Swelter 45

It's a great life, these postcards filed from the apocalypse, these rhapsodies to a permanent -- albeit spectacularly unsuccessful -- vacation in Hell. One of our bleaker colleagues encouraging an addiction to darkness, noting that the next angst report may well serve as a handy obituary, rich fodder suitable for poignant panegyrics at the wake. And lately, what with time's winged chariot and looming dipsomaniacal dysfunction, we've actually been noodling away at a final testament of sorts, settling scores and defending a shabby existence before the wrathful gods of nightlife. In the meantime, we're staying at the fair, obeying the happiness-rules dictates of our favorite little club bud, wise beyond her tender years: "You've got to have fun, even when it's not fun." Precisely, and blessedly enough, the column biz offers plenty of engagement with diverting real life, people capable of doing and saying the darnedest things.

In the interest of peace, love, and sanity, attempting to avoid the specter of sex yet again, and failing mightily: It's all around, it's too much to bear, and it's the only subject anybody wants to talk about. Somehow the toll of clubs taking the novelty out of America's favorite hobby, and accordingly, hewing to the asexuality route: the hippest approach, the only problem being that you don't get to have sex. And still, the matter coming up constantly, the blood simmering down to a low boil. Lincoln Road, the center of the known universe, a stunning singer at World Resources cafe chanting a salute to erections ("I want your liquid love locked within my yearning thighs"), our companion hyping a come-as-you-are orgy in a private home. Intriguing, though likely as not the invitation nothing but clever angling for plugs. And then, Daryl Hannah -- a friend of a friend, and therefore, according to the fame industry bylaws, a virtual acquaintance -- turning up for the continuing celebrity saga of the Two Much production. Hannah looking movieland surreal and passionately kissing Antonio Banderas for the cameras, every girl's -- and many boys' -- dream come true.

Taking sanctuary on the lesbo rounds, the intercourse issue, thank goodness, removed from cross-gender communication. A bisexual housewife having a very fancy birthday dinner for 30 of her closest friends, the inner circle reading muff poetry in her honor and repairing afterward to 821 for an infusion of the public: I am woman, hear me roar. Some social columnist from the SoHo demimonde A New York's loss, Miami's incipient nightmare A claiming to have been cruised by Juliette Lewis: "It wasn't a gay thing; she was just experimenting, playing around. You know, like Richard Gere and his little gerbil problem."

Another night, another lesbian club or another, the troops out in force despite thoroughly inclement weather -- yikes, you dykes, take a night off once in a while -- the ladies dismissing each other, famous lesbians of our time, and the unacceptable face of heterosexuality, those irksome "strollers" and piss-on-our parade family values. One woman taking the moral high road ("Women are worse dogs than men in clubs") and railing about her former lover, the eternal pain of love just as pandemic among the deviant sexuality set, envy invariably coming with the rocky terrain of success: "She wants to be an accessory to powerful women, like a Range Rover or something. Lea DeLaria told me that since she's been getting a name, she'll have to sleep with this bitch."

It's war out here and we're taking no prisoners, unless, of course, they're cute. Cocktails in Coral Gables, a perfectly civilized house, the resolutely straight hostess recounting tales of a homeowners association meeting on the glamour strip of Brickell Avenue. The gay night crawlers at Alice Wainwright Park tainting the sanctity of Madonna's adjacent estate, some vastly misguided Material Girl associate going off on the pioneer Miamian ("Fuck this Wainwright woman, whoever she is"), the committee pointing out that Alice Wainwright had been dead for some time. Madonna, ever the erotic pioneer, dryly observing, "Now, that would be an interesting experience for once."

Wrapping up the sexomania beat with heteroesque madness, a model- driven gathering in a private apartment, all candlelight and budding love connections. The view of the district wasteland lessening the awkward urgency for the talk, talk, talk of social mixers. Very sweet girls, one lass helpfully bringing us a drink on a tray: model butlerettes, the ultimate solution to the help crisis. Another being youthfully forthright in the pitilessly bright kitchen: "Gee, it's amazing how different everybody looks in here." Ask not for whom the fluorescent lamp tolls, for it tolls for thee. On to a club tour, the New York institution S.O.B., specializing in that Latin music thing, going hard on Van Dome as a southern outpost. As ever, staunchly professional in hornyville, a homeless lunatic openly playing with himself on the street, screaming at the dogs of lust: "Hey, you people, why don't you try being celibate A it's the only way to go." It may be time to reconsider the just-say-maybe operating policy.

Retreating to polite society, the gravy train of good cheer, the Wolfsonian hosting "An Evening of (Good) Propaganda," benefiting the museum's public education center. Into the blissfully serene lobby, riding a very slow freight elevator with founder Micky Wolfson and assorted guests, the forever entertaining Wolfson delivering impromptu remarks about the building's transformation from a storage facility into the crown jewel of Washington Avenue: "In the days before air conditioning, when everything had to be stored for the summer, this elevator was used to carry Packards. So, you see, it's very good for crowds and heavy objects -- oh, look, you can see the moon rising through the window there, isn't that remarkable? A although it does take three days to reach the upper floors."

Nirvana at last, all of us spilling out into the upper galleries, seeking drink and sustenance. Snob that we are, avoiding the simple fare we clawed our way out of long ago, making a beeline for arcane cuisine. Like the hors d'oeuvres, the human buffet studiously ecumenical, fellow South Beach veterans, those dirty little counter-jumpers, mingling with their financial betters. The rough enchantments of downtown paling, and alas, two and a half enemies on hand A out of our Rolodex, out of our life -- invariably getting underfoot in close quarters. Dear God, we know why the caged bird screeches.

Fortunately, a tasty sampler package of nice people -- Andrew Tobias, Jan Cowles, Max Blumberg, et al. -- also in attendance. Bixie Matheson, a woman of sense and sensibility, introducing us around as a gossip columnist, a billing that tends to put a chill on conversation. A sudden drop in volume, followed by Wolfson's disembodied and mellifluous voice, the Wizard of Oz introducing Manuel E. Gonzalez, Chase Manhattan Bank Art Program executive director, and Michael Holden, Chase Manhattan Private Bank Florida chairman, the bank donating two copper finials from its collection, architectural wonders that once graced the Woolworth Building in New York. From there, chattering through the chattering classes, eventually drifting into a heated discussion of protocol and ethics, assuring the societal labyrinth that blind items, no matter how pointed, are the last word in c'est publicite chic.

Hung over onto oblivion the following day, stumbling to the La Gorce Island home of Elizabeth and Alfredo Baracasa, the last word in jet-set hospitality. An agitated Spanish guitarist setting a tone of post-Ibiza abandonment, the gathering featuring Latin socialites, the Aspen crowd, mo' models, and a contingent of first-class-level stewardesses, whom the Baracasas had met on the flight from Venezuela. For no particular reason, save trashiness and provocative party theater, salsa dancing with a beloved friend -- not bad, despite his insistence on leading -- and running smack-dab into the immensely likable Prince Michel de Yougoslavie, Palm Beach icon and citizen of worldwide glamour. The Prince wearing jeans and velvet slippers, each adorned with little red devils, a scamp taking nothing seriously: laughing about his former fiefdom ("It still exists, although maybe a little smaller now"), the royal brigade ("Oh, we're all just no-account counts"), and the eternal whirl:

"Miami is so much younger and fun -- the junior set up there starts at 70. We're still old-line in Palm Beach: conservative, private, and reserved, with a bit more pride, perhaps, than some of the social people down here. How long would it take to make you the toast of Palm Beach society? In your case, it may require a considerable amount of time -- maybe even a week or two.

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Tom Austin