Monday, August 25, 2003

Beach party or forum?


Monday August 25, 2003

party or forum?

* It's a night of bikini babes and speechifying as gubernatorial candidates and the media check out Jim 'Poorman' Trenton's 'Governor's Ball.'

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

Event organizer Cindy Rakowitz positions a gorgeous twentysomething in a bikini bottom and body paint outside the Backstage Cafe in Beverly Hills. Nearby, Jim "Poorman" Trenton -- the dreadlocked surferdude host of the TV show "Poorman's Bikini Beach" and sponsor of this evening's "Governor's Ball" -- gathers reporters and his posse of bikini babes and shows them some newly developed snapshots.

"I visited kitchens in L.A., and look! This is a kitchen in South-Central -- there's dirt under the sink!" Another kitchen, devastated by fire: "This is a person who has a home, and she can't afford to have her kitchen replaced!"

Trenton is running for governor, apparently on the "kitchen" platform, and he has invited all 135 recall candidates to the Thursday night party thrown in their collective honor. Not all of them make it.

A limo pulls up, and out jumps a wannabe Crocodile Hunter. "Bumhunter for governor!" he yells in an Outback Aussie accent. The reporters swivel.

"Everyone knows that the largest amount of bums on the street are those in Sacramento," "The Bumhunter" says, crouching and glancing side to side as if to avoid venomous L.A. wildlife. "If you elect me, I'm going to clean up those streets. I'm a homeless advocate!"

Paul Vann, a widowed financial planner from Irvine and a Republican candidate, talks to whomever will listen. "I want to fix worker's comp.... Keep no secrets from the people.... My children are proud of me.... I'm running to win."

A pit bull with wheels for hind legs enters the melee. She sniffs at Trenton.

"It looks to me like some people are running for governor," says Chris Cory, a writer-director-producer out walking his dog. "Her name is Coral. I think she should run." Coral wheels in a circle and snorts.

Let the speeches commence. Inside the bar, lights turn everything red. More than a few people get smacked by cameras or boom mikes or oversized L.A.-style breasts. Bartenders whir: For politicians and the media, drinks are on the house.

Ruben Raul Vega, a "personal bank officer" at Wells Fargo running as a Democrat: "In a nutshell, I want to expand the gaming industry."

Logan Clements, "Republican objectivist": "There are two things that this government is good for -- taking away money and taking away freedom."

Vann takes the mike. A bikini babe rubs his head seductively. "I'm not sure this is a serious stage," he says, smiling uncomfortably ... but he goes on to tell an anecdote about Sacramento inefficiency anyway.

"I am an artist from Venice Beach," says Trek Kelly, dressed all in blue. "I am running as an elaborate art piece.... I also have an advertising job because, until I stage my own death in three years, I won't make a profit from my paintings."

"It's about time we have average people running!" says Anthony Morman, an independent wearing a blue suit. All candidates, regardless of orientation -- or whether they're even on the ballot -- cheer one another on.

"And this is the most attractive candidate," says Trenton, introducing Reva Renee Renz, a Republican from Santa Ana and tonight's only female politician.

"As a bar owner," Renz says, "I hear average concerns every day. People say, 'Where did the money go?' I want to go to Sacramento and find out where it went."

The entire bar explodes. "Show me the money!" somebody screams.

"We ought to give a round of applause to the press!" Trenton enthuses. Reporters stop writing. Some actually blush.

"Are there any other candidates?" Trenton asks.

"I'll run!" says a man on a barstool. He swigs his beer, stands ...

Later, Trenton stands outside and gabs with reporters and fellow politicians. "At first, this was just publicity, but I was really moved by the fact that people own their own homes but can't afford to fix their kitchens. It makes me want to go and walk the streets. This process is changing me. I really care."

"Excuse me, but would you want to buy one of my paintings?" asks a passerby.

"Sure!" says Trenton, who ushers the man inside."Roxanne!" scream the Police from ubiquitous speakers. Everybody joins in. Black-suited Republicans ... "the Bumhunter" ... the bikini brigade .... "You don't have to put on the red light. Those days are over. You don't have to sell your body to the night."

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Cleveland in all its splendor


Sunday August 17, 2003

Cleveland in all its splendor

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

ANNE HECHE is wearing a typically gorgeous designer gown and looking typically gorgeous in it. She plays celeb perfectly: grudgingly approaching the print media area on the red carpet outside Hollywood's Cinerama Dome and offering a typical sound bite -- "I'm so excited to be here with this group of artists. Very excited."

"Anne! Anne!" screams the inevitable horde of onlookers, trying to snag autographs to hawk on eBay. Nearby, Harvey Pekar stands amid the commotion looking decidedly unimpressed. He is wearing a black suit and an "American Splendor" T-shirt, his neck perpetually hunched. "It's no big deal -- a lot of advertising," he says. "With the money I get from this, plus my pension from the VA hospital, I'm just hoping I can survive. I just wanna keep going. The most meaningful thing in life, for me, is breathing."

Pekar has spent the last 25 years documenting his mundane and often unpleasant existence as a Cleveland file clerk in his American Splendor comic books. His story has spawned multiple appearances on Letterman, an off-Broadway play and, now, this evening's biopic, featuring Paul Giamatti as Pekar.

"I'm attracted to deliberate, willful pariahs," Giamatti explains. "To some kind of working-class rage that's about as far from my background as you can get."

Giamatti is fast becoming a critics' darling. As for Pekar: "I don't know that I'm a figure," he says. "My number is in the phone book, and I don't get a lot of calls."

Time for a group picture, so Giamatti stands next to Pekar and Judah Friedlander stands next to the character he portrays, Pekar's real-life buddy and avowed nerd, Toby Radloff. Friedlander grins idiotically for the camera -- mouth agape, eyes wide -- and gives two thumbs-up. Radloff, mimicking the actor who is mimicking him, gives a thumbs-up too.

"I feel great," Radloff says in his loud staccato voice, each word deliberate. "I'm in a big movie.... Afterward, I'm going back to my government job. Unless Hollywood calls again." He takes out a battered camera and snaps pictures of the photographers who are taking pictures of him.

The afterparty on the roof of the ArcLight Cinemas parking structure is straight out of the movie. "I was trying to bring to life the streets of Cleveland," says veteran party designer Billy Butchkavitz.Multicolored spotlights illuminate vintage cars from the early '60s through the '80s; there are nearly 60 8-by-8-foot blowups of American Splendor covers; more than 5,000 LPs are piled in crates underneath the buffet tables; and white-carpeted vignettes re-create working-class living rooms, replete with beaten-up couches. "We went through all the thrift stores to find this old junk," Butchkavitz says.

Faye Dunaway congratulates one of the film's two writer-directors, Robert Pulcini, and everybody tells Giamatti that "it was beautiful," that he was "fantastic." A live jazz band starts up.

Pekar's wife, Joyce Brabner, surveys the party with a frown.

"This could've been somebody's salary on the film," she tells the producer, Ted Hope. "It's a little startling until I realize that I don't have to do all the dishes afterward."

Thursday, August 14, 2003

The bouncers let us in


Thursday August 14, 2003

Cover story
The bouncers let us in

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

ANY Saturday night in Hollywood. Outside of "it" clubs like White Lotus, Deep and Ivar, sidewalks teem with various versions of sexy, hip and trendy, everybody looking for validation and a place to party. Seeking admission into the netherworlds of nightlife -- where darkness softens frown lines, music blares louder than nagging introspection and booze eases inhibitions. Lonely in a city full of strangers, here you can finally connect.

If you're on the guest list. If you have a wallet full of cash. If you're over 21.

Cadres of bouncers and doormen loom in each doorway, assessing and judging -- they gauge style, sex appeal, propensity for violence. What do you offer the club culture inside? What are you worth?

"I look for a doorman who has what I call 'the eye,' " says Ivan Kane, who owns Deep and Forty Deuce. "Somebody who knows the players and can spot them.... Somebody who knows who's who."

"You want intimidating, big people," says Ivar and Nacional owner Alan Nathan. "So that, psychologically, people won't want to mess with them. Some security guys don't have much interaction. They're just posts."

Any Saturday night in Hollywood. You go home early, lonelier than before. Mumbling about jackass bouncers with oversized biceps and undersized brains. Them and their ad hoc night court. Who gave them license to judge, anyway?

But as is too often the case, the people you love to hate are people nonetheless. As it turns out, bouncers and doormen have their own hopes and dreams, insecurities and self-doubts. They even have day jobs like the rest of us. They are writers, singers, actors, teachers, family men.

"I am the skinniest bouncer in the world," says Forrest Satchell, who is also an assistant director of independent films. Andrew Brin is an ex-DJ, ex-performance artist, ex-drug addict, now working toward a doctorate in psychology. Damian Decottle has the heft of an NFL star, but ...

Damian Decottle

The Short Stop

Checking IDs outside the Short Stop, Damian Decottle looks older than 22. "Most people think I'm 35 or 40," says the beefy 6-foot, 6-inch bouncer. "Most people look at me and see ... a football player." Then Decottle smiles -- a youthful, giddy smile -- and he sheds years. "Most people tend to judge what they don't know."

Listen up, Most People: Decottle is no linebacker. "I'm more like a male J.Lo," he says. His personal hero? Janet Jackson. While the sun is up, you'll find Decottle at Millennium Dance Studio in North Hollywood, practicing his routines set to hip-hop beats. Yep, big guy is a dancer.

"Dancers are not always 5-6 and 110 pounds," he explains. "If I get in some terrible accident, if I can't walk, I'm still a dancer. That's who I am."

Growing up in Seattle, Decottle always felt different. His body spoke a language of its own -- "I realized that I could move in ways that other people couldn't." But he had no idea where to channel this fluidity, this energy. When he was 8, Decottle saw Janet Jackson on TV and started mimicking the diva. In no time, he had her moves down.

"Dancing came so easy. It wasn't a challenge," Decottle says. He remembers thinking, "I'm doing it exactly like they're doing it, but they're on TV. Why aren't I on TV?"

Decottle's father, like Most People, thought that his son was a football player. "You're a boy," Dad said. "Get out there and play football." But Decottle wasn't interested in paternal advice. "I grew up with the tragic broken family syndrome," he says. "We moved a lot. My parents were addicted to drugs." In lieu of losing hope, Decottle danced and danced....

In high school, he was the only guy on the drill team. And he towered over the others. He did talent shows, and "everybody's kinda like, whoa!" he laughs. This kid could move. He joined In the Mix, a dance group that worked radio station parties, fairs -- "if they did dancing, we were there."

He could never afford lessons, but as a sophomore Decottle began teaching hip-hop dance. All the while he was in the school choir and on the class council. "My parents didn't care if I dropped out. I don't think they even knew I went to school," he says. Which only made him study harder.

In his junior year, Decottle's two older sisters moved to San Diego. Then Dad got thrown in jail and Mom, strung out on crack cocaine, disappeared. A homeless Decottle spent two weeks telling friends and teachers that everything was fine, just fine, but school officials eventually caught on. Decottle was placed in foster care. Life was tolerable until, in his senior year, he was diagnosed with polycythemia vera, a serious blood disease rarely found in people younger than 30. Decottle's body was producing too much blood.

"My eyes would bleed," he says. "I would be driving on the freeway and my eyes would black out." He did schoolwork from bed. Doctors drained his body of excess fluid, and he underwent radiation therapy. He lost his hair, and it returned only in patches. "I thought I was going to die," he says.

Doctors and Most People told Decottle that he wouldn't be able to walk again. "If normal blood is like water going through a straw, yours is like a milkshake," they explained. Decottle didn't give up. One foot in front of the other, then he was walking, then he was dancing. Nowadays he gets drained twice a year, but otherwise, he's back to normal. Most People, wrong again.

Decottle moved to Los Angeles seven months ago to pursue his dance career. Given his size, landing a bouncing job wasn't difficult. He never drank growing up -- that was his parents' gig. He experienced nightlife for the first time as the guard at the gate.

"When people go to bars, I don't consider them adults anymore. They're drunk kids. Which is not a bad thing -- I like drunk kids. Well, not literally," Decottle laughs. "I'm a baby sitter who can throw people around." He enjoys the "eclectic" mix of barhoppers at the Short Stop, "flashy Hollywood types, grunge types, '70s types," and schmoozing with the inevitable celebrity, Seann William Scott and Vince Vaughn being regulars.

He has yet to meet Janet Jackson, or appear in any of her music videos. Whether that happens or not, Decottle will keep on groovin'. "If I get recognition, great. If not, I'm still doing what I love to do."

Andrew Brin

Les Deux Cafe,

Bar Deluxe

Andrew BRIN prefers to be called a doorman. "Bouncers keep peace within the clubs, mostly with physical presence," he says. "Bouncers get people out. I get people in."

Certain people, at least.

Brin, 43, presides over some of the most exclusive clubs in Hollywood: Mondays at Les Deux Cafe, Tuesdays at Bar Deluxe. These are the celebrity destinations you read about in the glossies. Leonardo DiCaprio, Drew Barrymore and Tobey Maguire all frequent Les Deux, and Bar Deluxe partyers include Owen and Luke Wilson, Ashton Kutcher, Edward Norton and Sheryl Crow. Most of L.A.'s A list has appeared on Brin's clipboard at one time or another.

In his spare time, Brin "maintains the integrity of the guest list" at private shindigs thrown by industry glitterati. "Hollywood is a little neighborhood," he explains. "I'm the neighborhood doorman."

He is also the neighborhood rehab counselor. During the day, Brin works at Beit T'Shuvah, a residential drug and alcohol addiction treatment center in Culver City. He counsels, facilitates groups and grinds out paperwork. In addition to his caseload, at any given moment he's "available to 100 residents as an ear, to make suggestions ... for whatever they need."

Brin is aware of the irony -- by night he baby-sits the rich and famous as they drink and party, by day he shepherds addicts toward spirituality and sobriety. But the two worlds are "not as contradictory as they appear to be," he says. "What I do at night helps what I do during the day. I teach people trying to get clean that they don't have to be afraid of bars.... There are lots of sober people in nightclubs."

This doorman knows clubs. And he knows drugs.

"I started going to discotheques when I was 13, and started doing drugs before that," he says. "I was strung out for 20 years."

In the mid-'80s, Brin got a bachelor's degree in architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design but soon lost interest in the profession. "Part of me has always wanted more ... has been insatiable," he explains. He is addicted to having "creative positions of influence."

After architecture, Brin moved "right into the mainstream of late-century performance art." It was a leftist political movement. "Polemic. A couple of people onstage with multimedia." When that petered out, he became a DJ and spent the next 20 years spinning disco, '80s house music and "hip-hop, when that was invented."

Then he was arrested for selling drugs in 1997. "I chose rehab over prison," he says. It was his sixth rehab. For some reason, this one stuck. He made the move to L.A. five years ago and has been clean ever since.

Brin tried to DJ here, but competition was stiff. He needed a new career. "It should have something to do with the [movie] industry," he remembers thinking. "If I lived in Detroit, I'd work at Ford." His credentials left something to be desired: "a lifetime of experience in [two] fields -- nightclubs and addiction."

"At some point in your life, you stop trying to pretend you're somebody you're not and make a deal with what you've got," Brin says. So when a friend quit her job as a doorperson, he slid right in. Soon, Beit T'Shuvah hired him by reputation.

Brin makes a model doorman and counselor for the same reason he's a journalist's nightmare: He is bullheadedly tight-lipped. Lounging outside the Coffee Bean on Lankershim one late afternoon, he refuses to identify a "well-known independent film director" who strolls by, because "that's her business." He won't discuss much of his childhood, because that involves other people -- his parents. Needless to say, he refuses to comment on his celebrity clientele. He is routinely hounded by "people disguised as students, people pretending to be reporters," but has yet to be fooled.

Despite spending most nights surrounded by booze, Brin is never tempted to imbibe. Well, rarely. "I was watching Mariah Carey trip her way across the room with a perfect apple martini," he recollects, "and realized that I have never had an apple martini."

If you're hankering for a night of glitz and glam, don't bother palming a fifty. "I have turned down thousands of dollars," he asserts. "I have an obligation to the environment that's not for sale." No matter how much you want to meet Cameron Diaz, unless you're on the guest list, Brin's answer is "no" -- excepting very, very rare occasions when, he admits, "I can be entertained enough to just let you in."

For the first time in his life, the future looks constant. Brin has found his niche. He's even enrolled in a graduate program at Antioch College, working toward a doctorate in psychology -- at which point he will no longer be a doorman. He will be the doctor at the door.

Torrance Jackson

Burgundy Room

His first day in Los Angeles "was too hot," Torrance Jackson remembers. It was 1991, and he had moved here on a whim -- with no friends or job prospects.

"I was standing by the Dresden Room [on Vermont Avenue], waiting for the light to change," he says. "The sun was shining. But I knew that people get jaywalking tickets in this city, so I waited. When I finally got across, an older lady handed me a $20 bill."

"For the song," she said.

Jackson realized that he had been singing "Old Man River."

"It was beautiful," the woman informed him. "People in Hollywood love music." She suggested that he "walk up and down this street, singing."

Nothing better to do, Jackson followed her advice. "I made $180 in an hour and a half," he says. The street singing gig lasted for nearly six years. "Of all the jobs I've had, that was the hardest. You have to do it every day." He sang "everything from blues, jazz to gospel."

"My passion is singing," says Jackson. "It is my aspiration, the joy of my life."

It is not his only goal, however. After "releasing a nationally successful piece of music," he wants to "teach at my alma mater, Howard University." He already has a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's degree in education from that university.

"I have a definite interest in human behavior," Jackson explains, "in human problems, particularly those of the disadvantaged." He wrote his master's thesis on "music therapy, based on a study in a Washington, D.C., jail." He focused on "music as a means toward self-disclosure, self-revelation."

For the moment, his diplomas are stowed away. "Your academic credentials will stay with you," he says. "Right now, my voice is crisp and I'm going to follow that. I'm not going to get old and talk about what I wish I had done."

Jackson was singing one day when the owner of the Burgundy Room passed by. Liking what he heard, he offered to hire Jackson as the doorman. Although Jackson had no experience as a bouncer, he took the job. Another whim. Four years later, Jackson is a fixture at the Hollywood bar.

"A lot of people come into this place because of Torrance," says bartender Thaddeus Quigley. "He's the staple. He moves as slow as a turtle -- but people listen."

The bar is a haven for music industry hipster types, and Jackson has made some connections. He released his first album last year -- "Torrance Jackson, My Dream" (Dr. Wu Records) -- and is recording a second.

But even if he makes it big, he says, he'll still work at the Burgundy Room part time. He loves the scene too much to give it up for small things like fame and fortune.

On a recent Tuesday evening, Jackson drapes his lanky 6-foot-9 form over his chair and watches the street for signs of life. He is eating a bag of instant buttered popcorn, as usual.

Every night is "like a movie," he says. "And better than the ones I rent, I'll tell you that." He points at a group of young punk-rockers huddling around a pay phone. "Those are the angry street kids," he says. "There are millions of them. They're an institution."

Virtually everyone who walks by -- be they dressed in Gucci or garbage bags -- stops to say hello. Jackson is equally congenial to each: He gives directions to a girl who looks like a Vogue model, then chats with a homeless guy who asks about finding an apartment. He is never patronizing, ever calm and calming.

A disheveled man walks up, fists clenched, eyes crazed. "I'm not afraid to die!" he screams. Instead of flinching, Jackson smiles. Which seems to disarm the man, who walks away looking confused.

"My academic training gives me a good foundation," Jackson says. "If I have an irate customer, I revert to the therapeutic approach."

In addition to bouncing and recording, Jackson also substitute-teaches throughout the L.A. Unified School District, gives voice lessons from his Hollywood apartment and tutors three students in reading -- "a Hispanic woman and her two children who have been in the States for a year. I met them when they walked past the bar."

Patrons and passersby ask Jackson to sing nightly, and he obliges. "I would never tell them no, unless I physically couldn't do it," he says. "That song might be what gets them to their next breath."

Jackson will talk candidly about most everything, except his age. "Age is in relation to the Earth. We are all very young," he says. He gazes lovingly upon his domain. "We are all just youngsters trying to find our way."


Opening the door

* They can smell desperation

The key to getting past the door is, above all, to play it cool. If bouncers don't want you, then you don't want in anyway, right? At most clubs, "if you're respectable-looking, decent people, then you'll get in," says Cinespace's Steven Z.

* Show your style

"I like attractive people who have a sense of style," says Anya Varda, longtime doorperson at the Standard Hotel on Sunset. "People who are, beyond anything, nice. People I would like to hang out with."

* Dress creatively

Flashy but not too flashy. Show some skin, but not too much skin. Sexy without going over the line. Treat each club as your personal fashion runway. "I like lots of eye candy," says Varda. "That's why people go out, to look at other people and have other people look at them."

* Don't bet on bribery

Most high-class doormen are with Varda on this one: "If all you bring to the door is a wallet, I'm sorry.... I have turned down over $50,000 in bribes."

* It's good to be a girl

Emily Cole-Chu, an Occidental College student who frequents L.A. clubs, has honed a routine that works for her. "I tell them that all my friends are in already. I give them some eyes. Make it seem like I'm needy, all alone on the great big Sunset Strip. I play into their wanting to do a good thing complex."

* Show up early

Go on less popular nights. Make a wish list of clubs, from most to least exclusive. Most importantly, don't let the game get you down. There's always tomorrow night.

* Don't drink too much beforehand

Bouncers are hesitant to admit drunks. "If you get out of a car and the first thing you do is vomit in my driveway," says Varda, "you're not getting in. I don't care how much better you feel."


Where they are

4100 Bar, 4100 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake

Akbar, 4356 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake

Bar Deluxe, 1710 N. Las Palmas Ave., Hollywood

Burgundy Room, 1621 1/2 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood

Cinespace, 6356 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

Dresden Room, 1760 N. Vermont Ave., Hollywood

Ivar, 6356 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

Les Deux Cafe, 1638 Las Palmas Ave., Hollywood

The Falls, 8210 Sunset Blvd., L.A.

The Gate, 643 N. La Cienega, L.A.

The Standard Hotel, 8300 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood

Short Stop, 1455 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park

Three Clubs, 1123 N. Vine St., Hollywood


On the inside looking out


Doors: Cinespace, The Falls, The Gate

Day job: Real estate agent with Coldwell Banker of Beverly Hills

"You're dealing with 300 to 400 people per night, so you have to be a people person. The key is not to be abrasive. You get threatened just doing your job, but you take it with a grain of salt. People

approach this rope defensively, so I like to make them laugh."


Door: Ivar

Day job: Hanging out with his wife

"I'm the nice guy, the opposite of all the other bouncers. I'm from Canada, maybe that's why.

People are like, 'You look so mean.' Then I smile, and they're like, 'Wow.' I don't goof around. When I come in here, I break a sweat. I'll help sweep, help valet. This is our home. Our team. Our family."


Door: Three of Clubs

Day job: Actor

"It's all about the art of self-

defense and containment. You present yourself as a nice guy, but if things go bad, you gotta be bad. You put on a look, wide shoulders, doorman persona.... I have had groupies, girls who just come and stand at the door and talk to me all night."


Door: Akbar

Day job: Assistant director of independent films

"I am the skinniest bouncer in the world. I let them come at me, then I turn sideways and they usually fall right over. I get to see every single person who comes in here -- it's like the salad bar comes to me.... I'm looking out for the welfare of people in here; I'm like a den mother. When I go to another bar, I feel like I'm cheating."


Door: 4100 Bar

Day job: Writer (short stories, screenplays)

"You're just a post. A tree stump. I'm tired of people who don't know how to order a drink in a bar and can't hold their alcohol. You are who you are, I am who I am. Still, I try to give people as much respect as I possibly can. I try to kill them with kindness. I'm the only door guy in town who will give people cigarettes while they're waiting in line."

Sunday, August 10, 2003

A rose grows in china


Sunday August 10, 2003

A rose grows in china
* Artists shape a fountain from broken Delft porcelain to resemble Lillian Disney's favorite flower, in a tribute at L.A.'s new concert hall.

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

The story of the fountain is common-speak around Walt Disney Concert Hall.

How Frank Gehry, meeting Lillian Disney at her home to discuss plans for the hall, noticed her china cabinet.

The china looked chintzy -- out of place in the lavish Disney abode. Gehry's curiosity got the better of him. He had to ask.

Disney smiled. As it turns out, she and Walt loved to travel, and while waiting for flights they took to buying the chintzy Delft knockoffs that inevitably litter airport gift shops. Back at home, Lilly would display them proudly and show them to friends to see who could spot the fakes.

After Disney died, her grandchildren and great-grandchildren asked Gehry to design a tribute to her. Thus, the fountain: a giant rose -- Disney's favorite flower -- covered in a mosaic made from crushed Delft porcelain. It sits as a centerpiece in the colorful "garden for public gathering" that surrounds the concert hall.

No faux-Delft, Gehry declared. In memoriam, Disney got the real thing. Two hundred Royal Delft porcelain vases, to be exact. They alone cost over $34,000.

"I called Delft, in Holland, and they asked me how many vases I wanted," recalls Tomas Osinski, the artist and architect in charge of the project. "They told me that I may have to wait about 10 years." But the project's prominence greased the wheels.

"Frank [Gehry] gave me a model, 14 inches in diameter," says Osinski, whose job is to turn the model into the real thing: 22 feet wide by 17 feet long by 7 feet high. Water will cascade quietly over each petal. At night, lights placed throughout the structure will cause the flower to glow.

"I love it because it's not architectural -- it's almost sentimental," Osinski says. "It's not something you would expect from the famous contemporary architect."

Osinski hired artists rather than metalworkers and tile setters "because you have to be crazy to do this," he says, "the work is so neurotic." It will take the eight-person team four months to complete the fountain, at a rate of eight hours a day, six days a week. And they may not be finished by the Aug. 30 deadline.

Yet the team remains in good spirits, which must be partly because of their surroundings. On a recent Wednesday afternoon, the garden is breezy and the air actually smells clean. Traffic noises from below are muted to an almost calming purr. The garden exists in an ambiguous space: apart from yet surrounded by this smoggy metropolis.

"Shaping rebar is what I really identify with," says Jay Raveling, who lives in Boston but relocated to work on the fountain. "I have a natural affinity for that aspect of it."

Shaping rebar -- or bending reinforced iron bars to form the petals' skeletons -- is only the first step.

Next, "we attach stainless steel mesh onto the rebars," Osinski says. "Then we pack reinforced concrete onto the mesh.... Then we mortar.... Then we use finished mortar.... Then we do waterproofing.... Then we do thin set -- glue for the tiles.... Then we tile.... Then we use epoxy grout."

"We figure it out as we go," says Kamil Becki, who is sporting an aquamarine Mohawk -- no hard hat, "because I have to show my new colors."

"By the time we learn how to do things, we're done with them," Osinski says. He has become an expert vase-breaker, among other things, able to smash a vase in a deft hammer swoop to "form any shapes, triangles or whatever, that I want."

"This is time-consuming, difficult, tedious work," he says. "On the other hand, it's like playing on the beach." He grins.

Osinski watches as Becki fashions wet cement into balls and passes them to Raveling, who packs them onto the mesh. Nearby, Bozenna Bogucki sits on a petal inside the flower. She is nimbly placing tile after tile, and although each is a different shape, they all seem to fit.

"I am an artist," Bogucki says. She holds up a vase fragment. "There is a certain part of the brain that deals with size," she says. The tiling process is "almost magical ... it's totally uncontrolled. I just put them on, and it's like they're cut to size.

"It gives me satisfaction," she says. "This is going to be a real landmark for L.A."

"I think it's going to look stunning," Becki agrees.

Raveling steps back and surveys their work.

"My blood's in it," he says. "Literally. I smashed my finger, hurt my back. Even at the opening, I'm still going to want to climb into it."

Contemplating 'Divorce'


Sunday August 10, 2003

Contemplating 'Divorce'

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

Reporters and cameramen jostle for position on the red carpet at the Mann Festival Theater in Westwood. Across the street, fans stand tippy-toed and stare through disposable camera viewfinders, intent on capturing a celebrity or two. But take them all away, and the "Le Divorce" premiere July 29 might well be a family picnic. Everybody is just so relaxed.

A pregnant Kate Hudson, star of the hour, stops to adjust her multicolored Missoni maternity dress. She leans toward the reporters and confides, "As the breasts expand, the dress starts to not fit right."

Hubby Chris Robinson, former Black Crowes singer, never lets go of Hudson's hand. She looks lovingly at him. "Oh, you have lipstick all over!" she says, and reaches up to wipe it off.

"What can the French teach Americans about love?" somebody yells.

Mathew Modine, who plays a buffoonish expatriate stalker in the Paris-set film, fields this one. "I would have to say, what can the French learn from Americans about love?" he says.

"Are you proud of Kate?" a reporter asks Robinson, who drapes his arm around his wife.

"I'm always proud of Kate," Robinson says. "I guess on the proud spectrum, I'm a little extra proud tonight."

Walking into the theater, Hudson and co-star Naomi Watts share a bucket of popcorn and whisper into each other's ears -- looking much like the sisters they play in "Le Divorce."

Opening credits roll, and the audience cheers for every name.

At the after-party held in the UCLA Hammer Museum courtyard, spotlights turn the trees red. Waiters wander, asking, "Crab cakes, anyone?" Three makeshift bars offer all the essential alcohols, and vitamin water. By the buffet, a woman bites into a beef skewer and exclaims, in a heavy French accent, "Delicious!"

As Watts mingles, she curls her hair around a finger. Hudson, chewing gum, sits and laughs with friends.

At a neighboring table, Nick Nolte is talking about the movie. He is garbed in black, his glasses are migrating toward the end of his nose, and he is smoking a cigarette.

"I found it very meaningful," he says. "It's not just light comedy. It reminds me of love lost, love found, loveliness, despair, and a broken heart."

Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Midseason reflections on (yawn) boredom


Tuesday August 05, 2003

Midseason reflections on (yawn) boredom
* Summer's lazy days may drone on, but at their close will be a longing for idleness.
Series: One in a series of occasional stories about the rituals of the season.

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

The inexorable groan of the school year. No. 2 pencils and, oh, so many standardized bubbles to bubble, carpools to wait for, homework assignments to ignore and then endure. The same Tupperware lunch every, single, day. Alarm at 8. Burnt toast. Loading up the backpack.

Through it all, the dream of summer. A lust for sloth. Every morning a Sunday morning. To be nearly naked and irresponsible, too hot to move except to smile an indolent smile and sip a lime-colored cooler! To mess around, hang out, waste time, take it easy.

Then, it begins.

Alarm's off, but you wake up anyway. Too early. Too antsy. With nothing to do.

In the words of poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "summer has set in with its usual severity."

Television drones. Books turn into pages of unintelligible black marks.

Preschoolers whine, college students start drinking earlier than usual.

Finally, time to talk on the phone. But nothing much to talk about.

Lethargy eclipses bliss.

As aphorist Mason Cooley notes, "Even boredom has its crises."

"When university finishes, leaving me stranded without purpose or structure, despair arrives," says Shirin Borthwick, a student in Sydney, Australia. "The less stuff I do, the less I want to do, so instead of enjoying the sunshine I end up lurking in the house, haunting the halls like a creature locked in an ivory tower, all the while engaging in progressively deeper introspection."

You find yourself talking to the cat. Becoming an expert at making that creaking sound in the back of your throat. Noticing the dead fly stuck in the stucco ceiling.

"I am the nation's expert on boredom," says Alan Caruba, who runs the online Boring Institute ( from his home in New Jersey. It started 20 years ago as a joke but quickly turned serious.

"Boredom is an early stage of depression, if it lingers on more than a day or two," Caruba explains. And, summer being the midyear hump, boredom season, the Boring Institute has named July "the official anti-boredom month."

Caruba, by the way, is "never bored." And for only $4.95, you can beat boredom too -- by downloading the Beating Boredom guide from his Web site.

But instead of buying your freedom, you end up running your name through Google.

Checking your e-mail 20 times.

Swinging your feet onto the desk.

Studying your toes.

Remembering all the fun you had last summer, and the summers before ....

"A lot of what I did during the summers was try to reenact my younger childhood," says Aneesa Davenport, a recent graduate of UC Santa Barbara. "Which in a way made me more bored, because it was never as fun or captivating as I remembered it to be.

"Even as a child my friends and I were very nostalgic," she says. "I don't remember playing hopscotch for fun -- I only remember being about 10 and playing it because it used to be fun, and trying to go back to that time.

"When we had a lemonade stand it was because we knew that's what kids did, and we were nostalgic for the experiences we saw on reruns of 'Leave It to Beaver' and the 'Donna Reed Show.' "

Henry Miller said, "There is a time for play and a time for work, a time for creation and a time for lying fallow. And there is a time, glorious too in its own way, when one scarcely exists, when one is a complete void. I mean -- when boredom seems the very stuff of life."

A summer Monday in South Los Angeles. It's just too hot. Sweat stains spread under arms. Seat belt buckles scald. Air conditioners break.

Even worse, "the sorority houses aren't open, so there's a huge shortage of women," says Brandon Pleus, a USC cinema major.

The fraternities remain inhabited. USC's frat row, 28th Street, is melting, a lonely island. No fewer than three blowup wading pools wilt in dirty frontyards, water long evaporated, reminders of what summer might have been. Windows are broken, and beer bottles, overturned chairs and rusty barbecues lollygag on browning grass.

At 2 in the afternoon, Pleus ventures outdoors. He rubs his eyes, yawns, checks the mail. He's dressed in blue boxer shorts and a white T-shirt. His face is burnt to a tomato hue.

He looks bored. He is bored.

"But boredom isn't as bad as one might think," he says. "It's not as bad as stress or anxiety."

Instead of inventing distractions, Pleus embraces boredom. Some days he lugs a lawn chair onto the frat house roof.

"I sit and look at the street," he says. "I think about home, about sports, movies that I've seen ... what it's gonna be like to have a real job."

He watches bike riders go by, and "I wonder if they're going to the library."

At boredom's peak, "you have no conscious thought at all," Pleus says. "You are just looking -- letting your eyes be yourself."

"I would classify boredom as a mood, like joy or sorrow," says Dale Wright, professor of religious studies at Occidental College.

"From a Buddhist point of view," Wright says, "meditation is the extremity of boredom, purposefully imposed, to train the mind to see that all things are alive, that beauty and opportunities are everywhere.

"We tend to see the boring quality in ... summer, rather than recognize that boredom is in our minds."

In our minds.

In our minds.

Lying on the couch, you find yourself reading the same line over, and over, a mantra, without noticing that you're reading it over, and over.

Soon the pencils will go on sale, giant Back to School vats at Target and Costco.

There will be carpool arrangements to make. Daily planners to purchase.

Friedrich Nietzsche said, "He who completely entrenches himself against boredom also entrenches himself against himself: he will never get to drink the strongest refreshing draught from his own innermost fountain."

Who knows.

But a few months from now, you may close your eyes for a second, and remember ...

The boring season.

What a wonderful summer.

Sunday, August 3, 2003

A smokin' party


Sunday August 03, 2003

A smokin' party

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

The Grand Havana Room in Beverly Hills is packed for its eighth-anniversary bash, also celebrating the release of two documentary films, "The Fuente Family: An American Dream" and "Fuente Fuente Opus X: Making of a Legend."

Guests, almost exclusively men, almost exclusively dressed in gray or black, lounge cross-legged on lush red or green velvet couches and leather chairs, sipping mojitos and red wine and puffing on expensive cigars.

Third- and fourth-generation cigar makers Carlos Fuente Sr. and Jr. are dressed alike, in starched white shirts and Panamas. Originally from Cuba, nowadays they grow tobacco in the Dominican Republic.

Here, they are gods. Surrounded by grinning cigar aficionados, Fuente and Fuente exhale smoke toward the high ceiling, all elegance and ease.

"This is the most legendary cigar family there is," Havana Room owner Stan Schuster gushes. "The Opus X is the most sought-after cigar."

"It's got the elegance of a Porsche, the purr of a Ferrari," Fuentes Jr. agrees. He motions to Schuster and says: "We're family. This is our home."

Movie stars get second billing.

"It's so nice to be able to smoke a cigar without being bothered by all the Nazi rules in Beverly Hills," says Tom Selleck, chatting with fellow actor Peter Weller on the veranda. Both are members of the Havana Room.

"This club is a port in a storm," Weller says. "People tell me I'm very intense. I say, 'You should've met me before I started smoking cigars.' I don't know people who are violent and smoke cigars."

Grammy-winning jazz musician Arturo Sandoval sidles up to join the conversation. He is grinning ear to ear.

"Nobody plays trumpet like he does," Weller says.

"I cannot complain," Sandoval says. "I have an extremely happy life. I make a living doing what I love to do. And on top of that, I am smoking a big cigar."

Sandoval wrote the scores for both Fuente documentaries, "45 original pieces of music," he says. James Orr produced, directed, wrote and narrated.

"I did this for free," Orr interjects. "As remarkable as the cigars are, the family is even more remarkable....

"Cigars are the equivalent of peace pipes in tribal ceremonies," he says. "They bring men together, and we share stories about the hunt. And personal stuff -- innermost thoughts."

Although a novice cigar smoker, actor Jon Voight is nonetheless discussing cigars. "I just came back from Italy," he says, "and the fellow I was staying with insisted I smoke big Clint Eastwood-type cigars."

Suddenly, an alarm bell goes off. Men look up from their cigars, confused. "Just a fire alarm," somebody yells. Everybody laughs. Alarm deactivated, Sandoval unleashes his trumpet in the center of the room to rousing applause.

On the veranda, conversation meanders toward politics. Most pick Arnold Schwarzenegger, a fellow Havana Room member, as their favorite for the California recall election. If he runs.

"I'm not gonna run," says Selleck, adamantly. "I have a mortgage. I don't think people with mortgages should have to run for public office." He sucks on his stogie. And grins.