Be Cool: An L.A. Story


HERE’S THE DEAL: Debbie is turning 30. My idea is that we will go to Los Angeles, which in my mind remains the epitome of cool; sun-drenched and languid, overflowing with celebrities, movie sets, scandals, beaches, pool parties, and fake boobs. Not to mention so much alcohol and cocaine pouring down the streets that it’s like the adult version of Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs.

I suppose I could take a moment and consider the endless and soul-crushing moments being suffered in L.A. on a minute to minute basis as dreams are derailed and the reality that most everyone who chooses to live there are more likely to end up sucking someone’s dick for rent money in an alley than achieve even a modicum of the fame they seek.

But I don’t have to think about any of that, I’m just hoping that we, me, can feel cool, or get a taste of it anyway, and why should I look at other’s failures and despondency as a metaphor for what may come to pass on our trip?

I shouldn’t. I won’t. Plus, it’s so sunny there.

But what does it say about my own insecurities that I plan chunks of our trip based on an article in the Travel section of The New York Times about what’s cool in L.A. now, like right now. Hence already passed?

It probably says a lot, but I choose to ignore that, because when said article promises that George Clooney hangs out at a certain bar, and the hippest, underground comedy will be happening at a club while we are there, I am content to look past my own inadequacies and focus on the bigger picture, my incessant need for starfucking in all its forms.

The first day we go for drinks at the Polo Lounge, which is renowned for its awesome amounts of pinkness and unparalleled access to celebrities. After being seated I notice that Nastassja Kinski is sitting at the next table deep in conversation. I had Nastassja Kinski’s pre-pubescent, naked, snake poster on my wall as a boy and I jerked off to her image a lot. As I look at her I wonder if she knows this about me or at least assumes that any male my age probably has done the same.

I also try to get Debbie’s attention, subtly of course, which to be frank, fails a little, when I realize Nastassja is glaring at me, something which is sort of cool when you think about it, but only sort of, especially when you factor in the resulting hard-on.

“Do you really believe that George Clooney just hangs out here,” Debbie says on Day Two as we walk up to a bar where George Clooney surely hangs out or once did.

“Yes,” I say trying to sound confident. “He goes out just like we do, well, he’s probably banging starlets at the end of the night, and he lives with a pig, and he probably doesn’t stalk anyone, but other than that he’s just like us, really.”

The line to get into said bar is immense and roiling, packed with short skirts, cleavage, and skinny legs. The cover charge is surreal.

We pause.

We are not naïfs, but as my underdeveloped plan unfurls I am no longer confident about where our journey is taking us. Sometimes during a pause, you find insight and inner peace, a path mysteriously emerging from your previous state of confusion and conflict. Other times, you stand near a door just long enough that a black, turtle-neck wearing George Clooney walks out of it moments later, George Clooney who is slighter than he appears on screen, yet somehow better looking. Much better looking.

Our pause is now fortuitous, but what do we do next? Do we follow him as he leaves?

We don’t have to, because he stops, right in front of us, and just stands there, epic and beautiful, everyone in the area briefly frozen in place, all Matrix-like and slo-mo, the peace only shattered by the sudden appearance of a twitchy, pre-Ari Gold, still John Cusack’s sidekick, one-time love interest of a friend at home who broke it off when he showed-up with a face smelling of woman, Jeremy Piven. Piven is wrangling a group of women and clearly leveraging his proximity to Clooney to close the deal, which by all appearances he does as they disappear into the night.

There is no time for living off of one’s previous successes in the City of Angels, however, and so the following night, I invite Eric, an old friend and long-time denizen of Los Angeles, to join us as we go out to the Luna Lounge for underground comedy. I should say here, that then as now, anything considered underground possesses a certain cachet for me. Seeing George Clooney certainly rocks, but even that is no comparison to potentially stumbling onto someone who no one knows, yet is destined to be the next big thing.

I want this for Debbie, terribly, though let’s be honest, I really want it for me, and for all the moments down the road when we can say, “We were there when…”

Now, did I know it was black comic night at the Luna Lounge the day we chose to go? I did not. Is there something inherently cool in not knowing this? Maybe, it depends on the pay-off. But when three Jews walk into such a club, and all the other Jews already there are hiding in the back behind their clunky black glasses and taking up all the tables, leaving us only the one table in front of the stage, and Eric who knows what’s to come says, “Uh-oh, too late to leave now,” should that serve as a red flag for someone, me, otherwise blinded by the City of Lights?

That depends on how you feel about every single joke for the next hour focusing on whites, Jews, and white Jews, if not in the actual set-up of the jokes, then the punch lines.

Which raises a question, is it in fact cool to roll with that onslaught one excruciating minute after the next? Maybe, but is it somewhat unbearable, definitely.

Until, just like our Clooney moment there is a lull.

The comic in front of us is talking drugs, and then looking right at us, he says, “Well everyone knows that white people use heroin, you’ve used heroin, right white people?”

He then pauses for dramatic effect. What will be funny apparently is our non-response, or better yet, our nervous demurrals. Who would admit to such a thing?

Not me apparently.

However, Eric who has done many drugs, which I know after having done many drugs with him, responds in a completely deadpan fashion. “Of course we’ve done heroin. As you said, all white people have.”

The comic leans back and scrunches up his face, flummoxed, unsure how to continue. We sit there. He stands there. He never regroups and is eventually escorted from the stage. No one mocks us after that, and soon enough, we triumphantly drive off into the sunset to Canter’s Deli for late night egg creams and revelry.

And it is only then, sitting there in this bastion of old Hollywood, that I realize I have finally achieved a modicum of what I so clearly craved all along, a moment in the spotlight to call my own.


About Ben Tanzer

Ben Tanzer is the author of the books 99 Problems, You Can Make Him Like You, Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine, My Father’s House and So Different Now, among others. His blog can save your life.
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