They don't call it Lax for nothing. It's like trying to breathe the washing-up water.

1. Sunday afternoon

Figures in a post-urban landscape: me, Mark P., and Mark P.'s friend Alan are driving to the Getty Center in the hills above Bel Air. All the way up the freeway this huge white edifice is looming higher and higher over our heads. The Getty Center This Way signs get bigger and bigger. The tension intensifies. What if we fail to have the Appropriate Art Experience at this time? Well?? What then???

In the back seat of Mark's white Volvo, Alan is screaming something about imperialism. I am riding shotgun and cowering. Only Mark, who failed to partake of Alan's most excellent weed, is unaffected by the prevailing paranoia.

Mark: It's okay, I'm telling you, I got a parking reservation.

Rach: We had to reserve parking?

Mark: You'll be glad I did.

I'm glad he did. Eighty cars are queued at the entrance, a roundabout contained within thirty-foot high white concrete walls. The sun glares off the immaculately detailed sports utility vehicles. Most are turned away, but Mark tells the bright young Aryan intern: "These are not the droids you're looking for!" and he waves us through.

We enter the immense underground car park. In the back seat, Alan starts to sing Darth Vader's theme.

Alan: Da da da DO di da DO di da.

Rach: If I'm Leia you two have to fight over Han and Luke.

Mark (whiny): But I wanna be OBIWAN!

Alan: You realize if we get down far enough, there's a secret passage which leads to Area 51?

We park in the uttermost bowels of the earth, and are conveyed in a shining white vehicle to an immense courtyard at the very top of the hill. Everywhere there are walls of white Italian marble and pale steel and glass. The courtyard is filled with cafes and cool shade trees and sweetly murmuring fountains. The sun shines, there's a pleasant breeze, people of every nation smile and go about their business.

Rach: Captain Mark, I am delighted to welcome you back to the Federation of the Planets homeworld.

2. Sunday night

Later we go to a very odd party. As we turn the corner into Bryan's street Mark points out the apartment building that used to be a crackhouse.

Mark: They've cleaned it up a lot.

Rach: Ah. A crackhouse. Uh-huh.

LAPD helicopters circle overhead. It turns out that Bryan is an artist. He paints big flat portraits of appliances. A fire extinguisher, a blender. Mark introduces us.

Rach: I love your appliances.

Bryan (mournfully): The only good paintings I've ever done. I had this amazing professor, German guy, he kept telling me I had to stop painting. You know, PAINTING painting. He'd put a fire extinguisher on a chair and go, Just show me what it looks like ja?

Rach: If you want I can come around some time with an old iron. Or whitegoods.

Bryan: That might help.

Bryan supplies me with a full bottle of champagne. I am introduced to Erik.

Erik: You're Australian? I love Australia! I went to UTS! I'm at UCLA now! But I loved it there! Have you been to Perth? Perth is great! You must be a fan of Kim Salmon and the Surrealists!

The helicopters circle overhead. I drink champagne. I am introduced to Cameron. Cameron is very cute.

Cameron: I'm trying to decide what to do for my thesis film. It's either going to be a seven-hour TV movie, like the Kingdom, in which these kids find a dead body and charge their friends money to come and look at it. And this one kid he pays them, like, $5 to look at it because it's a woman and he wants to take her pants down.

Rach: That sounds nice.

Cameron: Or else I want to do a Vietnam film with GI Joe dolls.

Rach: Well you'll need Billy then, as the love interest.

Cameron: What's Billy?

I drink champagne and explain what Billy is, and how long he is.

Cameron: I don't know. I might feel threatened. My other idea is to do a film in the genre of Twister and Volcano. It's called: Humidity. We meet our hero, right, and his shirt's sticking to him. And he keeps having to have showers.

I laugh for some time. A blue glass bong goes past. It seems to me that I have seen it somewhere before.

Erik: You like films? I love Australian films! I love Peter Weir! Picnic at Hanging Rock! That was great!

Rach: I like The Cars That Ate Paris.

Erik: What's that?

Helicopters. The bong makes another pass. And what happened to all the champagne? Strange. Cameron is trying to pick up a very beautiful German girl called Astrid.

Cameron: Astrid, that's a beautiful name, is it Norwegian?

Astrid (clearly bored): Yes. But it's very common in Germany also.

Erik: What did you say your name was?

Astrid: Astrid.

Erik: What a beautiful name! So you're Norwegian, right? I love Norway!

At the other end of the table two flight attendants are arguing about their work.

FA1: But the perks! You get medical, travel!

FA2: Perks, schmerks. Think of the danger. She (gesturing at me) flies for pleasure, maybe three, four times a year? We land that many times a day? What are our chances compared to hers? I fear death!

FA1: It's safer than -

FA2: I'm sure Flight 800 was sabotaged. I haven't felt the same since.

Astrid: Which airline did you say you were with?

Erik: Flying! I love to fly!

Bong. I lie on my back, swatting at the helicopters.

6 July 1998. America the brave!
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