Swelter 28

The breaking filth beat, learning too much about people, most of it unpleasant. Lurk around enough crowded rooms, nod politely at appropriate conversational junctures, and a pitiless deluge of errant behavior will sweep over the unwary: distasteful personal revelations, the private hell of celebrities-I-have-known, the dank secrets of friends and associates. The dirt-driven multitudes, as people will, thinking the best of themselves and the worst of others, eager to reveal the real story about anything -- as long as it's a blind item.

Blindly tumbling through Los Angeles, engulfed in torrents of trash. A drinks meeting with two female producers, the women still agog over Dawn Steel's wedding shower, the power gal brigade -- Jane Fonda and such -- screening videotaped bon-voyage reminiscences from 25 or so useful men Steel had slept with. Someone happily proclaiming the new TV Superman "on the bus" -- as the saying goes -- an ingenue-of-the-moment detailing her penchant for underwater fellatio, making hubby's uncircumcised not-so-private parts wriggle like an agitated blowfish. Sordid sex chatter coming up again with a well-connected Democratic fundraiser: Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post stopping a madly philandering Gary Hart with a threat to publish photos of a dalliance with a senator's wife; President Clinton in a shades-of-Camelot moment, pointing out hot numbers to Arab potentates. Everyone in Hollywood claiming inside information on the alleged Michael Jackson/Woody Allen child-love front: young Dylan's videotaped confession circulating in fashionable circles, a visiting nanny at Mia Farrow's home actually witnessing an unseemly moment. The mighty scheme and cheat, and like the rest of us, hope no one is looking.

Miami, a parade of localized unseemliness redeemed by odd moments of amusement, a tentative dip back into turgid waters with a visit to "Fat Black Pussycat" at Mickey's. The new owners pitching pennies outside, laughing about great lung-ripping moments of the past. Our own role in the ecosystem symbolized by a touching moment with co-promoter/Herald photographer Luigi Scorcia, hyping a panoply of fabulousness: his endlessly self-documented "Aces & Eights" and the now-departed "Stompin' at the Savoia"; a recently acquired Tiffany engagement ring and a stint as a MTV Latino publicity photographer. The monologue grinding on, Scorcia triumphantly pulling down his pants in the alley, revealing a declaration of love carved into his ass: "And her tattoo is even bigger."

Aesthetically derailed, recuperating with a steady diet of Xanax and Edith Wharton novels, gearing up for a night of mixed blessings with visiting journalist Martha Frankel, a contributing editor at Movieline magazine. Frankel sharp, valid, and naturally enough, amazed by the societal squalor of South Beach. Starting off at 638 Collins, a little outpost of elegance and civility in the wilderness, and on to a jumping Rose's Bar & Lounge, owner/saxophonist Arthur Barron sitting in with a blues band. Taking dinner at a very crowded Chili Pepper, management introducing a new menu: serve free food, especially in the district, and the people will come. The why-pay-retail crush featuring various fringe dwellers, grunge glamourheads, and oddly enough, Miami Beach Mayor Seymour Gelber. Fortuna's wheel spinning cruelly downward, our group reduced to sharing a breathtakingly shabby table, dinner evolving into guerrilla theater. A simpering black queen planting a kiss on our reluctant cheek upon first introduction, his mood turning ugly with a sensible-enough rebuff from a very drunken white boy, operating perilously close to major vomiting. Much melodrama ensuing, Black Narcissus snatching our long-awaited food, Frankel considering "stabbing his fucking hand with a steak knife." The unacceptable face of homosexuality leaving without tipping, of course. Too, too disgusting, even for us, and that's as disgusting as it gets.

Mired in a swamp of neurotic inertia the following day, missing the ultimate icon of survival, Elizabeth Taylor, appearing at Macy's Aventura. Gary Wells, Esther Percal, and Versace architect Wallace Tutt hosting a fundraising reception for Miami Beach City Commission candidate Nancy Liebman that same afternoon, the-thanks-for-the-Revere-deal crowd including Versace himself. Out of the house for an uplifting five-hour dinner at Starfish, the crowd in fine form. Novelist Robert Antoni reading from his book Divina Trace at The Foundlings on November 9, writer/editor Richard Perez-Feria off to New York, wisely leaving Miami at the height of the party. Dodging a couple of baked-potato-level conversationalists, running smack dab into the force field of fashion photographer/local social icon Iran Issa-Khan, cohosting a Cancer Link benefit this past Sunday and dissing downtown: "These drag queens, pretending that life is all one big cinema verite moment. Everyone with their nose in the air. Like the French say, snotty people actually believe their farts rise above their ass."

Attitude and clashing cultures coming up again Saturday night with a Sandra Bernhard AIDS benefit at the Colony, warming up with our companion's tale about Bernhard dismissing the breasts of two women in a restaurant, pulling off her own blouse and proclaiming herself top titter. A few words from our sponsors at Naya Canadian Spring Water, an unbelievably offensive homeless-chic fashion show, and then it's La Bernhard and backup band, launching into an ominous punk ode: "Shit, damn, motherfucker A why are you sleeping with that woman? I want to get my twelve-inch gun and...." The audience, no doubt like Ingrid and Madonna, veering between fear, stupefaction, and bemusement at the Sappho laugh riot. A terminally ironic/possibly insane Bernhard touching on injustice ("That Stop-the-Insanity exercise bitch is making twenty million a year on TV and I'm down here with unsavory people"), foreplay ("Get that ring out of my thing"), and the inane-but-addictive fashionable life. A "night ablaze" with obnoxiousness, inspiration -- a dead-on parody of a vapid, dick-starved lounge girl -- and maudlin emotion, the entire spectrum of psycho-performance art meets Miami Beach.

Sliding back into clubs, performance art without resonance, for the debut of Michael Capponi's "Opus" at Warsaw, the room lavishly decorated with floating flowers, drapes, and baroque prop furniture, loaded with topless go-go girls and an older, champagne-swilling crowd. The frenzy rising like sap in the VIP/model showcase area: sweet young things comparing body-piercing desecrations, promoters flogging their wares with the subtlety of fish peddlers, a long wail of self-aggrandizement pitched out into the void like an Exocet missile. Our own private stop-the-insanity fever mounting steadily, an off-hand Bernhard remark ("When am I ever going to draw the line?") floating back. Cross the line into the belly of the beast, beyond hope and charity, and there's no returning from the darkness.

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Tom Austin