To the ancients life was short and brutish, but the simplistic scheme of existence must have been a great consolation: functional clothing beyond the tyranny of fashion, a jolly fire, the occasional slab of meat and cup of mead. Sex, before the Victorian era, was generally straightforward and properly primal, a matter of procreation and working off steam on quiet evenings. A handful of people were rightfully renowned for epic accomplishments and not for their recreational pursuits, speculation about private lives considered unfit for polite conversation. The modern Zeitgeist, however, demands that every exalted personage A from Pablo Picasso to the President A be reduced to fodder for a postmodern pathology lab, subject to the pitiless probing of deconstruction and posthumous dissection. Dead or alive, no one is safe; the human mystery has become nothing but a we're-all-dysfunctional theme park. Too many people are famous, blatantly rich and privately miserable, given to unfortunate peccadilloes and ugly personal habits, Hollywood morality pervading the middle classes like a plague. The fountain of filth that is the modern world has come to embrace the universe, past and present, and the tide can no longer be turned back.

In tune with the Zeitgeist, descending to new depths of professional degradation lately and resolving to take the moral high road. Tempted by the devil of tabloid journalism, but ultimately passing on a juicy item about a very famous child falling into the potentially sinister clutches of Madonna and company. Studiously missing an opportunity to crash an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and possibly witness Jennifer Capriati A the Drew Barrymore of tennis A the too much, too soon girl fleeing the looming specter of addiction, fame, and money. All three elements, as it happens, contributing to the cruel omega point of pussy power, forever ruling the Earth like a vengeful despot. From desperate teenagers in Cuba selling themselves for a bar of soap to deluded models preying on the powerful in hopes of major pay dirt, it's all the same filthy business. A city for sale, volunteer Heidi Fleiss-types orchestrating the eternal alliance of money and sex, providing amenable beauties for fame-fueled dinner parties, the neo-Fagins rewarded when the sex kittens bring profitable celebrities into their establishments. One hand then sullies another, Celebrity X lobbed out to the press -- a lowly but integral element in the pimp ecosystem -- the club growing ever more popular with the workings of publicity. Always a pleasure to be of service to the nightlife industry.

An unpleasant task requiring a staunch stomach, the city not likely to become any more palatable with the arrival of the big time. Super Bowl next January, the royalty of America -- football team owners -- convening this week at Fisher Island. Sly Stallone dazzling every known local politician at his lavish house party, Planet Hollywood paying retail in a town where judges sell out for free lunches. Dueling agendas at work, as always, a proposed film studio possibly entailing public property on Key Biscayne, now a daycare camp for juvenile delinquents. Efforts also under way to privatize the golden block of Brickell Avenue and erect a manned gate at the entrance to the street, the notorious gay cruising ground A Alice Wainwright Park A proving to be an irksome problem. The cost-conscious Madonna living right next door to the dark side of her fan pool, but unwilling to spend serious money (unlike Stallone) on the neighborhood-security nightmare. The let's-all-be-good-neighbors aesthetic extending beyond the heady environs of Fame Boulevard, the city fathers apparently bribing God himself for a miraculous interlude of cool weather and opulent please-love-us Pow Wow parties.

Our own social calender scaling back considerably, a slow week sustained by tidbits and sweet memories from Planet of Horrors. Cindy Crawford, sans husband Richard Gere, flirting with lesbian chic while taking out a we're-not-gay advertisement in the august London Times. Michael Jackson, the icon of perversion, staying at Donald Trump's house during a house-shopping tour: They're not gay either. Three different homosexuals, normally an infallible source for gossip accreditation, raving about actress Angelica Huston running out of Twist, all in a lather over some delectable blonde bombshell. The definitely heterosexual Robert De Niro tooling around town with a local flyer girl-turned-model, in accordance with his customary refined tastes: young, black, and beautiful. A flurry of missed cellular connections with the very pleasant supermodel/television personality Daisy Fuentes, hosting an installment of "Beach MTV" in the district of lust, the show including such uplifting vignettes as "Beach Bod" and "Call of the Wild." The era of aloof sexuality and true glamour collapsing overnight with the death of canonized courtesan Jackie Onassis, an acquaintance in New York receiving a hand-delivered invitation to the funeral of the decade and commenting on Jackie's adeptness at the genteel art of fellatio. The clean-living and truly hip Christian Slater, cheery about the mating rituals of yearling Hollywood: "It could be spring fever, or something that got released in the air after the earthquakes. Or maybe just a reality check: I'm nineteen and married -- what the hell am I going to do now?"

The where-did-our-life-go-wrong marathon marked by several sobering public appearances, rife with longing and creeping surrealism. Celebrities lending their plate-signing patronage, if not their actual presence, for the Design Industries Foundation for AIDS gala at Pacific Time, an irate onlooker railing at a pleasant assemblage of benefactors: "Give your money to me, I'm a drag queen with AIDS A I need makeup." Former sex kitten/C-level celebrity Sheila E. performing at Stephen Talkhouse, refusing to be engaged or photographed, comedian Paul Rodriguez somewhat less persnickety. The likable visionary Amir Amor working on a one-nighter called "Celebrity," featuring appearances by impersonators of well-known personalities: "The concept is kind of cheesy, but really cool, too." Sliding into other disses and delights A evil children screaming "faggot" on Washington Avenue, a brief tour of the upcoming nightclub "The Ruins" A and eventually winding up in Les Bains with a pitiful playboy from New Jersey. Our new best friend futilely dangling an enormous jeroboam of Cristal champagne before wayward girls, both of us mournfully watching a famous pussy hound, blissful in the City of Women. Carnality everywhere at once, a negotiating tool for status and power, deadly and oddly joyless. But it's still the only game in town, and people with full sex lives -- for now at least -- live without regret.

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Tom Austin