South Beach in the late 1990s is a town of blink-and-you'll-miss-'em nightclubs populated by celebrities, models, mobsters, heiresses, drug dealers, drag queens, and fun seekers of all stripes. It's a place where the famous come to party like locals, the locals party like rock stars behind velvet ropes, and the press is savvy enough to know what not to report.
Rachel Baum is a sheltered, career-oriented everygirl when she moves to South Beach from her quiet Miami suburb, searching for a life less ordinary. Quickly making friends among SoBe's most exclusive scenesters, she spends her days building a career and her nights building a reputation. But in a town where friends become enemies faster than highs become hangovers, the life less ordinary turns into more than Rachel bargained for. As she pursues the endless party in penthouses, dive bars, after-hours clubs, and cocaine speakeasies, Rachel struggles to balance her goals and ambitions with the decadence and excess -- especially her drug-fueled, on-again off-again relationship with Yale-graduate-turned-addict John Hood -- that threaten to destroy everything she's always worked for.
With tremendous wit and razor-sharp insight, Diary of a South Beach Party Girl portrays the innermost sanctums of South Beach's privileged Beautiful People through the eyes of a no longer innocent heroine.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
A fourth-generation Miami Beach native, Gwen Cooper moved to South Beach in 1997 and contributed feature articles to Miamigo magazine and the South Beach News. Gwen currently lives and works in Manhattan, most recently as special projects manager for Wenner Media, publisher of Rolling Stone and Us Weekly.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
I first met Amy Saragosi during what I now refer to as my Bell Jar phase. That is, for roughly twenty-five years I'd been busily fulfilling my destiny as achiever of good grades, winner of awards, and attainer of a respectable, middle-class lifestyle. I was closing in fast on the brass ring and I was exhausted.
Growing up in an upper-middle-class Miami suburb, I had been raised to expect everything and nothing. Everything in the sense that I would have -- as a matter of course -- a good education, a successful career, an equally successful husband, the exact right number of children, a big house with the requisite Florida swimming pool, and a healthy retirement fund. Nothing in the sense that there were no other acceptable options for me to pursue.
Overachievement was the philosophy I'd been bred into, and it was a philosophy I'd taken to heart. A volunteer and part-time political activist since my high school days, I'd selected a career in nonprofit administration because it seemed like the best way to do good (something that mattered a lot to me) while earning a name for myself in Miami's professional/political community (something that mattered just as much). I'd worked my way up through the ranks, assisted in part by active memberships in groups like the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Miami, the United Way of Miami-Dade's Young Leaders, and the Hannah Kahn Poetry Foundation. I even had a picture-perfect, up-and-coming Cuban boyfriend of nearly four years to whom, as was assumed by everybody -- myself included -- I would get engaged any second now. We had settled into a snug "starter" house on the outskirts of Coral Gables -- a neighborhood so old-money placid it could've been underwritten by Valium -- and everything was falling neatly into its designated place.
More and more, though, I'd begun feeling as if I didn't have one more promotion, Chamber of Commerce award, or evening of being charming to my fiancé-to-be's high school friends left in me. I don't remember exactly when or why the persistent feeling of boredom I'd been living with for months became simply a dull emptiness. I just know that, eventually, I took to overeating, spontaneous crying jags, and an utterly prosaic sexual affair with a coworker. We'd drive to the cheap motels along Calle Ocho, patronized by prostitutes and porn addicts, where twenty-one dollars got you a room for two hours, free condoms, and no questions asked.
Every day I was being hollowed out bit by bit. I knew, somehow, that it was only a matter of time before the whole structure collapsed on itself and exposed me to everyone as a fraud who'd never been as bright or well-adjusted as she'd led them to believe. Most of my waking energy was spent in giving careful attention to the integrity of the facade, so that the failure lurking beneath the surface of the success-story-to-be would never see the light of day. I was tired all the time, taking lengthy naps after work that still didn't keep me from falling asleep most nights before ten o'clock.
Those of you who've ever taken Psych 101 or watched Oprah are probably saying to yourselves, Ah! She was depressed! Burnout . . . fear of failure . . . fear of success . . . classic case, really. And you're at least partially right. But, for me, it wasn't as abstract as all that. I wasn't self-destructive or suffering from a generalized fear of success.
I was afraid of succeeding because I was pretty sure that I hated everything I was supposed to succeed at.
An inveterate bookworm from as far back as I could remember, my imagination was always full of alternative lives I could be living in Paris among poets, or in L.A. among movie moguls, or in South American jungles among revolutionaries. I'd fantasize about tragic relationships with artistic men, or sophisticated parties where conversations had gleefully sharp edges. I wanted those things so badly, sometimes my very teeth hurt from the wanting. It was the business of attaining them that was beyond the power of my imagination.
Because I'd always read a lot, I'd always gotten good grades and succeeded at work-related projects without trying particularly hard. But I had no idea how to make my life more exciting within the rigid confines of the suburban straight-and-narrow -- or how to step out of the straight-and-narrow altogether. I'd always known how to achieve things, but I didn't know how to do things. By default, I'd ended up doing what everybody else expected me to do and feeling, at the ripe old age of twenty-five, like life was passing me by.
So, when I thought about my life, I pictured it as a riderless horse galloping at full-pace in a straight line, dragging me along behind it with one foot trapped in the stirrup toward a bland, colorless future.
In the midst of this, Amy dropped into my life like the moment of Revelation that all true believers wait for.
I was working for the Miami-Dade affiliate of Unified Charities of America, running their direct service volunteer program. Amy was doing freelance translation work of some kind for one of the big downtown law firms that had offices in the same building. We were two of a handful of smokers at a time when cigarettes were becoming the catch-all bogeyman of the politically correct set and we constantly ran into each other downstairs, cigarettes in hand. We began to know each other by sight, then began to talk, and quickly became friends.
Like most hard-core book nerds, I'd always secretly suspected that I was much cooler than people gave me credit for. Amy's singling me out for friendship seemed like independent proof. It wasn't just that she was one of the most beautiful women I'd ever seen, with dark red hair, enormous Brazilian-brown eyes, and the kind of perfect body you were supposed to have but probably didn't. But -- at my own age of twenty-five -- Amy already had the irreverent, fuck-'em-all self-confidence that only comes one of two ways: staggering good looks or years of hard living.
Amy had them both in spades.
When two women who hardly know each other decide to become best friends, a lengthy period of exposition usually ensues. It's almost like the first few months with a new lover -- you want to tell each other all your stories and hear all theirs: where and how you grew up, what your family was like, the men you've loved, the things you've done.
Amy's stories were well worth the price of admission, although you never really knew how much was true and how much had been exaggerated for the sake of good storytelling. I believed every word she said as if it were gospel truth, mostly because I absolutely wanted to believe it all, but the timelines got a little wobbly around the edges if you looked at them too closely.
As near as I could piece together, Amy was a Brazilian native whose father had eventually fled back to his homeland of Turkey. Amy's mother had gone after him with the questionable intention of dragging him back, and a fourteen-year-old Amy had ended up in Manhattan, sharing a SoHo apartment with a nineteen-year-old model. By seventeen, Amy was a full-fledged drug addict, working as a stripper to support her habit. In and out of rehab by eighteen, she'd pursued degrees in linguistics and anthropology through various universities in Berlin, Paris, and Seattle. She'd been engaged in Paris to a famous-in-art-circles sculptor, and in Seattle to a small-time real-estate magnate who was, allegedly, stump-stupid but obscenely gorgeous. Now single, Amy had settled in South Beach so she could be closer to her brother, who also lived on the Beach. She traveled extensively when she wasn't working, killing time overseas with artist friends and shadowy million-aires, and celebrities from Bob Dylan and Courtney Love to Michael Douglas and Brad Pitt. She'd even once been an invited guest to a party at Madonna's home.
I was never to know where Amy got the money for these trips, as I was also never to know how she paid for her reckless shopping binges or the bursts of extravagance she would sometimes treat us both to. That she couldn't finance her lifestyle through her freelance work was almost certain. I suspected that she might still be in touch with her parents and that they sent her money, but the one time I'd asked about them, Amy had answered with a curt, "I haven't heard from either of my parents in years."
I told my own stories in turn. Not that they were much in comparison with Amy's -- suddenly, my hijinks at out-of-town high school debate tournaments or college fraternity parties seemed like the most humdrum forms of naughtiness. The daughter of a lawyer and a medical office manager, my family dynamic was nowhere near as complex as Amy's -- which is not to say that my family and I were close. I knew without question that my parents loved me, but there was always an undercurrent of discomfort -- of unspoken tensions, or brawls waiting to erupt -- that had kept us from forming the friendly-grownup interaction most of my friends had developed with their own parents post-college.
A childhood lived through books had made me the kid who'd always done well on standardized tests (sexy, right?), and I therefore went the way of the chess club when the smart kids and the cool kids inevitably separated in high school. I told Amy how my two favorite extracurricular activities had been writing and the debate team, and how teachers had assured me that both of these skills would take me far. I'd brought home a more or less constant stream of trophies and awards. Other parents had thought I'd probably be a "good influence" and encouraged their kids to hang out with me.
I'd majored in creative writing in college and spent four years eating, breathing, and sleeping poetry. I told Amy about Lara Jacobs, my best friend in the world dating back to our college days when we'd run wild through local bars and practiced the fine art of driving boys crazy. Under Lara's tutelage, I'd learned to embrace my inner extrovert and had, I felt, blossomed from high school brainiac into sociable, semi-sophisticated college heartbreaker. ...
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