Swelter 50

Proto-reality, the high-concept world of television, as alluring, addictive, and curiously entrancing as clubs, the inevitable distancing of the cool medium making the alternating anxiety and boredom of nightlife slightly more palatable, and somehow more real than actually being there. Visions of pitch meetings, lucrative guest appearances on infomercials, starlet sex, and mindless glamour dancing in our head like sugarplum fairies, coming with an offer from free-lance producer/cameraman Marc Siegal to put together a video version of a nightlife column, suitable for local television news. Our very own movie-of-the week: all the fun of going out without the drudgery of writing, an idea whose time has definitely come.

In the very recent, slightly more standard-conscious past, the relentless superficiality of visiting film crews tended to evoke tirades about the angst and anomie of Miami, our unconsciousness leaking unattractively, the perniciousness of a commodified sound-bite-culture town trivialized by the world media. Now, … la Howard Stern, we induce club rats to reveal their most intimate tattoos, ask the important, vital, work-of-the-nation-goes-on questions ("How do you stay so fabulous?") and find that no one is particularly offended by rapacious cameras and moronic chitchat. In fact, even the turgid come alive under the unconditional love of the lights, their personalities crystallized to perfection, suddenly witty and personable, willing to disembowel themselves for the higher good of TV. If only the whole city could be lit up and turned into one big variety hour.

Lights, cameras, and a semblance of action coming to various outposts of civilization. Martini Club, Tara Solomon's Tuesday-night party at Barocco Beach, and it's showtime, snarly drag queens breezing by ("What business are you in?"), club kittens ready for their fifteen seconds of fame. One lost girl unveiling a cupid tattoo on a tasty flank ("It's loving, it's spiritual, it's me...") another reveling in the great life: "I got my nose pierced today, went shopping, and got laid. I'm in a good mood." Tara on target, Israel Sands of Flowers & Flowers philosophical and funny, working the charm patrol: "There's a power thing involved in going out late, showing up somewhere at 1:00 a.m. It's a mark of being bohemian: you're either rich enough or unemployed enough to do what you want.... Do you know why people on South Beach smile when there's lightning? They think God is taking their picture."

Smiling, less than Godlike, faces at Cassis later that night, everyone drawn to the lights like Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, moths to a warming flame. On to assorted clubs, swept up in the self-deluded glamour of it all, what with a club owner offering us a shot at our own one-nighter (the phrase "Everyone Pays" immediately comes to mind), we find ourselves actually snapping our fingers at somebody, ignoring the cardinal rule of life: attitude goeth before a fall. Still in development hell, but already an asshole.

Boxing night at Club One, great Damon Runyon/Requiem For a Heavyweight visuals, somehow managing to remain polite in a testosterone-charged atmosphere. Card girls in fishnet stockings announcing the rounds to cheesy cat calls, black mock-gangsters with submachine gun-shaped gold pendants, awash in malt liquor and fan talk: "That boy's got no technique whatsoever; take his ass back to school." Latin fighters with crosses tattooed on their chests cheered by entire families, entranced children taking in real life, as opposed to televised violence. Santander "Raw Deal" Lewis finally getting a break and handily whipping his opponent, thanking his support team in a postfight interview, the Cuban flag waving victoriously across the ring. Owner David Giles talking on camera about the "street level" but surprisingly problem-free audience A moments before a huge fight erupts in the audience, ending with a man whacking some woman over the head with an umbrella. The announcer ignoring the unscheduled entertainments, Giles drily noting that the episode "certainly added a little flavor to the night."

The much-ballyhooed rave Divine Playground at Bayfront Park and the kids are all right and full of flavor, sporting "Ren & Stimpy" T-shirts, Kriss Kross leisure wear, and Malcolm X caps. A new Woodstock for the X generation, the pilgrims eating hot dogs, buying trinkets, getting dopey with Ecstasy and shaking off the all-too-official trappings of the event. A great setting for a tribal rite, though, an oasis in the towering wilderness of downtown, the park's laser pulsating in time to dueling force fields of noise. Singer Morris Day, oddly enough, acting as host for an ABC documentary with an eager throng of the curfew crowd clustered around a virtual reality machine. Struck by a sudden nostalgia for pinball machines, old enough to have fathered the MTV generation, we nevertheless strap ourselves in for the Tron tour and promptly fail virtual reality, firing blindly in a maze of absurd techno-wizardry and looking foolish, just like math class in high school. Defeated by cyber-youth, the machine chanting away "Awaiting opponent," the evil beasts actually capable now, apparently, of being programmed with promotional materials. Enter the world of Pepsi, take the challenge, live that commercial.

Plenty of commercialism, among friends and opponents, elsewhere as well. A Ross Bleckner exhibition opening at the Jason Rubell Gallery, Aqua reeling from an already-legendary tea dance, and the blessedly quiet Blue Star restaurant, a joint effort of executive chef Kerry Simon, Kenny Zarrilli, and Warren Coulter, debuting in the lobby of the Raleigh Hotel. On an irate note, a promotionally minded lawyer for the original Gipsy Kings, Alex Hartnett, not pleased with the billing given to Chico and the Gipsy Kings, playing Van Dome, BANG, and Calle Ocho in a recent whirlwind tour: "The real Gipsys are still playing venues like Radio City Music Hall. Chico was one of seven guitarists in the original Gipsy Kings, but none of his other band members played with them. They can call themselves whatever the fuck they want, but not 'the original Gipsy Kings.'"

Winding down the week with a Gipsy-less but jumping Sunday-night party at BANG, the festivities blurring into a mad frenzy, a TV child with a "We are all prostitutes" button moaning quietly: "I don't want to be around in twenty years. The world's so ugly now, nothing but trash." Suddenly the electronic world, the order, the manageable melodrama of clear-cut foes, the neat resolutions of virtual reality, seeming very compelling. Living in the world of abstraction taking its toll, but then, as Dr. Johnson observed, "To become a monster is to rid yourself of the pain of being human.

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Tom Austin