Swelter 37

Rat city, ugly little beasts growing fat and sleek in a tropical cornucopia, vermin functioning as the true parallel creatures to the human race, gorillas being nasty enough but essentially guileless. The mankind-as-rodent metaphor erupting in a truly linear fashion over the holidays, decidedly nonallegorical plague-bearers descending on our house of attitude, lending focus to the annual pageant of alternating angst and joy. A very nervy rat turning up in the bedroom at an awkward moment, necessitating another frantic cry for help to the tradesman classes, the rat-man humming the theme from the rodent classic "Willard" and cheerfully pointing out the salient horrors. Rats, like club people, becoming semi-active around 3:00 p.m. and coming into full fester late at night, evidencing a remarkable knack for nastiness while crashing the better neighborhoods. Our savior noting the "rat-fucked" nature of the Billion Dollar Sandbar ("It's the ugly secret that nobody likes to talk about"), one of his clients on North Bay Road forced to abandon ship and let the evil things temporarily occupy her mansion. The town of expensive but unwholesome pleasures, cruelly manipulated by a god who must be the only remaining Marxist on the planet, gleefully unleashing pestilence upon a landscape of abundance.

Our own little blue heaven, a hard-won and overhyped little bungalow with tenuous waterfront connections, suddenly turning into a gulag after dark, the patter of sneaky little feet mocking the smug complacency of the suburbs. And so, it's out into the nocturnal whirl, the addiction to public glamour growing in accordance with the private horror. A blissfully diverting holiday party, the bright young things embracing the conversational mainstays: real estate, other people's debauchery, and the ultimate litmus test, the question of taste. Religion being nothing but a joke, morality terminally relative, sex only interesting when it involves celebrities on the order of Michael Jackson and Erik Menendez. The smart-set tone rolling on grandly through heated arguments and tales of zoning skulduggery, lots of interesting gossip and better yet, tasteless jokes: "What's the difference between a trick and a freezer?...One doesn't fart when you pull the meat out."

Jollied by Christmas cheer and trash talk, making another great guest list A God bless fashionable friends A the following night, developer/recording tycoon Chris Blackwell having a few people in for a nifty little party at The Marlin. Sliding past lobby security and upstairs to a very pretty private suite, redolent with memories of a long ago U2 party, lead singer Bono whimsically granting audiences to ballistic fame-fuckers on an unholy pilgrimage. The holiday reception sort of a vacuum chamber of fabulousness themed around native cultures, perfectly suiting our flight-from-reality mood. Blackwell, as ever, unfailingly courteous and unpretentious, evaporating early and making a Jay Gatsby-style exit from the eternal fray. Craig and Scott Robins of DACRA overseeing the backdrop effects -- endless pate and couture foods, Dom Perignon, Red Stripe beer, reggae videos, frenetic rock music -- and an ecumenical assortment of merrymakers.

The art contingent encompassing David Ross of the Whitney Museum of Art, dealer Jason Rubell, the Scull sisters, Kenny and Tereza Scharf, and Antonio Miralda, his gigante shoe sculpture adorning the vacant lot across the street. Money represented by party boy developer Ugo Columbo, clubland neatly embodied by Jimmy Franzo of Velvet, odds and ends filling out other niches. Nick Nickolas of Nick's Miami Beach, still beaming with the success of his recent opening, an ad campaign come to life. An array of unknown commodities, no doubt important somehow. The ubiquitous big-ticket models, breathtaking as a blow to the solar plexus, unerringly escorted by schlubs. An old-school socialite recalling the glory days of the district: "I haven't been down here since I first got laid in the Carlyle, a million years and many husbands ago, when you had to wait until your wedding night to have sex." Climbing Jacob's ladder to the roof, everyone wearing complimentary space blankets for warmth, all the rage as a Blackwellian fashion accessory. Wallowing in the banquet of chance and social courtesy, getting all irate over imagined Twilight Zone crashers, a respectable real- estate type unfortunately resembling a civic-minded drug dealer of our acquaintance. Losing your grip is not a pretty thing.

On to Cafe Manana for the popping debut of the Thursday-night party "Rumba y Merengue," the band Tambo whipping through wonderful guanco numbers, Afro-Cuban drummers in the balcony area adding to the general sensory overload tone. Co-owner Omar Martinez managing the neat trick of being both hip and pleasant, bridging the cross-cultural chasm. The serious drinkers from the very real medio pelo dive next door -- El Municipio de Holguin -- drawn to Manana by their own Pied Piper, bolero diva Maite, the men having mixed luck with trendy culture vultures. Our new favorite celebrity, Luigi of La Voile Rouge, doing a Salome routine on the sidewalk and playfully dissing the doorman ("Oh, you are nothing but a piece of turd -- just kidding, don't worry"), Luigi, the renowned bartender, due for icon status in a week or so. A rare foray onto the dance floor, the physical plant in desperate need of a body cap, and a breathless chat with way fun realtor Esther Percal, all about the overextended Beach and its artistic wellspring, St. Tropez: "The beach clubs are full of bimbettes and amazing money, old men buying champagne just to spray it on girls and stuff. The chic thing is to order lots of food -- just because it's so expensive -- and then not eat anything. The people are more disgusting than us, beyond anything you can imagine in Miami."

The social marathon offering more entertainments, the distinctions gradually blurring. Ocean Drive and The Spot hosting a party for the syndicated newsmagazine show Cool People, Hot Places, producer Nancy Ross set to document the fabulousity universe. Martini Club, drag queens giving full vent to cheap seasonal sentiment, more or less thanking the little people who made it all possible. One club or another at 4:00 a.m., a lame fight erupting and spreading randomly, an old hand ignoring the scene, marveling at the unseemly epidemic of open drugs and freelancing cops who actually set up after-hours parties. In a quiet corner, a jaded veteran cocking a forefinger against his head, ready to end the charade or at least call it a night. The boozy frolics ending with another rueful sunrise on the beach, an empyrean Christmas Eve morning, a dream shimmering with promise. Fantastic cruise ships slowly making their way into Government Cut, the jetty rats scampering back to their nests with the sun, the city peaceful and ordered. Miami unfolding as a series of intricate connections and blessings, lethal and beautiful as a spider's web, home sweet home to the survivors.

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Tom Austin