Swelter 21

September song, and the angst of August -- if the heat doesn't get you, the stupidity will -- dwindles down to a foul psychic sinkhole, infested with boredom, futility, and the remains of wasted flesh. Yet again the same old dirge of hopelessness is everywhere at once: Miami's really over this time, it can't possibly regenerate from this omega point of civic degradation, and no one famous, fabulous, or, better yet, rich, ever will set foot in the house of cards again, this three-card-monte game of attitude. The spoiled locals will be trapped in one another's company, enveloped in incestuous flames amid an abandoned palace of glitter, Saigon after the troops have pulled out. City of whores, endlessly waiting for the harvest time of commercial exploitation, another lewd new season, the bounty of sex, profit, and good filthy fun.

But then it's the same all over, a last-gasp tale of the big whimper, set in a universe where the center will not hold. In an insane world, nightclubs actually make sense, even marathon runs to oblivion. Handily enough, a new-order culture clash coming up at Groove Jet, Paper magazine and the promotional company Giant Step presenting an appearance by singer Vanessa Daou, of Zipless fame. Very nice all around, cocktails at a civilized hour, a long tunnel of white muslin leading to the tasty back room. In between nibbling at hors d'oeuvres and the way-too-open bar, the guests taking in Daou's steamy little video set in nightlife wonderland. The plot proving elusive, but there seemed to be a recurring motif of sliding zippers, the attractive star surrounded by buffed torsos yearning in sexual supplication. If only MTV would open a club.

For our sober-living entourage, an ideal sampler package of low-commitment party consumption, one of the crew observing, "This is great. I can have a drink, eat dinner free, still be home in time for Seinfeld, and confirm why I never go out in the first place." On any other night we'd have taken the same approach, but Jauretsi -- former homegirl, sorely missed sympathetic face, and Paper promotions director -- happened to be down from New York City, ready to frolic on the playground of South Beach.

In tow with host Greg Brier, the breaking-trend crowd moving on to Nemo for an idyll before the midnight storm: David Hershkovits of Paper; Vanessa and her husband, Peter Daou; Maurice Bernstein, of Giant Step; and Vito Bruno, whose curriculum vitae encompasses the real-life disco of Saturday Night Fever, outlaw parties with Michael Alig, and now music production. Just for aesthetic overkill, a paint-it-black contingent with vague connections to the guest of honor hovering around the fringes. Everyone seemed to be a DJ/promoter/record producer and full-time legend, visually arresting but normal enough, hustling a living just like regular mortals.

Despite all the vinyl chanteuse gear and cutting-edge hype, Vanessa Daou turning out to be remarkably nonattitudinal and down-to-earth. After graduating from Barnard, Daou made a stab at the visual arts and waitressing ("I was the worst, but luckily Peter was the manager") before going on to pop music, the ideal artistic discipline: Jeff Koons's porn homages to himself, for instance, won't have the staying power of "I Want to Hold Your Hand." The Zipless album produced in collaboration with Erica Jong, Peter Daou's aunt, Vanessa pointing out the delicacy of transmogrifying Jong's erotic poetry: "Erica's family, so we had to be really careful, but she wound up doing a poem on the album." Things have certainly changed: The "zipless fuck" of Jong's Fear of Flying was once considered shocking, and now, heaven knows, anything goes. Salman Rushdie, one of the more illustrious patrons of New York's Bowery Bar -- everyone else has been there, so why not exiled celebrities of the literary diaspora? -- may well be working on a rock opera version of The Satanic Verses.

After some arcane industry-speak, the Jongian nephew in the synergistic woodpile, Peter Daou, cranking up the promotional engine ("When Vanessa does her stuff in New York, I want that club to be sticky from all those horny people") and sharing his own interesting background. Raised in Lebanon and reluctantly pressed into the Christian militia at the age of fifteen: "The Marines were a joke to us; some of our guys were willing to die as martyrs. But fighting a war as a teenager turned out to be perfect training for the record business."

An old hand at the theater of social provocation, we remained just offensive enough to keep the conversation flowing. Naturally enough, seizing on a perfect high Beach moment, some model going gushy amid the Manhattan demimonde: "I spent the whole day at the beach, reading every word of your magazine." Sans supermodels, unfortunately, the core group gearing up for the ritual waltz of the icons. First stop, Bar None, Jauretsi continually greeted by hugs and plugs -- forever unto end, she's one of us -- and talking of the Miami balseros plying the Manhattan trade: Jacques and Pascal, run out of both cities at different times; John Hood, lurking in the Tunnel; Gary James, working with Steven Zee and Michael Capponi, among others. No wonder all the good times have gone.

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