Swelter 29

Let's jump right in and confront the important, chew on the big issues: art, life, illusion versus reality, truth, sex, class chaos, and whatever else may be grist for the short-order sociology mill. It's a world rich with blessings and beatitudes, everything intersecting at the nexus of nightlife, the gilded gutter that unites the universe. And there's always the mirage of Miami, the demon seed of the collective unconscious, city of the conceptual.

For once, it might be illuminating to start at the top of the cultural pyramid: Tobacco Road, and there's the English writer Alexander Stuart, reading from his upcoming Doubleday book Life on Mars: Gangsters, Runaways, Exiles, Drag Queens, and Other Aliens in Florida A another installment in the evolving Florida-as-dreamscape story. Stuart, author of The War Zone and other dark works, doing what he calls his "James Michener on Ecstasy, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas meets Beowulf" number on the Sunshine State, covering club kittens, Ybor City, and curiosities of the fringe. All of us opened our hearts, minds, and wallets, and now the stranger from the strange land has written a book. Talk about nerve.

As it happens, the Englishman abroad has been an occasional beneficiary of my hookedupness, nightlife tours with Micky Wolfson and such. Stuart nailing my being in a brief but poignant passage, apparently taking notes during an impassioned harangue about the surrealistic ingratitude of others. No misquote there. Two entire chapters devoted to Wolfson, rightly enough, although using former Miami club promoter John Hood as the book's central character may be arguable. Hood, now lurking around the after-hours demimonde of New York City, does make good warts-and-all copy, though, from his early doorman days to the TV glory of simulating an unconvincing cartoon pimp on Geraldo. The Hoodian chapter heading, culled from his long weekend in the slammer, is a true dazzler, with an irate relative not buying into the pressing issue of bail: "If I ever told you one thing, I told you never to call me from jail."

The most pernicious constraint -- the imprisonment of the self -- coming up in the visual arena. The Wolfson Galleries at Miami-Dade Community College commissioning New York conceptual artists Hilary Leone and Jennifer MacDonald for a project called Passing, a mixed-media effort documenting the strange brew of Miami, home to the all-American talent for re-creating one's identity. High-minded stuff, the subjects include Haitian emigres, Holocaust refugees, homosexuals pretending to be straight in the workplace, and a doped-up club girl having her lips pierced and sewn shut. And there I was, videotaped for posterity as part of the exhibit: the consummate mongrel, a blue-collar child aping blue-blood manners, ready to go anywhere and be anything you want for a drink, a kind word, or just a chuckle or two. Comfortable in any world, mixing with celebrities, charlatans, and the criminal classes, as well as with the filthy rich, heroin addicts, deviants, and Middle Americans at large. An unsteady and studiously vague sexual orientation, and yet at home with every possible strain of carnality. In a few more years the whole issue will be a matter of complete indifference. Nothing human is foreign, no one's really anybody, and there's a certain succor in discovering the contemptible within oneself.

On to the art of the weekend, the naked city alive with legends of the plug. Cheetah Club hosting a spate of promotional dinners, David Goldman, a Boston- and Boca Raton-based businessman, recently taking the lease on the space. Goldman's personal chef Bernard Goupy cooking up a storm there for the next few weeks, the establishment shooting for the carriage trade. In other breaking nightlife news, Union Bar morphing into Club Melao. Michel Kadosh, owner of the Harrison Hotel, opening the club Bugatti right next door to Bar None, no doubt hoping to snag passing celebrities.

On the Hollywood rounds, Cindy Crawford, Billy Baldwin, and producer Joel Silver of Fair Game back in town, proving elusive to the local media, even though we're the ones who stalked and paid homage during the film's production in Miami. Cher dining at China Grill, and afterward pleading fatigue, politely declining to cross the street and attend Demi Moore's Striptease cast party at Bar None; Whitney Houston -- sans bad, bad Bobby Brown -- showing up. In or out, Cher's the real thing: Once a star, always a star.

In other vital fame news, Gianni Versace, without whom no party is ever complete, flying in for a frolic or two. MTV's The Real World scouting for locations suitable for a chosen group of young South Beach types willing to live together and run a business. Beauties are no problem, but the work angle might be tough. A tip coming in about visiting O.J. Simpson prosecutor Christopher Darden hanging out with Bo Griffin of Power 96 and hyped as a celebrity bar patron. He's famous enough to pursue, God knows, but there's no percentage in meeting people you respect. As if on cue, some promoter relaying an incident from O.J.'s minor fame days, the Juice standing on the roof of a South Beach club, inhaling the breakfast of champions off his clenched fist and yelling to the multitudes below, "Just point me to the women." Class all the way, that O.J., and an instructive lesson in the importance of choosing one's heroes wisely.

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