I don't need to explain the Playboy Mansion. You've probably seen Girls Next Door, the E! Entertainment show that managed to successfully de-mystify the estate like the channel did Saved by the Bell, Puff Daddy, and Fabio. But despite the camera's depiction of Heff as goofy and groping grandpa with three ditzy but well-meaning Barbies, the mansion still retains a certain cache.
When you tell other males that you're going to a party there, they tend to lapse into Pavlovian response, as though the per capita rate of orgies and salvers of strawberry cocaine hadn't been on the decline since Dynasty was canceled. At least, that was the response when I told people that I was going to attend the Marijuana Policy Project's fourth annual fundraiser gala at the legendary Gothic-Tudor mansion.
This leads to a state of heightened expectations. You're not supposed to go to a party at the Playboy Mansion, sample a few rolls from the sushi bar, devour a few vegetarian paninis, and peruse the Spider Monkey cages. No, conventional logic dictates drunken and drugged debauchery like you were a British rock star named Keith, until you wake up in a cut-off New York Jets jersey, beside three girls named Amber, several drained bottles of Dom P., and smothered in viscous solution. The mansion's steward does his best to preserve the adult Disneyland image, recruiting a corps of models, playmate manques, and random attractive girls ostensibly recruited off the street.
How else could the Marijuana Policy Project charge $900 a plate for the privilege of attending their party? I mean, entertainment from the Dandy Warhols and Kyle Gass (the not Jack Black guy in Tenacious D) is cool, but barring Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre and Courtney Taylor of the Dandies settling it once and for all with a no-holds barred steel cage match, I don't see anyone forking over a fin. Especially since the invite cautioned that “the venue does not permit the consumption of marijuana under any circumstances….guests will be asked to leave the premises immediately if they are found to be smoking.”
Not to trivialize the charity's fine work–placing marijuana initiatives on state ballots, boosting the plant's public image, helping High Times stay afloat–but there was a stark incongruity. Men trending towards Seth Rogan, Jim James, and Jeffrey “Dude” Lebowski archetypes asked bored and buxom blondes to pose for photographs for their Facebook pages. One girl whispered to her similarly artificially endowed friend, “I keep on forgetting that they're tourists.” Nor is this some sleazy default of the Policy Project's males–the only other time I finagled my way into the 21,000 square foot sprawl, the attendees acted the same way: jaws agape like Looney Tunes characters, minds jammed by the siliconed and salined stand-ins.
Objectively, the Policy Project put on a really good party: delicious catered food, a DJ who spun Donavan's “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” a fun set from the Warhols, and a “job well done” speech from Fairuza Balk (thus explaining what she's been up to since The Craft.) I'm not sure what “celebrity” means in this reality-rotted world, but there were a few there. The girl from America's Top Model who married one of the guys from the Brady Bunch. It was reported that that B-Real of Cypress Hill was present–but I only saw his partner, Sen-Dog. Luke Perry, Asher Roth, Tom Green, and T-Boz were all slated to attend, but I'm fairly certain that they never made it out.
But even if they had, the biggest celebrity would've been the weathered and rusting Hugh Hefner, who briefly materialized towards the end of the evening to lizard-lounge on a couch, cordoned off by a velvet rope, flanked by his requisite retinue: three girlfriends hanging onto every digression, plus two more to fill out the photos from the flash mob that swarmed the area, and snapped enough shots to produce a low-level iridescence.
Adjacent to me a crew of concerned guys theorized whether or not he was “banging them.”
“No way, he's too old.”
“What about Viagra?”
“He could if he wanted to.”
“Who wouldn't want to?”
The easy thing to do is reduce Hugh Hefner to one of two equally trite tropes: the porn potentate worthy of scorn, or the archetypal alpha male imbued with the cool and confidence to seduce any wanna-be starlet imaginable. But what I saw was a doddering Octagenarian wearing the same red velvet pajamas that he's been in since Kennedy got shot–nothing to condemn but nothing to celebrate either–a guy who fortune smiled upon and led him to the top rung. Which didn't become clear until I found my way in the Game Room, invited by an associate of the Dandies, who had been given the space as a green room.
Filled with a pool table and anachronistic arcade games like Ms. Pacman, Space Invaders, and Pole Position–much like the rest of the mansion–the Game Room felt suspended in a Graceland-like stasis. Most striking was the array of Playboy pinball machines, featuring Hef and his playmates, the girls increasingly interchangeable, his hair getting grayer with each incarnation. It was as though he was Matthew McConaughey's Wooderson character in Dazed and Confused, but slicker and more superannuated: getting older, the girls staying the same age.
The whole scene was depressing. But more than that, it was out-moded in these post-AIDS, post-recession times–less of an organic growth than a vestigial organ. Even the man's once-mighty media empire is tottering, with the stock price below $3, and the latest quarterly report noting net losses of nearly $14 million. At 83-years old, Hef probably doesn't have much longer to lust. Even the greatest empires and edifices ultimately sink into the sand. Too bad silicone isn't biodegradable.