Edited by Gale Holland
“Children are our ultimate investment,” Los Feliz pediatrician Paul Fleiss says at a signing for his newly released book, Sweet Dreams: A Pediatrician’s Secrets for Your Child’s Good Night’s Sleep. “We want them to grow up strong and smart. Most importantly, we want them to take care of us.”
This wish hasn’t always come true for the gray-, curly-headed Fleiss, the father of notorious Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss. Four months after Heidi was convicted on felony pandering charges, authorities charged him with hiding the profits from his daughter’s call-girl ring and with acting as the go-between in the purchase of her home, a $1.6 million spread once owned by Michael Douglas. Dr. Fleiss pleaded guilty to making false statements to the IRS and conspiracy, and received a sentence of three years’ probation and community service, which included volunteering at the Los Angeles Free Clinic. In addition, the medical board put him on probation for one year.
“We didn’t think we were doing anything wrong, “ explains Fleiss, over lunch with OffBeat at a Thai restaurant across from the charming little Los Feliz Craftsman where he keeps his medical offices. Fleiss swears he didn’t know his daughter was involved in prostitution. “They wouldn’t give her a loan . . . They [the authorities] really wanted my daughter. All the agencies were coming after her. They thought that she was involved with the Mafia. It wasn’t much of a case.”
Long before his daughter became his calling card, Fleiss was an early advocate of breast-feeding, drawing a loyal following among L.A.’s young parents, and attracting such celebrity patients as Madonna and Leonardo DiCaprio. Now he’s taking on one of the most vexing problems today’s bobo parents face, how to get the baby to settle down at night. Part of his answer is controversial: Fleiss believes children should sleep with their parents, a practice often referred to as the “family bed.”
“Sleeping with your child demonstrates to your child how to sleep. Babies and children, after all, are in a perpetual mode of learning and socialization,” writes Fleiss. “Letting your baby observe your sleeping patterns informs him what his future sleeping patterns will be.”
Fleiss has five other children, who are thriving in jobs including social worker, veterinarian, doctor, TV producer and office manager. His book is full of sound advice about solving childhood sleep problems, including maintaining a clean, dark and orderly bedroom and establishing comforting bedtime rituals such as reading books or giving back-rubs.
But when he discusses sex and the family bed, he strays once more into controversy. Fleiss counsels that parents should be open and honest about sex and the children will understand or develop tactics to deal with their parents’ amorousness.
“At the first sign of heightened affection, the children say to their parents: ‘Yuck, you two need to go on a date!’” he says, writing about one co-sleeping family he knows. “With an air of authority, superiority, and amusement, the children march out of the bedroom and go play elsewhere in the house.”
Fleiss has no plans for a book tour but will be appearing at local bookstores. “I don’t expect to make a lot of money from it,” he shrugs. “I just want people to be well-informed.”
Space is the Place
“Ohmigod, it’s beautiful,” Loretta Hidalgo squealed as a raver entered the Hollywood nightclub, an antique space helmet tucked under his arm. “It’s a real Gagarin-era space helmet. Bought from the Russian space agency,” she explained reverently.
The reference was to the late Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, and the honoree of the evening’s rave, organized by Caltech Ph.D. candidate Hidalgo and her partner, George T. Whitesides, at the Palace.
For young scientists like Hidalgo and Whitesides, there is a supreme irony in the fact that, just as technological advances and the end of the Cold War converge to create the perfect preconditions for interplanetary exploration, the will to conquer space is gone. Hidalgo and Whitesides, both Pasadena residents, created the Yuri’s Night rave, marking the 40th anniversary of Gagarin’s historic 1961 flight, in an effort to graft their enthusiasm for space onto youth culture. Apparently, there’s plenty more young space freaks like them, because 64 Yuri’s Night parties were held worldwide, from Dublin to Antarctica. U.S. party sites included MIT and Cape Canaveral.
“What’s neat about our generation is we have an opportunity to go into space, but we have to actively decide to do it,” says the determinedly upbeat Hidalgo.
As vintage footage played of Gagarin emerging from his capsule, and a worried JFK responding to the news, Hula-Hoop-bearing ravers in skimpy dresses danced with the pocket-protector set, gamely shuffling their feet to the techno beat. Hidalgo, who dressed for the occasion in a vaguely Star Trek–ish, stomach-baring latex top and cargo pants, is a 27-year-old astrobiologist, a discipline she described as the study of organisms in extreme environments. Whitesides has a master’s in remote sensing, not to be confused with the X-Files–
esque remote viewing, in which Art Bell types claim to be able to psychically “view” events thousands of miles away.
“It’s the astronomy of looking down at this planet and others, from satellites,” Whitesides explained. Whitesides moved to L.A., however, not to remote-sense but to join a space “entertainment” start-up. The company’s nondisclosure agreement was so tight, that Whitesides can’t discuss what he was doing, even now that the start-up is belly up.
“Space tourism and entertainment are new industries that are going to happen,” he insisted. “But we’re the post-Challenger generation. I’m concerned that our generation hasn’t had a chance to actively engage in space yet.”
Hidalgo, a second-generation Cuban immigrant, chatted (in Spanish and English) with friends from her various global postings, which included the United Nations Space Generation Advisory Council in Vienna, NASA in Houston and the Arctic (studying bacteria).
“For a long time, the space community has been perceived as old white guys in ties,” said Hidalgo. “This is a first effort to take space and get pop culture back into it.”
One Hidalgo crony regaled us with tales of the hot beach-house parties NASA interns throw. The friend has postponed his dream of becoming an astronaut to pursue another goal, “financial stability” by the age of 30 (he’s 23). The third time he mentioned “stability,” we asked him exactly what he meant.
“Retired; never have to work again,” he said serenely.
On that note, we decided to press forward and watch the go-go dancers before exiting with some souvenirs, including a cunning little vibrating Power Puff Girl. We’re pretty sure the huddle of people snorting something off the go-go platform weren’t from Caltech.
My friend Joe and I were walking along the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, when we spied a discarded cardboard sign that read, “HOMELESS PREGNANT WOMAN PLEASE HELP!” Over the previous three years, I had observed a young blond woman with such a sign, decorated with the same Day-Glo orange peace sign, panhandling in the popular shopping area. No baby ever appeared, but the woman seemed to be raking in the dough; unless the human gestation period has mutated drastically, this appeared to be a scam, and a very successful one.
Joe dared me, an adult male, to pick up the sign and try my hand at begging. As I happened to be turned out nicely at the time, in a leather jacket with a big fake diamond in my ear, I couldn’t resist. Sitting down under a lamppost, I slipped two $20 bills under my polished cowboy boots and put out my sign. A crowd began to gather. An actual homeless guy, his bedroll slung across his shoulder, asked if I was really a woman. “A quarter a question,” I responded. He readily forked over two bits for my answer: “Read the sign,” I said.
Teenage kids began congregating, lobbing questions I was only too happy to answer — for a price. The rowdy bunch was most interested in learning if I had earned the two Jacksons under my boots by using the cardboard sign. “What do you think? The bucks obviously stop here,” was my response. Perplexed yuppie couples jumped in with their own questions, obediently dropping ducats to get their replies. Joe dumped a paper plate of food on the concrete and offered me a buck to lap it up like a dog. The homeless guy, joined by several yuppies venting a newfound political awareness, yelled at Joe for trying to humiliate someone so down on his luck.
A man walked by, stopped in midstride, looking perplexed, then returned and handed me a fiver. In just 20 minutes I had made $10.25, a pay rate of $30.75 an hour, or more than I had earned at several previous jobs. I reflected on how the young woman, working this scam for three years, might have hurt the cause of the real homeless. But I decided to keep the sign. You never know when you might need a few quick bucks.