Swelter 21

September song, and the angst of August -- if the heat doesn't get you, the stupidity will -- dwindles down to a foul psychic sinkhole, infested with boredom, futility, and the remains of wasted flesh. Yet again the same old dirge of hopelessness is everywhere at once: Miami's really over this time, it can't possibly regenerate from this omega point of civic degradation, and no one famous, fabulous, or, better yet, rich, ever will set foot in the house of cards again, this three-card-monte game of attitude. The spoiled locals will be trapped in one another's company, enveloped in incestuous flames amid an abandoned palace of glitter, Saigon after the troops have pulled out. City of whores, endlessly waiting for the harvest time of commercial exploitation, another lewd new season, the bounty of sex, profit, and good filthy fun.

But then it's the same all over, a last-gasp tale of the big whimper, set in a universe where the center will not hold. In an insane world, nightclubs actually make sense, even marathon runs to oblivion. Handily enough, a new-order culture clash coming up at Groove Jet, Paper magazine and the promotional company Giant Step presenting an appearance by singer Vanessa Daou, of Zipless fame. Very nice all around, cocktails at a civilized hour, a long tunnel of white muslin leading to the tasty back room. In between nibbling at hors d'oeuvres and the way-too-open bar, the guests taking in Daou's steamy little video set in nightlife wonderland. The plot proving elusive, but there seemed to be a recurring motif of sliding zippers, the attractive star surrounded by buffed torsos yearning in sexual supplication. If only MTV would open a club.

For our sober-living entourage, an ideal sampler package of low-commitment party consumption, one of the crew observing, "This is great. I can have a drink, eat dinner free, still be home in time for Seinfeld, and confirm why I never go out in the first place." On any other night we'd have taken the same approach, but Jauretsi -- former homegirl, sorely missed sympathetic face, and Paper promotions director -- happened to be down from New York City, ready to frolic on the playground of South Beach.

In tow with host Greg Brier, the breaking-trend crowd moving on to Nemo for an idyll before the midnight storm: David Hershkovits of Paper; Vanessa and her husband, Peter Daou; Maurice Bernstein, of Giant Step; and Vito Bruno, whose curriculum vitae encompasses the real-life disco of Saturday Night Fever, outlaw parties with Michael Alig, and now music production. Just for aesthetic overkill, a paint-it-black contingent with vague connections to the guest of honor hovering around the fringes. Everyone seemed to be a DJ/promoter/record producer and full-time legend, visually arresting but normal enough, hustling a living just like regular mortals.

Despite all the vinyl chanteuse gear and cutting-edge hype, Vanessa Daou turning out to be remarkably nonattitudinal and down-to-earth. After graduating from Barnard, Daou made a stab at the visual arts and waitressing ("I was the worst, but luckily Peter was the manager") before going on to pop music, the ideal artistic discipline: Jeff Koons's porn homages to himself, for instance, won't have the staying power of "I Want to Hold Your Hand." The Zipless album produced in collaboration with Erica Jong, Peter Daou's aunt, Vanessa pointing out the delicacy of transmogrifying Jong's erotic poetry: "Erica's family, so we had to be really careful, but she wound up doing a poem on the album." Things have certainly changed: The "zipless fuck" of Jong's Fear of Flying was once considered shocking, and now, heaven knows, anything goes. Salman Rushdie, one of the more illustrious patrons of New York's Bowery Bar -- everyone else has been there, so why not exiled celebrities of the literary diaspora? -- may well be working on a rock opera version of The Satanic Verses.

After some arcane industry-speak, the Jongian nephew in the synergistic woodpile, Peter Daou, cranking up the promotional engine ("When Vanessa does her stuff in New York, I want that club to be sticky from all those horny people") and sharing his own interesting background. Raised in Lebanon and reluctantly pressed into the Christian militia at the age of fifteen: "The Marines were a joke to us; some of our guys were willing to die as martyrs. But fighting a war as a teenager turned out to be perfect training for the record business."

An old hand at the theater of social provocation, we remained just offensive enough to keep the conversation flowing. Naturally enough, seizing on a perfect high Beach moment, some model going gushy amid the Manhattan demimonde: "I spent the whole day at the beach, reading every word of your magazine." Sans supermodels, unfortunately, the core group gearing up for the ritual waltz of the icons. First stop, Bar None, Jauretsi continually greeted by hugs and plugs -- forever unto end, she's one of us -- and talking of the Miami balseros plying the Manhattan trade: Jacques and Pascal, run out of both cities at different times; John Hood, lurking in the Tunnel; Gary James, working with Steven Zee and Michael Capponi, among others. No wonder all the good times have gone.

On to Rocket, Geo Darder hosting a three-day celebration for a scrap of accelerated real estate history: the space formerly a steak house, the gay Rocket Lounge, and now an expanded gays-straights-and-carnivores-welcome dance club, pretty in purple and industrial chic. The senses going numb during a series of house music joints, Maurice Bernstein happily dancing to pretty much anything: "After all these years, I still love clubs." And then the blissfully unusual Respectable Street, some psychobilly group from England thrashing away like the Stray Cats with an itch. Back on the mean streets, the downtown boys engaged in an impromptu what-Miami-needs panel discussion, marred by our finely honed coda of civic ambassadorship, something to the effect of who gives a fuck what you New York carpetbaggers think. Even in a city without standards, we're beyond the pale.

And then it's the weekend and more dramas of drink, somehow managing to avoid the rounds, Jimmy Sommerville and assorted dragsters glamming up Glam Slam. Two of our social betters, Gloria Estefan and Alexander Liberman, stayed in town as well, celebrating birthdays. A flight to certain moneyed watering holes -- St.-Tropez, Aspen -- and one glorious weekend in Cleveland might have taken the bite out of the prevailing ennui. In fact we could have traveled to all three places on a whirl of professional courtesy, but a snobbery of derangement intruded.

The south of France is French, among other downside equations, a kind of busman's holiday for those accustomed to sun and debauchery. Aspen, worse yet, is full of air-kissing Miamians in faux bucolic poses. Aside from being conducted in the grossly unappetizing heartland, the opening festivities for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had the allure of a 3-D golden-oldies station. On the other hand, the tabloid possibilities were endless. We might have grilled Jan Wenner on his ball-breaker-of-empires boyfriend, whimsically linked Little Richard and Snoop Doggy Dogg in blind items, and persuaded Yoko Ono to adopt us as the rightful ward of John Lennon's money.

And yet nothing could top our very own episode of rock glory at the long-departed Whiskey, right here in little old Miami. For some reason, the way stoned Jimmy Page showed up for a dream-come-true solo or two: In high school, the Led was the godhead itself among our Drugstore Cowboy cronies. Afterward, in the VIP room, we took an ugly satisfaction in Page's low-rent groupie, far less fetching than our own companion. Shortly thereafter Page sold his house here, reunited with Robert Plant, and got divorced for optimum love-sexy opportunities. Now he's big enough to have record company grunts test-drive his new shoes, break them in for the new king of commercial viability. And we're still a footman in the court of clubs, reduced to the consistency of a melted jelly sandwich, overstaying the great party of Miami.