Swelter 48

Pain and pleasure, misery and joy, the twin polarities of existence, locked in eternal struggle. Seized by an inexplicable desire for fresh air on a pretty day, hauling the pasty carcass out to a public park in the throes of a Purim-theme kids birthday party, the poisons of the night seeping forth like a cloud of toxic waste. Our mood, as ever, quickly turning glum, thinking about what Goethe ("Anything can be endured except a succession of too many beautiful days...") would have thought about suburban Miami on a hopelessly banal afternoon. Various parents, sensing the presence of the unwholesome, steering their children away from our general vicinity. A three-year-old costumed pirate running amok, veering off with a plastic sword, intent, no doubt, on smiting the anti-Semite Haman on behalf of good Queen Esther. A resounding smack on the head, a blow upon a bruise, another social indignity that barely registers in a shattered brainpan. An unprovoked but entirely reasonable assault, according to the lad's Lord of the Flies thinking: "You're supposed to hurt the ones you love."

Misery suspended, temporarily, with the hardest working man in clubland, Tommy Pooch, working a throng of party boys and girls at Cassis Bistro, assembled for the regular Tuesday-night party, themed around everything from "A Bubble Affair" to the aptly named "Welcome to the Jungle." Francois Latapie of Cassis looking happy in a Gallic way, Pooch tirelessly presiding over a downtown mini-empire: the Italian restaurant Zio Luigi's, Choice, a fashion-oriented party at Le Loft, an acting school, the Panara Workshop Theatre Company, various one-nighters, and a club in the offing called Asia, with John Payne and Geoff Downes of the group Asia.

Pooch, an old hand from New York, keeping things simple: "First you have to have fun, and then the money comes with it. Steve Rubell used to get up in the disc jockey booth at Studio 54, so fucked up he could barely talk, and announce over the loudspeaker, 'Free drinks for twenty minutes.' Everyone would cheer him, like he was the Wizard of Oz or something. In this business, you need lots of bodies and strong drinks. You've got to get 'em dysfunctional so they can have fun anywhere."

Lots of fun-follows-dysfunction at a truly popping Les Bains later that night, omnipresent bottles of vodka, women dancing on tables and mounting laps, lubricated and sprayed with champagne. A melting of the minds, with a Versace-clad derriere backed up in our face, stereophonic hype in both ears, a Kit-Kat Club type woman provocatively lolling in a corner, unveiling her private parts to the public sector. Another women unzipping her date's pants in a quiet corner and giving his member a quick, reverent kiss, male envy suddenly sprouting up like a plague. Developer Ugo Columbo sitting with the recently engaged Gary James of The Spot, Nicola Prossinos talking about his upcoming Mediterraneo restaurant in the old Stars & Stripes Cafe space, a celebrated drag queen pointedly using the women's restroom. Lily Zanardi of Stil Novo out again, escaping the quiet of home and hearth, a residence recently featured in HG, an aesthetic leap from our own squalid little apartment. None of the social classes, apparently, immune from the lure of low life.

Ethno-land society, as usual, a tad more decorous. Up to the Mahi Temple on the Miami River for the Haitian Music Festival debut concert, featuring Top Vice, Dadou Pasquet of Magnum Band, and the rara group Lavalas. Rasta-colored tubes around the stage, conch and fried pork for sustenance, well-dressed Haitians dancing soulfully in a rather soulless environment, decorated with photos of past imperial potentates. Everything from businessmen to working class studs in attendance, playing out elaborate mating rituals, their murky yellow eyes as ancient and unfathomable as Africa. Co-producer Murray Ross, who formerly worked with rock promoter Howard Stein, looking ahead: "I'm working with the producers Mark Joseph and Pierre Joseph. We'd like to do this every couple of months, maybe some Afro-fashion dance things as well. Haitians love their music, and they're the warmest, friendliest people. You don't have bad trips with Haitians."

JJ's on South Miami Avenue also fairly friendly and loose, the same two mongrel dogs from our previous visit still milling around outside. The Cuban folkloric group La Pupila Insomne still in a son groove, but considering branching out into Fifties rock. Doorman Jorge Posada ("I'm like the director of The Night Porter here...") pointing out various exile celebrities, from poets to soap opera stars to percussionist Nelson "Flaco" Padr centsn, a featured performer with Wishbone Ash and Arturo Sandoval, among others. That ultimate rarity, a man who knows his place in the world: "I'm a legend, but I'm not famous."

Prince, legendary, famous, and terminally rich, playing an impromptu set at Le Loft during the Winter Music Conference closing-night party, yet another Poochian effort. Right on target, a long jazz number, the new "She's a Peach," dedicated to a girl in the crowd ("She's so cool/I'm so ugly/I'd be a fool/To think she'd love me...") and a "nasty little ditty" called "Come," a mantra on South Beach. Naturally the crowd remaining annoyingly loud and oblivious, attuned to their own nightmares and diversions.

A perfect club episode, ruined by an assault on the VIP room, the heart of nothingness, with Prince A a bizarre little potentate in red leather A lounging en entourage. The great man miraculously brushing right past at one point, wafting cologne, a perfect opportunity for journalism-as-terrorism. But we are, for once, speechless, totally eclipsed by his presence, pained by the ultimate big time. Still, better off in the fame game than local legend Paul Campbell, something of a comfort. Campbell frolicking on the dance floor with a woman who captures sexy motherfucker's fancy, suddenly finding himself dancing alone when Prince's security forces cart the girl off to the VIP room for high jinks with the rich and famous. Taking the long view, the consolation of philosophy, Campbell summing up the whole path of pain and pleasure: "I've fallen into a dark void, a black hole of nightlife. But I've lived, had my moment, and now I can die.

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Tom Austin