Swelter 39

A cruel business, this gossip game. With every attention paid to the rich and celebrated, every moment of slack-jawed stupefaction before their banal utterances, their pointless travels and grotesque indulgences, we are, one and all, diminished, crippled by the very act of being a witness, reduced to nothingness. The puerile addiction of a supposedly democratic land, Americans mainlining media pablum and turning themselves into junkies: nothing but serfs at the King's court, ceding the authenticity of their own lives to the famous. On the other hand, the anonymous and virtuous seldom make suitable column fodder.

The all-star fame brigade of the holidays off to other watering holes, thank God, and it's back to downtown society, a series of pitiless evenings and regional celebs, the music of chance unfolding in the darkness. Hair stylist and fame adjunct Oribe setting up shop in the old coral-rock house on lower Collins Avenue: in the Bohemian era, the command headquarters for a coalition of black militants, given to brandishing machine guns and looking lethal. Espanola Way, the site of the Michael Delgado incident several months ago, Delgado materializing out of the gloom and defending himself against our loud denunciations of situational social ethics. This time around Delgado seriously connected and shooting the television pilot Warp Speed in a makeshift studio, the cast ambling out in rubber space-mutant costumes. Gilbert Stafford of Risk, the noted "doorman, drunkard, and occasional actor" riding a wave of hope, his career entailing soap operas, Nell's in its heyday, and a stint as New York's fastest deli-counter chef. As always, the sweetest creature in clubland, Stafford wading through the popper-and-pecs boys at Risk later that night, on a philosophical roll: "Don't they all realize how disposable their humanity is, the fact that they could all be replaced by something useful -- like, say, a light bulb?"

The weekend, a pack of press junketeers down for some kind of phantom jaunt, no one quite grasping the rationale behind all the rampant professional courtesy. First stop, Bar None, a pair of beauties summarily dismissed from the VIP booth: We're all too big to sit with mere girls. The top dog of gossip, New York Post columnist Richard Johnson, behaving with the carefree abandon of the celebrities he documents, sharing a moment of Eastern Seaboard professional accord: "It's the same old disgusting shit in New York, too." John Dizard of the New York Observer bringing tales of a dirty little country coming to town: "The Russians are either petty crooks or mobbed up -- Boris Yeltsin's their boy -- and even though we won't let them own banks, they love America and they're moving their money in. But New York's too tough; the Russians I know are all looking at property down here." Photographer Patrick McMullan, ever perky in the horror, taking over as social director, the night blurring steadily. All of us absorbed in a dancer/Marky Mark clone at Steel and go-go girls at Phoenix, the moveable feast sliding on to the Virtua Cafe, Lua, and a truly popping Groove Jet. The frenzy of renown rearing its ugly head again, a regular rhapsodizing about dining in the same restaurant with Cher and Jack Nicholson: no doubt the food improving in such rarefied company. Desperate souls climbing over the concrete walls, attempting to break into Club Prison, a woman introducing herself in sexual conquest terms: "I was the lover of Jean Michel Basquiat for many years."

The inevitable yearnings of the gutter tugging at the being, zeroing in on the perk parade of polite society like a heat-seeking missile. Off to a fine loin-girding start with architect Billy Kearns, throwing a thoroughly civilized cocktail party in his tasty apartment. John and Susan Rothchild, just back from Taos, New Mexico, brimming with tales of atavistic hippies in retro habitats. Bernardo Fort-Brescia of Arquitectonica hosting an opening party for his way controversial office building on Fifth Street. Elizabeth Plater Zyberk and Andres Duany, building cities and thinking like visionaries, the sort of couple who make you wonder what the hell you've been doing with your motley life. Architect Mark Hampton, an associate of Kearns's, currently working on Paloma Picasso's house in Coconut Grove, the icon of chic fighting the inevitable trivialization of Daddy's genius -- an artist who actually beat the game of time and fashion.

On to Art Miami '95, the preview evening attracting the usual mixed-media collage: from local hustlers to major Armani-clad New York dealers, making a serious attitude adjustment in the Nineties, one long postcoital depression. In between frantic pilgrimages to the bar, taking in arresting foreign faces -- Italian artists Karen and Tony Barone -- and a few resonant pieces: a statue called Fame and a horny robotic device endlessly mounting the soiled earth, pretty much everyone's goal in life. All worlds intersecting at a seriously crowded Christie's reception for the art fair, the tony Foundlings Club taking on the feverish ambiance of a VIP room. All the usual suspects in evidence, fifteen years of art parties blending together: You're up, you're down, you never know where you'll land. Jan Cowles inviolate in the crush, last spotted in the Hamptons and La Guardia Airport, regally gliding through the masses on a motorized luggage cart: "Don't worry. I missed the plane anyway." A former art-world player/reception fixture emerging from a long social seclusion, leaving the loop behind: "Lately I seldom go out, simply because I'm just not interested in anything any more."

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