I just came back from a weekend in Los Angeles that reads completely out of character for me: movie stars, shopping, comedy shows, the beach.
The actress Camryn Manheim has been a friend of mine since we were in third grade and her father hired my father to teach engineering at a university in central Illinois. We lived down the street from each other for four idyllic years, until both our dads got jobs on opposite ends of the country. Our parents remained close friends and we kept our relationship going through college and afterwards in New York, when our lifestyles seemed to diverge. She went on to big successes in the theater and then in television and the movies, and while she has always been open and welcoming, I felt shy about invading her world. Now we have children the same age, and as we grow older our shared past means more than the differences in our life circumstances. After my first bout with chemo, Camryn invited us to visit her in L.A. - a memorable vacation. Picture below from April 2005, when my hair first started to grow back.
Last Monday Camryn invited me to Venice Beach for the weekend, so I flew down on Friday. The first thing she did was take me to an exclusive Hollywood restaurantfor a party sponsored by Coach bags. The point of the event was to create buzz for Coach, tied to the Golden Globe awards which had already been canceled. We went anyway.
Now let me tell you that the Dove carries a Victorinix messenger bag in black, with plenty of gear hooks on it: room for books, notebooks, pens, money, snacks and occasionally a cel phone. This bag is the preferred Bay Area software geek commuter gear and is a hand-me-down from my husband. When I want to be stylish I carry a two-year-old red leather pocketbook I bought in a discount store. Camryn gave me a black and red Kate Spade bag (she has more stuff than she needs - vendors give her things - and she shares with her friends) to carry to the party so I didn't feel like a big Bay Area computer dork. However I would never buy a Coach, Spade or Prada bag unless it were on sale at the consignment store for $20. I will spend good money on shoes because they are equipment for the feet, but I won't throw money at a handbag.
We ate great Italian food and sat around in the tent watching the hired papparazzi photograph Mandy Moore, Wilmer Valderrama, Debra Messing
and Milla Jovovich. Debora Messing, who was brilliant in the series Will and Grace, is a friend of Camryn's so I got to meet her - she's a lovely person.
The most interesting moment was in the parking lot, as we waited endlessly for our car to arrive; a gaggle of marauding papparazzi huddled at the edge of the driveway, and when Mandy Moore appeared they swooped down, darting around the Coach flacks and waiters to point their cameras in her face. She immediately turned and hid amongst her entourage, who escorted her to her car (a black Prius) while the photographers jostled and shoved. The photogs looked like either skate punks or L.A. gang members. The frenzy was both alarming and ridiculous - as the papparazzi swarmed poor Mandy, children across the street in a schoolyard played kickball. Surreal.
That night, Camryn invited her close friends for an intimate card game with Chinese takeout food. One of the card players is a comic actress who I recognized from Saturday Night Live - she was hilarious, of course, but the whole gang kept me in stitches. I have not laughed so hard and so long since graduate school. All my aches and fatigue from chemo seemed to dissolve, and I stayed up until midnight.
The next morning I walked alone to the beach, where I saw Angelica Huston walking her dogs. She looked me in the eye and smiled. I was staggered. Is that really Angelica Huston? And why is she smiling at me? I think she was acknowledging my chemo turban... rumor has it that she, too is a breast cancer survivor. She's also handsome and classy.
Saturday night Camryn told me we had tickets to see her friend do some standup comedy. I envisioned a supper club with beat-up black walls and patrons stumbling over my knees. The comedienne was Kathy Griffin, and the venue was the Kodak Theater, where they hold the Oscar ceremony. We had fourth row, center orchestra seats. The place was sold out - 3,000 people - and unimaginably grand. A 6'9" drag queen in full length glitter approached Camryn and we all made friends - I hope she sends me the photos soon. So many regular people come up to Camryn as she goes about her life, telling her how much they love and respect her. The Kodak theater show was hilarious - I screamed with laughter at Kathy Griffin - and really enjoyed seeing the fans mob Camryn. We went backstage and milled about looking at people who looked at us to see if we were "somebodies." But the best part was carousing with Camryn at dinner and during the show, enjoying her friends and laughing.
I stayed up too late every night. I sat on the third floor balcony and admired the canals, palm trees and Santa Monica mountains. I walked around Venice and sat on the beach. I ate lunch at Mao's Kitchen "Chinese country-style cooking with red memories." I rode behind Camryn on her little moped to Venice's main shopping street. Try to imagine me riding behind Camryn Manheim on a sage green Indian motorcycle, wearing a helmet over the clever spiral knit skullcap my sister-in-law made for me. At midnight Sunday I tried on Camryn's wigs from her L-Word gig and we ordered a white/silver version for me online. (She sent me home with a loaner, short and blonde, that I must return in case she goes back on the L-Word.) I told her about the video installation traveling the world with my father talking about impermanence, so we looked at a Youtube video excerpt and wept to hear my dad reminding us of our transience on this planet.
(watch to the end to see my father)
Camryn said as I packed up yesterday morning "You just don't seem sick." Laughter and good friends cure all ills. As long as I don't listen to my doctor, I don't think I am sick. In fact, I feel very, very well.