Swelter 25

In this particular line of work, the twin polarities of existence -- the glorious and the sordid, the soaring of imagination and the sober parameters of reality -- coalesce on a psychotic Ouija board, obeying no known dictates of seemliness, either earthbound, otherworldly, or of some ungodly dead zone. It's an existence of enviable dimensions, on paper anyway, rife with perks and the lower forms of sycophancy, but a life of sensory bombardment can drive anyone nervous. As the Beastie Boys would have it, you have to fight for your right to party.

To that end, another big-deal restaurant, China Grill, debuts on South Beach, and once again the optimal status negotiations are maddening, earth-shattering, and ultimately pointless. A complimentary dinner with the media ghetto on Monday, or an immersion course in the flux and fray of Saturday night? Ocean Drive magazine's Jacquelynn Powers, an ostensible competitor, having a birthday party that neatly coincided with my professional mandate to attend the opening of anything, from envelopes on up. Then there's the other alternative, waiting till all the fuss dies down and actually paying for dinner -- usually the easiest and sanest approach.

As an ad hoc oscillator to the trend-o-rama universe, I opted for the Powers affair, eating for free and maintaining the protocol of gossip. In England, columnists openly loathe one another with a creative glee, endlessly denouncing their fellow beasts of Grub Street as ill-informed, back-scratching drunks, wretched wankers who never got over being someone's scout of sodomy in a minor public school. Here we all make nice, swapping mentions and favors, conscious that nocturnal destiny entails constant engagement with one another. Enemies are work and can be counterproductive, although grudges are fun. In the less politic era of junior high school, a good healthy fistfight cleared the air; now it's best to keep files on everybody as a retaliatory mechanism.

Contrary to worst-case expectations, dinner turned out to be rabidly entertaining, even after four hours, thirteen drinks, and twenty-three courses served family-style. Among other attributes of glitz, the 12,000-square-foot China Grill, an offspring of the New York City world-cuisine headquarters, offers the mixed blessing of serving as an Eighties time capsule within the lobby of the whimsically vulgar 404 Washington Avenue. As Donald Trump used to say, it's all about money and quality, straight from the get-go. Architect Jeffrey Beers's opulent visions in glass and onyx, Egyptian limestone floors and marble mosaics inscribed with passages from Marco Polo's diaries, a lavish champagne room and ethereal lighting effects, which miraculously managed to keep everyone -- well, almost everyone -- visually palatable. Then there's the individual wood-paneled bathrooms, a crack staff, and executive chef Ephraim Kadish's intriguing dishes, from broccoli rabe dumplings to wasabi mashed potatoes, and a ring-on-$52 porterhouse steak, served with the bone thrust in the air like an erection. A stray enchantress, perhaps unused to wine, gave the boner a hand job with her chopsticks, aping orgasmic dreaminess to much cheap acclaim. It was that kind of high-Miami-meets-low Vegas night -- almost too much, but not quite. The Aventura power-gal set jumping all over the place, imperial in their possessions: the I've-still-got-it-and-you-don't figures, the glittering ensembles pressing against the nips and labia, the Range Rovers, and the trophy providers. A devout aesthetician of the debased, I naturally found myself drawn to the queen of Turnberry: the biggest breasts, the shortest skirt, and a certain luminously stupid quality.

From there moving on to a table of erotica -- gracious, sweet, and well behaved, unlike their financial betters. Carol Castaneda ("I'm the Latin one") and 1995 Grand Prix gold girl Angela Rizzi taking a quiet meal with Deborah Ferrari, a Scottish model/dancer/actress dining with her mother Agnes ("I'm just the mum"). The younger Ferrari getting her big break with an acting stint in Striptease: "It's been great for my career. All the tabloid shows in England have done pieces on me, along with the Sun and the Mirror. Demi Moore's great, not in megashape or anything -- she's had three kids -- but she's learned how to dance from a belly dancer, all the A-B-C moves, and studied the girls at Solid Gold. Then, of course, there's a body double and cutaways, but she really carries it off."

Naturally, having had a perfectly pleasant dinner, I had to push my luck, inhaling way too much fun -- once you're out on the town, half-looped, reeling yourself back in can prove problematic. Old-home week at Bar None, where Pressley, model and former door person at Sinatra Bar, turned up. The usual minor news flash waltzing in as wellA Rebar set to reincarnate as an outpost of the Comedy Zone. The very tasty, very hip Propaganda at Glam Slam, a spontaneous combustion of the attractive erupting on the dance floor: Lookers go to lookers, or, failing that, money. And all classes of society would make the world a better place simply by staying home once in a while.

And then back on the time line of dissipation, it's another 4:00 a.m. of the soul at one cheap glitz joint or another, ordinary dating-game stuff: men looking for a kind vagina, women in a futile quest for a man who's not a barbarian or a closet case. In the maelstrom, all of us smitten by an icon of sense and sensibility who arrived with great advance billing: "She's a college professor who became a singer, a saint who dated a blind guy and then went lesbian." Seizing on a creature of rare cultivation and promptly being handed a club flyer -- she loves me, she loves me not, and pitches are always part of the game.

In television land, of course, the game is played as it should be, social columnists emerging as this year's hot new touchstone of fantasy careering. On New York News, Madeline Kahn plays Nan Chase as a society reporter/fabulous disaster bouncing between self-aggrandizement and self-pity -- not far from the mark, actually, as a portrait of social hell. In the season opener, Kahn's character is obsessing, crying, and generally being ridiculous in the office ladies room, moaning about a black eye ruining her entrance at a big opening where everyone -- Donald, Marla, Sylvia Miles, and the ghost of Halston -- will be, easy prey for an item or two. Mary Tyler Moore, as big chief editor Louise Felcott, only has to point out the probable attendance of two grotesquely unprofessional ass-licking bitches, Liz Smith and Cindy Adams, to make Kahn muster out on the field for a triumph over petty adversity. Spite rules above all.

And then there's my new favorite heroine, downtown troller Carrie Fairchild of Communique magazine on Central Park West, played by M„dchen Amick as a born-to-be-bad, poor little rich girl. Young Fairchild's ice queen mom is a Jackie Onassis type; her brother, a hunky-doodle John Kennedy before George magazine. Carrie also makes $200,000 a year for what her editor dismisses as indulgent, badly written verbiage -- tough luck, since Fairchild's stepdaddy owns the magazine. And yet Carrie can't stop her malaise or let-them-eat-cake attitude, the first show striking a blow for pop reporters everywhere as Carrie took her editor to task: "I do what I like, where I like, when I like." Carrie's already on her way out, of course, but the world-weariness of New York News's Louise Felcott more accurately captures the breaking-filth industry: "A more dog-eating, backbiting, soul-stomping business I don't know of.

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Tom Austin