The Strand, Saturday night. Mickey Rourke, the phrase "looking like shit" coming to mind, with Christopher Walken, who's in town shooting some French Godfather-esque gangster drama. The usual assortment of B-rich Euros, people without jobs, modeling-industry types smoking like Peter Lorre, the tenuous. A group of us sitting around after dinner, embroiled in a conversational trough that is virtually inexhaustible in Miami: other people's offensiveness. More tales of sick obsessions and shabby behavior. The time the formerly valid Peggy Iacocca, in one quietly elegant restaurant or another, railed about the nerve of Epicure Food Market in questioning her charge account, with a shrill who-the-fuck-do-they-think-they-are tone. The prominent local industrialist, Mr. Disgusting himself, showing up at a high school prom with his very young mistress, a student at the school. The wealthy socialite of our acquaintance, who likes to hold the hands of his conquests while they pee. The Latin guy at the next table, showing his contempt for an adjacent celebrity by aping the motions of cunnilingus.

Our own table grows louder and louder, the vulgarity quotient rising accordingly with an engrossing discussion about polite perversions amongst the upper classes. One woman, way valid, smart, attractive, cultured, and accomplished, suddenly stops herself in midsentence. "Why am I talking like this? I never used to lower myself to gossip. What happens to people in this city?"

As Shirley Temple perkily summed up the matter in one of her movies, the best way to judge a place is by its people, and the cast is definitely different here. They let go, put on a little weight, devote themselves to trash, drink too much. They go to parties that are one big parade of shekels, they begin to find irredeemably bad taste somehow charming, and then, inevitably, absolutely riveting. Standards begin to slide and a toll is taken. Upper bourgeoisie culture doesn't account for much in this sweaty Outpost of Uncivilization, this border town in another country, this land of lust and laughs. How long can it be before family man/big deal coutourier Versace, rendered insensible by one too many nights at Club Homo Romp, gives it all up and decides to do a ready-to-wear line for Sears? Or Mickey Rourke begins to think what-the-hell, maybe that besotted, punch drunk ex-fighter role on the Love 3Boat: The Saga Continues remake could really be a creative challenge?

The toll taken, the price paid, the discomfiting questions asked at five a.m.: "How can you do this to yourself?" But still, you find yourself actually wanting to go to Van Dome, just for the thrill of being disgusted. The my-world-and-you're-not-welcome-to-it brigade out front, and inside, a crowd little Shirley probably wouldn't have cared for much. People in cheap clothes. Pickup lines along the order of "I know you from New York, right?" Divorcees-gone-lesbian Realtors in tight dresses and major hair, trying to find themselves. An older guy arriving in a huge white stretch limo with a Jacuzzi in the trunk, three bleached blondes in tow, one of the entourage squealing, "Stanley, my veins are on fire." The rolling thunder glamarama revue taking off and alighting here, there, almost everywhere. Suzanne Bartsch's Easter parade at Warsaw. The opening of "Shelter" at Egoiste. Gary James using the Institute and, of all places, Penrod's and Deja Vu, for the remaining Avenue A parties of the season. (James has also just split with Mickey Rourke, who is no longer involved with The Spot. Rourke describes the falling out as "not amicable.") Receptions at The Booking Table and the new resolutely tasteful Hombre for photographer Bruce Weber, featured prominently in the recent Antenna. A party at Club Nu, designer and sport Ton Luyk in a loquacious mood: "I really laughed here a lot at one time. This place used to be full of chic people trying to be trashy and with it. But the royal boxes are empty now, and glamour has left the stage." The remarkably candid James St. James hanging out at Paragon, where he'd just been relieved of his duties as glamorous doorperson. (The putsch, apparently, also encompassed the dismissal of various drag dancers - the muscle queens have been kept on - and a greatly diminished role for promotions director Wendy Doherty.)

"I've just come from El Centro, you know, that weird place on the river? It's heaven. Those young Cuban boys all want to assimilate, and there's nobody more American than me.... Do you think I look like Baby Jane Hudson or Laura Dern? That's what people were calling me the other night at the door.... Oh, I'm sorry, this is Sergio - the biggest slut on the Beach. You should know this stuff.... Other people are negotiating for their jobs. I was told to just get the fuck out of here. Believe me, I've been thrown out of a lot better places than this."

Out and around, the streets packed with all manner of flotsam and jetsam. The artist talking to his dog, wrapped in gold lame a la Wegman's Man Ray, on Washington Avenue. The drunk college girl out on a noisy spree, happily screaming at her friends: "I don't know what I'm doing and I don't care." The German tourist trying to get into Le Loft with the lamest line imaginable, "Please, I know people in America." Tough times, offensive, disgusting, truly Miami, times that demand the return of old classics. Like, handily enough, Centro Espanol, interesting even when you don't have any particular interest in young Cuban boys. Lots of brave tinsel and glitter inside the battered bar, a picture of Ronald Reagan hanging on the wall, beaming like some munificent Third World dictator. The outdoor patio on the river, Heart of Darkness time, a procession of rotting hulks and Haitian freighters with names like God Is Able accented with colorful hand-painted scenes of the last supper. Owner Abdon Grau, explaining his management concept, advice that more mainstream clubs might well follow: "Keep it cheap and make everybody happy. I don't like lottery. I like work. Every day I make money, every day pay bills."

Major league atmosphere in a totally different country, gay and straight. Dancer and impresaria Mary Luft, whose Radio Cultura programs from the Sao Paulo Bienal will air this Friday on WLRN, wearing out an aging Latin roue on the dance floor. A friend from Newport, Rhode Island, doing a game cha-cha with somebody else. An editor we worked with at the London Sunday Times, talking about cultura central. A whole host of cozy associations come to mind: the drag comedian Barry Humphries, the Victoria & Albert museum, Channel Four; Martin Amis. The music cranks up a bit, the pace of the dance quickens, and everyone joins the whirl. London and the world of real civilization seems hopelessly far away, but it no longer matters. This moment in Miami - urgent, brilliant, overwhelming - is everything, and there's suddenly no reason to be anywhere else.

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