The unspeakable lured by the unreadable

I try not to to be too hard on hack writers most of the time. It’s hard to make a living in journalism, and a lot of jobs are at boring and stultifying industry house organs or shilltalk ad rags. These are people who wanted to be ink-stained front page reporters or film critics and they get to write about aluminum foil or fabulous getaway weekends. Sometimes, though, they cross a line. This piece, from a credit card company’s luxury travel magazine, is… well, I’ll pay you a quarter if you read the whole thing straight through. It’s for our local South County seaside resort, and the writers decided that instead of the usual luxury porn template that bored them so, they’d use an alternative literary form for thier puff piece: A film script! Because that’s what they really wanted to do anyway.

Montage: A Love Story
Now playing for an unlimited engagement: Montage Resort & Spa in Laguna Beach, California. An original screenplay conceived, experienced and written by Devin Freedman and Danielle Pergament

Fade in. It’s a sparkling southern California day. A nondescript white rental car pulls into the
palm tree–lined brick driveway of Montage Resort & Spa, which opened in Laguna Beach in
February 2003. It’s the kind of place Demi Moore goes to, also the kind of place where Demi
Moore’s daughter has her birthday party (there’s a kids’ pool). After a period of searing hotness,
it has become a classic, part of the luxury landscape.

TWO CLEAN-CUT BLOND DOORMEN rush to open the car doors. DEVIN and DANIELLE emerge, looking tired, rumpled, and pale. Empty fast-food containers spill out from the passenger’s side. An EAGER YOUNG MAN in a crisp pair of khaki pants greets them at the hotel entrance.

Mr. Friedman? Ms. Pergament? Welcome to the Montage. Chip and Skip will take care of your bags. Just follow me.

Eager Young Man leads them through a sprawling lobby. It looks like an Arts and Crafts–era living room on steroids: impossibly big, bright, with an endless spread of cushiony chairs and ottomans, framed prints of boats, and volumes of books that no one will ever read. There’s a huge fireplace, and throughout the resort many more fireplaces than should be legal in an area so prone to forest fires. Across from the entrance, Devin and Danielle see a window of similar scale that overlooks the entire property. From where they’re standing, they can make out the tops of palm trees and the rolling Pacific Ocean and happy little sailboats bobbing therein.

We are actually on the fifth floor. The rest of the hotel is below us, built into the mountainside. (Camera pans in on Eager’s fast-moving mouth as Devin and Danielle tune out.) And now I am saying many facts and figures that you will not remember because I am talking fast and you are slightly addled from the flight and all the sunshine, as you are from New York and seasonally depressed.

Devin and Danielle stand transfixed at the window. ANOTHER COUPLE is also taking in the view, as are a GROUP OF TOURISTS, people who aren’t staying at the hotel but come in droves to see the property. Below, the world of Montage unfolds—an enormous infinity pool surrounded by rows of beige-cushioned deck chairs, a flagstone patio where tan blond people eat lunch beneath large white umbrellas, a whirlpool, a separate (unused) lap pool, mazes of hedges trimmed at 90-degree angles, aprons of kelly-green grass cut to golf-course length. All this cradles a village of cedar-shingled, white-trimmed bungalows that hold 262 rooms and a few restaurants, the whole thing a biosphere of gentle sun-dappled perfection: Montageville, tucked into the last developable swath of coastline this side of Mexico. Even the Pacific, crashing into Hitchcockian cliffs, seems to have been drawn in by the landscape architect. With hills shrouding the place, one would have no idea (save a smudge of gray air to the north) that Los Angeles lay just beyond, and America beyond that, and beyond that, presumably, a whole world of people with problems.

And now if you’ll just come with me, I’ll show you to your cabana.

Cut to bungalow 7322, a short while later. An ATTRACTIVE 30-YEAR-OLD BELLMAN in the regulation Montage golf shirt and saddle shoes ferries the bags as Eager Young Man shows Devin and Danielle their new digs. The cabana, a sizable chunk of one of the shingled houses, is built for a family of four. Two bathrooms, two balconies that give onto ocean views, a gas fireplace, a home theater system, a bed somehow bigger than king-size (emperor-size?), everything decorated in crisp white and green.

Where are the rose petals?



Danielle can’t sleep in a bed without rose petals. (Laughs at own joke.)

Fade in. Devin and Danielle are seated at a corner table in the lovely softly lit Studio restaurant in a house on the edge of a cliff. In the center is a glass-encased cellar, rows of bottles on display like Lenin in his tomb. A group of SLICK HOLLYWOOD TYPES sits to the north of Devin and Danielle, the women tan with buoyant breasts and high-carat rings, the men slightly bored-looking with mock turtlenecks and thick hair. BLACK-SUITED WAITERS pass silently through the doorways between the bar and dining area, a SOMMELIER speaks in a hushed tone to an elderly couple, and outside the sun is setting, on schedule, over the dark ocean. A seagull flutters past the window, catching sunlight in his wings. (Okay, maybe we made up the seagull.)

I don’t know how long I can last. I’m pretty jet-lagged.

Me too. Let’s just have a quick dinner.


Maybe a salad.

A WAITER approaches and distributes the menus. The chef, wearing a white jacket stitched with the words JAMES BOYCE, EXECUTIVE CHEF, stops by the table.

Maybe you’d like the eight-course tasting menu?


Would you like wine pairings with each course?

Why not!

Dissolve to Devin and Danielle, who have finished their first course.

That Pacific oyster trifecta was good. I get so depressed when I get oysters only one way.

And the sommelier was right. This Napa Chardonnay really does make the seared Maine diver scallops sparkle.

Dissolve to Devin and Danielle’s table, 30 minutes later. The third course appears. They applaud. Three wineglasses are lined up before them.

Do you think too much truffle could kill you?

Dissolve to Devin and Danielle’s table, another 30 minutes later. Five empty wineglasses mark their progress.

To pan-seared Sonoma duck breast and pickled cherry ravioli!


Cut to Devin and Danielle as they enter their cabana. Rose petals are strewn across the bed.

We need to teach these Californians about sarcasm.

Fade in. It’s a cloudless morning. Devin and Danielle (from an aerial view) walk down a stone path toward the spa. As they pass HOTEL EMPLOYEES, each worker stops, faces them, smiles broadly with what appears to be genuine pleasure, and waits until the two pass before continuing on his or her appointed errand. The idea, apparently, is that no guest shall be reminded that people are working, that there exist exigencies, or that there is anything more important than providing him or her a moment of cheerfulness.

Cut to the spa’s reception area. Tables overflow with bath and body wares for sale—candles, crystal bowls of potpourri, snuggly-looking slippers, pumice stones, sea salts, tubs of slimy green stuff, tubs of slimy brown stuff, bars of soap wrapped too beautifully to ever use, hairbrushes, hand cream, foot cream, body cream, eye cream, face cream, hair cream, and breath mints. TWO CHIPPER WOMEN greet Devin and Danielle at a mahogany desk.

Mr. Friedman, Ms. Pergament. Welcome.

Let’s see. Mr. Friedman, we have the gentlemen’s hot-towel facial for you this morning. And Ms. Pergament, I see you’re going to be having an antiaging facial. If you’ll just follow me….

The next hours consist of a great many spa activities. This is illustrated by the following montage sequence (no pun intended), similar to those in romantic comedies. But instead of going on cozy Ferriswheel rides and sharing ice-cream cones, the lovers put on disposable spa underwear and get pedicures. “Isn’t It Romantic?” by Ella Fitzgerald plays throughout.

Fade in. Devin is in the men’s relaxation room, wearing a huge fluffy robe and reading a newspaper before a fireplace. The amber open-roof marble chamber includes a steam room, a stone whirlpool the size of a small pool, a cold-water plunge, and a sauna. The door opens. The lilting voice of an AESTHETICIAN is heard.

Mr. Friedman? I’m Vanessa. Follow me and I’ll take you to your hot-towel facial.

Cut to the women’s relaxation room. Danielle sits surrounded by NAKED SPAGOERS proudly displaying the finest breasts money can buy in southern California. Three blondes stand at waist level in the stone pool giggling and talking about their breasts. Other, even more impressive breasts pass behind and in front of Danielle, the camera staying at the level of her face as she reads her newspaper. ANOTHER AESTHETICIAN enters.

Ms. Pergament? My name’s Robin. Are you ready to get started?

Cut to extreme close-up of Devin’s face. The camera focuses on a pair of hands rubbing a clear serum on his forehead.

You have a few blackheads in your T-zone. Would you like me to extract? (Devin’s eyes become saucers of molten fear.)

Cut to identical extreme close-up of Danielle’s face.


Well, Ms. Pergament, that was the marine serum, which complements the red algae mask we used earlier by fighting free radicals. I’m finishing off with another few drops of the oxygenated renewal complex. So I’ll leave the room now; just be sure not to get up too quickly and drink plenty of water today.


Ms. Pergament? Ms. Pergament? (A tiny snore issues from Danielle’s mouth.)

Cut to Devin, his feet in a tub of foamy water as a PEDICURIST arranges her instruments.


If you buff off my calluses, does that make me gay?

Cut to the workout area, where Devin is balancing on a large blue ball as he passes a small red medicine ball back and forth to his TRAINER, a compact Hawaiian woman.

Cut to the Pilates studio. Danielle is on her back, sweating, legs straight up in the air while her INSTRUCTOR smiles.

Cut to a Vichy shower room, where Danielle is lying down. Sunlight filters in over a beautiful sandstone wall that separates the room from the grounds of the spa. Wearing only the disposable underwear provided by the spa, she is being scrubbed with mineral salts by an UNNAMED AESTHETICIAN.

Cut to Devin, who is getting a belly massage from a MASSEUSE.

It seems that your liver function could be better.

Tell that to your sommelier.

Cut to Danielle, in her Vichy room, having her body smeared with a slimy green algae paste. She wrinkles her nose at the smell.

Cut to another Vichy shower room. Devin, also in disposable underwear, is lying down as ANOTHER AESTHETICIAN smears a thick paste of clay-algae mixture onto his body.

Cut to Danielle, still in the Vichy room, being wrapped in Mylar.

Cut to Devin, in his Vichy room, also being wrapped in Mylar.

Cut to Danielle, lying peacefully, a placid Mylar burrito.

Cut to Devin, also a Mylar burrito.

AESTHETICIAN (offscreen)
I’ll be back to check on you in a few minutes. (Sound of the door closing. Ten seconds pass. Fifteen.)

Help! Get me out of here! I’ll talk. Do you hear me?! I’ll talk!

Cut to the patio of the Mosaic Bar and Grille. Devin and Danielle, still in bathrobes, which they refuse to change out of, laugh as they clink glasses of the Montage Bloody Mary, a drink stuffed with shrimp, celery, lemon wedges, olives, and green beans. The Pacific crashes joyously behind them.

Cut to the Mosaic, five minutes later. A WAITER laughs with Devin and Danielle as he brings them another round. He glances at the BARTENDER, who also laughs and gives them a wave. The bartender looks at the GUY ON THE LAWN MOWER, who chuckles heartily and winks at Devin and Danielle. The Lawn Mower Guy glances at a SEAGULL flying by and laughing and winking at Devin and Danielle, and the waiter and the bartender.

What a day!

The Seagull lands on Devin’s shoulder. Everyone, even the PEOPLE AT SURROUNDING TABLES, laughs, but no one harder than the Seagull, who is happy to put his divorce and career troubles behind him and enjoy the day.


Fade in. The Loft restaurant, the hotel’s more casual dining room with hardwood floors and men without jackets. Lots of LOCAL LAGUNA BEACHERS are eating dishes such as watermelon-radish salad. Outside on the balcony, other diners eat under heat lamps. A WAITRESS clears the last of Devin and Danielle’s plates.

Would you like to finish your meal at our cheese bar?

I would like to spend the rest of my life at your cheese bar.

Devin and Danielle step to a marble counter in front of the largest selection of cheese either of them has ever seen: blue ones, soft yellow ones, crumbling white ones, a few with brown, barklike rind, tiny white cheeses too precious to eat. A WOMAN WITH A CHERUBIC FACE AND BOTTICELLI CURLS deftly cubes and spears the cheese and hands it off to Devin and Danielle with the grace of a samurai. The Cherub pauses occasionally to recite the history of each offering (“sheep in Peru,” “goats in Spain,” “a single intelligent cow in the hills of Sardinia”). The Cherub beams. Devin and Danielle beam. Outside the Seagull glides by—beaming.


Devin and Danielle head to their room. As they walk down a hallway, a ROOM-SERVICE WAITER comes toward them with a tray of dishes. He stops, faces them, smiles. Devin also stops, faces him, smiles. Danielle takes a few steps onward while the two men continue to smile at each other. Several moments pass.


(His face frozen in a smile.) I’m not moving till he does.

Fade in. Devin and Danielle lie in bed, staring at the ceiling of their cabana and talking. Moonlight filters through the balcony door.


I did feel sort of like a human baton. To get from my room to the massage, I was led by the locker room attendant, who took me to the waiting room, where another woman showed me to the treatment room, where I finally met the aesthetician. Now if I don’t have someone to take me to the bathroom at dinner, I get terrified.

This type of service is actually having the opposite effect on me. Instead of feeling pampered and entirely satisfied, I feel more demanding than ever, like a Roman emperor. Caligula. It’s not enough to stop in your tracks and smile at my arrival! You should put your own eyes out at the glory of seeing me! You know, absolute service corrupts absolutely. (Pauses.) I was wrapped in an ice-cold water-soaked sheet today. While I was naked.


Supposed to be good for the circulation. And it actually jacks up your body temperature. Eventually. I felt pretty good afterward.

I’ll miss that hydrotherapy tub. You can’t deny the power of getting an underwater massage while wearing a paper bikini. I feel like a Dickens character—I tasted the delicious feast, felt the warm hearth, and now I’m being forced back into a cold, blustery night.

Can I knit the names of people I want to kill in a guillotine?

Shut up.

Fade in. Devin and Danielle are at the front desk, where a BEAUTIFUL BLONDE attends to them and glances briefly at a slip of paper taped to her computer screen. A new employee, she is memorizing a series of Montage phrases: “Absolutely! I can help you with that! May I place you on a brief hold?”

Cut to inside the rental car. Devin and Danielle look around and realize it has been cleaned. Even your car leaves here a little shinier, more relaxed. Perhaps it too was wrapped in a cold, wet sheet.

I always wonder how long the spa experience really lasts. You spend a few days there and five minutes later you’re back in traffic, feeling homicidal, getting wrinkles! I think I feel a blackhead forming.

At least we’re taking a little bit of the Montage home with us.

Like the shampoo I stole from the bathroom?

Devin winks at Danielle then gestures to the backseat, where the Seagull is strapped in, reading a copy of Bergdorf Blondes.


Rooms at Montage Resort & Spa are from $595 to $5,200. Spa treatments range from $35 to $340. For reservations, call 866-271-6953 or visit

23 thoughts on “The unspeakable lured by the unreadable

  1. I got about halfway through before parts of my body began exhibiting auto-immune response and I passed out. My spleen still kind of hurts, but I think overall I am ok.
    This article should be classified as a munition and/or a cruel and unusual punishment.

    1. Halfway? Jesus, I didn’t even get two pages in before my eyes revolted and began wandering in opposite directions. But hey, there’s a kiddie pool.

      1. You know, I don’t really remember. Copied it off someone else a couple of years ago. It’s just so evocative at moments like these.

  2. Who the hell reads an American Express magazine in the first place? As silly as we all might think this article is, I bet it does well with its intended AmEx Platinum Card ‘readership’.
    What I did like about this is that it is not a fulff piece. They are harsh in several places about the resort, and it is obvious that the writers had a hard time taking any of it very seriously. But they did convey what a couple nights staying there would be like.
    And the cheese bar rocks!

    1. You’re right about the readership. I read some of the letters to the editor and, well.
      Espresso Machines
      I thoroughly enjoyed the article “Machine Made” [November/December 2005], but in my opinion you excluded one of the finest espressomakers on the market today—the Olympia Cremina. Handmade in Switzerland, it is the most exclusive lever machine money can buy. Only a very limited number of them are produced for export to the United States and the quality of construction is incredible. Most important, though, is the perfect cup of espresso it brews—rich, smooth, and with incredible crema. I have found that machines by La Pavoni, Gaggia, and La Cimbali all pale in comparison to the Cremina.
      Eric Haeberli
      San Francisco, CA

    2. What I did like about this is that it is not a fluff piece.
      You’ve spent a few years in marketing, haven’t you? Time for Outward Bound for Kenn!

      1. you have a point…I certainly read this as if I were responsible for analyzing the publication from within…which is essentially what I do for a living now.

  3. One hundred quarters an hour
    Though I have never edited anything quite like that piece, I see a lot of this type of publication at Revenant Communications. This is what I mean when I refer to “magazine-shaped objects.”

  4. died after reading the ‘word’ “SPA-TACULAR”. His estate will be contacting you shortly concerning litigation for damages.

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