Swelter 10

Endgame, sugarplum visions of the Apocalypse, the Twentieth Century running amok and winding down to a last gasp of absurdity. A nation transfixed by O.J. Simpson, the first celebrity psycho: Dog Day Afternoon meets Hollywood Babylon, as the perfect candidate for Phil Donahue's televised executions makes the big time. Gloria Estefan's plumbing problems unveiled in graphic detail, a carefully orchestrated dissemination campaign for family-values newspapers. International star Sylvester Stallone interrupting a life crowded with incident and leaving an interesting phone message at our house, bending his mind to small matters. The new universe of weirdness, a series of loony coincidences, random encounters, and public-relations nightmares.

Another vanishing-point run commencing at Imagen Medical Day Spa, hosting a bizarre only-in-Miami reception for Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes, the bulldog of journalism interviewing medical director Lionel Resnick for last Sunday's AIDS story and looking bewildered by all the fuss. No ugly incidents or gossip about rich and famous fanny tucks, although the spa had formerly offered an arrangement extended to columnists -- free treatments in exchange for celebrity plugs. Down to Coconut Grove for the movie Speed, slick and brimming with ultraviolence, the audience chortling along to lame decapitation jokes and other sickening material. The streets equally disheartening, Latin businessmen casually talking about gun-running in the proud filth of the Pink Pussycat erotic boutique. A tentative foray into Planet Hollywood, dipsomaniacal college students and cock-teasing sweethearts dining amid chilling celebrity artifacts, and it's a flight back to South Beach, cozy as Mayberry R.F.D. and alien as the Casbah.

The familiar insanity of Bang, and the constellation of chance unfolds yet again with the actual Mr. Hollywood, Stallone somehow anointing us to correct an injustice perpetrated by Jimmy Franzo of Velvet, the King of Collins Avenue riding the fame train. Franzo publicly proclaiming that an argument with Arnold Schwarzenegger over weightlifting protocol ruined his shot at True Lies, another bid for nonclub fame in Stallone's The Specialist going astray when he "outshone" the bankable aura of the real star. Stallone posing the impossible existential question of the after-hours life ("Who the hell are these people?"), and chewing over issues of respect: "It's wrong for people to create a total deception about what they really do, tarnish the reputation of others to make their reputation. I've never met this guy, he's never auditioned for any movie I've ever been in, and the only acting he's doing is in his own delusions. As for his club, I went there once, and I'd have to get a shot of penicillin before I'd go in again. This Franzo might be starring in the play of life, but he's not outshining anybody in my movie."

The great docudrama of the status wars getting stranger from there, Jimmy Franzo walking in after Stallone's departure, an ideal opportunity for an exchange straight out of high school: "Hey Franzo, Stallone's looking for you." "So what -- he knows where to find me." Weary unto death of the whirl, retreating to our own private garden of derangement, a self-imposed moratorium on television ending with a handy tip from the party-loving crew at La Voile Rouge, requesting a photo of O.J. Simpson taken at their opening this past December, management hoping to use the golden image for attention in the national arena.

Being in the nightlife industry, where everyone remains on their worst behavior, our own recollections of a tragic media hero -- the former football star who seemed like such a nice man on TV A are slightly less uplifting. America forgets and forgives all too readily, and once you're rooted in the national psyche as a cliched concept -- say, a fatuously affable athlete with a nifty nickname -- it's possible to stay young and profitable forever. In truth, Simpson functioned as a comfortably mediocre jock whore, making pay-per-view appearances and commercials. His ballyhooed "Hollywood career" descended from Roots to a cheesy football-theme sit-com occupying the nether regions of the late-night programming ghetto. One of our sleazier acquaintances, a club veteran from New York, kept telling dark-side tales that didn't seem inconceivable even then: "He had everything all his life, and then you'd see him down to the dregs at 4:00 a.m., snorting scraps of coke in limos and pawing girls, trying to recapture his youth." And indeed, Simpson's eyes were patently crazed as he leered at models, the operating-on-autopilot speech was rambling and off-key ("A toast to all of you in your dark glasses. Thanks for making me a founding member"), and he made himself objectionable over being photographed: "Hey, we're talking here." Ridiculous beyond measure, considering that his sole purpose in life was to be witnessed as The Juice, a traveling celebrity adornment, the man who had a great season twenty years ago and still rode the gravy train.

At the time, Simpson was of no particular interest, but the unfolding dreamscape of his pathetic flight ensured a nine-hour marathon of television, witness to a perfect crystallization of the national dementia. The players, one and all, behaved as if the sordid spectacle was nothing but an especially gripping movie-of-the-week: deferential and incompetent cops thanking all the little people who made it possible; the press hitting rock bottom in the ugly scramble; an adoring public cheering on an alleged murderer with the awesome power to clear freeways; starstruck local attorney Roy Black rhapsodizing about having a client with "a great personality." A world gone mad, and if it's all true, Simpson is the first real star of the new American psychosis. The ultimate triumph of image over reality, Simpson embodies the modern age A an increasing appetite for denial, delusion, and pitiless self-absorption, the mysteries and responsibilities of life reduced to easy sound bites and pop psychology -- culminating in a farewell letter that reads like a Hertz convention speech with a smiley-face drawing.

Rank sexual hypocrisy and the casual degradation of women, a coarsened tolerance for violence and death. A man who might have watched his nine-year-old daughter's dance recital, and then some five hours later slashed her mother's throat and killed an innocent man. A supposed great guy, taking everyone down with him in a long whimper of aggrandizement and destruction. Not even man enough, on that final parade of celebrity privilege and cut-rate showmanship, to seize the moment and blow his brains out on the highway A the only fit and proper thing to do. In the end, a beast of our imaginings, embracing trash fame and ridding himself of the pain of being a man, leading us all into a new land of monsters.