Los Angeles, perhaps this country's most self-important community, has always been on an aggressive search for perfection. It's as though the city, having overcome a prior description by Dorothy Parker who suggested L.A. was "72 suburbs in search of a city," expects perfection because it is so deserving.
My old boss, Hugh Hefner, has a somewhat beguiling theory about L.A.'s reputation for having a population of beautiful people perhaps not exceeded by any other of the world's cities. The not exactly world-traveled Playboy founder believes Los Angeleans are noted for their beauty because something like five generations of attractive people have settled in Southern California with the intention of getting into the movies. When Hef begins such beguiles, faint strains of Cole Porter can be heard along with the realization that he moved from Chicago to L.A. for many reasons, among them a surfeit of beautiful women.
One of Hefner's long-running friends was Barbie Benton, a UCLA premed freshman when she met him in 1968 on the set of "Playboy After Dark," a TV series I promoted when Screen Gems took a hike from responsibilities accepted on a handshake basis. The pleasant, bug cute, and intelligent Barbie and I hit it off when we met poolside at Miami Beach's Playboy Plaza Hotel late in 1970. Hefner, taking momentary leave of us, returned quickly accompanied by an unbecoming grumpiness about our somewhat intense chatter. Asking her to come with him, Barbie refused, saying: "I will when I get through talking with Bob." Hefner, decidedly a perfectionist, eventually determined that Barbie, certainly one of the girls next door, wasn't perfect although three pectoral pictorials were impressive. Never a Playmate, Barbie appeared three times on the magazine's cover.
Benton hasn't been the only Barbie involved in nudity. It doesn't seem possible but nearly 10 years have passed since the El Segundo-based Mattel Inc., then the world's largest toymaker, sued a Utah artist who used nude Barbie dolls in some of his photographic work. That Barbie was regarded by many as perfection goodness knows and Mattel alleged that Thomas Forsythe's use of the doll infringed on its copyrights and trademarks. The media never reported a reaction from Ken nor is there record of a Hefner response.
The humorless Mattel was stunned when a San Fancisco appeals court ruled that use of the doll's image was a parody and protected under the First Amendment.
There can be no doubt that greater Los Angeles is obsessed by beauty running from Botox to buttocks. Further, going under the knife is now as common as sand on the beach at Santa Monica. Fleshing out details is a tawdry business but we could start with Dr. Michael Niccole who began surgical improvements on two daughters beginning at age 10. It all started with a much-improved belly button thanks to the critical eye of the refurbishment doctor. Other family members, including a wife and two sons, have undergone cosmetic enhancement in the search for, among other features, the perfect nose. Perkier and bigger breasts are part of perfection's pursuit and so it was that an 83-year-old grandmother recently acquired them, perhaps inspired by the terribly plastic Joan Rivers whose face these days is as tight as skins were on Gene Krupa's drums. Granny is now hopefully at the beach attracting admiring glances if not conversation.
As this is written, Granny may even be at Muscle Beach, one of this country's great freak shows now located in Venice although, judging from her age, might pay her respects at what what used to be the original site located on the south side of the Santa Monica Pier. Officially closed there in 1959, Muscle Beach goes back to the '30s when Vic Tanny and Jack LaLanne sought body perfection later achieved by such celebrities as Arnold Schwartzenegger who made it to the movies and the governor's mansion in Sacramento before attracting the attention of checkout counter publications.
When the subject of baseball comes up, the sport's perfection is generally referenced by pitching performances in which but 27 hitters come to the plate in fruitless attempts to get a hit. There have been 22 of them in the major leagues with the lone Los Angeles effort achieved by Sandy Koufax who did it in 1965 when he beat the Cubs, 1-0. The Brooklyn-born lefty had a total of four no-hitters but only one was perfect.
Beauty, as we know, is in the eye of the beholder and so it was that what has been described as an eagerly anticipated environmental sculpture has been unveiled at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Titled "Levitated Mass," the work is by Michael Heizer who, apparently, was out to find the perfect rock, all 340 tons of it thus making possible a megalith in a megapolis. If big is beautiful, then "Levitated Mass" is your cup of granite.
Moving the sculpture's center piece rock from its point of discoveery in a quarry near Riverside was not easy and required a circuitous, 105-mile path through four counties and 22 suburbs. A huge transporter 200 feet long was used.
There's a stark quality about "Levitated Mass" and it might be its empty field location and a channel of polished concrete that cuts 456 feet across it. The channel descends to a depth of 15 feet becoming a two-rail pedestal for the rock meaning that visitors can stand below ground level and see a rock from a vantage point never before possible. At present there are no signs suggesting skateboarders should refrain from performing Gingersnaps and Godzilla Flips on the $10 million project, walking around money when compared to what it costs today to buy an election. Everything considered, the location, immediately adjacent to the La Brea Tar Pits, is perfect and doubtless will produce stories about the ghosts of dinosaurs being aroused by the new Paleolithic rock now located in the prehistoric resting place.
It was a good week for rocks. We learned that not only could one of 680,000 pounds be moved in Southern California but, also, how the enigmatic stone heads (some weighing 90 tones) of Easter Island were transported from their quarry points of origination. It's one thing to move the "Levitated Mass" by means of gasoline and a huge transporter with 88 pairs of wheels, but quite another to have mysteriously transfered nearly 900 smiley faces in those Polynesian halcyon days that preceded a devastating "ecocide" climaxed by the island's population descending into cannibalism and barbarity. A July National Geographic magazine story includes details of an experiment conducted in Hawaii in which a smiley face replica was rock and rolled down a road by three teams using very strong ropes. Lost in all that rock and rolling was the weight of the fake stone head: five tons, 1/18th that of the real thing. The mystery, in many ways perfect, may not have been solved.
Moving an isolated big rock 105 miles across a suburban sprawl to the heart of a city the size of Los Angeles is a bit complex in the business of getting the public's attention. Sometimes inspiration of an unusual nature comes into play as in Carhenge of Alliance, Nebraska where a replica of Stonehenge awaits the next owner. The asking price is $300,000 and the gray spray-painted 38 cars, jammed in the ground in 1987 in the perfectly arresting symmetry of the British original built between 2500 and 2000 BC, is, according to owner Jim Reinders, "slightly used."
Drawing eyes of the curious to Alexandria, Indiana is the world's largest ball of paint whose creator was an amateur baseball player who saw a ball accidentally fall into some paint. Fascinated, Michael Carmichael began a program of dipping and painting with the ball eventually becoming the size and shape of a football whose lack of perfection may have caused him to donate it to the Indiana Soldiers' and Sailors' Children's Home Museum in nearby Knightstown where it can be seen today.
Carmichael had bigger things in mind. It was on January 1, 1977 that he had his three-year-old son paint another baseball. The only rule observed by father and son: each new coat must be a different color from the preceding one. Today's paint ball is strung up in a backyard shed and has more than 20,000 coats with wife Glenda responsible for 8,000 of them. Families that paint together are quaint together. Something of a fanatic about paint, Carmichael currently performs 10 coats on dry days although he once called it quits for nearly a year only to return to his obsession. Some of those dry days are longer than others; once a month Carmichael paints a neighbor's lawn employing a different theme each time. One of the obvious aspects of the situation is that Glenda never questions her husband's whereabouts. And, yes, the world's largest ball of paint perfection has been recognized by the Guinness Book of Records.
Some cities attract visitors simply by being strange and two come immediately to mind. One is Manshiyat Naser, a suburb of Cairo. Also known as Garbage City, Manshiyat Naser is one big dump whose most significnt citizens are the Zabbaleen, Coptic Christians much envied by Waste Management. While western collectors of garbage recycle between 20 and 25% of litter, the Zabbaleen regularly register a fingers-to-nostrils 80%. That's not perfection as garbage collecting goes, but it is impressive.
Another odd place is Miyake-Jima, an island off the coast of Japan. Its special allure is to those enormously attracted by volcanos. Sitting on top of a chain of them is Mount Oyama where 17,500 earthquakes occurred in less than a month in 2000. Lovers of volcanic destruction can take tours that include abandoned houses and flattened cars. Visitors and locals are required to wear gas masks, a necessity that for all we know may be called "OyamaCare" and not a bad idea for those Christian folks near Cairo.
Realists realize that crowd-gathering curiosities can achieve success quite simply. San Luis Obisbo, California has Bubblegum Alley where you can affix a chaw of your very own while the World's Largest Hockey Stick is in Duncsan, British Columbia. It's in Duncan and not Yazoo City, Mississippi because British Columbia is in Canada whose relationship to hockey is something like Green Bay to football only more so. Canada also claims the World's Largest Egg measuring 3,000 lbs in its fourth reincarnation. Other wonders include The World's Largest Thermometor in Baker, California while Rock City, Tennessee pays homage to miniature golf where it all began.
Having spent far too many days this year in hospitals, I'll probably be inclined to turn down an inviation, should one be extended, to The Clinic, a bar in Singapore. Morbidly chic and located in the trendy Clarke Quay area, The Clinic brings a medical atmosphere to booze matters including such comforts as gold plated wheelchairs while drinks are served in syringes and vials by nurses dressed in scrubs. Their wheelside manners are reputed to be perfect.
Perfection is not easy to find in thoroughly laid back Bellingham, Washington where I live although lovers of rain, moss and bad soil take pride in those daily confrontations believing such challenges are what define and isolate us. If so, perhaps it's time to get serious, like Los Angeles, and create an attention-getting attraction that will create a new us.
Two possibilities come to mind. One, providing homage to our past association with Georgia Pacific, would be the erection of the world's largest roll of toilet paper, a monument easily constructed of stone being used in what will be a failed attempt by Regal Cinemas to build a 16-screen Cineplex at Barkley Square. The last "tissue" of the perfectly enormous 10-story monument would be an enormous American flag whose snapping in the breeze will keep awake all 'hamsters living within a five-mile radius.
A much cheaper Plan B possibility would be an empty store, a perfect and significant sign of our times.
# # # #