Swelter 38

New Year's Eve, amateur hour in the great pageant of nightlife, and we're at home, for once, commemorating the passage of time with the blissfully nonglamorous, the advent of 1995 bringing a downright gloomy anniversary -- a quarter-century spent in the twisted wonderland of Miami. Midnight, and it's a toast for the new year, old friends attributing our sordid social climb to a deeply held, albeit loony, conviction: Lately, we actually think we're as good as everybody else. True enough, although a glamorous social life -- a triple oxymoron -- inevitably flows from an understanding of mankind's rampant rottenness. The rake's progress to the hearts, minds, and wallets of celebrated circles often entails going through the loins, nose, and psyche, arranging all the essential luxuries and narcissism support services. In the evening hours, it all festers to a heady boil: We're all pimps out here, in one way or another, social reporting being about as close to procuring as we care to get. With enough pluck and moral fluidity, anyone can get to anybody, although, in a cruel twist, nothing really happens anywhere.

That said, we would have done anything -- cross-dressed, extorted unseemly favors, mortgaged an already tattered soul -- to have spent the bewitching hour with Gianni Versace and company at Casa Casaurina, as local drag legend Electra paid homage to A-guest Elton John. Imagine a rousing rendition of Judy Garland's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in the candle-lit garden, and then a stripping of cosmetics and artifice at a makeup table, Electra slowly becoming an ordinary middle-age man, alone at the top with an all-is-vanity mirror. Too Eltonesque for words. And then the finale, the table transformed into a piano, Electra donning late-period Elton attire for "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." A juicy moment, no doubt, for that simple group A Madonna, Ingrid, Rosie O'Donnell, Bruce Weber, Pat Fields, Albita Rodriguez, Sylvester Stallone, the Estefans and assorted stray celebrities A Versace wrapping things up with a grand flourish and immediately moving the party to Warsaw. In the old days, Miami had the charm of an overinflated village, safe harbor from the glittering hordes, and there weren't any parties worth fussing over. Now celebrities are as common as cat shit, hookup artists scramble up and down the wheel of fortune like dysfunctional lab rats, and there's no escape from the relentless march of fabulousness.

Casting aside assorted earnest resolutions by 1:00 a.m. the sickening fear of missing something noteworthy setting in like a plague: Bad timing and imperfect planning from the start, the evening falling apart like so many errant dominoes. A foray uptown for Desmond Child's tasteful little gathering, the writer of "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)" and countless other lucrative hits living large in an historic Russell Pancoast house. Plates being cleared away amid a background of eerie classical music, our crew taking the hint and moving on to the sloppy seconds of South Beach. The mean streets a river of puke and piss, charged with desire, heartbreak, and loneliness, the city's talent for hype, self-delusion, and mass hysteria having a way of nullifying the choicest social opportunities. Satanic teenagers everywhere at once, having a quiet spree: punching forlorn girlfriends and throwing beer bottles; manfully yelling "faggot" out car windows; pointlessly clashing against one another in the manner of horny goats. For some reason, even the practitioners of the club trade A accustomed to a steady diet of booze, degeneracy, and endless forced hilarity A conducting themselves in the manner of rube conventioneers, behaving as if they don't go out every single night.

On to the watershed of Warsaw, celebrity guest Michael Chiklis A of the television show The Commish -- turning up on Espanola Way and looking very lost. Earlier that evening, Madonna's entrance thwarted by the paparazzi, photographer Manny Hernandez leaping on her limousine and photographing through the windows. Versace and Elton John entering through the back alley in an ordinary van, a decoy limousine diverting the nasty hordes. Jaime Cardona, the former Warsaw doorman and current member of the Versace rat pack, coming in handy on the logistics front. Versace's guests exiting the Batcave shortly after midnight and leaving a limited mess behind in taste central; Warsaw hosting the ultimate fame wallow, the gene pool of fetching youth expanding considerably. Good business all around. The usual struggle to the upstairs VIP room, decorated with balloons and an ice sculpture of Versace's corporate emblem, two go-go boys in dick thongs entertaining a select group of Euros and club trash. Very decadent indeed. Stallone long since off to other clubs, Donatella Versace entertaining the party scraps. Prince Egon von Furstenberg on a roll, taking his shirt off in the sweaty crush -- not a good idea in the land of flawless waxed pectorals -- and dancing with one of the hired beauties. Yet another regret for a fresh new year, unprofessionally missing Elton John by fifteen minutes, Electra's homage to John already passing into pop history: "It went over great, thank God; I could hear him laughing, right through all the applause."

A series of diminishing returns on Collins Avenue: hookers, the carrion birds of sex, trolling for drunks; two Warsawian lads skipping along in war paint and grass skirts. The nation of rave assembling at the Surfcomber Hotel for the Deee-Lite concert, Lady Miss Kier jumping around and beaming out sorely needed positive energy ("Are you all feeling sparkly tonight under these stars?"), the X-crowd dancing away heedlessly, too fucked up to fight. Carola and her breasts leading the way into the backstage area, overeager security physically pushing us all aside for Kier's march to the dressing room: the first dis of the season. For lack of anything better to do, the fast set winding up in the hotel lobby, watching kids immersed in petty emergencies: forever losing car keys, boyfriends, and tenuous connections to the band. As usual our thoughts maddeningly consumed by other dashed opportunities. Next year, if we're still continent and coherent, we'll have ourself chained to the house at dusk.

Musing back on the social time line, high and low circumstances blending imperceptibly together. Steel, set in the former Ajaxx space on Washington Avenue, opening with all due metallic pomp and postindustrial pleasures: Frank Welde's welding-as-performance art bouncing off the walls; the silver people dancers being vaguely provocative on the catwalks; a topless vixen cruising overhead on a swing. Fairly intense stuff, partners Ron Bourne, Pino Piroso, and Eric Lefkowitz putting a smattering of everything into the mix, the promised midget doorman unfortunately not in evidence. From there switching tracks with a series of civilized little gatherings, sort of crashing a curious party at the La Gorce island home of Alfredo Beracasa and Elizabeth Ann Kane. The music switching from Frank Sinatra to salsa, the guests even more eclectic: art dealer/former Warhol-crowd-regular Holly Solomon, Latin socialites and models, more Egon and Donatella, and social juggernaut Manuel Gonzalez, curating a show at the South Florida Arts Center. Essence of Euro throughout, our companion running into a gentleman who'd traveled with him aboard the King of Bhutan's yacht. It's a small world after all. Bracing for trouble, the hostess making a beeline in our noninternational direction, then very sweetly taking our picture and heartily welcoming us aboard the S.S. Glitz.

What with the season being so daunting -- so totally, splendidly, completely there -- a brief reprieve in the Bahamas seeming like a perfectly sensible idea, flying into Freeport for -- what else? A yet another party. A long climb up from our last trip to the island twenty-odd years ago, all about the cruel absurdity of high school. Three feckless lads, squandering their funds on one lavish meal, eventually reduced to stealing food and sleeping on the beach. One fateful rainy night, our two companions -- who'd demonstrated no prior signs of being in love -- slipping off together for a night of circle-jerking, as we huddled alone under an upturned boat. In one bleak evening, the male code of buddies-united-together shattered forever. Naturally, back home in Coral Gables, our shotgun stature in the automobile pecking order no longer holding fast, a certain tension creeping into a trio of formerly inseparable pals.

Life's eternal rotation holding true once again, more rain and chaos theory, although this time around the accommodations proving slightly more agreeable: an oceanfront mansion, just down the beach from the site of that watershed evening, Jules et Jim revisited meets High School Confidential! Since those happy days, the Bahamas taking on moneyed oddities and new travel sensations, a surrealistic landscape floating somewhere between One Hundred Years of Solitude and Boca Raton. Major homes adorning the island, dominated by an enormous Disney World-style castle in the bush, built by a drug dealer. Polite society composed of a hundred or so people, endlessly moving from party to party: lots of frolics with the decadent children of the English aristocracy, even taking a nostalgic toke from a bong one deranged night. Jet-set fever concluding with four hours of airport anxiety, planes arriving and departing randomly, no one quite grasping the running-late-for-glamour concept. In a terminal tizzy, finally settling in on the last plane out, thinking of cozy Bahamian society and the price exacted for remaining in your hometown. And then it's the splendor of Miami, leaping to the tarmac and nearly kissing the sweet earth of America, ready once again to embrace the City of Oz.

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Tom Austin