Photo by Jessica Calkins "Why, yes, I would love to come to the Orange County Museum of Art's party for ElleGirl, Neutrogena and The O.C.," I told Colleen, the museum's acting flack. "No, I haven't seen it. I watch Arrested Development instead. Is it good?"

Colleen didn't know either.

I've heard plenty of rational folks with good taste say they're addicted to The O.C., which purports to show our own Newport types behaving badly. But for pure trash value, can any mere television show compete with our real-life Newport Beach, glittery home of both socialite (and convicted coke ho) Tina Schafnitzand socialite (and alleged husband-beater) Tawny Kitaen?

I can't imagine how it could.

Now, I've been burned before. I waited all summer one year for Pasadena to premiere. It would be delightfully gauche, the kind of nighttime soap I'd never seen, having been too busy with Joanie Loves Chachiand It's Your Moveto pay attention to Dallas and Dynasty. Pasadena blew, and I let The O.C. pass me by.

"There'll be a red carpet!" Colleen was saying brightly as I swam to her voice through a warm fog of Jason Bateman memories. "You'll be behind the rope line!"


I got to the museum a half hour before the party was scheduled to start Saturday night. Inside, tables were laden with Mark's usual catering extravaganzas. Outside, the paparazzi were surly. A natural hostess, I began to draw them out. Only one would bite, a squat, Bronx-accented man who darkly informed me that there were "bad apples" among the photographers—bad apples who would badmouth you to publicists, or tell you the wrong time for an event. Every time he mentioned bad apples, he looked at the one cute photographer present—a photographer who seemed to be Franch.

Une pomme mal! Oui!

One of the 10 ElleGirl contest winners arrives. No one takes her picture. Jasmine Lewis arrives, from Barbershop 2 and ABC's Line of Fire, which premieres this week. She's a beautiful, slim young woman in a tight tan sweater dress. "Turn to the left!" photographers say. She turns left, fakes right and punts, as her handler, Lana, comes to the rope line and murmurs, "This is Jasmine Lewis from Barbershop 2 and ABC's Line of Fire,which premieres this week." Behind Lewis, people wait to walk down the red carpet, where their photos will not be made. Lewis turns to the ElleGirlmagazine blowup that will be her backdrop, and the royal blue panel that repeats "ElleGirl" and "Neutrogena" over and over again, like the backdrop for the president's recent visit to the Queen that said, "Great Britain Great Britain Great Britain Great Britain Great Britain Great Britain Great Britain Great Britain." How agreeable of Lewis, from Barbershop 2 and ABC's Line of Fire, which premieres this week, to brand herself so!

Lewis has two damp spots on the back of her dress, at crotch level, and it's up to one of the museum's staff to take her aside and let her know, woman to woman. Does her handler secretly hate her?

Lewis is the last "famous" person I will see, although the Seattle buzz band Pretty Girls Make Graves is here, and they are yowling and good. There are not nearly enough bars, as we spend roughly 127 minutes in line for a drink with people from LA who are offended by friendly small talk.

The tip sheet that's been distributed to the camerafolk claims both Sugar Ray's canker sore Mark McGrath and No Doubt's pretty Gwen Stefani will be gracing the museum's well-lighted halls. Mmmm, no. Probably not.

In the time I spend at the red carpet, only one person pulls it off with panache—a friend of mine who cranes his neck up as though he's looking inside for the friends he's late to meet as he speeds along the rosy path. (The friend who's standing right there doesn't count, as he says, "Nice to see you" without breaking stride for a second. He would claim later that he had thought I was stuck outside and he was afraid of being stuck outside with me, and tried to convey with his brief meaningful "Do I know you?" glance that he would come back and save me later. I'm sorry to say I no longer know him.)

Still, it was a well-done trip down a red carpet—he is, you see, too busy for the photographers, who thoughtfully let us know their presence is not for the likes of us by thoughtfully stilling their flashes and shutters when we trudge by with our heads down.

Mischa BartonThe O.C.'s It Girl!—is on the cover of ElleGirl, with the cover lines claiming Barton will dish about "her flirty look, cute costars and on-set secrets!" Barton is also the new face of Neutrogena, which is sponsoring the really wonderful "Girls Night Out"exhibit at the museum. This is what we in the biz call synergy. I want to ask Barton to tell us about her flirty look, cute costars and on-set secrets, but by the time she arrives, I'm out back and three drinks in. It would have been only mildly amusing, and only to me, and hardly worth sitting out front for, on the wrong side of a rope line. Feh.

I had intended this column as a meditation on why I don't like famous people. I had intended to have unsatisfying encounters with them, where I'd be made to feel squat and subpar, and then ruminate on how our status as little people with unbleached teeth is now being instilled in us even as toddlers. (Like at Disneyland, where you can no longer go up and hug Cinderella. Instead, small children wait in Russian breadline lines, with an autograph book.) I had intended to ramble amusingly and at length about how, after I met the Angels' Adam Kennedy, I had to break up with my imaginary boyfriend—Six Feet Under's dreamy breeder brother, Peter Krause—because I realized talking to famous people is stressful and not fun and they all think you're a stalker, and if Peter Krause and I were to meet, and I were to send him a note saying, "Check one box: [box symbol] I would like to buy the young lady with the unfortunate housewife hair a drink, or [box symbol] I am a big puss," he would probably not laugh and would not take me for a starlit walk where he would almost immediately be pulled into my deep sea. Instead, his entourage would whisk him to safety—and into the arms of a taller, more conventionally pretty groupie hopeful.

I met Chris Isaak a couple of times. He told me I had a fine-looking boy—my small buttercup of a son had sat on stage with him during a terrific show at The Grove. After a solid 90 seconds, I came up with the witty rejoinder, "You betcha!" Another time he told me I was good-looking. I couldn't say anything at all to that—just watched as the fetching young woman in the becoming dress got onto his bus with him and they drove away into what should have been my sunset.

Chris Isaak isn't my imaginary boyfriend anymore either.

But my intentions went awry, as they so often do, when the famous people refused to make themselves known. Were they there, and I'm now too old to spot them? It's entirely possible—it's not like Portia Di Rossi (the world's most beautiful real-life lesbian, who plays Jason Bateman's helpless 'n' greedy socialite sister on Arrested Development) was there. Her I'd recognize. Or Jeffrey Tambor, who plays Jason Bateman's happily incarcerated crooked developer dad. Or David Cross, who plays Jason Bateman's bizarre thespian brother-in-law. Or the guy who plays Gob, Jason Bateman's inept magician brother. Even though I don't know his name, I could still go, "Hey! Gob!" That would be cool. Even cooler would be a plot line where decent single dad Jason Bateman attends a gala at the Balboa Bay Club(where most of the show is set anyway) and meets a good-lookin' single mom who it turns out is a communist who loathes everything his family stands for, and is a reporter to boot! Watch out! Sparks would fly!

When the cool-girl DJ starts to spin Siouxsie Sioux, I pull myself from the warm fog of It's Your Move memories. Time to open the dance floor—a duty about which I'm terribly conscientious. As has been demonstrated for years (and years), if I don't get tha party started (or my sister, in a pinch), no one will.

But the dance floor is already opened, with a dozen slim starlets shaking their Pucci dresses to Prince and Nelly. Cameras flash as people get shots of A-list asses in action. And I slink off, soundly beaten on my own turf. I grab all the gift bags I can carry and walk off alone into the dark night.



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