Swelter 30

On the cult-of-Cuba rounds, Fidel Castro manages to be the toast of New York simply by not being invited to the right parties, a neat trick I'm still trying to figure out. Another Havana social equation, this one involving local promoter Tommy Pooch; harmlessly detained by Cuban customs officials during a recent visit, Pooch declaring rum, cigars, and a spendthrift nature: "They picked me out of the crowd, maybe because I'd been throwing money around down there. The Third World depressed me so much I gave everything away to everybody." In a when-worlds-collide coincidence, Thomas Miller -- a specialist on Cuban affairs and author of Trading with the Enemy -- briefly detained at the same time. Miller's news clips in his luggage inspiring additional customs controversies, the Pooch bonding with Miller and buying one of his books at the airport. Free the two Tommies: Let's all live and let live.

All roads, as usual, leading back to South Beach, always in step with the neon apocalypse. Lately the last resort has taken on the lifestyle qualities of Dodge City: Citizens and marshals are getting plugged right and left, while everyone dithers about property values, propriety, and parking. The sad gasp of a Tuesday-night quest for more Halloween divertissements particularly dispiriting, outlaw kids roving up and down Washington Avenue like jackals, yelling at stout-hearted drag queens; White Party weekend should be a riot. Everyone talking about a special undercover police squad, working clubs and searching for minors, drugs, and public sex -- geez, why else go out? -- the cops missing the bell curve of decadence with the canceled foam parties. Channel 7, always in step with the shocking, doing a series on the dark underbelly of clubs. For some reason, no TV creature called me, even though the rank is something of a personal specialty.

The shabby new landscape of nightlife, and still clubs keep coming on strong. The Vault opens with the strange-bedfellows mix of press and politicians, along with entertainers and twin caged tigers -- rank doesn't begin to fully capture the aroma of tiger piss. In a month or so, the Ruins set to become Circus under the creative tutelage of new owner Stephanie Harris, agog with possibility and aiming for an intelligent cabaret/dance club/three-ring circus. It's a long journey from Manhattan's glory days -- Area's installations with hanging sides of beef and such -- to an average party-till-you-puke night of Deco degradation. But any effort to raise the district's tone is to be mightily encouraged. And Harris seems to be on the right philosophical track, a woman after my own heart: "Rather than give in to the more brutal aspects of sex, I'm trying to raise the thinking out of the cellar, to go for a more artistic outlook. Sex has become the local cottage industry, like rug weaving in Iran, but the quality level of this particular village seems to be just slightly above vulgarity.

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