Swelter 39

"At first the clubs here seemed really straight, fluffy almost. I don't think I've ever seen any Less Than Zero nihilism or decadence; it seems to be more about drugs than sex. At the old Institute one time, they were showing hard-core porno films on the walls. The girls were really offended and disturbed; they want to discover sex for themselves. Drugs are a symptom rather than a cause of teenage angst; kids are sent to rehab here as casually as a British kid might be sent to the dentist. I've seen some pretty scary stuff -- at a party in Kendall one time a boy pissed himself and almost died on freon -- but I don't think this generation is any more lost than we are."

The X generation starts to filter into the apartment, gearing up for another night of clubbing. Stuart, like them, is unfailingly solicitous and polite: a safe harbor from the exploitation of youth that pervades the whorehouse of South Beach, where women are unaccustomed to the slightest courtesy. He's a kind of weird mascot to the kids, a touchstone of hope, able to occupy two worlds at once. Old enough to be their father, and yet still plugged in and open to the new, adept at the bewildering nuances of arcane youth culture. We all head out to a local dance club, the kids talking about body piercing, lame crowds, and being over it all -- the constant refrain of teenagers, usually accompanied by an unfortunate talent for throwing up at inopportune moments. The cutting-edge music is unendurable, the conversation incomprehensible, but Stuart is totally, completely there, discreetly revealing a new tattoo -- his girlfriend's name, translated into Chinese, carved on his ass -- and gyrating away to the music.

In a few days time, he will rise at dawn and once again mourn the anniversary of his son's death: standing like a sentinel by the waters of the Atlantic, looking east, as Joe's mother simultaneously huddles on the cold rocks of Brighton. But for now he's defying time with the children of the new world, out into the great beyond of the night. Suddenly a sentence from "Strangers in Paradise" comes floating back to mind, exactly as if it had been written for this moment: "Everyone is thinking their thoughts, willing America to exist, because more than any other country it is a myth that exists in the mind of its peoples, a machine they keep up in the air.

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