It always amazes me how open women can be. Even when we don't know each other we are capable of confiding the most intimate and disturbing things. As in, "Yeah, things have been pretty rough. My husband ran off with the nanny." I can't tell you how many women have told me some version of this story lately. I was in the gym recently and ran into the 60-something mother of an acquaintance. She insisted on telling me, even as she was about to pass out on the Stairmaster, that a couple I vaguely know just split up because the husband ran off with a younger woman. When I worked at a newspaper, I used to think reporters were unmatched at gossip and information. But the traveling mom grapevine is peerless.
The other night I had to drive the 13-year-old to a friend's who lives on the other side of town. Since we live within a football toss of the Rose Bowl, this meant a long and tortuous odyssey through Koreatown and Hollywood. Now that she's at a Catholic girls' school in Hollywood not a single one of her friends lives nearby. This is typical teen social life in LA. The 15-year-old is always accusing me of hating driving. "Your point is?" I say icily. Needless to say I was not happy to be speeding along Beverly Boulevard on a Friday night in a hailstorm dodging potholes. "The only reason I'm taking you," I grumbled to my daughter, "is because it's Liv's birthday tomorrow and you've got another party to go to." "Thank you, mom," she said sweetly.
My daughter's friend lives in a charming neighborhood near Hancock Park, which is where Old LA Money live. Although our daughters are close I'd never met her mother. We'd only spoken a few times on the phone, including when she took a pack of excitable girls to a movie set where they got to meet -- swoon -- Jake Gyllenhaal. I thought I should make an effort. Show I had some manners. So I escorted my daughter to the front door.
Within seconds the girls had disappeared and the mom and I were standing in her cozy living room bonding. Laughing and gabbing like sisters. Had I seen that article in the morning paper about the tuition at LA's elite private schools? Could you believe it? $25,000?! How obscene! Boy, did we feel smug! Sending our daughters to a school that cost barely a third that. And one that didn't have a parking lot full of BMWs and Mercedes. And those were just the high schoolers' cars!
One of the schools, a snooty rich girls' school, was in this woman's neighborhood.
I cracked up when she told me how the local moms shun her because "everyone" is supposed to send their daughters there. "I love being an outcast!" she said gleefully. Which endeared me to her even more.
The mom had had a friend over and she joined us from the dining room. She told me she was a teacher on the Westside and rolled her eyes. As in, absent parents and wealthy Hollywood brats. Parents in LA obsess over public and private schools because unlike the stereotypes about Los Angeles we're insanely competitive and driven. They asked me where the 15-year-old goes and I told them a long tragic story about how he'd been at one of the "good" public high schools but how I'd had to extricate him because of the crystal meth epidemic and the inability of the administration to apparently keep track of students.
"Oh, it's everywhere," the friend sighed when I expressed my dismay over the rampant availability of meth in public schools. Just this week the daughter of a parent she knew -- a nice girl, an honors student -- had been busted for tweaking. She was now in rehab. She then told us that at certain prep schools on the Westside meth is the drug of choice for girls. "They like it because it helps them lose weight," she said.
So what was the school doing about it? This school that charges the same tuition as an Ivy League college? Alerting parents to the problem? Calling in drug counselors? Not exactly.
Putting their heads in the sand, this woman said. That's what.
Maybe these schools should stop hiking their tuition to pay for cultural exchanges in Paris and state-of-the-art video studios and focus their attention on keeping their students from destroying themselves.
Thank god for the mom grapevine or I wouldn't have a clue.