By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The L.A. County firemen and medics, their yellow pants smudged with soot, stand in the alleyway, eyeing the barbecue pit. “The winner will have $20,000 donated in their name to Mark Wahlberg’s Youth Foundation,” ‰ says the announcer, and people cheer. The guy in the butterfly chair grooves to the music.
“I need a status check on the Jack Daniel’s,” says one of the security guards, pulling his radio close to his mouth. “Jack. Daniel’s. Check.”
10:18 p.m. Shannon Elizabeth is jumping up and down. “Looks like she won,” says the AV commander, observing her on the live-feed screen. The PowerPoint guy moves her name to the winning slot. The celebs onstage are hot, but the backroom AV section is hotter. Workers gather to watch the tournament unfold. There are laptop screens, big screens, flat screens, screens connected to other screens. Julie bursts in. “The matchups are wrong! Pull it off the screen. It’s Shannon Elizabeth versus Mira Sorvino.” Though that wasn’t the original matchup. The two actresses are switching sofas. Through the concrete wall, we hear the announcer: “We’ve got a potential cat fight here. Mrrrrrow!”
“I need to know one at a time who’s playing who so I can update my slide,” says Julie.
“Who? Who? Who? Who? Who?” says the PowerPoint guy, bouncing in his chair, frantically pushing names around on his screen. “Shit!”
“You got it,” says the commander, as the names are reshuffled.
“There’s some cute girls out there, man,” says one of the crew, ambling over to gaze at the monitors.
10:45 p.m. The tournament is over. Mira Sorvino made it to the final round but lost to Corey Magette. “You look so tired,” Emma says to Bryan, who shakes it off.
MOVE YOUR FEET
11 p.m. It is the time for painful feet. Emma’s feet in kitten heels. The staffers’ feet. Beau’s feet. Bryan’s feet. My feet. A girl whips off her high-heeled ballerina shoes and slings them over her shoulder. In the area formerly known as the parking lot, with the matte black curtains and the open-air ceiling like a giant birdcage, people gyrate as rapper Ludacris (special musical guest!) sings. The Los Angeles sky has never looked so beautiful. At times I catch glimpses of Jeffrey Best: Best leaning against a heating lamp by himself as celebrities swirl around him. Best standing above the crowd on the area he’d designed to look like a stadium with actual stadium seats, a proud general admiring his troops, a satisfied smile playing across his face. Then, in an instant, he is gone. Scenes are frozen in flashing lights: A girl’s neck, flushed and sloped like a swan. A couple kissing on the dance floor. A perfect leg. A perfect arm. Paris Hilton, bending her knee rakishly over a blue sofa, raising her plastic cup aloft. “The best part is getting to see people’s outfits,” Emma says, pointing at the miniskirts, the wisps of glittery cloth alarmingly bound to bodies with string. “All this effort,” Best says, “for 45 perfect minutes.”
11:30 p.m. The AV screens in the back have gone dark; their job for the evening is over.
12 a.m. Goodbye, caterers. Goodbye, AV nerds. Grandmaster Flash is still spinning his records, lost in the music. “The popular drink tonight was anything vodka,” says the bartender. “Vodka cran, vodka tonic, vodka club. But I’m a whiskey drinker myself. This one girl ordered a whiskey ginger, which is whiskey with ginger ale, and I told her that is the best drink. A good drink is one that gets you buzzed fast with no hangover the next day.” We wave at a security guard minding the lockers. The sports lounge is deserted. “Tonight was a good night. A good party depends on the attitude of the people. It’s bad when they ask for too much and get angry that you’re not moving the drinks fast enough. But it was a fun, happy crowd tonight. Everybody in a good mood. Can I make you something?”
12:30 a.m. “Everything comes in in layers and everything goes out in layers,” Emma explains. The banners and black curtains and gray scrim and hanging signs go first. The aluminum truss, which a workman is already deconstructing, socket wrench in hand, is next, followed by the sofas and tables and counters in reverse order, like film looped backward. There is a perfect symmetry to it. At half past midnight, Best’s work crew is back, refreshed by a one-hour nap. It took five days to set everything up, but it all has to come down by midnight the next evening. The immediate deadline to beat is dawn, at which point a farmers market will be commandeering the street. Soon, tomatoes and lettuce will be hurtling toward Ivar. “After the guests leave, we have to haul ass to get the big stuff out before 5 a.m.,” Emma says.
People come and go in layers as well. Half of Jeffrey Best’s four-woman office team has gone home. Emma and Leslie will leave soon. A delegate from Sony has come to reclaim their video games, which have been locked in clear Lucite boxes. Jeffrey Best himself has slipped out, headed home to his wife and baby daughter. Tomorrow, at a birthday party, the entire process begins for him anew.
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