Swelter 38

A new year, the dread urgency of the fin-de-siecle, civilization crumbling, and Miami, as ever, going for the baroque. Madonna adding muscle and visual punch to her New Year's Eve frolic, regulars like Bruce Weber and Nan Bush cavorting with John Salley of the Miami Heat and male models as bartenders. Gianni Versace debuting a new fashion outpost in the neo-Riviera, opening his heart, mind, and wallet for a beloved fashion muse, label-driven guests shoplifting in homage to Gianni. Decadence everywhere, a bountiful array of dissipation: crack pipes in tony VIP rooms and one-nighters with bestiality videos; a public New Year's restaurant party, the hostess held down for beaver-shot photo ops, a flamboyant middle-age woman announcing that she'd dropped acid -- with her son -- for the big night out, table conversation revolving around her teenage masturbation scenarios. The BBC calling frantically, trying to locate Mandy Rice-Davies of the Profumo scandal, now married to a local waste disposal executive. In the end, everyone eventually winding up in Miami, demanding their fair share of twisted pleasures.

The holiday season bringing another visitation by Madonna and company, the Loch Ness monster of Miami inspiring a flurry of sightings. Madonna dining at Starfish with Alek Keshishian of Truth or Dare and turning up again at a Miami Heat game with Ingrid Casares and actress Rosie O'Donnell, girls night out ruined by the intrusions of celebrity. "Vogue" coming over the sound system, the team mascot hovering around and pointing out the visiting celebrity to the hoi polloi, Madonna yelling "Go away" in the face of unacceptable fandom. A pageant of fabulousness leading inevitably to her annual New Year's party, the details kindly provided by one of the guests:

"Last year there were only about fifteen people, nothing to eat, and it was sort of boring. A couple of people left early and went to Rascal House. This year there were about 40 people, plenty of food, and major security. An armed guard was walking around the gardens, which was kind of scary, although there were no crowds outside the gate. A pretty strange guest list: Mickey Rourke, Elizabeth Saltzman, Samantha Stein, Shep Pettibone the songwriter, a guy from Power 96, and some good-looking male flight attendant, and Ingrid of course, who's just about exhausted all the available female stars -- Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders might be the only one left. Madonna's boyfriend, John Enos from Roxbury, was staying at the house, along with Rosie and Alek. Rosie walked downstairs wearing shorts and a T-shirt, all grungy like one of the help. I didn't even know who she was until she started talking about the Flintstones movie and doing Grease on Broadway. The Estefans showed up around 12:30. Gloria was so elegant and sweet I couldn't figure out what she was doing with some of the trash there. Madonna looked great, like a little Tinkerbell in this light blue dress and fake tiara, really on her best behavior, giving out party hats and confetti to everybody. We all watched the Times Square thing on television, had some champagne, blew on noisemakers -- the regular stuff. Enos and Madonna went upstairs around 2:30 and everything started breaking up, although some people stayed on till like 4:00 a.m. You know, just like any other New Year's party."

New Year's Eve, the great equalizer, the thirst for a year-round good time making chumps of us all. Another countdown to fun mounting at the Versace Jeans Couture opening, the fashionable universe expanding steadily to include just about everybody who ever drew a couture-bedazzled breath. The evening commencing with a decorous street party outside the draped storefront, hand-passed hors d'oeuvres and champagne, unwashed masses pressing against the barricades. Gossip columnist Billy Norwich flying in from New York along with downtown personality Dianne Brill, simultaneously spreading her renown and tasting the netherside of fame. Brill, breasts bobbing like two miraculous pale orbs, touting her new German television talk show and "survival guide for the modern woman" -- Boobs, Boys, and High Heels -- while dealing with an ultramodern problem: "God, this stalker that's trailing me now is such a nightmare: calling the house, following me around Europe, leaving notes. I can't believe he's putting in all this effort. It's like, why don't you go fuck with Liz Taylor, somebody really famous."

More encounters, the fame-remission set much in evidence, and then a sudden what-hath-God-wrought overture, the drapes rent asunder to reveal the wonders of Versaceland. Video cameras flaring up in one corner, going on celeb-point like a battered bird dog -- ready to sniff out Melanie Griffith and all the other promised stars -- our hopes dashed with the ordinary civic spectacle of Versace getting his official proclamation from the city, a Beach commissioner cruelly laughing: "Relax, it's only us." Back outside to the floating street carnival: clowns on stilts, some publicity hound wearing nothing but a T-shirt and underwear, a woman exposing her breasts for the cameras. The doors suddenly closing behind us, ultra-accessible movie star Mickey Rourke slinking in for a private interview session, dissed cameramen whining ("God, this business is so depressing"), and a newscaster friend bringing reports from the inner circle: "They had to get rid of everybody in the store; people were actually trying to steal pillows. God, I love this town."

Love and sorely needed laughs in abundance at the Lypsinka show New Year's Eve, a wonderful kickoff benefit for the South Florida chapter of the Design Industries Foundation for AIDS. An arcane gay Jeopardy game, the deconstructionist ramble through camp, film noir, and trash culture featuring lipsynched snatches of Connie Stevens and Kaye Ballard, the references ranging from "Sorry, Wrong Number" to a drunken Joan Crawford speech, all about the collapse of dignity in Hollywood. The dialogue hitting home with the curious potency of cheap melodrama: "I held on to the rubbish and threw the good bits away...I'm a monster. I don't have to obey the rules of ordinary people. Why don't you give me the respect I'm entitled to? Who am I? What am I doing here?" A great performance inevitably followed by a dispiriting evening, life being somewhat less tidy than art. Winding down at the Century party, sloppy and nasty at 2:00 a.m., a lad with a dollar sign scrawled over his ass twirling like a psychotic dervish. Lypsinka's alter ego, John Epperson, suddenly materializing and explaining the great gal's artistic motivations: "There's a lot of yelling in the show because Lypsinka has so much to scream about. And really, that's all any of us want to do out here -- scream our heads off.

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Tom Austin