The dead zone of summer, fraying tempers and unfortunate behaviors, and yet the interior landscape somehow turns cheery, the system adapting to an inhospitable environment like a beast fighting for survival. To be both hot and depressed, after all, is to risk extinction. And so it's a policy of disengagement, letting go and embracing Lite philosophy: No one has a real grip, we each have our own private hells, and nothing human is foreign. No hope, no fear, and let tolerance reign, an approach that comes in handy on the late shift, when new best friends are simultaneously running attitude, angling for publicity, and throwing up on your shoes.

The new beatitude coming in handy with the Wire Barbs Awards at WPA, an Academy Awards of Clubs set in the Twilight Zone of South Beach High, obeying no known rules of logic or decorum. The old Beach pros hyped into an absurd tizzy, as if Elizabeth Taylor were presenting lifetime achievement awards for nightcrawling, everyone ready to thank the little people who made it all possible. The shock of the new sweeping the evening: a town of mysterious strangers, coming out of nowhere and riding a wave of gimmicks and hustles, winding up as celebrities in a week or two. In between bitterness seizures and negotiating flurries of promotional flyers, the veterans playing an existential party game, wondering which instant star might be the true antichrist, the hollow vessel whose meteoric rise had been fueled by a little help from Hell.

A host of perfectly nice people on hand as well, accepting the plaudits of the emcees A Andrew Delaplaine, Mother Kibble, overnight sensation Jody McDonald A the awards categories spanning the rich tapestry of nightlife. Best butt, male division, chirping like Sally Fields: "You like me, you really like me!" Adora getting the coveted best traditional drag queen award, her acceptance speech inspiring a frenzy among the drag paparazzi, Mother and Varla knocking each other over in the fray. The best female slut looking confused by all the catcalls greeting her late arrival, the real action coming with the contest for best male slut. A particularly heated carnival of bad taste, inspiring much ribaldry about glorious Flamingo Park high jinks, Delaplaine moaning from the podium: "Great God, have we all really sunk this low?"

Back on the high road, the best gay couple triumphing over the usual one-week-and-you're-over romantic scenario. From there, a volley of superlatives: best bar, best bartender, best drunk, best queen, best doorman A Twist's perfectly mannered Jon Delaney A the losers trying to be gracious, and as people will, remaining steeped in the deadly sap of their own vanity. Another columnist snaring the best-dressed honors, none of the remaining categories quite capturing our particular niche. Somehow a surprise people's-choice award not likely either, given the decidedly mixed vote of the public: initially hailed as the sort-of-cute idiot savant of journalism, then denounced in print as heterophobic and homophobic, an intellectual manque and grammatically convoluted wastrel, disagreeable and just plain bad for business. A thoroughly enjoyable evening despite the personal reflections, the gang winding down at Union Bar for "Bar Code," perky drag waiters and a leather-boy dancer on the bar, gently sodomizing himself with a beer bottle and offering sips to patrons. An off-putting spectacle for some, positively sick-making, but then, a swig or two -- it's only human -- might be in order.

Drinking deep from the dregs of life, the whirl blurring after a while, missing out on a slew of events. Alexis Ougrik's birthday party at Bash. A cocktail reception at the home of Dr. Frederic Brandt commemorating the first year of the Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS and its upcoming fundraising performance, The Acts of Hope. The debut of "Kill Yourself" at the Succubus Club in Coconut Grove, all gloom and doom, although the concept of dispensing razor blades at parties could catch on as a trend. Being a lazy philistine, the press of events -- fits of futility, a good television night -- also interfering with Kristin McCloy's appearance at Books & Books in Coral Gables, the noted Los Angeles-based author of Velocity reading from her new book, Some Girls. Naturally, managing to find time for a vigorous dinner party the following evening, McCloy bouncing around in the devil's playground, girl with an itch going straight to the point: "Let's have a few laughs and cut to the chase. We're all on deadline."

More parties, more clubs, tidbits trickling in steadily. Nikki Taylor, the noted model, making an interesting transition for the Nineties: pregnant at nineteen, in love with an arena football player, working as celebrity hostess on the new politically correct Lifestyles, formerly the slimy Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Madonna in town for her birthday celebrations with the usual you're-so-fabulous-Mo entourage; Mickey Rourke having his name removed from his own club, the place becoming XTC. Traveling further down the fame scale, two unseemly stories about female colleagues floating around. One misguided creature assuming herself sexworthy enough for complementary clothes from a visiting journalist. An icon-on-a-roll going ballistic over her boyfriend's dalliance, akin to Lana Turner's troubles with Johnny Stompanato, the ambassadress of goodwill dragging the shameless slut-receptionist out of a beauty salon for a warning lecture. Time to tighten up all around, the city bubbling with major weirdness in the heat. Strange days, pretty much defined by a recent encounter with a drunken frat boy, walking up to us in Club Angst and spewing moral relativity: "Rules mean nothing, right? And morality is shit. It's all just a way to stop people from having fun."

Actually, in our experience, people in Miami would stay hell-bent on a good time in the midst of a blitzkrieg: Sex and money make the party, and the tide of recent nightlife history, blood flowing in the streets from all the failed establishments, has barely dampened the fun. Our week enlivened by an encouraging letter from "The Art Fairy," sending along a quote from Henry Miller, eerily capturing Miami: "To walk in money through the night crowd, protected by money, lulled by money, pulled by money, the crowd itself a money, the breath money, no least single object anywhere that is not money. Money, money everywhere and still not enough...." Our correspondent going on to rue the desecration of development, promote his money-theme installation at Dune, and make a curious call to arms: "Get up a political action group to SAVE THE CLUBS! Save the Artists! Keep them cool! Stay cool!

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Tom Austin