Swelter 7

In a world without distinctions, nothing, save for television, seems real any more, and given the prevailing moral weather, nothing is impossible. Grade-Z celeb Kato Kaelin becomes obscenely rich as well as absurdly famous with an enormous book advance. Former all-American sweetheart Nancy Kerrigan steals another's woman's husband, proving to be on a just-us-girls level with Tonya Harding, as Harding runs moral attitude, turning down a cameo in a Woody Allen movie. Parent slayer Lyle Menendez, in The Private Diary of Lyle Menendez, concedes that he might have overreacted. The sinister O.J. Simpson winds up as just another celebrity icon in a children's game. Everything is permitted, nothing is clean or private, and in the end it's all about ratings.

Out of the house, reluctantly leaving the baleful screen of horrors in the living room, sucked back into the docudramas of South Beach. Off to a promising start with the first anniversary celebrations for the Pelican Hotel, another ornament in the very trendy, very Italian Diesel fashion empire, much stylistic agitation onboard for the DIFFA benefit. A hired ambulance and blood transfusion device out front A hook me up now, Scotty A models in Diesel sunglasses dancing and prancing in the sexual iconography of naughty-nurse uniforms, all exposed bras, white stockings, and garter belts, the girls playfully handcuffing a Beach cop and dispensing candy in paper pill cups. Very clever stuff, fit for a Diesel layout, the advertising team, as it happens, currently shooting the 1996 campaign in Miami. Publicist-celebrity supporter John Walter, the viable face of Los Angeles, materializing with some visiting executives A Maurizio Marchiori, Danilo Durante A and then disappearing in a sea of overly familiar faces, synapse-shattering music, and models without portfolio. Naturally, a deranged publicity seeker, suffering from drug addiction, brain fever, and bad manners, demolishing the evening in one fell swoop. On our last encounter, number-one fan doing a frat boy-gay bar circa 1978 number, painfully tweaking our nipples at an elegant private reception. In honor of another grand affair, Mr. Trash planting a sloppy kiss on our lips. Enough already.

Into the breach again the following night, Max's South Beach hosting a dinner for Michael Gross, of Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women, not a particularly popular book in a town supercharged by the debauchery and fashion industries. The party infested by media, but strangely model-free, the local talent pool boycotting a Judas in their midst. And people say South Beach lacks principles. An overlong book, offering reams of provocative, dark-side material -- the cult of heroin, fifteen-year-olds pimped out by lecherous agency owners, self-destruction via self-immersion -- the guest of honor sliding in and out of focus and relevancy. Gross alternating between "good sound bites," unctuousness ("Oh, I've heard all about you"), and deep conversational congress with his model-or-bust companion, the leper king no doubt researching Model II. Hypocrisy, thy name is sex, the woman strictly lower phylum stuff in the Beach food chain, of a feminine genus no self-respecting celebrity would normally be associated with. But then it's not a beautiful book about a beautiful business.

Another ugly night in the fractured district cesspool, a plenitude of nonjournalists around for no apparent reason, most notably a drunken wreck, all decolletage and harlotry. Miss Thing threatening to take off her blouse, while descending on a couple of male victims, any breathing non-Martian man pretty much deemed suitable, and all in all, doing her part to keep the offensiveness quotient at a steady level. Ever the professional, staring down the stray psychotic -- let someone hang around long enough, and they'll eventually piss you off -- and desperately clinging to the pleasant. A spiritual accord struck with Tara Solomon, of all people, Solomon scheduled to read her college poetry at Bicycle Beach Cafe later on: "They wanted something more recent, but I've numbed myself to all emotion -- except, of course, for hate." Exactly, our own mood turning positively stinky, braying across the table about social-climbing models and moral matters ("So, you're married, right?") while inadvertently plunging a temporarily happy companion into a terminal slough of despond. At that point, contentedly moving on to other theaters of pain: Our work had been done there.

Nestled in spite, gathering strength and venom, sliding back into the fray with limited-engagement skirmishes on Lincoln Road. Hometown cheesecake pioneer Bunny Yeager at Books & Books, climbing to T&A immortality with her glossy retrospective of great pinups past, Bunny's Honeys, former model Brigitte Worman on hand to represent the historical continuum of sex appeal -- if you've got it, keep flaunting it, or risk deep freeze. On to the Lincoln Road Cafe, a group of all-too-hot lads agog over the foam party at Warsaw -- the cult of cruising, rimming, and coming on a dance floor-cum-bathhouse -- ready to embrace Armageddon like the Branch Davidians at Waco. Some deeply engrossing eavesdropping interrupted by a walking, talking mess who should be shot and put out of her misery. The demented creature, whom we initially confronted at a tony reception -- lobbing olives as a kind of stupendously nonerotic overture -- straddling the interdisciplinary sexual frontier: Working as an artist, part-time publicist, and, according to a handyman acquaintance, moonlighting as a "totally shaved" stripper. Nice work if you can get it.

An unsavory publicity pitch, followed by the usual twinge of nonexistential nausea, fleeing the She Beast for a reconnaissance mission. Real estate agents, the new Beach noblemen, drooling over the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses property, the congregation allegedly making a tidy earthly profit on the sale of their church. Dinner amid the nostalgic splendors of Embers, a reprieve from modern insanity under an array of vintage publicity photos, staying in character with hearty steak-and-potatoes fare rather than picking through the New American cuisine selections. Back to the office on Sunday night, strolling past gay cult figure Sandra Bernhard at Pacific Time, missing the festivities attendant to a group of homosexual journalists from Europe, brought in by the City of Miami Beach to promote the new Mykonos.

With all the choreographic coincidences of Busby Berkeley, an unbelievably perky television producer calling from London -- dear God, a cry for help from across the waters -- the BBC coming to town this weekend to film segments for a gay and lesbian newsmagazine show. An hour or so on the phone, for free, hooking up a series of local candidates for the "Ideal Homo," profiles of the velveteen mafia and their homes. No remuneration attached, alas, except for international glamour cooperation and a planned invoice to the Miami Beach city fathers for our continuing efforts as a goodwill ambassador at large. Here at command headquarters, charm, the most critical human virtue, still counts for something.

Charm, of the golden youth school, turning a tad twisted at a dinner party, a bright young thing full of tales from Los Angeles. Naturally, O.J. Simpson, everyone's favorite obsession, leading the charge: "One of my friends -- she's seventeen -- went out with him, and he got her to do coke and everything. He liked her, was nice to her, but her parents weren't too happy A they had to take her out of town." And then table conversation coming to a standstill at the mention of Erik Menendez ("not the one with the hairpiece"), our fellow guest visiting Menendez in jail regularly. Rather absorbing material, the visits presented in a casual, strenuously hip manner, parenticide reduced to an amusing anecdote: "He's nice A although it wasn't nice when he went back and reloaded A very intelligent and intellectual: Reading a lot of Ayn Rand, doing a science fiction novella, writing poems, and composing music. He's also working on a documentary movie about his life. Erik's a spoiled rich boy, but you can't judge him."

All of us leaping on her, judging at once, the brave face of the future remaining equitable, defending situational ethics from a curious moral position: "His mother locked him in a closet and made him play tennis, or whatever, and his father abused him. But he couldn't leave; he wanted the money, and he was going to be disinherited.... Let's face it, L.A. is a great place to get away with murder.... It wasn't me or my parents he killed, it has nothing to do with me...." And on it goes, the creeping of the void, all of us floating loose from every mooring, rushing toward the blank expanse of infinity.

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Tom Austin