Swelter

Despite the threat of death, Rushdie's a remarkably lighthearted icon, a man who wants to have fun like everyone else. He's a great writer and, it should be noted, an unusually talented lobber of sound bites: "This tour has given me the freedom to see some of your wonderfully corrupt, decaying American cities. . . . Circumstances dictate your writing, although people have told me that The Moor's Last Sigh is my funniest book -- so these circumstances must have cheered me up. . . . My experiences have proved that there is such a thing as negative fame. . . . The advantage of attracting new readers has been negligible, a small gain. Just because a taxi driver knows my name, it wouldn't follow that they would necessarily think I was a terrific writer."

The dinner party for Rushdie at the Delano's banquet room that evening demonstrated that fame, if nothing else, functions as a kind of cosmic vibrator, lending an edge to any occasion. Hosted by the ultimate publising operator, Sonny Mehta of Alfred A. Knopf -- who'd been down here before to sign up Vicki Hendricks for her Miami Purity novel -- the dinner offered an opportunity for local novelists to meet the Greta Garbo of literature. Among others, John Dufresne (Louisiana Power & Light), Edna Buchanan (Act of Betrayal), and poet Jeffrey Knapp (Isle of Flowers) showed up for the Rush, who seemed perfectly at ease on the reception circuit. The Blue Door's Brian McNally, an immensely likable pro in the glamour industries, anchored a table with Shakira Caine and art world/party world figure Ashton Hawkins.

The celebrity possibilities, given Rushdie's stature (David Byrne and other pop figureheads have attended his previous appearances) and McNally's Rolodex, had seemed limitless. There had been the usual self-generating lather, the speculations of a dream guest list from the heavens, but Rushdie ("This is my 'fuck 'em' book tour") turned out to be enough of an attraction. An intelligent dinner party is rarer than a fame feast anyway, and the mere sight of Rushdie in Delano wonderland -- a world far removed from Islamic fundamentalism -- was a sustaining image of the surreal.

Rushdie's bodyguards stayed in the background as he politely circulated from table to table ("I'm going to need some Alka-Seltzer after all this jumping up and down"). Remarkably enough, his trip to the bathroom attracted scant attention from the golden hordes at the bar, who were immersed in the devil's workshop of hedonism. Over dessert I confronted my own monstrousness and flipped through The Moor's Last Sigh, one sentence having a particular resonance: "I have done the dirty as and when required, done it, and taken pleasure in the doing." Literature can be a great consolation in life.

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