Swelter 44

Unfortunately, a free and vigorous press requires a touch of scandalmongering on the side, something of an unseemly decline from the noble ideals of Thomas Jefferson, a rich, famous, and powerful statesman (think Dallas set on a plantation) whose randy appetite for interracial dating might have made him the perfect tabloid star, sort of a thinking man's O.J. Simpson. The press, in fact, may be a little too free, easy, and sexually obsessed lately. Topless photos of Marcia Clark in her Brigitte Bardot period, sold by her then-companion's mother. American Journal staking out Cindy Crawford's Miami Beach house for more nude sunbathing vignettes, and worse yet, stealing items from our column. Sleazy stuff, although, to be fair, everyone has a story, no one can stop talking, and journalism may be akin to the proverbial tree falling in the forest. If an incident doesn't make the papers, preferably in boldface, can it be said, at least in an existential sense, really to exist?

On the rounds, trolling through carnality and motley behaviors, unhinged and yet curiously disengaged. Limping along the banal seashore for a constitutional, some photo crew shooting a lingerie layout and backing up pedestrian traffic. Dinner with an arresting Italian woman, one of those exquisite European thoroughbreds who have a knack for making you feel like a skanky-ass American rube, all Cheez Doodles and F Troop reruns. Our romantic crush, alas, marred by her forthright embrace of the plug aesthetic ("Do I kiss you or strip?") and heedless disregard of the bill. Yet another dinner in chicville, a gentleman reminiscing about the old days of Havana, when Superman A the massively endowed nightclub performer immortalized in The Godfather, Part II A unveiled his masterful weapon for giggling tourists every night, challenging gals from the audience to take him on. Lots of plants in the audience, of course, although some nonprofessional woman invariably would rise to the challenge, an odd strain of feminine dysfunction. Most men, if invited to, say, thrust their dick in a radiator fan, might be slightly more protective of vital equipment.

Lincoln Road, a local club veteran turned businessman opening a joyboy palace in Havana this spring ("South Beach is okay, but Cuba will be the new gay paradise"), the figurehead of fun joining forces with another civic leader for a renowned gay bash, this year's pageant of lust set to take place on a Havana rooftop. The iconographic Omar Martinez -- formerly of Cafe Manana -- turning up, Martinez now living in Mexico City, making forays into Cuba for television documentaries and forever running into local luminaries, people such as Ken Zarrilli of the Raleigh. Long ago, when Martinez had tried to bring us along on a muy controversial tour of Cuba, all the talk had been of underground clubs and women who looked like "monuments." An interesting offer, but ultimately passing twice on the Cuba watch, our life already too full of monuments and sexual degradation. Martinez dispiritedly detailing the bloodbath era -- cheap drugs, cheap boys, cheap thrills -- tourists spreading the plague like horny rats. Fathers selling their nine-year-old sons, adorned with lipstick, to German tourists. A positive Mexican banking heir bringing back a teenager from Cuba, promptly tainting the boy and then abandoning him. Tales of horror, straight out of medieval times: "Here everyone does it for free; there, it's about a scrap of bread, survival. These old men who go there and infect these desperate kids with AIDS should be shot."

Fleeing to the bosom of culture, neat packages of uplifting nonsense, where everything eventually works out and all's well, more or less, in the end. An interlude of dance, pure and blissfully nonverbal, with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, the company whizzing through kinetic rhythms. Fitful stabs at the dimming allure of the Miami Film Festival, commencing with a screening of Exotica, an indescribable mood fugue revolving around a truly splendid strip club, one befuddled viewer buttonholing an usher: "Can you tell me what the hell that was all about?" A civilized reception at the Foundlings Club, the guest list featuring Guillermo Cabrera Infante A also making an appearance downstairs at Books & Books A and the international intellectual set, people such as Gerard Corbiau of Farinelli fame. Search and Destroy, the closing-night selection of the film festival, Spanish actors Gabino Diego and Ariadna Gil turning up at the apräs party. Home to bed early on Saturday evening, missing a South Beach salute to former White House press office spokesperson Dee Dee Myers -- hating both the press and the unhooked-up life -- and a major lineup at a screening of An Awfully Big Adventure. Billy Baldwin and Chynna Phillips, songwriter Desmond Child, film technologies expert Allee Willis, and theatrical producer Cameron Mackintosh and his associate Richard Jay-Alexander -- who will be hosting an upcoming AIDS walk benefit with Rosie O'Donnell -- occupying the front row. Stay home one night and the world passes you by.

The world of gotta-dance fandom gearing up for the pop legend of Sam Harris, starring in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat this week, Harris scrambling up the career ladder after a rousing rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" on Star Search. The technicolor dreamboat lending luster to drag night at Mulberry Street Cafe and other soirees, yet another celeb du jour story for Miami. The verities of the star-is-born life coming up again with the ongoing production of Joel Paley's Ruthless at the Colony Theater. A gleeful lampoon of the Broadway mystique, three generations of ambitious bitches duking it out on the Great White Way, with stellar performances by Hugh Murphy as Sylvia St. Croix and eight-year-old Meghan Garson as Tina Denmark, the "devil's spawn" of Shirley Temple and all the satanic ingenues of Hollywood. All the camp and cutting remarks striking home, coming off as nuggets of wisdom: "In show biz you're doomed to a life of booze, pills, and heavy meals late at night.... Now that I'm a star, I know this rotten business inside and out.... I feel so cheap and dirty -- how did this ever happen?"

Real life redux, taking in South Beach on a stray Friday evening, gearing up with the lowest form of social interaction known to mankind, a restaurant opening, touring the attractive Cafe Impala in one minute flat. On to dinner at the Strand with Josh Levine of Forbes, down from New York to research a cover story about the insanely profitable modeling industry, luminaries like Cindy Crawford Inc. approaching the seismographic charge of movie stars. The restaurant a battleground of tumescent headiness and insanity, dining in state like the countess in Daughter of the Regiment and taking in the pussy parade: real models, decorative escorts, and perky strippers, invariably denounced by women who shouldn't be throwing any stones in the floating cathouse. On to other establishments, treading through the sloppy gauntlet of teen-wasteland clubs, not all that inspiring to Levine, a diehard Manhattanite who hadn't been in Florida since 1977: "This is what everybody has been talking about in New York?"

First stop, Bar None, totally losing our grip and going nutso-schizo on a massive bouncer -- a very uncool move -- the place brimming with tales of Hollywood. Joan Cusack, Melanie Griffith, Danny Aiello, and Rosie Perez in town for the Two Much production, currently shooting on Lincoln Road; John Cusack and Don Johnson around, as well. Robin Williams set to come down in April for another movie. Mogul Joel Silver all over town, producing Fair Game and working the big picture, the interplanetary tycoon always accompanied by two assistants bearing portable phones. The club one vast percolating lab culture of flesh, flash, and hustle, Bob Vila, the low-bore home handyman huckster of television, actually granted the status of anchoring a booth of lovelies: Let's tighten up, girls, regain a little perspective on things. Winding down at Niva, Gary James taking a partnership position and hosting a nice little opening party. A drink or two with a table of models -- the sort of sweet, sprightly, and well-bred six-footers who give credit to the industry -- and an intelligent nightlife veteran of the professional classes, good-naturedly questioning our party about credentials and taste for riveting disgust and trash decadence. Lingering at the bar, our favorite nightlife cult figure -- Effraim -- accompanied by his newest real man discovery: Roar, an exceptionally hearty boxer, a brooding presence from Eastern Europe. Effraim, a pioneer of the go-out-every-single-night school, claiming to be heading for Poland, of all places, really and truly over it this time around:

"South Beach used to be a nice little town, where everybody knew each other and nothing much happened. Now there's all this ridiculous hype -- darling, you've got to do something about stopping all the silliness, this celebrity nonsense. The whole city keeps waving its ass in the air like a whore, trying to get fucked by all the money and celebrity. When I see somebody famous in a club, I just run away; the scene has really gotten intolerable. But then, where else can you make a very decent living simply by going to one another's parties?

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Tom Austin