Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Escape from L.A.

Southern California had curled its slender, tanned arms around me and clinched tight. But there had to be more to life than a three-carat diamond and $1,200 Jimmy Choo clutch

July 8, 2008
The Globe and Mail

In the middle of the night, some people snore. Others have sex. I shop online.

When I spent the mortgage payment on a handbag from LouisVuitton.com - I must stress it's a wonderfully classic purse that I will bequeath to my future granddaughter - I knew I had a problem. I had started to measure the wealth of my being by the cost of my baubles.

Let me backtrack. Four years ago, I married a wonderful man from California. I left Canada for him and moved into his condo about 25 kilometres from Laguna Beach in Orange County - the O.C., like the one on television.

We lived in a desert community landscaped year-round into a tropical oasis filled with bougainvillea, bird of paradise, undulating palm trees, swimming pools, hummingbirds on the balcony and arroyos nearby for hiking.

I got a gig as the L.A. writer for TV Guide Canada. I shared onion rings with Sandra Oh in Los Feliz and slurped soba noodles with Chris Rock in West Hollywood. I discussed 24 with Kiefer Sutherland in Beverly Hills and interviewed Salma Hayek in Pasadena. I took on freelance work. My writing was published in the Los Angeles Times.

Quietly, Southern California curled its slender, tanned, Cartier-bracelet-laden arms around my waist and clinched tight.

I watched dolphins play off Coronado Island; I rocked out at the jazz fest in Dana Point; I hiked in Griffith Park; I biked trails along the Los Angeles River; I ate 60-cent burritos in the farmers' market; I spotted A-list stars at beachside caf├ęs; I enjoyed sunsets at Santa Monica pier.

I became hooked on the unbelievable outlet shopping. (If you go, I highly recommend visits to Carlsbad and Cabazon.)

I bought into the sexiness of this place, where you find more fantastic gorgeousness (real and acquired) and weird absurdity than anywhere on the planet.

I ignored early misgivings.

I'm South Asian and hairy in some unfortunate locations, so I went for laser treatment. The dermatologist, whose face was shiny and tight like Saran Wrap, said I needed Restylane injections to destroy my wrinkles.

"Dude, I'm only 35," I said.

The word "dude" should have been an indication that I'd lost it. To make myself feel better, I went to Neiman Marcus and bought an $80 pot of cream blush.

Last May, I had my baby boy in a Newport Beach hospital. Half of the maternity ward overlooked the Pacific Ocean. Hunched over from contractions, I lurched through the hallways gasping, "A view. I want a room with a view."

Hispanic cleaners scurried to tidy up a labour-and-delivery suite. I was a monster.

About a month later, over lunch at a cheap Mexican restaurant, my girlfriend suggested I upgrade my wedding ring. "Why don't you get a three-carat diamond? I know a great place near 7th and Hill."

I plucked my $290 Versace sunglasses out of my $1,200 Jimmy Choo clutch and huffed out of there. "How dare she suggest that?" I muttered, as my $400 Prada slides click-clacked on the sidewalk. "My ring was 12 grand!"

On the way home, I passed a squadron of moms in Mercedes SUVs driving their preteens to cheerleading practice. One girl was whining, "I want to be famous when I grow up." As if that was a viable career option. Thanks, Paris Hilton.

The breaking point was the 3 a.m. online shopping splurge. I bought an LV bag with a matching wallet - as I nursed my newborn. A year earlier, I'd invested in a massive Gucci hobo. But I've used it for overnight trips, as a diaper bag and as a briefcase, so it's totally, like, worth it.

It was time to burn my Chanel straitjacket. I packed up my things and flew north. I'm temporarily staying near Toronto with family. God bless them for welcoming my insufferable arse back.

I'm looking for full-time work in the city and trying to find decent daycare. My husband, Danial, is commuting from L.A. to Toronto while we plan our future.

Turns out, when you need to detox from being a shopaholic, there really is no place like (a sensible, Canadian) home. There is a lot more to existence than great purchases, eternal sunshine and access to celebrities. My son needed a good role model, not to mention a university fund.

Now, I only shop online for special occasions. Our wedding anniversary is around the corner and I do have a birthday this year, so I'll get something sparkly. On sale, of course.

In the meantime, call me if you need recommendations on L.A.'s hotels and shopping. I know where Lindsay Lohan and Kim Kardashian sell their designer outfits and handbags. And log onto Zappos.com, Bluefly.com or eluxury.com if you need ... Oh, never mind.

Amber Nasrulla lives in Orange County, Calif.

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