Nightlife, one long forced march, the troops ever conscious of misstepping, a prance into the oblivion of darkness. An obstacle course fraught with tension and peril; to stumble, even momentarily, is to be devoured by the juggernaut of attitude. In any epoch, the in-crowd tends to be unforgiving and pitiless, but the modern world truly tests the mettle of the fun brigade. The friendly fire of gossip, the scams and hustles, the eternal lure of drink and drugs, the capricious whims of judgment. To step off the merry-go-round, to take a breather and regroup, is to risk social suicide. Stop going out for a week and everyone thinks you're dead, or worse yet, totally over. Go out too much and you're nothing but an outdated cartoon character stuck in eternal reruns, hapless and unhip, a leper of the wrong social caste. No hope, no fear, no real friends, and your place in the ecosystem is never, ever, completely assured. But then, people do need other people, at least as witnesses to their own supreme glamour, which unfortunately entails getting out of the house A always something of a dicey proposition.

Clubs, in particular, having an uncanny ability to be heavenly one moment, hellish the next, with alternating bouts of anxiety and boredom. Sort of like a regular job with lax personnel regulations, smoking, drinking, tardiness, and sexual harassment not only encouraged, but virtually compulsory. The first requirement, as with normal employment, simply showing up and pretending a semblance of polite interest.

Pride Expo '93 weekend, a celebration of modern gay life, a long way from Noel Coward and Cole Porter smirking along to "Mad About the Boy." The civic portion of the expo, a South Pointe Park rally and "candlelight vigil of reflection and hope" A sponsored by Hotter'N'Hell, Warsaw, and the cliched club nectar of choice for the fitness obsessed, Miller Lite A leading inevitably to less uplifting entertainments. "Girls in the Night" throwing a gay pride block party on top of the parking garage off Lincoln Road, the girls and boys dancing and cavorting, lost in an ecstatic sweat under the stars. "G-Spot" at Le Loft already cranked up, Paragon introducing a new Tuesday night theme party, "Flamingo Park." The charm of lust in the bushes, with all the comforts of air-conditioning and full bar service.

Our own nod to expo fever, appropriately enough, nothing but a fractious tumble through various low dives, utterly without redeeming values. An ephebe dousing himself with mouth spray ("Numbs the palate for fellatio, darling"), full of piss and vinegar, thinking, as people will, the worst of others and the best of himself. Yet another lost club girl, tugging at our sleeve like a hungry urchin, already beyond it all: "I'm so tired of everybody talking about how fabulous they are." A guitarist and ex-David Bowie associate taking the long view on the truly hip Bowie: "He's stopped questioning things; Iman made him give up all that meaning-of-life stuff. He was never gay, either; it was just the fashionable thing at the time."

On to slightly more seemly, quasifashionable pleasures. Tony's on the Beach opening in the Netherland on Ocean Drive, the celebrity-clogged Rossano Ferretti Hair Salon kicking off in Coral Gables, Tommy Pooch planning assorted unseemliness at this week's Tuesday night Cassis party. The Butthole Surfers playing Bayfront Park Amphitheater, a vast spectrum of the X-generation gathered together, band members Paul Leary and Jeff Pinkus claiming to be two regular "pretty boring guys," looking forward to sleep and maybe a little snorkeling.

The social rounds bringing on the usual headaches and news bites, the fourth estate reduced to pecking over all too local turf, ferreting out unsatisfying little morsels. The French conquest of the district rolling along, Amnesia trying to establish a colonial outpost on lower Collins Avenue, a group from St. Tropez looking around, as well. Mr. Trend Central himself, Brian McNally of the Royalton and other hipster venues, briefly touring South Beach with developer Chris Blackwell and fueling more real estate rumors: "I've missed all the fun down there. I hadn't been in Miami since a trip, three or four years ago now, with Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager. Quite a lot of changes since then. Chris is doing interesting things and Ian seems really excited about the Delano. All the other New Yorkers rushing down there has kind of deterred me from doing something, although Schrager's project should encourage quality, make the future more like SoHo and less like Bleecker Street."

Van Dome pitching another onslaught of post-SoHo evenings out into the void, the consolation of brave new world entrees like "rhum and pepper painted grouper with a mango-scotch bonnet mojo" definitely taking the sting out of life. Between mouthfuls, encountering everyone from Boy George to Adolfo Donati of Le Cirque magazine to a New York electrician ("Guys would do a six-pack and a couple of doobies at lunch, then work the beams on skyscrapers") and local legends: "Honey, I know where all the bodies are buried in this town, and they're all in shallow graves." Eclectic entertainment themes carried out again this Friday night, the club hosting a cocktail party for South Florida magazine's special Cuba issue, Bacardi-sponsored Cuba libres and Emilio San Pedro of WLRN on the turntables. The issue pretty much covering all the bases A art, sports, fashion, business, and politics A with Eric Newell documenting the new Cuba chic, Pat Booth on mythic coffee, Tama Janowitz interviewing Paige Powell about the plight of abandoned Havanese dogs.

Editor Glenn Albin noting that the theme issue began with the Janowitz piece, eventually coming to include assorted aspects of Cuban culture and the entire sociopolitical gamut, "neo-Stalinists to ultraconservatives who consider William F. Buckley a commie." Castro's fall, of course, having enormous geopolitical repercussions, Albin and the rest of the social world also dazzled by the prospect of a brand-new nightlife mecca A cheap, undeveloped, rife with pure possibility: "The pioneers who founded South Beach are going to be attracted to Havana. It's dark, dangerous, really wild, with a corrupt city government, rundown real estate, old people with accents. Just like the Beach used to be. Cubans are the sexiest people on earth; they love to dance and go out. You can taste the potential for nightlife there. It'll be a good place for the restless to move on to, another Dodge City to cultivate.

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Tom Austin