I'd like to clear up a popular misconception: A person does not lose a brain cell for every day they spend in California. They lose several brain cells.

After visiting L.A. for a week, I am now walking around acting as if I'd had a personality transplant. My vocabulary is stunted, and I've lost my repartee. I have a glazed look in my eyes from drinking too much carrot juice. Why, I'm not even sarcastic anymore since I've been California-ized.

California folks are different. They are terminally laid back and, frankly, I wasn't prepared. I'm used to the East Coast way of doing things. My conversational style changed dramatically once the HOLLYWOOD sign greeted me. Even grocery shopping was a new experience.

EAST COAST SUPERMARKET

Me: "Could you please direct me to the bottled water aisle?"

Clerk: "Whaddayawant, seltzer or still?"

Me: "Natural spring water from the mountain streams of the French Alps."

Clerk: "Look, lady, I'm not a hydraulic expert. I don't know from designer water."

Me: "All I'm asking is what aisle should I go to?"

Clerk: (Shouting over to guy in the next aisle) "Hey Joe, the customer wants to know where she should go for water." Joe: (shouting back): "To the beach."

L.A. SUPERMARKET

Me: "Could you please direct me to the bottled water aisle?"

Clerk: "Certainly. If you're looking for a domestic brand, you'll find it in aisle 5. If, however, you're a person who favors imported water, you'll want aisle 6. If your preference is seltzer, it will be in aisle 7. May I assist you in your decision-making, and follow you to the aisle of choice so you won't have to transport the bottles by yourself?"

Me: "Huh?" Dialogue is another glaring difference. I wasn't accustomed to conversing L.A. style.

EAST COAST BOUTIQUE

Me: "Can you help me?"

Salesperson: "Gee, I'd like to, but I'm just about to take my coffee break? Can you come back in 15 minutes when I'm on a caffeine high, and feel more energetic?"

L.A. BOUTIQUE

Me: "How much is the beige linen jacket in the window?"

Salesperson: "$150. It also comes in lavender, peach, mauve and puce. They're really neat, aren't they? Shall I show you one?"

Me: "Neat."

Salesperson: "Try the lavender. With your coloring, it's a natural. Very cool."

Me: "Yes, I agree. Both cool and neat."

Salesperson: "Shall we consider it a sale?"

Me: "Yes, and I'd like to wear it now."

Salesperson: "Neat. I'll snip the tag and you're on your way."

Me: "Awesome ... I mean cool ... oops, what I meant to say is: neat."

Californians are into body image. Exercise and eating healthy are a way of life. The restaurants presented me with a list of culinary choices.

EAST COAST RESTAURANT

Me: "I'd like alfalfa sprouts, baby spinach, roasted peppers and goat cheese on pita bread with a glass of mineral water with cracked ice and a slice of orange."

Waiter: "Sorry, we don't serve rabbit food here. What do you think this is ... California?"

L.A. RESTAURANT

Waiter: "Let me recite the specials of the day. I'm really an actor so it's good to practice my lines. Today, the chef has prepared an arugula and black bean soup followed by a fig and artichoke salad. Our entrée today is poached tofu served on a bed of alfalfa sprouts with pea pods and water chestnuts paired with a side of mashed yams."

Me: "I'll have a rare cheeseburger with French fries and a Coke."

Waiter: (near collapse): "OMG, bring me the smelling salts."

Since I've returned home, I've become disgustingly polite. I talk differently, and my repertoire includes such phrases as: "Keep smiling. Get a load of my new roller blades. I'm thinking of increasing my vitamin intake. Please pass the high-fiber mescaline muffins. Do you think I'd look good as a blonde? Surfing anyone?"

Friends say things are getting a bit out of hand, and that I'm not the same person they used to know. I'm losing my caustic edge since I've mellowed out, and decided to go with the flow.

My best friend says: "Since you've come back from L.A. you've become ... well, how shall I say it ... very nice."

"Neat," I say, pouring myself a glass of beet and cilantro puree with a loganberry chaser.

Westporter Judith Marks-White shares her humorous views every Wednesday in the Westport News. She can be reached via e-mail at joodth@snet.net or at www.judithmarks-white.com.