Swelter 36

Once more into the breach of Trashland USA, wallowing in the lurid and lewd, the frenzied countdown to the half-baked resolutions of the new year especially punishing, fueled by an ugly itch to wrest every conceivable diversion from the dregs. The process of simply going out, anywhere and everywhere, eventually becoming mere assertion of the will, an unseemly rage against the dying of the light, the beacon of possibility that inspires and maddens us all.

Starting off on an uptown roll with the Miami division of Nescafe society, all dressed up with no place to go lately, the golden hordes eagerly assembling for the lavish opening of La Voile Rouge, the sister club to the St. Tropez institution. The aspiring glitterati primed with Riviera-meets-South Beach brochures adorned with photos of Arcadian idylls amongst the idle rich, jet setters bathing in sun and champagne. Mandy Fernandez, former owner of the La Voile Rouge space and adjoining hotel complex, making the early promotional materials but not the opening, Fernandez facing some rather dark years for alleged drug trafficking. A flurry of showers on an otherwise fun-drenched parade, the frisson of society continuing apace: the club pretty in a Ritz Carlton kind of way, light wood accents and drawing-room paintings, champagne and a generous buffet -- stone crabs, pate, shrimp, caviar -- oiling the agitated Bacchanalian romp.

The evening commencing on an American-style civic note, Miami Beach Mayor Seymour Gelber cutting a ceremonial ribbon ("I have to say that I'm getting pretty good at this), officially joining St. Tropez and Miami Beach as sister cities. The alignment pretty much a foregone conclusion already, both cities being united forever in hype, heat, and lotus-eating. Partners Daniel De Azoulay, Robert Pascal, Paul Tomaselli, and Jules Wang assembling a heady cross-cultural mix, dangling La Voile regulars like Charles Aznavour, Liza Minnelli, and George Hamilton, bringing in catered celeb/party animal O.J. Simpson for a let-the-revels-begin speech: "I'd like to make a toast to all of you in your dark glasses, for bringing something special to the most happening place in the world.... Thanks for making me a charter member."

Proclamations completed, the festivities dissolving into an odd collision of worlds: uninvited district regulars disbursing flyers, Bal Harbour dipsomaniacs flaunting furs in the slight chill, nonregal royalty, aging Masada warrior women with door-knocker-size earrings, endless Beach politicians and fellow members of the I'm-still-here set, very Regine's circa 1987. Exiled Metro-Dade film czar Deeny Kaplan turning up, along with veterans on the order of attorney Bobbi Berkman, party perennial Sasha Sapin, developer Nelson Fox, and designer Marcy Lefton, who'd been involved in the legendary 1983 opening party for Regine's and the Grand Bay Hotel. Newscaster and good sport Michelle Gillen, last sighted at a clamorous China Club bon voyage party several years back, materializing out of nowhere and making an early exit from the stomping grounds. All air kisses and goodwill, Gillen catching us in the act of surreptitiously scanning the guest list for the survivors of haute monde Miami. Our old pal Dame Jean Loach, social secretary to Perle Mesta in a previous incarnation, welcoming us back to the fold: "Honey, I knew you'd hold on and bounce back."

An already tenuous hold on sanity slipping steadily amid the dithering whine of the Gipsy Kings greatest hits, making the mistake of lingering unduly before the buffet crush, a kindly chef finally taking pity and putting together a plate of leftovers in the kitchen. The usual big-ticket girls everywhere, feeding on the well-fed like the parasitic African birds who attach themselves to great beasts, money not buying happiness but certainly ensuring good-looking companions. For added spice, the studiously flamboyant bartender Luigi prancing about in pompon-accented bell-bottoms, spewing champagne playfully over the guests ("Pleeeez, we want you all to have a wonderful time") and being, well, very St. Tropez. Marijuana smoke wafting in the bathroom, a local promoter in a retro mood dropping a Quaalude ("These gorilla biscuits are great") for courage, alcohol easing the strain all around. Truly, it's not a city for the faint-hearted or the sober.

On to the inevitable punishment-follows-pleasure hangover, the rebuke lingering throughout the quite beautiful Miami City Ballet presentation of the Nutcracker. Renewed again in a sea of shining little faces, ignoring the usual March of the Vulgarians, local socialites incapable of properly attending to anything. The lure of the evil Mouse King, no doubt, drawing us back to the netherlands. Drifting loose at Bang during a Brazil-theme celebration, an eerie out-of-body experience settling in, girls mock-stripping and a club proprietor explaining the cachet of using one name: "It creates a mystique, like Cher, you know, or Pink." The Spot at 4:00 a.m., a girl passed out in one chair, her friend clambering over a man in the adjacent couch, the recently annulled Gary James talking about the necessity of discipline.

Back down to what the Germans are now calling "Blood Beach" on Friday night, the homeless sleeping fitfully in boutique doorways, Washington Avenue rife with lust and violence. Into the maelstrom of Les Bains with a glamour gal, a long night of dissipation unraveling during a SOBE-TV party. The beyond buxom model Anna Nicole Smith all over the place, wildly dancing with wary co-owner Charles Schreiner, our companion suddenly making an assault on a very game Smith. Miss Flesh's hand trailing provocatively over a Chanel-encrusted fanny, Smith's far-gone escort finally pulling her away from her besotted fan: "God, I could have been lost for days in that mountain of marshmallows." More cross-sexuality girl-watching in the VIP area room, spilled drinks and sloppiness, a particularly ill-mannered patron dragged out and handcuffed on the street. A resolution to associate with a higher caliber of celebrity slowly taking hold, the reverie interrupted by an introduction to a no-nonsense exotic dancer from Fort Lauderdale. Out of the mouths of harlots come the darndest existential questions.

"Come on, you don't actually write about this shit, do you? This is what people call glamour down here? All these amateur whores pretending to be models and actresses, these shitty jerks posing with their nose in the air? You should come up to Pure Platinum; that's a real no-bullshit club. Just tell me one thing: What in the hell does all this mean?

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Tom Austin