There is a supposed “Ancient Chinese Curse”, which of course is neither ancient nor Chinese:
May you lead an interesting life. May you attract the attention of famous people. May you get what you want.
This has never been so clearly seen in effect as the time I won a date, well, technically a ride, with Hollywood’s (in)famous “Billboard Queen”, Angelyne.
For those of you who don’t know, who live outside of Los Angeles, who are too young to remember her influence, or are simply too wise to waste time thinking about such ridiculous things, Angelyne is something of a Hollywood icon. Oft spotted driving around in her pink Corvette, but more famously the subject of a slew of hyper-mammiferous (booby) pinup billboards in the ’70s and ’80s, and then the sparse smattering of same, but now more occasional, self-promoting billboards for the next 25 years, she’s certainly put in the legwork to become such an icon.
She’s been the subject of a few interviews, has tried to launch a music and film career, ran for mayor of L.A. in 2002, but by and large, she is famous simply for being famous.
And when you see a raffle to spend time with someone who is famous simply for being famous, for whatever reason, you feel compelled to enter. And, in my case, I won.
I have my suspicions as to why I won. I was at an art gallery where we were asked to drop our business cards in a box to win a ride with her. Was it truly random? Was the fact that I work for a very large “Hollywood industry” company a factor in my being chosen? Or simply the fact that I had a paying job? Regardless, six days after the art show I was called by her assistant Scott, and informed she was going to pick me up and we were gonna have a fun afternoon in her custom pink Corvette. He promised it would be a good time. He promised. What happened to that promise, Scott?
After a few rearranged plans, it was decided she would pull up in front of her favorite Coffee Bean, which conveniently was right next to the restaurant I was to be brunching at with friends. I happened to wander out of brunch right as she was pulling up, and was amazed at how easy this was about to be. The timing was perfect, it was going to be seamless.
It was not seamless. It was not seamless at all.
Angelyne stopped her car. She did not pull over, did not even double park, she simply stopped on Sunset Boulevard. Motorists did not seem thrilled at this. Assuming this was an indicator that she was impatient to begin, I introduced myself through the window and grabbed the door to hop in. She waved her hands to indicate that was not alright, then began trying to communicate something. I couldn’t hear over the traffic, but it sounded like she asked, “Can you find me a parking spot?” That couldn’t be what she said, could it have? That’s not a request a motorist asks of a pedestrian. Then she said something about a Denny’s. Then she drove off.
I had no idea what just happened. Not an auspicious start.
I called her assistant, expressed that I was unclear what just happened, and he let me know he’d call her and she would come back.
She did come back, and we waved her into a point where she could at least pull out of traffic. I then bent down, and was able to at least hear her clearly. Again, she repeated her request—I had heard her correctly, “Can you find me a parking spot?” I had no idea what to say to that. I was taken back by her assumption I had that ability. That anyone, short of a valet, had that ability. I looked around. I had no more of a view of the street than she did, and my mind raced- was I supposed to sprint through an alley? Then what? I didn’t have her cell number, was I to flail and jump until, as she circled, she found me? Well, after far too much discussion, we eventually worked out that she wanted coffee at her (again) favorite Coffee Bean, which we were standing in front of, AS WAS ALREADY PLANNED, so she was going to find her own parking spot and then things were going to be seamless. Probably.
She parked. And then just sat in her car for a while, while my friends and I looked on, confused. Were we supposed to be doing something? Had we made her uncomfortable? Was there something we were supposed to be doing?
After several pregnant minutes, we cautiously approached the car, and she emerged. I introduced myself, attempted to shake her hand, and received a “princess” style handshake as she glanced down—The first thing she said to me was “Your pants look filthy.”
What? My pants were freshly laundered, and were standard issue, maybe even nice, boot cut jeans. Sure, there’s a paint smudge next to the pocket, but that didn’t render the odd greeting any more valid.
I have been in the same room with her before, but I was still a bit thrown by her advanced age. I would not bring this up, save for the cognitive dissonance this caused later in the encounter. She did not look like she was in any shape to be trying to sell herself as a pink-loving blonde bombshell. She was wearing a menagerie of loud colors and a several generous layers of shakily applied makeup. Her support hose gave the illusion of youthful legs, and her uncomfortably short dress suggested someone who was at an age to appropriately wear short dresses. More immediately noticeable was the fact that every inch of flesh visible was surgically altered in some way, and at this age, seemed to be loosely attached to the supporting skeleton beneath it, at best.
Angelyne spoke with the peculiar and maddening affectation that, I believe, is the remnant of a bygone era—a breathy infantilized falsetto. A terrible linguistic fad that belies nothing but misogyny and subjugation of women, this vocal pattern suggests that the speaker is a small child, untainted by the harsh truths of the world, I suppose—but it certainly is not designed to suggest intelligence. Her commitment to this was luckily not whole-hearted, her voice would drop into a normal register frequently, but when she caught herself, she’d noticeably shift back into infantilization.
She did not spare any time, and immediately opened her trunk to display a dizzying array of self-promotional material, stored in a fashion that suggested she was possibly homeless—heaps of clothes, threadbare and random bags that looked like they’d been held onto for decades after they ceased to be presentable. She informed us that her stuff was “not cheap”, but worth it because her fans allowed her to keep from “selling out”. She then went into the hardest sell routine I have ever heard. It reminded me of the night markets in some of the more poverty-stricken countries I have visited, where there was a constant, pressing attempt to levy guilt—if we didn’t buy something, we’d be leaving a dire ethical obligation unfilled. “Come on,” she pleaded to my friend, “you can at least afford a bumper sticker!” Incidentally, I believe she was charging $15 for a bumper sticker. I noticed that the right side of the trunk seemed to be a library of very old publications featuring her—perhaps a dozen thick magazines, and a few prints of her vinyl records.
The car was positively brimming, seemingly on the verge of bursting, with harshly worn bags of stuff. Maybe a $20 keychain, as she waved a threadbare Hello Kitty clutch at us—Maybe an $18 button? Just to bring this embarrassing and severely uncomfortable display to an end, I gave in and bought a button, on the condition we leave the street and enter the coffee shop finally.
“Can one of you pay the meter please?”
This, again, seemed a bit odd, but what’s a dollar or two? I paid the meter for her Z06 custom pink convertible. Later I looked her car up. This car costs, baseline, eighty thousand dollars, though if this were a higher end model, perhaps ninety-three thousand, straight from Chevy, before it was modded with the custom pink paint. And the owner needed others to pay for her parking?
Without thinking, I held the door open for her as she walked in with my friends.
In the coffee shop, she gestured to the barista and announced, “Make me my drink.” She didn’t approach the cash register, didn’t stand in line, and certainly didn’t pay. The barista simply nodded.
After far more discussion than one would expect over how we were to sit around a table (certain chairs were uncomfortable, and we did not want to rearrange their furniture), she began ringing me up for my $18-plus-tax-hand-made-button with her cell phone, running my credit card through square. When I signed to authorize the payment, she expressed,
“Oh, you can leave a tip. Like this, here.”
Her hand snaked across the table as she tried to leave herself a five dollar tip. I laughed this off, pulling the phone away and tapping “No Tip.” Got her. Only paid 20 dollars, after tax, for the half inch button. I sure was a crafty and financially responsible fellow!
She then expressed that one of us would need to pay for her drink. But, “it’s only like 3.75”. What was happening? What was going on with all these microtransactions?
I sighed, walked up to the counter, and paid. I asked the barista,
“While I’m here, I guess… can I get the same drink as well? What’s in it, anyway?”
“It’s just coffee and vanilla powder.”
Based on his expression, I honestly thought he was going to continue, “and mostly spit.”
He wasn’t surprised that I was paying for her drink—I was not the first sucker to be caught in this racket, clearly.
I sat back down. Conversation was labored, though I was still with my two good friends. Angelyne didn’t respond to questions like a normal human would, elusively dodging any and all questions, even small talk, unless they pandered directly to subjects of money, personal gain, or her fame. Allegedly, Warren Beatty is a huge fan. Or was a huge fan. This was news to me, mostly because I’m not sure I’d heard of Warren Beatty.
Eventually the conversation turned to my “adventure hat”, which made me more comfortable. This is a straw cowboy hat adorned with collection of kitsch and talismans, started at Burning Man five years ago. I only wear it when I travel or have an extreme adventure—and I’d worn it in anticipation of this one. On it are small vial of blessed herbs a Thai monk had chewed and spit into a filigreed glass tube, the pull pin from my parachute when I went skydiving, teeth from alligators I’ve wrestled, and a page from my favorite poem. Essentially, the hat is a hell of a conversation piece, and it did not fail me on this adventure.
She had a fixation on a pink feather in my hat, repeatedly asking if I would remove it and give it to her, which eventually gave way into increasingly less-joking threats that she was going to steal it during the ride. As it was a memento from my only sister’s wedding, this was not well received by me. She asked me if my sister could send me another, thinking that my sister was actually in constant contact with the flamingo that had provided said feather.
She lamented that the pin I had bought from her was not more “prominently displayed” on my hat.
Then, to my surprise, she asked about the poem. A discussion of the finer points of T. S. Eliot was about to be had with Angelyne the Billboard Queen! I had to grab at this while I could, so I tried to give a brief but poignant summation:
“Oh, it’s the Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock.”
“No, the initial J. Then Alfred. See, it’s about this man who is debating the risk of taking action, ’cause he has this crush on this woman, see, and he’s nervous to make a move. He questions if he ‘dares to disturb the universe’, and even if he can risk eating a peach around her.”
“Yeah, cause… you know, a peach dribbles, and he’d look foolish because there’d be peach juice everywhere.”
“Well that’s silly. Why is he worrying about this girl? Why doesn’t he just buy some more clothes and make himself… dapper… or…”
She gesticulated wildly, flapping her hands around her bosom, and continued—
“Well, T. S. Eliot, the guy who wrote it, talks about his clothes a little bit. He has a dapper morning coat.” I explained.
“Do you like peaches?”
Angelyne repeated herself. I was a bit thrown, but any question directed at me that wasn’t money-oriented was a gift.
“Like, the produce? Or the musical act?” I inquired, hoping this was to be deeper than a “yes” or “no” question.
“Peaches!” She exclaimed, which didn’t answer my question.
“Umm… I guess I’m a fan of both. Who doesn’t like the fruit? And I used to listen to Peaches all the time, she’s great!”
“You know, Peaches asked me to be in her music video. But she’s cheap. She didn’t offer me enough, so I told her no. I can’t just give ‘this’ away, you know. I can’t appear on a music video for five hundred bucks!”
This was the most emotional I saw her get the entire day, and the point of this story was clear. I somehow doubt she knows who Peaches is, let alone that Peaches ever asked her to be in a music video. Peaches was irrelevant though. Angelyne wanted to make it clear that she was worth such a high value she could turn down whatever celebrity it was that I was interested in. She was bigger than whosoever might draw the attention of someone in her immediate sphere, and she wanted us to know it.
She then asked us again to buy merchandise, focusing on my two friends who had yet to give her money. She explained again that her fans were what kept her from selling out, from becoming a corporate slave for someone like – and then she gestured at me, and named my company. Did she just call me a corporate slave? Or was I a corporate slaver? It was too weird to be offended.
I pretended my drink was empty, threw it away, and pleaded with her to start the “ride”. We’d already been in the coffee shop 51 painful minutes. After some conversation, another sales pitch, and a statement from her that we were all too poor to afford her stuff, I managed to convince her to get up to leave.
As we tried to exit, our merry band suddenly halted at the door. Angelyne was leading, but suddenly we were not exiting the building. She had just stopped. It took me a minute of frantically assessing the situation before I realized what was happening.
Angelyne refused to open a door for herself. Ever. At no point in the entirety of the day would she ever touch a public door, at least as long as I witnessed. I do try to hold doors for ladies, it was ingrained in me at such a young age that it is not even a thing I think about, but I have never actually been in a situation where this was necessary. I awkwardly squeezed between her and some chairs and managed to sort of thwub the door open with my palm near the hinges, if I might make up a word.
Now, this begs a question, how would this behavior have been affected if we were a group of women? Was Angelyne’s behavior sexism or elitism? Is she owed freedom from the mundane task of opening doors because she is a “delicate woman”, or because she’s just plain better than you? This is a question for the philosophers. Or my concluding paragraph.
When she finally let me into the legendary Corvette, she suggested we go to the “famous” Beachwood Market. I’d never heard of this, but having a love affair with Los Angeles, I was eager to be shown a bit of Angelino esoterica. After all, it was less than 10 minutes away!
The drive to the market held the promise of more coherent conversation. Finally, I had her full, undivided attention. There was no threat of a “fan” wandering up, so Angelyne assuredly would finally open up and behave like a human, right?
This did not happen, instead I simply ended up on the receiving end of a barrage of disjointed, schizophrenic statements, insults, and pleas to give her money that were entirely unaffected by my presence.
She stated, “Oh, you collect music—picture discs, of course. Listen to this, I have over 800 tracks I’ve recorded. They are amazing! You can buy some.”
I don’t know what a picture disc (disk?) is. I don’t collect music. I refuse to look up what a picture disc is. I did notice that her music was playing off a USB drive, so whatever a picture disc is, it was not the source of the bizarre stream of synth-laden breathy Madonna-esque pop music she was playing. When I asked if Madonna was an influence, she acted offended and stated she’d recorded before Madonna. Her tone was dripping with vitriol, I hoped never to be on the receiving end of such ire from anyone as she apparently felt for Madonna—though not as much as the aforementioned Peaches.
At one point, apropos of nothing, Angelyne simply shouted, “WHY ARE YOU SO POOR?” I hadn’t been talking. And, despite my apparently filthy pants, she had no data to infer my economic state one way or the other.
She told me a “paparazzi” had talked to her that morning to ask her what her opinion of the moon was. Do people have opinions of the moon? Would a TMZ paparazzo track down local aging celebs so that the public can finally read said opinions?
One-on-one, I noticed she was quite a bit more vicious than she had been in public. She tended to spout tidbit in a predictable pattern, two self-aggrandizing statements, then either a vicious insult OR a backhanded compliment. It was like she was the world’s worst pickup artist, “negging” in hopes of leaving me hungry for her validation.
When we pulled up to the Beachwood Market, I breathed a sigh of relief. The stream of narcissism and barbs would subside, because we were finally at a destination. Or at least we would be back in public. Plus, there was the added bonus that I would get to take in a new famous, or at least idiosyncratic, location.
I left the car before her, as she had “something to take care of.” When I stepped into the market, I was hit with an uncomfortable realization. This was just a grocery store. It was a supermarket like any other, save a few posters above the produce section notifying shoppers that “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” had been shot there. It dawned on me why Angelyne had brought me here. I hoped to every deity I had ever heard of that I was wrong.
I was not.
Angelyne was not far behind, evidently finishing up her car-bound task relatively quickly. She gestured at the posters, and indicated that, indeed, the market was famous. She then began to thoughtfully brush her hands across the produce.
Note: I am cringing as I am writing this part.
Angelyne turned to me and said,
“I’m hungry. Can you buy me food?”
I laughed and said, “I just ate, we don’t need to eat here.”
I know I was trying to sidestep the issue; I know she was not proposing I by us food. But I was hoping against hope that she would retain some sense of decorum and drop this issue. She did not.
“Pweeeeeze, I’m huuuuuuungry.”
The cognitive dissonance I was just presented with was earth-shattering. This was full-on infantilized nonsense. A woman who appeared to be in her early 70s was acting like a teenager who just discovered her sexuality acting like a baby who had just discovered her sexuality.
Was she pantomiming kitten paws? Kittens don’t beg; that didn’t even make sense. Was her sexy baby acting like a kitten acting like a puppy begging for scraps?
Of note, while it had now been a few hours, I had just freshly brunched, and unless Angelyne starts her day at 2:00 p.m., she had to have eaten too. My concern was, is, and will continue to be that Angelyne was not asking me to buy her a then-and-there meal, but to purchase her groceries for the coming days.
“No, let’s… get back in the car and continue the ride!”
I knew that only derision waited in the car, but I was concerned I was about to lose consciousness if this public display of shamelessness continued.
We did not get back in the car. Instead, she pulled me into the grocer’s deli. Luckily no one was there to prepare her food, which, I imagine, is the only reason this horrific process ceased. I do not think she wanted to be seen doing something so mundane as handling her own food, and I had already demonstrated I was unwilling to do this for her.
We finally got back in car, and she announced she needed gas, and circled back near Sunset.
As we drove I kept trying to make conversation about things that weren’t money. I pointed at Roscoe’’s Chicken and Waffles— “I keep meaning to eat there. I hear it’s a cultural mainstay of Hollywood.”
Angelyne faltered, “I don’t think… I would eat there.”
“It just… doesn’t seem like it would be clean. I mean, would you really eat there?”
“I ate at the Long Beach location. It was really good!”
“Oh. Well… Roscoe, the guy who owns it… Is he black?”
“I think so?”
We sat in silence for a bit. Honestly, I don’t know if there even is a Roscoe. If titular Roscoe is a real person, I don’t know if he’s black. I don’t really care, but I was willing to extend that as a fact just to see if the conversation was getting as weird as I thought. The silence endured until she announced,
“I never pump my own gas. Would you be a dear and pump my gas?”
I had a fairly good idea at this point she meant buy my gas. And I also had a fairly good idea she meant the highest grade. After little debate, she agreed that she would give me a photo with her if I bought her $10 worth of gas. I had not lost objectivity; I was keenly aware that no matter the form, I had just been strong-armed into paying $10 for a photograph with a woman who, at this point, I did not like even a little bit. I gladly would have paid $10 to forget about the day’s events, so I am not sure why I paid to have a token of remembrance.
I pumped her gas. She side-eyed me when she realized I had not given her a full tank, which is clearly what she expected. She then announced she needed to stop and use a bathroom, so pulled into a Denny’s.
As I was having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad time, I started pushing to wrap this ride-date-nightmare up. Before she could get far out of the car, I practically hurled my camera at a bystander in the parking lot, so I could collect on my hard-earned photograph before I snapped and started rolling around on the asphalt speaking in rage-induced-tongues.
She insisted I walk her to Denny’s after the photograph. She again stopped at the entrance, refusing to touch the door. I held the door for her, and she asked me to come inside. Realizing she was going to try and make me buy her another meal, I declined, and waited outside. When she returned, I was curious.
What would happen if I didn’t hold the door for her?
I didn’t hold the door.
It was more glorious than I could ever imagine. It appeared she was trapped in a glass case. From the other side of the door, she began desperately pawing at the door, again pantomiming as though she were a kitten. Through the door I heard a faint “heeewwwwp meeee”. Sadly I couldn’t relish in the most justified schadenfreude I’ve ever had for long before a bypasser opened the door and let the would-be-ingenue out of the Denny’s that confined her.
Then things got weird.
Angelyne seemed perturbed that I had deprived her the chance to beg for another meal inside Denny’s, so immediately upon exit she explained:
“I was thinking, there’s a Chinese place just down the street. I know you don’t want to spend much on food, so if you take me there, I’ll drive you back if you just buy me some eggrolls first. They are like a dollar twenty five apiece!”
Was Angelyne now trying to extort me for eggrolls? Was I involved in the world’s most stupid hostage situation?
I had tried to be genuine, respectful, and kind. After all, she’s still a person. But at this point it became too much. The constant derision and begging hit a point, and I was not going to be able to keep being nice. But I’d like to die saying I was never mean to an elderly woman. So I left. I declined the demand that I buy her eggrolls, gave her a half-hearted high-five goodbye, which I’m fairly certain has never been a way anyone has ever said goodbye ever before, or will ever again, and I walked off to find my friends.
After a day with Angelyne, I was left with a lingering question that burned stronger than before the experience: Who was this woman really, and how could she be so awful? Who is the “true” Angelyne? Austrian philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously said “will a self and thou shalt become a self”—asserting that to become a person you have envisioned, all it took was the urge to be so, because there is nothing in your life you have more control over than yourself. And Angelyne has done this. She has single-handedly constructed a larger-than-life caricature of a Hollywood starlet: eternally doe-eyed; possessed of an ingénue affectation and everlasting youth; and supported by strong men who would bend over backwards for her. The character she has created in her mind is so adored that even the smallest task is handled by her loyal fans, the most mundane purchases handled with nary a mention. But is there anything left of the legitimate, real-world person that once was? Is there depth beyond the facade, a softness of human empathy behind the high-maintenance princess act? She has lived this life for so long, I was left with a fear that I did meet the “true Angelyne” in totality today—those human traits had been willed away long ago. In some ways, my time with Angelyne might be among the most important contact I’ve ever had, though sadly, as a cautionary tale.