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Tripping: Hollywood

With an Oscar, up close and personal Add to ...

I'm holding my first Oscar and I'm uncharacteristically speechless. The little gold man is heavier than he looks, but part of that sensation may be the short wire that secures him to the podium. I smile radiantly, my husband, Rick, snaps two photos and I replace the statuette quickly, ready for the next person in line.

It happens to be Academy Award week when we venture into Hollywood from a quiet beach vacation. The town is buzzing. I trip over Jay Leno and Sly Stallone, or at least their stars, on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Sun-burnt tourists and cranky construction crews clog every street. We lean over a barricade and see Kevin Spacey's star buried beneath electrical cables and a crushed coffee cup.

Traffic cones, fences and temporary bleachers block our path, so we go with the flow to Mann's Chinese Theatre. There, we battle swarming hordes gawking at celebrity hand- and footprints encased in the concrete courtyard.

A friendly face catches my bewildered eye. Mike is a writer/director making a few extra bucks as a security guard. I say we're from Toronto, and he dishes some L.A. observations with a smile. Work here is unpredictable and changeable. Strikes are a common occurrence. Everyone is very insecure. And yet even unknown actors can earn over $750 a day, plus residuals. Mike says he's looking for a real job, perhaps in software sales, outside the Hollywood circus.

He casually directs us to his buddies, who run tours of stars' homes if we're into that sort of thing, but we're not. He points out some celebrity look-alikes ready to pose for a picture with us, if we're into that sort of thing. We're not. When he mentions we can have our photo taken with a real Oscar, my pulse finally quickens.

Four flights of stairs later, we're at the top of the Hollywood and Highland Center. In the distance, the iconic Hollywood sign hovers over a smoggy hilltop. The whitewashed letters originally spelled "Hollywoodland" and advertised a new suburb. Ironically, the sign is now threatened by real-estate development. Five McMansions are slated to be built, forever spoiling the view. L.A. councillors and residents are outraged, but may lose their fight. I snap a few photos and hope the Hollywood sign gets its own Hollywood ending.

After a 30-minute wait, we enter a darkened foyer. Visitors murmur as they gape at 50 genuine Oscar statuettes. Sans engraving, they are exhibited like holy relics inside glass cases. A display details their creation. A base casting of pewter-like britannium is electroplated with layers of copper to prevent corrosion and nickel to improve adhesion. Silver provides additional corrosion resistance as well as a shiny foundation for the 24-karat gold plating. A top coat of lacquer preserves the finish. Just like Hollywood, I imagine, it's all about gold plating and lacquer. And of course, corrosion resistance is on every starlet's wish list.

We press on from this hushed shrine into a corridor where exuberant fans and screaming paparazzi compete for our attention. I pause to bask in the adulation. I think I'm starting to enjoy this. But it's only a film loop that simulates the red-carpet experience, and Rick urges me onward. There's still a long queue to hold a real Oscar.

In the next room, we pass the time reading lists of this year's nominees. I'm imagining that my name has made the final cut when a family of five and their hyperactive child destroys my reverie. The line is creeping along. Some visitors are photographed in groups while others don't want to share the limelight. A professional photographer is on hand to shoot those travelling solo, or anyone who doesn't trust their companion to capture their moment of faux fame.

As we edge closer, I notice something disturbing. Some people are actually kissing the Oscar. Not an L.A.-style air kiss, but a real, full-lipped wet smack. What I don't see is anyone wiping Oscar down after this show of passion.

I'm still contemplating this dilemma when my moment in the spotlight arrives. I pause for an instant, and then march toward the podium. Instinctively, I slip off my coat and drop my handbag. If ever I deserved an Academy Award for outstanding performance, it's now as I fearlessly grasp the sticky statuette with both hands. Smile. Flash. Smile. Flash.

Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my hand wash.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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