LA watching

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Indy Lifestyle Online
It is quiet now, almost. Quiet in that LA way: a sprinkler dousing crabgrass on the pavement, the respiration of hot tyres two blocks away on Hollywood Boulevard, the uncoiling of Bunny's oversized refrigerator. The palm fronds high above, the air-conditioning - everything seems to hum and hiss, even the sun-baked concrete.

It's a conspiracy, this simulation of noiselessness. Of course, silence cannot exist here, because always, underneath the hissing, you can hear the earth sighing and shifting in its sleep. One day it will stir again. How long before it stretches and yawns and swallows the whole filthy mess? To keep this thought at bay Los Angelinos cover their city with a blanket of static, a cool sheet of white noise to smother that subsonic rumble, the sound they fear below all others.

Andy has taken the car and gone to visit Bunny on the set of Executive Decision, starring Kurt Russell and Steven Seagal. They're shooting at the Warners' studio down in Burbank, next to Forest Lawn Memorial Park, the setting for Waugh's novella The Loved One. People are often surprised to learn that Sharkey is derived from the Gaelic, meaning "the loved one". But none are more surprised than me.

This is Andy's first visit to America, and it was a thrill to witness once again the sheer scale of LA, seen through his eyes. He is still trying to get his head round the staggering abundance of everything, the appalling excess and waste, the obscene, insatiable appetites that must be stoked constantly to fuel an economy based on the notion of endless growth. The radio informs us that one in five American teenagers is clinically obese.

say no to drugs. You find this slogan on bumper stickers, billboards, paper napkins, everywhere you look. Last night, we went to Dresden, a supremely tacky cocktail bar in Los Feliz, and there is was, stamped on the rubber mesh in the bottom of the urinal, staring up at my prick. say no to drugs? Fat chance. Americans can't even Say No to Junk Food. They cannot Say No, period. From day one, they are encouraged to Say Yes to Everything, to consume more, to demand further options. "There's no such thing as the right way," someone told me last week. "This is America: if you got the money, your way is the right way. Any way you want it."

Any way we want it? OK. First day, we sat outside Starbucks Coffee on Melrose watching blonde girls strut past in white knee socks, tartan micro- minis and Walkmans. Every few seconds, Andy nudged me. "Ignore them," I said, "they're only doing it for a reaction." At that instant, an Aryan ber-babe zapped us with her neon smile and a double macchiato flew past my open mouth, straight down my white vest.

On Venice Beach, we observed bodybuilders, professional weirdos and girls skating by in hot pants, halter tops and Walkmans. Andy went for a swim and came out complaining about a film of grease all over his body. Bunny said nobody swims in the Santa Monica Bay any more. Not since they found a fish with three eyes, anyway.

Unlike LA, the air and water are clean in Santa Barbara, a relatively ancient Spanish colonial town about a hundred miles north along the coast. On its northern edge is the UCSB campus which, according to locals, is the most densely populated square mile east of the Missouri river during term. A lot of rich kids, a lot of hormones: SB is what they call "a party town". Predictably, then, it attracts Brits by the busload. Last weekend, we drove up there to check out the Press Room, the bar that Bunny opened in April with Pat and Raff, a pair of Manchester-Irish cousins.

Bunny designed the Press Room to be the kind of bar he'd frequent himself: an understated but hip oasis, with the latest tunes, draught Guinness that may well be the best in California, and an abundance of beautiful young women. To get the ball rolling, he and his partners hired Salome, a Persian bartender, and Anna-Maria, the Dutch "bouncer" who checks ID on the door. There's also a large contingent of British ex-pats, some of whom, like Kevin and Ross, work behind the bar. Others, like Scott, devote themselves to propping it up.

Yesterday, Bunny got the brush-off from a blonde starlet on the set. When they broke for lunch, his boss came over and asked what he'd been saying to Donald Trump's wife. Bunny has lived and worked in Hollywood for 15 years, and he still doesn't recognise Marla Marples when he's trying to blag her. How could anyone fail to love him?

As we drove to Dresden last night, I patted him on the back. "Fifteen years, and you never got an American accent."

"Yeah," he said. "Couldn't find one to fit."

It's nice to know that, even in America, some things are just not big enough