Down the 405 in northern San Diego County, behind a Circle K, lies Abyss Creations. Abyss makes Realdolls, $6,000 high-grade silicone "sexmates" the size and shape of real women. They really are lifelike. When I visited creator Matt McMullen in his workshop, Realdolls were seated on chairs around us. I kept feeling like I should greet them: the librarian, the dominatrix, the French maid. The dolls come with tongues, teeth, fingernails, eyelashes and all the necessary "feminine parts." Each has a movable steel skeleton, weighs 85 to 125 pounds and can support 500 pounds of weight. According to the company Web site, Realdolls have the "poise and relaxed state of sleeping girls." Ad copy aside, the girls look like 20-somethings in a drug-stall: blank-eyed and too medicated to know what you’re doing with that rope . . .
Abyss Creations began in 1996, when McMullen — between rehearsals for his garage band Chaotic Order — applied what he learned on the job at a special-effects company to an art project. The project inspired many questions about anatomical correctness, which led to an offer to fund an A.C. prototype. On a whim, the finished product was displayed on the band’s Web site. A flood of orders followed, and the business was born. Now McMullen’s wife and sister-in-law help fill a lot of Betty Page look-alike requests.
The dolls are shipped in lockable crates, which I mistakenly referred to as "coffins," drawing glares from the McMullen clan. They are seated and strapped into the crates like Apollo astronauts — astronauts in miniskirts, bras and panties. Perfume is optional, but each Realdoll holds a flower in her hand. Five basic body styles — supermodel, dancer, petite, voluptuous I and II — are available. One of the voluptuous models has a 38DD cup, and the other has a 34C. Five skin tones — medium, fair, tan, African and Asian — are offered. There is also a Japanese head style named Mai. Other head models differ primarily in details such as painted-on makeup and wig color; the skulls are equipped with Velcro strips to hold on the fake hair. Each Realdoll comes with its own cleaning kit.
McMullen does not use life forms; every nipple, thumb and anus springs from his imagination. And who is the typical customer, breathlessly awaiting delivery of one of these winsome creatures? I asked him.
"Maybe an old guy, a retiree without a wife who has some cash saved away," McMullen replied. "A guy who ain’t going anywhere in the singles scene." Some customers have confided that they buy their dolls elaborate wardrobes, and prop them up at the dining table so they can eat with them, McMullen said. Other purchasers are clothing designers and art collectors, he said. Think of the Realdoll as "a very expensive work of art," he added.
Abyss currently is developing a male model, is considering a she-male, and will make custom dolls for an extra fee. Robotics and microprocessors are on the drawing board. McMullen said there’s no competing product that approaches the Realdoll in quality, but that could change soon. "A reporter from Japan showed up, and we caught him taking pictures of everything we asked him not to photograph," McMullen told me. "Turned out he was with a company working [on an] imitation."
Deflating and wadding up a blowup figure each night is one thing. Wrestling a woman’s 120-pound form into a lockbox after you’ve done God-knows-what to her is quite another. Invited to grope a doll during my visit, I was disturbed. I caught myself wondering if I shouldn’t cop a last feel before I left. I left quickly.
For the past decade, Señor Fish has been pampering the taste buds of Angelenos with superb Mexican-style seafood fare, first at a Highland Park roadside stand and now at locations in South Pasadena, Alhambra, Little Tokyo and Eagle Rock. Glowing reviews from the likes of Westways, Los Angeles Magazine and the Los Angeles Times have drawn foodies from around the country to sample the signature fish tacos, ceviche tostadas and scallop burritos. So, everything’s ducky, right? Not quite. According to Keith Pylant, owner-manager of the Señor Fish on Eagle Rock Boulevard, some "nasty corporate infighting" has impelled him to split off and rename his restaurant Señor Fresh.
"I take a great deal of pride in my operation, the quality of service and, above all, the freshness of the food," he says.
Enrique Ramirez, who runs the other three restaurants, says freshness remains a hallmark of his eateries as well.
"That’s how it’s been from day one, everything fresh, using the best shrimp and the best fish," Ramirez says. "The beans, rice and salsa are made in the morning. All the rest is cooked to order."
Complicating matters are family ties. Pylant’s wife, Alicia, is a member of the Ramirez family, which opened Señor Fish in 1988. While she has broken away with her husband in the Eagle Rock operation, Alicia remains involved with her brother, Enrique, in the other three restaurants, he says.
So, will the real Señor Fish please stand up? Pylant says he has spiced up the fish batter and changed his cod supplier, but otherwise remains committed to the original recipes and approach that made the restaurants great.
Enrique says his restaurants use the original Señor Fish recipes, ingredients, even the original chefs.
"We’ve kept everything the same, there’s no change," he says. "You leave McDonald’s and call yourself McBurgers, you’re not McDonald’s anymore. We’re the original." OffBeat thinks the food is still pretty great at both restaurants; Enrique suggests diners should sample both menus and decide for themselves.
—Lovell Estell III
Atheists United met last weekend in Los Angeles to help members recover from Thanksgiving, which some God-fearing folk apparently seize upon to browbeat nonbelieving family members. "Atheists, like everybody else, have both the benefit and liabilities of family," said Bobbie Kirkhart, co-president of Atheists United, which claims an L.A. membership of 400. "Certainly some of our members have disputes with family that try to convert them."
The guest speaker, psychologist Newton Joseph, seemed more interested in touting his services as an atheist counselor than in holiday stress. Several people in the mostly over-50 crowd used the lecture to catch up on sleep.
Liliana Dashman, a nicely made-up 50-plus woman who was raised Jewish in Argentina, said she had no problems with holiday stress, because her family members are atheists too. "I came to the meeting today because I like the challenge of being around people who want to learn," she said in her heavy Spanish accent.
Linda, who refused to give her last name, slipped away to crunch on toffee peanuts in the kitchen. A plump, middle-aged vocational nurse/voice-over actress, Linda considers herself a wobbler (half believer/half nonbeliever). "I never close all my doors," she said, smiling widely above her bright-yellow Atheists United T-shirt. "Most likely I am an atheist. If somebody can give me evidence, then I will change my mind." Does her family bug her over the holidays? I asked.
"We don’t discuss atheism. They don’t give a damn," she said before making her way back to the lecture hall.
Former Atheists United president Ken Bonnell, who raised his kids as atheists, said he still gets flack from Christian family members, but it’s no big deal. The Christmas carols are annoying, though. "I know the mythology behind them," he said.
Reverend J. Tilman Williams, former mayor of Garden Grove, and self-dubbed Minister of Love, passed out black-and-green photocopied $1 million bills, promoting the international language Esperanto. "Religion should be of your own choosing," he said. Lawyer Edward Tabash, chair of the Center for Inquiry West, which hosted the meeting, said he hates it when religious people use the holidays to attack atheists. "When the message of Christmas is that you will go to hell for nonbelieving, it has a negative impact on society," he said. Finally, the talk ended and A.U. members broke into small groups. OffBeat took the opportunity to break away for her own favorite religious ritual: holiday shopping.