I live in Silver Lake, a part of Los Angeles that has been adjacent to working movie studios since Hollywood began. My house is on a parcel that was originally a farm that was failing until the owner learned he could rent his sway-back horse to Mack Sennett as a day player. The 1920s Spanish-style houses and the 1960s Neutra specimens were built for contract players, middle-class actors. What I mean to say is that the people here have always been hot. It’s sort of what we’re known for.
I use that “we” as a recent immigrant, and to be specific, as a writer, I’m pretty hot, which around here compares to how a dog, in the Olympics, is pretty good at walking on his hind legs. In other words, I am humored on my daily walks. There’s a reservoir (the Lake in our name—Fred Silver was the developer responsible for it) and it’s two-point-two miles of pathway with nature on one side (hawks, egrets, coyotes, owls) and a boulevard (Teslas, Range Rovers, producers, people who might discover you) on the other. And all along the path exercise your neighbors, your competition, the actors and actresses who pay their mortgages with their wits and their looks. People work out here not just for the sweat of it but because it’s what being seen at the Troubador was like in the 1970s, part of your job as a hot person.
In the early days of the pandemic, the pathway wasn’t exactly closed, but anyone who used it was grimaced at, which is an effective kind of social shunning. No one who wants to be looked at for a living wants it to come with a grimace. The local government stepped in and announced the path was open, but only in one direction, which was smart—now everyone goes counter clockwise, providing pretty good distancing, and all is well. But for one problem. The masks.
I wouldn’t say anyone here is a real anti-masker in the sense that you’re thinking about. It’s more that a significant percentage of the population believes to their core—and has had confirmed for them time and again, with money in the bank because of this belief—that depriving the world of the sight of their unmasked faces is a sin up there with ignoring devotions to your childhood saints. I have seen my neighbors in Eres Guru leggings and deconstructed Isabel Marant masks running with pained expressions, not pained for themselves, but for all the passers-by, as if knowing that our days would be made so much brighter by one glance at the high-relief profile stamped on the polished-proof rare coins that are their beautiful faces. I was going to make another metaphor here, but The Hollywood Reporter just posted an article describing this product:
The AquaGold Botox + Filler Facial, in which an individually tailored “cocktail” containing a blend of Botox, Juvederm, vitamins and amino acids is not injected but stamped into the skin using a 20-karat-gold-tipped microneedle.
It’s a thousand dollars, and if I spent that you can bet I would grimace under a mask when walking by someone less hot than myself, i.e., a writer like me. I got COVID back in March, and my hair is falling out, my skin is pretty damaged because of some antibiotics I had to take, and I am freshly dependent on an inhaler so I wheeze a lot. But then again my job is to look at stuff. When I do manage to leave the house, the bright eyes and crinkled brows (those that can still crinkle) around here whisper meaningfully about the deprivation of people born to be looked at.
Always get the last word.
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This particular problem has a solution, and the anxieties of quarantine are partially lifting. My girlfriend and I go to the Hollywood Farmers Market, which is exactly what you imagine. Sunset and Ivar, across from the Cinerama Dome, a block from one of the thirty billion Scientology centers, spelt bread that folks in less co-operative times would stab each other for, thirty-five-dollar heritage chickens that come with the equivalent of a bouncer and velvet rope separating you from the right to buy them. The farmers are often gorgeous and stand in front of canvas banners with huge photographs of themselves smiling in a field next to an actual tractor, as their authenticity is the product. A good-enough pile of kale on the right table here probably has more Instagram followers than any of you do.
My girlfriend and I have been coming here for many months, mostly for the food but also for the A-list people watching. Hot actors and producers with excellent skin-care regimens just happening to run into each other after working out and before brunch in front of a banner with a farmer on it has drummed up more deal memos than all the assistant-witnessed, valet-employing, paleo-catered general meetings in micro-studios from Venice to Burbank. When you’re standing with Ojai pixie tangerines in one hand and sunflowers harvested from, I dunno, Asgard, in the other, the right smile of sincerity at the right time is like money in the bank. But that transaction has become problematic, of course.
I have to say that I have never looked at a person wearing a mask and still wondered whether they’re hot. Like: there’s a whole rest of a person to judge, and I, a writer, am very good, and if not good, at least insistent, about judging people. I have made the assumption that pretty much everyone is hot and I won’t learn otherwise until maybe nine months into 2021. I can live with that. But there’s a thing you may not know about actors: they are often—and please don’t let this change anything for you—a tiny bit insecure. Assuring them the mask doesn’t matter won’t change anything.
But what does change things? A couple of weeks ago we saw it for the first time: the mask designed for lip readers. Surgical models have been around for a while, but only recently did someone think to add designer patterns around the edges—nothing gauche like Fendi or Goop, but more subtle and inclusive designs, things to remind you of Buddhism and the fruits of the Saturn/Jupiter conjunction. We saw a woman of unknowable age and unknowable resources—it is best and most harmonious among the savagely wealthy to make you guess rather than bludgeon you with it—purchasing purple Brussels sprouts from a vendor. She was wearing a transparent mask with black piping at its edges, and as she put her vegetables in her Skylight Books bag, her smile was radiant. It was a smile not just for 2021 but for all the ages of Hollywood, Los Angeles, and the world beyond.
And that is the image I would like to leave you with, from this pocket of privilege and nonsense that nonetheless is a commodity with a price tag on it. If you have been wondering how the pandemic has been impacting the folks we see on our rapidly-merging oligarchy of streaming services, all your answers were there in the genuine sunbeam that was this woman’s expression of relief. It was as they call it a knowing smile, one peculiar to this environment in that even though it was friendly you could call it neither shallow nor light. It was indeed a smile for lip-readers.
It said: If I made a smile in the woods and no one was there to see, would it, or I exist? Fuck no.
Los Angeles County organizations to support during the pandemic emergency:
The Food Bank of Southern California: www.foodbankofsocal.org
Project Angel Food (prepares and delivers healthy meals to feed people impacted by serious illness): www.angelfood.org/
The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank: www.lafoodbank.org
Home Dog LA (help for pet owners—vet visits and dog food): www.homedogla.org/
Los Angeles Mission (provides meals, hot showers, safe shelter, and other life-giving support to unhoused people in need): www.losangelesmission.org
Los Angeles LGBT Center Health Services: www.lalgbtcenter.org/health-services/mental-health/intimate-partner-domestic-violence