Swelter 42

A city under siege, immersed in the commercial pageantry of Super Bowl, the ultimate arena of power, money, and sex. High-roller time, the juiceless groveling and the connected -- from the swinish Rush Limbaugh to Stevie Wonder -- tooling down the hookup highway, taking a turboglide run into the heart of the twisted American dream. For the blessed, an event smacking of the Rat Pack era, the floating Frank and Dino revue of Las Vegas cool. A nocturnal wonderland where anything might happen, the hipsters giving the bum's rush to all the rubes after the show, slipping off to the social stratosphere of private suites, showgirls, and presidents, the chumps drooling in the dust. In a neo-Vegasian way, the Super Bowl festivities equally impenetrable if somewhat less exalted, the madness made even more baroque by a loathing of football and all the attendant sociopsychic baggage, stemming from a brief interlude playing the game in high school.

Strong, stupid, and clueless at a tender age, the first practice marred by a complete incomprehension of jock straps, game rules, and the team's evil quarterback, summarily wrenching off our helmet and kicking it down the field to establish the random meanness of fate. Nothing much changing in the grand scope. We still don't understand anything, football still seems like satanic mass psychosis, and there's always some shithead ready to ruin your day. All lathered up anyway, descending to new moral depths and courting the void, the terminal nightmare of selling out and coming up with nothing A a thing akin to death. Work too hard for something and, contrary to the myths dictated in childhood, the taste of triumph invariably turns chalky and bitter, souring at the moment of devouring all the glittering prizes.

The horn of plenty kicking off with all due opulence at the Forge, taking dinner with the friends of Tommy Pooch, assembling on a stray Wednesday night for the weekly carnival of lust and laughs. What with the press of epic consumption, the caviar, cocktails, and massive steaks -- ring on 68 bucks -- reduced to pioneering a new system of journalism, various guests helpfully passing around our notebook and composing their own plugs. At an adjacent table, the production of Streets of Darkness having a wrap party, one actor noting: "It's about sex, drugs, rock and roll, and the mob -- you know, Miami kind of stuff." Forge owner Shareef Malnik talking about his own acting stints, Just Cause and such, the theatrical tone of the restaurant mounting steadily. A covey of strippers from Beverly Hills Talent -- not your ordinary modeling agency -- charging in like silicone gladiators. Some Jean-Bertrand Aristide clone gamely chasing six-footers, one woman setting a record with an 82-year-old escort. On to a sexual segue, Arnie Smith and Robert Levy (the gay promoter, not the political consultant) debuting "Heaven" at Diamante, throwing in petting zoos and midget go-go dancers in space costumes. Mondo bizarro stuff, the team back to the basics this week with a "Money Madness" party.

More financial frenzy the following evening, the social 400 of Miami assembling at Sylvester Stallone's estate on Brickell Avenue for a United Way benefit dinner chaired by Stallone, Emilio Estefan, and David Lawrence, Jr.. Gala producer and entertainment lawyer Henri Spiegel looking pleased, the Logistics Management event-planning team taking care of a multifarious cast, incorporating all manner of colliding worlds: Jack Donahue of Irene Marie Model Management sitting with competing agencies, suspending the usual agency wars; benefactors Sue Miller, Charles Cobb, and Micky Arison, who would be very busy with the Miami Heat the next day; people with regular jobs, a welcome change from our normal circumstances. The requisite fame punch provided by Michael Caine and the Fair Game crew: producer Joel Silver, Billy Baldwin and fiancee Chynna Phillips of Wilson Phillips; Cindy Crawford, the new It Girl, sitting with John Enos of the L.A. club Roxbury, doomed to forever roam the Earth as the man who used to date Madonna. A grand party, the seductive rhythms of commerce everywhere at once.

Saturday evening and it's the night of a thousand stars, flitting around town like fireflies, a great dance before the glow of the big game. Kismet and bliss, last-minute tickets to the "Taste of the NFL" hunger-relief benefit at the Hotel Inter-Continental. An array of restaurants from across the country setting up shop in the ballroom, each booth equipped with a hometown football hero and plentiful food, former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield milling around in the crush. Eager fans lining up to have footballs signed by former players, cheerleaders-gone-bad stalking moneyed athletes -- more or less the foundations of O.J. fever. Stuffed and dazzled, downtown turned into one vast homage to the glory of Coca-Cola, the all-American company sponsoring a rally at Bayfront Park and the gourmet-a-go-go reception. If public lynchings become fashionable again, corporations will no doubt seize the day and make a few bucks on executions.

Back to South Beach, where human life and beauty stay cheap, bracing for the onslaught of the "The Box Unwrapped" celebrations, Video Jukebox Network -- an interactive, pay-as-you-go music video service -- hosting a major office-warming party on Collins Avenue. A televised concert set up in the Marlin Gardens, the parking lot next to the company's new headquarters, rap royalty all over the place. Ice Cube, the master of living well on ghetto rage, leading the crowd in a chant of "Fuck you, Ice Cube!" Sandra Bernhard and her traveling lunacy serving as emcee, the performers featuring Bush, Nil Lara, and Luther Campbell, the legend of local debauchery, his entourage given to staging spontaneous lesbo exhibitions at clubs. Like us, Snoop Doggy Dogg, the noted tough guy with gun, reluctant to wade into the audience, the unwashed masses being crazy, sweaty, and potentially dangerous. Backstage Salt-N-Pepa and Hammer materializing for the convocation, the splendiferous Patti LaBelle turning up at Glam Slam, making the rounds before her half-time appearance the following day. All the action being on the streets, seeking snob harbor on dueling rooftops, simultaneously vexsome and absurd. Up to the Box party, just missing Sandra Bernhard and Stuttering John from the Howard Stern show, picking up tidbits. Former colleague Jane Wooldridge gearing up for celebrity skybox watch, both of us reminiscing about the restful days when there was nothing much to much. Hookup king Jason Binn off bonding with Dennis Hopper of all people. Tales of Danny Glover, Tom Arnold, and Rob Morrow in town for the game. Over to the Marlin for more ritualistic theater, assaulting the roof without proper credentials and wresting another petty triumph, dodging a district regular ("You've got to let me up - I'm the ultimate party animal") and confronting a celeb-free trade zone: Jimmy Buffett, Michael Caine, the Snoop, and possibly Elvis apparently leaving the field early. Nice enough regardless, Chris Blackwell, an investor with Les Garland in the Box, inspiring the next level of nirvana: Blackwell's private suite downstairs.

Even more pleasant, only slightly marred by our own obnoxiousness, speaking way too much reality and pointedly bringing up everyone's past for Truth-or-Dare laughs. You can't take us anywhere. Burned out on the carousel, slowly becoming disembodied in the vacuum chamber of fabulousness: the pining minions below; hip Japanese cartoons on the television; the right people nibbling at the right food. The evening taking a weird turn during one of our narcissistic monologues, a guest losing interest during a well-honed anecdote, her hair having caught fire on a candle. Everyone turning away from the unseemly incident, the room quickly filling up with acrid smoke -- a scene straight out of Fellini. Go out often enough, and eventually something happens. One thing leading to another, and then it's disco legend Donna Summer launching into the gay anthem "Last Dance" at 1:00 a.m., the soundtrack to every maudlin tear wrenched from every lost weekend. For normal people, as opposed to insensible social beasts, a moment too poignant for words.

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Tom Austin