I was at a party in Santa Monica the other night when a woman began talking about how much she hated the San Fernando Valley.
I had noticed her in the first place because her hair was white, her skin was pale and she was wearing white satin sweats and white running shoes. From a certain angle, she appeared transparent and sometimes seemed to vanish before my very eyes.
"I would rather spend a week in hell than a night in the valley," she was saying, and everyone around her nodded solemnly to indicate they too would choose hell over, say, Van Nuys or Arleta.
"Why?" I asked.
I was standing a few feet away, and there was a belligerent tone to my voice, so naturally, they turned in my direction.
"Why what?" one of the men with the Transparent Lady asked.
He was wearing faded denims, a corduroy jacket and a turtleneck sweater, which is de rigueur on the Westside. It is known as literary chic. The idea is to look like a writer when you are at a Santa Monica party, even though you might be a refrigerator repairman or a door-to-door vacuum-cleaner salesman.
"Why," I asked, moving closer, "would you rather live in hell than in Reseda?"
Valley-bashing by quasi-hip, semi-intellectual, full-blooded Westside snobs almost always annoys me. If anyone is going to bash the valley, it is going to be me.
My wife was on the other side of the room and saw me advancing on the group. She knows when I am spoiling for a fight, because I drop into an attack mode by lowering my head and hunching my shoulders.
"Sometimes," she once said to me, "you move your head from side to side like a thresher shark."
"What is it specifically about the valley you don't like?" I asked the Transparent Lady. Then I said, before she could answer: "Would you mind moving away from that light? From time to time, you disappear before my very eyes."
My wife sighed and shook her head. I could see her lips moving in a little prayer. Please, God, shut him up . . . .
The Transparent Lady looked at me as though my face were covered with open sores.
"What on earth are you talking about?" she demanded. A murmur went through the crowd of those around her. They were clustering in defense.
"Isn't this a lovely evening?" my wife said, hopefully.
"I just want to know," I said, "why you hate the valley?"
"It's so ordinary," the Transparent Lady replied. "Those yucky little homes!"
She made a face meant to be cute, but she was too old to be cute and, anyhow, she was vanishing again.
"Where are you?" I asked suddenly, searching with my gaze the area where she had stood only moments before.
"Martinez," my wife whispered, "stop that!"
The Transparent Lady reappeared.
"I saw a Twilight Zone episode once about people like you," I said. "But speaking of yucky little homes, how is it you would stoop so low as to attend a party in the servants' quarters?"
The question flew as true as a William Tell arrow. My wife closed her eyes.
"This," the Transparent Lady said, "is my home!"
I was wondering whose party it was. We had been invited by a friend of a friend. I guess now that would be the former friend of a former friend.
I was drinking Scotch and held the glass up to my eyes, observing the Transparent Lady through the amber tones of the booze. An Oakland drunk told me once that Scotch defines the outlines of invisible people.
"Ah," I said, "that's better."
My wife began to giggle as I continued to speak to the Transparent Lady while holding the glass up to my eyes.
"I mean no offense," I said, "but do you mind if I ask who are you? I know who you appear to be, but that is probably some form of astral projection. Where is your real body?"
I think she was a little afraid.
"You have a peculiar sense of humor," she said. Her cluster shifted slightly, its members nodding to one another.
"Why are you doing this?" the man dressed as a novelist asked.
"Because," I replied, "before my father died, I promised him I would defend his beloved valley at whatever cost. I am prepared to give my life for Chatsworth. Well, maybe not for Chatsworth, but for Woodland Hills."
"I'm sorry to hear about your father," the Fake Novelist said.
"What have you heard about my father?" I demanded, taking the glass of Scotch from in front of my eyes in order to drink. The Transparent Lady vanished.
"This is crazy," her voice said.
It seemed to come from everywhere at once.
"I think it's time to go," my wife said, taking my arm.
"It's been a lovely evening," I said to the ceiling.
The Transparent Lady's voice replied, "Good night! "
"Why did you do that?" my wife asked as we drove away. She was at the wheel. "Are you growing to love the valley?"
"No," I said, settling down for a going-home nap. "I just don't like invisible people."
Now you see them, now you don't.