The real-life follies, clinging to the sanctity of good clean fun, faith tested time and again. Till death, or worse yet, unemployment, entrapped within the bell jar of gossip, the cutting wire that dices, dissects, and taints every circumstance. But then, the razor's edge of columning cuts both ways, the capacity to spill ink, blood, and the frenzy of regional renown opening up vistas of possibility in the publicity ecosystem. Yet again, pulled down into the insanely democratic undertow of nightlife. This thing we call glamour making cronies and chumps of us all.

Another Wednesday night, another sampler assortment at the Fashion Cafe, models and marvels assembling for a visiting luminary, Charles Evans, the film financier-general tycoon flying in from Los Angeles for a whirlwind week. Evans, brother of producer Robert Evans (of Chinatown, The Godfather, and the recent autobiography The Kid Stays in the Picture) bearing serious credentials, living large in this girl-happy town. In tune with the carnal village, Evans involved with Showgirls, the ballyhooed Joe Eszterhas-Paul Verhoeven effort on the world of Las Vegas stripping; his brother's newest thriller, Jade, plowing along in San Francisco with the same creative team. Immediately falling into an engrossing conversation A half the vixens we know are strippers, in one sense or another A Evans set to transmogrify the world's second-oldest profession: "Before this movie, I didn't even know what lap dancing was, but it's been interesting to learn about the lives of these women."

All of us mustering out, stumbling on to Phoenix. For some mysterious reason the palace of kiddy culture, body-piercing, and the love that squeals its name hosting an opulently mixed party for Lipton Cup players, various hidden agendas, and the much-beloved Jude, the former ESP/Spot doorperson. Our very own St. Francis of Assisi story, Jude stepping off the South Beach merry-go-round: having a baby, prospering in suburbia, and most important, getting out alive. In honor of Jude, the evening assuming the poignancy of old-home week at the Alamo, settlers holding down the fort: George Nu*ez, Lily Zanardi, George Tamsitt, and a drag queen from the early days of Warsaw. Nostalgia ain't what it used to be, one of the wittier veterans delicately rephrasing a sound bite: "This town isn't a whore, darling; it's a courtesan."

Evans, no doubt recognizing our professional eunuchness, extending the ultimate male-bonding trust: "Take care of my girl, will you? I gotta take a pee." Ignoring the specter of desire A rich guys get all the best dates A and thinking about the disastrous consequences that ensued when his brother, then married to Ali McGraw, asked the late Steve McQueen to look after McGraw during the Godfather production, McGraw promptly leaving the fold. From there, conversation seguing, as it will, to the gutter of sexuality, all strains of which we find equally abhorrent. Our proclivities, or lack thereof, merrily bandied about, one woman ultimately deciding that no self-respecting, 100-percent homosexual would let himself go to our physical level, all chaos and overripe tripe. As it happens, Phoenix itself paying homage to the column that sex built, the club now doing a gay one-nighter called "Swelter." Really, these cheap publicity stunts almost transcend the pathetic, although an upcoming Oscar Awards theme party might be in our line: We'd like to thank the little people who made it all possible.

Sobering up for St. Patrick's Day, studiously not drinking on amateur night: supercolumnist, immune to club Kryptonite, all the drugs, booze, perks, and radioactive loins that weaken the being. First stop, Greenwich Beach, the newest installment of the Tommy Pooch restaurant-a-go-go empire. Between greedy mouthfuls of tasty steak, somehow finding time for angst-riddled commentary on the passing parade, the usual male suspects picking through the babe corral. Silicone-charged strippers, warrior women looking to retire from illegitimate theater. The royalty of the six-footer set radiating the disdain of thoroughbreds. Plucky generic livestock riding the music of chance. The frenzy mounting, society DJ Mark Levanthal on the turntables, a woman hawking "South Beach: Rich and Famous" keepsake Polaroids, the truly Italianate Pooch using the Green & Green model agency as a thematic centerpiece. A pleasantly exhausting dinner, managing to ignore two card-carrying members of the creeping moral voidism club in the bathroom, twin crooks chewing over a breathtakingly cheesy matter. In nightlife, everyone's guilty, there are no heroes, and the best become what they behold.

On to Bar None, where the poor, ugly, and virtuous need not apply, Lee Iacocca on hand, someone discussing very ex-wife Peggy Iacocca A not your ordinary former airline stewardess A and her rumored dalliance with Placido Domingo, of all people. Out of sheer spite, crashing upstairs to the essence of Eurotrash: an Italian pasta heir lolling around with his three-year-old daughter, an extraordinarily decadent artist, and a wife with an ecumenical dating background, from Eric Clapton to Adnan Khashoggi. Out to the mean streets, running into John Liebenthal from New York's Cafe Tabac, reduced to the don't-you-know-who-I-am number at Glam Slam. Trolling through the bowels of Washington Avenue, a gauntlet of doormen-as-carnival barkers, hawking two-for-one drinks and free admission. Step right up and check it out A too many clubs, too few viable patrons. Sanctuary at a very jamming Risk, Michael Capponi leaving Les Bains and kicking the hype engine with George Wayne's "The 100 Most Fabulous Egocentrics of South Beach" party.

Ever the celebrity vibrator, Wayne's invitation boldfaced with important and/or useful egos like Chris Blackwell, Ingrid Casares, Kenny Scharf, and Oribe, our name making the technical credits list. Appropriately enough, lurking in the VIP room A most recently occupied by the egomaniacal Elton John on Fat Black Pussycat night A and taking tentative exploratory missions into the crowd. Smoke and apathy spewing from the lotus eaters in Madame Woo's lounge, the club's exotic dancer turning the tables on her pussyhound fans, hanging out in the men's room between sets. Fame morsels, as always, pouring in heedlessly. Bill Murray staying at the Raleigh, working on a script with homeboy Mitch Glazer. A hook-up queen rhapsodizing on the glories of Cindy Crawford's birthday celebrations aboard a chartered Latin bomba boat, the captain leaving from Crawford's house on the Sunset islands. America's modern Mary Ann Summers hosting the glitterati of the new Gilligan's Island, Crawford landlord-alleged boyfriend Steve Varsano not around. The guest stars come and go, and we're still here on this golden isle, apparently missing all the truly splendid occasions: "It was so fabulous. Too bad you weren't on the list."

Naturally everyone opting for the eternal fever, the itch of clubs. A new fave rave working on her memoirs I Should Have Left Sooner, the title something of a clarion call for all the lost souls who've overstayed the party. Everyone, at once, letting loose a great wail of ennui. The scene peaking two years ago, not even disgusting in an interesting way any more. All the higher life forms of club kids virtually extinct, displaced by teen thugs and moneyed white trash. It's over, all of us might be over, and where have all the good times gone?

Home to bed, thinking of other parties, other places. An apostle of pleasure, despite the dirty-laundry beat, the consuming realities of social reporting descending like an epiphany at a truly wondrous bash thrown by old friends. Yearning for an idyll from publicity-driven affairs, attempting to be reborn as a civilian A the unexamined, unambitious party-boy status of youth A several guests unable to avoid pitches, grin-and-grip photos, hustles, and hurts. Throughout, confronted by anxious faces, worried that we might witness them having too much or too little fun, or perhaps neglect the let-us-now-witness-local-fame responsibilities of columnists. God forbid any of us let it all go once in a while.

For no particular reason, a dinner with a fellow journalist also coming to mind, our colleague reminiscing way off record about the Playboy heyday, when Hugh Hefner ruled in the Los Angeles division of Bunnyland, having way too much sex, fun, and fame, a pioneer of pointed merriment: "Hefner might have three or four girls at once. In the middle of the night, there'd be orders sent down for things like strawberries and whipped cream. The parties were all about business, mostly girls and celebrities. Hefner had the public rooms electronically wired with cameras and lighting equipment. You'd be talking to somebody famous and all of a sudden a flash would come on. The guest would spin away, all confused, and then, invariably, they'd wind up in the magazine.

"Even then, in the Seventies and early Eighties, it was a weird kind of time warp. In one wing of house, a whole group of employees worked full time on his diaries, volume after volume taken from his dictation. They were never published, and I don't think he ever got past 1968. When I think about it, he was probably as insane as Howard Hughes, and just as protected by money. But it was great staying at the mansion. If you wanted fresh lobster at 5:00 a.m., the staff would get it for you. It was so crazy, but Christ, we all had so much fun then.

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Tom Austin