Recently I had the most surreal weekend of my life. It goes without saying that this happened in Los Angeles.
I was there for the Academy Awards. The host, Steve Martin, had asked me to be on the team of writers working with him; apparently he felt that what was needed, to lend just the right tone to Hollywood's most glamorous night, was booger jokes.
So I went to the Oscars, but that wasn't all: I also stayed at Steve Martin's house, which is very tasteful, unless you count the giant arrow through it.
No, really, it's a beautiful house, and it was the scene of my first surreal Oscars experience. Here's how it happened:
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On the Friday before the show, I arrived in Los Angeles, and the Oscars people, right off the bat, gave me a new car. Not to keep, unfortunately; just to drive around. But it was a Cadillac, and it was larger than most Third World villages.
When they gave me the car, they told me there was a ''gift basket'' for me in the trunk. I assumed they meant a little basket with some fruit in it, maybe a bottle of wine. I was an idiot. It turns out that the Academy Awards gift basket is a Hollywood legend. Film-industry people would kill for it. (I'm kidding, of course; they would have their agents kill for it.) Because this basket contains thousands of dollars' worth of cosmetics, jewelry, gift certificates, and other loot donated by companies wishing to have their products used by movie stars.
But I didn't know this until I got to Steve Martin's house, where I opened the enormous Cadillac trunk and found a laundry hamper in there the height of Dustin Hoffman, bulging and overflowing with gifts, all of it wrapped in gauze and tied with a bow. I tried to lift it out of the trunk, but it was too heavy, and as I struggled with it, the gauze broke, and designer-label cosmetics spilled out onto the street and started rolling down the hill, forcing me to scramble after them. Steve Martin was watching this, and -- realizing that I, his houseguest, needed help -- very graciously started laughing so hard I thought he would pee his pants, then ran inside to get his camera.
After photographing me trying to corral my gifts, Steve went to his garage and got a handcart, and we managed to transport the gift basket inside. I was relieved to get off the street, because I was afraid that some actual working people would drive by and see me -- a man who, in return for thinking up a few jokes, got a Cadillac and thousands of dollars worth of luxury items -- and they would have no choice but to stop and beat me up.
The Academy Awards show was also surreal, because I was backstage, which meant that every few seconds, a famous movie star would walk by. Julia Roberts walked by several times (I think she has a thing for me). There were so many stars that it started to seem routine; I'd be trying to get somewhere, and I'd be thinking, ``Man, John Travolta is ALWAYS in the way.''
I spent most of the show in a little room just offstage, where Steve would confer with the writers between stints onstage. I'm biased, of course, but I thought he did a terrific job as host, and out of respect for our friendship I will not reveal that, when he came backstage after his monologue, he discovered that (I am not making this up) his fly had been down the whole time.
After the show my wife and I went to the Governor's Ball, which is the official post-Oscars party. It was a glamorous affair, but it ended with maybe the most surreal scene of the weekend, which was the limousine pickup area outside the ballroom. There were hundreds of stretch limos, five abreast, moving slowly up the street, each with a number; next to the limos were uniformed men with bullhorns, shouting the numbers to the crowd.
The crowd was almost all film-industry people; some were holding actual Oscars, but they still had to mill around, hunting for their limos like everybody else, because this was Hollywood, where EVERYBODY is important. Off to the side, sitting on a folding chair, waiting like everybody else, was Olivia de Havilland. Ho-hum, another night in Planet Los Angeles.
I had a fine time, but I was glad to go home to reality. (OK, not reality; Miami). To the Oscars people, I say: Thank you for the experience, and especially the gift basket. To Julia, I say: You are an attractive woman, but I am spoken for.