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A Considerable Town

I Had Zero Interest in Celebrity Home Tours...Until I Went on One

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Thu, Jul 19, 2012 at 8:00 AM
click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY BRIAN GUILLIAN
  • ILLUSTRATION BY BRIAN GUILLIAN

When I moved to Los

Angeles a year ago, I swore that I would never be caught dead on a

celebrity-homes tour. I couldn't care less whether the Kardashians lived

in a mansion with an infinity pool or a gingerbread house constructed

by sugarplum fairies. The buses cruising the streets reminded me of the

way hawks circled the desert for jackrabbits.

I successfully

avoided this dreaded fate -- until my lady's sister and her cousin from

France came to visit. Suddenly, I found myself on a red Starline

open-top bus, putting on headphones and buckling my seatbelt. That it

was Memorial Day weekend made the excursion feel even more superficial.

Weren't we supposed to be remembering at least one of the millions of

soldiers killed in World War II, delivering food to homeless Vietnam

vets or placing flowers on local monuments? And were we seriously paying

$44 each to stalk celebrities?

Our tour guide, Mick, drove our

group of 12 away from the madness of Hollywood Boulevard and into the

hills. With his thick English accent, Mick told us he was a retired

sergeant in the British army and a former Beefeater at the Tower of

London.

Now we were climbing above the city. The farther we drove,

the more it felt like we were entering another universe: Homes were

their own galaxies, fire hydrants were not red but platinum, and every

person was a potential celebrity. Below us, Los Angeles was spread out

like the inside of a computer's hard drive.

Our first stop was

actor Jason Statham's house, which was under construction. Mick said he

saw Statham driving around in his Porsche quite a bit but never once

witnessed Statham smile. Mick stopped the bus in the middle of the road,

and we watched Statham's driveway, waiting for him to make an unsmiling

appearance on the granite carpet.

When a car behind us beeped, we

continued along the ridges of the hills. It was one of those

too-perfect days in California; the sky was so blue, you would swear it

was manipulated by computer graphics.

Mick went over some rules.

First, whenever you see an expensive car -- Mercedes, Ferrari, luxury SUV

-- make sure to peek into the tinted windows. Especially Range Rovers.

(He never explained why Range Rovers in particular, but I imagined they

were pushed upon celebrities by some mysterious and conspiratorial

marketing firm, led by a Don Draper type.) Second, have your cameras

ready. He also made sure we understood that celebrities are generally

friendly, except for Al Pacino. Mick called him The Lion.

I found

myself diligently peering into celebrity-esque cars. Despite my

discomfort with the setup, I couldn't help but want to be the first to

see someone famous and yell out, "Thar she blows!" And the French

cousin, Audrey, was eating it up. I thought French people were supposed

to like avant-garde jazz and hate Justin Bieber. But she loved every

second of our tour.

Audrey started snapping pictures as we drove

past Tom Cruise's fortress off Alpine Drive. We could see only the top

of the buildings and an American flag.

"In Beverly Hills," Mick said, "the less you can see of the home from the road, the more famous the person is."

Then

Mick started talking about Larry King, the former CNN host. He was the

celebrity Mick saw most on the tour, and so far we'd had no sign of a

celebrity. It was like going whale watching and staring into the ocean

for two hours and seeing jackshit. So we turned on North Highland and

stopped in front of Larry King's house.

Mick instructed us to peep

into a Range Rover pulling out of the driveway. And so the entire bus

of people leaned to the side -- somehow failing to notice the group of

children and their fathers playing basketball in Larry King's driveway.

They were laughing, screaming and shooting the ball with unbridled

happiness, until they noticed us ... staring.

We looked at them,

and they looked at us. And for a moment, our worlds collided. Then the

basketball game went back to normal, and we drove away. It was totally

awkward -- and we didn't even see Larry King.

I didn't think the

tour could get any worse. But then Mick mentioned we were heading to one

of Paul McCartney's homes. I love the Beatles. And "Hey Jude" started

playing over our headphones.

We came to a bend in the road and

stopped at a red light. Mick pointed to a room with one window above

Paul McCartney's gigantic house.

"That room there," Mick said, "is where George Harrison died."

For

all Mick's skills as a tour guide, there's little evidence that

Harrison died anywhere near Paul McCartney's real estate. But that's

still where it hit me.

We visit celebrity homes for their stories.

We visit them to remember the tales of cold-blooded murder, adultery,

psychotic breakdown, sexual abuse, fortunes won, fortunes lost. Think of

how many people still drive to Brentwood to look at O.J. Simpson's

home, or the 10,000 roses sent to Michael Jackson's grave at Forest Lawn

Memorial Park.

These tabloid stories feel as relevant to our

lives as Abraham and Isaac, or Paul Revere and his midnight ride. What

is the difference, really, between seeing Paul Revere's house in Boston

and the room where George Harrison just might have died? Celebrity

culture has become our mythology, and their homes our monuments.

On

the rest of the drive, Mick showed us where River Phoenix died and

where fans of Elvis Presley wrote notes on his security door. We never

did see a single celebrity, but I found I could no longer turn away from

the mansions, from the cars, from the people eating dinner in fancy

restaurants on Sunset Boulevard. I now understood. But I still didn't

want to be caught looking.

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