Another dream of the night, another chaotic cesspool of delights, diversions, and close encounters of the unfortunate kind, the past, present, and future jelling into a tortured narrative, a monologue of narcissism and hurt, the cheap melodramas of darkness. You take a beating out here every day, but the pros eventually learn to shrug off debasement A rather like a Labrador shaking off water after a dip in a tainted pond A and keep an eye on the horizon. A dance before the precipice, playing the politics of status, gossip, and celebrity, wrenching a semblance of pleasure from every circumstance, even ones that, like certain alien atmospheres, lack the necessary elements to be tolerable. Miami, a million people, a hundred stories, the cast of characters holding on in a vast popularity contest, fighting for recognition and the right to make a beautiful dollar.

The making-a-living degradation tour commencing at the Raleigh hotel in the pitiless glare of a hot afternoon, mobilizing for a spectacularly unproductive stint of stalking new fame fodder. Barton G. staging a poolside fashion show for the production of Up Close and Personal, the movie's principal stars, Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer, running late on another location and never materializing for the Disney-does-South Beach tableau. An appetizing prospect of fresh celebrity blood, as well as an interesting story line: Pfeiffer, playing an ambitious television reporter, breaches the no-romances-please protocol of office life with Redford's character, a station owner and mentor, and then suffers various travails -- like, say, having to report on fashion shows.

Having interviewed Up Close co-screenwriter John Gregory Dunne several months ago, naturally eager to witness traces of his inspiration A the late Jessica Savitch A and various hometown candidates for immortalization, Sally Fitz among others, naturally coming to mind. And then there's our own poignant story. A principled, slightly naive idealist, tarred, marred, and driven to derangement by the limbo dance of trash talk, the how-low-can-you-go routine of inflicting journalistic abortions on a recalcitrant public. Juicy stuff, ripe for commercial exploitation, and after all, the personal story -- for each and every one of us -- is so compelling, perhaps the only thing that really matters.

The real world of John Q. Public, taking in three consecutive opening parties for S.O.B.'s, co-owners Neil Cohen and Larry Gold down from their New York City headquarters, the local programming plans ranging from jazz greats to the fabulous-disaster-that-is-Deborah-Harry. Despite assorted logistical difficulties, S.O.B.'s serving as an valiant effort to raise the general tone of local nightlife, something to be encouraged rabidly. The second night celebrations featuring all the usual VIPs: musicians, club cubs, errant professionals, and, here and there, the valid. Some very chirpy, very trendy hipsters from a Japanese magazine ("This city has lots of fun, yes?") doing a breaking chic report about the district, a French television crew set to arrive this weekend. If it's all over, as the dark whispers of doom suggest, the international community may be the last to hear the news.

Happily enough, the usual speculations about the whimsies of fortune interrupted by the full-scale assault of Miss Kitty, one of those delightful older Beach ladies A baroque, flamboyant, tough as nails A who somehow cling on amid the new order. Miss Kitty, a former theatrical agent now living in the Clevelander hotel, keeping busy in retirement and writing some 4000 erotic poems, coming out shortly with a collection titled A Modicum of Erotica. All of her work, apparently, too hot for newsprint, even this horny town column, both of us having a grand old spicy time. The poetess of erotic traveling with a stupendously buxom exotic dancer, hailing from the empire of the enhanced, the Kittian world-view making the evening worthwhile: "Of course she's not my muse; that's my muse, that man over there with another woman." Times change, but the keening chill of desire stays the same -- at fifteen, fifty, or one hundred years old -- inviolate and preordained as the passing of seasons, rank and unfathomable as the primordial ooze.

Back to S.O.B's the next night for the hyperofficial opening with Celia Cruz, missing the American Suicide Foundation benefit at the Virtua Cafe: the idea of nullifying a virtual-reality existence, leaving this mortal coil behind, all too tempting. The concert downright stately, lots of older Latin couples and such, the standard suspects not exactly swarming the place. After our last St. Celia encounter some years back, a dangerously crowded if energetic air lock at Warsaw, the shakedown cruise coming as a pleasant surprise, in accordance with a recent apostasy A dance clubs kill A and a waning taste for the insane frissons of decadence. A nice enough evening, actually, nattering around the edges and falling into conversation ("It's a cozy little place over here now, like Mayberry with an attitude") with Mike Matthes, reminiscing about the old Coral Gables days. One of our own, Rafael Navarro -- not your typical freelance writer -- getting married a while back with all due pomp at Plymouth Congregational Church in Coconut Grove, Claire Bloom reading appropriate romantic sentiments at the ceremony.

From there, trolling through nightlife alumni and rumor land -- Yuca apparently looking to open on Lincoln Road -- and taking in Cruz's show, one of the wonders of Miami. Who do that voodoo like you do, the first lady of salsa and psychic hotlines dolled up in a glittering gown and post-Tina Turner wig. A classic trouper in every sense of the word, plugging every El Nuevo Herald reporter in attendance ("I need to keep my name in the paper") and covering all the musical bases, from the Gipsy Kings to the classics: "Let them burn him, let him cook in his own juice." Hell hath no fury like a legend on a roll, and with any luck, we'll still be around in our seventies, churning out all the news that's not fit to print.

Home alone on Saturday night, bliss beyond measure. The supermodel Vendela receiving the Audrey Hepburn Humanitarian Rose Award at Glam Slam and hosting a Hepburn-inspired fashion show: a far cry from ordinary model district pageants, normally the equivalent of wet T-shirt/skin-to-win contests. Weary of the whirl, taking a high-road jaunt to Books & Books in Coral Gables, Bradford Morrow reading from his new novel, Trinity Fields, a nicely rendered tale of assorted national horrors. Struck dumb, yet again, by the local underground, the quirky, atavistic, right-thinking moles who actually read real books. Hopefully, our own Dostoyevskian opus in progress, a searing indictment of America's dark underbelly, will become a cult rage among supermodels and six-footers. Morrow, bless him, slightly cheerier than Ethan Canin, the star attraction on our last visit to culture central. A young, good-looking doctor who managed to earn literary acclaim with Emperor of the Air in his spare time, Canin bleak beyond belief, a novelist after our own heart: "I can't bear to read my work after it's published; each word, every sentence, fills me with shame and loathing." But then we've all had that experience in one way or another.

Switching tracks to the evil empire of television, Ivana Trump and the Donald doing Pizza Hut commercials, a friend hailing the former Mrs. Trump as the "Madonna of Palm Beach -- she shows up everywhere, people make a fuss, and she'll sell anything. Even a jeanswear collection now, although she doesn't wear them. Of course they're lined with silk -- Ivana also doesn't wear underwear." Another squandered evening gaping at the boob tube, all lathered up for a Hard Copy profile of South Beach, having been interviewed and handsomely rewarded for some ruminations regarding the culture of renown. Alas, the segment taking a sex-rules approach instead, focusing on our second favorite gene pool -- the young, attractive, and anonymous -- celebrity pioneer Mickey Rourke, God help us all, serving as a voice of spiritual authority: "I'm trying to stay away from South Beach and get back my soul; you can really get lost down here." If Rourke's given up on this town, the apocalypse may well be at hand.

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Tom Austin