SOUTH BEACH HANGOVER GIRL
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
“Oh, oh,” the girl moaned, “I’m so sick, I’m dying, I’m dying” the girl uttered under her breath after she entered Manuel’s South Beach Internet Café. Things are black.”
“Here, sit down,” said Manuel, taking her gently by the arm and guiding her towards his own reclining chair in the rear of the cafe. She staggered slightly, and sat down on the ottoman in front of it instead.
“Oh,” she moaned again, putting her elbows on her knees and her face between her hands, “I’m going to die. I can’t breathe.”
“You can’t breathe?” Manuel asked.
“I’m having trouble, trouble breathing….” I noticed she was sweating slightly.
“Do you want me to call the emergency service?” Manuel asked.
“Yes, please, I’m so sick, please.”
“Okay.” Manuel picked up the phone and punched in the numbers.
“Have you eaten something?” I asked.
“You haven’t eaten anything today?”
“Did you eat yesterday?”
“I had breakfast, a roll.”
“Have you been drinking or taking any drugs?”
“I was drinking. last night. I think somebody, somebody poisoned me. Now I’m going, going to die,” she panted – her breathing was shallow.
“You’re not going to die. You will be all right, so don’t be afraid, there is no reason to panic. Take deep breaths.”
“The emergency service is coming,” Manuel said. “I’ll get you some water.”
“No, I can’t drink, it hurts when I drink. Oh….”
She proceeded to curl up in a fetal position on the ottoman. Manuel helped her get up and onto the reclining chair, and then he went outside to direct the emergency service when it arrived.
“It’s going to be okay, so don’t you worry. You look like you have what I had a couple of times and did not know what it was,” I offered.
She turned her head and looked at me with questioning eyes.
“Yeah, I had a couple of margaritas in Waikiki on an empty stomach, thought I should have something to eat so went to a hamburger place, but as I was standing in line I started feeling weak, things went black, I fell over backwards, hit my head on the floor and was knocked out.”
The girl’s eyes continued to beg askance of me.
“The police were called. They thought I was drunk so they put me in a booth, slapped me in the face a couple of times. I came to, managed to get around the corner and into my apartment, where a friend found me in a coma a day later, so I was taken to the hospital.”
“They’ll be here soon,” Manuel announced from the front door – we could hear the sirens.
“I was referred to the neurologist who had treated an astronaut for a concussion after the spaceman fell down in the bath tub. He told me about low blood sugar. I think that is what you have, from drinking and not eating because you’re not used to doing that. It’s important not to panic, not to try to stand up and go somewhere, because that is what I did the next time, and fell over again, this time in the bathroom. I fell under the urinals but nobody helped me, and they just peed over me.”
My depiction distracted her for the time being, but when two Miami Beach firemen entered, she began to moan again, her breathing went shallow, and she did not respond to questions as they were testing her vitals.
“You need to respond to me, young lady, if we are going to help you,” one fireman said.
No, she had not eaten anything today and not much the day before. No, she was not taking medications. Yes, she had been drinking alcohol the previous night. No, she had not used drugs, but thought she must have been poisoned.
“Your vitals are normal,” he said.
“You have what is known as a hangover,” was the stunning announcement.
She looked bewildered.
“What? But I’m so sick.”
“We can take you to the hospital, but it will cost you.”
“Probably twenty-thousand dollars by the time they get done testing you,” I chimed in.
“Does this cost me?” she asked wanly.
“No, there is no charge for us coming here,” the fireman said.
“Should we give her some glucose?” the other fireman asked.
“No,” he answered, and said to the girl, “You need to hydrate, to go home and drink some Gatorade. Where do you live?”
She explained that she was from Scandinavia, was staying at a hostel across the street, and then she began to cry.
“What will they think? They will laugh at me.” She sobbed ashamedly.
“It does not matter what they think, young lady, and they will understand because they have had hangovers too, and will go get you some Gatorade and some pasta,” I said.
“Your health is the important thing, not what people think,” said one of the firemen. “Come, we will take you there.”
“Remember, never drink on an empty stomach, and if you do, drink plenty of fluids afterwards and eat something,” I said to her as the firemen took her out the door. They put her in the ambulance and drove her to the hostel in style, with lights flashing.
The poor girl, I reflected, her parents evidently did not educate her about the hazards of drinking on an empty stomach, or explain what a hangover is and what to do about it. Strange, for I thought most Scandinavians from the Vikings on down were experienced drinkers.
She was back at the Internet Café the next day, feeling much better and thankful for our Southern hospitality. She said her roomies at the hostel understood very well what had happened to her, and went out and got her some food and Gatorade.
ENRIQUE NORTEN’S FABULOUS SPOT ON SOUTH BEACH
Systemic Corruption Suspected in Spot Zoning for High Class Folk
28 July 2014
By David Arthur Walters
321 Ocean Enrique Norten in South Beach was not spot zoned for the benefit of middle-class permanent residents, but for the exclusive benefit of the likes of its New York owners and developers and their international jet-set clients who can well afford to invest millions of U.S. dollars in each condo, most likely their second or third home, or to speculate with money fleeing from other jurisdictions.
We may never know where the seed money for the 321 Enrique Norten project came from or its amount since the identity of the partners (“members”) in 321 Ocean Drive LLC, the registered foreign limited liability company that holds the title to the land, is a secret, as is the identity of the partners in its listed managing member, 321 Ocean Holding LLC, a Delaware limited liability corporation unregistered in Florida except with the City of Miami Beach as a lobbyist. A local limited liability company registered in Florida, 321 Ocean Manager LLC, was apparently set up to further shield the operators. If the condominium law of Florida were properly drafted in the public interest, the names of all the natural persons who own over a 10% stake in and/or otherwise control the artificial persons presently established to shield their identity and liability would be public record placed online.
The developers, David Arditi, Joshua Benaim and Tim Gordon of the Aria Development Group, studied and worked in finance together on the East Side of New York City. Arditi’s parents, who control Miami’s Cardinal Development, have thirty years experience of local real estate experience. The developers have advertised their expertise at funding developments with the deposits of condo buyers; a tactic that burned depositors became all too familiar with when Miami was Ground Zero in the last financial meltdown. In any event, the seed money required for a condominium development is way beyond the means of most developers so they must borrow from banks. David Arditi, when asked, “Is bank financing important to your business strategy, specifically with regard to condo development?” said that, “In the past two years, we have consummated five transactions, all of them on an all-cash basis.” (16 August 2013 South Florida Business Journal)
As for the Delaware managing member of the Miami Beach land owner, Delaware asks for the least information of all states, providing anonymity that even offshore jurisdictions do not provide. The New York Times observed in a 30 June 2012 article that, “Big corporations, small-time businesses, rogues, scoundrels and worse — all have turned up at Delaware addresses in hopes of minimizing taxes, skirting regulations, plying friendly courts or, when needed, covering their tracks. Federal authorities worry that, in addition to the legitimate businesses flocking here, drug traffickers, embezzlers and money launderers are increasingly heading to Delaware, too. It’s easy to set up shell companies here, no questions asked.”
Delaware vies with offshore financial jurisdictions to be the most secretive jurisdiction in the world. Two million corporations and limited liability companies are formed in the United States each year in states that do not require revelation of the beneficial owners. U.S. Senators Carl Levin and Chuck Grassley have attempted to get a law passed that would require states to obtain lists of beneficial owners of corporations and limited liability companies formed under their laws. Of course the American Bar Association objected, on the grounds that it would be too costly, undermine the attorney-client privilege, and interfere with state regulation of attorneys.
It is interesting to note here that David M. Arditi, in his capacity as managing member of 321 Ocean Manager LLC, in a letter dated 1 July 2011, informed the mayor and commissioners of the City of Miami Beach that, that it would be sad if he and his fellow developers do not get their way so they can become permanent members of the community, yet at least they would leave something positive behind. For example, “We brought in foreign investors to restore the contributing historic buildings at 304 Ocean Drive and 205 Collins Avenue.”
The 304 Ocean Drive building is directly across the street from 321 Ocean Drive. It has not been restored. In fact, it has been and continues to be a nuisance in terms of appearance and code violations.
Annette Schiffler Marciano is the presiding officer or manager of the owners of 304 Ocean Drive and 205 Collins Avenue: 304 South Beach LLC and 205 Collins LLC. In a 7 July 2011 letter to the mayor and commissioners, wherein she represented herself as an “ardent preservationist” and urged them not to approve of a citywide charter amendment pressed by Mayor Bower that would require local voters to approve of zoning amendments raising height requirements, which would allow the development of 321 Ocean Enrique Norten, she said, “I first acquired the Atlantic Air Apartments located at 205 Collins, currently undergoing a full renovation. I subsequently acquired the dilapidated contributing property located at 304-312 Ocean Drive. I will begin a full restoration by year end and return the property to its original splendor…. Please do not kill this project with a sweeping charter amendment that few property owners and residents are aware is even up for debate.”
Schiffler did not respond to my communication of 8 April 2014: “The renovation of 205 Collins Avenue is indeed splendid. However, the 304-312 Ocean Drive property remains sorely blighted, and a check of the city’s Code Compliance records indicate it has been a nuisance property in terms of code violations. That is, it has not been returned to ‘original splendor’ nearly three years after your testimony, which was used to support a spot zoning amendment to allow a mammoth structure to be placed in between two low condominiums on the beach across the street from your Ocean Drive property. I will deeply appreciate hearing from you as to why 304-312 Ocean Drive has not yet been developed, and when you expect work to begin and be completed. Also, it will interest my readers to know who the ‘foreign investors’ are, and what their relationship with the 321 Ocean Enrique Norten developers is. My deadline for this portion of the story is April 15.”
In fact, according to the county appraiser’s records, Schiffler recently flipped the property in August 2013, gaining her secret investors $2.260 million, and it is presently owned by Sea Spray Development LLC, managed by Hollywood developer and investment bankers,, Yair Wolff, and Tamir Lubezky, an Israeli. They operate under cover W Capital Group, a vulture capitalist organization they apparently founded around 2009 to take advantage of the Great Recession.
Wolff and Lubezky, with Luis Revuelta, the architect playing second fiddle to starchitect Enrique Norten across the street at 321 Ocean, in tow, are playing the same historical “preservation” game as the Enrique Norten developers: Get your existing structures declared unsafe and entirely demolished, and then persuade the preservation board, after the fact, to allow a luxurious structure to replace it although it has nothing to do with Miami Beach’s quaint history as a poor man’s Art Deco paradise.
That is exactly Wolff and Lubezky have recently applied for at 304-312 Ocean Drive, complete demolition of the “former” 3-story apartment building. On the other hand, an old building adjacent on the property at 320, similar to the one sitting at 304 Ocean Drive, is being preserved and has been nearly renovated by unlicensed general contractor Jihad Doujeiji, husband to the late Sharon Lewis, a famed interior design, under an arrangement he described (hearsay) as a nontaxable like-kind exchange with his accountant. An accountant by the name of Michael A. Rauf appears as the secretary of 3157 Inc., the current owner of 320 Ocean Drive, the former owner, 320 Ocean Drive LLC, being controlled by the Doujeiji. Doujeiji is known among very wealthy persons for getting work done well at low cost; however, the renovation of 321 Ocean Drive drags on and on because he has other contracts to fulfill upon which cash will be immediately paid. As for licensing, when prohibited from using his deceased wife’s general contracting license, he rented licenses from other contractors to observe the permitting formality, or he proceeded without permits, on millions of dollars of renovations, including a million dollar renovation of a Sunset Harbour penthouse. When asked to recover fees uncollected due to understated contract valuations and unpermitted work, city officials did not respond.
The previous owner of 304-312 Ocean Drive, Project Madison LLC, certainly did not think 304-12 Ocean Drive was unsafe when they picked up the property in 2009. In 2010 they applied for permission for “partial demolition renovation and restoration of the existing two (2) and three (3) story building, including the construction of a new roof top addition, and the construction of a new 3-story structure on the vacant portion of the site, as part of a new hotel project.”
Now all that is not to say that the persons invested in the 321 Ocean Enrique Norten are scoundrels or worse, or that developers are generally “scum of the earth” and their lawyers “suck,” as is popularly believed. It is just to say that there are good reasons for everyone to know who the natural persons foreign and domestic invested in major developments in their communities are. Again, the personal identities of substantially beneficial owners, and the financial managers of substantial investments in the aggregate, should be publicly disclosed. As for attorneys, lists of all the clients of all attorneys licensed in the state should be a public record filed quarterly.
The sale of the 321 Enrique Norten penthouse alone, for $25 million, is expected to more than pay for the stated $18 million cost of the entire development. Although Tom C. Murphy, who controls the Coastal Condominium Construction Group building the project, and who testified in favor of the spot zoning and then got the contract to build it, claims to live in the neighborhood, his construction workers certainly could not afford to buy the smallest unit in the project. And, once the project is finished, the rank and file who attend to the needs of the well-to-do residents will not be able to afford to live in the vicinity, and many of them will have to take long bus rides to work.
Indeed, 321 Ocean Enrique Norten is for the top 3% of the population, located on the most affluent edge of the upscale South Pointe neighborhood, a special district where local taxes are retained to improve the posh enclave instead of shared with the surrounding community. The spot zoning that makes the project a reality is the work of the real estate industry’s rotating politburo or political cabinet, the Commission of the City of Miami Beach.
We see in Miami Beach the last resort version of the national situation described by Hedrick Smith, in Who Stole the American Dream? (2012). Public opinion is ignored (change to Charter re zoning shot down) and special financial interests prevail despite popular notions of how democracy is supposed to work. Political scientists have long observed that legislators “simply tune out the opinions of average Americans when voting on legislation, especially when powerful financial interests get engaged.” Princeton professor Larry Bartels said that senators “were vastly more responsive to affluent constituents than to constituents of modest means.” And Princeton professor Martin Gilens said that “Influence over actual policy outcomes appears to be reserved almost exclusively for those at the top of the income distribution.” The mystery remains as to how politicians get away with policies contrary to the general public interest.
If there is one form of social power over material things that almost everyone loves, it is money, so much so that the medium of exchange, which was once only part of the definition of Mammon, and then only in its gold and silver form, and which has no inherent value as mere number, has replaced Mammon, the greedy idol of material wealth, becoming an abstract treasure laid up in heaven on earth, the kingdom of god ruled by the mundane elect, increasingly from penthouse palaces atop ever higher air castles have the right of support from all levels below.
The pragmatic logician and geodesist Charles Sanders Peirce once said that what makes America great is that every poor slob thinks he can get rich. And our history confirms that positive thinking has led from rags to riches, from log cabins to mansions and even to the White House built by enslaved labor.
However, the circulation of wealth is not what it used to be; the old adage, that the rich get richer and the poor poorer, is proven by ever bigger numbers. Evolution is from simple to complex; purity is bound to fall into corruption. The day of reckoning is nigh; Miami Beach shall inevitably be uncovered by an apocalypse according to the law of averages or god. The greatest concern of the power elite of the City of Miami Beach today is that an extreme high water event will destroy the wealth they have built upon the sand. Yet the climb to heaven along a wall of ever taller towers along the beachfront is bound to accelerate, until what is raised high is laid low, or the population is stifled by gridlock.
Since every poor slob may still believe he can get rich if he really wants to in this great nation, but maybe he only wants a decent living, it is interesting to note that Peirce was not greedy enough to pursue material wealth to its logical conclusion. He lost his job with the U.S. Coast Guard and Geodetic Survey when funding was withdrawn, was unable to secure a university position because of romantic indiscretions, then received pittances for odd jobs here and there, including writing reviews, dictionary and encyclopedia articles. He wound up in dire straits, at one point a fugitive from justice over bad debts and an assault charge. He was an evolutionist, yet for him the dominating factor was not unending strife and competition, but love and cooperation. Social Darwinism offended him with its glorification of unbridled capitalism, which he called “the Gospel of Greed.” Yet he had his financial ambitions. He invested part of his inheritance in 2,000 acres of land near Milford, Pennsylvania, and built a house upon it. However, he who had coined the term “pragmatism” got no return on his investment other than his own usage of the property. Sorely impoverished and malnourished, his penury was especially pathetic during the last twenty years of his life. His great friend, William James, raised funds from fellow academics to put decent food on Peirce’s table; otherwise, his fare was stale bread from the local baker.
In any event, it appears that the City of Miami Beach is degenerating, like the rest of the nation, from pristine purity, or, if you please, from original sin, to a state of systemic corruption. Of course Miami Beach has a long history of criminal corruption, apparently not ending a couple of years ago with the latest wave of F.B.I. arrests. Departments of city government are frequently characterized as racketeer-influenced, corrupt organizations. When at city hall, I still look inside magazines lying around on the chance of finding a grand or two, and I also check the toilet paper dispensers in the bathrooms for wads of cash.
However, I speak here not of criminal corruption but of systemic corruption. What we may have here is the usual crony capitalism with its regulatory favoritism and the manipulation of the economy for the benefit of the vested interests and the meretricious professionals who serve those interests in public and private offices. So inured are they to the culture, the customary way of doing business, that whatever they do seems normal to them.
The City of Miami Beach has a fascistic constitution with an unbalanced, strong city manager, weak mayor form of government. The commissioners, many of whom are lawyers, are paid less than $10,000 per annum while maintaining outside businesses, a formula that fosters inattention to public business along with undisclosed and conflicts of interest condoned by self-serving codes of ethics. The mayor, who chairs the commission, has scant executive power. The highly paid executive is the unelected city manager, presides over the feudal departments via their well paid directors, “princes” that have considerably autonomy provided they back “the Boss” whenever needed.
In a word, Miami Beach is a dictatorship, the dictator being subject to removal by the commissioners in an infrequent political coup during an extraordinary struggle for power and its spoils. There are negligible democratic elements. Merely 4,000 votes in a city with a generally apathetic population of 100,000 may win a commissioner’s seat; many of those votes are obtained with the help of tightly knit neighborhood associations. Factions do occasionally crowd the commissioner chambers and raise a clamor one way or the other, sometimes moving the commission to vote according to the loudest outcry no matter how irrational and rude, although its origin is in fact a tiny, vocal minority of constituents. Thus are the loudest squeaks oiled to maintain the machine. Absent the clamor, most decisions are conclusions foregone. Dictators and kings alike have been moved throughout history to respond to major clamors or lose their heads. Until then, they enjoy sovereign immunity from liability as if they were gods.
Miami itself is rapidly becoming a “world class” city despite its low-class reputation as the “northern capital of Latin America” and the “top money laundry in the United States.” Miami Beach has long been a magnet for people fleeing bad weather including mobsters. The beach has its good souls yet is filled with runaways and with people on the make or on the take who will dump you in a New York minute without so much as a goodbye when you are no longer useful. Florida itself has always been a famous place to secure large sums from creditors and governments, to con people out of their money, selling swampland, engaging in Ponzi schemes—Ponzi himself practiced for awhile in Florida.
Sky-high condos with glass walls are in vogue. Humans, like bees, love to swarm and build hives. Towers filled with babbling people climb to heaven, as if piled up for a holocaust of vanity. At least people who live in glass houses tend not to throw stones, no matter how arrogant they might be, so do not worry about the neighbors if the flooring underlayment is up to code. Still, people worry about the Flood, although the Lord promised there would never be another, having realized that everyone created in his image was originally evil because wherever good is found evil must exist, and every god, to be a god, needs a devil.
“Boss” Jorge Gonzalez ruled the city administration for fourteen years, during a period of astonishing real estate development, until a clamor was raised on 2012 over the F.B.I. arrests of several corrupted city employees. Previously, in 2008, two current city employees and one former city employee were arrested for accepting money and/or gifts from a developer by the name of Michael Stern, but no clamor was raised to remove Gonzalez. A bribery charge had been brought against Thomas E. Ratner, an chief electrical inspector with close ties to Stern, who agreed to rat out Ratner. And then Mohammed Partovi, a plans examiner, pleaded guilty of accepting a Rolex watch and cash from Stern. Andres Villareal, a city building inspector pled guilty to accepting $100,000 cash from Stern. Henry Johnson, a city planner, pled guilty to receiving at least $17,500 in bribes from Stern. Johnson’s duties included both planning and assessment of traffic impacts for new developments that would require the payment of concurrency mitigation fees paid by developers to compensate government agencies for the impact of increased traffic and parking and the like. For instance, a developer in 2008 was supposed to pay $35,000 for each parking spot that he did not provide with the development.
Curiously, Frank Del Vecchio, who lives next door to 321 Ocean Drive, objected to the concurrency planning element yet did not raise the Noisy Hotel Scare over the plans to build a 7-story Bijou Hotel on that site, next door to him, where the historic Simone Hotel had once stood. Johnson had worked on the plans for that development, but that was not mentioned in the arrest warrant. Del Vecchio claimed that tens of thousands if not millions in concurrency fees may have been corruptly avoided throughout the city because the city planners just rubber-stamp whatever is submitted by developers.
According to the Miami SunPost, Del Vecchio was the first person to appeal on the concurrency issue since the ordinance was passed in 2000, winning the appeal on Oct. 3, 2007. He said he appealed because his review of the application for the Bijou Hotel project “documented that it patently and improperly understated the project’s accessory use traffic and parking impacts, representing tens of thousands of dollars in understated concurrency impact fees and several hundred thousand dollars in payments required in lieu of providing the parking spaces required.” Carter McDowell, counsel for the Bijou at 321 Ocean, who back in 2002 had represented the Bijou and three other properties that would be affected by a zoning change then wanted for the Savoy Hotel redevelopment, said that Del Vecchio’s complaint was merely technical, over a piece of paper missing from the file. Johnson was removed from the Bijou process not because of wrongdoing, claimed Planning Director Jorge Gomez, but because it had been politicized by the criminal charges. Richard Lorber, planning and zoning manager for the city, took over the Bijou file from Johnson. The Bijou plan was not realized. Jorge Gonzalez promoted Jorge Gomez to assistant city manager in late 2009, and appointed Lorber as active planning director. Lorber then made a positive recommendation on the 321 Ocean Enrique Norten application. He would be suddenly dismissed in 2014 by the new political regime’s city manager, Jimmy Morales, a mere two months after he was positively recommended by Morales to become the department’s permanent director. The only explanation for the dismissal was that the administration wanted to go in a “new direction,” raising speculation that the alleged “Yes Man” for developers favored by former city manager Gonzalez may have raised some objections to the new regime’s manipulation of real estate development in the city.
By the way, no criminal charges were bought in regards to the allegedly uncollected concurrency fees. I would later uncover instances of concurrency fees and permit fees going uncollected in Miami Beach; high officials did not respond my reports. Jorge Gonzalez would be embarrassed himself in 2010 when it was revealed that he had hired a new building director, Cynthia Curry, a county budget analyst and assistant manager previously scandalized but unprosecuted for certification of overbillings on an airport contract. A Miami Beach fire inspector, David Weston, who insisted in 2006 that millions were missing due to uncollected building permit fees, was fired. He said he had reported what he believed was criminal behavior to city officials, and to local, state, and federal law enforcement, and then was interrogated as if he were the criminal. Weston continued pressing his allegation with city officials and law enforcement since then. His allegations were included in an inflammatory Miami New Times article of 6 February 2013 entitled ‘Miami Beach Fire Department is Aflame with Corruption.’ The city commission asked the administration for a report. Interim City Manager Kathie Brooks, formerly the city’s budget director during a scandal involving corrupt procurement practices culminating in the October 2012 arrest of Procurement Director Gus Lopez over $600,000 in payoffs from 12 companies, and City Attorney Jose Smith, who would prematurely resign in 2014 to become city attorney or North Miami Beach with a drastic cut in pay, reported that Weston had been terminated for violating the city’s code of ethics, not mentioning that the county’s ethics commission had cleared him. Weston pressed his concerns with the new city manager, Jimmy Morales, shortly after he was appointed. Morales promised not to brush the matter under the rug, and then did just that.
Scandalized city officials urged anyone with information about possible corruption to take it to the FBI. So many people informed that it was said that the FBI office was virtually buried in rat droppings. The consensus of law enforcement seemed to be that the city officials had discretion to reduce fees at will; therefore, any corruption would be moral instead of criminal hence could only be resolved politically.
All in all, the impression is that Miami Beach, proudly following a long tradition of criminal corruption, is systemically corrupt; that is, what appears as egregiously evil to outsiders is perceived as normal necessity or banal by insiders. It is the system and not them at fault. They were following custom if not direct orders. Interestingly, the legal term ‘banal’ (from ‘ban’ – ‘proclamation’) refers to the privilege a medieval lord had to command his vassals to perform military service, or his tenants to carry his grain to a “banned” or proclaimed space i.e. his “banal mill” for grinding, or to his “banal oven.” The performance of the duty is so commonplace, habitual, and hackneyed that no individual has a twinge of conscience even over commissions of obviously evil deeds.
On the other hand, some land use professionals who do business with the city believe it has the most professional and ethical planning staff in South Florida. The arrest of a few government officials alone may not prove that the city government is a criminal racketeering operation. Perhaps those who have been thinking inside city hall boxes for a long time suffer from institutional blindness, fostered by an administration that frowns on internal dissension, and disciplines employees and outside consultants and contractors who publicly criticize it, as if it were a big business corporation i.e. a fascistic organization. A culture is developed where even honest, hard-working employees and consultants see no evil, thus do they serve the power elite in good faith with consciences clear.
People always have reasons for disliking public authorities, and a few residents hated the handsome Gonzalez with a passion, for his demonstrable arrogance, for the impression given that they were not his boss, that his boss was the commission—that much was true according to the city’s constitution.
All the above was pretext, however, for the opposition faction on the commission to seize power over the direction of real estate development, and to manipulate it to their ends; in effect, to replace one set of developments and developers with another set. Commissioners Ed Tobin, Esq. and Jonah Wolfson, Esq. led the coup, engaging retired lawyer Frank Del Vechhio, Esq., who represents himself as a community “advocate,” to ‘raise the rabble’ to demonstrate against the Gonzalez regime.
Gonzalez was then involuntarily retired after 14 years of service. The commission dismissed the recommendations of a highly paid recruitment firm and hire Jimmy Morales, a political insider and good old boy from the beach then working as city attorney of the troubled city of Doral, as business manager for the beach although he had no city management experience—the justification for the city’s fascistic constitution is that it be run in a businesslike fashion. And then the faux opposition recruited a wealthy friend of Bill Clinton, Philip Levine, to run for mayor, he spending well over a million dollars for the small city’s mayoral seat. Furthermore, Levine supported a slate of other candidates, the result being a majority on the commission, expected to march in lockstep, at least until the honeymoon is over. New elected Commissioner Michael Grieco, a former state attorney and now a criminal attorney, said that the commission almost always blindly follows the new city manager’s recommendations. Thus far the commission has indeed been Jimmy Morales’ rubber stamp.
The electoral rules precluded the former mayor, Matti Herrera Bower, who had previously been a city commission, from sitting as mayor for another term, but she would not go away, and ran for commissioner and lost.
Bower, who as mayor was handpicked by her predecessor, Mayor David Dermer, an anti-high-rise activist and condominium lawyer, was known for her support of the poor, her antipathy to high-rise development, and a talent for cleverly obstructing agendas with hysterical antics. She opposed the successful 2002 amendment to double the maximum height limitation of theRPS-4 oceanfront historical district that includes the property now being developed as 321 Ocean Drive, from 35 to 75 feet, proposing that the maximum be 55 feet instead. The purchaser of the historic low-rise Savoy Hotel down the street had desired the zoning amendment for expansion according to plans submitted by licensed local architect Luis Revuelta. Del Vechhio testified in favor of periodic incremental increases from the existing average of around 35 feet so as not to alarm people by going whole hog—frogs will remain and perish in water gradually raised to the boiling point. He did not raise the Hotel Noise Scare that he would raise as the reason why the 321 Ocean Enrique Norten residential condominiums for the wealthy should be built next door to his own residence instead of a hotel.
Nine years later, Commissioners Ed Tobin and Jonah Wolfson, with Frank Del Vecchio acting as counselor-at-large for the upscale South Pointe community, led the movement to raise the ceiling further, to 100 feet, this time on behalf of 321 Ocean Enrique Norten. Del Vecchio, by the way, is a sincere man of apparently modest means who lives with his charming wife in a condo next door to 321 Ocean Drive. He claims that his constituents are the poor hence are virtually nonexistent in his neighborhood. He serves without pay on several civic organizations. He played an instrumental role in the election of Phillip Levine. The apparent irony of his position on 321 Ocean Enrique Norten will be considered elsewhere in a discussion of The Big Hotel Noise Scare.
Neither Enrique Norten nor his company Ten Arquitectos, which submitted plans entitled “321 Ocean Drive” to the city for approval of the zoning, appeared to be registered as an architect in Florida although he is credited as the designer of major projects in town including a colossal luxury development under construction, nearby 321 Enrique Norten, developed by Jorge Perez’ Related Group. Luis Revuelta, who drafted the plans for the owner of the historic Savoy Hotel at 425 Ocean Drive for its successful 2002 effort to raise the height allowable in the RPS-4 Zoning District from 35 to 75 feet, is distinguished by a number of handsome projects, is now only the architect on record for 321 Ocean Enrique. Although Revuelta is a top local architect, Enrique Norten, hailed as a so-called starchitect, was apparently wheeled in for publicity and political connections.
Greenberg Traurig, the most powerful law firm in the state, having had even The Florida Bar, the regulatory arm of the Supreme Court of Florida, as its client, was retained to lobby the planning director and city attorney for the spot zoning needed to erect the two luxury condo buildings on the lot. Greenberg Traurig’s lobbying lawyers, as we know, have been involved as lobbyists in several colossal fraud scandals, yet we may supposedly rest assured that The Firm does not condone wrongdoing, that it cooperates with investigators, and terminates bad lawyers when they are caught red handed in misconduct.
Therefore, in our next chapter, we shall examine Greenberg Traurig’s legal memorandum declaring that the spot zoning of 321 Ocean Drive was not spot zoning, along with the city attorney’s legal opinion endorsing it. Finally, we shall conclude with a chapter, The Noisy Hotel Scare – Paper Tiger!
SEARCHING FOR THE REAL SOUTH BEACH
December 7, 2011
By David Arthur Walters
MIAMI BEACH—I landed in Ft. Lauderdale in 2004 and was intent on finding an apartment there when my plans were rudely interrupted by Hurricane Jeanne. The hotel I had booked cancelled my reservation because it had overbooked. I found myself huddling in a hot and dark room of a seedy motel on West Broward Boulevard while Jeanne blew over.
The motel was interesting to say the least. The property been purchased by Russians, who conveniently neglected to take the motel franchise signage down. The Russian “exchange students,” were exceedingly cute in their maid outfits, were the main attraction. I first saw them swimming nude in the scum-laden pool one night as the storm moved in. They were virtual prisoners at the motel, not allowed to go to the beach or anywhere else for that matter.
The motel was packed with refugees from the storm. Everyone had gotten illegally gouged at different rates, the maximum that could be haggled from each of them, despite the Florida law against gouging in emergencies.
Panhandlers were going from door to door asking for money and food. One woman from the hood, “Big Mama,” would barge into rooms unannounced and ask for a cigarette while casing the rooms for stuff.
I had nothing worth stealing: one suitcase of shabby clothes. I did have one donut left, and some water in the bathtub. Stores were closed due to the hurricane, and the promised free breakfast was not there.
My old friend Hanley ‘Doc’ Harding managed to get through the motel phone system to me; he insisted he was coming to bail me out of the dump whether I liked it or not. Doc, a former Navy SEAL and a perfect pal to have, always did what he said he was going to do. He had lost a leg in a motorcycle accident after coming home from a covert operation, He also had the cancer that would do him in, but he made the most of it, teaching at police department’s traffic school, transporting prisoners, selling chemical and nuclear warfare protective tents, and designing a new kind of anti-terrorism training facility.
I stayed overnight at his condo in Sunny Isles, where he lived with his mother. She had also lost a leg, and would soon lose the other and her life after her cat bit it and the wound got infected. Doc said she had been in the beauty business, and had been married to one of Meyer Lansky’s sons for awhile. And then took me down the hall and introduced me to a lady who had inherited some of Houdini’s stuff.
The next morning, Doc’s girlfriend came over. She told me I would be a fool to stay in Ft. Lauderdale, that Miami would be a better place for me to find work, the only drawback being that I did not speak Spanish. I had lived on the southern end of Miami Beach before it was branded South Beach. It was really run down but relaxing back then. I asked Doc to take me on down so I could find temporary quarters and see what was going on. I wound up at the Clay Hotel on Espanola Way and Washington Avenue, where I stayed nearly a month.
I shall always have fond memories of the Clay Hotel, which offers private rooms, rooms with shared baths, and hostel lodging. That hotel on Espanola and Washington was once Al Capone’s favorite hideout on the beach. The experience was quite exotic for me, what with all the world travelers around. My first little room was right on Washington Avenue, where there was a virtual rush hour when the clubs closed in the morning. I would hate that racket now, but I loved it when it was new to me.
When I am asked what it is like to live on South Beach in the thick of things, I am wont to say, “It’s great until you find out where you’re at, but that’s true of everywhere, and you may never find out if you’re not interested in the truth.”
Many of the employees at the shops around the hotel told me they would never live on South Beach, and it is frightening to work on Washington Avenue, but it was all right for me at the time, mainly because I love to be near a beach. Besides, people from out of town say they would give their right arm to live in South Beach.
No one bothered me at Clay Hotel except the stranger who kept calling: “Hello, honey, do you want to talk?” The desk clerk could do nothing about it, so I got another room, this one in the back building. The mosquitoes in the room were a hassle when I opened the only window; it was right over the garbage bins of a restaurant. I learned what “no abra la ventana” meant from the maid I when complained about the mosquitoes. She said she wanted to move back to Cuba now that her son was grown and out of college, because, she said, her back hurt like hell and American was only about money.
The walls were paper thin, so the screams from orgasms next door and heads banging on the wall woke me up for about a week. No problem, really, the whole affair was rather intriguing when fresh.
$50 a night was dirt cheap for a tourist, but not for me. I managed to rent a room for $550 month from David Muhlrad at the Plaza South Hotel. Muhlrad controls many apartment buildings on South Beach; most of them are occupied by Hispanic immigrants. He was not interested in knowing who I was when I signed the “Contract for Accommodations” on October 22, 2004, under the heading “The Plaza South, A Fully Licensed Adult Living Facility.” The contract would be returned to me signed by someone whose signature I could not make out. He gave me a calling card that read, “Ari Schuster, Managing Director, The Plaza South, The Only Deco A.L.F.”
The hotel (now the Gale-Regent Hotel) was in a sort of limbo, with only the ground floor currently devoted to assisted living. I was later informed by a member of the staff, who said she was the only one with practical nurse training and hence was resented by the Haitian caretakers in charge, whom she said were robbing their charges blind, that Mr. Schuster never came to the property, that the license on the wall was just borrowed. At no time during my tenancy ending December 2005 did I see anyone except Muhlrad in the little A.L.F. office.
As for the claim of stolen valuables, I would notice that the underpaid staff wore fine clothes and jewelry, and owned homes here and in Haiti. Yet appearances can be deceiving. I did not know if the practical nurse was credible inasmuch as she seemed disturbed, always paranoid about a tenant on the second floor, a cab driver whom everyone called “Sling Chain” because he had a long key chain that jangled when he walked: she said he was a crack addict, was stalking her, and was in the habit of picking up women and assaulted them in his cab. He was decrepit for his age, perhaps from crack abuse, which he admitted, and had a bizarre sense of humor.
I offered Mr. Muhlrad my references when I met him to rent a room, but he said to never mind, he knew people, and I “looked good.” He refused to take my check, stating that he only took “cash money, for obvious reasons.” Indeed, the low-income hotel aspect of the property was conducted on a cash basis only, no questions as to identity asked. If a regular Plaza South resident did not cough up the currency, their doors were “booted” i.e. they were locked out, in violation of state law, but what did they know of the law?
Mr. Muhlrad seemed nice enough as we chatted. I asked him how he liked the hotel business, mentioning I had managed several big discount tourist hotels in my day. He responded that one had to be crazy to manage the Plaza South. And he did behave crazily at times, screaming like a madman at elderly tenants who had complaints or who had not paid the rent, which I hear approached $2,000 a month including powdered eggs, macaroni, peanut butter or tuna sandwiches, and the like.
Although the elderly tenants were yelled at by Mr. Muhlrad, and perhaps had valuables stolen by the caretakers, I saw no evidence of physical abuse. Eventually the kitchen was shut down, and, some time before the hotel closed the old folks were hauled away, without adequate notice, to the related Hebrew Home, where I heard they were doubled up two to a room. One old man called the police, complaining he was being kidnapped or taken away illegally against his wishes, but he was written off as senile.
I still see one old lady around. I asked her how things were going at the Hebrew Home, and whether she had any regrets. “At my age it is not good to have regrets. I just keep going.”
Poor people cannot be choosy, and I was glad to land a cheap room in paradise, reasoning that a tourist would be glad to pay $100 night for it. Mr. Muhlrad was doing some painting at the time, and it looked like he was making a serious effort to spruce up the interior of the decrepit building. After that initial period, he was seldom around; he arrived in his vintage Cadillac from time to time, went in and picked up envelopes stuffed with cash, issued a few orders to staff, screamed at some little old lady who complained about something or the other, and took off.
So there I was, in room 211, directly under the room where two whores and their pimp plied their trade. And down one hall a Mexican drug dealer resided, as well as the black guy who wore suits and raged against white people i.e. “crackers.” An alcoholic-nosed photographer, who said he worked for the police department, also lived down that hall. He liked to go around and tell people there were warrants out for them. Down another hall was the formerly homeless, foul-breathed packrat with the goiter; his room was always filled with flies. Oh, there was a beautiful, charming woman who had a successful acting career until she got hooked on crack by her boyfriend, and turned to prostitution, with him as her pimp, serving only black guys—I liked her a lot but had learned my lesson after falling in love with a heroin addict out west.
And I must not forget the mentally ill guy who set fires in his room and in the stairwell by my room. The outside door to that stairwell was unsecured, by the way, so vagrants used the stairwell for a toilet, and sometimes vagrants got into the halls and slept.
Independent male and female prostitutes who could not afford rent were working inside the side entrances of the building, between the Plaza South and the adjacent hotel, or simply having sex in the unlocked path between the buildings. Muhlrad was asked to secure the area, which was also used for drug trafficking, but whatever locks he had placed were broken the same day. Two elderly tenants said they enjoyed watching the sexual encounters through their windows at night.
There were a few rather decent tenants: some young workers, and some people driven out of other buildings, conveniently condemned by the city and taken over by developers. These tenants did not know what was really going on with the property until everyone gathered in the lobby for a hurricane and exchanged notes; they were appalled, especially when a crack addict came into the lobby and said he was going to kill some “crackers” that night. Several of them moved out the next month.
Eventually we would all be kicked out of Plaza South with inadequate notice when it was sold to the Morgan Hotel Group in late 2005; off-duty cops kicked down the doors of the holdouts. The guy with the goiter threatened to set fire to the building. The carpenter who lived on the third floor and liked to talk tough all the time called the cops on the cops after his door was kicked in and his cat got loose.
As for me, I was a damn fool for moving out early: I ran into Sling Chain months later and he told me cash money was paid to some tenants to get lost. I could have pretended I was still in the room and collected the cash. One of the Haitian managers sold me the television in my room when I paid the balance of my rent, and delivered it to me with her car. She offered to sell me other furniture, but I had no way of moving it.
Mr. Muhlrad was merely managing the Plaza South for Russell Galbut, his relative by marriage, who owned the property until he sold it to the Morgan Hotel Group. Since then Plaza South was left vacant, a blight on the development around it, a terrible eyesore despite the fact that Morgan Hotel Group is spending large sums on renovating the Delano Hotel just across Collins Avenue. (It is now the upscale Gale-Regent Hotel managed by Menin Hospitality, in which Mr. Galbut has relatives and a major interest).
Mr. Galbut is powerful real estate developer with considerable influence on city officials to this day although he received some rotten press back in the good old days over his relationship with Miami Beach Mayor Alex Daoud, who was imprisoned for corruption in 1993. The Galbut law firm reportedly handled some of the dirty money. Daoud has alleged some of the dirty details in Sins of South Beach, a book wildly popular in Miami Beach.
The Galbut interests reportedly own a vast amount of real estate in Miami Beach via a web of companies, including considerable property in the now forgotten “CANDO” art district promoted by former Miami Beach mayor David Dermer, purportedly to curb gentrification. The promotion was actually intended to accelerate gentrification and cure the blighted nature of the area hence hundreds of “vulgar” people were evicted from their humble abodes to make way for the noble “gentry.”
Mr. Galbut has in the past refused to disclose just how much property his syndicate holds in the area. In April of 2005, his nephew, Keith Menin, at the grand opening of the Sanctuary, a former nursing home converted into a posh condotel a half-block from the Plaza South, bragged that an entire neighborhood would eventually go on the block.
I met Mr. Galbut once, at the Plaza South. The prostitutes working two beds in the room above me created a problem I could not ignore. I had gotten used to the sounds: the frequent slams of the door, the floor-creaking walks to the beds, the beds banging against the wall, and the groans. But the water from their bathroom was destroying the ceiling and walls in my bathroom, so I went upstairs and complained to the pimp, who was in the room with two of his girls. He did not care, he said, because his girls needed to wash themselves after doing their tricks, so he would not turn off the water, even though he knew a defective pipe was flooding everything below. The water eventually reached the first floor, soaking the ceiling and a wall of the old folk’s dining room. I was worried the ceiling would collapse on the aged people while they were eating their scrambled eggs or tuna sandwiches.
Mr. Muhlrad never responded to emergency calls on the Sabbath, so I went out of my way to find Mr. Galbut’s phone number and called him on a pay phone – I could not afford a cell phone, and there was no one on duty downstairs at night despite the fact that some of the elderly tenants might need help. I warned him that if the water continued to flow, the building would be damaged so badly it would have to be evacuated. He knocked at my door that evening with his boy Friday in tow. I advised him to survey the damage downstairs, and showed him the damage to my room—he was interested in the photos of high rises I had pasted on a wall to serve as self-suggestions to move up to better living conditions. Plumbers and carpenters were brought in the next day and they fixed the pipes and walls.
I did not receive nor did I expect any thanks from a kingpin like Russell Galbut, but since I had considerable experience as right hand man for real estate wheeler dealers and as a major tourist hotel manager, I went over to his building on the mainland with my resume, but he would not see me. That concluded the last dream I had of being brought in from the cold. “To hell with The Establishment,” I said.
I had several encounters with members of the Miami Beach Fire Department while at Plaza South because of the defective fire alarms. They went off frequently; tenants evacuated the building although we suspected we were hearing another false alarm.
Coincidentally, the alarms sometimes sounded on the Sabbath, when Muhlrad would refuse to answer even emergency calls from the Fire Department. I learned that he was once in charge of the city agency that enforces compliance with city codes. I learned that requests had been made but ignored by city officials due to his pull, to place security in the building at night to protect people from fire; that seemed to be a great idea to the old folks, not only for fire safety, but for any emergency—the room phones did not work.
I admired the fire fighters whom I met. For example, one night, during a downpour, anguished cries were coming from the area outside, waking everyone up. The cries resembled what a trapped cat might make. I got someone with a cell phone to call 911. The firemen came over and found a homeless man huddled under the air-conditioning duct, crying desperately in the rain. They spoke with him very kindly, and found shelter for him.
I also had my first encounter with the Miami Beach Police Department, which is getting a lot of bad flack in the press lately. Too many of us including myself tend to remember how bad things were, and ignore how much better things are at present. I recall that the Mexican drug dealer at Plaza South was dealing drugs openly on Collins Avenue in front of the South Plaza, and was also dealing up and down Washington Avenue, hustling his drugs to passersby. He was not the only one doing that, by the way; there were petty drug dealers everywhere. I warned him that everyone knew he was dealing, that he had been seen for months on the street handing off drugs for cash, and, one day the coppers were going to nail him.
“I’m protected. If anyone tells on me, they’re dead. I’ll have them killed or kill them myself.”
Well, I was right. A month later some officers came in ready for combat, taking not only him out but two others as well. He was back on the street a few months later, and then he disappeared, maybe transferred out by the cartel or busted again. Nowadays I am never approached by dealers on Washington Avenue, but I am never around that avenue after ten at night anymore if I can help it, because I know where I am. After all, this is South Beach.
SOHO BAY RESTAURANT REOPENS WITH GUN TO HEAD
Management is “Not exactly thrilled by the circumstances”
27 November 2015
By David Arthur Walters
THE SOUTH BEACH HERALD
SOHO Restaurant at Bentley Bay, forced to close for nearly three months by unanticipated road construction, has finally reopened. The event was celebrated with the community in a two-hour, exceedingly generous Grand Reopening, well attended despite the fact that ingress from West Avenue was still blocked and access was otherwise tricky.
The closing in August was not so grand. Max Heindl, its general manager, complained to the New Times that the road construction that completely boxed in the upscale sushi restaurant on the north end of West Avenue had not been planned overnight although it caught him by surprise. He said he could have kept the place open with no customers or shut it down to save on expenses, likening the option to having a gun put to his head.
The closure naturally resulted in a significant loss of impetus, diminishing the expectations of potential customers, to mention the loss of employees, and the current loss of least $2 million of revenue, putting quite a drag on an estimated $3.5 million capital investment not counting extraordinary startup costs.
The gun is still to the head, figuratively speaking. Martin Marsh, SOHO’s assistant general manager, declined to discuss the numbers and other proprietary information except to say that the owners were “not exactly thrilled” by the circumstances; the gun-to-the-head metaphor was “a little excessive”; the restaurant was “working with the city” including a commissioner, in “an ongoing process to resolve issues”; and it would be “inappropriate” to complain about city officials.
He said he did not know if the landlord, prominent realtor and developer Scott Robins, a close friend and partner of developer Mayor Philip Levine, was aware of the upcoming road construction when he leased the space. He said that, to the best of his knowledge, Mr. Robins was not involved in working anything out with the city.
Government agencies are occasionally sued for interrupting businesses with construction. For example, Michael Jordon’s Steakhouse, which opened in 1998 and spearheaded the revival of Grand Center Station, has sued a state agency, the Metropolitan Transit Authority, for literally destroying its business with construction activities.
Holding cities liable for damages even for grossly negligent conduct is problematic in Florida given the sovereign immunity bestowed on agencies by the state’s highest court despite a statute supposedly waiving it. Sovereign immunity is said to have only added to the negligence and arrogance of public officials.
A sympathetic general manager for a Lincoln Road establishment, commenting anonymously to protect his business from retaliation, said that SOHO never should have tried to open when it did. It should have waited for construction to end, if it had known it was coming, and that would include the promised installation of a dock at its entrance where yachts could land.
“May God help them,” he said.
He recalled that Lincoln Road retailers and restaurants had recently approached City Manager Jimmy Morales about the scheduling of the upcoming re-landscaping of Lincoln Road. He said Mr. Morales promised there would be plenty of time before approval to work things out with the businesses. Two weeks later, the plan was approved without their input. He characterized the city manager as a liar in vulgar terms, saying businesses should never trust him.
He also said that the city would pay SOHO’s rent to Scott Robins for the period it was closed. Commissioner Michael Grieco denied that has yet occurred because it would have to be approved by the commission.
Brazilian Restaurateur Karine Queiroz opened her first restaurant in 1998, in Bahia. She had eight restaurants in Brazil when she opened in South Beach. She has nearly doubled her restaurant count since 2013.
She has not responded by deadline to several questions forwarded to her; for example, whether she believes the City of Miami Beach is easier to deal with than so-called Third World governments, and what is the secret of her success. We shall have to guess.
Location is important, but is not the all. SOHO is located at the Miami Beach end of MacArthur Causeway, which is becoming a sort of traffic center given recent developments. It is remote from other restaurants except for a successful one at the yacht harbor nearby, yet that is no problem if it can attract the sort of upscale clientele that live the beside water in that neighborhood, in addition to people who yacht and drive in. Parking and easy pedestrian access are key.
View from Dining Room
Of course employing the right wait staff, the foot soldiers, is crucial to success. They will be personable, intelligent servers committed to providing excellent service, and will want to stay around, on the average, for several years. That means they will need good tips. So the restaurant must be busy, and that means it must have, besides good service, good food hence good chefs and cooks.
SOHO is fusion sushi, and fusion is in now. When an area is flooded with the fusion of this and that with Asian or whatever, the fusion must be something special. Ricky Sauri, executive chef, is taking care of that at SOHO. He has top-notch experience. Besides, we know that many of the best chefs in the country are Puerto Ricans.
Ricky has Max Kamakura, an amazing Japanese sushi chef from Brazil, on his team. Fabian Failla, the service manager, had Max prepare a spectacular assortment of sushi for me. I asked Max if the delightful combination or all the items on the plate was on the menu. He said he would probably not duplicate the plate or some of the items in the future as he preferred to be creative once he knew the general preferences of customers.
Of course a good restaurant must have excellent management to facilitate the performance of everyone they manage instead of getting in their way and alienating them, and they must please customers and owners, and do a myriad of things including working things out constructively with city officials.
SOHO business is still impeded by construction besides West Avenue construction blockade. At present the large parking lot beside 520 West Avenue is helpful, but it will be soon replaced by a garage, so more construction. The intersection at Fifth and Alton is lacking two crosswalks that would allow pedestrians to safely approach the front entrance from the shopping center and the South of Fifth neighborhood. Again, access by car is tricky.
Notwithstanding the current impediments, the Grand Reopening was packed with people who managed to arrive to consume what must have been $20,000 in food, not to mention staffing costs.
Healthy Photo Credit- Michael Trainer
Mr. Marsh is a smart young man with good public relations skills. When I commented that it is taking way too long to get the restaurant up and running, he said that SOHO’s objective is “not to be the restaurant of the year,” but to “grow organically.”
View of from portico – Brazilian American Chamber event
TRACEY’S THANKSGIVING SUICIDE
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
I certainly understand why my next door neighbor, Tracey Flagler, may she rest in peace, opted out of her conditioned life in South Beach on Thanksgiving Day of 2007. I nearly did the same thing myself one New Year’s Day, so I have no right to blame her. Besides, what person in her right mind would want to live forever in the very world of circumstances that had made her so miserable? In any event, many reasons can be found for committing suicide.
Of course lunatics are not morally guilty of self-murder by reason of insanity. In their absence of mind they lose self-respect and the so-called instinct of self-preservation, and may therefore give effect to almost unimaginable scenes of self-mutilation and self-annihilation. Even an healthy individual might be momentarily seized by a heretofore repressed, fundamental anxiety, and suddenly be driven by a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach to her demise, throwing herself out of a window, for example, as a woman did during my lunch hour one day in Midtown Manhattan – fortunately the horizontal extent of her leap caused her to land on a taxi cab instead of the crowded sidewalk below.
Relatively sane people have many reasons to end it all. Notwithstanding the fact that thinkers have gone to great lengths to prove that suicide is irrational in itself, self-destruction may be a perfectly logical outcome of a person’s creed or rationale. Liberty is often cited as a sufficient reason to murder oneself if not countless others. People might kill themselves for some professed ideal, or to save the life of others, or perhaps to relieve caretakers of being a burden unto them. Suicidal libertarians might martyr themselves to demonstrate against and shame the authorities instead of assassinating them. Tyrants prize the lifestyles they have obtained at great cost to those who fear and envy them – indignant pride or wounded self-esteem has often provoked suicidal rebellion against one tyrant or another; although their suicide in itself gives tyrants little cause for remorse, perhaps the masses will take the cue and rise up against them. Greedy competitors in the war of all against all covet and hoard the things of this world at great cost to those who would rather make love than war – some people prefer not to set evil against evil, and kill themselves instead.
Abject poverty has always offered a civilized person a reason to embrace the ultimate poverty of death. Today’s religious individualism places the blame for poverty squarely on the I-god individual, who should prefer death to being cast on the street to be publicly shamed. Indeed, the rise of individualism in ancient Greece was accompanied by the increased discussion of suicide – discussions of the subject are believed to result in an increase suicide rate – not only due to social disorganization: if a man was his own best friend, he might rightfully put an end to a life that was not worth living as far as he was concerned.
Later on the Stoic schools condoned suicide, and even recommended it where immortality was disbelieved, for death was seen ever since the beginning of history as the cure for all ills. Unreasonable suicide was deprecated by reasonable men including Stoics, but many Stoics and Cynics who were indifferent to death as evil and life as good would not even scoff today at woman today who killed herself for breaking finger nail: the founder of Stoicism was said to have killed himself over a wrenched finger. A truly indifferent Stoic might do himself in even if he were happy; likewise an unhappy person might suffer indefinitely. Others simply saw suicide as a naked human right.
Homelessness is despised wherever money is God, and some people think God puts homeless persons on the street as a warning. Where money must be had to purchase love, not much can be said for love or for the value of money, and everybody suffers accordingly. And wherever expectations run high, disappointments are accordingly severe. In any event, there is no end to desire.
The bare necessities are never enough, and wants are multiplied with the supplies as advertised. Tracey Flagler, for example, had food, clothing, shelter and a bicycle, but that was not enough: she went to the movies, she watched television, she read magazines, and she served rich and famous people at the restaurant, observing them having a lot of fun, and she read prophets who said the purpose of life is to have fun, and Oprah agreed with them, and Tracey wanted more than what she had, and she didn’t get it, and the prophets said there was no such thing as death, and she apparently threw away everything she had along with the slim chance that everyone is supposed to have in this great nation of ours, the chance to get filthy rich.
We have lately heard that there is a hereafter where all is forgiven, that death is not final after all, that there really is no such thing as death for us, and that our souls are immortal. I happen to know that Tracey Flagler heard that rumor, along with rumors about reincarnation on self-created planets – I read about them in her diaries. I have no doubt whatsoever that it was a factor leading to her premature departure from this planet. A suicide with a reason to kill himself may as a matter of habit feel that he is virtually immortal even though he knows he will actually perish – he believes the future state, even nothingness, is something that will relieve him of his anxiety, hence in that respect nothing really exists for him.
Of course the Judeo-Christian religion scruples against self-killing, citing the sixth commandment against killing while engaging in the wholesale slaughter of foreign enemies who seemingly worship the same god. Remember, “Thou shalt do no murder” is the sixth commandment, properly translated; obedience to God might require one to kill enemies, and killing is not, legally speaking, murder. Mind you that there is no text specifically prohibiting suicide in the Judeo-Christian canon, but the religious still consider it a great evil, not only because life is said to be a gift of God for us to use but which we do not own, but also on the rational grounds that our will to live naturally causes us to fear death, to deem life good and death evil; hence life is the ultimate datum, the greatest good of all goods, wherefore we should revere it and refuse to drink the bitter tea.
According to Plutarch, a rational remedy was employed to cure a terrible affliction suffered by the maidens of Miletos. The ladies were, for some unknown cause, overcome with such a mad desire to die that they hung themselves before they could be prevented from doing so. A wise man moved that a resolution be adopted, that their bodies would be displayed in the shopping center; the malady ended upon the adoption of said resolution.
Besides, suicide costs the society a taxpayer, hence is a sort of theft from the commonweal. We note that, in 1807, twenty-eight Russians buried themselves alive to escape the census, which they believed was sinful.
Let it not be said that one should kill oneself or get oneself killed like the son of God in order to obtain some good, for thou shall not kill, and it is wrong to do an evil to get any good. We project our native instinct to live forever onto a higher personal power, which is a rational power by virtue of being personal, i.e. human: therefore we must find sufficient reasons why God commands us all to live. Suffice it to say that the evil is not in the suicidal act itself but in disobedience to God’s will. Keep in mind that God exists and that suicides will roast in hellfire forever. In fact suicide is high treason, a direct revolt against the almighty will of God. In effect suicide is blasphemous because it seems to detract from the belief that God’s will is in fact all mighty. Further, suicide is a grievous insult to humankind as such.
God does command a few worthy followers to martyr themselves in his name. Jesus was not, then, a suicide but was an obedient son – he would never have committed suicide-by-cop on his own. Yes, indeed, although we are sent here as sentinels, a few of us may be called upon by the Commander to abandon our post. Righteous suicide may be committed for the glory of God, just as humankind wages war against itself in the name of God for the improvement of the race. After all, religion is verily virtual suicide, a denial of that aspect of man’s brutal nature, which includes not only an instinctive urge to fornicate with any woman in sight but also to kill whosoever stands in his way, including his own self. Wherefore self-sacrifice for the love of God and contempt for the perishables of this world including the rotting flesh of the body bag of filth is sometimes warranted for the ascetically inclined.
Suicide is cowardly and ignoble, anti-heroic, a murderous act of sheer desperation. It is better to be killed by an evil-doer or tyrannical authority than to do evil unto oneself by self-murder if one cannot escape from its power. The noble person dies nobly, heroically confronting his undoing, while the ignoble person kills himself to escape what the noble person courageously endures. The suicide does not resist: he is afraid. He despairs and desperately takes his own life. Besides, if there is no afterlife, then this existence, no matter how miserable it might be, is better than nothing. It is better to be miserable than not to be at all.
That might very well be the ignoble and cowardly attitude, one that runs counter to the grain of human nature, which cries out for liberty or death. But most of us are neurotic enough to stick around no matter how miserable we might be, and, notwithstanding the stoical and cynical attitude of pessimistic skeptics, despite our suffering we may expect to be saved from our end right down to the bitter end, which some sweet-lemon prophets advertise as the happiest moment of our lives. The I-god prophets of the Me Era’s popular religious individualism believe individuals live forever at will, intentionally donning and doffing a series of bodies along the way – dying is simply a dramatic scene; death is a farce since there is no such thing.
A discontented person might just move to some other part of the world. But no matter where you go, although that part of the world might look somewhat different, it is the same old world, and there you are, with the same old history, and with the same old stuff to buy thanks to mass production. All of that is quite boring after awhile, and the stuff soon begins to look like so much trash, junk and garbage again.
As for another world, a netherworld or a hereafter which is presumably quite a bit different than this one because it is also inhabited by aliens from other planets who happen to wear medieval costumes as portrayed on Star Trek – why would people want to betake themselves to such a beyond with much of the same old baggage that weighed them down in this one? That would be the continuation of hell on Earth. As for me, I love myself well enough, but I would not take my historical self with me to heaven, I speculated, only to taint paradise and get the vicious cycle going again. History, after all, is to some extent a mistake. It would be best to be born again with the slate wiped clean. But if we arrive with our memories wiped clean, what’s the use of surviving? If I am not to remember my current self on that better planet, if I am to be purified of that naturalized and socialized individual that I think I am now, what do I, as I am, care about that place, other than to be confident that, before I am transported there, my conception of me will be forever laid to rest, even before my body is rendered personally irrelevant and arrives at its final resting place in a grave, or perchance is somehow scattered about – the Hindus and others would leave nary a trace of that sullied cloak behind. May my unsullied soul continue forever without me if it will, and may that continuance be no business of mine for heaven’s sake: Karmic regression or progression is not my concern if I may not remember what transpired before in order to know whether my present state as a werewolf or a demigod is better or worse than my past state.
All the reasons for and against suicide seem to add up to nothing for certain. If one does not embrace life as a premise to be upheld and revered in all circumstances, whether by commandment of a god or not, then a number of options present themselves. Given the warring history of the human race, the consensus seems to be that the quality of life is more important than life itself.
Tracey Flagler tried very hard to appreciate the quality of her life, which was no doubt better than that of untold millions of inhabitants of this planet, and the fact that she tried so hard makes it evident that it was not for her in the first place. She was young and attractive and passionate, a fun-loving girlfriend to her boyfriends; she was always able to find good jobs serving delicious food; she picked up hundreds of dollars in tips almost whenever she wanted to; she had a modest studio two blocks from a beautiful beach. But none of that was enough. She suffered terribly for the dearth of some ineluctable thing that she thought was the purpose and point of life, namely fun or joy. She never had enough fun, and thought the lack was due to a shortage of stuff. The pop prophets reinforced her faith in fun and in the notion that it can be purchased. Her notebooks reiterate endlessly the impoverished terminology of the instant success cult: I, want, fun, joy, me, feel, source, Oprah, money, stuff, famous, Madonna, eternal, rich, universe, attraction, vibrations…. And then there are the almost pathological perseverations, the fearful chanting of positive affirmations – unfortunately, we cannot make ourselves appreciate something simply by affirming the appreciation that we don’t really have over and over again.
The handwritten menus, the lists of ingredients in various dishes, that I found in Tracey’s notebooks are far more mouthwatering, and led me to believe that her life would have been richer if she had focused her intensely passionate nature on the objective details of things, on the consideration of other people, on the study of some liberal art she might have some interest in – a course in academic philosophy might disenchant her of the popular delusions.
At the bottom of Tracey’s being there was an awful want, a terrible desire, a craving so intense that only a Buddha or a withdrawing drug addict could fathom it. Of course the inchoate desire she suffered was not unique. We have it in common, but we manage to cover it up, put it on a leash, subdue it, repress it, ignore it, or just accept it and suffer it. Some suffer it more than others, and poor Tracey simply could not tolerate the suffering. She wanted to believe the hype that the purpose of life is a constant joy that can be had in hand, instead of admitting the truth, that human nature is suffering, and that without it even fleeting joy would be impossible. She had her doubts about the eternal joy business: she expressed her anger at the false prophets from time to time: “I HATE you, I HATE all of you!”
That is not to say that overt suffering is a good thing or that we should suffer needlessly. Freud was right: Neurotic people cling to their misery in self-defense no matter what paradise is promised. Sometimes we suffer only because we want to, although we don’t know it. I developed a habit of asking myself, when miserable, “Do I want to make myself miserable?” No? Then I dwell on something else, and that’s the end of that. Thoughts do influence matter, that much is self-evident, but the magic of positive thinking needs the right means.
Tracey thought a million dollars would afford her more leisure to have the kind of fun she wanted to have. Most of us without a million bucks would not mind having a million or more. If only everyone could get their hands on a million dollars, our world would presumably be a much better place to live in provided inflation could be held to less than two percent per annum. Yes, a million dollars would make room for more fun, but fun at doing what? If I had a million dollars I might quit my day job tomorrow and invest my time in saving the world with success books. Ideally they would be written, edited and published by yours truly, under my Three Stooges Publishing imprimatur. I already have the first book in mind, How to Make a Million Dollars for Somebody Else. I shall submit it for approval by Oprah Winfrey’s book club. I can see myself now, chatting with Oprah on her show, explaining how the world would be a much better place if everyone would try to make a million dollars for someone else rather than for themselves, and I shall suggest that she use some of her $2.5 billion to sponsor a brand new reality show called The Pot Latchers. I shall bring along Tracey’s One Million Dollar Bill coffee mug and some her catnip tea for people who like to see magic stuff, and I shall bring along Penelope, her teddy bear, too. Ten percent of the profits would go into the Tracey Flagler Foundation for Stray Cats.
Oh, Dear Tracey, I did not know you when you were here, but I know you well enough now, and I miss you. You were welcome here. You thought you were a weirdo; you thought that you did not fit in here because your craving was not satisfied, you felt nobody could make you whole or fill your hole. If only you had known that South Beach is for weirdoes, and that you would have fit right in here, we could have had fun suffering life together. We could have had fun riding in limos. We would have gotten on the Oprah show. We would have opened up an erotica boutique, a tattoo parlor, and a night club on Washington Avenue. Yes, we would have suffered, but we would have had a great deal of fun even thought that is not the purpose of life.
ATMA BEAUTY’S SPECTACULAR SOUTH BEACH OPENING
21 November 2015
By David Arthur Walters
THE SOUTH BEACH HERALD
“Know that all beautiful, glorious and mighty creations spring from but a spark of my splendor.” 10.41 Bhagavad Gita
I had no idea of the beauty I would behold when a Manhattan brand manager emailed me an invitation to Atma Beauty’s grand opening in Sunset Harbour, with his note that it would be fun for me to attend.
Music, vodka, hors d’oeuvres, beauty, models, photography, and atma were the key words. And what a unique combination they are at Atma Beauty, situated in Sunset Harbour at 1875 West Avenue.
As for the vodka, the brand was Sobieski, introduced in Poland in 1864, and it was as smooth as can be, so smooth that Russian tasters get blind drunk and extol its spiritual virtues. It took me a full day to recover.
I was greeted by the owner, Ana Lessa, a Brazilian American beauty entrepreneur and cosmetologist with her very own magic formula.
The space is cavernous, with lofty ceilings, several big rooms to accommodate the spa and the beauty and hair wash stations, a loft for the photographer, and a balcony where I was told a barber shop for men will be situated.
Ana’s husband was standing by with watchful eye as their twins gallivanted around the rooms. I observed that remodeling the space had taken a lot of hard work. She agreed, and said her toe had been hurt when a box fell on it.
I felt a little self-conscious since only a dozen people were around when I showed up. You guessed it: I did not wait the mandatory thirty minutes after the opening hour to show up.
Ana’s colleague, Fabiola Trujillo of Sobe Tan adopted me for a few minutes. She told me she went into the airbrush tan business after being diagnosed with skin cancer. I explained that I was a stranger to fashion, and thought the young ladies arriving were lovely, yet I wondered if they dressed so oddly everywhere. She explained that South Beach has its own look.
The place was soon packed with beautiful women. I imagined for a moment that I was Krishna with his Gopis. Dream on! Not a chance. I took the Gita so ascetically when I was a kid that I even gave up flute playing, so I have little to offer except a relatively naked atma and a passionate article.
If I were a mirror on the wall, I would admire all ladies equally. A classic Russian beauty was oft admired by the few men present. An equally admirable, dark-haired woman was rather ignored, so I captured her image for future reference.
Well, gurus have said that the Atma of atmas created the wonders of the cosmos, and that every one of us has a piece of the Atma within. That and only that is the source of the beauty without.
So it must be okay to be beautiful, sexy, and even rich. Maybe I shall switch gurus, from Swami Prabhupada to Swami Rajneesh, who had his beautiful staff drive him around his West Coast compound in fifty different Rolls Royces after he took whiffs of nitrous oxide, because, he said, when criticized for the display, Atma on high is opulent in person.
Maybe lazy too, since Rajneesh only allowed females to run his business before he was deported after taking over an Oregon town. A sociological study found that his gals excelled in all material respects in comparison to Prab’s women, who were kept under the gun.
I buttonholed a handsome young fellow and asked him what he thought of the rampant development. “City officials are giving permits to people to destroy the city. They must start thinking about the people who actually live here, about the parents and the kids.”
I thought about that as I walked home, reflecting on how beautiful South Beach is when you see its beautiful people.