Swelter 29

Saturday night, busy all around on the local front, but I opted for a black-tie dinner party in Manalapan, tucked in at the home that gossip built. Paul Pope of the National Enquirer fortune celebrating his 28th birthday at his mother's oceanfront estate, the elegant Lois Pope living a short drive away from Enquirer headquarters in Lantana. The Pope family has long since sold America's favorite tabloid, but the party -- like the Enquirer itself -- put out plenty of everything, the wonders never ceasing in an enormous back-yard tent. In the foyer, a photographer creating keepsake lapel pins adorned with pictures of happy couples. An adjacent petting zoo -- chimps, albino raccoons, and snakes -- vying against the topiary deer on the front lawn. The chimp making an exploratory mission into the crowd at one point, but for some reason the little scamp snubbed me.

After cocktails the celebrants entering the canvas ballroom through a high-disco Plexiglas-and-neon tunnel, the younger set Braved shots -- Blowjob, Screaming Orgasm, et cetera -- on silver trays. Thirty or so violinists encircling the dance floor, plinking away at everything from "Bye, Bye Blackbird" to "If I Were a Rich Man" from Fiddler on the Roof, with the band Survivor -- of "Eye of the Tiger" fame -- rounding out the musical lineup. Each table adorned with revolving celestial-theme centerpieces, "Planet Pope" being the party theme, smoke machines and mirrored balls contributing additional ambiance. Truly an affair to remember.

The guests, all of whom seemed to drive convertible Rolls-Royces, ranged across the human landscape: Miami Beach historical curio Al Malnick; prominent West Palm Beach attorney Robert Montgomery; haute society figures such as antique car collectors Peter and Janet Tigges; models, model-aholics, and various flotsam from South Beach. And then there was the special instance of beauty-maintenance expert Deborah Koepper, of Palm Beach's Koepper Thomas salon. A rare breed indeed, Koepper actually refused to reveal anything about her former client, Nancy Reagan, beyond the polite, "She's a lady's lady." Vexing discretion, but then again there might be definite Mrs. Austin possibilities there. After all, everyone has secrets.

Back to the planet of clubs on a wing and a prayer, cruising the streets and taking in the costumed revelers of Halloween, the sacred rite of artifice, an all-too-brief reprieve from everyday reality. There's nothing better than being someone else. The Warsaw block party proved to be particularly lively, a wondrous tableau of drag queens, faux sluts, and playful monstrosities -- the perfect stylistic balance. In the end, clubs are the ultimate public art, embracing the mighty and low alike. Every night is a different conceptual installation, and nothing but a memory by dawn. Everyone, across the board, is afraid of appearing to be less interesting -- let alone less fabulous -- than their public projections. It's both over the top and reassuringly mundane, grounded in larger truths that may or may not mean anything: an interactive Rashomon where no one ever stands on firm footing. It's a nasty land but a beautiful one as well, a palace of air steamy with dreams and illusions. One day it may all seem like a lie, but in the meantime there are moments to be seized.

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