Swelter 40

The siren song of nightlife, an alluring chimera of torment and inspiration, the denizens of the night seized by endless hungers: hook me up with power and sex, put my name in boldface, fix my life. -- nervy program requiring stamina and a high tolerance for debasement, the pop press stuck somewhere between Watergate and Nowheresville: no fixed station in life, scrambling madly and hating everything, hurtling half-baked journalistic atrocities out into the rapacious void. Newspapers, as Marshall McLuhan once aptly noted, being the "warm bath" of media with minor irritations and limited doses of true life. Our own role in the social ecosystem pretty much defined by a relieved beneficiary of cheap publicity and conceptual reality: "Loved the mention and thanks for not telling the real story -- it was pretty ugly, wasn't it?" -- dance before the precipice of truth, but then, the perks make it all worthwhile.

Stumbling uptown on a wave of professional courtesy, fleeing the carny barkers and sideshow freaks of clubs for a series of culturally enlightening entertainments. The art crowd -- people like collectors Irma and Norman Bramen, Nancy Magoon, Rhoda Levitt of the Miami City Ballet A turning out in force for the opening of Art Miami 94 at the Miami Beach Convention Center. A celebrity theme coming with an appearance by Shirley MacLaine, then appearing at TOPA in a one-gal show. The show-biz trouper in the midst of construction permit problems in Santa Fe, the sacred wellspring of spiritualism, second acts, and lesbian love, but still pitching for the cameras: "Well, I'm doing the sequel to Terms of Endearment and touring; the audiences have been wonderful. And of course this is only my seventh life." An eager beaver reporter momentarily derailing MacLaine's composure, pointing out that she'd recently been quoted in W, talking about her general disinterest in modern art. Our Lady of Reincarnation bouncing back like a true star, akin to Marie-Antoinette facing down the rascally hordes: "To me art is a palm tree framed against a tropical sunset. And you have so much beauty here." Soundbite accomplished, the graciousness quota fulfilled yet again for the vultures of fame, the caravan dissembling for more Arcadian adventures in this beautiful land.

On to another night, another opening, a preview of the "Miami Modernism" trade show at the Knight Center, benefiting the Wolfsonian Foundation. Wolfson's museum staging a "Corpo Celeste: Body Culture and Modern Design" exhibition for the occasion, the 70 or so dealers in attendance offering a wide array of exquisite items, spanning the gamut from Bauhaus to Biomorphism, ready to be pawed and haggled over. Art and commerce hand in hand, as always, the crowd featuring chairpersons Ruth and Marvin Sackner, artist Michele Oka Doner, architect Morris Lapidus, a crew from Art and Antiques magazine, Wolfsonian trustee Luigi Lazzaroni, and Micky Wolfson himself, symbolizing the official commencement of high season. Madonna coming in early with our fave rave, Ingrid Casares, who's now off in the Keys with k.d. lang. You can't keep a good girl down for long.

The pay-as-you-go brigade moving on to a series of dinner parties hosted by committee members, Ton Luyk and Bixie Matheson of the old-line Miami family turning up at a preview party for the new club Lua later that night on Espanola Way. The way uptown duo, who'd been having dinner upstairs at the studios of Antoni Miralda, actually forced to use our somewhat less august name for admittance: Truly, the world has no sense of proportion after dark. The cozy little Lua A a co-production from Gary James, Nicolas Von Tscharner, and old pro George Nunez -- nicely suited to civilized pleasures: velvet drapes, chandeliers with candles, fringed lamps, glass bowls of peanuts, nonconfrontational music. Very pleasant indeed, the requisite touch of the absurd coming in the form of comedian Jackie Mason, who'd somehow wandered in from the street. The renowned shvartzeh-kidder honing material at the Eden Roc for an upcoming Broadway show ("I'm just getting the jokes funny; it's like home down here"), and remaining touchy about a recurring celebrity nightmare from his early scrambling days on the Beach. A former female acquaintance making Miami decidedly unhomey, the spurned admirer going on to write a Big Truth play about how the Broadway-bound Jackie left her high and dry with a baby, a few memories, and lots of laughs. Mason, strangely enough, not seeing the rich comic vein to be mined in his very own Boswell: "That show was just a cheap publicity stunt, a way to get attention. There are a lot of desperate people in this world."

A desperate sort of surrealism running amok last Saturday night at the Inter-Continental hotel in downtown Miami, the bejeweled and bedazzled supporters of the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts wading through a great Haitian jump-up, a Jean-Bertrand Aristide rally/political conference adding an interesting when-cultures-collide tone to the NFAA's "An Affair of the Arts" gala. Past the sea of huddled masses waving placards outside, running smack dab into Joe Kennedy in the lobby, a stampede of socialites making the congressman cruelly elusive. Up to the balcony for a quick walk-through, loading up on caviar, and making random contact: Lin and Ted Arison, who'd celebrated his 70th birthday the day before with a lavish party on Lincoln Road; the forever-wonderful Frosene Sonderling; and our table hosts, sculptor John Henry and his wife Pamela. An Italian journalist at the bar offering to take us into a private Aristide dinner downstairs, the Fourth Estate stymied at the door by a rather firm Secret Service agent, our hookup to the international political arena venting madly: "These goddamn Kennedys, drug addicts and drunks, the whole ridiculous family." Making another unsuccessful assault with a table mate, her plugged-in colleague assuring us that history was being made behind closed doors. Vexed beyond endurance, our pixilated priorities focused on a delusion, the remote possibility of John-John Kennedy and better yet, Daryl Hannah. Hyped into lunacy, charging in through the kitchen like Sirhan Sirhan and confronting a swarm of unamused security personnel, ready to enforce the Baker Act on the press.

The flow of madness building throughout the night, Wesley Snipes showing up at an ultra-glam party, surrounded by girls and politely recalling our previous encounter at a Los Angeles camera store, conceding that "things have been worse." Back to Lua, a covey of big-breasted Miami Heat cheerleaders getting the full champagne treatment, George Nu*ez taking the long view after fourteen years in the business: "It's just a job, pretty much the same every night. When you turn this stuff inside out, see it for what it really is, it's fairly pointless, isn't it?

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tom Austin