Swelter 25

The party circuit, an ugly scramble for the hollow moment, the regulars rooting around like epicene little pigs, chasing after trifles and courtesies. The true addicts haunted by the sweetest prize possible, the ideal phantasmagoria: a gathering lousy with glitz and glitter, riddled with the elite, and better yet, entirely devoid of familiar faces. The taste of hubris and spite unwholesome, bitter, and yet strangely agreeable, adding piquancy to any occasion. In the end, we're all in this alone anyway, even in the most exalted circumstances. And to be alone at the top, as one of our more glamorous friends put it recently, is to be truly, truly lonely.

Moving on up, the misery quotient somewhat leavened by comfort and privilege, for the opening of the new Tiffany & Co. store at the Bal Harbour Shops, honoring Fairchild Tropical Garden. A perfectly tuned reception, exquisite as a frangipani bath: good crystal, receiving lines, regal crones in faded Chanel suits nibbling on canapes. The guests, people like Burger King founder James McLamore and former Broward Sheriff Nick Navarro, circulating around Tiffany jewelry designer Paloma Picasso, looking sleek in a Rada suede-and-leather ensemble. Picasso touching on the Tiffany aesthetic, the global whirl ("I'm not sure where I live, really A Paris, New York, the house here") and her father's health habits, an instructive lesson to us all: "He drank, ate, had plenty of wives and women, and smoked four packs of cigarettes a day. At 86 he quit, lived on till he was 94, and always -- always -- enjoyed life."

An insanely companionable cast of party lovers assembling for the MTV Latino opening at Paragon Friday night, trillions more angling to get on the guest list, spanning the plus one/standby/who-do-I-have-to-blow? categories. The connection-challenged calling in favors, hitting on the pertinent -- production assistants, acquaintances with conceptual links to show business, hairdressers and the like -- for access to the Night of a Thousand Latin Stars Nobody Heard of but Everybody Wanted to Meet Anyway. Into the maelstrom, clawing upward for air and glory, a war zone straight out of the Studio 54/Palladium golden days. Barbie Doll video jockeys broadcasting out to the stratosphere, two huge banks of Nam June Paik-a-go-go monitors further refracting MTV reality. Camera crews with pitiless lights prowling for celebrities, plowing aside the feckless and nontelegenic, the club sizzling with juice and energy, a heaven-meets-hell void suspended in time and space.

Shifting into overdrive, dodging the South Beach perennials, attempting an interview with the pleasant Chilean VJ Alfredo Lewin, and then, something rich this way comes. H. Wayne Huizenga and company, the major suits fighting Barry Diller of QVC for control of Paramount, making a movie star entrance. The trashman-to-trash-culture legend neatly dodging our friendly how's-the-deal-coming-Wayne? inquiry with a conversational segue ("Um, I'm looking for our seats"), Paramount president Stanley Jaffe recoiling in mute horror, as if confronting radioactive waste. Sumner Redstone, principal owner of Viacom Inc., MTV, and just about everything else, taking a playful swipe at QVC ("I'm just a guy who sells Colgate products on TV"), hewing to the hardball line: "Can you see all of this synergy merging with a home shopping network?"

Hollywood central, Paramount CEO Martin S. Davis, ready to test the mettle of former employee Diller the Killer, driven from the fold years ago and still holding a wicked grudge: "It's an absolute. We will prevail. It may be personal with Diller, but it's not personal on my side. If you think about it as much as I do, which is very little, then you'll give it no thought at all. I couldn't care less. Personalities don't make things happen, people do. I came down to get a sense of a city where I'll be spending a lot of time; it's already in my blood."

The blood and fabulousness boiling over, everything spinning out of focus: tea dance promoter Jody McDonald and demonic-looking drag queen Mother Tucker posing with the Hollywood players, Gloria Estefan brushing by with her entourage, VJ Daisy Fuentes introducing Phil Collins, bizarrely launching into his homeless ode "Another Day in Paradise." A dull roar mounting in the brain amidst the sensory overload rush, the giddy illusion of being in the exact epicenter of possibility. Losing all semblance of pride, hustling into the tiny third-floor VIP room, blissfully journalist-free: Huizenga's crew, the Estefans, Jon Secada, fellow crashers McDonald and Mother Tucker. The inner sanctum watching the Mexican glam-grunge band Maldita Vecindad through narrow slits, McDonald noting that "when you're with a drag queen, magical things happen -- you can get in anywhere." Estefan quietly sitting on a couch, talking about her upcoming Christmas salute, a "Come Rain, Come Shine" number with Frank Sinatra on his new duet-theme album, and the long climb from obscurity: "I enjoyed playing all those charity balls and private parties; it was a hobby to me. I never thought there'd be all this."

The evening making the inevitable pivot toward banality, sliding into sloppiness and diminishing returns, the diehards clinging to a rumor that Elton John might perform. Downstairs for the remains, a Lina Wertmuller-clone lesbo on the prowl, a diva outlining the Cuban policy on one-night stands ("Better dead than a footnote in history"), MTV Networks CEO Tom Freston looking frazzled: "It's been a wild night." Tumbling out into the real world, clutching our hard-earned party favor -- a nifty MTV Latino paperweight -- and trolling for scraps with punkette Gillian Cox, researching a scorching profile of club disgustingness and cut-rate glamour. The landmark, Warsaw, acquired that same day by Frenchman Yves Dilena, a former business partner with Phillipe Fatien of the Paris club Queen. Dilena, married to the American model Leticia Lucas, keeping the club gay, "making a few changes without losing the charisma," and looking ahead to a rosy future: "The sun is shining for everybody on South Beach. There's room for everyone."

Down to a crowded Les Bains for a satisfactorily disgusting Moroccan theme party, the promises of the night slowly dissolving on Washington Avenue. A starstruck Latin kid making an irresistible proposition -- twenty bucks for our hard-earned memento of MTV land -- easy money being infinitely more desirable than cheap sentiment. Loot in hand, running into the sang-froid fashion photographer Thomas Heidemann, bringing to bear the sobering world-weariness of Europe: "It's so ridiculous, all this frenzy, all these people desperate to get invited to that party. Over the years, I've learned one important thing in life: nothing really happens anywhere.

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Tom Austin