Captain Moonlight:High school snickers ... Santa by e-mail ... cyber-co ps

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The Independent Online
LOS ANGELES - Who says there isn't a formula for writing a bestseller? It's simple: get a part in a soap opera (or, if you must, as a radio host), and tap out an autobiography. Make it as short and politically incorrect as possible, pack it with c onfessions and facile sex jokes, and Bob's your uncle. The radio "shock jock" Howard Stern did it with Private Parts, and made millions. Roseanne did it. And now Tim Allen's done it.

Tim Allen is the star of America's most popular sit-com, Home Improvement, a mindless show about a do-it-yourself fanatic, the kind of man who utters hairy-chested moans of ecstasy at the thought of firing up a power tool. He's also the author of Don't Stand Too Close To a Naked Man, a current US bestseller.

This book conforms to all my guidelines: it purports to celebrate "guyhood", with chapters entitled "Women Are People, Too" and "Men's Zones", and is packed with observations about sex, tools, wives, and - his favourite theme - the male organ, including his own.

This is a subject that Mr Allen takes personally. His name used to be Timothy Allen Dick, until he changed it because "in grade school the kids snickered at my name the same way as they giggled when they had to sing the word `bosom' in The Battle Hymn ofthe Republic". Allen - a former stand-up comic whose fans used to attend his performances wearing pig masks - is also particularly well qualified to comment on "The Wonderful World of Guys" (another of his chapters).

In 1980, he was sentenced to eight years in prison for cocaine dealing, eventually serving 28 months in a minimum-security institution in Minnesota. "Prison and Hollywood are exactly the same thing," he writes, after describing how prison life caused sexually frustrated heterosexual men to turn to other men. Allen is not well known outside the US - yet. But he will be. He's Santa in the highly successful Disney movie The Santa Clause, to be released in Britain next year.

n OK, we all know the real reason Bill Clinton dumped Joycelyn Elders, his Surgeon General, was to crawl to the bully boy Republicans. But couldn't he have found a better pretext? What's wrong with suggesting that kids should be taught about masturbationin schools? Rubbish, say the Washington cognoscenti. She should have known, they argue, that ordinary God-fearing Americans are far too screwed up about sex to handle that sort of talk from a government official. Perhaps they're right. After all, what other explanation can there be for all their extraordinary euphemisms for Ms Elders's proposed addition to the curriculum? I'd already heard about the monkey. But "waxing the dolphin" breaks new ground.

WORD from Las Vegas. Two troupes of performers - The Flying Elvises and The Flying Elvi - are in a legal dogfight over who has the right to ply their lucrative trade. The Elvises say they've been granted permission to operate by the Presley estate; the Elvi say they own the patent and first thought of the idea, which came from the 1992 movie Honeymoon in Vegas.

"The Elvi are acting out of greed," said Mark Miscevic, an estate agent who manages the Elvises. "Why don't they just leave us alone. There's plenty of sky, and plenty of work." Vegas show promoter Dick Feeney, president of the Elvi, is unimpressed. The Elvises started the spat, he says, by abruptly splitting from his original group.

Can't say I'm all that upset. Inquiries reveal skydivers dressed up as The King ain't worth spit. Mr Miscevic tells me that as the Elvises plunge earthwards from 12,000ft, their wigs sometimes fall off. So do their dark glasses, and - on rare occasions -their white bell-bottomed suits. It wasn't until the end of our conversation that he also revealed that he's recovering from a six-week coma after he crash-landed, in full Elvis regalia, on a car. And he was the troupe's safety officer.

n IT SEEMS Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington, socialite and aspiring First Lady, was not amused at the media coverage of her husband Michael's failed campaign to become a US senator. So unfair, wasn't it? There they were, pouring $28m of his personal fortune into some of the nastiest television ads ever transmitted, and all the rotten press could do was criticise. The papers said the wickedest things. She was "the most upwardly mobile Greek since Icarus" . . . "the Sir Edmund Hillary of social climbing". La Huff may soon have her revenge. She's been making a pilot for a television show in which she interviews alleged victims of unfair reporting. The title? Beat The Press.

Footnote: the Huffingtons believe they lost because of fraud at the ballot box, and, 40 days after the election, haven't conceded victory to Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat.

CHRISTMAS is an odd business in Los Angeles. There's no Boxing Day, no bread sauce and precious few mince pies. Half the city - the Latinos - eat their Christmas dinner late at night on the 24th. I suppose I'm glad a poultry company has set up a freephone number that Californians call when they've messed up the turkey (by trying to defrost it in the spin-drier, gas fire, dishwasher). But I wish there weren't television programmes in which children are shown sneering at their parents for buying them presents they don't like. Forget clothes, books, crayons: expect to be reviled if your gift doesn't commit at least 10 cyber-murders a minute.

n DEPRESSING news from the North Pole: children can now send wish lists to Santa via the Internet. Even St Nick has got an e-mail address, and the rest of the palaver, it seems. "Children may e-mail letters to Mr Claus at santa(at)," says theannouncement of Santa's conversion to net-surfing. "Each letter writer will receive an immediate response from Santa. Most letters will also receive a personalised follow-up e-mail from Santa or one of his elves."

Perhaps I am a curmudgeon, but there must be limits. What's next? A helicopter? A cell phone? As if being calorifically and sartorially challenged wasn't bad enough; now he's a nerd as well. And I don't care if he's listening. Who wants a present from anyone whose associates talk about "personalised follow-up e-mail"?

FOR DAYS, the citizens of Orange County, California, have been wondering why their county administration, which presides over one of the richest plots of land in the world, has gone bust. Two billion dollars have been lost in the biggest municipal bankruptcy in US history, but all they've heard from the politicians, lawyers and Wall Street is waffle about "inverse floaters" and triple leverage.

This week the public was finally allowed a say. Stepping to the microphone during a public comment session in a council meeting, Stephen Johnson, a small-town lawyer, asked why the politicians failed to keep an eye on the county treasurer, and his reckless gambling on the bonds market. Why had no one said sorry? And why hadn't all of them resigned or taken a pay cut? (He suggested 27 per cent - the proportion of the council investment fund that's gone down the drain.)

Alas, open government doesn't come easily in the former heartland of the presidents who brought you Watergate and Iran-Contra. "Is there a sheriff in here?" demanded Orange's chairman, Thomas Riley, as Mr Johnson's questions stacked up. "Sheriff, sheriff. Get this man out of here." And off he was hauled - for daring to demand accountability from elected officials.

n HE'S BACK. Daryl Gates, the ex-police chief who's bullying ineptitude and paramilitary tactics helped spark the LA riots, is promoting a CD-ROM. "Police Quest: Open Season" lets you "taste first hand the life of a cop in America's toughest city", says the box, which carries pictures of three corpses. No word, though, of whether players are allowed to beat up motorists with cyber-nightsticks.

The service that turns a harvest of news into muesli . . . A man walked from a Cincinnati court after a judge dismissed sex assault charges. His alleged victim said she has 10 personalities; the court heard two of them may have consented . . . Director Robert Altman should stick to off-the-peg shopping for a while. Stan Herman, president of Fashion Designers of America, thinks his new movie Ready to Wear (formerly Pret-a-Porter) is the celluloid equivalent of a knotted hanky on the head. "There was no h istory, no script," he moaned, "It's all elbows and fingernails" . . . A Californian woman is suing a dog training school for damages after slipping in a puddle of canine drool . . . Grateful Dead fans have a new phrase for those who take parents to `Dea d' concerts: "tripping on DNA" . . . In Vegas a man on cocaine charges decided to `rap' his mitigation plea to a judge; he got 23 years.

PET THEORY: The Clintons are far too battered to be a substitute royal family. Today's surrogate royals are America's dogs. Like the charming couple above - courtesy of Posh Pups from Venice Beach, California. I knew there was something weird about the attitude to dogs here shortly after I acquired a Golden Retriever called Rupert (so named because of his capacity to destroy newspapers). On his first visit to the vet, a large woman hurled herself on the floor of the waiting room, kissed the h ound on the lips, and asked how we enjoyed being its "parents". At Halloween, Rupert returned from the local park wearing a peaked hat, a present from friends. A colleague has been to a wedding in which the Best Dog, clad in bow tie, walked up the aisle with the happy couple. So it's a leather jacket for Rupert this Christmas, or a Santa's hat, or a pair of Raybans, or a bridal costume. On the other hand, we might just give him an old tennis ball.