Swelter 15

There's a certain pathology to this pop life, this culture of the damned, a sick compulsion shrouding the worship of the superficial. Once you're trapped in the lower orders of the glamour mafia, it's impossible to escape the pernicious pall of the cartoon void and the trivial -- all the debasing social assaults and attentions paid to the celebrated take on a lunatic, albeit consuming, seriousness, past reason and redemption. But then the airing of froth and filth, aside from the pursuit of bad taste, remains this nation's favorite hobby, a kind of generic vice in the bull market of gossip. In particular the fame tribes have become a floating peep show and soap opera, a wallow in the amateur strains of voyeurism and melodrama. Stay in the game too long, turn professional, and the convictions of youth, all that basic human-dignity nonsense, begin to seem hopelessly quaint, faintly lame, lingering on as a dim memory, a taunting dream of what you once were.

And yet the night grants definite rewards, bright moments in the psychic darkness shining through amid the oddest circumstances. For instance, the high Cuban stretch of Coral Way, taking a family-style dinner at Latin American Cafeteria with the cult of Richard Jay-Alexander, the theatrical producer and student of junk America. All of us, the devotees of pagan sensation, thrilling to the camp: hanging hams and aging vixens with volcanic decolletage, all sex-sizzle bras, fishnet tops, and bizarre platinum perms, transcending style, fashion, and architecture. Despite all the "Breck girls at 60" and the throbbing prole vitality, the fast set staying rooted in the minefield of trash culture, tote bag of the sordid.

Over piles of tasty, death-by-cholesterol pork, the gang mulling over the Hugh Grant saga, Grant nabbed on his second visit to Divine Brown, according to the Hollywood tabloid mill. A brief encounter between a cheap, kinky English dreamboat -- slightly more accessible than one might have thought --nd a street whore neatly establishing, yet again, the profits of notoriety. Almost too juicy to be true, ridden with enough journalistic angles to resemble a sinister publicity stunt, the episode paying off for all concerned. Brown, bless her, snatching a retirement trick; Grant's case helped along by devoted female protesters, showing up at the Los Angeles premiere of Nine Months with "I'd pay you, Hugh" placards.

Proof positive, yet again, of the feminine knack for overlooking anything in a man they want: both a blessing and damnation, the best and worst quality of women. Men, conversely, given to misplaced hubris and focusing on minor flaws: One of our dog friends once turned down a particularly valid executive, entirely on the basis of her dry-hair problem. Up or down the status scale, it's war out here on the carnal battleground, the subject of Michael Douglas's imminent and stupendously expensive upcoming divorce. His wife, Diandra, charging rampant philandering, but as it turns out she's also been -- according to the gossip nexus -- popping a New York social fixture for years: a gentleman who's done the Duchess of York and various ignoble stuff throughout a brilliant career of pussy consulting.

Under the circumstances, a moral dilemma arising. Do we, as a charter member of the great national fan club -- and more to the point, a former co-celebrity judge with Douglas at a charity affair -- help our boy out or let him take a huge financial hit? As if on cue, the conversation taking a detour to pure money, a fellow guest celebrating her made-for-Miami screenplay, How to Marry a Billionaire: "It's kind of a remake, but let's face it -- a million's just not enough any more." From there, more merry chatter about Tonya Harding, O.J., and all of our tabloid friends, Jay-Alexander pointing out the essential absurdity of the situation: "I can't believe how you're all talking about these people -- they speak so highly of you."

Another night, another frolic in alien atmospheres -- the tony Grand Bay Hotel in Coconut Grove -- inhaling cocktails, lavish hors d'oeuvres, and the passing Grand Hotel parade. People come, people go, something eventually happens. Followers of Faye Resnick angling for sugar daddies, actor Tom Berenger politely deflecting ambitious admirers, everyone brimming with tales of Robin Williams, an actual honorable movie star. The locus of the Birds of a Feather production staying on at the hotel, hanging out at the pool, celebrating a birthday, and fortuitously running into a new bride in the elevator. Ever the showman, Williams escorting her into the wedding reception with his trademark rapid-fire imitations, pratfalls, and life-enhancing jokes. Some fans have all the luck.

The adjuncts to renown, reporters and publicists, moving along to an enjoyable dinner at Brasserie L'Entrecote. As usual, going native on the gravy train, this time to a French theme: the classicism of foie gras, steak, and pommes de terre frites, washed down with Campari. Appropriately enough, picking up Gallic tidbits, Charles Aznavour and Jean-Paul Belmondo dropping by on Miami visits. Within the new American frisson, every pleasure -- from food to sex to parties -- somehow becomes more savory when a celebrity, any celebrity, has been there first.

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