Swelter 9

And so there we lurk on an unfathomably hot Saturday evening, at play with the Brothers Gibb on N. Bay Road for "The Gypsy Party," another installment of the Miami social waltz, a dance on the precipice between heaven and hell. The Rangoon-like air clutching the throat like an evil alien presence, Biscayne Bay still as a fetid mill pond. On the flip side of the social equation, Robin and Dwina Gibb throwing a first-rate invitation to madness, all costumed revelers and steamy pleasures. As a big-ticket AIDS benefit, the gathering necessarily lacking the punch of our last Gibbian frolic, a Western hoedown theme party with drag queens and a hired petting zoo, the late Varla screaming obscenities and throwing up on stage before the children of privilege. But then, unlike last year's drags-and-delirium skirmish, we didn't have to crash this time around.

Like most charitable affairs, the party gathering strength slowly, taking some time and liquor to reach a proper plateau of frenzy. Round one, the march-of-validity entrance -- somehow, crashing seems more fun -- the front lawn adorned with fortunetellers, silver-painted mimes, belly dancers, and complimentary Mardi Gras beads for those who, like us, couldn't quite get something Gypsy festive together. Out back by the bay, more accessories to the engine of charity: a tasty buffet by Catering; the Gypsies from Avignon, France; salutes to producers Gary E. Keating and Donna Serpe, along with benefactors such as Kenny Scharf of the Scharf Schop. The unsinkable Michael Aller, born to the job of emcee-auction chairman ("Come on, girls -- these are Bill Cosby's favorite pajamas"); Dwina Gibb, a true sweetheart, extolling a very important cause; Dr. Paula Sparti and her T-cell research work at the nonprofit Immunology and Retrovirology Research Institute. The official portion of the evening steadily ebbing amid the obligatory drag show, one errant cross-dresser summing up the Beach credo of conduct: "We'll do anything for attention."

In between assaults on the slightly cooler porch, everyone primed for a little Tennessee Williams-style wackiness, pleasant encounters interposed with rude remarks, harsh suggestions, and the local manifest destiny of vulgarity. Dwina's cause bringing out, out, out a sizable contingent of prominent lesbians, a rare treat indeed. Posing with the girls for photo ops, one veteran agog by the sexual equation: "You're missing the real story, all these straight women going lesbian tonight." And really, who could blame them? The Gibb boys, Miami's pioneer celebrity neighbors, uniformly amiable, Maurice Gibb taking the long view: "You get to dress like a dick for a good cause, have a bit of fun. We use this house for record industry parties, have people come by boat and everything. It's all about PR, really."

And all about staying alive, the Gibbian musical oeuvre bringing back coke-clogged visions of the Mutiny Hotel era -- sniff, sniff, oh what a relief it was -- dancing to the second coming of the Bee Gees, the tragedy of doing the how-deep-is-your-lust boogie with companions who are still around for the "Cop Killer" era. It's been a long strange trip, another road-kill social run taking a truly bizarre detour with Roy and Lea Black. The noted legal commentator, defender of the Kennedy family and civilian-killers, wearing an earring and a ponytail for the occasion, hewing to the new-fun-wife program.

An interesting courtship, what with Lea having the good luck to serve on the William Kennedy Smith jury in Palm Beach as an unattached woman, and then dropping in on the defense victory celebrations, going from conservative clothes and hairbuns to off-duty glamourwear, big hair, and goodwill kisses aplenty. The Blacks last encountered at Gianni Versace's palace, trying to sneak upstairs for a peak at the private chambers. Bless her brassy soul, a natural-born Miami gal to the core, the driving force of Roy Black's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Laughs transformation: "I wanted to see the whole house that night, photograph it for ideas, and they took away my camera. We're restoring our home in Coral Gables and we have the samelook at our place. It's 10,000 square feet -- talk about the money pit." Lea sweeping off in a force field of sex appeal and money, misconstruing our comment about fate granting her the proper jury in life: "That's right -- thanks to me, Willie's free." Staying on forever, sticking around for more liberating drinks in the aftermath, listening to a young man's dissipated laments: "It's a drunk world -- thank God I have a trust fund."

Overleveraged socially, retreating to the house built on tenuous credit and the noble work of gossip. Icon-maker Steven Meisel down for an idyll in the off-season. The Birds of a Feather production -- featuring Nathan Lane and Robin Williams -- filming shortly at the Raleigh Hotel, MTV's The Grind wrapping up at the hotel. At Glam Slam, the former Prince reduced to hiring attractive crowd extras for a video shoot. The Investigative Reporters and Editors national conference in town this past weekend, talking of this and that: the attitude fall of former Scud stud Arthur Kent; a local newscaster's case of the disappearing dildo; Pete Hamill's cure for writer's block -- regular naps -- and the major money spent on Prime Time's award-winning expose of Medicare fraud, the crew getting mugged in Liberty City and paying elderly undercover agents $900 dollars a day. We're definitely in the wrong business.

Chastened by finance, slipping back on the time line of the social whirl, a chiaroscuro of private soirees unfolding in the memory. Another time, another flight from the sober void of existence, Israel Sands of Flowers & Flowers helpfully clueing us in to a cozy gathering on the Venetian Islands, our first encounter with the exquisitely mannered Beatrice de Borbon, the Duchess of Seville. Rolling in late with a gaggle of fellow interlopers, our crew half-looped and out of the ambiance sync, the Duchess perfectly gracious despite the circumstances -- the air's sweeter in tonier atmospheres. A Spanish guitarist strumming songs by the pool, Olga Guillot -- temporarily suffering from voice problems -- commanding the crowd with anecdotes of Mexico. Songwriter Desmond Child arriving by boat, the skyline of Oz glimmering in the distance, her elegance reluctantly gearing up for a summer in Madrid: "I like the fact that everyone is treated the same here. Miami is so addictive, isn't it?" As it happens, a prophetic proclamation, the Duchess still in town for the Gibb celebrations some weeks later.

Switching tracks to an obsessive-compulsive party, a bad wet dream, the wealthy frolicking with models, overwrought teen vixens, ambitious thirtysomething gals, and assorted luxury maintenance personnel: pimps, hook-up artists, social columnists. Very jet-setty, in the worst possible way, the host an international party boy with curious connections. Euro-hustlers and a prominent female newscaster, who always turns up at the better mogul parties, cavorting with Saudi royals, narcoterrorists, Italian counts, wandering plunderers of the El Salvadoran founding families, wise guys, and a local developer escorted by former State Department personnel turned A-level bodyguards. Outside, the limos, Maseratis, and plain surveillance sedans littering the street, the old saw about great crimes being behind every great fortune holding fast, power and menace hanging heavy in the air. One gentleman, his face twisted with decadence, ready to impose the final solution on an associate: "We've got to really get rid of that guy."

Naturally enough, remaining studiously diplomatic, our favorite Latin American roue, always good for a free glass of Dom Perignon at Les Bains, giggling about an amusing tableau at La Voile Rouge in the south of France: "My friend was all in love with some girl there, and we walk in, and she's nude on the bar, spraying champagne all over her crotch. It was so delightfully demented." The evening wearing on, a butler running around with a camera, documenting the occasion … la the Warhol Factory days, an Italian woman dismissing our benefactor ("He's very young, very rich, and very horny") while sucking up his largess. For entertainment a group on the patio taking in a diverting scene: the host plainly visible through the upstairs master bedroom window, cajoling some model into the bathroom for God knows what Fatty Arbuckle high jinks. The girl storming out some minutes later, our host good-naturedly moving on to someone else. People of means do tend to stay focused on their life goals. At the time, the ecstatic wallow riveting beyond measure, but in hindsight, nothing but a tabernacle of degradation, Scarface revisited, the rapacious exhortation of Tony Montana coming to mind: "Miami is one big pussy waiting to be fucked.

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Tom Austin