a breathless jig (referencing Riverdance, not Antonioni) in a plug for his program, and an endlessly airing, painfully perky pitch for Carmen Pelaez's one-woman show, Rum and Coke ("refreshing and delicioso!").

Nothing, however, quite matches the sonic terror caused by any of several WLRN house ads for an upcoming performance by "Norwegian singer/songstress Sissel. " An early version of the ad trumpeted that the May 4 concert in Fort Lauderdale would be Sissel's first "members only" benefit concert, failing to note that the beneficiary was WLRN. For $180, donors get a pair of tickets and the new Sissel CD My Heart. (Though Sissel's vocals are featured in the movie Titanic, her style more resembles a Scandinavian Enya than Celine Dion of the fjords.)

Dan Nelson, WLRN's pledge producer, says the irrepressible voice who has been hissing "Sissel!" over the airwaves for the past months is a professional ad-reader from a talent agency, not a member of the WLRN on-air staff.

Nelson adds that South Floridians seem less taken with Sissel than other supporters in her multicity, PBS-affiliated tour, with many tickets still unsold for the 600-seat theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. "Every other station has done incredibly well with her," says Nelson. "I'm talking about selling out 2000-seat halls in a matter of hours."

Nelson says he expects the station's upcoming pledge drive to increase the glacial pace of ticket sales, and notes, "I think there's so much stuff to do in Miami, people aren't really paying attention."

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