Tuesday, March 25, 2008

To Live & Date in L.A.



By Anna David

When I was 12, I loved Tom Howell with a passion unbridled. I had seen The Outsiders a good 20 times, regularly fought with friends over who "discovered" him first and found myself many evenings in the grips of adolescent longing, clutching a picture of Tommy where he was lounging on a bed and wearing a Le Tigre shirt. ("Not his fault - the magazine probably made him wear it," I told myself then, embarking on what would eventually become a semi-regular habit of finding any way to justify a man's less appealing aspects).

The only part of the crush that worried my mom was the fact that I was certain that one day Tommy Howell and I would have a relationship. "When I was your age, I had a crush on Johnny Ray, who was deaf and would cry when he sang," my mom would say. "But I didn't really think I was ever going to go on a date with him." I'm sure I looked her with teenage horror, shook my head and went back to seeing whether "Mrs. Anna Howell" looked better in black pen or blue.

Of course, I didn't ever date Tom Howell and the crush did dissipate over time. But the fact is, if you live in Los Angeles and are even tangentially related to the entertainment business, you're going to interact with Famous Men and some of them aren't secretly gay or only interested in dating actresses.

The single male celebrities who are actually straight have, just like any other species, adjusted to their environment - which in their case happens to be one where people try to cater to their every whim before they've even had it. It's like their whole world is TIVO'd and they're the only ones holding the remote, obliterating any notion of standard mating rituals.

Here's an experience I had with a well known TV and film star. We'd been introduced about a year earlier but I'd seen him at probably a half dozen parties since then where he had either ignored me or given me a mildly indifferent nod. This one night, however, he saw me across a crowded patio of a club and came bounding over. "How are you?" he grinned, clasping me in a warm hug. As I hugged back, a friend standing nearby whispered, "I didn't know you knew him." Extricating myself from the hug, I mouthed to my friend, "I didn't, either."

But suddenly, this actor guy who'd ignored my existence for several months was just dying to spend time with me. "Let me get you a drink," he insisted as he pulled out a chair for me at a table for two. Returning seconds later, he turned the charm up to 11 for a good half hour of small talk. Then he got to his point.

"If you said the word, we could be swimming in my pool in 30 minutes," he said, pretty much apropos of nothing, as he dragged on his cigarette.

Knowing the meaning without needing a translation (pool=naked), I smiled and declined. He looked shocked. "I didn't mean anything by that," he smiled in that we-both-know-I'm-lying sort of way. I told him the truth - that I was actually interested in meeting someone I liked and possibly having a relationship (which, we all know, is also the last statement any woman should make to any man she barely knows) - and spontaneous late-night swimming really wasn't on the agenda. I gestured to the various women in the vicinity and added, "I'm sure you could find a taker here." And he responded with just as much honesty as I had shown him by smiling, standing up and going looking for Her.

Just in case you think my experience was the inevitable fate of a woman with a conservative approach to dating, I should confess that I wasn't always such a good girl. The truth is, when I first moved to L.A. a little over six years ago, not only was I the last one to leave a party I probably wasn't invited to in the first place; I was also ridiculously, embarrassingly, horrifyingly impressed by celebrity. I cringe when I look back on an experience I had with a guy more famous for being famous than for anything else.

I had just started working as a freelance reporter for People magazine and had been sent to a movie premiere post-party where a studio publicist was guiding me around the room to help me interview celebrities about the film (which happened to have been widely reviled). And the first person I see is this famous for being famous guy, whom I happened to have an almost Tom Howell-esque crush on after having seen a layout on him in a magazine, and though I couldn't name a single movie this guy had been in, it didn't stop me from grabbing the studio publicist's hand and explaining the absolute necessity of my interviewing him at once.

Studio publicist approached him while I stood a few feet back. As he listened to her, Mr. Famous for Being Famous gave me the old one-up, one-down. "Is she going to be doing the interview?" he asked, jerking his head in my direction. The publicist nodded. He gave me a big, cocky grin. "Bring it on," he said.

I'm sure I stuttered some version of whatever my inane question for the night was and my subject responded with, "Why should we be interviewer and interviewee when we can be lovers?" God knows what I responded but suffice it to say that I had probably written my number down before he'd finished saying the word "lovers." I glided out of the premiere, giddy over my exciting Hollywood life.

It's bad enough that he never called, right? Wrong. Turns out he had a model girlfriend who had been with him that night - I had been too blinded by Love to even notice the perfectly cheek boned woman a few feet to his side - and I later found out that their routine was that he would hit on every woman in the vicinity, then they would fight and make up. (If there's anything worse than realizing you were a pawn in a dysfunctional Hollywood relationship, it's realizing you were a pawn that apparently fell for the absolute worst line in the complete history of both life and movies.) The next time I saw my would-be lover, he acted like he didn't know me.

Now considerably more schooled in the ways of Hollywood, I still come upon amazing evidence that famous men don't really follow the rules that civilians do. Once, a well-known actor invited me over to "hang out" with him and his eight-year old son on a Saturday night. I was really flattered by the fact that he was including me in some intimate family ritual - until I met his son, whose first words to me were, "Are you spending the night?" (Only an eight-year-old or a famous actor could be so direct.)

After a game of soccer on the beach, a cup of tea and a video that put the boy to sleep - does it get any more wholesome than this? - the actor and I talked, laughed and kissed on the couch. He told me how comfortable and safe he felt with me, how excited he was to get to know me better and how special it all was - before asking me his son's introductory question. When I said I wouldn't feel comfortable staying over, he gazed at me with wonder, as if that possibility had never occurred to him. "What an amazing idea," he marveled. "We'll keep seeing each other and then maybe someday you will." I felt as charmed as I'd ever been, and even more so when he insisted on writing my name and number on the dry erase board in his kitchen.

Then, a few nights later, we went out to dinner. It didn't help that there were only about six people in the restaurant and they all felt the need to have conversations with the actor right then; it wasn't great when he, apparently grooving to some beat inside his head, began drumming the table with his fingers in lieu of pursuing any kind of conversation. But the truth was without a child, a soccer ball, a movie and good kisses to distract us, we had absolutely nothing to say to each other. Just like anyone not living under a rock, I already knew more about him than I could possibly want to and so all the standard where-are-you-from, do-you-get-along-with-your-family dating 101 questions seemed irrelevant. And as the meal went on, with only a finger-drum beat gaining momentum, I realized that he didn't seem remotely interested in finding out anything about me. After he took me home, walked me to my door and gave me a kiss, I never heard from the guy again.

The fact that he kept his allegedly important numbers on an erasable surface finally registered.

The moral of it all? Though it certainly isn't fair to have a few isolated experiences and claim that all men in the same profession behave similarly, you're probably safer generalizing about actors than you are about say, doctors or teachers. The fact is there's something supremely unnatural about being elevated to the status of icon for providing entertainment. It's got to make life surreal to the point that pressing the figurative pause, play and fast forward buttons feels not only justified but also natural. You're probably better of leaving the actors on the movie or TV screen, where you're the one holding the control buttons.

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