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TAKE THREE / Three Views of the Southland | SHAUN HUBLER

Reputation vs. Reality

September 26, 1997|SHAUN HUBLER

We turned to the news the other day, and there was our little secret: No La-La-Land nuttiness. No tabloid noir. As has been the case for longer than anyone likes to let on, nothing was happening. Greater Los Angeles was failing to live up to its hype.

The closest thing to a hot buzz was emanating from the mockingbirds in the orange trees. If you were new to this place, you might think we were in a lull.

We aren't. Southern California has never been as uniformly action-packed as the riot-Heidi-O.J. years would imply. At our core, we are a land of channel surfers and putterers. We just have good publicists.

Given a choice between danger and domesticity, the truth is, we'd rather be hanging seasonal porch flags. Left to our own devices, we'll think: Time to clean out those storm drains. Or, try some of this carne asada. Or, for Pete's sake, do something about those mockingbirds.

Even our seamy underbelly is secretly ordinary, a point that we were reminded of the day we noticed the lack of sound and fury in the news. This is the story of that reminder, and if it's less noir and nutty than an L.A. story should be, it's only because, between you and me, so is the greater part of L.A.

*

We were shopping for school clothes, and the teenager had struck out at the mall. She had an idea: Melrose Avenue! We rolled our eyes. Talk about noir and nutty. But the teenager has that Californian's knack of getting you to suspend your disbelief.

"But the stuff in the mall looks like the wardrobe from a blaxploitation flick," she whined, accurately. "And the prices are so good at the secondhand stores." You get the gist. Naturally the first-grader wanted to come, as did the teenager's best friend. When we finally got there, we were an entourage.

In a kind of clump, we ambled past the tattoo parlors and coffeehouses in our T-shirts and khaki shorts, like tourists who had gotten off the bus at the wrong stop. "Mama, what's body piercing?" the first-grader was saying. "Mama, I think someone went potty on this street."

Passersby heard her and smiled warmly, passersby with green dreadlocks and suspicious track marks on their arms.

"Mama, who's that man on the corner?"

"Melrose Larry Green."

"Mama, who's Melrose Larry Green?"

Finally, we wandered into a hip-looking store.

"May I help you?" the salesgirl asked pleasantly. She had pretty brown eyes and a huge tattoo on her lower back and a smile I hadn't seen since . . . it couldn't be.

"Mama, who's that?" the first-grader hollered.

"I'm Victoria," the salesgirl smiled.

"Victoria Sellers," I said. "We met when I was covering Heidi Fleiss." The smile dimmed. The Victoria Sellers I knew wouldn't have punched a clock to save her life.

In those days, she was a drug-abusing celebrity kid. Conniving roommate of the Hollywood Madam. Feckless daughter of Peter Sellers, the star. The last time I saw her, she was gunning a Range Rover down the Sunset Strip. And I was scribbling notes as if every move she made with Heidi were a bulletin from hell.

"I'm also doing some standup comedy," she said now, too quickly. But her eyes begged, "Please don't think less of me." Once, she had told me that Hollywood was a cruel place if you weren't a big shot; since then, she had hit bottom and done time in jail for possession of drugs.

Now, who knew? And who was I to judge? Looking back, Heidi, O.J.--the whole L.A.-noir-and-nutty thing--seemed just another chapter in our ongoing struggle to be who we are.

Once it had all seemed sexy and mysterious. But it wasn't, not really. This girl wasn't the only one ever to believe that her true self was nothing without a good publicist. Hers wasn't the only secretly ordinary heart.

*

So here we are, back in the suburbs, and it is fall, the season of new porch flags and, not unlike Victoria Sellers, our kids have the hippest clothes in town. The teenager was right--those secondhand stores are a bargain. Her pal bought a pair of glitter-decked army boots for only 40 bucks.

I know what you're thinking. Sorry, lady, but channel surfers and putterers don't send their kids to school in disco Doc Martens. To this I reply: Hey, the heart might be ordinary, but never the feet.

In the meantime, keep your disbelief suspended and let me know if you hear any hot buzz. My publicist will help you. I'll be expressing my core values, cleaning the storm drains.

*

Shawn Hubler's e-mail address is: shawn.hubler@latimes.com

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