Final Column

A good time, by definition, is a random blessing, something that cannot be engineered, lived secondhand, or brought into being by courtesy treatment. The most fun I ever had in a club was during a lame early-Eighties period in New York, when I asked a terminally hip creature in black where I might be able to hear some jazz. With absolute contempt, he muttered, "Why don't you just go to Bloomingdale's." Amazingly enough, he took pity on me and brought me along to the early Mudd Club. As a schlub tourist from Coral Gables, I had to pay top dollar at the door and withstand more sneering, but I was right at the heart of nightclub history, watching people shoot up in the bathrooms and dancing to the Who's "My Generation." Nothing since has matched the perfection of that evening.

Good and bad, you become what you behold, and I've seen too much: the rise and fall of various South Beach stars, the resurgence of heroin, the new order of money and celebrity. My first story for New Times, well before the first "Swelter" column, concerned a New York press junket to the Fontainebleau Hilton. The idea of spending two consecutive nights with such trivial people was inconceivable then, but now I gossip with the best, dwell on the petty, and consider some of that same group to be colleagues and friends. Among other things, the first "Swelter" featured a Linda Bedell save-the-whales party at the old Island Club, the first inklings of Hippodrome hype, which opened and closed in a week -- the space is now the Kremlin. There was a bit of froth on the Butter Club, at the site of the current Bash. Those were the days, the ballyhooed pioneer era, although a lot of it had to do with people who were fabulous for no good reason, save for their capacity to snare drink tickets.

But we were all a kind of extended family then. Some, like James St. James and Craig Coleman, have vanished or died. Others got jobs, married and had kids, and stopped going out. Most of us, though, are still around and still working it: Tara Solomon, a lady then and now; Andrew Delaplaine, George Tamsitt, and Louis Canales, tough souls one and all. A thousand glittering nights on the town, a feast of pop history -- South Beach is an entirely different place now. No real regrets, though if I'd bought real estate then, some trashy journalist might have been putting my name in boldface type. It's been a long, strange trip indeed, and despite all these laments, the losses and aches of the psychic-horror network that is nightlife, this has been the best job I've ever had. It wouldn't be a "Swelter" without a bleak heart.

Since that initial, tentative effort, "Swelter" has traveled widely -- the Jordanian desert, Brazil, the Hamptons -- but it always has come back to sweet home Miami, where I've met everyone from Bill Clinton to diet queen Susan Powter. And always there's been South Beach, the world of possibility. Recently, for instance, I shared a joint, the first in years, with Oliver Stone at one club or another. Even though pot gives me a headache -- mean and immediate -- it's important to fit in while on the job. Around 4:00 a.m. Stone roused himself out of a trance, asked if I were a journalist, and, surprisingly enough, obligingly reeled out a sound bite: "Miami's become a real night place that never stops -- it's my kind of town."

Not quite the inner-circle chatter I'd hoped for, but Miami's my kind of town too, and this column has made me love the place even more. Ultimately, you stay in a city for your friends, and my circle A in and out of the life A is more patient and kind than most. Thanks to Myrna Kirkpatrick and Charles Recher for listening and making me laugh, and to Brian Antoni for being a gossip columnist's best friend: always there with the 411 and an appreciation for the absurdities of the night. Thanks to everyone who ever hooked me up A with a celebrity, a plug, or a cheap thrill A and kudos to those brave beings who refused to leave me behind at the velvet ropes to the VIP room. My deepest appreciation to the readers who took the time to write letters, positive or negative. The kindness of strangers means something in this business. And to all the vampires of South Beach, I'll see you on the rounds.

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