Swelter 31

Miami, a tumble through fortune and folly, the celebrated making random unscheduled cameo appearances, propping up a rapidly faltering production. Lincoln Road on a crushingly banal afternoon, the staff at Books & Books casually detailing their brushes with fame: Sinead O'Connor, Bill Murray, John Waters, Madonna buying glamour magazines, Mickey Rourke lurking around in rap-culture attire. Actress Jamie Lee Curtis in that very day, checking on Dad's autobiography and her own tome, When I Was Little, sort of a Sitwell family goes ballistic situation. The bookstore of the stars, offhandedly attracting the ideal, always-a-pleasure clientele, suitable for any club comp list.

Into the land of pitiless sun and upmarket squalor, outposts of cultivation vying with a procession of gym boys, lunatics, and neo-Beach hipsters, a strange gentleman in a discreetly padded bra and male leisure wear airily waltzing down the strip. The forever buoyant benefactress Lin Arison turning up with a very real Jamie Lee, in town shooting True Lies with Arnold Schwarzenegger. An attractive and eerily sweat-free Curtis -- movie beings no doubt making pacts with the Devil to escape the concerns of ordinary creatures -- gathering force upon introduction, steadily flogging her book with the firm resolve of Sean Young's campaign to play Catwoman. The pitch fun at first, then vaguely irritating, and finally too much to bear -- the progress of all human relationships. Our attempts at directing the conversation to a general level, along with more pointed remarks about the relentless behaving as if they don't make a beautiful dollar, falling on deaf ears. Worked beyond measure, nearly green lighting an expensive autographed copy before taking a pass, the witness-to-hype business requiring a smattering of pride and decorum.

Climbing up the fame ladder the following evening, losing all semblance of dignity aboard the new Carnival Cruise Lines ship Sensation, the Arisons hosting a scholarship fundraiser benefiting Florida International University and the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver, the ultimate alignment of new glitz and old family firepower, materializing out of nowhere, mingling with the merely rich. A rigorous social agenda featuring fitness pit stops and a gallery opening on Fisher Island, temporary headquarters for America's favorite sweethearts, the couple looking preternaturally rested and famously successful. The mind seething with pressing questions, what's Jackie really like and such, rudely pushing forward and settling for the inevitable pleasantries. Arturo Sandoval cranking up on stage, the Terminator computing our relative importance in nanoseconds -- one quick handshake and a guarded acknowledgement -- the couple quickly moving on for a tour of the facilities. A glimpse into backstage life coming with Schwarzenegger purposefully marching into the atrium elevator, Shriver lingering behind for a quick chat about domestic life. The voice that will brook no contradiction booming out ("Maria, are you coming?"), Shriver exasperatedly chiming in: "Wait a minute, I'm just talking to these people." In domestic life, no man is a star or a hero.

Back to yet another unheroic afternoon, sifting through the mail A the wonderful Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane company dancing at the Colony this week, the Raleigh Hotel restaurant rebirthing with a November 16 benefit for the Community Alliance Against AIDS -- pleasant prospects somewhat easing a nightmarish day-of-the-diss. Hassidic neighbors treating our rabidly unwelcome presence like the coming of the antichrist, the gardener launching into an informed real estate analysis, expertly detailing the inflated-to-insanity price of our very own blue heaven. In the mood for something, anything different, time-traveling back to the showroom era with a trip to the "Rio Ecstasy" revue at Scala Miami. Deep into the heart of the insanely international Four Ambassadors Towers, a lip-synched Tower of Babel coming from a bizarre karaoke lounge, the Rio-madness crew putting on a rousing wallow in cardboard glamour and baroque sexuality. The mutant girl-happy strain of show business ritualized as kabuki theater, endless jutting ass cheeks and fixed chorus girl smiles leading inexorably to the grand finale parade of ever-grander feather headresses, the conga line leader chanting, "Don't worry, be happy." Hyped by the happiness carnival, messing around with the girls afterward in the dressing room. One particular fave rave not quite comprehending the full impact of an offer to sweep her Brazilian behind into a world of All-American regional fame.

A big deal Saturday night -- cut, print, send us off to the snake pit -- commencing with the tenth annual Center for the Fine Arts gala at the Hotel InterContinental. The years blurring together into an incarnation of the last waltz scene in Fellini Casanova, marionettes in glimmering jewels and gowns prancing through practiced routines, a dance beyond time and circumstance. The usual players -- Woody and Judy Weiser, ultimate trouper Marlene Berg, activist H.T. Smith happily occupying the table of Herald executive editor Doug Clifton -- and the standard gossip. The bankers who've narrowly avoided jail, imminent divorces, the "Leona Helmsley of Miami Beach" up to her usual shenanigans. The tone becoming gradually racier, a club gestalt lately infecting ballroom society: outfits with faux nipple-encrusted chest plates, an only-in-Miami socialite actually smoking a joint, conversations about silicone-infused breasts floating to the surface in health spa Jacuzzis. Everything slipping into sloppy surrealism around midnight, a Joey Heatherton-variety vixen whirling for the troops, way-fun artist Cesar Trasobares wearing centerpiece ornaments and making a Dada statement -- gleefully ripping up copies of Art in America, flinging the remains around the dance floor like rose petals.

Wrapping up in the district for a club research crawl with James Riginato of W and photographer Todd Eberle, our party casting attitudinal pearls before swine, the film loop spinning out of control through the projector. Crude videos with exercising adolescents at Twist, bouncers ejecting irate patrons, unconscionable rough arrests of "cute guys" in the median strip of Washington Avenue. Eberle agog in the horror: "Everywhere you look is chaos A I feel like I've overstayed Coney Island." The lame Boy George concert at Warsaw not improving the spirits of the over-it-all set. A good little club girl lying face down in a pool of her own vomit, George grinding through "Generations of Love" and brightly remarking: "I look like a fucking monster, but take a picture if you like." But then, the pop life makes monsters of us all.

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Tom Austin