The first thing you notice pulling into the Bel-Air Country Club is that you don't belong there, but unlike the USC campus where they have folks to tell you that, the nice people who park your car at Bel-Air are trained to drive your wreck away quickly so no one notices you're out of place.
Unfortunately there was a delay Wednesday, because the folks running the 16th annual USC-UCLA Challenge golf match wanted me to pick a Trojan or Bruin blanket and put it in the car before hiding my vehicle out of sight.
I'm not sure I've had many tougher decisions in my life, and the engine was running, and you can imagine what it would have looked like had I taken a UCLA blanket with Mike Garrett suddenly pulling up in his Jaguar or BMW.
For the record, it was a Bel-Air valet who threw the UCLA blanket into my car, and I can't tell you how badly I felt later to learn from tournament organizer Tina Leach they had run out of Bruin blankets. Or how surprised I was to learn they had 100 Trojan ones left. I thought someone would've taken a USC blanket. Garrett maybe.
UCLA ATHLETIC Director Pete Dalis had invited me to compete in the golf tournament and deliver the after-dinner speech, presumably because he knew Garrett was scheduled to play and eat. I never realized Dalis was such a practical joker.
I agreed, of course, because I don't get to see Garrett very often these days.
To break the ice, I was going to pass out the three-page summary of Garrett's accomplishments that Southern Cal officials had given me a few weeks ago when they told me to back off Garrett if I wanted an interview. I was going to apologize to everyone then for passing out blank sheets of paper--by mistake. You know what a gas Garrett can be--I thought that might really crack him up.
I made a mistake, though. I made mention in Wednesday's Times that I would be at Bel-Air and hoped to "run into Garrett before he runs off."
Well, Garrett's office had called Bel-Air a little before 8:30 Wednesday morning, shortly before Leach arrived at Bel-Air but about the same time Garrett would have been reading his morning newspaper, and left the message Garrett would have to miss the golf tournament because of a "campus emergency."
My first thought was someone wanted to donate $10 to the building of a new sports arena and Garrett had heard about it, but I called Southern Cal's sports information director to find out exactly what had happened because I know how disappointed Dalis looked when he learned Garrett wouldn't be there.
"He had a meeting come up--the day before golf--and called to cancel," the school's sports information director said. I figured since it was an emergency, maybe the NCAA was back on campus with more probation details.
THE UCLA-USC golf challenge matched invited (poor) guests to play with (rich) club members--with each Bel-Air member representing either UCLA or USC. They placed me with a guy from Stanford--as if he could care who won or lost, and that's how he played. I guess you could say John Marin was a great driver, but once he applied the brakes and got out of the cart, it was like watching Cory Paus throw the ball--there was no telling where it was going to go.
I was already on edge--surrounded by USC supporters and every one of them carrying 14 clubs. It also didn't help being introduced to the meanest man I've ever met--a nasty golf pro by the name of Trae Cassell, who put me down as a 10 after I told him I had a 20 handicap. A relative of Bum Garner probably.
We lost, because the guy from Stanford can't play very well. He's better than Dwyre, though, and that now officially makes everybody in the world better than Dwyre.
WHEN IT came time for the speeches, some official from UCLA got up and used a bad word to describe what Plaschke had written Wednesday morning. Then an official from USC got up and used the same bad word to describe what Plaschke had written.
I thought about defending him, but I couldn't recall the last time these bitter rivals had agreed on anything, and I didn't want to spoil the wonderful moment.
Eventually I had to speak--someone immediately yelling, "Where's Garrett?" and I turned my head to the right side of the room as fast as I could, but I can't say for certain it was Dalis.
Then someone from USC used a much badder bad word to express their regard for the work I do, and everyone in the room laughed, and I tried to remind them what Plaschke had written, but they just kept laughing at me.
Garrett has no idea what a great time he missed.
IF YOU'RE into omens, when Bruin Coach Bob Toledo sat down to discuss the USC-UCLA game with reporters this week, the lights went out.
IN THIS week's press release from USC, under "fun facts," we're told "a USC team with a .500 record going into the UCLA game has never beaten the Bruins."
The Trojans sure have a strange idea of what's fun.
THERE IS no question this is a big game for USC--it's on TV for a change.
TODAY'S LAST word comes in an e-mail from Azmoe13@cs.com:
"I put you right up there with Vince McMahon and Jerry Springer on my all-time list of no-class, low-life, entertainment/media dreck suppliers that are turning Americans into mindless idiots with a trailer-park mentality."
You'd like to throw a chair at me, wouldn't you?
T.J. Simers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org