Took myself to a cafe in downtown Beverly Hills to map out some ideas for The Next Novel (which I am assuming will be Bloodangel 3 unless fate dictates otherwise. Given the nature of the second book’s ending, I feel morally obligated to get the third book finished as soon as possible). After I felt I’d actually accomplished something, I went to get eyelashes tinted and eyebrows shaped. The Anastasia (the person) behind Anastasia (the salon) has become the go-to woman for celebrity brows*, which means the walls of the place are hung with headshots and magazine covers autographed by Madonna, Oprah, Demi and others. Sometimes they’ll write little messages proclaiming the glories of Anastasia and her eyebrow-sculpting abilities (“Anastasia, you saved my life! xxxxoooo!).
My gaze came to rest on one picture in particular.
“Only in LA,” I muttered, as the sweet young blonde thing prepared to dye my lashes, “does a plastic surgeon have a professional 8 by 10 black and white headshot of himself** on somebody’s wall.”
The blonde woman laughed. “Only in LA would he have his own show.”
Makes me think of those I’m-not-a-doctor-but-I-play-one-on-TV commercials from when I was a kid.
The thing about Beverly Hills which movies and books never quite get across, at least in my experience, is the sheer tourist element of it. No matter what time of year, there’s always a steady flow of tourists along the wide white sidewalks of Rodeo Drive. You’ll see tourists — who rarely get mistaken for locals — clustered around the corner of Rodeo and Wilshire, taking pictures of each other on the steps leading up to the faux-Italian ‘sidestreet’ of boutiques, or beside the shiny sculpted-torso statue which now seems so perfect for an area become a plastic surgery mecca; or wandering in and out of the grand gilded lobby of the Regent Beverly Wilshire, a.k.a. ‘the Pretty Woman hotel’, now featuring a brand-spanking-new steakhouse by Wolfgang Puck.
I heard tourist voices behind me as I walked along Little Santa Monica to where I’d parked my car. “Isn’t that cute,” a woman exclaimed, speaking with a cold-country drawl (Minnesota? perhaps even my own native Canada?). A man said, “Yep, that’ll be us one day, won’t it?” They were admiring two statues placed near the corner: a little old man and a little old woman standing together as if about to make a crossing. I had blown past that corner countless times and barely noticed.
It was the tail end of lunch hour, so cars were clogging up the intersection, honking at each other like geese: “Oh my, so impatient,” the woman said next. “Everybody’s just so impatient here, eh?”
It is one of the laws of nature, of course, that tourists and looky-loos shall frighten away the cool and the hip; so while tourists scan the streets of Beverly Hills looking for celebrities (“That is not Julia Roberts,” one little girl told her even littler brother in a stern voice as I walked past them**), the celebrities were often shopping at Beverly Hills’ ‘other’ downtown***, in particular an intersection called Beverly and Robertson. Some boutiques develop relationships of sorts with the tabloids; in exchange for information about what Nicole and Paris and Lindsay bought, and how much they spent, and how they looked, and who they were with and what they said to each other, the tabloids make sure to publicize the boutiques, until teenage girls across the country who have never set foot in California and would never consider (or so their parents hope to God) paying three hundred dollars for a Great Wall of China t-shirt, have heard of stores like Kitson and Madison, where Nicole Ritchie once held a booksigning.****
This, in turn, is bringing the tourists over to Beverly and Robertson, an area which, unlike the streets around Rodeo, isn’t prepared for them. The tourists wander through the boutiques and don’t buy anything — or at least, don’t drop the kind of money the other, ‘real’ customers do, even as they frighten away those other customers. And since these stores don’t stay in business by selling a few things to a lot of people — but by selling a lot of things to the few people who can afford to shop there on a regular basis — they find themselves facing a problem. They’re starting to close down and relocate elsewhere, in hopes of bringing back those shy, elusive types who wish not to mingle with the masses.
Ah, the ever-shifting dance of the celebrity-media-capitalism complex.
* I managed to hold out for six months or so before finally surrendering to this city’s obsession with eyebrows in general and Anastasia’s in particular (although after my one experience spent waiting for the great woman herself, I said a heartfelt, Fuck this, and now happily go to her less-sought-after assistant).
There was a science fiction movie a couple of years ago in which the bad-ass protagonist visited a prison planet to save the young, bad-ass damsel in distress. As soon as I saw her face, I thought, Wait a second, those are Anastasia eyebrows! Now how, exactly, could she have spent years in this hellhole existence while maintaining such perfectly groomed, Anastasia-shaped eyebrows? Needless to say, the film’s credibility was somewhat ruined for me.
** Dr Robert Rey is the main star/subject of a reality series called ‘Dr 90210’.
*** I am five-nine and long-haired and wear big dark sunglasses (due to the California glare and my own pale, LASIK-d, wuss-sensitive eyes). Any resemblance to the person in question stops there.
*** The word ‘downtown’ is basically meaningless when applied to Los Angeles — although there is a ‘downtown LA’, so prominently featured in the great shoot-out scene in Michael Mann’s movie HEAT, it is by no means the center of the city (which has many centers), and aside from a spare handful of blocks is such a dark, sketchy, menacing area, you tend not to go there if you don’t have to.
**** I cannot emphasis enough that when I refer to ‘literary LA’ or ‘LA’s literary scene’, Nicole Ritchie doing a booksigning for her ghostwritten novel in a trendy high-end boutique is actually NOT what I mean… I hope.