Swelter

What with Christmas coming up and all, I've been trying to exorcise hatefulness from my being -- without much luck, unfortunately. Leave the house or pick up the phone, and someone eventually pisses you off. At an advanced stage of meanness, you even start to piss yourself off. Over time a steady diet of parties transforms everyone into mere glorified scenery, demanding a survival tactic of psychotic perkiness that would shame even Kathie Lee Gifford (she actually seems to be hating everything lately too). However, the spontaneous combustions of parties do feed the insatiable reactor of fluff-and-fury journalism. And thankfully fate brought a certifiably grand opening to this sandbar of Xanadu, the last great dump of the American dream, the Gilligan's Island of social climbing and twisted ambition.

On Thursday the Hotel Astor debuted with the kind of loopy verve that marks all the better local affairs. The hotel blocked off one side of Washington Avenue for a Sister Sledge concert and additional milling-about room. A good thing, too, since positively everyone -- district pioneers, drag queens, models, Bal Harbour socialites, strippers, club promoters -- turned out for one great hurrah, like the guest stars on the final episode of The Carol Burnett Show. Accordingly, an ugly mob backed up at the hotel's barricades and some society friends -- the sort of people who used to flee from public events -- were struggling to forge ahead in the human tide pool. Normally, it might have been an amusing opportunity for a lecture to these chums on the importance of maintaining class loyalty. But the holiday season can make anyone go soft and sentimental, and so I dragged them and other slummers along.

However, as a civic booster, my deepest affections have always been extended to real estate, the Astor -- owned by Karim Masri -- being an enchanting property that would drive anyone into a horny rut, a refuge of taste in the wasteland of nightclub 'toon town. Just off the Astor's elegant haute-deco lobby, there's a beautiful pocket-size bar with French doors that lead out to a tidy pool, backed by a wall of cascading water. At the other end of the lobby, a spiral staircase descends to the Astor Place restaurant, the newest jewel in the Dennis Max empire. The room groaned with everything from an entire suckling pig (tasty fare, despite Porky's glassy stare of rebuke) to nouveau dishes and liquor that flowed in an epic way. The latter inspired some neophytes to behave like Lord of the Flies children, denouncing my insufficient greed and gratitude in the horn of plenty. Apparently, it's a capital offense now to be a polite guest.

To a professional, the human buffet is always more interesting anyway, and the Astor had a provocative crowd on hand, including a very nice film editor from the Striptease production who looked understandably horrified when I came out publicly as a purveyor of filth: an avowal that's more or less like taking a pride in necrophilia. Bobby Guilmartin, the soul of hospitality in the old Hombre club days -- those flying jism videos were always a wonderful conversation piece -- talked about other tony affairs ("The only two people I'll wait for are Princess Di and Jeff Stryker") and being over the same old district routine. Now a travel industry figure devoted to the erotomaniac/rabid charms of Cuba, the new frontier, Guilmartin announced his weariness of pesky media stalkers: "I'm out about Cuba now, and I don't care who knows it." Sign me up if there's a place for gossip columnists down there.

In an entirely separate category, there was Lynn Goldsmith, the "legendary rock photographer." Even with that billing, I had no clue who the hell she was, but soon enough the moment was all about Goldsmith, the only Masada warrior woman who's ever worn me down to one big shtokh of love and exhaustion. A Detroit native who went on to a festering adolescence in Miami Beach, Goldsmith was in town for her 30th Beach High reunion and some ad hoc promotion of her most recent book, PhotoDiary. It's a kind of sociological study of the Sixties and beyond, all about, as she put it, "relating your life to musicians and men in general and what that all means." Particularly, of course, to this woman's story, from her beginnings photographing the Beatles in 1964 as a teenager with advanced attitude ("For Stones fans, they were goody-goody boys A I didn't give a fuck about them") and an eye for the arcane: "I saw these four pairs of great shoes walking across the carpet, and that's all I took pictures of -- John couldn't believe it. But those shoes were the most beautiful things I'd ever seen, and that was the closest I'd ever come to an orgasm at that point."

From there, other life chapters kept looming up: burning her bra in Ann Arbor; dalliances with Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism; playing with the band Walking Wounded; chronicling everyone from Grand Funk Railroad to k.d. lang. She had an ill-advised affair with Sting during his studiously single period, but really, who could blame her? The Born to Run era Bruce Springsteen flipped out completely during a concert, dragged her on-stage from the audience, dismissed her as his very ex-girlfriend, and then bodily threw her off. And he was one of the nice boyfriends.

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