Swelter

The late and very great Henry James, in between cranking out epicene masterpieces, prided himself on a rigorous public life, dining out every night with assorted royals, intellectuals, and fellow tortured homosexuals. Bloomsbury was one long feast of high teas, musicales, and petty snits. Marcel Proust sat for eternity in a darkened room, quirky and tortured, but remained focused enough to keep up his connections. Truman Capote, bored in the whirl, badly misjudged the we-love-you-until-we-don't nature of the rich and wound up spending a sad winter on the barren plains of Brickell Avenue, drinking and plugging away on Answered Prayers. The iconography of social reporting, throughout time, is littered with genius and envy, bilious private lives and spite, the necessary ingredients for true art. But then, the legends rode a somewhat more seemly gravy train, and were freed from the tyranny of bold-faced name-dropping. The punishing crunch of Miami might have stymied Boswell himself, the most stouthearted climber in recorded history, accustomed to the gorgeous gall and filthy fray of Grub Street.

Another lost weekend in the trenches of trash journalism, tapping overdrawn reserves of stamina, the rarefied circles of the ancients never more cruelly elusive. It's a dirty job, but it pays clean money, and there's always lots of fun to be had along the way. On the town Friday night in the labyrinth of South Beach, at home in a moral twilight of minor hoodlums and Lite-level stars. First stop, the highly civilized Lua, co-owner Gary James somehow overcoming the natural Irish penchant for nursing grudges -- we're still seething over imagined slights from the sixth grade -- and hosting a weekly "Reunion" party at Mickey's. James putting to rest a long-standing feud with former Spot partner Mickey Rourke and unveiling his valid-once-again friendship tattoo, a lasting memento from the Rourkean rat-pack era. The inner circle, everyone from Matt Dillon to Pinky, initiated into the men's club with identical forearm tattoos, situated where most people would slit their wrists. Each man's legacy equipped with a shamrock, his particular initials, and a number A very tribal, very Celtic. On to more taxing establishments, indulging our own Irish tastes in a river of liquor: blood to a vampire, manna from the gods of the complementary life. Miami, as Capote once found out, is the least suitable place on Earth to heal and take the cure.

Hungover onto death the following day, making a ridiculous entrance at the Jackson Memorial Foundation gala, the Hotel Inter-Continental lobby all money, juice, and pleasantry. The higher up you go, the nicer the people are, at least superficially. Trolling through wonderland, sans formal wear and direction, nearly thrown out by a security officer who mistook us for a deranged stalker of Julio Iglesias, the evening's featured entertainer. The party taking an upswing shortly thereafter, thanks to limitless nerve and the kindness of friends: dodging the press section and having dinner with former football player/Davie mayor Earl Morrall; watching the concert from the fourth row, taking our rightful place between an assembly of Knight-Ridder executives and the Iglesias entourage. A great time all around, the more embattled members of the civic set A Remedios Diaz-Oliver, Maurice Ferre, Carlos Arboleya, Abel Hotz, Jay Weiss A at play in the stratosphere of ballroom society, removed from strife and penetrating publicity. The neo-robber-baron crowd, as always, less compelling than the great warrior women of Miami, brimming with jewelry and sass: "Let's pretend we're all friends and pose for a picture.... Be wicked, but not about me.... That refugee from the Duke fat farm has gotten prettier with success, although the boob job helped."

Into the ballroom on a wave of wonderful ladies, traveling with glamour gals Monica Heftler, Brenda Castellano, and Claudine Smurfit, and absorbing the baroque Iglesias circle: his mother, daughter Chabeli, the young and delectable Miranda Rynsburger. Former wife Isabel Preysler also in the audience, traveling down a long path of trophy husbands. The usual speeches and presentations beforehand, odes to the success of the Ryder Trauma Center, Jose Cancela of Telemundo graciously accepting an award and actually being forthright: "At first it was ego that made me want to be on the Jackson board..." And then it's Julio, Miami's first celebrity resident and a true survivor, covering everything from Patsy Cline's "Crazy" to "Brazil." In between Iglesias doing a tribute to his "half-Arab/half-Jewish" heritage A very credible as both a cantor and a muezzin A and managing to capture the toughest audience imaginable, accomplished people who hold no one above themselves. The show winding down with a treacly salute to Preysler ("I was very young, only sixteen, but I never forget the marriage A and neither will she") and big-finish numbers. The gang immediately launching into gossip about Iglesias's juicy private life, a society friend amused by our predictable middle-class outrage, posing the question that always derails the sanctimoniousness of ordinary people: "Imagine being good-looking, famous, and incredibly rich A how nice and moral do you think you'd be?"

Happy and content, all the irksome personal baggage falling by the wayside, shifting gears in a big way with Warsaw's "Bitch Fight" drag ball, ready to serve on an august panel of judges. Upstairs to the crowded women's bathroom, the various houses-that-drag-built filing in for cosmetic touchups and dishing sessions, the after-hours traveling revue. Truly a summit meeting of drag. Nuns with dominatrix gear and glittering futuristic ensembles A like the Supremes making a guest shot on Star Trek A the arch Madame Woo arriving with two really young and fresh sidekicks, the best possible companions. Chaz as Vixxen, Penny Sometimes and Damian Dee-Vine, the House of Darling, Mother Kibble, Mother Tucker, and just plain Mother, someone noting that Sister Controversial always travels solo: "She walks alone, darling, especially with that cheap fucking Cher perfume on."

Everyone talking at once and photographing each other, checking the bathroom dispenser for "arouse drops" and feminine products, pageant organizer Varla dashing about like a mother hen and honing her ballad to dark world, "I'm Famous." The twisted scene cozy and generous as Thanksgiving dinner, and judging family -- albeit a very bitchy group of relatives -- suddenly seeming impossible. Suspended for a moment in the complex physics equation of clubs, bodies, and attitude hurtling beyond time and all earthly dimensions, laughing along with the melodramatic rallying cry of a faux Susan Hayward: "Dear God, I'll cry tomorrow, but for now I want to live.

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