Swelter 32.10

Standing there on Washington Avenue for the midnight reckoning, confronting the nasty mob waving VIP opening-night invitations around the front door to Liquid, my entire career as Stepin Fetchit to the nightlife industry assumed the clarity of a bullet to the brain. If the club had gotten it together to open on time at ten o'clock, the whole daunting mess could have been avoided, not that chaos doesn't have certain charms. The snootier strains of social intercourse are required for a respectable entertainment erection these days, and the public in general leaves me flaccid. But then, business is business, commercial masters have to be attended to, and nobody likes a full-time snob.

As usual, the evening had started out bright with promise, fellow travelers in hype assembling at a private home for warm-up cocktails. All of us counting on Liquid's management team -- Chris Paciello of the departed Risk, and Ingrid Casares from the glitterati at large -- to provide something vastly different from the space's previous incarnation as Le Loft. And we were all looking forward to some hype and fuss: Lately, it seems, clubs open with a whimper customarily associated with frozen-yogurt shops. Aside from the usual locals, two tourists -- Ajay Sahgal, author of the novel Pool, and the perfectly wonderful actress Kelli Williams, who plays the eager-beaver reporter Ellie Melanski on New York News -- were down from New York. As a professional, Williams politely addressed an immediate press barrage of trashy questions about costars Mary Tyler Moore ("She's a TV legend") and Madeline Kahn ("Exactly like the characters she plays and just as funny").

A rather less hilarious moment came up at Liquid shortly thereafter, the doorman reporting that everybody -- legends and stars alike -- would have to wait. On to other clubs for more warm-up cocktails, and then the moment before the monolith, the Liquidian acolytes ready to turn violent at any moment. In normal circumstances, I might have called it a night. But the rules of the game dictate that you take care of your friends, all of whom were gazing upon me like children at Christmas, hoping Daddy would climb Sugar Mountain and unveil the mother lode of delight. And so I turned ugly -- a personal specialty -- and penetrated the crowd like a riot-squad horse just as John-John, the club's publicist, materialized at the door. In the crush, my little daisy chain linked hands and withstood the inevitable abuse -- Sahgal was actually spat upon by some sore loser -- and we all had the best time, laughing like triumphant warriors, young and brave again. As Satan noted in Milton's Paradise Lost, it's better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.

After that everything else was anticlimax, the tug of emptiness that undercuts all social victories. Naturally, the place was already full of district flotsam and fortunate beings who'd been slipped in through the back door. Within moments I'd performed all the necessary duties, met Michael and Shakira Caine in the VIP room and paid homage to Ingrid, a one-name wonder who knows all the rules. At the mention of New Times, as opposed to the blow-job press, people tend to run, hide, and brandish lawyers, but Ingrid maintained one-hand-washes-another protocol: "Whatever you want -- you guys have been good to me."

For once I was in and out within fifteen minutes -- brevity may be the soul of pleasure -- but Liquid is definitely my new favorite club. For one thing designer Chu Oroz has done an amazing job with glass, steel wire, and the video-screen panels that flank the massive room, beaming out computer-generated images of liquid go-go girls and such. And for another thing a simultaneously demented and catatonic half-nude kid on some variety of teen spirits had to be carried out by a bouncer, kind of a cheery spectacle. It takes a mean old dog to really stay the course.

Unfortunately, timing and endurance went astray on Friday evening, and I missed China Grill's newest sideshow of fame. Soon enough the place is going to start serving up fricaseed celebrities. Top dog Jack Nicholson, in town to costar in Blood and Wine with Michael Caine, dining in state with Sean Penn, who directed him in The Crossing Guard, the merry throng rounded out by assorted models and -- who else? -- Ocean Drive's Jason Binn. Another season, another unholy alliance with my favorite celeb vibrator.

The three amigos going off to Bash, which Penn co-owns, and then, of course, Bar None, Jack Nicholson staying behind at Bash and apparently showing up at Bar None after I'd left. Penn's traveling protective shield A no press please, I'm tortured already A did brush past, in no mood for engagement. Just to pump up the Bar None celeb circus, Whitney Houston stayed in a corner with formerly estranged hubby Bobby Brown, who's been through rehab programs for sex, alcohol, and drugs. (I hear he's going through chocoholic withdrawal as well, but that's his prerogative.) Houston, none too happy about Brown chatting with ballistic female admirers -- for God sake, girls, draw the line of decorum somewhere -- justifiably leaving early.

The perfectly amiable actor Stephen Dorff did hang around awhile. He's playing the son to Nicholson's character in Blood and Wine, Judy Davis functioning as Mom, the whole project directed by Bob Rafelson, who's done great work with Nicholson in the past. Dorff just back from shooting a movie in Ireland with Dennis Hopper ("I'm really getting some great wild-man role models to learn from recently") and looking forward to the Blood production, a case of art sort of imitating life: "Jack plays this older guy who parties and fools around with women on the side, cheating on my mother, and Michael Caine is his sidekick on the town. Anyway, I fall in love with this woman Jack's been seeing, and I get the girl in the end." True love triumphs, that kind of thing? "Yeah, it's cool . . . and she's hot, too."

From then on, the cultural Cuisinart spun out of control, a coagulated puree of hot and cool dialectics that would defy the organizational powers of Martha Stewart. The Embers hosting the Ain't Misbehavin' cast party, the former Miami Beach mayoral candidate Andrew Delaplaine triumphant in defeat at the bar. Loews Hotels and the Raleigh throwing an early Thanksgiving dinner for Project Cradle at the Shore Club, pediatric AIDS activists Pat and Chris Riley entertaining the children. The reopening festivities of Follia, akin to being beamed back to Regine's, circa 1987, with certain stylistic exceptions, Marvella serving as a drag queen hostess. As with Regine's, the restaurant-cum-club seemed to be mainlining glitz steroids, adorned with leopard-patterned fabrics, deeply primary color schemes, evocative mushroom-shape stools, and tiny chairs. And the same cast from that era turned up for a dej… vu variety show, like the aging-but-still-smoldering gal erupting at her escort, "What the fuck does it matter if I get up and dance on the table?"

Plus a change, plus c'est la mame chose, as we all used to say at Regine's, and it's on to the annual return of the Miami International Book Fair, studies in literature and collision. Two authors of seemingly opposing worlds, Gloria Steinem and Loni Anderson, united by spectacular romantic careers and just-us-girls revelations. sberauthor Anne Rice signing books for seven straight hours, devotees bearing chiseled vampire teeth A some people have all the best fans. And then there's the case of books and me, passing acquaintances at best, photographer/writer Bill Wisser debuting his South Beach: America's Riviera, Miami Beach, Florida. Without any prior favors, something of a novelty in the hook-up life, Wisser incorporating the bleak Austinian world view in a chapter on district nightlife.

An honor actually, and the accompanying photo supports his doomed-gossip-columnist theory: unhealthy pallor, bloodshot eyes, chomping on a swizzle stick like a buffoon. Oh Lord, the price I've paid for fun. The specter of the graven image sent me to bed in a fugue of remorse, reading Tobias Wolff's In Pharaoh's Army: Memories of the Lost War, an elegantly written memoir of Vietnam's true horror. Wolff's epigraph, taken from Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier, might be suitable for all future South Beach historians: "For it is not unusual in human beings who have witnessed the sack of a city or the falling to pieces of a people to desire to set down what they have witnessed for the benefit of unknown heirs or of generations infinitely remote; or, if you please, just to get the sight out of their heads.

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