And so there we all are, the citizens of Planet Starfucker, departing from the Miami Beach Marina on a cold night, huddled together in a tourists-as-slaves galley. For the evening, the tour boat has become an impromptu Noah's Ark: models, promoters, Eurofilth, and the press cruising to Fisher Island, the limos bearing celebs on an adjacent ferry coming as an immediate status rebuke. The occasion was the annual Fisher Island Club party, hyperventilated by third-anniversary celebrations for Ocean Drive magazine, the seminal tract of the sound bite that is modern Miami, the Gutenberg Bible of the beautiful and damned. In the long view of journalism not the most wholesome publication perhaps, but they definitely know how to throw a newsworthy spectacle. And then, who am I, a mere gossip columnist, to run moral attitude?

Fisher Island is a wonderland of culture clashes, the South Beach demimonde circulating with residents (a mix of high goyim, fallen nobility, and Pop Tart fortunes, going condo for the next millennium of money), William Vanderbilt's old estate transformed into an opulent playground. The isle that time, care, and common sense forgot. An older Miami socialite, all withered cleavage and big hair, taking in the pussy cavalcade and sighing, "They're so young and gorgeous. . . . God, I hate them all." Personally, I've never met a model I didn't like, and there are worse crimes than being good-looking. I'm even fonder of boldface names, however, and it was a decided treat to immediately run into the hippest creature imaginable, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith.

Tyler, who's in town working on an album ("We're just trying to bang out a couple more songs"), was adorned in stage mufti -- tights, flowing scarves, major jewelry, and such. A dead-on rock star of the first rank, and like any true gentleman, he playfully flirted with all manner of women, from sweet young things ("You've got that bubbly thing down, don't you?") to an older attorney/social veteran standing next to a fireplace ("I'd like to warm myself up at your fire"). The voltage and erotic chills mounting as the evening progressed, Tyler riding the party-as-promotion rush with everyone else: "My publicist told me to lay low down here, since we just signed with Sony. But what can I do -- I like the buzz of it all."

Celebrity and mortal alike, we all needed the buzz, and the gathering evolved into a five-hour marathon, bouncing between dysfunctional local legends and icons of the national consciousness, glossy guest stars of the media. For someone like me, given over to terminal milling (the WASP's national pastime), it was kismet and bliss. The multitudes kept moving among the pool area, outdoor dance floor, and the various public rooms of the clubhouse in a random migratory pattern that was as mysterious as the passage of lemmings.

A chat with promoter Jimmy Franzo, one of the hosts of the club Circus opening on South Beach, somehow segued into a flock of fashion stars, Niki Taylor, Bridget Hall, and the truly bright Maureen Gallagher having arrived. Another encounter with J.P. Parlavechio, part of the hype brigade around the new Tudor restaurant and lounge, slid into the male model division, luminaries like the famed Riker twins. A moment with Shareef Malnik of the Forge, who opened his Cuba Club lounge at the restaurant over the weekend, led to various curiosities-of-the-list: attorney Roy Black; actress Maria Conchita Alonso; Kendall Coffey, U.S. attorney; Wilt Chamberlain, working on his 20,001st conquest of the female form. Nightlife makes for some weird alignments of humanity.

Minute to minute, nothing ever stayed the same, either good or bad. In the good and positively glorious division, I found myself being interviewed by a crew from E channel, which is filming a program on Miami. Hubris and destiny promptly meted out a jump cut to the bad, an ill-advised assault on a private room, one half-crazed girl picked up like a potted palm and moved aside by security.

It wouldn't be an Ocean Drive party without a VIP room, but the havens of the important were particularly maddening, a kind of free-floating performance art from Hell. I'd claw through the desperate, then discover that the side doors were wide open. Or worse yet, the caravan of fame would suddenly evaporate, the whole social-climbing process starting all over again in some other room. Inevitably the same celeb who'd just been outside mingling with the hordes -- Michael Caine, say -- would be standing around. An exercise in futility, but it did keep everyone on their toes in the theater of humiliation. Although, even being in the business, there are times when I feel like the last person in Miami unwilling to eviscerate himself for contact with celebrity.

For the hardy and the shameless, the bright moments were there to be taken. At the bar by the marina, there was the vortex of director Oliver Stone autographing the fruits of someone's strange business venture: envelopes with a likeness of Richard Nixon -- talk about making a cheap buck. From there Stone posed with Erinn Cosby, who's developing a talk show in Los Angeles, before he negotiated a barrage of ballistic students. "We're film majors from the University of Miami; please talk to us." Each sorority sweetheart, cutie-pies one and all, got a hug from Stone, the proper response to a UM girl seething with ambition. After that Stone lobbed some compliments ("What's that necklace made out of, dried testicles?") to other admirers, the hype over Nixon paying off in the dating department.

Following that golden interlude, the party moved on to the pool area for a testament to glamour, Michael Aller ("Let's applaud the great models that are here tonight") and Donald Trump paying tribute to the civic contributions of the hosts: Jerry and Sandi Powers, working with Jason Binn, the prince of cellular darkness. After Trump's speech -- Stone laughingly conceding that Oliver Stone's Trump might be a viable project -- the fireworks began, accompanied by everything from the 1812 Overture to house music. An astonishing tableau, straight out of Carl Fisher's more exuberant public relations high jinks, the pyrotechnics framed by a row of mega-yachts. A tony Englishman went into rapture mode, awed by the American horn of plenty: "This is so wonderfully American, so wonderfully Miami. God bless the vulgar heart of this country."

In rare form, Binn unveiled his final party favor after midnight, Jack Nicholson arriving with the heraldry normally attendant to the second coming of the Warrior Christ. The man who's got it all -- talent, respect, absolute cool, and big bucks -- somehow stayed ironic and vaguely affable, a great prism refracting the attentions paid by the adoring public. Nicholson affably addressed my frazzled being, dopey fans ("You're the boss hog, man"), and a group chanting "Jack, Jack, Jack" while shaking the decorative lights across the pool. And there were the countless women, on a mission of conquest, Nicholson gently moving along the little dogies, "Ladies, if it's agreeable to you, it might be time to get warm." Yet another VIP room forming inside, Nicholson nodding at a waiter ("In fact, I did order a bourbon and soda . . . and there it is") while listening to a model's spiel about how the cold had prevented her from wearing a shorter skirt.

Steven Tyler took in the agitated groupies at the door and drily noted, "Don't worry, girls -- if you're tall and blonde, you'll get in," as Nicholson pondered a question from Stephen Dorff, his costar in the Blood and Wine production. "When is my next scene? Frankly, I don't have a clue." As it turned out, Nicholson's next shoot was that same evening, down in Homestead. And so, accompanied by his driver, bodyguard, and three models, he bid us all farewell at about 2:00 a.m., off to another hard night's work. The American dream come to life, and one tough icon to boot. The constant glow of money and fame makes superheroes out of ordinary men. Or, failing that, the hunger of humanity drives them mad from need.

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Tom Austin