Swelter

Something evil in our midst, as the dance to the music of the apocalypse goes on. Ten days that really shook the world, a hurricane of epic Miami proportions: biggest, flashiest, most sinister. The city returning to its natural state, an overinflated banana republic: martial law, looting, and armed troops guarding an El Salvador-style war zone, sand blowing across the streets, spotty electricity and phone service, unsafe drinking water, and the threat of cholera. Throughout, real suffering, courage, and moments of decency. South Dade residents spray-painting their names and phone numbers on demolished homes to identify the remains for insurance companies. Ruined lives and an outpouring of charity, the certainty that more dead bodies will be beneath the rubble. A time when pretense is swept away, when truth stands revealed, a pivotal moment of renewal and rebirth.

But then, human nature being what it is, nothing -- WWIII, nuclear winter, the earth imploding -- will ever really change people. Especially the itch for diversion on the edge of disaster. It may be, as Goethe pointed out, that "anything can be endured except a succession of too many beautiful days." Or, simply a dark, atavistic thirst for destruction that can never be appeased. Whatever, a particularly vibrant strain of nightlife just before the storm.

The late Walker Percy once observed that the citizens of New Orleans only seemed truly happy while either preparing for a hurricane or actively making money. People on South Beach doing both, remaining in a virtual ecstatic trance. The Friday night before the ill winds and it's a twentieth-birthday party at The Rose Bar for Irene Marie model Genny B., hosted by big ticket glamour gal Julie Feiten. Diverting visuals provided by a woman playing pool, sans underwear. A raucous dinner at I Tre Merli -- playfully breaking wine bottles apparently something of an in-house sport -- with a Japanese designer dining with boy, music ranging from Rick James to Frank Sinatra's rendition of "New York, New York." Warsaw's third-anniversary party afterward, trees, tin foil, dancers wearing condoms, Tinkerbell on a swing. As the rest of the universe retreats, South Beach living on Sodom time.

Saturday night, the party continuing as we prepare for the end, milling around in classic WASP style, alternating between anxiety, fecklessness, and sloth. Sunday afternoon, the exodus north, the Florida Turnpike like something out of Road Warrior. A wasteland of palmetto scrub pines and redneck orange-juice stands, waiting for mohawk thugs in armed hot rods to ride up at any moment and demand fuel. The family road trip, yet another hetero nightmare, our companion wittily remarking at one point, "I'm not your fucking flight attendant." Two days at Disney World, the great equalizer, hip young couples gradually turning into their own parents, all sweaty mush in the face of screaming, Mickey-driven children. Lunch at the Brown Derby, rides through Splash Mountain and Catastrophe Canyon. Perky Disney guides everywhere, directing the hordes. A dose of real America after the hothouse atmosphere of Miami.

Posthurricane, people trying to reclaim their lives. The Grove virtually null and void, trees down, sailboats blowing up Aviation Avenue. Flannigan's Loggerhead, just off 27th Avenue and outside the blockade zone, hosting afternoon parties. Wind damage at the deserted Stringfellow's.CocoWalk and Baja Beach Club shut down temporarily by falling roof tiles, most clubs not operating due to various technical problems and the curfew. Paul Woodward of Club Anarchy, a reconverted Masonic temple, riding out the storm in his rather solidly built establishment, working on a combination opening/posthurricane/back-to-school party.

On the Beach, life returning to semi-normal. The envisioned Armageddon, the end of all the T-shirt shops, yogurt stands, and trend-life bastions never happening. Police roadblocks stemming the flow of the causeway crowd at 7:00 p.m., the streets eerily dark and deserted. It's once again a local's town, a nondrinking, questionable-ice kind of town, unfortunately, but plenty of camaraderie and parking, assorted restaurants full of our crowd. The roof at Hell partially collapsed, the planned September opening moved back till October. A "Rockin' Relief" benefit concert organized, set for September 7 at Penrod's. The sacred temples of gay life, bars and restaurants-cum-clubs, also immediately reopening. The boys of the Beach apparently not taking advantage of the opportunity to stay at home and reflect on the futility and essential emptiness of the nightly carnival. Don't Say Sandwich to Me opening Monday, setting up sidewalk tables. Warsaw staying closed throughout, but Hombre and Paragon cranking up on Tuesday, working the tea dance trade. Lots of talk about the opportunities available with all the darkened streets and parks, the return of the bush-sex aesthetic. The usual cruel jokes that follow any disaster, Hurricane Andrew being the first gay hurricane: vicious, unpredictable, judgmental, and fashion-conscious to the extreme, sparing the chic while lashing out at the hinterlands.

The Friday afternoon following the hurricane, the Miami Beach City Commission convening and adhering to the new curfew guidelines set by the county: liquor served till eleven, everyone off the streets after that. A contingent of club owners, including Gary James of The Spot and Zuri Hayon of the Cameo, attending the meeting. Despite minor difficulties like malfunctioning traffic lights and the general unseemliness of the mad whirl flying in the face of tragedy, some of the owners fighting to have the curfew lifted and full liquor service resumed. Several leading members of Gay South Beach calling on Miami Beach City Commissioner Neisen Kasdin to speak on their behalf and get those clubs rolling: waiters need money, social addicts need nightlife. Miami Beach Mayor Seymour Gelber holding firm: "We want to promote the fact that we're still in business and the Art Deco district is flourishing, but we have to think about the security of the city. Some of the bar and restaurant owners were pretty adamant, but there was no way we were going to do what they asked."

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