Swelter

Halloween weekend, the new neurotic holiday feast, the compulsion to have the best possible time akin to the frenzy surrounding New Year's Eve. Another year, another ritualized program of anticipation, random moments of half-baked pleasure, and the aftermath of suspecting that other people -- worse yet, your friends -- are at the real party in some other elusive Tropic of Fun.

Gearing up for the festivities with the premiere of La Cage at Les Violins Supper Club in downtown Miami, celebrating 30 years of glamour and pageantry. All the familiar elements in place, the leopard-print carpeting on the runways, the gold lame drapes and scattered boa feathers, the kaleidoscopic glass ceiling, the Stork Club lights on the tables, the hydraulic stairways and platforms for dramatic entrances. After a long career of Latin flesh-and-feathers revues, the club opting to try something new with the concession for the Miami division of La Cage, which operated out of the DiLido Hotel last season. Albino Currais, along with son Joe Currais and nephew George Currais, hosting an appropriately free-form crowd: the press, encompassing everyone from Spencer Reiss of Newsweek to Cuban affairs expert Anne-Marie O'Connor to Norma Niurka of El Herald; the odds and ends of what constitutes South Beach society; Latin high rollers, smoking cigars and showing off their wives; various civic officials, Luis Sabines of CAMACOL, the Latin Chamber of Commerce and Metro Mayor Steve Clark, the people's choice for the party-on candidate.

The evening commencing with the usual speeches ("I want to thank the authorities, who have been so nice to me...") and tributes to various entertainers of the "almost a legend" caliber. The "We Are What We Are" opening number, the dancers prancing about theatrically, and then a star entrance from Gypsy, the gravelly voiced elder statesman of drag. Stupendously attired in a black and purple flamenco-style gown, capped off with fluorescent pink eye shadow and lipstick, opening with a provocative declaration: "I am el grande maricon." From there, a little goofing on patrons ("Thank you for the dress, Mr. Mayor.... What's this table here -- the gay last supper?") and introductions to a blur of Latin and Anglo-oriented acts. Impersonations of Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Charro, and other luminaries of the drag universe. Gary Dee as Joan Rivers, better than the real thing, provoking a middle-age Latin woman to reveal her priorities ("Sex is the best thing in life...") and generally cutting loose: "When you get married, your body says, `Thank God,' and collapses. I look so bad lately I have to get my vibrator drunk. Doesn't Bush look like the Quaker Oats woman in drag?"

A maudlin note injected with a "What Makes a Man a Man?" number, Marilyn taking off her makeup on-stage, then back on course with a "Best of Times Is Now" finale and the cutting of the anniversary cake. Hovering around celebrities, Willy Chirino having an underground hit in Havana now, with his protest song "Our Day Is Coming," wife Lissette raving about the show and explaining the nature of her husband's more mainstream hit, "Don't Touch the Banana," repeatedly goofed on by the performers: "It's about an American who goes into a bar and takes a banana from the Santeria shrine, making Chango angry." Salsa pouring out of the speakers, and a perfect La Cage ending: social distinctions blurring, Chirino and Mayor Clark dancing with Gypsy. If only life were one big supper club.

The drag circuit rolling on with the Health Crisis Network benefit, "In the Belly of the Beast" at the Cameo, hanging movie screens with old horror movies, interpretive "Dance Fever" routines on-stage, Halloween fever mounting with posing leather boys in a narcissistic trance, muscle men in drag, and wonderful outfits. Host Billy Keen in a black Mylar ensemble with fake breasts and nipple rings, a guy in a complicated shark-eating-a-fisherman costume, another brilliant creation with a man strolling about as a van Gogh sunflower painting, a perfectly decorated Gogh-like face poking through a painting. Dragged out, moving on to the opening of Rebar, a Spot-type crowd -- young, horny, oblivious to nuance -- descending on the place like locusts.

Go-go girls gyrating in the front windows, patrons dancing on the bar, the kind of opening that makes the ordinary mortal feel like a victim of cruel fate, the only person in the known universe not having incessant sex. A great-looking space, gutted for action, with a promising talent line-up: co-partners Nicole and Greg Brier of 720 Ocean, Alexander Duff of A Fish Called Avalon, John Hood working the door, Joe "Credit-to-the-Industry" Delaney as manager. Delaney also working on a club in Kendall called Cafe Iguana, Brier talking about how backer John Dorian, of Dorian's Red Hand on the upper East Side -- the infamous "preppy hangout" where Robert Chambers picked up and later offed Jennifer Levin one nasty night in Central Park -- had his business triple after the onslaught of media attention. The lure of all those rich preppies, combined with the hope of sex and death, an apparently irresistible combination for the human psyche. In the expansive men's room, long thoughts about the ugliness of nightlife, interrupted by a guy at the adjacent urinal enraptured by the concept of comfortable urination: "Finally, a place where you can take a piss in peace, without waiting in line. Hang out long enough, you get to appreciate small pleasures on the Beach."

The big event, Halloween night, and the streets full of great and small pleasures. A spectacular Grucci fireworks display put on by Hell, a nice little accompaniment to the outdoor action, a cross between Mardi Gras and some deranged paganish ritual. Jackie Oh! as Marlo Thomas, That Girl, or as he would have it, This Girl. A conga line of human poodles, dominatrixes, and sex slaves, people wearing T-shirts embellished with phrases like "Will Work For Dick...Eat, Fuck, Kill..." a gentleman on stilts encased in a monster/human fly rig, playfully chasing people down the street. A rough garage band adding a little edge to a one-nighter at the Gallery of the Unknown Artists, but the free-form carnival outside actually better than the clubs. Paragon patrons sleeping obliviously in the upstairs lounge, a fey boy pawing our outfit and gushing, "Oh, God, Harry Hamlin," a compliment that somewhat offset the diatribe of an older gentleman ("What the fuck are you supposed to be? You look like shit...") who leaped on us like a renegade fashion cop.

"Bohemia" at Warsaw, the club draped in strips of white fabric, piped-in eerie organ music easing the tension of the front door. The costume contest yet another depressing instance of what people will do for fifteen seconds of club stardom: Mr. and Mrs. Erotica in black vinyl, simulating cunnilingus; a priest doing a garter-clad nun; an American soldier with a Vietnamese woman on a leash. A kid with a mock four-foot penis winning the contest, of course. The very elegant Mayra Gonzalez of Findings, dressed as a Quince girl, noting that "this whole sex thing is so over." Halloween winding down to an epiphanic moment at 3:00 a.m. with a strange encounter, a man escorting his eight-months-pregnant wife, her naked belly decorated with war paint: "She's good stock, carrying a test-tube baby, but I guess we'll have to slow down soon. All these creatures of the imagination are incredible; I wish every night could be Halloween. Hey, remember to write the truth, and a little bit of what you feel.

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