Swelter 26

O.J. ruined my day, my week, and if his sorry story keeps being chewed over in the media, he'll possibly ruin my life. Overnight America entered a terminal phase of short-order lunacy, something less than human and past the redemption of the divine, illuminated from within by the evil eye of television, the cameras going up everyone's ass like a proctologist on an ill-advised exploratory mission. Nothing is impossible any more, but nothing matters either, and it's all shit, a big whimper fit for the cheesier strains of docudrama. At a certain stage of life, even the most bewitched, bothered, and bewildered student of society begins to sense that everything human is inherently crummy.

And yet it's important to keep going out, merely as an act of assertion against the void. Tuesday, the night of the verdict, imprisoned within a happiness embargo, and still lured downtown for the Butterfly Lightning reading series at Tobacco Road, taking a momentary respite from the squalid within the great well of literature. Back to Dodge City for dinner at the Sport Cafe, just missing a nasty little incident. In front of the restaurant, a policeman getting shot by some deranged gun-waving fool. As a news-bite appetizer, our waitress talking about the officer dying in a pool of blood before her eyes. Shortly thereafter a hush descended over the establishment, Big Brother going live at 11:00. The real story, thank God, slightly less sordid -- the officer simply wounded -- and we all settle back, snuggled in with O.J. Simpson reports and a comforting police cordon.

Thursday evening, a prime alignment of sitcoms, but the manifest destiny of ruinous development calls for a three-hour engagement at the Miami Beach City Commission public hearing on the Portofino land-swap deal, enough to drive anyone insane. A foregone conclusion, sort of like the Simpson trial, and Thomas Kramer's condo metropolis is more or less approved -- now Miami Beach is terminal,too. Given all the aspiring cop killers, generalized unwholesomeness, and apocalyptic visions, the possibilities of another Beach weekend paling to the beyond.

Friday night, the David Barton Gym opening at the Delano, without equipment but with plenty of mirrors -- the important thing -- and all the usual preening suspects mobilize for the lineup of photo opportunities. David Barton and wife Suzanne Bartsch greasing the wheels of hype, designer Donna Karan coming in the following day: No Babs, alas, but her personal yoga instructor did make it. The Delano agog with tales of Cindy Crawford taking the cure at the hotel's spa between shooting episodes of MTV's House of Style, and the ongoing cellular whirl of Def Jam's Russell Simmons, in town for the hip-hop Woodstock, improbably named How Can I Be Down?

Maybe it's ethnocentric insensitivity, but someone definitely dropped the ball on that convention title, although this summit of rap did offer rare visuals: At long last, real live black people in the district. The down nation awash in the calculus of pop culture, from seminars such as "How to Stay Paid" to a slew of slaphappy events over the weekend. The press of entertainments encompassed a Street Wear fashion show at the Raleigh with rappers/temporary models Doug E. Fresh and Yo-Yo and Simmons redux, also celebrating a birthday at the Forge. In the Raleigh audience, a universe of black culture: the groups De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets, Naughty by Nature, and the Wu Tang Clan, along with director John Singleton and Motown's Andre Herrell. The names of O.J., and more specifically miracle worker Johnnie Cochran, cheered at the Salute to Excellence awards dinner at the Fontainebleau.

In the interest of How Can I Stay Amused? it seemed only fitting to take in something lighthearted on Friday night, like, say, a good old-fashioned postmodernist musical. Kiss of the Spider Woman at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, even by my gloomy barely-up-from-the-bog Irish standards, coming off as a tad depressing. Normally musicals aren't set in South American prisons rife with torture, degradation, and chorus boys, but Chita Rivera A as a game hybrid of Dolores Del Rio, Carmen Miranda, and Rita Hayworth A generates pure pizzazz, drawing on everything from West Side Story to the sinister chill of The Threepenny Opera. It's not Call Me Madam, but some of the lyrics have a personal resonance ("Everything grim is grand now/You have to learn to not be where you are"), and there are tasty doses of Sunset Boulevard and The Iceman Cometh. The necessity of illusion and its crippling debilitations, the small deaths at the heart of glamour, the subjugation and release within the worship of celebrity.

All the first-nighters moving on to the Bimini Boatyard Bar & Grill for the opening-night party, a high Broward setting that could have used any kind of glitz. Following theatrical protocol, the second string ushered in the A-list guests, people such as Joy Abbott, widow of the late George Abbott. And then the requisite lull before the storm, costars Juan Chioran and Dorian Harewood preceding the arrival of the star. A pro of the old school, Rivera immediately going kiss-kiss darling with a regional party impresario, the scene sending my resolutely witty companion into overdrive: "Look at them. He's the Jim Jones of glitter. One day we'll all be at some gala or another, drinking Kool-Aid with our champagne, and it'll all be over."

Shortly thereafter the witness-to-chic set taking a breather from social dramas, lingering outside on the patio and falling into Simpsonian chat. The rumored fiancee/consort/bride Paula Barbieri has Boca Raton connections, and did the grandstanding F. Lee Bailey really represent Simpson when he recently negotiated for a house in Manalapan? Would O.J. be accepted in the bosom of Palm Beach society? Marylou Whitney might not have him over to tea, but it makes a certain sense, South Beach being a short limo hop away. This town would welcome O.J. like a conquering hero A with coke, B-girls, and his own one-nighter. Within the circle of vulgarity that is modern life (the gaudy thrill of lawlessness), the district remains in the avant-garde of American whoredom. I briefly met and instantly disliked the patently psychotic Simpson at the La Voile Rouge opening shortly before his arrest, a creepy hired celeb deep in what Bailey now calls O.J.'s minor fame period. Something tells me I'm destined to run into Simpson again, but next time around he'll be the biggest dog in town.

Time flying by with other glitter-driven innuendos, rumors, and philosophical speculations. Arnelle Simpson, apparently dating one of Chynna Phillips's brothers, finding time in the prejudgment period to fly out to the Hamptons for the Billy Baldwin/Chynna Phillips wedding, Carnie Wilson -- who's lowering the tone of tabloid talk shows lately -- making the affair, as well. From there a free-floating debate of modern fame: Celebrities lately are as low-rent as the hapless white trash denounced on Wilson's show, and yet we all forgive them for failings our friends couldn't get away with. Naturally the conversational drift eddied around icons worthy of veneration: Jackie Onassis, Audrey Hepburn, or Claudette Colbert A the only star who ever turned Jackie into gush -- which is the biggest legend? No real resolutions of the celestial pantheon, and by 1:00 a.m., the buffet, every other guest, and a rather more immediate legend, Chita Rivera, long since had left the party.

All of us mustering out for the last hurrah of Lester's Diner, a stupefyingly surreal mix of cowboys, queens, and trailer-park trash A some Richie Rich should airlift the place down to Miami. One earnest lesbian ready for her big post-Ruby Keeler break out of cowtown: "Is Warsaw really as wild as they say? Can you wear men's clothes there?" Step right up and check it out A bright lights, big city, where the ambiguity and fun never end. The usual approach to Miami Beach, dazzled and shattered at 4:00 a.m. My favorite harbinger of civic commentary -- a shirtless black gentleman who endlessly marches back and forth across the Venetian Causeway, adorned with gold glitter in the wake of the Simpson verdict.

And then it's O.J. mania, everyone cashing in. Although Simpson more precisely represents money and celebrity rather than black manhood, Louis Farrakhan has invited the ultimate Oreo cookie A he's famous, after all A to the upcoming Million Man March in Washington, intended to rekindle black men's commitment to community and family. The first time Simpson hit a woman he ceased being a man. Rather than go to his wife's grave, the odious one calls Larry King, sells victory photographs to the tabloids, and turns a profit on murder. A dark carnival, leavened by moments of grace, the dignity of Ronald Goldman's father, and an anonymous male mourner keeping vigil at Nicole's simple headstone, transcending all the babble: "Today I am ashamed to be an American." Sickening stuff, and now, one and all, we're all nothing but gossip columnists, carrion birds at the great national banquet.

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Tom Austin