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Camping out in West Hollywood: Roger Tredre sets out to discover what's up in Boys' Town, home to much of LA's gay community. To his surprise, he finds himself going native

MY FIRST trip to Los Angeles. I am a white heterosexual English middle-class male, and I'm staying with Greg and Keith, two gay friends, in West Hollywood. It is an illuminating experience, for this is a part of town where, as Keith points out, the men are 'as camp as a row of tents'.

Jay, a Mexican hairdresser, lives in the apartment next door. I run into him on the first morning hoovering the front steps in a wrapover dressing gown, multicolour bandana, giant gold ear-rings and face pack. 'Hi,' he shoots. 'What's up?'

'Er,' I say, fumbling for the correct reply. 'Nothing much, thank you,' I conclude lamely.

Everyone wants to know 'what's up' all the time in California, but in Boys' Town, the gay district of West Hollywood, this request is particularly prevalent. The correct response, I am told, is merely to repeat the question an octave higher. 'Hi, what's up?]'

My friends take me to Pavillions, the local supermarket, which sells strawberries as big as apples and 50 different varieties of condom. A burly young bodybuilder skips past cradling an orchid. A couple of John Travolta lookalikes argue over who's to push the trolley round the store. This supermarket is open 24 hours a day, but at 2am on a Saturday night, the locals don't come here to buy pints of milk.

Later, we discuss who might make an appropriate subject for an Independent interview. There is Chi Chi LaRue, a character of indeterminate sex, who is, they say, a huge name in the gay-porn film and nightlife business. 'No, no,' says Greg. 'Children read your newspaper.'

Then there are the Chanel Twins, two drag artistes who wear Chanel head-to-toe and are trying to convince the designer Karl Lagerfeld to let them model in the the catwalk show in Paris next season. Their names are Linda Evangelipstick and Christy Girlington. It sounds promising, but they're out of town when I call.

On the third day, Jay, the hairdresser, has a crisis. We are returning from a restaurant at one in the morning and Jay rushes out to meet us, shrieking hysterically. 'Aaaaaah, help me] He tried to molest me] It was so horrible.' He smells of stale cigarettes and beer. He puts his arms round Greg and applies clammy kisses to his neck. Greg handles the situation well, tells him to calm down, but keeps him firmly out of our flat.

Next day, Keith and Greg take me to a model agency to check out models for some fashion shoots for the Independent. Keith introduces me to Craig, whispering in my ear: 'Watch his lips. He's just had them done. Prissy little queen.'

Craig's lips look larger than life, but don't have much to say for themselves. One of his colleagues, Grant, is more welcoming. He invites us to a party in the Hollywood hills. 'Grant has three sets of friends,' warns Greg. 'First, some of the most beautiful gay boys in town; second, loads of rich and obnoxious Arabs; third, spacey New Age mystics who haven't landed on planet Earth.'

The party turns out to include a selection of all three. The men leave me well alone. 'Do I look that heterosexual?' I complain. A tall, very drunk woman leans over me. 'Go for her,' she advises, nodding her head towards a midget. 'She's short.'

We drive home at two in the morning. I get comfortable in my makeshift bed on the living-room sofa, then turn round in surprise to see my friends dressed down in jeans and T- shirts. 'We're going out,' drawls Greg. 'Should be about an hour.'

I see them again in time for brunch the next day. The male model arrives for our fashion shoot. He earns dollars 500,000 a year ( pounds 336,000) and he's thoroughly heterosexual. But by then it's too late. I've gone native. 'Hi,' I say, an octave higher. 'What's up?'