Miami, the town that care remembered, but somehow neglected to worry about, allowing the subjects of Babylon to cavort with the abandonment of wayward Olympians. "Pops in the Park," the New World Symphony's gala dinner dance at the Omni Hotel, the upper classes in the throes of decorous merriment. The ballroom done up in enormous Sixties-style Styrofoam flowers, a retro tribute to the star attraction, singer Judy Collins, appearing in concert with the symphony. In the foyer, the pop culture theme extending to kicky prole-land hors d'oeuvres -- hot dogs, fried chicken, and other varieties of real American cuisine, painfully reminiscent of a largely caviar- and champagne-free family background. Camp is all a matter of perspective.

An interesting group, though, the essential ingredient to any successful party: gala co-chairmen Virginia and Oscar Bustillo of Republic National Bank, Carolyn Miller of Riteway Realty, Barry Gibb, and grand benefactors Lin and Ted Arison, flying in from Israel for the festivities. Lin Arison beaming with the success of their recent "Miami: See-it-like-a-priviliged-person-tour," bringing in an assembly of the titled and generally blessed, the symphony's International Council of Benefactors, with everyone from Madame Jacqueline Folliet to Marchesa Madeda Mina di Sostiro to Stanley Zabar of food fame. Ted Arison, as ever, having other places to go, worrying about missing the plane back to Israel that night. Both Arisons good-naturedly laughing at someone's remark about privately owned 727s normally waiting for their owners. In the great battle of ballroom society, unlike the tournament-of-hunchbacks social skirmishes of downtown, people can afford to be pleasant.

A series of pointed encounters leading to a few words backstage with the very elegant Judy Collins ("I go where they tell me and I'm happy to be here. Actually, I'm glad to be almost anywhere....") and then she's on-stage, in perfect harmony with the accomplished New World Symphony orchestra, leading the audience down the murky roads of nostalgia. The crowd a long way from their Beatnik/Flower Child days, but still gooey over "Chelsea Morning" -- the Bill Clinton/dawn of an even gentler America theme song -- and actually singing along to "Amazing Grace," the anthem of countless civil rights and peace marches. Woodstock for the monied set, the poetry of the words ("How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me/I once was lost but now I'm found") vying with rather jarring surroundings, a faintly absurd yet oddly touching tableau.

The spirit of grace finds its way to the strangest places.
Back to the terror dome of South Beach, less-than-celestial beings flocking to Les Bains for the "Angel in the Sky" costume contest, lured by the prospect of a free trip to Paris and an august panel of judges, including Maguy Le Coze of Brasserie Le Coze, all cheek kisses and rampant goodwill; Pierre Kervennal of the French consulate; and a last-minute replacement for Rony Seikaly, one incorrigibly American but eager-to-serve social columnist. A prejudging dinner beforehand at The Strand, marveling over the cost of chi-chi clubbing in France, sobering $25 drinks and hefty cover charges. The usual delusional fantasizing setting in gradually, glorious dreaming of an evening of glamour with our colleagues: the haggling over nuances, the excitement building as Price Waterhouse tallies the final ballot, the final gravely rendered judgment.

Some great costumes at the party, the trio dressed as the starlets from Charlie's Angels a particular standout, but it's all over in a Paris minute. The artist Don Shearer a hands-down winner as a human chandelier/Christ figure, an extension of his "spirtuality in a world of darkness" aesthetic concerns. Shearer dazed by good fortune, naturally enough. The prospect of an escape to Paris making the immediate world -- the frenzy of renown-seekers, the bargain-basement flower arrangement at Flowers & Flowers named in our honor, the no-doubt upcoming celeb sandwich at Wolfie's -- seem, by comparison, excruciatingly small change.

Moving on to a series of entertainments of widely varying scope. A 250th anniversary party for Champagne Moet & Chandon at the appropriately ancient Spanish monastery in North Miami Beach. "Love Muscle," the new Thursday-night/Sunday tea dance at Byblos, debuting with all due pageantry: revolving drag shows, Kitty Meow working the door astride a Harley, hosts Ty Bassett and Peter Maguire looking ahead to a glorious boy-meets-boy future. Family day at Parrot Jungle, one of our favorite refuges in Miami, a Gucci-mom explaining the subtle distinction between crocodiles and alligators to her young apprentice in rich-white-lady land: "One is a handbag, one is a pair of shoes." The Biltmore Hotel, fresh from the rent-a-celeb opening of their new spa, attended by everyone from "Downtown" Julie Brown to soap star Robin Strasser, hosting a casting session for hopelessly precocious children, one five-year-old lad actually asking about the "look" required for his shot at commercial glory.

Plenty of slightly older and even more look-obsessed narcissuses at STARS, gathering together for the Avenue A "AMAZON FRIDAYS" debut, a partial fundraiser for model/hostess Megan, recently saddled with hospital debts. An Untitled fashion show A featuring the work of everyone from Vivienne Westwood to John Richmond, a topless model for added punch A as a late-night divertissement. Actor/party beast David Keith clambering on top of a banquette, like a peasant storming the Bastille, bent on maximizing the available pleasure quotient. Jim Morrison rambling about the "palace of exile" over the sound system, the always affable Lissette and Willy Chirino contentedly taking in the madness, Chirino noting: "We have six kids and we don't get out much. Are clubs on South Beach always like this?" Julie Starker of the boutique Untitled, a happy refugee from England, at peace in the land of fun and sun: "It's wonderful here. In England the people don't even realize how depressed they are. There should be a revolution or something."

Winding down the evening with a depressing last-call drink at one club or another, graceless, wretched, totally lost. Far gone in reverie and drink, recalling a time of seeming limitlessness, when we flew on private planes and went to houses with marble bathrooms as big as our apartment. The wave of self-pity interrupted by a hissing drag queen ("That's my foot, you drunk bitch") and a club rat's uniquely Miami-style monologue, all about the angst of having it all: "Where do you go when you get in wherever you want, when you've been everywhere and done everything? I'm so bored and disgusted. It's a dark and ugly forest out here, and believe me, you have to be strong to survive.

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Tom Austin