Among the lessons I have learned since arriving in Los Angeles are never ask a middle-aged man if the girl he's with is his daughter, never reach to an inside pocket within 50 feet of a cop and never, absolutely never, go to an oceanfront Mexican restaurant on a weekend.
The little bopper trailing after papa is probably his girlfriend, L. A. cops figure anything bigger than a pencil is an M-16 aimed at their heads, and brain damage awaits the fool who wanders into El Whateve r anytime between 7 p.m. Friday and 2 a.m. Sunday.
I blew Lesson 3 last weekend.
Fortunately, however, a healthy brain is not a necessity for either running the country or writing a column, and I survived intact, despite several hours in a restaurant off Pacific Coast Highway called Tex Mex Playa.
The reason I do not generally visit oceanfront restaurants on weekends is that they don't take reservations, and nothing short of a naked, tap-dancing nun is worth a two-hour wait.
Mexican restaurants especially are to be avoided because they attract singles with a thirst for sex and pineapple margaritas, and the level of noise created by the combination is beyond human endurance.
Other species confine their love calls to croaks, warbles and the hum produced by rubbing their hind legs together.
Singles, however, feel that their sexual desirability is measured by the din they create, and while it is noisier than hell at the bar, one can only imagine to what ear-piercing heights passion must take them later in the evening.
I'm not sure how my wife and I ended up at Tex Mex, but once there it seemed proper that we stay to study the mating habits of the singles, possibly for a National Geographic special later in the year.
The process known as singling is, after all, big business on the Westside. Before me at this very moment I have two whole tabloids devoted exclusively to joining those who lack either the wit or facility to find someone on their own.
In addition to personals that feature guys looking for gals and gals looking for guys and guys looking for guys and gals looking for gals, we also have ads for:
A singles cruise, a singles dance, a singles stress seminar, a singles sushi bar, a singles hypnotist, a singles phone-answering service, a singles relationship analyst, a singles rowboat excursion, a singles recipe for Louisiana sweet potato soup, a singles art class, a singles rafting party and a singles brain-storming session during which participants are encouraged to, you know, "intellectualize."
Discussing their VCRs, for instance, comes to mind.
I do not think, however, they were attempting to intellectualize even on that minimal scale at the Tex Mex. They were simply out to . . . well . . . couple. Watching them was a study in social foreplay.
"Check the salsa pot," my wife said, as we stood in a safe corner. "Mr. Friday Night and the hungry blonde."
The hungry blonde was stationed directly in front of the table where one might grab a handful of tortilla chips and fill a small bowl with salsa. Hungry describes the look in her eyes and not her itch for chips.
Mr. Friday Night, who struggled to maintain one eyebrow in a rakish arch, sauntered up and said, "How's the salsa?"
This apparently triggered a chemical reaction in the blonde that simultaneously activated both her mouth and her hormones, and in a few moments they were walking off together, her hunger no doubt about to be satisfied and the arch in his eyebrow about to come crashing down.
"That's amazing," I said. " How's the salsa? could be the mating cry of the '80s."
"It's clever of the predators to know that eventually everyone comes to the salsa pot," my wife said. "It's like hiding in the bushes at the watering hole."
As soon as the hungry blonde left, someone else took her place at the pot. In this case it happened to be a short, muscular man who boppped along with the music, which, by the way, was played at a level of decibels meant to kill ticks and fleas.
I don't know if salsa was the catalyst, but very soon Shorty was walking off with a woman who was equally diminutive, to laugh and love and romp and whatever else short people do when they are out of public scrutiny.
"What they don't do if they're married," my wife said, "is stand around and ogle other women, because if they do they're in trouble."
"I wasn't ogling anyone," I said, quickly de-ogling, "and I don't think of myself as short."
"May I remind you that you are here to study and not participate?"
A woman wearing a tank top with no bra stood by the salsa pot.
"You ogle and I'm gone," my wife warned.
I know better than to ogle under stress, so I kept my eyes on my dry vodka martini until the tank-topper left. She was almost instantly replaced by a tall, handsome man, at which point my wife had a sudden urge for salsa.
She returned in a few moments and said "Gorgeous."
Gorgeous, smorgeous, it just looked like ordinary salsa to me.