Monday, September 25, 2006


Not such a proper Viking funeral

“Seriously, when are you going to post again on the blog?” Our Woman in LA asked me the other night at dinner. I didn’t know, I told her. Things had been busy out here in LA. Besides the heat wave just completed, besides all the travel for work, besides running a half marathon and cutting a whopping 40 minutes off my previous time (that’s right – 40 minutes!), I’ve just been busy.

“Well, if you’re not going to do it anymore, you really should just sign off,” she said. “Just tell folks you’re done.”

Better yet, I told her, why don’t I make it a proper Viking funeral – just set the blog ablaze or at least go out in an epic firestorm of storytelling.

“Yeah,” she said. “That could work.”

But I couldn’t think of anything properly legendary. There’s been no ring cycle of ridiculous stories to tell around here, and seriously, if I can’t go out strong – if I won’t be sent straight to Valhalla, where the Valkyries and greatest warriors of all time are waiting for me with a frosty mug of mead, then seriously, why end this thing at all?

So, naturally, I’m back at the blog. Nothing against the Vikings, you understand. It’s just nobody should get set ablaze before they’ve had their finest moment, and Our Man in LA feels like that time has yet to come.

But we might be on the right track. Especially after the work function I attended last night – something that I’m sure you Midwestern types out there will call an “Only in LA” kind of moment. I like to believe that ridiculous folly and poor taste aren’t limited geographically, so I cling to the hope that this kind of thing could have happened somewhere else. Not sure I buy it, either, but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

So OK, picture this. I can’t get much into the specifics because that’d be indiscreet (and probably land me in the land of unemployment). Suffice it to say that there was an event held for a retiring foreign dignitary associated in some way with my employer.

That’s all you’re getting. There’s no code in this, so you can forget about me leaking the names of those involved. I have my pride. What’s left of it.

The party was held in a good sized house perched on a hill in the San Gabriel Valley. Sort of Tudor meets Craftsman style. Jaguars in the driveway. Screening room and full bar in the basement. USC decals on the cars. You get the picture.

So you’re saying, that doesn’t sound too bad. Typical Wieland, bitching about nothing in particular.

And OK, I’ll grant you, it wasn’t all bad. Met with a couple of prospects for work, did all that sort of thing.

But I didn’t count on . . . the entertainment portion of the evening. Oh yeah, that’s right.

The meal ends, and we’re escorted down to the screening room. Folks mill about. We all get comfy. The host re-arranges us to make sure we get the best view in the house.

And it begins.

With one of the party guests doing magic tricks. See, he used to be an amateur magician. And the host has a deck of cards. He tells us he’s got five minutes. He shows us a couple of card tricks. He flubs one badly enough that he actually just says, “Sorry, I’m not even going to try that again.”

Then there’s something with a pair of plastic bunnies. It’d be depressing if not for what came next.

Because after the magician sat down, the lights dimmed. The curtains opened. Music started to swell. The host talked about the next entertainer lovingly – she had played to numerous venues across greater southern California, but what he liked best was her time in the USC glee club.

Sitting there, on a bar stool with a microphone, center stage, in a revealing sequin dress and holding a microphone, was the host’s wife. The music grew louder, and she began to croon some late 50s torch song, something sort of Sinatra light. She shimmied down the stage and nearly sat on the retired foreign dignitary’s lap, cupping and rubbing his face, smiling at his wife, who sat there watching.

Really, really uncomfortable. Confronted by this, the mind races. “OK, wise guy,” you say to yourself. “You’re in the back corner of the room. Do you run for it? Do you just keep smiling to keep from laughing or screaming? What will you do if a nuclear bomb goes off while she sings? Will you run outside and let the radiation’s sweet death embrace you, or will you suffer through this until the food runs out?”

Five minutes later, the song’s over. No nuclear warhead. Bullet dodged.

So I figure I’m done, right. Back upstairs for coffee and dessert, right? Nope.

The next entertainer is the host’s son – a thirtysomething, self-styled “comedian” who gives us a 15-minute routine around the theme of “This is your life, Mr. Retired Foreign Dignitary.” The less said about this, the better. But what the hell, I had to go through it.

Suffice it to say, there were a lot of bits. Quite a few celebrity imitations – he did Alfred Hitchcock, Jimmy Stewart, Katherine Hepburn, and three presidents of the United States. He pretended to be Chinese at one point (wearing a robe and talking like Charlie Chan from a 1940s movie). He pretended to be Indian at another point (talking like Apu from the Simpsons and standing on the stage naked but for a pair of white boxer briefs).

Let me tell you, folks, you just plain haven’t lived till you’ve seen a chunky guy in his mid-30s making hunger strike jokes in a pair of tight boxer briefs AT A DINNER PARTY. And after that, you don’t want to. Live, that is.

After that, there’s a whole sequence of the entertainment that’s a blur. There were some videos of Sinatra singing, presumably because Mr. Retired Foreign Dignitary likes Sinatra. I do, too, but I couldn’t really see the connection. Then there were a couple of laudatory speeches, sort of like toasts, but there was no food or drink allowed in the screening room.

But it seemed to be winding down. I’m figuring to be out any minute now.

And then the host gets up again.

“Well, you know, as we wind down this evening,” he begins. “We’re proud to welcome Mr. Retired Foreign Dignitary to our community. We’re glad to have him with us, and we all understand that to know and love Mr. Foreign Dignitary is ONE SINGULAR SENSATION . . .”

Which is when the music started again. “Oh, Sweet God, no!” I think.

The host pushes a button on his console.

The curtains open. The bars of A CHORUS LINE start to fill the room.

Standing on stage in white leotards, with gold tux jackets, top hats, canes, gloves, and bow ties, are the host’s wife and three of (I presume) her friends. Four middle-aged women, in full gilded costume.

And they danced. And kicked. Not in unison, mind you. But they danced and kicked. No singing, no lip synching. Just dancing and kicking to no particular beat or rhythm.

Now I know what you’re thinking. One of my friends at work voiced it when I recounted the story this morning: “But they were all MILFs, right? Four MILFs?!”

No, I told him. No MILFs at all. Just dancing and kicking. In leotards. For the whole song. Which, by the way, apparently has several verses.

After it was all over, well, it’s a blur again. I remember having part of a cup of coffee. I remember saying good night to Mr. Retired Foreign Dignitary and the host. I got someone else’s business card. I remember mumbling something about “nice work” to the host’s wife and four gilded ladies.

And I remember that once I walked out the door, I practically sprinted to my car. It should have taken me 20 minutes on a Sunday evening to get from the party to our place in Los Feliz. Thanks to my new best friends – the 2 and the 5 freeways – I made it in 10.

Nobody has ever been so happy to see a stretch of freeway. Or even traffic. It’s a singular sensation, you might say.

God, I’ll never get that song out of my head.

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