Churchill's Pub, My Childhood Drawings, Filth, and Art
Editor's note: After 35 years, Miami's Churchill's Pub in Little Haiti is switching hands and changing course. An oral history on this legendary venue will be published next week.
More than six months ago, my mom gave me a big bag of papers she was still hoarding from my childhood. In it were things like unsent postcards, ugly crayon drawings of cats, and card envelopes with the word "Lizzy" scribbled on them. Since that day, I neglected to bring this bag into the house, which I suppose says a lot about how I manage menial tasks.
Last Friday night, after one of the concerts held to bid farewell to the now former owner and founder of Churchill's Pub, Dave Daniels, someone threw a concrete block into my car window. They stole the battery and, oddly enough, scattered these papers from my youth all around the 55th Street block of NE Second Avenue.
I spent the next day scouring the filthy streets gathering notes I'd passed to friends in fourth grade and photos from elementary school as they floated down the street -- and yes, I may have grabbed an old receipt covered in pee.
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But there was something reverent about these acts, the scattering and gathering of bits of my childhood outside of a place where I spent a solid part of the past dozen years growing into an actual adult.
I remember the stories of some of the papers strewn about, but I have no idea why I or she kept others. Memories are like that: Some stick; others don't. And then a homeless guy reminds you of all that when he sees you picking scraps off the ground and hands you a syllabus from some forgotten year and asks for a buck. Or you find an old spelling test with your name on it in the bathroom trashcan at a bar your mom called "your second home" the week it changes hands and basically just changes.
As you get older, you start to narrow down the places you spend time, largely because you have less of it. And, the truth is, there was almost no occasion where I felt going to Churchill's wasn't the most appropriate idea.
When John Kerry lost to Bush in 2004, I was hosting a Youth Vote Coalition event at the Playwright on the Beach for my job. Once they called Florida, we said "Fuck this" and headed to Churchill's. Out back with our fellow hippies, my brother cried, my ex's sister wept, I sulked in solidarity (It was an emotional election, let me tell ya. Talk about losing hope.). When I wanted a place to see Obama's second win, I mentioned a watching party to Nicky (read about him in Miami New Times' People Issue), and he set up a room of televisions for us to happily and drunkenly watch the map light up in blue.
The day Michael Jackson died, I was sitting at the bar when Louis Aguirre announced the news. My two friends and I put "Thriller" on the jukebox, and Sugar Lips, a local lady of the night, filmed us doing the video's classic zombie moves in honor of the King of Pop. I was also there when my brother sent me the text -- about ten seconds after anyone else had heard -- that Whitney Houston died.
See also: Churchill's New Owners: An Open Letter
My friend Nathan and I would go to the International Noise Conference every year in the early days just so we could check out the stinky, cute noise guys Rat Bastard had wrangled into carpooling to Miami. And this year, at maybe the final INC at Churchill's, I got to crash and burn onstage with a flute in hand.
I've been hit in the face by accident. I've thrown drinks on others on purpose. I got soaking wet in a dunk tank out front. I had my face wiped with frosting at my Night of the Weirds 33 1/3 birthday party (good times). I've gotten scared for just a second in the crushing and waving intensity of bodies at two Lightning Bolt shows. I saw performance artist Costes perform with poop (or something like it) onstage there when 20 people were in the audience and again when you couldn't catch a glimpse of his penis over the Art Basel crowd.
I was struck with a feeling there last week, though it took a while for my thoughts to catch up. As Lilah de Hellion sang and played the harp in pasties, I suddenly felt I had to pay close attention. I saw Dave Daniels and Rat at opposite ends of the stage watching her intently as well. After she finished her song, she wiped away tears. When I looked back to check, both Dave and Rat were gone.
It was just a moment, but the connection was palpable. And the connection started with the music, it came from the art -- the emotion of it, the authenticity it expressed. I realized that these men kindly, and for the good of all, created a space that recognized that making effective art is a dirty process.
It's all filthy: getting pregnant, giving birth, making music. All the things that matter are not clean -- like picking up a card from my grandmother out of the dirt at the curb. If it counts, it's as slimy as the morning after a Kenny Millions milk-fueled pukefest. It's as bizarre as the ladies' toilet that's positioned way too close to the wall to actually sit on.
Much like Dave Daniels is moving out of his house in the back and on to the next adventure in his life, my parents are selling the home I grew up in. That's why they gave me this bag full of crap. Now most of those bits of my past, saved for decades, are wet and gone, and the energy in these two locations is changing from safe to different. But what was there -- when it was most significant to me and South Florida -- was invaluable to our development and understanding of true community and the power of real art. And for that, I'm forever grateful.
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