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GETTING PERSONAL | TELL

Catch you later -- or not

October 27, 2005|Sarah Schmelling | Special to The Times

"THEY'RE all missing out," I said, appraising the food. For Kelly's housewarming party she'd put out a giant spread: homemade chili, chicken fajitas, fresh veggies, a pitcher of orange-mango margaritas.

"It's OK." She shrugged. "You know, with so many flakes out there, usually just one in three people actually show."

I guess I knew the old stereotype of L.A.: that this is a city full of shallow Hollywood people who never return phone calls.

But I'd met Kelly through a charity organization; we'd raised money while working up to running a marathon. The people I'd expected at her party were some of the women we trained with every Saturday for six months -- working together through the bad knees and heat stroke and Bodyglide -- all for a good cause.

I hadn't heard from any of them in the two months since we finished the 26.2 miles, so I was happy to see their "Yes" responses to Kelly's online invitation. But I was the only one who went. "Didn't they say they were coming?" I asked.

"Sure," she laughed, unfazed. "One of them actually said she would go, then she asked the E-vite people to get her off my invitation list. Isn't that funny?"

Maybe funny in a I-got-arrested-but-they've-got-free-doughnuts-at-the-precinct kind of way. Obviously, Kelly has lived here longer and was used to these things. But I'm still surprised by the L.A. Flakes: the people who flit in and out of one's life like gamblers at a Vegas buffet.

This goes beyond dating -- the parting "I'll call you," followed by no calls, ever, is universal. I mean the friends you make at work, at yoga, through UCLA Extension, who seem real, but when these things are over, just disappear into the ether.

I have a theory for this Flake phenomenon. I'm calling it Size Matters, Parts I and II.

Part I is the idea that L.A. is so vast, maintaining a friendship beyond who you live with or have known forever is physically too demanding. I understand; I live in Long Beach, a town that, while lovely, is convenient to nothing unless you're a fan of costumed-dog parades or cruises to Ensenada. For me, meeting a friend on the Westside requires a morning of planning and a night of traffic recovery -- it's a testament to how much I like my pal Kate that I've endured three tickets from the Parking Vultures on Sawtelle and hours of 405-induced soul-sucking, just to lunch with her. If that's what it takes to be a friend, I see how mere acquaintances don't stand a chance.

But Part II is darker. This maintains that L.A.'s giant size also increases the chances that people you meet may never be seen again, making them easier to flake out on. In other cities, public transportation, town centers and basic geography make it more likely you'll bump into so-and-so, so it's best not to burn bridges. Here, if they're not connected to your career world, you don't have to respond to Pilates Friend or, sniff, Marathon Friend, because they'll probably never see you again.

I'd like to think with most of us, it's Part I. My marathon partner simply can't see traversing three freeways and 30 miles to keep a friendship with someone she doesn't know that well. I have to adopt Kelly's view, not take it personally, and relish the friends who turn out to be genuine.

For us, there are all the more orange-mango margaritas.

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