Hollywood: Cracks in a Flawless World: An Afternoon Among Influencers

On the roof of the Petit Ermitage hotel in Hollywood, a gray-white puff of clouds moves in front of the sun.

Hollywood: Cracks in a Flawless World: An Afternoon Among Influencers

On the roof of the Petit Ermitage hotel in Hollywood, a gray-white puff of clouds moves in front of the sun. “Please come back, dear sun,” says Shayna, whining a little, narrowing her eyes and pulling a fluffy blanket over her naked upper body. “Have you ever had your nipples sunburned?” she asks someone over me.

Shayna closes her eyes and runs her hands through her long, brown hair, the ends of which are dyed strawberry blonde. The three of us sit and lie on a massive chaise longue, actually a double bed, American-sized, sunk into earth-colored cushions that look like Morocco and feel like five-star luxury. A hotel employee brings two heaters with flames blazing. He looks like a model, wearing very white shorts and dark Anderson Paak sunglasses, has dyed light blonde hair and a perfectly even complexion.

A woman with honey-colored corkscrew curls invited me to the hotel roof. We had met a few days earlier in the café around the corner. I liked her sunglasses, which had pink and heart-shaped lenses. We exchanged numbers and, contrary to prejudiced warnings from my German friends about the unbearable non-committal nature of Americans, she answered and invited me to meet her on Friday afternoon. She and a few of her friends would be working remotely on the roof of a hotel in Hollywood. What do you work from the hotel pool, I ask myself, and then she does too in an awkward message, rounded off with a “haha”. Corkscrew replies something about social media and “Onlyfans” and I don’t understand what she means.

What she means is that she makes money from content on social networks. Onlyfans is primarily known for erotic content behind a paywall. Corkscrew creates content about everything: festivals, outfits, music. She used to be a sex worker.

So Friday afternoon I park on a steeply sloping road in the Hollywood Hills. It is so dark in the entrance area of ​​the hotel that I have to blink briefly as I enter the pleasantly cool and strangely quiet lobby. It feels exclusive. “Who are you here with?” asks the concierge. I hadn't remembered Corkscrew's name. "Ah, Susan?" My name is on a list. Something like a curtsy escapes my lips, then I take a wood-paneled elevator to the fourth floor of the hotel, hoping no one notices that I have 900 followers on Instagram and not 325K.

It's spectacular on the roof: palm trees, pool and three steps up to a kind of stage with four chaise longues. Corkscrew greets me friendly and gestures for me to sit down. She points to the others in turn and routinely lists names. There are other people lying around us on other loungers, all of them beautiful, almost all of them with laptops on their laps. Nobody looks at me directly. A woman in a hat snaps her head around and opens her eyes: "I thought you were my cousin!"

People look at screens and occasionally talk. Corkscrew says she left a $200 tip yesterday; 100 for the Uber driver and 100 for a waiter. "It always comes back to you somehow, and I have more than enough," she says. Then she shows me pictures from her vacation in Mexico last week. She swipes through photos of her and her friends doing a spontaneous nude shoot in the Mexican hotel pool. There are ancient-looking naked bodies leaning against antique-looking columns, like plants sprouting from the ground. Then it's about her birthday party, she wants to have a themed party: "Goddesses", or something like that. I say: It's great that you can use your working time to plan your birthday.

I ask Shayna about her life. She is studying, her parents would want it that way. Otherwise, she surfs a lot in Malibu and sometimes happens to meet Spiderman actor Andrew Garfield there. She talks quickly and has a cheeky manner that is personable and direct. The conversation turns into awkward smiles, falters and ends, and I wonder what I'm actually doing here.

A few minutes later the sun breaks through the clouds again. I turn around and stretch a little to let my gaze wander over the hills and houses of this city. The sun covers the hills, the coastal strip with the lapping waves, the leaves of the palm trees with an ever-golden filter. Shayna pulls back the blanket.

Corkscrew holds her iPhone in front of her face and records a TikTok, as she spontaneously announces. It's about vegan leather and how it's not sustainable because real leather lasts longer, and that's something to think about. Appreciative head nod. A very thin woman with Anna Wintour bangs says: "One-Take? Respect."

No response, unimpressed scrolling. Then Corkscrew begins: "I've been studying Buddhism lately. And it's all about the fact that you have to live in the now. Because everything that makes your life bad lies in expectations. Expectations of the future." You are allowed to have expectations, but actually not, because you have to let them go in order to live in the now.

I nod politely, unsure if I was being spoken to. Perfect bangs from the lounger opposite points out that everyone experiences sadness differently and that everyone's dreams are individual. Shayna pulls a book out of her bag and places it next to her. I read the cover. It's about how society has taught us to hate ourselves.

At one point, Corkscrew places a hand on her lower abdomen and exhales audibly. She shifts back and forth on the lounger in her bikini and I ask if she has any abdominal pain. She says something like, oh, it's okay, and then, "It's just because of the abortion," and laughs tonelessly. Then it briefly turns to the man she is no longer with and I don't remember anything about our conversation, only that I ask her if she liked him.

I still don't understand why I'm here or what's being done, but I don't dare ask either. Nobody speaks to me like that either. As if my presence was normal, as if I were not a stranger. Who knows how often someone sits here and watches Corkscrew and their friends working or living or creating content.

Later, Corkscrew gives a tour of the depths of the hotel, talking about the art in the corridors, the graffiti and light installations. The Anderson Paak model brings fries and avocado sandwiches. Someone pays the bill. Corkscrew disappears after she folds the used blankets. She cleans up like the roof is her living room. At some point Hut's cousin actually comes and sits on the huge lounger next to Shayna and me, where everyone else is now lying all over the place under the same blanket, about six people.

People talk about tattoos - Pony has a semicolon on his wrist. Her second life began a year and a half ago. The triangle on my wrist triggers cheers because it is isosceles and at the same time not. My wrist is moved up and down and passed around. The boyfriend of perfect bangs has a very symmetrical face and a weakness for geometry. His eyes widen with excitement.

“What does your butterfly mean?” he asks Shayna, still excited. She says: "My best friend and I, we have the same tattoo, it just represents us." After a short pause, Shayna says, "She died last November." A gust of wind passes over the moment on the roof terrace, quiet voices murmur condolences. "Who was your girlfriend?" asks Pony. When Shayna says her name, she and her boyfriend look at each other meaningfully. This time I won't ask.

The group decides to go to a spa in Koreatown. I'll take Shayna with me in the car. We stop at a traffic light and I say I'm sorry about her friend. Then I excuse myself with a headache and drive home in front of the sunset backdrop. I park on my street, take out the key and sit in the car for a long time with the door open.

Online I find articles in the LA Times about Shayna's friend and scroll across the screen in silence, reading. She was a model, 24 years old. She was at a party and went home with a friend to acquaintances from the film industry. “A group of masked men in an unmarked vehicle,” as the article states, dumped them unconscious in front of a clinic hours later. She is declared dead. Three men were arrested shortly afterwards on suspicion of manslaughter.

My head is pounding as the sun sets and I see my street glow gold one last time in the rearview mirror. I swipe through photos and stories on Shayna's Instagram account, follow her with one click, and put my phone on airplane mode.