Swelter 46

September song in the great banquet of life, the roundelay of chance and opportunity narrowing with the passage of time. Some of our older friends, maddeningly enough, remaining steadfast in the game: one wallowing in visions throughout a two-week peyote tour of Mexico; another off to Bosnia; a beloved filmmaker friend asking us for consulting help with a project in Trinidad, the movie a mythic study of a burned-out journalist being reborn amid the glories of Carnaval. Fate truly knocking at the door -- there may as well have been a neon sign parked outside the house with a dancing cartoon character screaming, "Pack up now, you idiot" -- but somehow we could never quite get it together. The usual crush of nonglobe-trotting journalistic duties and mundane anxieties, fretting over the availability of Diet Coke in the Third World. But then, we didn't miss much: a few pagan rites and wild parties, legions of exotic women with "skin so beautiful it glows like something evil" virtually mounting the cameras for their shot at post-Black Orpheus immortality.

Vexed beyond measure and feeling very mortal, settling for the slightly less nourishing carnival of South Beach. Dinner in the hyper-American pageantry of Nick's Miami Beach, encountering everyone from former frat brothers to a couple celebrating their 71st wedding anniversary, missing the appearance of another honorable survivor, Muhammad Ali. Down to the district with a glitz-driven friend, reduced to crashing the very French opening of Dune and pointlessly scouting for catered guest Princess Stephanie of Monaco, her royalness apparently having conflicting engagements. Back out on the streets, stumbling into the connected and taking a ride on the hookup highway, the glamour beat pretty much all luck and timing. A few strategic cellular phone calls and it's a flight from horror, tricking up to a very intimate postperformance reception for Sting on the Marlin rooftop. The gods unveiling another spectacular bounty, the gathering being blissfully free of competing columnists, an ideal opportunity for social exaltation of the there-were-just-a-few-of-us school.

The unusual professional circumstances inspiring a natural temptation to embellish matters: Sting did a solo rendition of "Roxanne" under the moonlight, absolutely loved us, and it was all too fabulous for mere words. In cold truth, Our Lord of the Grip barely acknowledging a lame pleasantry and telling someone else "to bring as many people as you want" to another party. The rock icon looking focused and leaving the field early, the party chatter encompassing rock protocol, Chris Blackwell's all-too-true T-shirt ("Nothing Is True, Everything Is Permitted"), and naturally enough, sex. A highlight coming with a woman mirroring our own notions of carnality, the Beach fairly bush league compared to her native Brazil: "Go without sex long enough and you don't care any more. But once you scratch the itch, nothing is ever enough."

The quest for too much of everything, as ever, taking curious turns. Another night of glumly confronting a bleak horizon of club thuggery, Micky Wolfson suddenly calling and changing the tone. Over to The Foundlings for dinner, a party of seven illuminati ensconced at the vast common table, Micky entertaining two remarkable Italian women from New York, Beatrice Monti-Rezzori and Maita di Niscemi. The story of Maita's family and ancestral home inspiring Luchino Visconti's The Leopard, Burt Lancaster apparently doing a fine job as the family patriarch, Maita becoming a writer and working with director Robert Wilson on The Civil Wars and other projects. Beatrice, an art-world figure married to the novelist Gregor von Rezzori, spanning everything from Gianni Agnelli's beach parties to stories about the late Bruce Chatwin. The big-picture talk ranging widely over the international arena: Tom Waits taking the stage after The Black Rider premier in Berlin and spontaneously singing the score; Beatrice dropping by director Louis Malle's apartment and arguing the merits of Madonna for the Marlene Dietrich story; Micky's recent trip to Detroit, an unsettling "mixture of Johannesburg and Dresden." All of us, the titled and nontitled alike, getting along famously, the idea of turning our own sordid saga into an ambitious postmodern opera called Beach.

After dinner, the voyagers piling into Micky's massive 1962 Cadillac for a nightlife/architecture tour, driving by his museum headquarters on Washington Avenue, Versace's mansion, and assorted strolling celebrity drag queens. Gathering force at Amnesia, a pop-press colleague conducting a class field trip with a covey of very young girls, actually living the high life fate has cruelly denied us. On to Paragon, doing our trademark Fredo Corleone routine, the gang playfully bowing before the pulsating crystal ball over the dance floor. Up to Espanola Way, the car inching through a mob of young Cubans congregating around a tapas restaurant, the experience eerily similar to Maita's remembrances of class tensions in pre-Castro Havana. Over the Venetian Causeway to the Wolfson Initiative complex on NE Second Avenue, Micky pointing out minor wonders along the way: a celebrated Ivan Mestrovic sculpture tucked away in a church courtyard, the pioneer outposts of Lemon City, the best greasy spoon in Miami, a man walking by in a "Fuck the World" T-shirt. Our destination, the Haitian club Obsession, closed for the evening, the fun brigade moving on to other Arcadian 3:00 a.m. adventures. The car stopping at another dive in a senseless-killing district, the clientele stupefied by the miraculous spectacle and lusting over the wonder machine. Micky buoyant as ever ("Don't you find this wonderfully sympathetic?"), casually asking for club tips and ignoring their strong negotiating position. On to the quaint little pocket neighborhood of El Portal, the group piling out to witness a commemorative marker, two gentlemen looming out of the darkness, Beatrice suddenly recalling a Bonfire of the Vanities experience in Harlem.

Tooling over to Bal Harbour and Surfside, the social historian pointing out a former gambling den of the high-roller era A now a supermarket A Maita regrouping and erupting into a French folk song. Cruising the streets of South Beach like high school kids, reminiscing about the old Warehouse days in Little Havana, Maurice Ferre and other luminaries dancing on tables. The troops opting for a final nightcap, the tireless Micky extolling the Nineties retreat from nightlife freneticism, a return to conversation and true fun in America. An instructive evening winding down, another ephemeral midnight garden, a glimpse of all the richness and possibility of the world. One of the women leaning back contentedly, cutting to the heart of the ceaseless whirl: "In the end, we all just want somebody to love us for five minutes. And usually, five minutes is enough.