I spent the weekend in Los Angeles for a family wedding - just two days - but it was enough to confirm that what they say about it is true.
It began even before I left home, in the airport line, where the man behind me struck up a conversation, revealing he was an L.A. travel agent, but just to pay the bills - his real calling was book author. I asked what he'd written. Nothing yet, he said.Six hours later, we touched down.
At the baggage pickup, local women came in with expensive fashions on top and jeans on the bottom. The jean knees all had 4-inch cuts: not holes, but razor-sharp cuts. Some were parents meeting college students. In many cases, the only way to tell the mothers from the daughters was by looking at the corners of their eyes.
I was relieved to hear that my cab driver was not doing TV scripts on the side. He was, however, fasting. Ramadan, he explained. The traffic jam began five minutes out of the airport and ended five minutes from the hotel.
I took a stroll. The preferred fashion among men seemed to be black shirts, black pants, black ties and black sports jackets. Most rolled the jacket cuffs halfway to their elbows. None of the graying, older men had paunches. Most had on tennis shoes.
Back in my hotel room, I opened a brochure listing exercise classes. One was called "Abs, glutes and thighs."
I met my brother, who told me he'd seen a homeless person wearing an animal rights button. Another held out a can and said: "United Homeless Pizza Fund." He gave.
That night I came back late to find a crush of beautiful people - perhaps 1,000 - leaving the hotel banquet hall. The women, all blond, had necklines to their navels and hemlines almost as high. The men, all in tuxedos, did not have haircuts but hairdos. I was convinced it was a pre-Oscar dinner. It turned out to be an awards banquet exclusively for sound editors. It was one of a half-dozen wannabe ceremonies around L.A. that weekend.
The next day, I walked Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Many window mannequins wore jeans with cuts at the knees. I tried to go into a store called Bijan, but the doorman said I needed an appointment. Inside, it was empty.
On the sidewalk, the men with the longest hair were the near-bald ones. Most grew their fringes to 10 inches and tied them together in a ponytails.
Most people kept checking their own reflections in store windows.
I went jogging and saw a three-Mercedes house. I saw two other houses with landscaped driveways: checkerboards of concrete separated by 3-inch strips of grass that cars parked on.
I opened the newspaper and spotted a story about a graduate school professor promising money back to any student dissatisfied with his teaching. Los Angeles magazine had a dozen pages of cosmetic surgery ads, including one for the Collagen Clinic, one for the Leg Center, one headlined "Recreate Your Ears," and one featuring a handsome surgeon asking: Are you beginning to look like your mother?
I ate at a few delis. The waiters who weren't screenwriters were weightlifters.
It became clear why houses in L.A. canyons fall down. If people are able to gouge 1,000 square feet into a cliff, they will build a 999-square-foot foundation. One house had a tennis court in midair - three-quarters of it sticking out like an enormous diving board held up by stilts. The neighborhood was called Mount Olympus.
I left Oscar morning. Starting at 6, TV stations began flashing urgent updates from the Shrine Auditorium. A crowd of onlookers was interviewed. They'd been camped there two nights - in the rain - to get a front-row view of celebrities walking by.
I headed to the hotel elevator where a sign warned me to use the stairs - not in case of fire but earthquake. Finally, the plane took off.
At least I got material for a column. Though now I'm thinking: Maybe I should expand it to a screenplay. That's what I really do on the side.
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service