Over the course of too many long years in Miami, we have learned a vital survival skill: actually appreciating the disgusting as a local art form. Sometimes it's fun digusting, and sometimes its just plain disgusting, but whatever the case, the ability to revel in the offensive has allowed us to withstand repeated assaults in the land of bad taste.
The idea that we might have overstayed the aesthetic came to us recently in, of all places, Brazil, where we had gone to take in the 21st International Biennial of Sao Paulo. Urban Brazil is like Miami to the tenth power, layer upon layer of corruption, flash, and generally shabby behavior. But somehow it's colorful rather than merely squalid. Feeling right at home, we immediately ignored the art exposition and fell in with a group of international white trash.
Our epiphany about La Dolce Disgusting came late one night while drinking with our newfound best friends in the very opulent lobby of the Caesar Park Hotel. As it turned out, all the Biennial A-list culture types were staying there, from director-producer Ion Caramitru to dancer-singer Joel Greyto director Robert Wilson. Midway through an engrossing conversation about a local socialite's obsession over his butler, we looked up, saw the very intellectual Romanian director Andrei Serban - who'd staged the acclaimed Uma Trilogia Antiga the night before - and realized that we had little interest in anything that wasn't quick, stupid, and borderline sleazy. The cult of the disgusting had gone too far.
Aesthetic sensibilities honed to a precise edge - somewhere between nausea and delight - we returned home to find that Miami life suddenly seemed almost sensible, positively nondisgusting, not quite as juicy as before. At the Miami City Ballet opening party, September 26 at the Colonnade Hotel in Coral Gables, it was all good solid talk. The wit and accomplishment of Jimmy Gamonet De Los Heros's Tango Tonto. The fall of Southeast Bank, yet another tale of the excessive Eighties. The presence, sash and all, of the reigning Miss Florida, Sharon Belden, who conceded that, yes, life was uncannily like the Miss America pageant: "We don't have talent contests. What counts is beauty, poise, and personality."
At the Talent Times magazine party that Saturday night at the Ritz Plaza, a lot of young beauty - if not poise and personality - was in evidence, alongside a large contingent of middle-age men acting out their own hellish version of Death in Venice. Various hipster types talked about all the new entertainment possibilities on the Beach: the Media restaurant; the new tea dance at the Carolyn Hotel, debuting October 13; the tension between the talkative Wire cover boy and Torpedo co-owner Lee Schrager and Bobby Guilmartin of Hombre, reportedly resulting in copies of the paper being pulled from various businesses. Cafe society florist Israel Sands, of Flowers & Flowers, had a great opening line ("What a terrible party!") and another Dear-God-here's-the-Nineties lament: "No one has money and so there's no largesse any more. People can't afford to be nice any more."
Many of the young beauties, in true Eighties style, refused to submit to the indignity of being photographed by people who weren't paying them. All of the models who did agree to be witnessed by the press - Renay Arbour, Manonce Celestin, Jacinda Barrett, and Anya Smiley - were polite, good-looking, just down for the start of the season, and overly pleased by the party. But then, they were real young.
Even Warsaw, land of decadent visuals and homo high jinks, didn't have the same punch that particular weekend. For some inexplicable reason, we had wound up there three nights in a row (something no self-respecting gay person would ever do) and found it lacking - especially Monday morning at 4:30 a.m. The dancers wore thongs instead of their customary G-strings, and there were no artful tableaux of sexual abandonment. No off-duty police officers to goof around with. The mood had turned, well, very post-Eighties.
One of those legendary Warsaw sex-performance art shows would have turned things around: Stephanie Evans and her "Pussy Power" revue, entailing a trick where champagne is sucked up like a vacuum cleaner and then sprayed out fifteen feet over the crowd. Marilyn Melons and her 56-inch breasts. Lady Henesy Brown, and her hetero interpretation of fisting.
But according to remarkably nice and easy-going co-owner Leo Nunez those very acts - most specifically Lady Henesy's performance during the recent second-anniversary celebrations, had created a few problems: "What happened was, someone complained to the officers outside about her act and we were told by the police that we were violating the codes set down by the Miami Beach Code Enforcement Division.
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"With these novelty acts, sometimes you get more than you bargained for. This lesbian act called Slash and Trash was supposed to just do a dominatrix number, and then they got really going and they were like doing each other on-stage. We finally had to turn off the lights and pull them off each other.... The dancers have to wear expanded G-strings; the code says that the `anal cleft' has to be covered. Girls can wear regular G-strings, like at Club Nu, but not boys. Seems to be kind of a double standard.
"Now, I get this letter from Chief of Police Philip Huber: `Please be advised that this letter is to inform you that due to illegal narcotics sales on your property, all off-duty [police] employment is hereby immediately canceled. Continuation of illegal narcotics sales and use on your property may result in your property being brought before the Nuisance Abatement Board.' I'm just going to wait and see, and try to be helpful. Since we opened, we've done everything we can, according to the law and the guidelines of the Responsible Vendors program, to stop drug activity in the club.
"I don't know. Sometimes, when you look at the history - the Copa, Cheers, Torpedo, Eclipse - it seems like a lot of straight clubs with drug problems are missing from the list. I've had black clubs and Latin clubs - Strawberry's, the Forest teen disco in Hialeah - and I can tell you, drugs are just as prevalent in other kinds of clubs. I just hope it's not a total gay thing."
The whole gay thing, the whole drug thing, the whole odd amusement value of having a largely gay male clientele confront mondo femininity. That whole disgusting-fun disgusting question was ultimately summed up by the overwrought lunatic standing outside Le Loft, sometime before the break of dawn, screaming at an abusive friend: "I'll tell her because I don't care. Liz, you make me want to puke.