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Colliding with the stars

In L.A., you may run into a celebrity anywhere -- at a lecture, in a bookstore, in jail.

August 19, 2012
  • In Los Angeles that person in line with you at coffee shop doesn't just look like the bassist in the Red Hot Chili Peppers, he is the bassist in the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
In Los Angeles that person in line with you at coffee shop doesn't just… (Illustration by Mitchell…)

In our town, the incensed driver shaking a fist when you run a red light could be George Clooney or Zooey Deschanel. That person in line with you at Intelligentsia in Silver Lake doesn't just look like the bassist in the Red Hot Chili Peppers, he is the bassist in the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But we're cool: We don't stare; we hardly ever cross the line that divides Them and Us. Until it's unavoidable. What follow are true adventures in Tinseltown.

Bringing up baby

By Mary Heffron Arno

I don't mean to be a name-dropper, but I honestly think of Arianna Huffington as a friend even though I haven't spoken to her in person for almost a decade.

At one point, when our lives crossed in Los Angeles , we saw quite a lot of each other. When I was pregnant with my now 13-year-old twin sons, we even had a "date" to a screening of "Bulworth." Those were the days before Arianna drove and before I had a cellphone and, at one point, while I was trying to park, she handed me her cell and instructed me to talk to one of her daughters to prove that Mom, divorced, wasn't out with a man.

After the film, Arianna introduced me to her good friends Warren and Annette. Annette had recently given birth, and she put her lovely thin arm around my enormous girth and whispered in my ear to come with her to a quiet corner, where she would tell me how to survive being a working mom. I followed her and leaned toward her cool alto voice to hear the revelation of how she remained so slim, so perfect, such a babe.

"A swing-shift nanny," she breathed.

"Huh?" I thought. It must have translated to a stupid look on my face.

"Someone," she continued, "to take over from the day nanny and ease into the night nanny."

"Aha," I agreed in the recesses of my brain. The stupid look must have morphed to "Oh, right, I get it now," prompting the beauteous professor Annette to continue.

"And in the meantime …"

I waited expectantly.

"The pregnancy massage."

By now, I was rapt. I stared into her pulchritude, counting the tiny creases around her eyes. "I have the most marvelous person," she continued. "I'll give you his number. Where do you live?"

Oops. Could I fake this one? Name a street that would keep her thinking we had anything in common? Better just get it over with."The Valley,"I said.

"Oh." She smiled, bringing up more wrinkles that somehow didn't detract from her loveliness and managed to convey simultaneously sympathy and disinterest. "I don't think he goes there."

She walked back to Warren and Arianna and out of my life.

Mary Heffron Arno just finished her first novel, "Thanksgiving."

Cher's blue period

By Diana Wagman

I was brand new to Los Angeles when I got a job in the children's book department at long-gone Hunter's Books in Beverly Hills. I had followed a boy to L.A. The boy didn't work out, but the job was good, and Gladys, my book-obsessed boss, was a wonderful inspiration. I wanted to write novels. It would be almost 20 years before I succeeded.

One day, a woman and two assistants came in. The woman wore a floppy brimmed hat and dark glasses, a big sweater and loose jeans. It was obvious she was "somebody." Her long black hair was the giveaway. It was Cher — beneath the disguise.

She trailed through the store, and to my great surprise and excitement, she wandered into the children's section. Gladys immediately took her break. That left me. Cher looked at shelf after shelf of books and then stopped before our special series. This was a collection of classics,"Peter Pan,""The Swiss Family Robinson" and 28 more titles, each beautifully bound in a deep blue leather with gold lettering.

Cher considered. She took off the dark glasses and stood back and looked at the volumes, arrayed like the Encyclopaedia Britannica, back when there was such a thing. Finally she nodded. She wanted them. All 30. They were very expensive books, but I figured she could afford it. I rang them up; someone paid. I handed a stack of 15 to each assistant.

"Your kids will love these," I said. She looked at me blankly. "Or other people's kids," I backpedaled.

She put her head back and stared at me down that long Roman nose. "No one's going to read them," she said. "The color is perfect. They match the couch."

Back then I was shocked and outraged: The books would be wasted. Now that I've lived here so long — worked in film, had kids at private school, heard everyone else's stories — it almost seems normal.

Diana Wagman is the author of the novels "Skin Deep," "Spontaneous" and "Bump."

Driving Mr. Hockney

By D.J. Waldie

The writer Lawrence Weschler was invited to All Saints Church in Pasadena in 2005 to talk about the evils he had found in the Bosnian war and what little good had come from it (which he wrote about in "Vermeer in Bosnia"). Weschler knew the painter David Hockney. Weschler also knew me. He invited both of us to hear his talk.

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