Swelter

Final Column

This is the last "Swelter," the end of the road. It's time to say goodbye to all that, keep things short, sweet, and even more about me than usual. I've had a long enough run, God knows, given that the first column appeared on August 21, 1991, which translates to almost five years of booze, drugs, insufferable music, and beating my brains out. At this point I've become accustomed to the routine, like a horse plowing a familiar furrow in the same old field. For a long time to come, Sunday afternoons will -- in the manner of Pavlov's dogs -- mean it's time to really get to work. A Monday-morning deadline is a yoke around the neck, a sure-fire way to ruin the weekend.

But the discipline has kept me from complete degeneracy, and the freedom granted to these efforts has been quite remarkable. Not too many other social columns contain half-baked ruminations on the looming apocalypse. Like any writer would, I've abused the privilege at times, launched some atrocities out into the void. But throughout I've tried to make sense out of nightlife, to bring back something useful from the darkness.

"Swelter" began in the world of dance clubs, though it strayed into all kinds of territory, from profiles of the legitimate to celebrity gossip A a pact made with the devil of pop journalism. Somehow, though, everything comes back to the great leveler of clubs, which, by their very nature, are institutions built on insensibility. They aren't supposed to provide anything more than heedless, foolish, and often downright dangerous pleasure. In the beginning, South Beach dissipation was a new and fresh experience, but then, your stamina is better at 35 than 40. Now I trudge down Washington Avenue like the Road Warrior after a particularly brutal skirmish. After all these years, my hearing has suffered, and my tolerance for loud clubs (they're all loud) has ebbed considerably. But in those early days, an eight-hour evening wasn't unusual: chitchat and jism videos at Hombre, dancing at Boomerang, a last-call drink at the Spot. And then there were all the floor shows at Warsaw. On one watershed evening, Lady Henesy Brown, the stripper-performance artist, mounted beer bottles on-stage, squirted the stuff from her vagina, and topped that by having a patron tug a twenty-foot-long, bell-encrusted ribbon out of her none-too-private parts and string it over the club like an insane Fourth of July streamer. When I didn't flinch at the spectacle, I knew I was born to this job. Brown's antics seem positively quaint now.

From this age and a more sober perspective, the endurance era feels like it happened to someone else. All those nights out. All that liquor. Nightclubs, of course, are designed to encourage drunkenness. As the first local mainstream reporter covering that world, I was always bumping into people who would buy me drinks and tell me how fabulous I was, a perilously heady combination. After a year or two, a sense of moderation kicked in. My liver actually sent a thank-you note at one point. These days, standing in some chaotic dive at 4:00 a.m., I look like a demented, middle-age golfer, going about my duties with what passes for professionalism in the nightlife trade. Clubs will either kill you or make you cooler, as Michael Capponi once pointed out to me. They've done a little bit of both to all of us.

After steadily gazing upon incessant and flagrant carnality, gay and straight, I'll never be able to think of sex in the same way again. There have been too many let-us-worship-the-erection theme parties, too many brazen strippers in lesbian bars, and way too many wanton teens, overblown children who can't handle the underbelly of existence. One thing I've never grown accustomed to is the relationship between sex and money, trick boys or tender young things offering themselves at wholesale prices. Time and time again I've watched young girls A from both good and bad families A zeroing in on well-heeled dogs. (One grim evening I found myself at a dinner party with a fourteen-year-old girl who looked like the early Tina Louise and who should have been doing her algebra homework.) Maybe it's nothing but the great lie of nostalgia, but in my own youth no one seemed to have any money or care about getting more, and a good healthy romp between two horny people had no other agenda beyond orgasm.

Besides that ugly issue, nothing human is foreign to me any longer, and at a certain point there's no turning back to what you once were. These days, aside from friends and family, pretty much all I care about is making a living with a semblance of self-respect. Sex and fabulousness are the least of my concerns. Any kind of reporting, but especially nightlife reporting, both amplifies and taints your enjoyment of the subject matter. Clearly there's something to be said for the always-a-pleasure approach, but unfortunately social reporting makes you exist within and without the gathering at hand. Every affair is reduced to column fodder. At my own 40th birthday party, surrounded by true friends one and all, I actually worked the room for material. Not an attractive frame of mind.

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