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Though it was more than 20 years ago, I'll never forget my first glimpse of Playboy Mansion West. The lush, green lawns, the exotic birds and animals wandering around, the waterfall cascading into the swimming pool, the stately House That Hef Built.

All of which were nothing compared to the gaggle of eye-popping ladies strewn about like pneumatic party favors. They were languishing on deck chairs, tossing beachballs, standing with heads thrown back--guffawing to the heavens--arms around fabulous celebrities like Don Adams, Jimmy Caan, Jim Brown. Everybody had cocktails; all were having the time of their lives. And those ladies, those bunnies, were wearing virtually nothing. I was transfixed, really digging the scene.

Then I heard my mother yelling for me.
I closed the magazine, thrust it back into the bottom drawer of my father's desk and feigned concentration on Samuel Gompers. Or the industrial age, or geometry or whatever pointless homework I was supposed to be working on. Thus ended my 2-D trip to the Mansion, but it had left an impression. I knew I had to go back. Back to that place of liquor, love and laughs, where unabashed hedonism went hand in hand with riches and splendor. Back to that place in the bottom drawer.

And I made it. All it took was a couple of decades. And Nancy Sinatra deciding to revive her career with an album of new material, a show-all spread in Playboy and a party to celebrate this magnificent moment at Hef's. A trip to the Mansion was one thing, but to actually witness Nancy and her boots--live and in person--hissing and snarling in that sultry talk-sing voice from the past was simply too much. All I had to do was scam an invitation. Easy.

Hollywood no longer exists. It's a dream that went sour long ago, an utterly phony place that has all the false allure of a Roach Motel. Where stars once roamed the boulevards amid swank restaurants and exclusive nightspots, there are now hordes of tourists from other lands, bums, madmen, bag ladies and losers trying to eke out a living selling trinkets and twisting balloons into shapes that are supposed to look like poodles. Keep that Instamatic ready, but it's not likely that you'll see Brad Pitt out shopping for a "Hollywood U.S.A.--I Wanna Sex You Up" tee shirt.

Hollywood is a place short in miles, but far in glamour, from Hef's Holmby Hills hideaway; it's also the place where I was staying. Hell, it was cheap, especially the rooms at the Magic Hotel, where the most magical thing was that the 30-year-old refrigerator could keep a six-pack slightly cooler than room temperature. I checked in and left in search of food, walked a couple blocks down by the legendary Mann's Chinese Theater, where the footprints of movie greats live on in concrete.

And that's where I saw her.
No, not Nancy. Angelene. She is the perfect welcoming committee to the Capital of Fake, a woman with a big, blond wig, pounds of makeup, a skintight vinyl dress, and breasts enhanced to the size of the heads of monster octopuses. Angelene doesn't act, doesn't sing or dance or tell jokes; she is a nobody who has made herself a somebody simply by existing. There are billboards of her along Hollywood Boulevard, huge likenesses of this bodacious creature spilling out to passers-by with wickedly pointless intent.

But there she was in the flesh--lots of it--posing against a pink Corvette in front of the theatre while a throng of pathetic, thrill-hungry sightseers clicked away. Naturally, I whipped out my camera and ran full tilt, elbowing my way in on the action. Angelene looked bored and coy, delicately gnawing her sunglasses as the traffic rolled by. "Hey, Angelene," I gushed, "where's a good place to eat around here?" With innuendo way too deep for me to fathom, she squeaked, "I'm not telling you!"

Head reeling and film used up, it was all I could do to make my way down to a souvenir shop run by a Muslim woman from Sweden and purchase a "Pray for O.J.--Don't Squeeze the Juice" shirt. She wouldn't recommend any place to eat, either, but the sun was setting and I had a date to keep. Over at Hef's, and I did not want to keep Ms. Sinatra waiting.

A young woman in a crushed-velvet dress the color of a smoggy sunset is leaning into the window of my rented Cougar. She has a clipboard, a band of intertwined snakes tattooed around her right wrist and a smile that says, "Welcome to the Playboy Mansion." Then she actually says, "Welcome to the Playboy Mansion," and asks my name. That's all it takes, and I'm tooling up the driveway. Past immaculate hedges and yellow traffic signs that say "Children at Play." Right on.

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Peter Gilstrap
Contact: Peter Gilstrap