;Sometimes circumstances ; instantly redefine themselves without so much as a cock of the brow. A ray of light is bent to a blemish, a moment of truth pierces a bankable lie, a perceived shoe reveals itself to be nothing more than an oversized ugly foot densely populated with wiry hairs, and all previous assumptions are out the window with the dead baby. Things, quite naturally, are not always as they seem.

;;So the fact that a low-rent lounge act is currently straining through an acoustics-free, keyboard-by-numbers rendition of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," while Jessica and I teeter awkwardly around the periphery of Church Street's tasteless, post-happy hour hairline recession does little to draw to mind any notions of racial equality, musical transcendence, or even "Sexual Healing." No, nothing nearly so revolutionary comes to mind at all.

;;"What the FUCK is going on?" I sizzle and stew into Jessica's tentative path. That song and this evening are effectively ruined for me. Why? Because Orlando is the flop-sweat nightmare from which one never wakes up, that's why. Tonight is supposed to be the "media opening" for the Absinthe Bistro & Bar, a new "concept" eatery that's been loosely sold to me as a slice of Bohemian Paris circa 1900 — an otherworldly escape to a forbidden (absinthe is illegal ... boo!) world of hungry poets with berets askew — and I've been looking forward to it, if only as much I can possibly look forward to a place that serves food. The much-ballyhooed Church Street boom should be erect and slapping us across the face by now, but at present it feels more like a small, soft cock at eye level, Lou Pearlman's belly resting snugly on the top of our heads. I have a reservation.

;;"I'll take you there," deep-throated a curbside hostess just two minutes ago, dim as a candle in a sewer. But where she's taken us is nowhere I ever want to be. An ornate lounge area, or a brass-and-brick bar (Downtown Architecture 101), unfolds with a charmless crowd belch, while in its center I make unwanted eye contact with a mime. Not just a mime, actually, but a mime with no shirt on, chest hair greasepainted down in black-and-white stripes in what must be an anti-establishment protest against those pesky health codes. His arms are flailing some message of recognition or welcome, like mimes' arms do, but his very existence is telling me to run away fast.

;;No such luck. A clueless-but-cordial marketing person is about to give us a tour, but not before we order socially lubricating libations from another dim candle.


;"Campari and soda," Jessica autopilots a drink.


;"What?" the candle flutters.


;And so it will go. We'll get the tour, a management type will approach with the news that no, he doesn't know what Campari is, and don't even try to mention Pernod, the virtues of a milkshake maker in the front-of-house café will be extolled, and a wine cellar with an unresearched history will be unveiled. Somebody will say, "We want it to be a place where Orlando can eat." Seriously.

;;Back upstairs, Jessica and I decide to sample the gourmet offerings, presented here buffet-style, with Sterno lamps underneath. Now I don't really do food, so my opinion matters not, but judging by the size of the eye roll from Jessica, I can only deduce that it is unsavory. This is exhausting. Channel 13's effete John Handiboe shows up with superhottie Jeff Timmons of 98 Degrees and a fat girl, the mime starts trying to teach a giant green absinthe fairy to fly, the lounge act belts out Bonnie Raitt's "Something to Talk About," and a loud train comes tooting by, all within the same 30 seconds. Apocalypse now. Check, please.

;;"And scene!" we haste an awkward exit and run out the door.

;;Two hours of asexual healing later, we're giving it another go, this time ;at the newly reopened ;Club at Firestone. It's "Saturdays on Thursdays," which means, loosely, nothing, and by the outward appearance of the nightlife behemoth — bamboo sticks propped up against metal fencing — the expectations of my own opening are growing increasingly soft.

;;But all I can say is thank God Mike Feinberg knows how to spend money. What they've done to this icon of "what used to be" in Orlando is nothing short of expensively fantastic. The whole upstairs area — formerly the Glass Chamber, Judaica fans — is completely repurposed as some sort of DJ heaven, and looks remarkably like the inside of a 1983 Sanyo boombox. Haircut hipsters are milling about in tasteful lighting, electronic feedback music gritting their teeth where the amphetamines used to, and everybody is having the time of their lives. Outside, the pavement has been lined with Astroturf and a giant water feature hints at an Asian serenity as seen through the manga eyes of a strung-out teenager. I could be happy here … again.

;;"I just got back from London," crazy-eyed artist Andrew Spear tells us, "and guess who I had to sit next to the whole way back: Joey Fatone."

;;"Did you ask the Lance question?" I am the Lance question.


;"Well, I did put my hand on his knee," Spear gropes. "I asked if he had something to tell me."


;Things, quite naturally, are not always as they seem.

; [email protected]
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