Swelter 24

Contrary to Saint Barbra, people who need people, party kind of people, aren't the luckiest people in the world. People are crazy, they invariably drive each other even crazier, and the twisted prism of any given social occasion transforms all human interaction into a certifiably insane proposition. Fortunately the inmates of the soft asylum do make an effort to be entertaining, and they're always prepared to talk -- about everybody from best friends to superior people they barely know -- for a plug, a nickel, or even a few laughs. And that said, the process of rooting through the decaying carcass of civilization, more or less as a maggot with communication skills, remains the most wondrous avocation imaginable. I complain merely to maintain a polite existential identity: I bitch, therefore I am.

Despite being a tasty little reception, Thursday's album-release celebration for Gloria Estefan's Abriendo Puertas at the Delano, the hotel that hookups built, inspired all the usual whining -- invariably from guests who looked like Alvin the Chipmunk, their cheeks stuffed with greedily snatched food. Naturally the place was also lousy with lunatics grandly dismissing the crowd, the guest list laden with the business-is-business set and dueling Latin cultures. Among the sophisticates, the standard gripes about luxurious settings making for static merrymaking -- oh, please -- as well as cutting remarks about the haute Gloriana, all the album posters floating in the pool and such.

To my mind everything worked; openly dissing hosts violates the rules of the game. Try nightlife in Opa-locka for a really authentic milieu. Ironically enough the guest of honor remained conceptual throughout most of the evening, tucked away in a banquet-cum-VIP room with the inner circle and -- in a true collapse of Darwinian social law -- a hateful acquaintance of mine, the Jack and the Beanstalk of social climbers. A decade ago, as an unlikely ballroom society correspondent for the Herald, I gamely danced to the Miami Sound Machine's chant of "hot, hot, hot," and Miami's first family of Cubans-gone-chic were happy for any kind of publicity. Glory to Gloria.

This time around I couldn't even find the VIP room, let alone get in. But then it doesn't pay to sweat the action, and in any case the corrosion of envy should be avoided at all costs. Liquid-fueled, if nothing else, I set to what passes for work in the twinkle of a golden eye, several ostensibly high-minded colleagues pointing out that social columns customarily entail a smattering of boldface. Round one, the forever energetic Angela Rodriguez of Billboard magazine, happy to debate all manner of rock-and-roll names. On the other hand, Eugene Rodriguez, of Big Time Productions, seemed reluctant to bandy about the personal lives of his supermodel/just-plain-big clients -- someone's always ready to thwart a free and vigorous press.

One or two other guests were a tad more forthcoming, and rarified atmospheres do inspire a better class of name hurling. And within the devil's workshop of idle chatter, it turns out to be a small world after all. Forever attuned to the neopop Zeitgeist, the Delano pulls ahead on the watering-hole-of-the-moment sweepstakes, the island of St.- Barts having been rendered null and void by an act of God rather than the usual whimsies of fashion. And management, in step with the how-we-live-fabulously-now gestalt, lobs all the right names. The Miami Heat's new coach of high glitz, Pat Riley, passes on buying an estate owned by James Gray of Macy's, who sold Madonna his last house and made a tidy little bundle. Riley and wife, Chris, an AIDS activist, have taken a rental house in Coral Gables, happy at last after the pleasant void of Greenwich, Connecticut. And in a neat trick, my snarky-just-to-be-quotable remarks about the hiring of Riley -- no one is more plug-happy than a journalist -- earn a place in Elle magazine.

In other collisions of intersecting worlds, actress Kelly Lynch and screenwriter husband Mitch Glazer (former high school acquaintance of mine, current denizen of architecture-as-masturbation magazines) are scheduled for Christmas week at the Delano. And on the Thanksgiving wish list, it's the Calvin Kleins and David Geffen: Maybe they'll double-date for the White Party. Love the new smut peddler of schmatta alley, and Geffen, during an engrossing dinner at the Strand some time back, was all noblesse oblige, unlike his entourage. It's amazing how celebrity gossip always comes back to my story. The heady names inspiring a denunciation of Geffen's joy-boys-united-in-trash circle, a guilty-as-charged gentleman suddenly turning red from embarrassment. No wonder nobody invites me anywhere.

And then there's the slightly more politic Manny Hernandez, a gossip columnist's best friend, homeboy paparazzo feeling his oats lately and hosting his own celebrity softball tournament for charity. Despite my dark era of playing Little League baseball -- even relatives tended toward catcalls -- professional courtesy demands at least bat-boy status, somewhere between early Oprah and late Monti Rock III. As the scarlet pimpernel of the glitterati -- saving feelings, if not lives -- I'll conceal the identity of a television newscaster who deflected a gush attack with good-humored irony: "Gee, thanks. Most people think I'm just a dick."

A combination of inertia, stone loony grandeur, and the hell of other people backing up the schedule from there, other skirmishes on the front going astray. Michele Pommier Models, Inc. and Runways, Inc. throwing a party at Bash to celebrate the partnership Runways at Pommier, an odd invited-by-protocol pair, Louis Oliver and Kenzo turning up in modelville. And then it's a banal Saturday afternoon of grossly unflattering sunshine, neglecting an offer to cruise up to North Miami aboard Take a Chance, the yacht of National Enquirer scion/new Miami player Paul Pope. Ten six-footers, sixty running feet of models, making the Gilligan's Island jaunt to the Miss Hawaiian Tropic contest at Shooters. As it happens, Striptease co-star Armand Assante aboard a neighboring yacht at the marina. In the end, all roads lead to women.

That same evening, the actresses of Striptease -- including stripper Pandora Peaks, last spotted at an erotomania convention -- did a just-us-girls number at Max's South Beach. The district on a weekend night is the land that time and fashion forgot, and even as a scholar of the barbarous, it would take Jack Nicholson -- conveniently shooting Blood and Wine here in mid-October -- the actual Pope, Joey Bishop, and the second coming of Elvis to lure me into South Beach. But the night's also wired with information, of both a commercial and spiritually instructive nature. The late Stephen Talkhouse morphing into Moe's Cantina, principals from the departed club AA involved in the deal -- there's a metaphor in there somewhere. Across the street, Boston money opening the dance palace Carbon in early November. On Washington Avenue, the boulevard of broken dreams, the former gas station/rotating restaurant space (most recently Greenwich Beach and Le Sud) may well reincarnate into Chez Pascal, Robert Pascal -- formerly of La Voile Rouge -- and partners hoping for a Bowery Bar effect. Lately restaurants have the same shelf life as whipped cream, and maybe it's me, but Miami itself is starting to resemble the lobby of the Grand Hotel: People come, people go, nothing ever happens.

But there are always absurdities in the chaos, rife with cruel illumination and short-order poignancy, both comic and studiously unfunny. The Estefans are involved in a boating accident -- within juicy news-bite days of their recent triumph -- and tabloid television is calling from Los Angeles. The same assistant producer, a certain young Jennifer, who formerly inquired about the safety of Gloria singing in Cuba -- I felt compelled to point out to her that a military escort to Guantanamo is hardly dangerous -- worrying over Gloria's well-being in the most recent media tragedy. A man died, for God's sake. But at a certain stage of the game, it's impossible to dredge up enough real human feeling, the appropriate theater of the irate. It's an odd life, this business, and to survive it's not wise to take anything personally.

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Tom Austin