A letter from the other coast: Your diarist is filing this dispatch from Los Angeles, where-to embellish a thought first voiced by the great S.J. Perelman-the entertainment industry celebrates our nation’s most sacred Thanksgiving holiday by serving up a whole flock of fresh turkeys on movie screens across America. Wait a minute. Cynical? Did I hear you say that I sound cynical and lacking in holiday spirit?
Well, you’re probably right. But consider our relative circumstances at this moment: You’re reading this in New York, where the Rockefeller Center tree is up, there’s a chill in the air, and it’s my favorite time of year. While I’m writing this in Los Angeles, where it’s 85 degrees, Santa and his reindeer are strung out between two poles on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills …
… And I’m stuck in a windowless, modemless office, staring at a computer screen, unable to bid on Ebay, with a movie executive’s words ringing in my ear:
“We don’t want to rush you,” he said of an overdue screenplay, “but we’d like the script by the end of the century . This century.”
Still, in the few minutes each day that I manage to escape my captors (the phrase “auto detailing” seems to work as a password with the 22-year-old girl who guards my office), I’ve found that there is, in fact, life beyond the entertainment business out here. And as we sit down to the Thanksgiving table, here are some of the local topics du jour :
· Forty-Mile Traffic Jams. Each time I return here, it’s noticeably worse: Trips that once took 15 minutes now chew up an hour. There’s traffic everywhere, all the time. Downtown, the new Staples Center-located at the intersection of two major freeways-has only exacerbated things. It’s almost as if someone had the dumb idea of relocating Yankee Stadium outside the Lincoln Tunnel. (Note to Rudy: Ahem. Are you listening?)
· A.T.M. Wars. The People’s Republic of Santa Monica recently declared war against A.T.M. surcharges by the Bank of America and Wells Fargo; in a colossally wrongheaded move, the banks retaliated by banning all but their own cards. (Advice to Rudy: Sign the bill in New York. It’s a no-brainer. Citibank and Chase may be powerful friends; but in the voting booth, they’re more useful as enemies.)
· Area Code Relief. Six months, a dozen lawsuits and a billion wrong numbers after the institution of the 424 overlay in the 310 area code (requiring 10 digits for local calls), the phone companies were forced to reverse the plan. (Hello, Rudy: a missed opportunity, with our own 646 overlay.) Sadly, however, this won’t help the poor sons of bitches who still have to dial 10 digits on cell phones-while stuck in traffic jams, driving to distant A.T.M.’s, complaining about kids, preschool, real estate and sex-just like we do in New York.
In my other meanderings about the City of Angels, I was recently invited to attend a lunch for a dot-com millionaire-an event that would leave me with an entirely new perspective on I.P.O. culture.
“You’ve got to meet this guy,” said a mutual friend. “These people are the new rock stars.”
Twenty-four hours later, I was sitting in a dim sum restaurant in Beverly Hills, along with a TV director, two screenwriters and a local journalist. All are successful. Yet before Mr. Dot-Com arrived, the envy-and regret-at the table were palpable.
“If I had it to do over again, I’d dump screenwriting and work for Microsoft,” said my fellow screenwriter.
“Stock options. Jet planes. Why did I ever want to be the next Bob Woodward?” asked the journalist, with a thin veneer of irony.
Twenty-five minutes after the appointed hour, Mr. Dot-Com swept into the room: Early 30’s. Black Levi’s. Black cashmere turtleneck. Snapping his black Motorola Star-Tac shut, he whipped off his black Oakley sunglasses, and the fun began.
“Downstreaming, multimedia, broadband,” he announced.
“Oooooo,” my lunchmates swooned.
“Back-office, e-branding, clicks-and-mortar,” he continued.
“Wow,” my companions cooed.
“Paradigm, eyeballs, bleeding edge, mission critical, Web-enabled best of breed, please pass me the dumplings,” he finished.
“Awesome,” they sighed.
Listening to this, I began to grow skeptical. Perhaps it was his fragmented speech pattern. Or the “I’m-a-visionary” squint he seemed to affect. Or the way he trumped the table: When someone mentioned buying a computer on line, he squinted and replied: “Outfitted our whole company. 700K. One click.”
“So what is it-precisely-that you do?” I asked.
The squint rotated in my direction. “We’re putting in the Big Pipes,” he said. “Managing the enterprise structure for start-up e-tailers.”
It was at this moment, coinciding with the arrival of the glazed Peking duck, that I had an epiphany: Essentially, the guy is a high-tech plumbing contractor. A cyberspace building manager. And I suddenly had my own vision of the future:
Flash-forward 20 years. The same five people are seated around the same Lazy Susan. But this time, instead of hanging on every word, the journalist and the movie guys sit there, feigning the same polite fascination they’d put on for an Encino dentist or a dress manufacturer from Great Neck-waiting for the right moment to pounce, and ask the dolt to invest in a film project or startup newspaper.
Maybe it’s just that I’m getting older. I can remember when fashion designers were heralded as the new rock stars. Then restaurant owners and chefs. Then it was personal trainers, event planners, basketball players, makeup artists, hair stylists, junk bond traders, golfers, TV commercial directors, interior designers, standup comedians, architects, performance artists, Carl Bernstein, Julian Schnabel, hotel owners, nightclub impresarios, supermodels, independent film directors.
And now, dot-com millionaires are the new rock stars?
Somehow, I think not.
Anyone for turkey?