When the rest of the world gnashes its teeth over America's easy opulence, they're gnashing on SportsClub Irvine. After all, no one really lives like J.R. Ewing(aside from Georgeand Judie Argyros, and Chuckand Twyla Martin, and . . . okay, so lots of people live like J.R. Ewing). But there are plenty more people clad in designer spandex who glide elegantly into this gym, which isn't so much a gym as a cathedral to dangerous body images. It's as opulent as London men's clubs for the aristocracy back when the sun never set on the British Empire—but with much more legroom. And it's replete with a restaurant and two bars for that midworkout Ketel One and soda (according to a friend who frequently tends bar for Irvine corporate gigs, tonic water has too many calories for the body-conscious Irvinians, and thus, appallingly, they mix their vodka with soda water instead).

Outside the multistoried, glassed-in building, the wide pool boasts an Art Deco scene of palm trees at one end and a cascading wall fountain lit in soothing greens and blues at the other.

Sitting on the front steps Saturday night, waiting for late-arriving friends, I watched as a gaggle of shiny SUVs pulled up and vomited forth groups of chunky men and blonded women. One man, with a pipsqueaky voice, introduced his friends to the flack who was waiting to greet people: "Hey, Todd! This is my crew!" I waited for them to pull out cans of spray paint and begin tagging the establishment, but sadly it was not to be. Perhaps they were the crew on his yacht.

The occasion was a gala benefit for the Newport Beach Film Festival (minus 25 percent of the proceeds from the $75 tickets for the relief effort in New York), and the high patio overlooking the swimming pool was crushed with yuppies in Hawaiian shirts following the tropical theme. There weren't too many women sporting tropical sundresses; it was late in the year for that. But apparently it's never too late in the year for giant breasts bursting forth magnificently (mysteriously, with no apparent need for support) from tube tops.

In the pool, a man wearing a green Speedo swam laps. Following the new kind and gentle tone of the nation, I will call him "barrel-chested" instead of "blobby."

My crew having arrived, we made our way to the free Skyy martinis (a vodka martini is a blasphemy, but we would have had to pay for gin) and then upstairs, where we usurped a table and ignored everyone but ourselves—just like everybody else!

Since the program of short films didn't start until 9:30 p.m. or so, we had plenty of time to talk about the nipples promenading by (the delightful Betty Langston proposed "nipple" as a term for a group of girls—like a gaggle of geese or a crash of rhinos) and Afghanistan (really, we're unfit for polite society), where my friend Brian Langston, director of marketing at the Orange County Museum of Art, spent four months in the early 1970s on your basic extended tour of the Marrakesh Express.

Afghanistan is as big as Texas, with 26 million people. Three years before Brian arrived, the country had hosted 400 tourists. By 1971, when he tripped around Jalalabad (where, Brian is sure—and Brian knows everything—Osama bin Laden's been hidin') and Kabul, a 747 was arriving from Paris every week, full of insouciant French junkies on an opium quest.

South Seas Entertainment crooned the Don Ho classic "Tiny Bubbles" as Brian described a popular Afghani pastime—buzkashi—in which two teams of men on horseback try to capture a dead goat stuffed with rocks. People whip one another across the face and train their horses to rear back and kick opponents off, the better to trample them—even when the one who has captured the dead goat is on their team. (Trampling is the most important part of the game.) Apparently, Afghans are the badassest men in the whole world. Just ask the 16,000 British and Indian soldiers the Afghans slaughtered in the Khyber Pass in 1842—after the Brits and Indians had surrendered. They left one alive to tell the tale.

Outside the gates, where the smokers were shunted, we were forced to talk to other people, notably a friendly young man who was extolling private enterprise. Brian and I continually corrected him on such matters as health care (Brian pointed out, since he knows everything, that Medicare spends 3 percent of its budget on administrative costs, compared with the 32 percent spent by private insurers) and the fact that libertarianism is not the same as fascism; indeed, it's the exact opposite. Poor, confused puppy. I don't recall on what other matters we contradicted the young man; by that point, I was disgracefully drunk. But he finally went inside, greatly upset, some time after I called for the nationalization of the airlines. (After all, people do need to fly in our country. The much-maligned post office could get us across country for 34 cents, and it would only take us two days, unless our sorting got confused. But that's not special to the post office: the airlines did that several times this year, anyway, with child passengers traveling alone. Ha! But seriously, folks! We're awarding the airlines a $15 billion bailout, but that lovely sum includes no provision or aid for the 100,000 workers the airlines laid off. So whom are we bailing out? Well, uh, stockholders. We might as well just write a check to the SportsClub Irvine. Merry Christmas!)

And how were the films? Mostly I don't remember. One was an amusing bit on relationship insurance, with the happy tag line asking for the ZIP code of the prospective insuree's girlfriend. 90210? Oooh, those premiums would be hefty. Too bad she doesn't live in Long Beach, said the salesman. Long Beach equals long-term!

None of the films screened was bad—certainly none was as bad as last year's entry Starry Night, about Vincent Van Gogh, that had the unstable artist arriving in modern times due to some magical flowers that had called him back from the long-dead and -rotted. "Listen to your canvas crying," intoned Vincent, in one of the film's many immortal lines, "and then feed it with the paint." Or a Ketel One and soda. Take your pick.

Discuss nipples, Afghans and more with the Girl: commiegirl99@hotmail.com.


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