Swelter 9

A profound derangement at loose in the world, eerily as if the rampant insanity of Miami -- the 21st-century city of alien culture -- had colonized the Earth. The formerly warm and fuzzy playwright Neil Simon gets off a rough joke at a theatrical awards dinner in New York ("What's David Copperfield going to do with Claudia Schiffer on their wedding night -- fuck her in half?") and dazzles an august audience. In the European theater, lover and leader Bill Clinton openly gapes at the admittedly hot wife of the Italian prime minister as the world press merrily debates Clinton's erotic appeal, dithering in the midst of meltdown and mayhem. On the way-too-local front, Dade Commissioner Larry Hawkins proves that the handicapped are not necessarily virtuous, a highway sniper turns out to be a fun-loving medical student, and a man slits a little girl's throat to punish his girlfriend -- one single stroke of horror that places Miami on a par with Bosnia. Everywhere life is shit, and no one's really on top of it any more.

Glam Slam jump-starts the local club universe, and Miami's newest carpetbagger turns out to be perfectly suited to life on Mars, a curious hybrid of Hugh Hefner and Howard Hughes, leavened with doses of middle-period Elvis and early Phil Spector. The confrontational street theater of the opening making trash history overnight: a nasty war zone plagued by hype, hysteria, disorderly conduct arrests, and rank attitude. Ambitious hip-hop boys electronically frisked at the desperate-public entrance, throngs of conceptual VIPs randomly surging forward in the manner of livestock, a general tone of ugly yearning, barely contained mania, and imminent violence, the fin de siecle at long last.

Our own entrance hampered by an unwieldy entourage of some seven women -- a lesbian promoter and two-youth culture interpreters mingling with four society ladies who had previously secured our tour-guide services at a Miami City Ballet charity auction. All of the little ducklings sharing an uncanny knack for straying afield at inopportune moments, the ballet benefactresses ultimately reduced to hitching up their cocktail dresses and climbing over the metal barricades. One lady falling behind during the joint assault on the new Bastille, requiring a quick shift into escort overdrive: going ballistic on the police and club management, reaching out across the hordes like a soldier grasping for a fall-of-Saigon refugee, physically pulling our charge over the metal railing. The great Miami gladiator women -- God, we love this crazy town -- clinging together like victorious mountain climbers, one gal glowing with opening-night fever: "Can you believe I'm turning 60 next month? I'd like to see the other ballet guild women pull a trick like that."

The surprisingly uncrowded lobby area nothing but a cash-bar void, adorned with Prince impersonator Lamont Glenn, lost journalists feeding on each other, and colleague-in-glamour Tara Solomon, enviably commissioned to host His Purple Magnificence's very own home movie. Immediately flinging ourselves on Tara and her video crew, reeling out a few gratuitous remarks just to be mean, the concept of extending birthday greetings to "his royal majesty" not quite jibing with our All-American upbringing. Another struggle up to the second intergalactic level of Godhead, finally sneaking up into the boss's Jean Cocteau-meets-Elvis lair: green-leather sofas and teal-blue walls, heroic art of the van-painting school, a video monitor for refracting reality, the trademark he/she/it symbol, lotus petals strewn about the room. Very strange indeed, a long, overblown way from our previous pleasant encounters with the boss: an awkward but polite stab at conversation one night in Velvet, a totally cool impromptu performance at the old Le Loft. Hype has it's downside. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happening for quite some time thereafter: Mr. Glam Slam and band occupying the main dance area for a private tuning-up session, his guests needlessly backing up into the lobby and streets, so much sewage on the cruel waters of the high life. A sudden booming overture, and it's another pointless struggle into the concert area, fighting security ("That's a negative, sir") and negotiating the society girls: "Is Sheena Easton here? From this you make a living? What's the significance of it all?"

The evening, from there, sliding into nightmarish surrealism. The truly on-target Miami host of the simulcast extravaganza, Jett Kain of VH-1, mounting a podium and announcing "the world's first interactive nightclub," fellow lunatic denizens of the Glam Slam club empire coming up on twin video screens. An old Paragon-style stage show as prelude, the positively ghoulish star emerging in a white caftan, wielding a new symbol-shaped guitar. The bass settling into a dull roar, the all-new material inscrutable and difficult, the floating neo-Prince opera featuring a music-video debut, self-tributes, memorabilia concession stands, and a go-go dancer leaping into the outstretched arms of the crowd -- sublimely theatrical moments. All of the district regulars wandering around, oblivious to the star's running commentary ("Any of ya'll got a record company? What kind of girls do you like?") and the usual celebrity rumors, actual famous presence Kelly Klein fighting her way in like a pro and anchoring the limited VIP section: "It was kind of rough, but that's fine -- this is just like the old days." Back downstairs to handle yet another crisis, one of the uptown girls taking an improperly timed photo and being led away by security, her friends screaming simultaneously: "Oh my God, they've got Bobi -- do something!" Reluctantly going up against a solid wall of bouncer flesh, railing at club thugs and sending our errant charge to safe harbor, the Glam Slam idea of fun wearing thin. Losing patience and sanity, heart and stomach, finally stumbling home at 4:00 a.m., the weary road warrior of nightlife.

Out again the following night, of course, gearing up for a week of fun and madness. Saturday evening and Starfish is all about the insanity of the Miami real estate wars. Thomas Kramer and wife Catherine having Willy Moser and David Colby of the Century to dinner, everyone making nice and drinking champagne, Miami Beach City Manager Roger Carlton sitting at an adjacent table. Moser and Colby, as it happens, suing both the City of Miami Beach and one of Kramer's companies, entrenched in a battle over a true only-in-Miami condominium, a 25-story building on lower Ocean Drive somehow approved through a fantastical typographical error. Colby, reached later at the Century, taking the European let's-not-be-beastly perspective: "There are no secret deals and we're not letting anybody down. We're trying not to let personal animosity cloud either of our visions of the city. He has no hope in Hell of convincing us, and we have no hope in Hell of convincing him. In the meantime, we're all trying to remain civilized, despite our legal differences. It was strange to have Carlton at the next table -- we spoke in German so he couldn't understand us. But you know, this can be a very weird city.

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Tom Austin