By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Frank Owen
Pull up a stool, kid. You want the Mickey shot of vodka or the SpongeBob tequila?
Hey, it's for a good cause. The kids from Indian Pines Elementary School in Lantana regularly bring home fliers encouraging families to encouraged to patronize JJ Muggs, a local sports bar. and grill. The school gets a percentage of the proceeds from some sales on designated family nights.
If you've never rolled over to Muggs, you may not be aware of the scummy-as-an-oil-slick issue of the gin joint deal. Though the place bills itself as "a sports grill for the whole family," locals know it more for its substantial beer selection, its full liquor bar, and its 25-plus TVs, all blazing the current sports action, than for its menu.
How's this for family fare? The bar's front door now sports a sign advertising karaoke nights with "liquid courage" for contestants and shot specials for everybody.
Indian Pines really knows how to stick it to its students. The school doesn't stop at bar promotions. The kids also bring home fundraising stuff for everything from egg roll sales to Publix-sponsored candy tooth decay-athons.
It's all so disturbing, says the mother of one kindergartner who didn't want the tube to use her name.: "I'd rather concentrate on academics than economics...My son feels pressured -- like he gets in trouble if he doesn't get the response they want."
School officials are unabashed. It's what you do in a state where education is at the bottom of your list of priorities., The schools " can use all the help they can get," suggests Indian Pines principal Gail Pasterczyk. A manager at the bar was too busy to talk. An owner, Dana Pusateri, didn't return a phone message.
Palm Beach County schools have formal agreements with 560 business partners, including R.J. Gators Grill and Bar and the Gardens Ale House, Tailpipe has learned. As part of the deal, businesses check off items which they plan to provide the schools -- like "career awareness" or "donor/sponsorships." In return, the school offers services such as "assistance with "company special events," "notes from students," and "musical performances for partner."
In business circles, that's called a win-win.
To Tailpipe, it seems more of a win-lose, with kids getting the short end of the stick. After watching his own third-grade pipette's school turned into the Little FCAT Schoolhouse (forget about science or history, boys and girls, just spend your school day doing a lot of quick practice quizzes), he has to stand by as money-grubbing school officials open the doors to low-rent profiteers.
If Tailpipe hadn't opened his big cylindrical trap recently about those wild monkeys in Dania Beach, they might have gone on with their quiet, low-profile lives -- as quiet and low-profile as any monkeys can live -- on a marshy 19-acre tract on Dania Beach Boulevard. It's there that a troop of about 100 dusky-faced vervets swing through scrub pines, entertain the tourists in the Motel 6 parking lot, and dine on Cheez Doodles and apples segments left by their fans.
But after Tailpipe remarked on their presence recently, the daily newspapers waded in with their own stories, and the owner of the property, who has for a 288-unit project, began to get testy. Ocean Development has been quietly moving its plan -- including twin 14-story condo towers, which would make it the tallest residential building in town -- through the land-use process. The other night, the Dania Beach Commission voted unanimously, without comment, to rezone the site as a multi-family residential area. Next step: public comment.
But what about those monkeys?
Nobody is sure about where they came from. Vervets are an African species, and these may have escaped from an abandoned roadside attraction or a now-defunct research facility. All anybody really knows is that they've been there for 50 years and , despite being nearly decimated eight or nine years ago but a local trapper, they've thrived. Longtime Danians have developed a sentimental attachment to the little primates, and snow birds escaping the frigid Midwest often make a point of visiting with them at the Motel 6 fence.
But the monkeys' future is scarily uncertain, according to animal activists.
Not to worry, the site's developers say reassuringly. Less than a quarter of the site, which is owned by Denver resident Barry Morris, will go for the condos. The rest, the wetlands part, will remain undeveloped. "Besides," says Fort Lauderdale lawyer Bonnie Miskel, who represents the developers, Charles Putman & Associates , "there's a park next door -- a huge area -- to which the monkeys can migrate."
Not so fast. That huge park -- West Lake Park, which stretches along the Intracoastal -- is actually separated from the monkeys' habitat by busy Dania Beach Boulevard.
"These are smart animals," says Spencer Bruce, a Dania Beach sales representative who has taken an interest in the monkeys. "Relocating them in the vicinity is not a good idea. They'll know where they came from and then they'll be in the position of going through traffic again." As for the idea of leaving the monkeys on site in the wetlands: "These monkeys live on the [dry] ground. The only time they go into the trees is for sleep or protection."
City officials are unconcerned. "Nothing's set in concrete that I'm aware of," Mayor Robert Anton says. Development director Laurence Leeds adds that, no matter what happens, the monkeys will be taken care of. "We have an animal relocation ordinance that applies to all development impacting wooded areas," he says.
Tailpipe would feel a lot better about the future of those cute critters if they lived anywhere but Dania Beach, which has shown recently that all things are possible for developers with big plans. Last year, Miami developers MKN Investors, which is building a 427-townhouse complex on Griffin Road, wanted to speed up the review process, so they "donated" $250,000 to the city. The money went into a "contingency" fund, part of which went straight to the commissioners for opting out of an employee health insurance program -- and MKN got its speed-up.
And guess who's about to assume the reins as Dania Beach Mayor in a few weeks? C.K. McElyea. That's right, the owner of Mac's Towing, who made New Times' list of the 2003 Dirty Dozen, for negotiating city contracts with the Broward Sheriff's Office at the same time his company was under contract with BSO to tow illegally parked cars.
As far as the monkeys are concerned, they're suddenly nowhere to be found. "I haven't seen them in two weeks," Bruce says. Probably just roamin'. But the scary thing is that Dania Beach's favorite vervets could be "disappeared" overnight and, because there's no state law protecting them, no one would have to answer for removing them.
And it burns, burns, burns. Itches something powerful fierce, too. Hemorrhoids are no picnic -- or so they tell Tailpipe. Sula Miller, the TV diva behind Fort Lauderdale Big Grin Productions, was s truggling with an uncomfortable case of the 'rhoids when she hit upon a high-concept solution. Since Johnny and June have relocated to that Folsom Prison Yard in the sky, Miller figured they wouldn't mind if she borrowed "Ring of Fire" to use as a jingle for a new brand of sphincter-soothin' ointment. Her company would produce the ad. She figured wrong -- as soon as the story broke, daughter Roseanne Cashsaid she would "never allow the song to be demeaned like that."
Reached during a commercial shoot, Miller was barely able to work as handled calls from reporters all over the globe. The BBC, Rolling Stone, CNN News, USA Today, have all called her in the last week, eager to share in the laughs.
"It's an incredible media frenzy," she says breathlessly after a cell-phone interview with an Irish radio station. "When I came up with the idea, I had no idea it would create such controversy."
The song's publisher, Painted Desert Music, had tentatively agreed to sell the rights to Big Grin for $1 million. And "Ring of Fire"'s co-writer, Merle Kilgore, was down with the deal. "Big Grin was going to produce a 'spec commercial,' then pitch it to Preparation H or Anusol or Proctocaine, one of the hemorrhoid cream commercials," Miller relates. "I was really surprised the publishing company said yes."
Well, scratch that idea. The concept will not be making, uh, piles of money for Big Grin.
--As told to Edmund Newton