Thursday, September 06, 2007

Week in review (for my last week in L.A.)

Another post that was started before I came to Hong Kong, and delayed by injury, responsibility, and general laziness. Let no thought go to waste. There are things I should say about HK at this point, but if I wait much longer this all becomes moot. Plus, even though I'm having a blast here, it's fun to think about home a little.

One of the things I love about L.A. is that it's so easy to completely change the environment you're in and the people you're surrounded by, just by carefully choosing what neighborhood you choose to visit. I turned my last week in L.A. into a tour. Some war stories-slash-thoughts on the city's various offerings. In alphabetical order:

Beverly Hills: I went to Beverly Hills to open up an account at HSBC in preparation for the Hong Kong trip, which marked one of the few times I've been in Beverly Hills and not been walking between a valet and a restaurant door. Going to Beverly Hills, particularly during the day on a weekday, is sort of a trip. Because honestly, who the hell is wandering around Beverly Hills at 2 pm on a Thursday? Tourists and rich dilettantes. The tourists are easy enough to pick out...if you are wearing (1) a fanny pack, (2) an American flag t-shirt, or (3) a sun-visor, you probably are not a local. But among the rest, it's like a game trying to figure out who's rich, who's married to someone who's rich, who just has rich parents, etc. And it's not like New York, where people are (somewhat justifiably) classified on socioeconomic grounds using fashion as a rough proxy. The guy in cargo shorts and a sleeveless shirt might be on his way to visit his executive banker to deposit a $100,000 check, you just don't know. It's simultaneously fascinating and vaguely disconcerting.

Hollywood: After contemplating its mystery and awesomeness all summer, I finally got to try the World Famous Hollywood Magic Castle. Certainly worth my time, but a mixed experience. Food, of mixed quality. Shows, of mixed quality. Organization, of mixed quality. When it was good, though, it was great, and it gave me a lovely excuse to wear a suit and go out with 6 women wearing attractive cocktail dresses. Ain't nothin' wrong with that. But as one of my guests aptly pointed out, for some reason it also lends itself to somewhat uncomfortable situations. On this same guest's recommendation, it shall henceforth be known as the Awkward Castle. But one thing to note about (this aspect of) Hollywood: it's amazing how far you get just by not being a horrible jerk. Maybe because of the private club element, but it seems like everyone who works at the Magic Castle has been conditioned by a series of brutal experiments involving electrical shocks to assume that everyone they come across at work is going be a heroic jerk to them. Just by having a cheery voice and using pleases and thank yous, the girl who answered the phone when I first called made a reservation for me even though the "reservation time" for the day had closed and the official reservationist was gone. And by smiling a lot, keeping bright spirits, and making some friendly conversation, the girl at the front desk managed to spare me a $60 charge for 3 no-shows on the reservation. Thank you, Awkward Castle staff, for rewarding and encouraging good attitudes. I'm sorry your lives are evidently a series of unpleasant interactions with huge tools.

Hollywood, Part Deux: If you're looking to do something completely different in Hollywood on a Saturday night and you think a night at Area or Mood would compare unfavorably with buying a $30 bottle of Grey Goose, burning two hundred dollars bills with a Bic lighter, and beating yourself with the bottle as you drink it straight, allow me to suggest an option with which, for better or worse, you are unlikely to encounter any comically fake breasts. The Cinespia program screens a mixture of classic old Hollywood films and modern classics on the wall of the mausoleum at the star-studded Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Gower and Santa Monica in Hollywood (interestingly, when I told my mom about this, she informed me that I have a slightly distant family member buried there). Anyhow, we went to see Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchock's romantic-espionage-mystery, "Notorious" (1946), a film that features - no joke - Cary Grant as a federal agent who allows a completely plastered Ingrid Bergman to drunkenly speed him through the streets of Miami before getting into a small physical struggle in the car that ends with him knocking her unconscious with a karate chop to the back of the neck. Incredible. Before the screening started, the MC said, "So, do we have any Alfred Hitchcock fans here tonight?" A few scattered hands go up and "woo"s echo out. From my place in the audience, at just over normal volume, I ask, "So, do we have any hipsters who have nothing better to do on a Saturday night here tonight?" Several heads nearby nod in agreement.

Los Feliz: If I was cursed with working downtown, this would be undoubtedly be my neighborhood of choice. I've already chronicled my adventures at the Dresden, which create the glorious (and deceptive) impression that I have some measure of game. Ha. But the weekend before was also spent in Los Feliz and Silverlake, at Sunset Junction, a street fair and music festival beloved by hipsters county-wide. I went on Saturday, which this year featured the musical stylings of Seawolf, Blonde Redhead, and Ben Harper. I'll have to take someone's word on the last one, as I was not really in a state to understand what I was observing. But the others were great, and the crowd was amusing in its own ways. It's a bonanza of questionable and "ironic" hair, facial hair, and body art decisions. The music is good, but as one of my compatriots noted, when Seawolf (a fairly obscure band to the general population, but liked in their community and getting some radio play on Indie 103.1) was playing, all of the hipsters were totally grooving, until the one single ("You're a Wolf") came on, at which time they swayed just a little bit less. Why? They want people to know that they know the band, but not just because they heard the one single on the radio. Whatever. "You're a Wolf" is a good song, I jammed.

Santa Monica: I love Santa Monica because it seems like a place where real people actually live. Real, normal people who do real, normal things. Sure, the surf sucks, no matter how many chances I keep giving it. But in the last week, I spent plenty of time here, seeing Jesse's brother perform at the Westside Eclectic, dining repeatedly at the incredible Bay Cities Deli, being a typical little hipster at Swingers, pizza at Wildflour, drinks at Renee's. It's like having all of the advantages of L.A. and none of the nonsense (as long as you can handle a tourist or 129,380).

Venice: Abbot Kinney is sort of like Melrose, but replacing the Hollywood attitude with a more westside mentality. To me, Venice is more-or-less the land of delicious brunches. But there's also the Boardwalk, which I usually invite people to by saying "let's go look at the freaks!" My last visit was highlighted by the purchase of an enormous henna tattoo that snaked up my entire left arm and onto my chest and by my participation in a documentary being filmed by People Who Enjoy Eating Tasty Animals. You can guess which side of the debate I fall with. I engaged a PWEETA representative in lively discussion, but it was mostly us patting ourselves on the back for our carniverous ways.

West Hollywood: Standing in line for Metal Skool, a girl pointed at my "WWJD for a Klondike Bar" shirt and said, "Hey, I have that shirt!" Excellent. Metal Skool - which is a funny, self-effacing metal tribute band of glory - has been playing every Monday night on the Sunset Strip for 8 years. If it were serious, it would be tragic, but because they're ironic about it, it's just amazing. Sometimes a little overdone, but amazing. The crowd is a mix of people who love the 80s, people who love kitsch, and people who lack the irony that the band has and seem like, given the opportunity, they would still sleep with Vince Neil. Modern, fat Vince Neil. But where else are you going to find such high-quality covers of your 80s favorites? And celebrity guests (when we went, Ron Jeremy)? Nowhere. That's where. I hope you're happy.

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