06 July 2006

Whatever Happened to Hollywood?

When I first moved back to L.A. after an absence of 14 years, there was an after hours club I'd hang out in near the rather insalubrious intersection of Western and Santa Monica. It provided nearly everything anyone could possibly want. Patrons could order cocaine, pot, ecstasy and occasionally some other drugs, from the waitress. They were all high quality and came with the necessary accoutrement for indulging in them. There was a good selection of booze, at very reasonable prices, available long after bars were supposed to be legally closed. There was poker and blackjack and a couple of slot machines. There was a craps table, although I never saw it in use.

My fellow customers were a diverse crowd. I recall sitting around one of the large low-lying tables one night with a nuclear physicist from CalTech, a stripper, an elderly bartender from a big name hotel, a young guy from the Israeli consulate, a wannabe rock star and his silent girlfriend, a grip (I've never quite known what they actually do), a high-priced "escort," a cook and me, an ex-financial journalist just then turning to writing books. The physicist was buying us all lines of coke and the more lines he bought the closer the escort sat to him.

Across the room, at another table, there were a couple of lower level - low B or C list - celebrities, sitting with a fairly well known local musician and a minor celebrity chef. Someone said that they'd seen - I'm not dumb enough to insert any names here - a very A-list celeb in the company of an even higher A-list rock star there a few nights back. It's good to be back in L.A., I thought to myself.

Not long after that night the place closed down. I never got the whole story. Either it was raided, or the operators decided it was getting hot and moved to avoid a raid. In any event I wasn't enough in the loop to find out where it moved to. (If anyone out there knows...be discreet.)

This morning I was hit by a small wave of nostalgia for the after hours club. That was thanks to a regular column in Thursday's L.A. Times: "My Favorite Weekend." (This nostalgia has absolutely nothing to do with the specific content of today's column or the person it is about.) I skimmed the column. I usually do. I don't know why. I think it's little more than a dull P.R. excercise on behalf of B or C-list celebrities, almost none of which I ever recognize.

As usual, today's subject's favorite weekend seems to be engaging in a variety of wholesome - or mostly wholesome - and healthy activities that are guaranteed to give offense to no one. I have the impression that fully 90% of the people profiled spend part of their weekends at Urth Cafe drinking some sort of hideous, organic soy-milk faux coffee concoction on their way to or from the gym, or some sort of vegetarian, organic (or often overpriced and undergood Westside Italian) meal. They also shop a lot. I guess even low-level celebs have more money than they know what to do with. (At least today's celeb - Russell Mael of the band Sparks - goes to the track to bet on horses. I'll try to ignore the fact that he picks up a salad on the way.)

For some reason this morning's column irritated me more than usual. The guy's in a rock band! Soy cappuccino? "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg?" Play-reading at the Getty? Salad?

Whatever happened to the Hollywood that so warmly welcomed me back home after 11 years in the hinterlands of Asia, a year spent bouncing back and forth between the Old World, isolated small towns of Chicago and New York, and two years surrounded by the young ravening dot com hordes of San Francisco?

Just once I want to read a "My Favorite Weekend" column that is admirably, cheerfully, gloriously, unrepentently unwholesome. That would be refreshing. Not that I ever had any real faith in Hollywood, but I could use a little something to help crack through the unrelentingly dull and flavorless image it's trying to foist off on us.

I know that the sleaze is going on out there, unabated, ugly, illegal.....human! Having aged a few years since returning to Los Angeles I'm not even certain that I still want to be a part of it. But I want to be comforted by knowledge of its accessibility. The L.A. Times isn't helping. Can't someone?

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