Swelter 43

Into the new Grub Street of gossip, the practitioners of the trade losing perspective in the whirl. A true party in the old-fashioned sense of the term -- friends who actually like each other, getting together for no other reason than untainted good cheer A becoming faintly ridiculous to the addicted, somehow lacking the necessary psychodramatic ramifications. Socializing, at a certain level, evolving into guerrilla theater, fueled by spite and pointless ambition. The pros flinging themselves on celebrities and open bars, gloating in the exaltation of hard-won, rarified circumstances, railing against the constant tide of petty humiliations. After dark, there are no limits, nothing is ever enough, and no evening is ever completely successful. But wherever there's a whiff of twisted pleasure, you'll find our battered carcass, carrying out the vital work of the nation.

A glamour hangover still lingering from a wondrous celebrity petting zoo, adrift in the wake of the National Association of Television Programming Executives convention, debased and yet curiously happy, a hooker enriched by new depths of brazen shamelessness. The evil empire of television pretty much defined by an eerie instance of life imitating bad art: a family of cheerful mannequins watching the tube in an idealized rec room, directly beside a throng of real zoneheads silently absorbed in the frightening specter of interactive TV, joining Bob Barker in the Twilight Zone of cable. Enough to give even the relentless pause for thought, but still swept up in the carnival of pop culture. Lurking around talk-show host Jerry Springer, drawing the standards-are-standards line at the John Bobbitt hoopla: "I didn't bring it up on my show until I had to; really, that whole story is just a schmuck cutting off another's schmuck's schmuck." Making a natural segue to the booth of Bozo the Clown, Bozo's people still irate over the fame game: "There were 180 Bozos across the country at the peak; Willard Scott was the first one. Then McDonald's stole Willard and the idea of franchised clowns -- we should have sued. We're fine now, but they're doing phenomenal."

The evening hours bringing more phenomenal madness, a low point established with our stint as an amateur paparazzo, snatching photos of a far gone Geraldo Rivera at Les Bains, the walking nightmare playing imaginary bongos and wearing sunglasses. The wheel of chance spinning upward at the Raleigh during a Maury Povich reception, absorbing show-biz central: tales of fleeing the Los Angeles earthquake with a quivering Jane Fonda, Barry Diller's ex-boyfriend passing from AIDS, various shocking closet queen cases. Roger Ailes, the Reagan-era political puppeteer and Rush Limbaugh producer, striking gold again: "Everything is about personality now; the success of Rush proves that." Robert Morton of the David Letterman Show turning up and affording an opportunity for our favorite social-climbing greeting: "We've met before, last summer in the Hamptons." The limo caravan moving on to Joe's Stone Crab for bliss beyond measure, the clash of dueling media personalities: a CNN producer with the 411 on Tonya Harding and Michael Jackson; gracious living icon Martha Stewart, penetrating far beyond the Junior League legions, fresh from another lucrative Oprah appearance. Conservative commentator John McLaughlin of The McLaughlin Report surprisingly fun and gossip-friendly, talking about visiting Gore Vidal's home in Italy: Modern fame is just one big mutual fan club, full of unlikely encounters.

Stumbling back into real life with the opening of the eleventh Miami Film Festival, yet another unseemly scramble for tickets and access, finally securing a place at Gusman for the premiere of Belle epoque. The usual drill beforehand with various "whereas, whereas" proclamations, highlighted by a tribute to the sorely missed Bill Cosford, Herald movie critic and fellow Miami homeboy. Survivor Rosario Kennedy keeping things short and sweet, holding on after encounters with Nat Chediak and Joe Gersten: a girl's got to take what comes in life. Star presence coming with Andy Garcia, operating on "Cuban time" and introducing director Fernando Trueba: "I hope to...communicate pleasure." The main event sweet, fey, and very European, the character of actor Jorge Sanz entertainingly popping four very attractive sisters. The private hell, unfortunately, working overtime: mounting nausea, volcanic hunger pangs, an embarrassing incipient erection at lusty cinematic moments. Filing out into the lobby afterward, venting over assorted slights, our journalist companion ready to jump the vulnerable-looking Sanz like a cheetah pouncing on a wounded wildebeest. Miss Sex, bless her, incapable of keeping her thing in deep freeze.

On to the absurdist cinema celebrations at International Place, combing the buffet and prowling for celebrities, reduced to following actor/former drug humorist Cheech Marin. A festival factotum, all urgent breathlessness, stealing away our prey: "Excuse me, Mr. Marin -- they're ready for you now." Ferreting out Latin jazz great Paquito D'Rivera and locals like film-party coordinator Norma Jean Abraham, various representatives of rock bands Poison and Whitesnake reminiscing about the high life: Cheech playfully spiking Herb Alpert's drink at the old Club Nu, the Young Turk band imploding over a ballistic fifteen-year-old groupie with judicial connections. One member ratting to the FBI, several others going to jail, the legend crumbling to dust: "You don't hear rock-and-roll stories like that any more." Trolling through the whine brigade ("At least the drinks are free; that's something") and uncovering A-guest/snarky WSVN newscaster Kelley Mitchell, a glitzy little pistol of fun. Mitchell undeterred by our gushing inquiries, something to the effect of anchorwomen not normally doing the news dressed like Ivana Trump: "They're scaling our look back a little bit; I'm supposed to get more of a Grace Kelly thing going. Well, maybe Grace Kelly on acid."

The fabulousity posse, depressingly drug- and sex-free, slinking over to South Beach and driving around aimlessly, too lazy to crash a model volleyball bash at Paragon, missing with model Jennifer Flavin and boyfriend Sly Stallone. Down to the bowels below Fifth Street, spotting two boys having sex in an open convertible, the voyeurs circling around like demon-seed teenagers for a closer look. Quite the engrossing mise en scäne, one young scamp draped over the trunk like a bagged elk, destiny meting out a rim job and ardent sodomy. Truly the unacceptable face of homosexuality, but then, gay life can be so much richer than the cliches of natural fabrics and cunning little dinner parties. The sordid spectacle miraculously lifting the general mood of boredom: Go out often enough, and once in awhile something is bound to happen. And then it's home to an uneasy sleep, lost in the silence of desire, chasing phantoms in the glittery fog of the night.

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Tom Austin