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Lifestyles of the Rich and Swinish

I have never been a person who has lived high on the hog, even during those rare good moments when the hog, as it were, was within biting distance.

I am talking about instances when I have sold a book or a script and the extra cash has allowed for a certain douceur de vivre beyond that which I could normally afford.

Writing for a newspaper, contrary to popular belief, is not the kind of endeavor likely to bump one onto a level of income equivalent, say, to that of a moderately successful plumber.

Bylines are fun, but they get us no closer to the hog.

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Which brings me, however circuitously, to today’s subject: how to tour Woodland Hills on $362 a day. Swagger along as best you can.

I decided it would be a grand idea to spend a night in the new Warner Center Marriott in order to evaluate the gleaming white wonder that sits like a doge’s palace in the suburban splendor of the San Fernando Valley.

It may have been, however, the wrong day to involve myself in any kind of social activity, especially in an environment that required both a polished behavior and a dilettante’s attitude. You can’t be a dilettante when you drool.

That afternoon, I had a tooth crowned, which required shots of Novocain. Novocain, sad to say, causes me to drool while simultaneously distorting my mouth into an appearance of twisted rage.

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I come across looking a little like a depraved troll.

That might explain the attitude of the hostess at Pearls, one of those overpriced, off-the-lobby restaurants that chain hotels are creating in order to outgrow their own image. The lady wouldn’t talk.

While I grant you I myself might be reluctant to chat with a drooling old troll at the corner of Hollywood and Vine, I would at least exchange a word or two with a troll who walked into my restaurant willing to spend money. The troll might be a famous Topanga musician.

The woman at Pearls, however, chose not to consider that possibility and led me to a table in grim silence. I didn’t expect “Hail to the Chief,” but a quick nod would have been nice. I felt as though I had invaded her shower.

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But I do understand that those who work at gourmet houses often mistake arrogance for sophistication, silence apparently being an element of that interpretation, so I said nothing in return. I doubt that we had much to talk about anyhow.

I simply followed her, shuffling and drooling, to my table and ordered Champagne, which has a way of taking the edge off most unpleasantries. I did not, however, order champagne in a chipped glass.

I am prepared to accept a good many inconveniences in life, including wooden outhouses and canned hash, but I am not prepared to accept Comte d’ Ussey served in shattered crystal at a restaurant where even the asparagus is a la carte.

The waiter apologized and brought me another glass which, although it solved my immediate problem, did nothing to sweeten my rapidly souring attitude. Even a decent dinner found me churning.

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But, as they say in Van Nuys, there is no outlook that cannot be improved with a good drink or a straight flush. I ordered a snifter of cognac, hold the chip.

The waiter explained that, although they did not have the cognac I ordered, which was Courvoisier, they did have something called Louis XIII, which he recommended as a replacement.

I said sure and sipped it without thinking much about it. And then I got the bill.

As I explained at the outset, I am not all that familiar with the high part of the hog. Dinner was expensive enough, but at least I had some idea of what was coming.

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I was not, however, prepared to pay $50 for a damned drink.

Do you realize the hell I’m going to have to endure to get a $50 drink through on my expense account? An editor once told me he could eat for a week on $50, which is understandable, since he celebrated his 25th wedding anniversary at the Sizzler.

He will look at my expense account, his face will go crimson and he will say, “Now see here, Hernandez,” often confusing me in rage with one of the other Mexicans on the assembly line. I dread the encounter.

When I asked the waiter what the hell was going on, he explained that it was very good cognac and I explained that it was a very bad idea not to warn me in advance. He shrugged.

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By the time I reached my $118 room with walls so thin I could hear a door slam half a mile away, I was in the kind of mood that required outlet. I telephoned a friend, turned to reach for a pencil and yanked the plug-in phone right out of the wall.

I stood there staring. The night had assumed the tone of a Laurel and Hardy comedy. Even I had to smile.

What the hell. The hotel was new. Things go wrong. Settle down, Hernandez.

Good advice. I took a shower to relax. As I reached for a towel, I sneezed. The whole damned towel rack, an elaborate, multi-tiered device, slipped its fixture and went crashing to the floor.

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I fixed it all right, but I think next time I will stay in Chatsworth.


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