A Night In Hollywood
It took 30 years of living in the Los Angeles area, from Cudahy to Corona to Rancho Cucamonga, but I have finally had the kind of LA experience that people from outside the state think of when they think of LA. I attended a star-packed premiere of a major Hollywood movie. I made the March 7 issue of People, in the Star Tracks section where someone snapped a picture of me with a bored hunk holding my Fendi purse and staring at something off-camera with a hint of shame, while I laugh recklessly, head flung back, fingers holding my weave in place, gripping my bulbous hair, which looks like an outer brain growing from my scalp in the blinding flash bulbs. I don't remember what I'm laughing at, probably nothing, probably just saw the paparazzi and started laughing cos that's what you do when you're standing in front of a wall of cameras all pointed at you. You start laughing and looking happy, like you're in on the secret that makes Brad Pitt Brad Pitt and Jennifer Lopez Jennifer Lopez.
Writing this on a Friday night a few weeks later, in my quiet Woodland Hills apartment behind Chevy's Tex-Mex, all I remember is the night in question involved a lot of free Bloody Marys, singing J. Lo at the top of my lungs into the night, screwing in a 1991 Plymouth Voyager and then picking at breakfast at a diner in West Hollywood surrounded by people who looked just like me. Yes!
You must understand I was a visitor to this world. I am normally a proud, card-carrying intellectual, going about my third year in a Ph.D program at Cal State Northridge, writing my thesis in the Pakistani avant-garde. My world fits snugly in a smoggy trapezoid accommodating my apartment, the school, my day job at the Outback Steakhouse in Chatsworth and my part-time lover's pad in Toluca Lake. Normally, I experience the world outside this safety zone only via my subscription to Art Forum and the BET. And I'm fine with that. I wasn't looking for change when my friend Henna called one gloomy, fucking Saturday afternoon as I typed out lecture notes while pounding wine coolers.
I was glad to hear from her, however; she's the only friend I have with ties to that LA, over the mountains, the LA of glitz and scum co-existing side-by-side in the Mediterranean air. Her "in" is an old high school boyfriend who's made good, this guy, Skeet Ulrich, he played the evil boyfriend from "Scream," remember him? That's all right. He was brilliant, actually.
Skeet couldn't make it to this premiere at the Cinerama dome. Henna had the passes. It was for that teenage "jacker" flick with the cheerleaders, "Bring It On," I think it was called. I don't remember much about the film, actually. I was in the theater where they were showing it, but half the time, I was giving some guy a hanging beaver, which involves a gram of coke, some Sure Extra Dry and a staple remover.
So I agreed to go and drove to Henna's in the Canyon. She lent me a black strapless thing and did my coiffure with a hairdryer and some Merci Gele. We climbed into her Geo Metro and zoomed into the Basin. I hadn't been out this way in a long time and was hit by the sheer tackiness of everything. Oh, how did I appreciate Woodland Hills then!
The second thing I noticed was the hilarious effrontery of the Farmer's Daughter Motel.
The third was a towering billboard of Alan Thicke hovering over the Coconut Teaszer.
"What the fuck is he doing there? Isn't he dead yet?" I inquired.
"Check it out - Growing Pains reunion!" Henna answered while tailing an old Filipino woman with high beams on at full blast.
"Ah, of course..."
Then, like conditions of some Talmudic prophecy, the fourth revelation struck as we arrived at the theater: limo SUVs. Living in my trapezoid for so long, I had managed to avoid all consciousness of this creation.
How convenient for attending formal dinners in the rocky wild, I thought as a valet sped off with our car. Lost in thought, I lingered on the red-carpeted runway and soon discerned behind me a back-up of "messy"-haired rogues and tall, small-breasted coquettes squeezed into a three-foot wide space between the curb and a bus bench advertising a gangsta rap compilation entitled "Thug 2 Thug."
"Move, already," the closest girl urged.
"Step back, cunt," Henna implored.
"It's cool," I said and took Henna's arm and turned to face the long, red walkway leading into the theater lobby, from which I made out booming techno music and intense, flickering laser light. As we walked steadily closer to the beating heart of the dome, hundreds of paparazzi flashbulbs went off to our left. Being a native, Henna stopped in the middle of the runway and smiled a big white smile for the cameras. I watched her in horror.
"Come on," she said. "It's all a big game of show and tell. That's all it is."
"Smile! Smile!" the mustached photographers barked.
"It's easy," Henna said and flung out an arm with devil-may-care panache.
"Do it!" a greasy man chanted.
I fled up the runway into the lobby. Shadowy shapes lurked in the murky darkness amid the pounding music and swirling, rainbow lights. I couldn't see where the doors were, where the popcorn counter was. I wandered from shape to shape. Suddenly, someone grabbed my arm. I looked up. It was Geena Davis with a worried look, asking, "Are you all right, dear?"
I gazed into her little eyes and puffy lips and noticed how old she looked up-close.
I pushed her off me and ran to my left, knocking over a sweet-smelling man, and finally found the bathroom. In the dingy yellow light and piss odor, I could make out Cher and Kathleen Turner sprawled on the sweaty floor with their asses pointing skyward, snorting lines off a piece of cardboard. Cher looked up.
"Whatthafuck?" she mumbled, her eyes red and tear-filled.
Kathleen Turner turned around and studied me wearily.
"Bitch, what's your problem?" Kathleen Turner croaked.
Cher shakily raised her arm and pointed a bony finger at me. "Bitch want some," she said and slowly turned to look at Kathleen Turner who met her gaze. Kathleen Turner nodded weakly, then turned to study me again.
"Suck, bitch," Kathleen Turner said holding out a grimy rolled-up dollar.
I blindly followed the divas' command and hunched on the piss-covered floor and snorted one line, then two, then three.
"Hold up, hold up," Cher requested, then pushed me so that I fell back on my ass in a slippery corner. Like baby pigs scrambling at their mother's teat, she and Kathleen Turner furiously went back to work on the cardboard, making little wet grunts of effort with each suck interrupted by coughs of "Oh fuck, oh fuck."
And that was it. I don't know what I snorted in that disgusting little hovel, but the next 12 hours became a haze. I remember wandering out into the cave-like lobby and collapsing into the crowd. Someone handed me a Bloody Mary. I downed it with one tilt of arm and head. Someone gave me another. I ran back outside and confronted those greasy men with the cameras. I posed up a storm, not bothering to wipe the snot and drool from my face and the piss off my knees. I smiled and flung arms and legs without care. I threw my Bloody Mary at the greasiest one I could see. To prevent me from totally embarrassing myself, the bored hunk whom I later recognized from People grabbed me and ushered me into the theater where the film had started.
Once in my seat, he fed me some more lines, physically pushing my head into a FutureEuroXtremeLounge CD case. One snort, and I passed out.
The next thing I remember was the next morning, on a bed surrounded by Depeche Mode posters, sunlight trickling in through blinds. I coughed, and a nugget of styrofoam popped out.
"You awake?" a man asked from outside the room.
The door opened, and the bored hunk appeared, already dressed in white T-shirt and designer jeans, hair carefully messed up, his pager blinking red then green.
"What happened?" I asked.
"Don't worry. My parents are out of town."
He reached down and helped me stand up. I was in my slip. He slid me into my smelly dress and led me into the living room where about a dozen other disheveled people lay scattered amid empty whiskey bottles and bongs. I recognized Henna drinking a beer by the TV showing the Animaniacs.
"Hey, how'd you end up-"
"Shhh," she curtly interrupted me, watching the television intensely.
After about another hour during which the bored hunk freshened up everybody and cleaned up the tables and carpet, about a dozen people including me were dressed and standing in the 1970s-era green living room. He opened the front door, flooding the house with bright sunlight, drawing groans of pain from the group and loaded us into his Voyager. We drove through the hazy streets, which looked oddly absurd and drab at the same time. People mowed lawns. Children sprayed each other with hoses. They gave me a headache. We parked at the beforementioned diner and found a table in a bougainvillea-littered patio. I ate in silence, listening to Henna talk to an English guy with metal studs bouncing in his nostrils. The bored hunk stayed silent as well, sitting to my right, listening with me to the other conversations. At one point, he held my fingers under the table and caressed my thumb. He paid for my food. By the end of the meal, my nausea had quieted and I was ready to get back on the road back home.
Without fuss, he drove us back to the Cinerama Dome and tumbled us onto the pavement in front of the theater like bundles of daily newspapers. Standing in the noon sun on Sunset Boulevard, we quietly said goodbye to each other. I kissed him, thanked him for taking care of me. He said he was happy to. We traded pager numbers, and he watched me get into Henna's Geo Metro. I headed back into the hills.
Right now, it's nearly 1 a.m., and the television is showing reruns of Cheers. As Frasier and Cliff watch from the bar, Carla is chewing out Sam for calling Dianne after he promised he wouldn't. Outside, the purple and red neon sign of Chevy's Tex-Mex has gone dark. A glass of red wine sits patiently on a pile of old Art Forums. All that happened a few weeks back, the hair and the hunks and the limo SUVs, feels very far away now although it's only a few miles south, on the other side of the purple Hollywood Hills that hover in the city glow outside my kitchen window. It's oddly comforting to know I can visit that other LA any time I want just like I can eat Taiwanese noodle soup or shoot cans with white trash cops any time I want. I haven't paged the bored hunk yet, but it's good to know he's there..
Darlene Lewis lives in Woodland Hills. She has contributed two pieces previously to Built Boyle - a review of a performance by the seminal world beat group Dungeonmaster and a profile of Siegfried & Roy