By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Look — there’s that guy who was in that thing: Hundreds of tourists trained their lenses on Nicolas Cage as he dipped several appendages into the moist sidewalk of Hollywood Boulevard on Tuesday. Clockwise, from center: Is that him?, Whoa!, Omigod!, Naaahh!, Omigod!, Nicolaaaaaas!, We LO-O-O-VE YOO!, Aaaaaaaauugh! and Whatever . . . Photo by Ted Soqui
Reader’s Digest: High Crimes and Canapé Misdemeanors
At 6:30 on a Tuesday evening, well-dressed members of America’s upper crust pull up in shining vehicles outside Raffles L’Ermitage on Burton Way. They have come to hear one of the highest-paid print journalists in America read from Justice: Crimes, Trials and Punishments, a collection of articles about gory murders originally published in Vanity Fair. Dominick Dunne, the crusading chronicler of gilded malfeasance, gossipy symbol of the belief that justice is not always served, has attracted a high-roller crowd. Book readings are usually fairly democratic affairs, open to all. This one, the first in the hotel’s “Wine & Word” series, is by invitation only.
To those of us condemned to life imprisonment in middle-class America, it’s always startling to be confronted by a large group of people wearing visibly expensive clothes. If clothes can sneer, theirs do. Inside the hotel’s restaurant, JAAN, the men wear suits and ties; the women dress like Ladies Who Lunch or — in the case of the younger, racier ones — as if they were auditioning for a role in the next James Bond movie. Every single table has a card on it that says “Reserved.” Meekly, almost everyone stands. I sit and am immediately rewarded by a waitress carrying a tray of canapés placed on silver tablespoons. “It’s cured Indonesian salmon and smoked trout,” she informs me.
“I just put this in my mouth?” I ask, referring to the spoon.
I follow her instructions, and feel like an old, decadent baby. I return the spoon â and wash down the fishy goo with Perrier-Jouet. Then a woman with legs like the long muscular stalks of two exotic and probably poisonous jungle flowers walks into the room. White rayon shorts cover about an eighth of her thighs. It is time to do some interviewing. Her name is Lori New, and she is so ethereally beautiful that I think I might be speaking to a hologram. Her job, she jokes, is “to stay young and pretty and 18 forever” — she is an actress. She isn’t here for the reading, but she knows all about Dominick Dunne. “I’m an actress who actually reads,” she explains. Then she goes off to look for her date.
The reading takes place on the hotel’s roof, which offers a panoramic view of the city. Planes float upward through the fading blue sky. A helicopter buzzes. Standing with his back to West L.A. before a table bearing a bouquet of yellow hydrangeas, Dunne is dressed in a dark pinstriped suit, a blue shirt with a white collar, and a dusky red polka-dotted tie. The seats arrayed before him are covered in white linen slipcovers fastened with bows, and every seat is taken except for the two next to Salman Rushdie. The author of The Satanic Verses sits bolt upright at the far end of a row, looking like a stern, scholarly bird. Eventually, two reporters sit next to him.
Gray-haired and wearing George Burns glasses, Dunne coughs and harrumphs and stumbles over his words. There is something endearingly fuddy-duddy about him. Presenting himself as “an advocate for victims,” he establishes an unmistakably moral tone. He explains that, in 1982, his daughter was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, John Sweeney, and speaks movingly of how Sweeney was given an insultingly light sentence that was halved before he’d even left the courtroom. “How I hated him,” he says of his daughter’s murderer, “even as I knew that hate is not a state in which to linger. I even thought about hiring someone to kill him, but I ended up writing about it instead.” And found a vocation as a chronicler of crime: “For the first time in my life, I felt in step with my life.”
Then it’s on to the gossip, which is what the crowd is waiting for. The O.J. Simpson trial, “a great trash novel come to life”; the Menendez brothers, “I feel sorry for them, though I hate what they did. I’d like to visit them in prison”; and Claus von Bulow, “Claus is a fake. His name is a fake. He’s always been a fake. Claus is trompe l’oeil.” (Take that, Claus!) Dunne presents his theory on the Chandra Levy case, which is that some Hell’s Angels friends of Gary Condit drove her out of town on the back of a motorcycle. But he has disappointing news on Robert Blake: The case is cold and getting colder. “As you can see,” he sums up, “I’m not attracted to street crime. I like rich-people crime.” And the rich people laugh.
Endings: Al’s Bar Unplugged
The PA was crappy, the air conditioning and ventilation nonexistent, and the club didn’t even have a full liquor license, selling only beer and wine. Yet Al’s Bar, which closed its doors Saturday night with little fanfare, possessed something you can’t find at the faux-rock emporiums for tourists on the Sunset Strip: soul. The locus of the Downtown Arts District, Al’s Bar had a policy — enacted by Lizzie Balough in the ’80s and proudly maintained by more recent booking agents Toast and Jim Miller — of giving preference to experimental, arty and uncommercial groups. You didn’t see the usual heavy metal and pop-rock careerists who infest other joints. And speaking of joints, I suppose it’s now safe to divulge that the back patio at Al’s was a pot smoker’s oasis, since cops and fire marshals rarely bothered to enter the bar, situated halfway between Skid Row and Little Tokyo.