Swelter 34

The Miami story, wired up and ready to roll, the city functioning on scatterbrained creative circuity. Ordinary life, as of late, coming to resemble a pulp-market rewrite of Naked Lunch with touches of magical realism, outright pornography, and assorted knock-'em-dead gimmicks drawn from the cheaper forms of fiction. On the brink of a terminal done-to-death phase after a quarter century in the trenches, and then, renewed and nourished again amidst the tender mercies of discovery and delight. Embrace the weirdness, suspend disbelief, let go of that whole cause-and-effect plot business and it's really a great town.

Mondo madness fever commencing in the western reaches of unincorporated Dade County, anticipation and road dust mounting through a wasteland of prole rat-food diners and surrealistic shopping malls, lit up like neon Christmas trees. The ultimate Latino-bizarro destination, La Cavacha, rising out of a squalid landscape of cow pastures, last-chance gas stations, and shacks with television satellite dishes. A former truck stop catering mainly to workers from a nearby rock quarry, growing steadily into a cafe-cum-club shrine to beer and salsa, adorned with a ten-foot-tall Polar beer bottle, perched like an icon on the roof. The adjacent tiki hut a veritable hanging garden of kitsch: inflatable beer trucks, signs and bottles dangling from the ceiling, a poster from the movie Fatal Instinct, Latin Grand Guignol dramas playing on three outdoor monitors. In the parking lot a twisted scene, American Graffiti meets old Cuba roadhouse: sports cars, jacked-up trucks, ass-hugging dresses and business suits, women in early Cher attire. Major fun all around, the patrons determined to enjoy their big night out.

And then the Step to Salsa company begins to whirl around the lot, performing an intricate casino routine, the Cuban version of down home country dancing: a blur of continually shifting partners, the caller barking out cadences: rueda, sombrero, dedo, adios. A woman in a gold lame cocktail dress, her face set in the arch seriousness of a tango dancer, crystallizing the triumphant denial of the setting. Transfixed, falling in love all over again with oddball Miami, proprietor Aurelio Rodriguez A an energetic former model, uncannily like a West Dade version of Gary James -- suddenly bounding out. The likable Rodriguez proffering beers and pork kabobs, feeding the great pyre of publicity that devours every facet of modern life, from the obvious to the obscure: "It's happening here; the Christmas party tomorrow is going to be even bigger than this. I inherited this place about four or five years ago -- a good business, but a shitty crowd -- and just kept adding on to the place, putting in a dress code to weed out the truckers. That bottle on the roof is like a huge Freudian symbol: women are compelled to come here, but they don't know why. We attract all kinds of people: Cubans, Colombians, Venezuelans, South Beach types. No fights and everybody getting along, just like Cheers, where everybody knows your name."

Back to the overly familiar and slightly less warming environs of the district, a popularity contest played out among squabbling demon-seed children, the hype trade taking no prisoners and granting precious little refuge. Debbie Ohanian of Starfish still reeling from a twisted burglary -- the nasty alcoholic drag queen mob striking again, stealing couture dresses and liquor -- but nevertheless extending an invitation to witness the very talented k.d. lang, dining with inexhaustible groupie Ingrid Casares. Taking a pass, either from new-found maturity or grotesque unprofessionalism, lang not likely to indulge in our fantasy celebrity conversation: "I've always wanted to meet you, too." Actually managing to leave the house -- a dicey proposition lately -- for the Meet Me in Miami anniversary party Sunday night. An agitated mix of club kids, mortals, and the pay-per-view crowd, Damian Dee-vine lip-synching a psycho-art performance piece -- Diamanda Gallas's "Woman with a Steak Knife" -- into the floating void of pointless self-involved merriment.

The weekend bringing a series of alert-the-media phone calls from Washington Avenue, the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, promoters spewing faintly newsworthy secrets about partners and the invasion of the goombah boys. The big cheeses motoring down from Palm Beach for early dinners, leaving the late-night scraps -- amateur heroin addicts and cheesy scams -- for The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight. Miami Beach, eerily enough, making a loopy short-order return to the heyday of the Fifties: private parties with open gambling and police security guards, press-driven watering holes and tangential prostitution, the eager libertines settling for drink tickets and laughs, unable to get it together long enough to exact cash for their services. Stuck in arrested sexual development personally, pretty much the missionary-position-sans-psychodrama stage, but forever open to the whimsical turns of the lush life.

An interesting where have all the good times gone evening gathering steam with a garden party for the recent Word(S)ound festival, the visiting avant-garde A Joan La Barbara, Fluxus pioneer Allison Knowles A attracting the true underground of Miami, valid thinking people. Artist and cohostess Marilyn Gottlieb-Roberts reminiscing about a long-ago brush with fame, a prelegendary Jimi Hendrix opening for the Monkees and futilely attempting to lure her backstage for high jinks. On to Cassis for the weekly "Orient Express" party, designer Barton G. doing an elaborate Istanbul-theme number with belly dancers and such. Dinner at Bang with nightlife pro George Nu*ez, negotiating a nicely rendered octopus salad and remaining frighteningly unperturbed by Nu*ez's recount of a truly decadent club sighting. A very trusting male stripper bending over, allowing an admirer to delicately sodomize him with a longneck beer bottle, the dancer from the dance withdrawing the bottle afterward and taking a hearty swig.

Velvet, the beautiful and damned out in force, the club hosting the Threshold Productions presentation of "Deviation" this week, the patent titillation of "dominant/submissive bondage play" cloaked in a gooey dick-deflating New Age babble: "D/S, B/D, and S/M activities are, in reality, as much about care and respect as any other act of love." The everyday victims of love and lust herding in and out like convicts, spilling onto the sidewalk: Miami Heat players Matt Geiger and Brian Shaw goofing around with Basketball-Jones girls, singer Johnny Dread taking the long view: "We're all out here shooting for the moon, hoping to land in the stars. And whatever happens, man, you've got to press on.