Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Vacances de Hollywood
We almost killed a Frenchman this weekend.
We really didn't mean to.
So crispy and heat-stricken was Benjo when he finally walked off Zuma beach on Sunday afternoon that he lost his peripheral vision, had difficulty reading, and at times babbled in a mixture of English and French, sufficiently freaking himself out as we perused the menus at Maggiano's after a long day out in Malibu. The ninety-four degree heat had completely parched him, leaving him exhausted and sunstroked. The three of us indulged in a long Italian meal, rehydrating ourselves and marveling at how much "color" I had gotten in a mere three hours on the sand. Benjo rubbed his brow nervously as he tried to see past the dark spots in the forefront of his plane of vision, wondering if he was going to die and I reassured him that he'd feel fine tomorrow morning, if not in a few hours' time. The food definitely perked him up, but we decided to postpone our plans to see 21, the film about the MIT blackjack team. We all knew it was going to suck, but our gamblers' hearts and our individual love-hate relationships with Las Vegas demanded that we check it out.
Benjo had flown in to L.A. from Las Vegas on Friday afternoon. He'd gone straight from doing the French commentary on EPT Live on that long, late-night final table in Monte Carlo to jumping on a plane to Las Vegas where he had to cover the WPT World Championships at Bellagio. Once the players he needed to follow had been eliminated, he was free to pay Pauly and I a visit. He also became our first guest to use our new IKEA sofa-bed. Benjo claimed stellar sleep on all three nights.
On Friday night, we showed him old-school Hollywood with dinner at Musso & Frank's followed by drinks at Boardner's. Both establishments were frequented by writers like Charles Bukowski, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald and stars like Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, and Charlie Chaplin. Boardner's is one of the last few mellow neighborhood bars in L.A. and I like going there on the early side, when it's easy to snag a booth along the wall. We all drank Stellas and ogled at the twin blonde hookers that were holding court at a back table with a couple of hipster douchebags.
"I'm going to write a screenplay called L.A. Douchebags. I don't know what it's about yet though." said Benjo.
On Saturday we slept in and had an early lunch at In-N-Out Burger. I hadn't been there in what seemed like an eternity. Pauly went the secret menu route and ordered a 3x3. That's meat, cheese, meat, cheese, meat cheese. Only a bun and onions filled out my beloved's entree after the offending vegetables were removed. Once we were sated, we returned home to play in Saturdays with Dr. Pauly. Benjo roared out to a huge chiplead on his way to the final table, but endured two brutal suckouts and ended up finishing fourth. Which, coincidentally, is what I finished that Full Tilt Bracelet race that I played after busting from SWDr.P. I was on complete mega-tilt and barely held my shit together as I navigated L.A. traffic and drove the three of us up Beechwood Canyon so Benjo could get a picture of the Hollywood sign and take in the view. It turned out to be quite a good tilt-cure as I stood high above the city, breathing in the brown cloud that hung like a sagging hammock beneath us. Even soaking in pollution, my city is still something to behold.
Sunday morning brought the drive out to Zuma Beach, at the north end of Malibu. We kicked things off with a meal at Nick's, where Benjo fell in love with American breakfasts.
" I want to open a chain of Nick's in France. We'll serve this for breakfast, and In-N-Out Burger at lunch" he quipped, as he polished off his green onion, ham, and tomato omelet.
It was the first truly warm weekend of the season, so the beach was predictably packed. Benjo jumped out of the car to smoke cigarettes and explore while we waited in what turned out to be a thirty-minute queue to get into the beach parking lot. Only one person was there collecting the parking fees and a van had caught on fire near the entrance, necessitating a visit from Malibu's finest. By the time we got in, Benjo had walked nearly the length of the beach and back.
I roasted in the sand for several hours, ironically reading a book called Heat about a writer who apprentices in the kitchen of Mario Batali's NYC restaurant Babbo. I was craving Italian food after reading about braised meats and home-made pasta all afternoon. I got my wish when we hit up Maggiano's-- even if it is Italian-American food and a chain, it's still very high on my dollar value-for-flavor scale.
This morning we finally caught 21. It was definitely cheesy, and bore visible Act One screenwriting scars of the film's six years in "development hell" (The former exec in me could read the notes plain as day--"Let's give Ben more of a clear-cut motivation to join the Blackjack Team...Let's see more of Ben's moral dilemma over his choice...Let's add an extra beat to establish Jill as Ben's love interest." Good Lord, I used to get paid to write shit like that.) Still, there was a wish-fulfillment element about the whole thing that the Vegas junkie in me kind of enjoyed. We all cringed, though the moment Kate Bosworth's character started telling a blackjack bad-beat story while riding the T.
Extra special bonus? I won $10 off of Pauly for correctly choosing that there would be less than 8.5 total patrons sitting in the theatre by the end of the film. Ship it!
I could definitely see the sadness in Benjo's eyes as we dropped him off at LAX for his flight back to London. I think he fell a little bit in love with Los Angeles during his stay, though he admitted all the driving would make him crazy. It's not a long goodbye, we'll see him again in four weeks when the WSOP starts.
Yup. Only four more weeks until I leave for Las Vegas to cover my third World Series of Poker.
Where the fuck does the time go?