Swelter

The hunger for a good party, an appetite that unifies all of humanity. A miraculous alchemy, akin to a physics equation, the right mix of energy, sound, and friction. Like love, the best ones catch the unwary by surprise, and suddenly everyone in the room is stronger, better looking, blessedly free from judgment. Transcended from the banal, simply more alive. Great parties, like art, defy reality and become emblems of an age, mileposts of life.

Ordinary parties leech the strength and desire to do anything else, leaving the relentless with nothing to really celebrate. After a time, the process itself, the Zen-like now of the moment, is all that really matters. One event becomes like another, as the ideal of what a party should be is trivialized: charity balls, lame promotional receptions, tenuously themed one-nighters that celebrate ridiculous premises like the First-Tuesday-of-the-Month. An inviolate human law dictates that it is impossible to have fun two nights in a row, but once you get on the circuit, fun is beside the point and quitting out of the question. There's always the chance that this night, of all the glittering nights, will somehow be different. And anyway, as Jane Austen once wrote, "Everything happens at parties."

Nightlife figure Louis Canales, a man who's been to his share, has never found anything to compare to his wedding: "The best party I ever went to was the wedding Jan and I had in Greenwich Village, a long time ago now. Everyone who should have been there was there." Event coordinator Norma Jean Abraham of Details, sensing the time for truly interesting parties has passed forever: "You still have nice private things, like the benefit Gloria Estefan did for the Children's Home Society at her house. But I haven't been to any wild parties lately. In the Seventies, I'd go to these things where you'd have people jumping in the pool naked, everybody smoking pot and making out openly. Nobody cared then. Everybody knew everybody else and felt comfortable. This is a new breed now."

Miami artist and social veteran Rafael Vadia, also in the fin de siecle camp. "The best party I ever went to was a birthday party my parents gave for all the children. There were something like 150 kids, all dressed in costumes from different regions of Spain. Great private parties are a lost art. It's all public spaces now. And wild parties have changed -- no one kisses strangers in corners any more, and if you have strippers now, there's always some sick, cultish attachment, no innocence to it."

Throughout a long career of Miami parties, lately a requiem for the death of fun, one particular mysterious Seventies-something gathering coming to assume the stature of myth. A private house in the Grove, full of important and beautiful people, totally debauched. Lots of pre-AIDS open lust, in the era before sex became vaguely unfashionable. The last great blowout before everybody got ambitious and healthy. Everyone claims to have been there, or known somebody who went, but the details were always hazy. The reality, of course, nothing like the legend. But still, something to regret missing, especially since it took place in 1976, a year when we were young enough to actually have fun.

Unlike most good parties, a very pointed occasion. Derek Daniels, then a 47-year-old vice president for Knight-Ridder, moving on to a dream job as the President and CEO of Playboy Enterprises and celebrating his engagement to M.J. Taylor, an attractive 22-year-old FIU student. A party definitely in order, renting the baroque Coconut Grove home of hustler/eccentric/unlikely ladies' man Sepy Dobronyi -- a house that had once been used as the location for Deep Throat -- one cold Christmas week night and throwing the kind of bash that would probably be impossible to replicate now.

Smack dab in the era when the pleasure manifesto of Playboy-as-a-way-of-life was still taken seriously, Daniels really selling the dream. A contingent of Bunnies in work clothes. Topless barmaids and waiters. A stripper with pubic hair shaved in the shape of a heart. A disco set up in the living room, then a daring concept. Photographer Ray Fisher documenting the soiree for posterity. The photos out of a weird time warp, the guests smoking, drinking, letting loose like old Hollywood stars. No real celebrities in attendance, but plenty of important people. Al Neuharth, then the big cheese at Gannett newspapers, with his wife, Brevard County senator Lori Wilson, wearing Gannett placards. Daniels looking like a modern-day Caligula in a gold lame jumpsuit. A contingent of Knight-Ridder executives -- Jim Batten, Larry Jinks, Beverly Carter -- mixing with Taylor's younger set. People like boutique owner Gloria Taylor and Sam Blum, now a Miami attorney.

M.J. Taylor, a former Miami Today reporter currently involved in non-journalistic pursuits, remembering the evening as a seminal event: "It really was the party of the decade, symbolic of the Seventies and no-holds-barred sexuality. People still tell me it was the wildest thing they ever went to. There were sixteen-year-old kids mixing with Derek's friends, and a bunch of people we didn't even know. A lot of the guests took risks they wouldn't take now. People would meet and have all these mad embraces in corners and then go off to this little underground cottage Sepy had in his backyard. And there was a fight, of course, over some girl. Today, it would probably be unsafe, the kind of party put on by somebody involved in illegal activities. But this was given by someone respectable, involved in corporate America. It's strange to remember, because I was such a different person then. But still, it's always symbolized an important time of my life."

Daniels, a part-time Miami resident and an investor in several publishing ventures, turning out to be the nicest possible guy. "It was a time of big sweeping statements, the last vestige of the Sixties happenings. The Grove was in its heyday; now it's horrendous. There must have been 400 to 500 people coming and going, the faces always seemed to be changing. Things got a little out of control and wide open at one point. But there was an ease then. People are much tighter now, and fun is also more tightly controlled. That party had a weird chemistry, a current of attraction running through the evening. Over the years, an odd mythology has grown around that night -- it has a life of its own in memory, a really different kind of creature. But it was an event of its era. Parties have changed along with the rest of the world. You wouldn't dream of going to something like that any more. I avoid big parties myself now; they're not healthy. Looking back, it might as well have been the Twenties."

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