Promises were made. They were made when Jack Tripper fell off his bike onto the beach in Venice, distracted by a woman in tight denim shorts at the beginning of Three’s Company. They were made by the Beach Boys, Baywatch, and those Angelyne posters on Moonlighting. Women in Los Angeles were hot, happy, friendly, and skanky. They were a lot like the girls I grew up with in New Jersey—except hot, happy, and friendly.
I figured out I had been duped when my lovely wife, Cassandra, and I moved here from New York seven years ago. There would be, I hopefully assumed, pole-dancing classes in her future and arguments where I’d say, “You can’t go out wearing that,” and she’d say, “Everyone is wearing tube tops as dresses. The other U.S. senators aren’t going to care.” I also assumed that people in California were so intellectually bereft, they would have to make me their senator.
Instead Cassandra puts on less makeup, buys more comfortable shoes, has stopped dyeing her hair, and wears outfits to dinner she would have previously considered only for the gym. Despite all the hiking, she is somehow less tan. She does yoga, sees an acupuncturist, gets colonics, feels strongly about organic food, and before bed leans over the sink, slowly draining each nostril with saltwater from a neti pot. L.A. women have become way too relaxed. It’s as if the L.A. Woman moved to Vegas, the San Francisco Woman moved to Los Angeles, and the Seattle Woman moved to San Francisco. I assume the women in Seattle now act like Alaskan men.
To find out whether Cassandra had just fallen in with a bad crowd, I called Susan Paley Abramson, a casting director for HBO’s Entourage who’s often handed scripts with the character “L.A. Woman” in them. I explained to her the promises I had been made. “I used to have this problem all the time in the beginning of Entourage,” said Abramson. “Someone in his forties, he thinks ‘L.A. Woman’ means Heather Locklear, Pamela Anderson, and Cheryl Tiegs.” Abramson had to persuade the producers to choose women with smaller breasts, lean yoga bodies, and natural-looking hair. “If you didn’t live in L.A. and you thought of the most representative L.A. person, you’d think of Paris Hilton. She’s too blond. She’s oversaturated. L.A. is more casual. Not as plucked,” she said. “I can tell when an actress first comes here. They have platinum hair. Then it becomes more ashy. They stop wearing supershort, tight things that they thought L.A. girls would wear. Then they wear rompers, which they thought they would never wear when they got off the bus.” It is one thing for Los Angeles to shatter small-town girls’ dreams of stardom. It is quite another to make them wear rompers.
The L.A. Woman of my youth was also missing from photographer Estevan Oriol’s 2009 coffee-table book, L.A. Woman, which included not just brunets but women of entire other races. The L.A. look of yore is now worldwide, even if it’s faded here. “Because of the Internet and TV, everybody’s styling is the same. The black girls, the Latin girls, the Asian girls—they all look the same: frosted hair, streaks, the fake everything else,” he said. It took me a long time to realize he meant this pejoratively.
I was beginning to wonder if those promises of L.A. as the home of superfake happy-hot women had always been just a big lie. So I sought reassurance from the woman who had represented Los Angeles to me at my most impressionable moments.
In 1984, when I was 13, I found three old Penthouse magazines buried in a corner of my garage. I would peruse them and then meticulously rebury each one just as I’d found it, the pre-Internet equivalent of “clear history.” Two of the issues featured Corinne Alphen, who was not only my favorite but also seemed to embody L.A. Her 1978 pictorial was called “Water Baby”; in it she swam naked—in public—and walked the beach in a gold lamé jacket and a purple thong. This was 1978. Parading around in a thong in 1978 would be like prancing around in 2011 with a butt plug. The 1982 issue in which she was named Pet of the Year showed her in a gown and tiara, holding up her middle finger. She was irreverent, cocky, uninhibited. She was free.
Only a fool meets his idols, and only a complete moron meets the first person he masturbated to. Luckily, Alphen left Malibu a few years ago for New Hampshire, where she reads tarot cards for a living. When I sent her an e-mail explaining why I wanted to talk (in short: “I used to masturbate to you! Want to talk about that?”- ?), she suggested I stay put and buy a $60 tarot reading over the phone. This seemed in line with the dynamics of our past relationship.
Alphen has the résumé of the perfect L.A. woman. She’s mystical. She’d gone from being a soft-porn model to an actress in movies such as Spring Break and Amazon Women on the Moon. She’s been married five times. Alphen’s 57 and, judging from her Facebook page, looks great.
When I called Alphen, she was smart and funny and easy to talk to, just as I imagined. Alphen moved to L.A. at 17 to try to make it as an actress and spent almost 20 years here. She danced with Rick Springfield, worked out right next to Sylvester Stallone, and had a trainer and a masseuse. I asked her about the wild, free ’70s dating scene, and she told me she didn’t know that much about it because she’d gotten married and had a son when she was 16. This struck me as a pretty relevant detail to leave out of the profile that ran beside the thong photos. The L.A. Woman has been a fabricated product as long as I’ve been alive.
Before I got off the phone, Alphen did my tarot reading. She told me to come up with a question to ask the cards. I went with “Is my wife going to leave me?” because (A) I don’t want Cassandra to leave me, (B) if Cassandra becomes too much of an L.A. Woman, she is going to have four more husbands, and (C) this question might make Alphen think I’m both romantic and potentially available. I blame that (C) part on my 13-year-old self.