Swelter

Fall in New York, the leaves turning color, the air crisp and almost clean, the prospect of a sort of Merry Christmas. And the fashionable life, back in full swing. Apocalypse, the new heavy-duty industrial night at The Building, put together by Gary James and Bobby Stark of Disco Inferno. Ray Barretto at the Village Gate. Fashion week, the ritual unveiling of the spring collections, with a splashy Nicole Miller party at Danceteria and a real cozy Clio Designs Inc. dinner at Le Bernardin (the sister restaurant to Coconut Grove's Brasserie Le Coze) with one stupendous course (seared-tuna salads, sea-bass ceviche, etc.) after another. And to top it all off, a promotional party for a "Rollerblades for AIDS" fund raiser at Tatou, featuring Misty Rowe of Hee Haw, Karen Valentine of Room 222, and Michael Musto of the Village Voice.

Musto, looking like the fashion anti-Christ in a high-tack shirt embossed with shimmery purple-and-green threads, a Rasta-vibrations cap and the kind of faded Sears leisurewear brown polyester pants a down-and-out insurance agent might favor, is in splendid form. The welcome-to-the-Casbah decor of Tatou is dotted with the familiar points of light of the New York nightlife constellation: Carmen D'Alessio from Studio 54; club promoter/diet queen Nikki Haskell; Interview photographer Patrick McMullan; Stephan Saban of Details. The Brady Bunch cast is singing the theme from Three's Company. And most important, the celebrity beat has been especially productive this evening: "Misty was amazing. She told me that she was fired from Hee Haw because eighteen-year-old girls work cheaper. In five minutes, she was telling me something incredibly personal. That's why I only like to interview stars on the way up, or on the way down - you think Barbra Streisand would open up like that?"

Musto pulls an envelope covered with scrawled notes out of his enormous canvas shoulder sack and writes down something. Saban, who has the look of a man with an intensely interesting social life ("If you can't remember it, it's probably not worth remembering"), asks about Warsaw: "Sex and drug problems? You're kidding - that's what makes a good club." It's 11:30, too early to go anywhere else. Everyone mills around aimlessly for a while, losing focus, until it's midnight and time for Glamorama.

On the cab ride downtown, we pass by Sebastian, a truly epicene creature - white nurse's outfit, see-through plastic raincoat, black horn-rim Cary Grant glasses - prancing down the street. Musto mentions that his real name is Steve something-or-another, and then launches into a quietly venomous diatribe, directed against the vermin who didn't invite the last remaining real New York nightlife columnist to the Planet Hollywood opening. McMullan reasonably points out that "first Jackie Kennedy and celebrities of that caliber are sent invitations - the guest list is always limited, right? - and then if they won't come, people like us are invited." As we get out of the cab, McMullan brightly remarks: "The banter, it's great, huh?"

At the club, recently put together by, among other nightlife legends, Vito Bruno of Palladium, Musto hits his stride, reveling in the smoke machines and chandeliers, the madly vogueing dancers, the drag queens named Perfidia and Lahoma, the topless patron with her nipples painted a dark unappetizing red. In this world, Musto is a star, Valley of the Dolls meets Love Boat, tough, forever glamorous, master of a kingdom that few people of a certain age understand, appreciate, or even particularly desire.

The star credentials are always right on target. Like many celebrities, Musto is coy about revealing his true age: "Just say I'm in my thirties." He's willing to lend his considerable talents to whatever guest shots are necessary; work for US and Penthouse Forum, as well as the Voice and Vanity Fair. And he's able to speak in amusing sound bites ("I'm robo-downtown man") at a moment's notice for a film crew or stray journalist: "This place is like a padded cell... The Times called me about a Seventies revival piece they're doing - typically, they're three years behind. It's already time for the Eighties revival.... Last year I wrote a skit called The Rise and Fall of Tama Janowitz. She's got some pet-care cable show now. My newest project is Downtown Cinderella: the Mary Boone story. Ross Bleckner is going to play her in drag; Julian Schnabel wants to be in it too.... Oh God, not again - I'm so tired of being photographed."

Glamorama never really gets going, so we head over to Jackie 60, a one-nighter at the sympathetic little joint 432 West 14th Street. It's small, packed, Gotterdammerung, like something out of Isherwood's The Lost. Midgets in jaunty berets. Lesbians in ridiculously exposed boxer shorts, like young black toughs, squiring their lovers around on leashes. A latex fashion show emceed by Chi Chi Valenti, the "Brooke Astor of downtown." An exceedingly rough lesbo S&M routine by Mother Kitty Boots & The House of Runway Domination. It's the real thing, downtown heaven.

Saban turns back up around 2:00 a.m. Kenny Scharf, Eighties art victim and Florida devotee, talks wistfully about how his deal for a house on Miami Beach fell through. J.C. Carroll of Art-Act, who moved up to New York last September ("I'm doing this thing with Liquid Brain Stain at The Bank, going on auditions and stuff"), provides an interesting perspective on that Miami/New York number: "I love Miami, grew up there and everything, but it's like it can only go so far. At Art-Act, we just couldn't get people, well, paying people, out to the plays. Finally, with the Trouble after-hours thing, the theater made some money. People would stand in line at dawn to have sex, but they wouldn't come to see the work." By 3:00 a.m., our sober business attire and infinite capacity to annoy others had worked on everyone's nerves - including Musto, who had vanished. A transvestite kept trying to dance with us. The punch had gone out of the night. And then there was only the cab driver, with the perfect New York line: "How's things buddy? Any fun in there?" Fun, sex, going too far, that New York/Miami angle. The important issues that leave you, well, ambivalent, kind of like the Working Girl type who marred a perfectly pleasant American Airlines flight with a running commentary on metropolitan relativity: "I love New York, but it's a fooking jungle habitat. Miami...now that's living."

After the jungle habitat, the living did seem pretty good again. The Peter Pan opening-night party at The Butter Club. The Miami Design Preservation League benefit at the Strand. The Book Fair. Back to that same old place, sweet home Miami.

 
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