A HEDONIST'S GUIDE TO HOLLYWOOD
Amongst the city’s iconic palm trees dying of old age, wild fires devastating the hills, rising tides eroding the coastline, and the ever-present threat of a catastrophic earthquake rumbling from below, BB Gunn reclines in the sweltering sun, tanning. Through a series of true stories, BB takes us on a long, winding tour of LA in his Mercedes convertible from Venice Beach to the esoteric edges of Hollywood. Along the way he runs into (sometimes literally) celebrity staples ranging from old school Angelyne to the Kardashian Klan, plumbs the depths of queer underground nightlife, and reaches into the past to ruminate on architecture, horticulture, and silicone implants. For a city on the brink of annihilation, BB captures the culture as a Paradise, making sure to relish in the documentation of its pleasures before the oasis runs dry.
Photo by Christophe McWhorter
A HOUSE IN THE HILLS (first published in Elska Magazine)
I’m not sure when Sunday Drives stopped being an American pastime, maybe somewhere between rising gas prices and extended commutes, but I still partake. They’re hard to resist when the sun is shining and the wild road of Mulholland calls from on high.
It was calling with particular urgency one afternoon not long ago. I felt the warm breeze blow through my bungalow’s open windows, picked up my keys, and floated downstairs to Ruth, my ’85 Mercedes. I put the top down, pulled onto the street, and within minutes I was out of LA and somewhere else entirely: The Hills. I took an impulsive turn down some lush side street that brought me up, down, and sideways. The cost to own a piece of hillside tranquility up here starts at $1 million and quickly escalates into the double digits. Despite the high price of admission, I came to an impromptu stop outside an open house.
A blond welcomed me in. He was the assistant to two 30-something realtors, who both stood over six feet tall with dark hair, fake tans, bleached teeth, and manicured eyebrows. I was the only one there, so I shook their hands and introduced myself. I said I was looking for a house in the hills, but my bright eyes and smile – the edges of which are so far untouched by Botox – revealed that I was still a bit too young to afford this contemporary 3 bedroom, 3 bath with sweeping city views.
The young assistant handed me a flyer of house specs to review as I walked around. He was dressed professionally in clothes that wore him more than the other way around: untailored khakis, a blue and white checkered shirt, and big-boy leather shoes. I wondered if this was his first “real job,” the first steppingstone of many on his journey to The Top, following in the footsteps of his slightly-older bosses, whose leather shoes were undoubtedly far more expensive. I wondered if Hollywood Hills realty was a gay profession, and if I should join in. I like homes, I like money. But then I remembered I don’t like khakis and decided against it.
“Would you like a drink?” the assistant asked, “There’s a bar downstairs.” Of course I did, but it was before 5pm, and he wouldn’t be joining me. I went down there anyway, having never heard of an open house with an open bar. I found it in an all-white second living room, a built-in wet bar complete with hired help: a seven foot tall male model wearing all black. The realtors must’ve had a field day picking him for the job. The probably-actor-turned-bartender’s face had been chiseled by the gods, then improved upon by the plastic surgeons of Beverly Hills. His slicked back Superman hair was thicker than a shampoo ad and stayed perfectly in place as he moved around, setting out glasses and toothpick-impaled meatballs. He was the kind of good looking that’s a step beyond, a face too high end for the movies and better suited for an eyewear campaign. I grabbed a meatball, then two, and retreated into another room to eat outside his gaze.
I quickly came to the conclusion that the current owners were two 50-something year old men. Their large walk-in closet comprised entirely of work-appropriate hues, the only pops of color existing in expensive workout wear. A photo of them wearing white speedos together in Mykonos confirmed my suspicion.
The mansion itself was a bore of post modern minimalism, but its one redeeming quality was the view. The entire city was accessible to the naked eye, allowing the only opportunity where you could zip from Bel Air to Los Feliz in under a second. I sighed and imagined owning bright orange sunsets, with Tinseltown sparkling under me like a jewel box after dark.
Maybe this place wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe I could learn to love the cold grey floors, or at least cover them with area rugs. Yes, I thought, this insult to architecture would make a fine home, if only to sit outside of and read. How much was it, anyway? I glanced at the flyer I’d been carrying around: $6.7 million. My mind went blank, then readjusted: Hmm. Well, maybe this view isn’t so great. I’m sure there are better vistas out there that reach all the way to Mexico. I’ll keep looking.
I surveyed the land one last time, allowing the urban sprawl to wash over me, its cacophony of activity reduced to a distant hum up here on the mountain. Walking back inside, I thanked the blond assistant, wondered if I should offer him a ride, then grabbed another meatball and returned to my car alone.
For over a hundred years, ‘cellar door’ has been considered by phoneaestheticians as the most beautiful sounding word in the English language. Once stripped of its context, this compound noun is supposedly the most pleasant on the ears, never mind the dusty dark imagery that silently comes to mind. However, as an aesthete and an English speaker, I’ve never been convinced. I require a word’s context to be as sensuous as its phonics, and to me, ‘cellar door’ doesn’t rise to either occasion. The undoubtable correction to this glaring misstep is to pass the sonic crown on to ‘liquor store.’
Where its predecessor fails, ‘liquor store’ delivers pleasure both phonetically and contextually. To speak it out loud is to take a three-part trip down the gullet: Li. Khor. Stor. It’s begging you to gulp it down, to swallow it whole, to purchase another. It leaves the mouth like a boomerang, as one seldom speaks its name without the intent of coming back with something good. The phonetics bring to mind ‘licorice’ and ‘lacquer,’ because like licorice, liquor is candy, and like lacquer, liquor invites itself to shellac your liver until the whites of your eyes are glazed over in two thick polished coats of Jaundice Yellow.
My neighborhood liquor store is located just far enough down Melrose that I have to really want it—or need it— to walk all the way over there. It’s aptly named Clown Liquor for the mural of a drunk clown on its side, which is how I look walking out after picking up my third bottle of 11% alc/vol beer. And unlike the heavy wood and rusty hinges that ‘cellar door’ brings to mind, this liquor store offers a swinging glass entry with soft gold-metallic handles, worn thin over the years by the love of its dedicated customers. Beautiful women greet me from the front windows, cardboard cutouts from decades gone by, their eternal youth only faded by the sun. Inside the florescent glow of clear refrigerators line the walls like display cases at Tiffany’s. But unlike Holly Golightly, I don’t need to eat my breakfast from the outside yearning in, I can purchase whatever I want and make it my breakfast! (Malt liquor being an especially filling way to start the day.) Indeed, nothing very bad could happen to me here. Day or night it’s a safe haven from the surrounding city, allowing for a quick stop into a gallery of collected treasures and consumable delights. In a moment of crisis, such as a tornado, where would I rather be?
Even written out, this attractive phrase is still more beautiful: LIQUOR STORE. Could neon tubes aspire to bend into any finer shape? Considering that all the great flashing lights and glowing signs that once decorated the big cities and small towns of America have mostly been torn down, what a windfall it is that most often it’s the liquor stores who have remained relatively untouched. There are still so many to choose from in LA, drenching the city like a tidal wave of libations that crests in Venice Beach and crashes into Downtown, each accompanied by its own neon sign flickering in every color and font known to midcentury man. I pass by them at night, glamorized by their grandeur and scale, tempted to go in, to peruse the jewels.
Late one evening I was walking home alone after another dead end date. The frigid 60-degree wind whipped against my face, this being the cruel dead of winter. I was still blocks away and the world was black, without so much as the moon or stars to guide my way. Looking down, pushing forward, I heard a slight buzz in the air. I looked up, and there, beaming against the midnight sky like a sign from Dionysus: LIQUOR STORE. Beside it beamed an enormous Googie-style arrow pointing me in what I became certain was the best and only direction this night could end. The blazing neon appeared to flash: SIN SIN SIN, FUN FUN FUN, YUM YUM YUM. I willfully succumbed to the arrow’s malevolent guidance and stepped inside.
Can you imagine a world where today’s few remaining neon signs are for something banal like gas stations? Or far worse, cellar doors? We got very lucky.