PLUMBING, MODERN SURREALISM AND THE LONDON WEST HOLLYWOOD

 

sherilynnfenn1991   Sherilynn Fenn then and now sherilynnfenn2017

I was just reading a story about David Lynch and the revival of Twin Peaks, a TV show I have been thinking about for 27 years, but never saw. I came close: I may have even rented an episode at Blockbuster or put it on my wanted list on Netflix, but never got around to watching the either season of the show. The photos that went with the story I read, of Kyle MacLachlan, Sherilynn Fenn, Lara Flynn Boyle—all look quite like the promo photos from 27 years ago. There were Twin Peaks stars who died of course, like Richard Beymer—whose claim to fame was the romantic hero in the movie version of West Side Story—and Piper Laurie, another movie star when I was a child. (What a name, would I have remembered her without it? It didn’t come up again until 2013 and the heroine of Orange is the New Black.)  Twin Peaks, in two seasons (1990-91), had 121 cast members, one of the reasons it took 25 years to get the money together to make 18 more hours of the show.

Even though I never saw the TV shows, I know that Twin Peaks was critically-acclaimed, called surrealist, and thought to be ahead of its time. The photos for the new Twin Peaks debut were shot at the London West Hollywood. There must have been a photo-op press fest at the hotel in Los Angeles.

I considered this setting appropriate because I once had a surrealistic stay at the London West Hollywood for several nights before it officially opened to the world in 2008.

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The London West Hollywood Hotel is, or was, a Gordon Ramsay-inspired hotel. My husband and I had received an invitation to stay in a deluxe suite there on a preview rate, $300 for 3 nights, an offer we still think of as dirt cheap. I’m not exactly sure why we got this invitation but it probably had something to do with buying autographed copies of Gordon Ramsay cookbooks when we were in London some months earlier. We also had lunch at the Gordon Ramsay restaurant at Claridge’s on that trip. We were with our kids—son, daughter and daughter-in-law, in their twenties at the time—and we went to the Tate, and the Tower of London, Harrods, Hachette’s bookstore, drank a lot of wine by the glass, ate good cheese and took home a fascination with Gordon Ramsay. Like an infection we picked up.

Once we got home we discovered Gordon Ramsay had food shows on three different channels.

We had better reason than curiosity to take up the Los Angeles London West Hollywood offer though. We were having the floors in our house refinished because we were putting our house on the market and we had to leave the place for at least four days.  It was either the London West Hollywood or the Radisson in Merrillville.

The housing market was tanking at the time, but flights were cheap and Los Angeles is a nice place to visit. The hotel was right on the Sunset Strip, which had already gentrified, defying its seedy past and was full of nice stores and restaurants with outdoor cafes. I got a pedicure at a pedicure spa with a hundred chairs lined up along the wall with dozens of pedicurists working on people’s feet.

These spas are everywhere now, including Chesterton where I go for pedicures now, but in 2008 they were new to Midwesterners. Also, I walked down the street after that pedicure and purchased my all-time favorite Bernardo sandals for $20. The Bernardos have thick, black rubber soles and thongs made of plastic orange tubes. For years, I have searched for sandals like these on the internet and, although I can easily find the Bernardo brand, I have never found another pair of that material in those colors.

Over time, I have seen other examples of availability of different merchandise in different climates. Contrary to popular opinion, you cannot find everything on the Internet. This has always been true. There are certain things sold by the truckload in California, that never get shipped back here to Chicago.

My cousins who live in San Diego have a similar complaint. They can only buy sweatshirts and sweaters at certain times during the year in California at certain mainstream stores. Around Chicago you can get sweatshirts everywhere—including gas stations, restaurants and grocery stores. There’s always a chance the weather will turn cold.

 

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The suite in the West London had a bathroom I will never forget. It was a large completely tiled room with shower heads and walls at either end. There were two sets of double sinks lit up in the center and at least one step-in tub. Mirrors everywhere. The bathroom was lit up like a stage behind the regular room with a big bed and a couch that curved out from the bed.

Our first night at the London West Hollywood, my friend Susan came from Silver Lake to have dinner with us. We made reservations at the Gordon Ramsay restaurant in the hotel and ordered the nine-or-ten-course chef’s tasting menu that were all the rage back then. The meal was impeccable and so was the service and at the end we got the surprise of our lives.

The manager thanked us and said good night and that was it. No bill. We wondered if it would show up on our hotel bill when we checked out, but it didn’t. It was totally free, the Gordon Ramsay people must have been practicing that night, because the restaurant wasn’t really open yet. There wasn’t a name on the door. Just a time and the word dinner.

There was a contest going on a Gordon Ramsay TV show we hadn’t had time to watch, where the winner was supposedly going to be put in charge of the restaurant at the London West Hollywood, but that didn’t seem quite real and probably wasn’t.

We asked the person at the front desk about the television winner and he just laughed. He was probably thinking we had a lot to learn about what’s real and what’s television and what’s reality television because I sure felt like I didn’t know what was going on. Hollywood has these surreal moments all the time, as I’m sure everyone knows by now, no doubt bolstered by David Lynch work on shows like Twin Peaks.

Another excellent feature of the London West Hollywood was the bookstore next door to the hotel. It was impressive, especially considering we were in LA. Probably not as intriguing as Hachette’s in London, but we still managed to spend several hours and too much money there.

The last day of our preview rate, real guests began arriving. There was a big meeting coming in, possibly the American Booksellers Association convention and all the New Yorker people were staying at the London. In the bar, which had tall tables throughout the room, there were reservation cards with the Eustace Tilley logo and names of famous people like David Remnick, Malcolm Gladwell and Adam Gopnik written on the cards. (I might have dreamed this, but I’m pretty sure it was real.) Then while we were waiting for a cab to the airport, I saw Vera Wang get out of a limo. She is a very small person so it had to be her. She wrote a book that year.

I was relieved when we left in the nick of time. I didn’t like the idea that celebrities were going to be staring at me and wondering why they didn’t recognize me. Or thinking I was a famous person who had just put on weight since they last saw me. It was the right time for us to go.  I checked the rate as we headed out and it had gone up to over $300 per night.

Our floors were gleaming when we got back. They looked beautiful and they still do. We never sold the house. Very few houses were sold in Miller Beach that year. None of the nice ones anyway, and we loved and still love our house.

But a strange thing happened, due to the fumes created from the floors being refinished, the hot water heater sensed danger and shut itself off. When we called Sears, who sold us this extra-large hot water heater maybe a year earlier, the salesman said that the hot water heater could not be re-started without exploding. We would have to buy a new one.

My brother, who was a technology director at a major hospital in Chicago at the time, said that was impossible. If a computer shut itself off, then a computer could be reset. But that was a moot point by then and the hot water heater crisis was just beginning. Since we obviously could not buy another hot water heater from Sears, which we no longer trusted, we had to get a new hot water heater from Menard’s. My husband’s friends—a painter and carpenter— who were also working on our house at the time, had a charge account at Menard’s so they brought over another hot water heater and tried to install it but they could not get the hot water heater to work.

I kept thinking about all the hot water spraying from all the nozzles at the London West Hollywood.

The carpenter decided the hot water heater was defective and had Menard’s come and pick it up and send it back to the manufacturer. Then Menard’s brought in another hot water heater and the carpenter and the painter installed it and still couldn’t get it to work.  The carpenter couldn’t believe he got two defective hot water heaters in a row, but that was the assumption we were now living with. By the fifth or sixth day of this, I was taking showers at my neighbor’s house—I honestly don’t know where my husband was showering because I wasn’t speaking to him—getting mad, and thinking maybe my husband and his friends should call a plumber.

Nobody was listening to me until finally the painter told me he secretly thought we should call a plumber too, but he was too scared to tell the carpenter. Before I left for work the next morning I told my husband I would not come home again unless somebody called a plumber.

The plumber finally came. He looked at the second defective hot water heater, took out a wrench and hit the valve on top of the tank as hard as he could. That turned on the hot water.