Having always driven mechanically dubious trucks, muscle cars and other beaters, I'd always wanted to try something faster and more sophisticated. Lucky for me, I met a cougar who owned a Porsche, and ended up getting to tear ass around L.A. in it, stopping by a $5,000 per plate Bel Air mansion party and Rodney Dangerfield's widow's fake polar bear bedecked house in the Hollywood Hills along the way.
It sure beat the hell out of another night spent cruising around Santa Barbara in my beat up station wagon, and put me in a position to chat with a drunk ski bum, a leisure suited gigolo, and a bunch of smug rich assholes to boot.
(Disclaimer: Names have been changed and/or made vague, because some of the people involved in the story are powerful, widely feared attorneys. Although some of them are very nice people, what they're capable of really scares me.)
I never expected anything out of the ordinary to come of covering planning and zoning meetings for the Santa Barbara Independent. They were consistently boring, although I often found myself getting into people's petty arguments about how some guy's bushes were blocking their view of the mountains or whatever the way some people get hooked on soap operas and telenovelas. There's something about that level of angry passion, no matter how silly, that's irresistible. But mostly the meetings were mind numbing minutia that unfolded with excruciating slowness inside a windowless, fluorescent bulb-lit room.
So it was with something less than enthusiasm that I took an assignment to cover the local chamber of commerce's annual
circle jerk awards dinner. "Fuck it," I thought to myself. "Free food and drink." Like most cub reporter jobs, this one paid shit, so I kept an eye peeled for events that included free meals in order to supplement my meager income with some decent chow.
But since they were holding this self congratulatory douche fest at a fancy hotel, I figured that I might as well get dressed up for it and at least pretend to give a shit about the proceedings. The invitation said "black tie," and I had just purchased a decent enough tuxedo at a thrift store for $25 — one of those Hugh Hefner ones with shiny lapels, albeit all black. I reasoned that it would give me license to make "witty" comments at the expense of whatever self-promoting moron happened to be at the lectern, as well as make me better able to make repeat trips to the bar without being singled out as the flip flopped scumbag who came for the free booze.
My plan was to remain more or less inconspicuous — one of about three people under the age of 50 in attendance. But the afterthought I'd had to clean up and make myself presentable paid off, and not only in complimentary drinks. Of the other two under-50s in the room, one was another underpaid reporter, and the other was the petite 40-something (which end of that decade, I'd never know, I just had a feeling) president of the hotel; one of those sharp, salon spawned blondes who looked like she knew a plastic surgeon or two, and as a result, looked an attractive, but not-quite-believable 30-ish. We'll call her Beatrix.
The other reporter didn't matter. She was too busy scribbling down the meaningless babble spewed by each businessman as they lauded one another on the year's accomplishments and made not-so-subtle quips about besting "anti development interests" in the area. But the hotelier's attention counted for something. Beneath the smiling, Botox injected lips and bright, contact lens blue eyes, I sensed the machinery of a very shrewd mind sizing me up. But even deeper, in the midst of that cold machinery, the warmth of lust burgeoned. I could tell by the way she held my hand just a little too long, staring from behind those optometrist prescribed blue screens.
Thus the friendship began. We ran into one another frequently at town planning meetings and functions, where she was always either on the side trying to tear down a forest to make room for more time shares, or glad handing chamber of commerce members so that they'd tell the community how she created jobs and boosted the local economy. My editor wanted me to track her every move, but I couldn't be bothered about all of that. I wrote stories about whatever tricks her company was up to, all the while passionately against seeing more buildings go up where there were none, but also interested in hanging out with this strange East Coaster who was a) behind it all, and b) appealed to the instinct all young males have to want to fuck everything that moves.
It wasn't long before she asked me to dinner. As a journalist with ethics and all, I was fine with it. I felt good enough about my ability to separate work and play not to be too concerned about accepting her invitation. Besides, she had extended a last minute invitation to a fundraiser dinner at someone's mansion in Bel Air. I was pretty sure it would be a drastic departure from my normal day, which consisted of going to work at a run-down newspaper office and living in an RV next to a ratty house occupied by about eight of my friends (give or take).
She actually drove her Porsche to my "house," coming in for a few minutes to check out my fly shag carpeted digs.
"It's you," she said with a smile, and held out the keys to her Porsche, smiling sweetly. "Can you drive stick?"
I assured her I could, and we took off down Highway 101 toward Los Angeles. Personally, I've never been instantly comfortable driving any car I've never had a chance to get acquainted with first, and the fact that this car's owner — a cooing cougar taking every opportunity to bat her mascaraed eyelashes and lean down to show off her newish cleavage — was sitting in the passenger seat didn't do much to make me feel more at home behind the wheel of the most expensive car I'd driven to date. So I took it easy, concentrating on shifting smoothly and not looking like a 'roided out jerk when I pulled up to the valet.
The "party" if you want to call it that — it was really someone showing off their ostentatious house to a bunch of other people who would talk shit about it behind her back then buy a bunch of the same junk for themselves — was absolutely ridiculous. After Beatrix and I had walked up a long, curved driveway to the garden gate, a man in a Liberace-meets-Tim-Burton circus outfit escorted us onto the back patio, where people were standing around in clusters, chit chatting and stuffing their faces with hors d' oeuvres.
Performers dressed similar to the man who had conducted us hence were strewn about the yard, faces painted gold, silver, green, and other thick, shiny colors that looked difficult to remove. One stood on top of a large rubber ball, balancing on it as he rolled around serving snacks to guests. Another one juggled a bunch of bowling pins (or whatever the fuck they were). There was, of course, a guy on stilts and a chick doing pantomime. The poolside view included a sweeping vista of a valley filled with equally gaudy mansions.
I have to admit that I was completely clueless about my status at this party, but it became clear after I'd attempted to schmooze with some of the wealthy bluehairs who'd been invited because they had something to offer that I was viewed as something of a gigolo, and was not to be taken seriously. It was a bit of a let down, as I'd imagined wacky conversations with deranged rich people being the most fun part of this outing. Instead, I was shunned by almost everyone there. Almost everyone.
The drunkest guy at the party was married to the lady who was in charge of the event, which was to raise money for some university in Jerusalem. From what I could tell, he was the only person there who looked like he was actually enjoying himself, and was bouncing from cluster to cluster, telling stories, laughing, and slapping people on the back until their thin-lipped sneers dissolved into something that resembled actual smiles. You see, there were a great many important people at this shindig, and they were the kind who seemed to be well aware of their own importance.
Anyway, I threw back a couple of drinks with the life of the party and bullshitted with him about skiing for a bit, and when he migrated to the next group, I was left standing with Beatrix, picking over the remnants of the skiing conversation in a way that was simultaneously awkward and flirtatious. I decided to stop drinking at that point, because I a) did not want to fulfill these rich assholes' expectations of me, and b) did want to drive the Porsche on the way home. But before all of that, there was still the dinner to experience.
Waiting in line for the bathroom so that I could wash my hands, I noticed that amongst the collection of tacky furniture and knick knacks that must have cost its absurd owner an even more absurd amount of money, was a good sized library. I'd given up trying to talk with anyone, as they were all, with the exception of my festive new friend, blatantly unfriendly. Browsing through the book shelves that lined the room, I spotted a row of volumes that caught my fancy; a complete set of the works of Charles Dickens, bound in fine leather. Perhaps I'd jumped to conclusions about the vapid worthlessness of our hostess. Anyone with such fine taste in the art of storytelling couldn't be all bad.
I scanned the volumes, resting my finger on a copy of Great Expectations. What edition could it be? But when I tugged at it to pull it off of the shelf, all of the books moved. All of them — not just the ones in that row, but all of the books on the whole fucking shelf. They were only the fake spines of nonexistent books, stuck together and arranged in tight rows to look like a scholarly library. The complete works of William Shakespeare, Robert Louis Stevenson, Joseph Conrad and others, were all bogus. The only real books in the whole room were a disorderly jumble of Daniel Steele paperbacks crammed not quite out of sight on the bottom shelf. It blew my mind that anyone could be willing to throw away shovelfuls of perfectly good money to fill a huge house with a bunch of pointless, ugly crap.
I washed my hands and rejoined Beatrix, and we were led by another of the shiny faced Liberace-Burton minions onto another patio, where a large, circular table had been set up with a long red sash and some sort of trapeze hanging from a collapsible metal arch towering above its surface. I was seated between a self important movie director (he told me he was "in the movie industry," then completely ignored me for the rest of the evening) and a guy who looked like an actual gigolo (more on that guy in a bit). Beatrix sat next to Joan Dangerfield, her good buddy and ol' Rodney Dangerfield's widow — may he rest in peace. The gigolo looking guy — who we'll call the gigolo both because he looked like one, and because he was clearly digging for gold — was attached to Mrs. Dangerfield like a leisure suit clad leech. He knew what he wanted.
It turned out that my cougar was also friends with the lady who organized the event, a very sweet lady who, thankfully, was not the owner of the hideous digs at which it was being held. She came up to say hello to Beatrix, and introduced herself to me in a warm, inviting southern drawl. Aside from the cougar and her cheerily intoxicated husband, she was the only one who had given me the time of day.
"Welcome, hun," she said with a sweet smile. Her husband sauntered up and grinned.
"Heya Ben!" he said. "Hope you're enjoying yourself."
I liked them a lot, so I lied and said I was, then, joking, asked if the food was kosher. The gracious emcee froze, a worried frown spreading across her face. Before I could tell her I was kidding, she scurried off to find out. I'd already forgotten about it, having gotten into another skiing conversation with her husband, when she breezed back to the table, almost out of breath, resting her hand gently on my arm. The waiter had just placed a plate of food in front of me.
"Don't eat a bite. It's not kosher."
"Aw, I was just messing around," I said, flashing a sheepish green. "Y'know, you're raising money for a school in Jerusalem, so I figured the chow would be kosher."
Her expression of concern broke into one of those grandmotherly, you're-such-a-mischievous-boy grins and she wagged her finger at me and laughed.
"You're bad! Watch out for this one, B."
With that diversion past, I turned my attention to the gigolo. He was dressed in a white suit, with a black satin shirt, unbuttoned almost to his navel, under his jacket. His wet-looking black hair was full of pomade, and he wore a flat gold chain across his hairless chest (waxed, I'm sure), which was fully exposed by his mostly open shirt. He had gone to high school back in Virginia, too, in the same county even, and we had graduated only two years apart. But what we had in common ended there. He had been a jock, and I was one of those geeks who marched around with a musical instrument while wearing a cape, although I left that out and only admitted to having been on the swim team (which is probably only slightly less lame to a football player). I couldn't even name any of the players on my school's team, that's how little of a shit I gave, or give, about high school sports.
The bare-chested gigolo leaned in close and put his arm around my shoulder conspiratorially.
"Dude, this is a $5,000 per plate dinner," he whispered, grinning. "These chicks are loaded!"
Suddenly, the reason people had been so aloof with me became fully apparent. How clueless I'd been. A 40-something hotel president taking a 20-something guy like me to an expensive fundraiser was about the same as a 50-year-old dude going to a church dinner with an escort he found in the yellow pages. Ok, maybe not that bad, but I was appalled that anyone would even put me in the same league as the douchebag who was confiding in me at that moment. I was in it for the car and the thrill and the weird people and all, but he admitted to being focused on finding that elusive life on easy street.
I slid my chair back under the table and munched on the flavorless pile of food in front of me as one of the Liberace-Burton acrobats began wrapping himself in and out of the red sash. The food was just more overpriced crap that only a complete moron would pay good money for. The cloth-wrapping tricks were cool though, especially when the guy looked like he was just going to roll out of it and slam onto the tabletop, only to stop inches short.
After dinner, another circus freak asked me if we would be interested in riding the 30 yards down to the end of the driveway in a golf cart. It was my breaking point, and I could no longer keep my disgust corralled.
"Why the hell would I want to do that? Do I look like I need someone to cart my fat ass down a tiny hill in that?"
Behind me, four or five slightly tubby people had begun to scootch across the cart's vinyl benches. Beatrix looked at them, then looked at me as we walked down the hill, and began giggling as soon as we were out of earshot.
"You're such an ass!"
The Porsche was waiting at the bottom of the driveway for us, and I climbed into the drivers seat, feeling more comfortable at the controls this time. Next stop, the merry widow Joan Dangerfield's house. Beatrix made sure to point out all of the famous Hollywood actors' houses as we passed them on the way up the hill. The ugliest one, by far, was the shiny black box Keanu Reeves called home. It made me consider that he may have lost his mind by the time he was through filming the last Matrix movie.
Now, Rodney Dangerfield, God rest his soul, hadn't been gone long when Joan decided that the house she had shared with him bummed her out, because it reminded her of his death or something. So she moved into a small cottage — what would normally be enough space for a family of five, but set up for one lonely woman — and kitted it out all in white. It had white beds, white couches, white walls, white floors, and white fake polar bear skin blanket/rugs folded on pieces of furniture you'd consider sitting, sleeping, or shagging on. The back of her full bar/living room opened onto a gas flame-lit patio featuring an infinity pool overlooking the lights of L.A., arrayed in a sparkling fan across the valley below.
Joan's boudoir had huge sliding glass doors, too, but there was also an extra, fake polar bear skin covered bed on the porch. The gigolo was draped across this piece of furniture, trying his best to look seductive. A scrapbook of Rodney's memorabilia, placed on a coffee table in the basement, was the only physical remains of their life together. Well, there was also a bag of joints he'd supposedly rolled hanging next to his picture on the wall, too, but it was still in the basement. Joan didn't give him no respect.
The rest of the evening consisted of the gigolo putting his moves on Joan Dangerfield. In case you didn't pick up on this earlier, he was only two years older than I was. She was most likely in her 50s, and sported a pair of tits that were almost definitely fake. As he cooed to her on the bearskin porch bed, Beatrix sat on the edge of the pool, stirring her foot in the water and looking over at me from time to time as if to say, "Hey, big boy. Now's a good time?"
Only now wasn't a good time, and I knew that there would never be one. I was so thoroughly creeped out by the gigolo, the weird party, and the notion that a bunch of people I didn't know no thought I was a modern day version of the Midnight Cowboy took any cloudiness of judgment that would have made banging a woman who was essentially a source seem like anywhere near a good idea.
Joan followed us out to the car, explaining that the gigolo had just proposed to her, but that she wasn't into it. It seemed that the obstacle to his dream life on easy street was a 90-something-year-old entertainment tycoon Joan seemed to be pursuing in much the same way the gigolo was going after her. The old mogul had tons of loot, and she explained to us that he was a really sweet guy, too. Naturally. I read between the lines. This lady was no dummy, and knew a good mealticket for the next 30 years when she saw one. It was time to go.
I rushed to cougar through the goodbye process and into the car, eager to get away from L.A. and back to the awesome queen sized foam pad that served as a bed in my beachfront RV. Out on the PCH, with the day's traffic gone and the cool night air pouring into the Porsche's open windows, I felt a flood of control as I buried my right foot, slicing a path between the few cars left on the road at one in the morning.
"Wow," Beatrix said, "Guess you're comfortable with it now. I'm thinking of buying an old Dodge Charger. How'd you like to take care of it for me?"
I chuckled nervously, letting the comment slip away. I was too into the thrill of hooning a Porsche to concern myself with her advances. I wanted to take Malibu Canyon Road back to Highway 101 and speed the rest of the way back to Santa Barbara on the freeway, but I was going 100 miles per hour and missed the turn. No problem. Slowing the car down, I whipped it around through a gap in the median strip. Finally, there were no cars on the road ahead, so I let the car come to a complete stop, then took off at full throttle, working the car through its gears until I was going 120 mph. I took the turn into the canyon pretty fast, but the car's wide track, all wheel drive, and its host of nanny controls kept it planted around the bend and all the way through the canyon.
I drove pretty aggressively the whole way home, getting the kind of satisfaction that hooking up with a much older woman who seemed way too eager to shower me with gifts (and conditions, I was sure) would never provide. Besides, once the afterglow of Porsche driving had dissipated, I had my pick of women who were ten years my junior back in the college student ghetto in which my RV was strategically placed. Say what you will about experience, but the fountain of youth always tastes good. That's why rich old men drive Porsches and pick up fresh faced girls who are still in their 20s.
I suppose Beatrix had reasoned that it would work that way with me, too, but I was only in it for the drive. Last I heard, she'd succeeded in talking her ski instructor into an affair. I didn't envy his position as far as being under the thumb of a very powerful East Coast hotelier, but I had to wonder what it must have been like to drive that Porsche in the snow.