A couple weeks ago an emotionally intense road trip with my roommate, Hilary, and two brand-new girlfriends, Jamie and Natasha, ended in Los Angeles. While we were walking from our car to a superchic cafe in Hollywood where a cup of tea can run upward of eight bucks, a guy in slick sunglasses rolled up next to us in a shiny black Mercedes. "Hey," he called. "Are you girls in a band?"
Yes, I lied, we were called the Sweethearts. "Woo!" he yelled, pumping his arms. "I love the Sweethearts! You girls are great!"
I'm not sure what gave him the idea we were musicians. I'm sure it wasn't my dorky Tevas, purchased on this trip. Perhaps he was picking up the scent from Jamie's and Natasha's T-shirts--purloined one night earlier from a glam legend in his own mind.
We'd gone to the Echo, a warehouse of a rock club, for a dance party called Part Time Punks. When we got there the only person on the dance floor was a gorgeous bobbed redhead in tight jeans who was clearly enjoying all the space she had to herself.
We went out to the enclosed patio, where everyone was smoking. Scanning the area I fixed my gaze on a willowy, high-cheekboned dishwater blond of a certain age in tight white jeans and a black leather jacket, wrists overloaded with shiny silver bangles. His eyes met mine with approval and his plump lips, which looked lined in scar tissue, curved into a smile.
If I wasn't busy later that night, he asked, might I like to go to his home in West Hollywood? "Yes, definitely," I replied, envisioning skinny-dipping in a kidney-shaped pool, gazing at stars just visible through clusters of palm trees. "And I'm bringing my girlfriends." He gave Jamie, Natasha, and Hilary--the last two were dressed in black-and-white ensembles--the up-and-down and nodded. "White and black attack," he said. "All the kids are wearing white and black. I'm responsible for that."
Then, with the faux modesty of a Harvard scholar divulging his alma mater, he told me his name: Noah Wallace.
He told me that if you ask for the Noah Wallace at any restaurant in Los Angeles you'll get a glass filled with half iced tea, half ginger ale. (Noah Wallace doesn't drink alcohol.) He told me about his office, where he signs autographs for his band, the School Girls, all day and auditions women to be his wife. The current front-runner is 18 years old. "Kinda young," he admitted, fluffing his locks with his fingertips, "but she has alien knowledge."
Whenever Noah Wallace said something he thought was intense, for instance "she has alien knowledge," he said it in a special voice, sort of like that kid from The Shining screeching "red rum" but in a whisper.
His bandmate Jimmy Sweet, a petite Jason Schwartzman type sporting a San Diego hessian haircut and Virgin jeans (produced by the branding geniuses who brought you Virgin vodka and Virgin cola), kept butting in with personal trivia, such as his story about the time he went to a Renaissance fair and accidentally saw a guy's penis while using the pissing trough.
We left the Echo just before 2 AM, and all of us--including Noah and Jimmy--piled into Hilary's Honda Civic. Apparently Noah's Jeep Cherokee would be towed at two, so we had to hurry and rescue it from a meter in Hollywood. Hilary sped through town, all four windows down, while Jimmy complained from the backseat of "serious wind damage" to his hair.
I decided to accompany Noah on the drive to his place; the other ladies and Jimmy stayed in the Civic. Before starting the car Noah offered me some Australian black licorice and an uncapped bottle of San Pellegrino, then reached behind his seat. "Look what I just happen to have," he said, and plopped a couple of magazines on my lap. One of them was a 2004 issue of Rolling Stone with George Bush on the cover. Noah flipped it open to a photo spread of him and his band in front of Hollywood High School. It was marked with a Post-it.
On the drive to his house he sang along with a song by the Smoke, talked about his band some more, and shared his feelings on pornography: "There's so much of it in Hollywood. I think it's wrong. So many young girls."
We pulled up to his rather large but otherwise unspectacular house at pretty much the same time as the other car. "Shhh," Noah said as we giggled in the driveway. "My roommate's sleeping."
From the looks of the place--gentle oil paintings of sailboats, decorative decanters filled with herbs--the roommate could've been his mom. He guided us into a small den with turquoise velour button-back sofas and an enormous box of a TV that was playing a porno. "Here girls," Noah said, bumping a shriveled black balloon in our direction. "Play with this." Then he and Jimmy left the room.
When I first spotted Noah at the Echo I thought he might have been a glam-rock icon of yesteryear living out his retirement in style. I was ready to hop over to Walgreens, buy a razor, and dry-shave my legs in the car for him. But here at his house, where he kept telling us to keep our voices down in fear of rousing that mystery roommate, I felt kinda sorry for him.
When they returned, Jimmy was carrying a half-pint of Popov vodka. "Look, girls," he announced. "I found some booze." Noah had taken his shirt off. "Come into my bedroom," he said.
A sign written in crayon hung upside down on his door: SWEET 16 ROOM. STAY OUT! He jumped on his bed and motioned us into his lair, a pit full of glittery unitards, undersize T-shirts, skinny jeans, records, food wrappers, velvet paintings, and cardboard boxes full of who the hell knows what. He apologized for the mess, explaining that he's been too busy traveling the world and shopping to clean his room.
Hoping to stanch the progression toward an orgy, I asked him to put on a fashion show. He happily obliged, changing from tight black-and-white striped sport coat and red poorboy cap to silky khaki Chanel blouse and pith helmet to sequined black jacket. When he wasn't looking, Jamie and Natasha pinched those T-shirts--one with a lavender-and-pink art nouveau design, the other black with red starbursts.
Jimmy walked into the room and informed us that he knew where we could get some drugs. Eager to get the hell out of there for any reason at all, we walked back to Hilary's car, and the dudes followed.
Arriving at a ranch-style house, we could smell the rank kitty litter from outside. Inside only one lamp was on, but it provided enough light to see that there was hardly any furniture. There was a computer (displaying the School Girls' MySpace page), a dish rack with some red plastic Solo cups in it, and at least a dozen empty booze jugs on the kitchen counter.
I feigned exhaustion, yawning exaggeratedly and saying I needed to go to bed. "Good night," I said quickly, walking out the door. The ladies were right behind.
"Call me!" one of the dudes called after us. But we didn't have his number.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Hilary Olson, Liz Amrstrong.