random encounters with humanus celebritus

1

Ah, the call of the blog. I hit the wall tonight — that kind of busted-down fatigue that’s been enveloping me all weekend — and want nothing more than to curl up with Christine Falls, by Benjamin Black, a book that hasn’t kidnapped me with the story so much as the exquisite writing of it (Black is the pseudonym for John Banville, who recently won the Man Booker, a literary writer who, when he writes a genre novel, apparently isn’t writing genre but something called ‘classical fiction’).

But I see I haven’t blogged much this month. I have been a bad blogger.

Plans for a restoring night’s sleep went awry when one of my favorite couples flew down from the Bay Area. “My wife wants to go out with women who can dress,” Ryan emailed my spouse and mutual friend Jason, pointing up the clash of glam (here) vs anti-glam (there), one of the things that makes northern California feel morally superior to southern California, and makes southern California forget that northern California exists.

So Sat. night saw us for the first time in a long time at Les Deux, because we have a connection there who can get us a table at the last minute. Said connection mentioned he’d gotten a call from Notorious Neighbor who is in jail but “coming home on Tuesday.”

Someone mentioned that I’d gotten an email from the guy last week — or rather, from NN via his assistant. I’d heard about the well-known, wealthy widow who had posted an open letter to NN on a popular gossip site. NN — as is his wont — responded with an open letter of his own that cracked me up, and even won “new respect” from one famous blogger who, in the past, like most everybody else who doesn’t know him personally (as well as some who do), only found reason to loathe him. (I used to loathe him myself.) The widow’s equally well-known daughter was so mortified by her mother’s letter that she contacted three people close to NN in order to get an apology to him. Thoroughly enjoying the whole bizarre, colorful episode — which could only happen to someone like NN — I sent him a brief friendly email about it; then got an email from his assistant the next day, who was “on the phone with [NN] right this moment” and conveyed a message in a ‘voice’ I recognized very much as my neighbor’s– except it held a sweet and sentimental note I did not expect. Perhaps jail does that. He said he’d be ‘home’ this week. But NN has the most serious charges (tax evasion) still looming over him — his own sword of Damocles –as well as a tendency to be overly optimistic. So who knows.

He says he has “lots of great stories”. The version of him filtering through media/blog reports has him sobbing, anxiety-ridden, very much the broken man, but the person I communicated with seemed the opposite. Our mutual acquaintance at Les Deux also remarked on this: “He was in really good spirits.”

2

I never thought much about ‘celebrity’ before I moved to LA; never cared one way or the other. But it becomes another thing entirely to see it up close, to observe the odd slippage between ‘their’ reality and ours. I was reading through my work-in-progress — an urban fantasy called SHADOW HILL, about half-finished — and suddenly realized that, beneath the fantasy elements, the story itself is about celebrity — how it, even more than wealth, sets you apart in a world you grow to find normal while others find it increasingly bizarre.

In Los Angeles, there is an intense and intricate network of childcare givers that extends through both realities and often joins them. My kids played with Jack Black’s kid today. I didn’t even know he had one, but turns out that his little dude is the perfect age for mine. The playdate came about because our nanny Amy, whom we hired a few weeks ago, is friends with Jack’s nanny. “Jack sleeps late,” Amy told me, but Jack got out of bed in time to read the kids a story and play the drums for them. He made a strong impression on one of my toddlers in particular, who was rocking out in his carseat as we drove back from a belated lunch, drumming fiercely on his knees (“Mommy, I’m drumming my knees!”) before reaching the perhaps-inevitable conclusion (“Mommy, it hurts!”).

3

I had a random encounter of my own. I was in a waiting room filling out forms when the office door opened and a tall man with a booming voice walked out. I glanced up, thought, Oh, that’s David Hasslehoff, gave him a curious once-over, and went back to my forms (because I am of course a self respecting Angeleno unimpressed by mere things as ‘worldwide fame’, particularly when connected to bikini-clad bosums bouncing by the beach).

David, however, was feeling gregarious. He exchanged friendly words with the woman behind the front desk and then spoke to me, in the deep booming voice of a performer, startling me from my forms. “How are you?”

“Great,” I said, looking up at him, grinning. “How are you?”

“Excellent. Fabulous. I’m just having a wonderful time.”

What struck me — and amused me — was how he radiated this incredible awareness of his own celebrity — he knows you know who he is (even if you don’t). So when he offered me his hand and said, “David,” I didn’t bother with any pretense of ignorance, finding it easy to speak as if we were already acquaintances, running into each other, here of all places. “You look great,” I said.

“What? Really?”

“You look amazing.”

Granted, my benchmark was low, which is why I said it in the first place. It slipped out of my head. When I was a kid Knight Rider was one of my favorite shows — one of my first favorite shows, along with Fame and The A-Team. I liked the talking car more than him, although when a friend and I decided to write fan letters to try and get autographed photographs, DH was a person I picked (Mark Hamill being another, and I indeed got photos from both camps). I was ten. But my recent images of the man were from the infamous Vegas clip on the Internet, of him being a drunk disordered wreck, and on top of that I’d superimposed the tight, plastic-surgery mask you see on so many people in this town. Also, male celebrities tend to be short. (I’m a fan of Jonathon Rhys-Meyers — loved him in Velvet Goldmine, Match Point,and now The Tudors — and hope never to meet him and thus discover he’s a foot or so shorter than me. Not that I’m so shallow in my celebrity-love…except of course I am).

But the man in front of me in the waiting area was tall, fit, nicely dressed, and his face had been allowed to age just enough to keep an illusion of naturalness. Also, he was ‘on’ in a way I found hard to resist, even though I found something slippery about it — I wasn’t talking to DH, but a performance of DH, played by himself, and behind such a fierce blazing need to charm you could sense a streak of darkness, narcissism, that might serve in its own way to attract people* and then make life difficult for them.

He seemed pleased by the compliment in a way that surprised me; I’d just tossed it off, assuming he hears it all the time and would nod a smiling, programmed response like, “How nice of you to say,” the way my husband does when people tell him how brilliant and amazing he is. But instead of going out the door DH turned to face me directly and started asking me questions — do I live around here, am I an actress (“Thank god you’re not an actress!”), what do I do, what do I write? Which is when the reason we were both there in the first place opened her office door, and came out to gently shoo him away in a manner that seemed well-practiced. “Welcome to LA,” she told me. I started laughing. It’s a welcome that never seems to quit.

* The most narcissistic people I know are also some of the most charming, probably how they worked their way into my life in the first place — and with the exception of one, I find them enjoyable to deal with, as long as you recognize what you should and should not expect from them.

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