Swelter 3

Dateline Palm Beach, a flight from local society, working the shortcuts of the American dream. The endless journalistic scramble, the hustles, the protocol phone calls paying off with a stray Saturday night at Mar-A-Lago, returning to command headquarters of Donald Trump, the All-American survivor. Donald and Marla Maples celebrating yet another triumph, Trump's scheme to transform Marjorie Merriweather Post's seasonal cottage into the Mar-A-Lago Club recently approved by the Palm Beach City Council. Once again a witness to social history, having attended a landmark models-meet-money Maralogian bash a few years back, designed to hype the country club concept.

The whole historical continuum very Brideshead Revisited, when Rex Mottram, the upstart counter-jumper, turns the ancestral home of the Marchmain family into a casino. To be fair to Trump, Mrs. Post was an early pioneer of exuberant bad taste, and the aesthetic demarcations between Palm Beach and the ordinary world, even Miami, have eroded over time. In a curious way, Trump hewing to the old goyim standards of ancient society: Do anything, sell off the household effects, but keep the palace intact. Except for the fact that he actually works for a living, the Trumpster could be people like us.

Into a wonderland of formalwear and new money, our entrance somewhat lacking the Oxfordian elan of Brideshead's possessive Sebastian, a recalcitrant cummerbund snapping off and trailing behind us during an ambiance check. The grand dining room transformed into a minirestaurant, blue disco lights twinkling in the ballroom, the vast lawn adorned with a pocket golf course. By the pool, atmospheric party favors, a gentleman rolling cigars under a chickee hut, the patio infested with parrots and macaws. One of the hateful creatures, accompanied by some Duke or another, promptly crossing class lines and digging into our shoulders, catching us unaware during a particularly absorbing monologue. As is our wont, heedlessly going nutso-schizo, screaming about the fucking birds and roundly swatting the thing, as an unamused Trump brushed past the unfortunate tableau. Thank God, none of us who've made an art form out of vulgarity have to concern ourselves about the sneers of Lady Diana Cooper and Evelyn Waugh any longer.

Simmering down for a splendid poolside dinner, Trump making a personable victory speech: "After the hit I took in 1991, the last thing I need is a four-million-dollar overhead every year.... Let me read you the letter of congratulation I've received from Mrs. Post's granddaughter.... Marla was worried about some people we didn't know on the lawn this morning, and I told her she better get used to it." At the head table, the forever sweet Marla dining with their beautiful little daughter Tiffany. In polite accord with our lament about never getting out of Miami, Marla sighing sympathetically about the perils of gilded cages: "I know the feeling; I never seem to get out of Mar-A-Lago."

The icon of feel-good television, Kathy Lee Gifford, in tow with husband Frank Gifford, Kathy Lee looking even perkier at the mention of a mutual friend, Lin Arison, of Carnival Cruise Lines. Another sunny chat, a dark cloud descending during a harmless question about cohost Regis Philbin: "It's the weekend; do I really have to think about Regis?"

On a personal social-climbing roll, affecting an introduction with an exquisitely decorative escort wearing an eye patch in the manner of the Hathaway man, the titled top boy falling for our patented you're-at-all-the-right-parties routine. All the slaves to beauty crumbling under his spell, but naturally, the noble creature -- like the parrots -- drawn to the lowborn and spewing forth invitations. In society, it helps to be properly escorted.

From there, a series of bright moments, lost in an ecstatic trance. The Palm Beach Story revisited, someone talking about Hunter S. Thompson, in town for an article on polo, almost getting nailed for suspicion of driving-while-fucked-up; ever the pro, Thompson momentarily focusing and passing a DUI test with flying colors. The very nice social queen Dorothy Sullivan, doing this season's AmFar AIDS benefit, interviewed by Hard Copy on the Trump Club ("Of course, I only said nice things"). Some sociosexual tensions climaxing in a major scene -- always the mark of a good party -- a local matron-hustler denounced as homophobic by her very ex-friend. Tales of Elizabeth Taylor, once again in the throes of elevator weight syndrome; at long last, we're sharing a dysfunction with a real celebrity. Lois Pope, the widow-whose-hair-turned-gold-with-grief, symbolizing the ultimate triumph of long-suffering wives. A week before her divorce, her late husband -- Generoso Pope, of the National Enquirer empire -- kindly passing on and leaving his fortune behind, one envious gal going dreamy: "Hundreds of millions, enough to take the sting out of all these fools we're all married to."

The glittering hordes thinning out, and it's on to a nightlife tour, the merry throng of ne'er-do-wells winding down with a nightcap at the tony Beebe's Tavern. Proprietor Gerald H. Beebe wearing shorts and establishing a High WASP tone, delivering an informed lecture on proper martini preparation. Audrey, the very talented house pianist, negotiating a mood of hard-drinking raucousness -- inordinate liquor consumption seems to be compulsory in Palm Beach -- and tearing into "Down in the Depths on the Ninetieth Floor," from Cole Porter's Red, Hot and Blue: "Here I sit above the town in my pet palliated gown, down in the depths/While the crowds at El Morocco punish the parquet and the couples at '21' clamor for more/What's the use of swank and cash in the bank galore?"

Back to Miami, cash-clogged but somehow lacking swank. A talent scout from MTV coming down this weekend from New York City, looking for a few good visuals suitable for the neat parameters of television truth. The formerly valid Grace Jones, all about the visual, reduced to singing birthday tributes at Bar None. On a more seemly note, MDCC Wolfson Campus' Cultura del Lobo series bringing John Kelly's Pass the Blutwurst, Bitte to the Colony Theater, incorporating bits of Egon Schiele, Adolphe Adam, and the Vienna Boys Choir. And people say Miami doesn't have any culture. Staying on the low road personally, catching Ivana Trump's hell-hath-no-fury number on The Tonight Show ("You know Donald -- he'd do anything for a hundred bucks") and reading about the triumph of Gump in Vanity Fair. The saga of a down-home idiot savant becoming a movieland cash cow, Tom Hanks and director Robert Zemeckis banking a cool 40 million each. In true Hollywood style, Gump author Winston Groom given a cursory, thoroughly insulting acknowledgement by the the film's principals during the Academy Awards. He's only a writer, and after all, what has he done for us lately?

The Gump phenomenon, what with the collected thoughts of Chairman Gump and a Gump cookbook, netting Groom some twelve million dollars A an unbelievable rags-to-riches score for any serious novelist. And then, of course, there's Gump II. Despite a folksy persona, the gifted Groom started off as a well-bred, good-looking young writer in New York, adorning his share of dinner parties and scaling Upper East Side society. The world by the balls, and yet during a night of South Beach carousing last November, Groom evidencing perfect recall for every slight, remaining gloriously nasty: "I'll never forgive that bastard -- he couldn't get change at a Texaco station now -- for not giving me a blurb eight years ago.... That venomous son-of-a-bitch has a mind like a CIA mole.... When the Washington Post did those Gump-backlash editorials, I wrote a letter in Gump's voice -- it's just a simple story about human dignity -- and they wouldn't publish it, after I'd stayed at Kay Graham's place on the Vineyard. Now I use the piece in my speeches: At $20,000 a pop, that works out to $505 a word. Serves them right."

Throughout that grand evening, taking a ride on the underbelly of the American dream, Groom a man after our own heart. Never forget, never forgive. In this country, even the lucky don't get out alive.