Crash the party, break the law

A few years ago, I was at a kicking Grammy Awards party in a Los Angeles mansion hosted by music company EMI, which was then in the midst of a ditched merger dance with Warner Music. As a journalist covering the merger, I was on the List, and my privileged status granted me access to the cordoned-off VVIP level, which featured better drinks, bigger shrimp and prettier people. Then, to my consternation, I discovered that there was somewhere even better—a VVVIP third level so rarefied that even the top execs of EMI and Warner had trouble talking their way in. It was accessible only via a staircase guarded by burly dudes with earpieces.

As the suits disappeared up that stairway and I was left behind, all the free drinks and Hollywood dazzle in the room seemed subpar and desolate. I made it my mission to get past that velvet rope to see what was happening upstairs. Eventually, there was some kind of random distraction and I climbed over a banister and made my way up. Once there, I grabbed a drink, tried to blend in and found … not much of anything. About 30 famous people were sitting around—Courtney Love, Lenny Kravitz and billionaire Paul Allen among them. But beyond its specialness, there was really nothing special about it. I went up to Simon Le Bon from Duran Duran and said hello. He smiled wanly.

The lesson, of course, was that the real thrill was in the act of getting in somewhere that I wasn’t allowed and didn’t belong. The risk was that I would be tapped on the shoulder and denied or, worse, tossed to the curb.

Now a proposed law is making its way to the California Senate that threatens to take all the fun out of party-crashing by making it illegal, punishable by a $1,000 fine or six months in jail. The state law, introduced by an assemblyman whose district includes the Rose Bowl and who used to work in the entertainment industry, has been greeted outside California with the usual hoots—is this what those West Coast looneybirds are wasting their time on while their economy is teetering on collapse, their school system is in ruin and their health care is a disaster?

My first instinct on hearing of this was to think of a whole new category of Hollywood party–related legislation, covering everything from annoying cell-phone banter to bad outfits to overpriced valet parking. And yet the proposal is not as ludicrous as it might sound.

Unlike New York, where people have a grudging respect for personal space (because there is so little of it), the Los Angeles events-and-party industrial complex has a long history of people who don’t understand boundaries, from paparazzi and TMZ camera crews to celebrity-crazed fans. This has been a boon for private security forces, but apparently this new law stems from an incident at the Screen Actors Guild Awards last year, where some unruly people snuck in and were arrested but there was no form of trespass as defined by California law with which they could be easily charged. Apparently, these laws predate Brangelina and date to an age when disputes about rural land were at issue. For example, there are forms of trespass defined under the law for cutting down wood, leaving gates open or carrying away oysters (presumably not off of a buffet table).

I spoke with Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-Pasadena, and he made a reasoned argument for the change, calling it “a flaw in the law that needed to be corrected.” But I asked him if he’d ever known the shivery thrill of sneaking into a party where he didn’t belong—the equivalent of asking if he’d ever inhaled. “I’ve never broken into an awards show,” Portantino said. Ah, that explains it.

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