Culture Pooped

Tony Gleeson

"Popularity is exhausting," the late playwright, dilettante, raconteur Wilson Mizner once said. "The life of the party almost always ends up in the corner with an overcoat over him." The principle of diminishing revelry returns might have applied here at Delux, though the brother of South Florida architect Addison (for whom nearby Mizner Park was named), a notable partier himself back in the Roaring '20s, would probably have fit right into la vida of this particular fiesta.

An obviously well-lubricated woman filled her goblet from a bottle, then stood on her stool's bottom rung, one hand holding the glass, the other raising the roof as she moved to the Pussycat Dolls' "Don't Cha." She promptly spilled the liquid down her arm and onto the floor as she thrust her hips and arched her back in time to the music. From her height on the stool, she seemed to be the general leading the troops of pretty chicas, who danced with similar unself-conscious enthusiasm on the floor behind her. A little fan club of men gathered around them, vying for their attention.

This particular Thursday night at the Delray club was a "Red Party." The fact that the women in question weren't wearing the celebratory color didn't diminish their popularity, nor did the fact that I had a single nail polished in crimson increase mine. The throng boogied off, taking their moves and devotees to the dance floor where they had more room and could check up on how they "twerked it" in the huge framed mirror there. I stood alone at the bar holding up the digit with the chipped veneer to show my support to the party's organizer, Alex.

"The color is just a gimmick to bring people together to show unity for a cause," Alex admitted.

Sick of the usual college night where "everyone gets trashed and doesn't remember what happened," he'd organized the event to raise money for (RED), a charity organized by U2's Bono to raise money to fight AIDS in Africa.

"Next month, I want to do a White Party," Alex said.

"Sounds racist," I remarked.

"It's for to 'make poverty history,'" Alex said, invoking the slogan of another pet project of the Irish rocker. "I would love to do it bigger and more often, like a fundraiser once a month."

I was torn: The activist in me approved, but the cynic in me distrusted the megastar's motives, causing me to wonder why he didn't just dip into his own fat coffers to support his beloved causes.

My cynicism was tempered by another of my vices. When I met Rómulo, one of Alex's foot soldiers in the battle for club clientele, it was clear that it wasn't just his good looks alone that was bringing in the crowds.

"You said it almost perfect," Rómulo said, when I repeated his name back to him, rolling my r just as he had, to make sure I'd heard him correctly. "Where are you from?"

When we established that I was a South Floridian and he a South American (though I was too distracted by his good looks to remember which country he was from), the international business student told me he was working as a club promoter to help develop a résumé for the commercial music business.

"Not interested in the indie music business?" I queried, finding the smaller industry far more hip.

"No, that's so much harder," he replied as I eyed the rosary that hung from his neck on the background of his red, sequined-embroidered T-shirt. "In the commercial business, everything is already established, the framework is already there. You just get hired into a job."

So he was more of a corporate sort than DIY, though his charisma would have served him in either role. Meanwhile, outside, the valets were sorting the sober from the DUI sorts by refusing to bring cars to the obviously impaired and calling cabs for them instead.

"One girl fell on her face," Rómulo said. "Another said she wasn't drunk, but she couldn't walk straight."

Well, at least the girls were walking the party line and getting drunk for a good cause.

I was still contemplating popularity — and the role of nightclubs as the Petri dishes of pop culture — when I was distracted by a girl whose thick glasses magnified eyes that were as bright as her smile.

"It's to freshen my breath after Taco Bell," she said as she tossed back a Rumple Minze. "Want one?"

I assumed it was her idea of hospitality rather than a hygiene hint; before I had time to answer the question, she had already decided for me.

"Babe, will you get her one?" she asked the bartender in the red Napoleon Dynamite shirt.  

"Good choice," I said, meaning the guy, not the shot, and nodded appreciatively.

"Yeah, he took years to find," she said and introduced herself as Jenna and her bartender-boyfriend as Matty. "It's important that we're both in the same industry."

I understood completely. I also had dealt with jealous ex-boyfriends who didn't understand that flirting was part of my job. As a bartender at Renegades in West Palm, Jenna's job required even more understanding from her partner.

"I'm the one that dances on the bar," she explained. Her role was an exclusive one, making her the "wild child" of the country-Western bar. "Other girls used to do it too, but then one fell."

Without my having to prompt her, she explained why she didn't work at the more famous country-Western counterpart. In this case, big cap restrictions would have hindered her professional opportunities.

"I wouldn't work at Coyote Ugly because it's too corporate," she explained. "You have to ring everything in. But that's not how you get the party started."

Yeah, a shot on the house always gets the good times rolling. As she spoke, she gestured energetically and shifted in her seat, like an antsy kid with ADHD. She assured me her bartending methods worked, and, of course, she had been named the Palm Beach Post's Best Bartender of 2005.

Her personality magnified her beauty sort of the way her glasses amplified the size of her eyes. She transcended the nerdy eyewear, which were necessitated by what she called "a clusterfuck of eye problems."

Were they an obstacle when it came to people pleasing? Not in her case. Jenna laughed. "People are like, 'Can you take them off for me?' and I'm like, 'Can you take off your pants for me?'"

There are some men I know who'd be confused and aroused by a remark like that. But I, for one, knew she was talking about vulnerability, not public nudity.

We were sidetracked by the arrival of another party — of the birthday sort — for Cuch (pronounced "cooch"), who was celebrating his 34th. I'd known the handsome hottie from the years he bartended at Dada on the same nights I hosted the poetry slam there. Jenna began introducing me around.

"This is Nick, the mayor of Delray," she said, explaining it was an unofficial position (not the official position, which is held by a guy named Jeff Perlman), a title they'd given him "because he knows everyone in Delray.

"And this is the mayor's assistant," she said, introducing another hottie with a faux hawk.

"I know Ramón from the days he had a mullet," I laughed referencing the time he and Cuch donned wigs to attend a Mötley Crüe and Poison concert.

The music had shifted from booty-shake tunes to such rock anthems as "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Another One Bites the Dust." Despite the whole bottle of vodka that Cuch had ordered (attractively displayed on a white napkin with mixers and garnishes), the group ordered a dozen shots of tequila. The birthday boy passed them back to a collective "Woo!" and extended one to me.

"Uh-uh," I said shaking my head and laughing. "Y'all are gonna be drunk, so there's not gonna be anyone to hold my hair when I puke."

"Yeah, me either," said a guy with shortly shorn hair, setting his empty shot glass on the bar.

Jenna excused herself from the party, and a tough-looking guy took her seat. He introduced himself as Jason and told me a familiar tale about how he'd fled the frigid Northeast for Florida's enticing warmth.

"I was sitting in a cold car, hunched over, waiting for it to warm up, and I was like 'What am I doing?'" he said, relating how he'd reached that pivotal moment when he decided to leave for bluer skies and opened-toed shoes.

"In New York, I used to be the stereotypical Guido," Jason told me.

"You mean like the gold chains, Italian horn, all that?"

"I was mean, egotistical, greedy," he confessed.

The new atmosphere reflected in his improved disposition. He still had the tough-guy body, but he had softened. Besides, whoever heard of a thug in flip-flops?

As Matty did pull-ups on the bar's overhead rack, Jason's buddy Charles shared his own experience in the bike taxi business, which had given him mixed returns — great success in West Palm Beach and dismal disappointment in Delray.

"I got thrown out of Delray," Charles said with a look that was equal parts cynicism and disgust.

He explained that a drunk driver had hit one of his taxis, which prompted their expulsion from the city limits.  

"Delray had no ordinance for or against them," he said. "They just put me out of business for no just cause."

Evidently, being friends with Nick, "The Mayor of Delray," wasn't much help here. I speculated that the bike taxis upset the delicate transportation ecosystem by eliminating the first line of defense against drunk drivers — the valets — which in turn cut into the automotive taxi business.

As Yogi Berra once so eloquently said: "Anyone who is popular is bound to be disliked."

No wonder popularity is so exhausting.

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