Swelter 18

The glamour drought of August, a kind of purgatory for normal social columnists. Though to our way of thinking, admittedly not an advisable sensibility, Miami once again has festered into civic perfection, chaos theory in motion, ripe for tales of the wasteland. In this dodgy discipline, either you use the darkness, akin to a slaphappy dog rolling in fresh carrion, or you perish from degradation overload. And the signposts to the final wrong turn -- at once cosmic, mundane, and merely ridiculous -- are everywhere at once. Another century approaches, and suddenly hurricanes are as common as summer squalls, daily life becomes ever more decadent and meaningless, and we all long for the gaudy possibility of the new millennium, the embrace of the ruins.

But then the big picture of life may be overrated, and if you can survive Miami with a tan, a smattering of dignity, and a few chuckles wrenched from the horror, you're way ahead of the game. A case in point being the local premiere of Jeffrey, Paul Rudnick's witty examination of the sexual apocalypse transformed into an even better movie, the Cure Aids NOW benefit at the Colony Theater having the added cachet of being the sole event of any real consequence for the week. Irrespective of circumstance, a grand ber-gay convocation for the rainbow flag brigade: united in disposable income, standing tall before the motley breeders and citizens who lower the general orgiastic tone.

For no particular reason, our thoughts turned to Walter Pater, the high priest of Victorian aestheticism and tortured boy-love. This being Miami Beach rather than the furtive hothouse of pederasty that once was Oxford, the sodomites openly cruised one another, proud of their gluteal muscle development, invincible irony, and the Homo 911 connections necessary for tickets. Pater, constrained by the morality of his time, was forced to drool over cold Greek statues; at this gathering, he would have romped in exquisite service to the pride of human form.

As a servant of the modern sexosocial equation, trolling through the Jeffrey festivities, negotiating television crews, heavy mingling, and glitter galore. The more socially acceptable journalists, people such as the Herald's Rene Rodriguez mixing with actors Prudencio Montesino and Kim Ostrenko, Cure AIDS Now chairman-South Miami city commissioner Tom Cunningham, and the event's producer, Robert happy-at-last Levy. As ever, fashion figure Thomas Heideman resolutely elegant, and a covey of chic -- Jose Vazquez, Solange Bach, Connie Parraga, and Erica Gairy -- representing the House of Versace. Filmmaker Melanie Morningstar also on hand, working on a WPBT documentary about South Beach in the 21st Century; we'll probably still be around for anthropological research. For an appropriately cinematic touch of district street theater, some demented evangelist -- a strange Waco-meets-Wigstock creation in pink -- hectoring the carnival. No ordinary fire-and-brimstone type, a closet case without a case: "Tonight is all about the lust of the Devil, not true love, and you gays -- and you lesbians, too -- are sinners before God, bound for damnation in Gomorrah."

Well, get her, the spectacle inspiring the usual blown kisses and quiet remarks about lesbians possibly being destined for fashion hell, uncharitable remarks about carpet-munching fireplugs doing an Invasion of the Body Snatchers number: First Provincetown, and now Babylon itself. An unfortunate division afoot in the homosexual matrix, all that nasty "some of my best friends are dykes but they're everywhere now" nonsense. Personally, Sapphos are more than welcome at the party: How can you not respect someone who absolutely won't sleep with you? And aren't we all gender-playful brothers and sisters down deep, when you scratch the mysteries of the surface, clutch the fear that eats the normal heart?

No fear here, and no hope, either, the summer policy of no expectations paying off yet again. The obligatory speeches proving painless, serious money raised for the good fight, and other people's good fortune -- not even soap opera star/Jeffrey principal Michael T. Weiss being rich enough to be a partner in the luxe Impala Hotel bothered us all that much. Naturally we went through the motions of irate psychodrama anyway, the group falling into an engrossing discussion: what certain nervy people had dared say to us, all the shabby little treacheries they'd committed, and why everyone else should hate them too. The time just flew by.

And then it's the actual point of the evening, Jeffrey itself. The story of a regular guy who stops having sex until it's safe and fun again striking a personal resonance, with a few stylistic exceptions. Some of the original play's elements, most notably jokes about Jackie Onassis's apartment and a leather-bar scene, cut out for the movie version, celebrity death and the more sinister forms of lust deemed not appropriate for a mainstream romantic comedy. Afterward the vox populi ranging widely, from aesthetic declarations that all movies are inherently better than outmoded theater A Eugene O'Neill might argue the point A to modern-age ambivalence: "It was kind of funny, kind of heartwarming, and I kind of hated it at first."

All in all, pretty much our twisted view of nightlife, though the evangelists of sensation can always find new thrills in the urban jungle. Daylight not really being our thing, neglecting a block party on Sunday for the Washington Avenue fashion district, the diurnal scene jazzed up by the decorative. Somehow we found time for a 2:00 a.m. moment at Groove Jet, all in a lather for the Church's "Fetish Night," gossip of blood-drinking rituals having pushed all the right hype buttons. An off night apparently, lacking true kink, our retinue of portable voyeurs reduced to taking in yet another faux lesbo act. Two vinyl girls dragging a looker from the crowd and forcibly stripping her on-stage -- something tells us she might have been a plant -- the threesome then conducting themselves like Penthouse Pets, living out a video wet dream. With the theory of cutting out the middlewomen, all the neo-pagans chewing over an earnest discussion of men sucking their own lollipops, the real crux of the matter being whether they'd swallow and be thoughtful enough to call themselves in the morning.

Clubs are all about anticlimax, though unusual intelligence at work within the Church: great music of the I-walk-the-line school, Robert Mapplethorpe-meets-vintage-erotica slide shows, and a surprising screening room, some hip-hop boy/film buff pointing out the intricacies of Luis Bu*uel's Un Chien Andalou. A nice enough milieu, but still, seizing on one of the promoters for something, anything, revolting in a thrilling sort of way, the ringleader lobbing a conundrum: "Some guy was supposed to get branded tonight, but he called in sick." For chrissakes, the man's getting branded like a longhorn steer -- how ill could he have been?

From there, sifting through the detritus of summer, an ad hoc curator of unnatural history. The gang passing on the new fog-theme parties -- first it's foam fun for everyone, and now this dance before the precipice (one of the A-gays likening the gestalt to Auschwitz with a cover charge). Milling around on Washington Avenue, a Jim Jarmusch movie come to life. Quietly descending into ugly hubris, two recent honors having come our way. A celebrity supermodel stint for the upcoming Children First-WPLG-TV benefit at Turnberry, as well as flattering recognition from academia for our pop apocalypse scholarship. Truly we're not worthy, one of the boys suddenly noting our resemblance -- out-thrusted cigarette, swollen carcass, brassy manner -- to the late Totie Fields, in her pre-amputee glamour-gal days. God bless our honest friends.

On to an ostensibly upmarket soiree, more or less a glorified nightclub, the absurd intruding on what's left of our personal space with their trivial woes, naked ambitions, unseemly personal habits, and penchant for distasteful self-revelation, psychotics making the better guest lists. After-hours vermin, the pantheon of those without a grip, infiltrating the playgrounds of the rich. One delusional thug, no doubt wanting to go out in glory like Jerry Garcia, smoking heroin in the bathroom. Another burnout case -- afflicted with dementia, among other problems -- hitting on a doctor for free Retin-A, the miracle drug apparently useful as a balm for stretch marks. Talk about sweating the petty: Vanity, thy name is horror. Trash theater mounting inexorably with a charter member of the fringe chewing us out over long-forgotten A though no doubt gratuitous A column fodder. Happily enough, blind items often strike a dozen sinners simultaneously, most mortals being pretty much guilty of everything and nothing at once. At the end, standing before the pearly gates, let's all hope that the gods of judgment aren't gossip columnists.

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Tom Austin