As a Mom with school-age children, the last week of August always tastes bittersweet. With Labor Day just around around the corner, I take stock of all the things I vowed to do with the kids during the indolent days that seemed to spiral dreamily into infinity when the boys got sprung from textbooks last June. Ruefully I tally up how few of them we actually accomplished. Of course, summer isn’t a competitive sport, and its allure lies in how unstructured and lazy the season can be compared with our usual over-scheduled lives. But I’m also torn. Shouldn’t we make hay? And so we run around town frantically, trying to squeeze every last golden drop of juice out of the final days. And then we collapse.
We didn’t make it to the Hollywood Bowl this summer, or to the Skirball for their musical evenings. We vowed but failed to get to Magic Mountain, and now it may mushroom into a housing development before the boys ever see it and I re-live my Valley Girl youth. We didn’t go to the beach nearly enough. Will Greer’s Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga beckoned, but somehow we never bought tickets. The L.A. Zoo has a monthly outdoor sleepover that sounded perfect for balmy summer nights but by the time I tried to book, it was sold out until October.
The paths not taken beckon at every turn. Sunday night, we went to a members’ evening at the Huntington Library in San Marino to hear a chamber orchestra and stroll the vast grounds at dusk. The serenity was beguiling. Why didn’t we do this more often this summer, I ask my friend as our kids chase dragonflies and examine Venus flytraps.
That velvety evening was the perfect tonic to Friday, when we drowned in the sensory overload of Universal Studios and I marveled at the visitors who come from around the world to see where movies are made. We’ve visited Universal six times this summer because we’ve got an annual pass, but we’re the type that management must hate: we bring our own sandwiches and fruit, wear out the attractions by riding Revenge of the Mummy seven times in a row and don’t buy souvenirs. Why should we? We’re blasé Angelenos who already live in the movie-making capital of the world.
So what did we do this summer? The kids had lots of play dates and parties and swam in a jillion pools. They went to day camp and saw a matinee at the Pantages and ate Indian food and collected just-laid eggs from a henhouse and took hikes and swatted tennis balls. They drew pictures and wrote stories and read books for the Claws, Paws, Scales and Tails summer reading program, which culminated in a magic show at our local library. My 10-year-old learned how to remove ticks from our dog. My 8-year-old discovered the Goosebumps books. And yeah, they probably watched too much TV and spent too much time clutching videogame controllers. But they don’t get to do that much during the school year.
Tomorrow we’re headed to Sea World and Legoland. I’ve got to speak at an author luncheon down that way so it’s a good opportunity to mix business and pleasure. Besides, sometimes it’s fun being a tourist on your own home turf. Come Tuesday morning, reality will hit, and even though our mini-van won’t turn into a pumpkin, Halloween IS just around the corner. And that’s a scary thought.
The first time I tried to surf I was 12 and had recently moved to South Florida from one of the fly-over states. I took a bus with my friend to the beach, rented a board two feet longer than I was and had already worn myself out by the time I lugged it two blocks to the water. I didn’t catch any waves that day and frankly don’t remember much else about my experience, the best part being that I had done it at all and from that point on could tell people I had surfed.
Unfortunately, that didn’t earn me much juice from the kids on the school bus the next afternoon. One of them, Shea, overheard me casually mentioning my outing to the cutest girl on the bus and angrily challenged the notion that someone of my stature might have actually undertaken such a thing. Shea wasn’t a bully so much as a bully-wannabe. He was pudgy and tragically uncool, but he was in eighth grade, which put him a step higher on the junior-high food chain than I was.
“What beach did you go to?” he demanded.
“Oh yeah? I was at South Beach, and I didn’t see you there. How big were the waves?”
“About two feet,” I estimated.
“Bullshit. There were ripples about six inches.”
Despite the wave-measuring discrepancy, my cute friend graciously put Shea in his place by pointing out that I had no reason to lie and if I said I went surfing, that was that. The incident remains etched in my memory, probably because I learned two things from it that constitute pretty much everything I know about surfing your way to social success: One, bragging that you went surfing can be less cool than not going surfing at all, and two, challenging someone to prove that he went is even lamer than that.
I was thinking about all this yesterday when I went to Zuma for family day at Malibu Makos surf camp. It was one of those perfect, late summer, So Cal beach days, where you look around at all the physical and natural beauty surrounding you and you can’t help but feel a little sorry for everyone in the world who’s not you.
Makos throws this bash annually so parents can come share this heavenly hangout, eat good and plentiful food off the grill and chart their kids’ progress riding the waves. There are ample wetsuits available for people of every age and size who want to join in, adults included. Dozens of boogie- and surfboards dot the beach for the taking.
Watching the kids run in and out of the water, jumping on and off boards as if they were bikes or skateboards, then leaving them in the sand for someone else, it dawned on me that this is what’s cool about surfing. The effortlessness of it, the culture of it, the lack of self-consciousness about it. My kids won’t be bragging about this experience any more than they’d brag about soccer camp or Pony League. They don’t know that Neil Young named an album for this beach, or that for eighty percent of the country, if not the world, a day like this is living the dream. This is just what they do.
I won’t say if I actually ventured into the cold, choppy water and tried, with my kids’ patient instruction, to mount a board or two. That would be uncool.
But, Shea, if you happen to be reading, I’ll tell you this: The waves were 4-6 feet. And the conditions were perfect.
Two years ago, I spent several days in China with Sumner Redstone, when we were both speaking at something called “The Golden Eagle Film and Television Festival.”
Now the truth is, the vaunted media mogul probably wouldn’t know who I was if he ran over me with his car on his way into the Paramount parking lot. (More on this in a moment.)
But in the entomology of Hollywood, this shared experience – this breathing of the same deeply polluted air in a city you’ve never heard of – now qualifies us as dear old friends.
As anyone who’s ever worked in Hollywood will tell you, the basic social contract (“Local Law #1”) is that nobody ever tells the truth, about anything.
Every script is brilliant; every film is going to be a blockbuster; every actor’s performance is inspired.
And when they’re not – and that malodorous whiff of canine is in the air – the minimum social requirement for survival is that you smile broadly, clap the victim on the back, and exclaim loudly “Congratulations! You’ve done it again!”
At least this was the way it was until yesterday, when my dear old pal Sumner broke not only Cruise’s production deal, but the basic social contract by stating Tom had "committed creative suicide," and that "his recent conduct has not been acceptable” to Paramount.
So what’s my point here?
Well, if there’s one other thing I know about Hollywood, it’s that as sure as one studio has a hit with a comic book, or a 60’s TV show – or as soon as one group of executives goes white water rafting, or an executive buys a Prius, or a even home in Idaho – the others will surely follow.
So after decades of polite lies, I can’t help but wonder if my friend Sumner is going to start a trend here.
Consider the following:
Oldspeak, Variety: “Stellar pictures unfurls production slate.”
Newspeak: “Wishful thinking: Six Paragraphs of hype, hope, and fictional deal making to follow.”
Oldspeak: “She was suffering from exhaustion.”
Newspeak: “She’s a drug-addled maniac.”
Oldspeak: “He left the project because of creative differences.”
Newspeak: “He demanded final cut, his ego was out of control, and he refused to meet the budget.”
Oldspeak: “He decided that in order to best serve his clients, he’s leaving the agency to set up a management company.”
Newspeak: “He was charging hookers and private jets to Vegas to the agency, so we booted him.”
Oldspeak: “He’s leaving the studio to pursue his original dream, which was making movies.”
Newspeak: “He couldn’t pick a winner if Steven Spielberg himself came in and pitched Jaws. So we threw his ass out of here.”
Oldspeak: “We love the pitch, but we have something just like it in development.”
Newspeak: “You're an overpriced hack.”
Oldspeak: “You were terrific in the audition, but they decided to go in a different direction.”
Newspeak: “You have no talent. But in the meantime, I’ll have the swordfish, grilled, no butter, with a small salad, and the dressing on the side.”
Oldspeak: “They loved your take, but they’ve decided to go with somebody else.”
Newspeak: “You’re 57, you haven’t directed a hit film in ten years, and there’s an MTV director they can control who offered to do it for half the price. And by the way, they also said you’re an overpriced hack who’s got no talent.”
Oldspeak: “I respect my competitors.”
Newspeak: “You know that sound - that 'thud-thud' you hear when you drive over the speed bumps in the studio parking lot? Well, every morning, when I hit them, I dream that it's Tom Rothman."
And finally, with the Emmy’s upon us:
Oldspeak: "It was an honor to be nominated."
Newspeak: "Only a bunch of out-of-touch star-struck jackasses could nominate someone who is on the screen for less than a minute. I'm pissed, I'm furious, and the network is going to pay for not taking out more full-page “For your consideration” ads it when it's contract renegotiation time."
Of course, there is one last point to be made here:
If there’s one other irrefutable law of Hollywood, it’s that sooner or later, everything old is new again. It’s all cyclical. Sit-coms will return; development deals will eventually be refunded; sooner or later, we’ll stop making movies with Roman numerals in the titles.
In fact, even my friend Redstone’s remarks are nothing but a throwback to the age of Sam Goldwyn. He too, told the truth, when he said of a writer:
“Get that bastard off the lot, now! I never want to see him again, until we need him!”
I'm in Prague on vacation with my family. We're almost half a world away. Nine hours ahead. Two flights, two surprisingly easy security checks, and two tedious gate delays from home. We're starting a tour that will take us down the Danube to Vienna and Budapest, though history and the Old World.
Last night we had dinner in a castle on the outskirts of Prague, filled with art hundreds of years old, including an original Mozart manuscript of "Don Giovanni."
We ate in a great room with views of the lush countryside at dusk. Our dinner companions were two couples in their late 60's who mostly spoke a language we couldn't understand.
Then, in perfect, accented English, one of the wives asked my wife, "Where are you from?"
"Los Angeles," she said.
"Yes. And where in Los Angeles?"
"Tarzana," my wife said, knowing how strange the name usually sounds to foreigners. "Tarzan with an 'a'."
"Hmm," said the woman.
"And you?" my wife asked.
It's the Valley's world. We just live in it.
First of all, let me apologize to the Dodgers and their fans. The team rarely wins when I’m in the stands, but sometimes I’m just selfish, okay? There, I’ve said it. I knew that going to the stadium today would probably kill the Blue Crew’s six-game winning streak (and 17 out of 18), but I just didn’t care. Not enough to stay home anyway.
I hadn’t seen them much this season, mainly because I live in Oak Park and I hate driving all the way across the Valley at rush hour to catch a seven o’clock start. Also because an evening at the ballpark has gotten pretty expensive—very expensive if you take your family, which I like to do, and if your kids feel it’s their God-given right to sit in the field boxes.
Plus, up until recently, the team was pretty uninspiring. I don’t mind seeing the Dodgers lose; they always do when I’m there, so I’ve gotten used to it. But I at least want to see some good baseball.
So today, with the team red hot and playing a day-game, and my work schedule curiously wide open, I invited my son to join me for a spontaneous trip to Chavez Ravine. Hate me if you must, but the Dodgers were up in the standings by three-and-a-half games; I figured one defeat wasn’t going to ruin their season.
Needless to say, their streak is now history, and their play was pretty awful too. But should you ever find yourself in a similar situation, be advised that it is possible to have a perfectly fine time, as I did.
1. Bring someone you hardly ever get a chance to talk to, either because he’s 14 and thinks you’ve been an adult all your life, or because he’d usually rather play video games than have a conversation. After a while you begin to feel almost like family.
2. Park outside the stadium. The walk is not much longer than it is from the parking lot, and the $10 fee you save will buy you most of a bag of peanuts. (NOTE: Don’t park outside the Sunset Blvd. entrance, which closes during the game at least some of the time.)
3. Show up a little late. If the Dodgers are already losing 4-0 when you get there in the first inning, you’ve pretty much avoided all the disappointment you’d be otherwise likely to face.
4. Buy your tickets from scalpers. Yep, that’s right. They’re mostly honorable and friendly; you’ll have a much wider seat selection than you would have any other way; and if you don’t show up before the first pitch (see Rule 3), you’ll pay less than face value for any game that’s not a sellout.
5. Sit wherever you like. Loge tickets allow you access to any seat in the stadium (except those in the luxury boxes), and Dodger ushers, bless them, don’t concern themselves with such matters. If you’re in someone’s seats, the late-comers will either ask you politely to move or they’ll find another place to sit.
6. Buy your guest whatever he wants to eat. The home team’s getting slaughtered; this isn’t a time to quibble over health or finances.
7. Think of fun ways to pass the time, like guessing whether Julio Lugo will make solid contact at the plate before booting his next groundball (not today, twice), or whether the Dodgers will have more errors than extra-base hits (tie).
8. Chat freely with those around you. This is an excellent opportunity to delve into the mindset of alcoholics and the unemployed.
9. When there’s little worth watching on the field, check out the various scoreboards. There’s more visual information on display at Dodger Stadium than at Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
10. Leave early. Yes, it’s tacky, but there is that traffic problem. The guideline here is, when Dodger position players start getting yanked from the game, it’s probably a good time for you to go too.
As a native Angeleno, I've seen a lot of things on the freeways. Driving back from San Pedro on the Harbor Freeway one night, a dark figure dashed across five lanes of traffic right in front of me, heading for the center divider. And no, this person wasn't returning to a stalled car; I didn't see any abandoned vehicles.
I'll never forget the white-haired gent in a top hat and frockcoat, straight-backed and pedalling hard on an upright bicycle along the shoulder of the 101 in North Hollywood one hot summer afternoon.
In high school, after our beach-bound car broke down along the 101 in Calabasas, some girlfriends and I decided to walk along the shoulder until we reached a callbox. A policeman pulled over and told us to get in the car. Having just smoked a doobie, we were paranoid and protested that we hadn't done anything to deserve arrest.
"But you're going to cause an accident parading down the freeway in your bikinis. Now get in and I'll drive you to a gas station," was his amused reply.
But perhaps the most horrifying thing I've seen recently was the guy with the sports motorcycle on the 134 Freeway near Glendale several Sundays ago, popping wheelies at 70 mph.
"Oh my god," I said, not believing my eyes. Then, as I watched in horror, he did it again, riding on his back wheel for a while before slamming back onto the asphalt, where he wobbled precariously before righting himself.
I was one lane away and one car back. The freeway was full but everyone was moving smoothly for once, a rare moment when the traffic flow exists in perfect and precarious alignment with the universe.
If this guy lost control and fell, the car behind would run him over. Or brake to avoid the downed rider, thus causing a pile-up behind HIM. Or veer into my lane and hit me. Any way you looked at it, the wheelie-popping biker's fall would create a multi-car collision that would put more people at risk than Mr. Moto had IQ points.
At that moment, I didn't really care if the guy died and removed himself from the gene pool. He deserved a big fat Darwin Award. But I didn't want him to take me down with him. Neither did I want to spend the rest of my life in therapy because I ran his sorry ass over after he skidded into my lane.
I mean, dude, you want to kill yourself, find some deserted desert highway at 2 am to do it. Not a freeway stretch of Glendale at 2 pm on a Sunday afternoon when there are cars all around you.
I didn't get a chance to ponder any of this for too long, because with one last wheelie, Mr. Moto revved the engine of his ridiculously over-powered bike and darted off, weaving through traffic, up the highway and out of sight.
And you know what irks me the most? Me, the former reporter, trained to notice the tiniest detail, to react instantaneously. I didn't even think to get his license number until it was too late.
One evening, my wife and I sat on the love seat at the foot of our bed, halfway through another hour of William Shatner’s marvelously self-effacing antics on “Boston Legal” – that is until the station’s news team broke in with a bulletin. “Three prison escapees lead police on high speed car chase and flee into local neighborhood. Details at eleven.”
“What prison? Which neighborhood? I said. Once, years ago, the LAPD had chased a guy with an Uzi into our little Sherman Oaks enclave and had gone pounding door to door after two a.m. with the cop copter hovering directly overhead.
“Hope we find out before the front door crashes in,” my wife added.
For a moment we looked at each other silently. Then, in unison, we did what we always seem to do: sigh wearily, shake our heads from side to side, grit our teeth and say, “Those F**ks!”
The second word is no gratuitously tossed-in explicative. It’s not meant to offend as much as to show that we’re offended. Next to “I love you,” and “I love you, too,” “Those F**ks!” is probably the most oft-spoken phrase around our house. Think of F**ks! as the surname of a large family known for being chronically selfish, unthinking, and insensitive. If either my wife or I could draw more than stick figures, we’d do a one-panel cartoon in the style of Tom Tomorrow or Matt Groening’s “Life in Hell” depicting our characters, Those F**ks!, engaging in the many maddening situations where idiocy and blithe thickheadedness reign.
I think the family would all look like Zippy the Pinhead, but they probably look like the family next door.
Of course, by “Those F**ks!” we meant the news team and the station, not the prisoners, although I suppose the case could be made for either. This wasn’t the first time we’d been abused by the ratings-grubbing local news. I’m sure we can all recall being told that a “widely used” medication could be killing us, that a “local” reservoir had burst, that wildfires were out of control in a “local” neighborhood, that a “serial rapist” was terrorizing a “local” neighborhood. And in every case one has to wait until the late-night news to discover if they’re directly affected. Sometimes they make you wait through a couple commercial breaks, as well, but that’s usually only for the “Oscar-winning actor arrested for drunk driving (and, oh, he dissed the Jews) ” stories. Or anything with Lindsay Lohan. (Sorry Paris.)
No doubt one day we’ll hear, “A huge fireball that will destroy all life in a local neighborhood is headed for Earth. Film at eleven. Maybe.”
Of course, Those F**ks! aren’t only found on television. They’re everywhere, and it’s all part of the general decline in common sense, civility, and concern for one’s fellow man. These days your brother is less your keeper than someone who delights in torturing you with a game of “keep-away.”
Herewith some true tales of “Those F**ks!” in action:
The driver in the slow lane who saw my wife trying to merge onto the freeway. He sped up, pointed at her, and waggled his finger, sending a clear message of “no, you don’t.”
Just last night my wife and I sat near a boisterous table-of-six whooping it up with high-decibel guffaws, clattering wine glasses, and loud tales about how you can tell you’re pregnant because you’ll toss your cookies if you drink too much alcohol. Try having a quiet, romantic anniversary dinner in the little restaurant they’ve just “discovered.” Try keeping your appetite with all that talk about vomit.
Me? I start to itch uncontrollably every time I see a mom in a monstrous SUV, with one grade-school-aged child passenger, making a left turn with one hand on the wheel and blabbing into the cell phone in her other – all while doing her makeup in the rear-view mirror. I’d be just as peeved if the driver was a dad, though I’d give him a break on the makeup. A man needs a little privacy when applying mascara.
The company that owes you money. "The check is in the mail." Yeah, the mail to Afghanistan.
The contractor who promised to start work on time; a day later he still hasn't called.
Anyone who thoughtlessly inconveniences you. Or takes you for a chucklehead. Or ignores your feelings. Or throws the fear of God into you for no good reason, except maybe to sell their product -- especially if it's a war, or something that guarantees to dissolve your civil liberties, or your money back.
Our cat, Poot, who, after years of acting normally, suddenly started caterwauling twice a day when he was ready to eat. This wouldn't be so bad if he didn't go off like a rooster at 4:30 in the morning. Today it was 3:30 am. We're not getting any sleep ... though I've finally gotten through Proust.
A few days ago I vented about “Those F**ks!” to my friend Nancy, who immediately launched into a complaint about drug company advertising on TV.
“Have you seen that ad in which Mandy Patinkin, dressed like a regular guy, rides down an escalator and talks to you about high cholesterol?" she asked? "He’s just one example of the pharmaceutical companies trying to terrify you. So, what: if your cholesterol isn’t lower, you’re probably going to stroke out in an hour? It’s one more way for the drug companies to snake the garrote around our necks. Now there’s a pill for everything that might happen, and if it causes anal leakage and cotton mouth and uncontrollable crying jags, hey, what are those compared with a cholesterol level of minus-168?"
I swear I once saw an ad for a drug and in the list of possible side effects was death. I think they called it "fatal event."
“Those Sick F**ks!”
Nancy is right. Patinkin scared my mother. Yes, she’s 83, lives alone – by choice – and is sometimes a bit, uh . . . creative, but I knew something was up when she called and was uncharacteristically agitated.
“What’s the matter, Mom?”
“That, that actor, what’s his name, from that show . . . you know...”
“Well, what’s the matter.”
“He keeps telling me I have to see my doctor."
"So it's none of his business.”
“That’s not Garner. Is this a commercial?”
“He says I have to check my cholesterol.”
“Oh, you mean Mandy Patinkin.”
“He’s on an escalator. He keeps telling me I have to check my cholesterol.”
“It’s only a commercial. Don’t worry. He’s not actually talking to you.”
“Well, I still wish he’d mind his own business. I’ll see my doctor when I want to.
“My cholesterol is fine.”
“I know. I saw the test results.”
“Okay. I have to go.”
“What’s the rush?”
“I’ve got some people from the Weather Channel over.”
“They've been here all night. They offered me a job.”
“What kind of job?”
“What do you mean what kind of job?” She had me there. “Reporting the weather, of course. They said I’d have to do a lot of traveling, though.”
“Don’t worry. I told them that my age I really don’t want to go that far from home.”
Last weekend, I drove out to Broad Beach in western Malibu--one of my favorite L.A. County beaches--and was met by a private security guard who had been hired to stand at the public entrance gate to enforce the laws on dogs and alcohol. The weekend before, I went to Escondido Beach to kayak, and was met with signs that prohibit the public from doing things that are actually completely legal. And the week before that, I met some friends at Lechuza Beach--only they couldn't find it, because the "private property" sign on the access road convinced them that that couldn't be the access road.
So the summer goes on the Malibu beaches--well, at least the 20 miles of beaches (out of 27) lined by private development. Of course, every single one of these beaches is fully public below the mean high tide line (working definition: the wet sand), and all of them have plenty of public easements on the dry sand.
They're gorgeous beaches, and the public owns big pieces of them, and it'd be nice if you didn't feel like you have to bring property maps, a lawyer, and a copy of the California constitution, and to put the Coastal Commission on speed-dial, to use them.
The Coastal Commission has been winning key battles for public access. But while we own these beaches, they really still do require an owner's manual. So for my first post on Native Intelligence, I'd like to offer a few tips on how to operate a Malibu beach. And I'll start with the three beaches I just visited in western Malibu--with an eye to adding other beaches to this owner's manual in the future.
From west to east:
LECHUZA BEACH — An interesting thing about Lechuza, at the west end of Broad Beach Rd., is that much of it is a state beach--public wet and dry. Its three entrances also make it the developed Malibu beach that has the best access. Another interesting thing about Lechuza is that no one seems to know that it includes a state beach--or even that it's there at all. Also, it's very beautiful.
How to Operate: Ignore the illegal "private property" signs at the public access entrances. These are public access routes on private roads. Ignore the quite wrong sign that says the public's right to pass is "subject to control by owner."
"Private parking" signs on Broad Beach Road are illegal, as are any orange cones that block public parking (look for the bright shiny ones that look like they're fresh off the shelf from Home Depot). Any problems? Report them to the Coastal Commission. They're very serious about following up on access troubles: 805-585-1800.
Access on Broad Beach Rd. at East Sea Level Dr., Bunnie Ln., and West Sea Level Dr. Push hard on the gates--they feel locked but they're not. And West Sea Level Dr. is a road, not a driveway, and you can walk on it. Really. Trust me. Park on Broad Beach Rd.
BROAD BEACH — This is a mile-long beach just west of Zuma. There are two access gates, and public easements on the dry sand on almost half the properties. It's a very accessible beach. And it's beautiful.
It's also the mother of all beaches for tussles over public access. The problem isn't that you can't get to it. The problem is that the homeowners here have engaged in the most systematic efforts to keep people away. For a brief shining moment last August, when the Coastal Commission finally got rid of the mean and illegal signs and the big sullen summer-weekend guards, the public beach felt magically and wonderfully like a real public beach.
It's still far better than before--the signs say please and the guards are nicer--and they're on foot, not on ATVs. But the private guards tell people what they can do on public land. Does that sound legal to you? And the guards are still misinformed about where the public beach is, and the homeowners are still building berms in front of their properties, and so on and so on.
How to Operate: Download the terrific public-easement maps off the Coastal Commission site. They'll show you exactly where you can sit on the dry sand. And note that this beach is a lot easier to operate on weekdays and from Labor Day to Memorial Day.
Don't hesitate to go on summer weekends, though. Ignore any sizable beefy person stationed on an easement. Ignore guards who tell you that you can't hang out on the wet sand below the properties that don't have easements. Well, don't ignore them, these guys are big, but they also seem civil and pleasant, so do just explain to them that you are on public land. There's likely little to be gained by pointing out to the guards at the entrances that they have no authority to be there, but feel free. Also feel free to call the Coastal Commission to report any problems: 805-585-1800.
Access gates are next to 31138 and 31340 Broad Beach Rd. Park on the road. Or walk west from Zuma and you'll be on Broad Beach.
ESCONDIDO BEACH — This is a short and narrow beach that runs from Escondido Beach Rd. on the PCH west to Geoffrey's restaurant. It's a popular put-in point for kayakers. You can kayak to Paradise Cove Cafe for lunch and come back. And also, it's beautiful.
How to Operate: Ignore the sign that says you're only allowed to use the beach to walk to the next accessway. You can use the public beach to do whatever you reasonably want to do.
Ignore the sign that says the beach is closed dusk to dawn: the beach is open 24 hours. The access gates aren't, but hey, you can swim in if you want--or visit by boat! Ignore the sign that prohibits horses, but I admit to not wanting to share the beach with a horse that has just eaten.
The sign that says "private beach to the mean high tide line" is likewise inaccurate and illegal. Several of the properties do have public easements--the Coastal Commission's easement maps for beaches other than Broad Beach are hard to read, but you can call them at 805-585-1800 and just ask where the easements are. Anyway, this beach is so narrow that the high tide just about comes up to most of the houses.
Access at the gates at either end of the beach - just west of Geoffrey's, and between Escondido Beach Rd. and Malibu Cove Colony Dr. Park on the PCH.
Troubleshooting: Not always passable at high tide. And I wouldn't go in the water after a rain, since this isn't the world's cleanest beach--Escondido Creek pours a lot of urban runoff into the bay here.
Are these beaches worth the effort? I think so. They're not nearly as hard as to operate as they sound. And did I mention they're beautiful? There's still 3 weeks to Labor Day. Enjoy your beaches.
For more on Malibu, bookmark Veronique de Turenne's blog Here in Malibu
We’ve traveled a lot this summer, or at least it seems that way. First up was Israel, which my Florida family toured with us in two cramped, rental minivans, stopping to hike through waterfalls, explore ancient historical and religious sites, snorkel fabulous coral reefs and sample the wares at any number of falafel joints and baklava conditoria with roughly equal fervor.
Israel, as you may have heard, is in the midst of what the locals refer to as “a situation,” but by stroke of luck (and my brother’s insistence that we plan our trip to begin the first week all our kids were out of school), we breezed in and out of there without incident. No Katyushas falling on our heads, no road closures, not even any familial squabbles serious enough to lead to some stray spouse’s or in-law’s sudden, unexpected demise.
Still, the flight to Tel Aviv was some 20 hours each way with layovers, and over the course of 12 days we put at least 1,000 miles on the mobile tin can that is a Kia Carnival, so by the time we got back to Oak Park in a $100 private shuttle from LAX, I wasn’t looking forward to hitting the road again any time soon.
But three weeks later, hit the road we did. This time it was a sprint up I-5 to the Bay area to spend a weekend with my wife’s mother, siblings, and assorted significant others and progeny. Hey, if we can do two weeks overseas with my side of the family, fair is fair, right? So we burned up to Lafayette last Friday, crammed in some quality pool time, a beautiful hike around the reservoir, a few good meals and some intergenerational bonding, before sacrificing another tank of fossil fuel to make it home in time for a frazzled night’s sleep before packing off the kids to Junior Lifeguards and surf camp.
That’s where things stood until this morning, when my wife and kids left again, heading up to Sequoia for a long-planned camping trip with another family. Naturally, I thought hard about joining them, but despite the allure of those thousand-year-old redwoods and a couple of secluded streams we know that flow into thrilling, natural water-slides, I just couldn’t face two more seven-hour car trips over the course of a single long weekend.
So here we are, just me and the dog, kicking it at home by ourselves for three whole days for the first time in, well, forever in Hendrix’ case. No blaring TVs, no incessant brother-sister spats, no pick-ups or drop-offs for spontaneous cross-town hang-outs, no helping clean up after two kids who treat our kitchen with the same care and sensitivity that Hezbollah is currently exhibiting in northern Israel.
Yeah, sure, I miss everyone, even after only half a day. But I’ve gotta tell you, it’s great to finally be on vacation.
I’ve been thinking about redevelopment lately. The city wants to build a state-of-the-art LAPD headquarters downtown to replace Parker Center, and one of the buildings that might be torn down is an art gallery on Main Street. It’s a fine gallery, with interesting art and high ceilings and there’s even rumored to be a speakeasy in the basement where the bouncer won’t let you in unless you know the password.
Aware that their days may be numbered, the gallery threw a little shin-dig earlier this summer that was billed as a farewell party. It was a weekend night and the space was crammed with artists and loft dwellers and the usual beautiful and glamorous people. Then there was me and David and two of his sisters. David’s family wasn’t there to make the scene. They were there to step back into the past and see ghosts.
You see, David’s family pretty much grew up along this stretch of Main Street.
Long before the galleries and artists and developers moved in, back around 1969, there was a Mexican restaurant in this building called El Norteño. My in-laws owned it. They were Mexican immigrants who came here penniless but worked seven days a week to afford a house in El Sereno and Catholic school for their four kids. David and his sisters helped out at El Norteño on weekends and holidays. Downtown was pretty safe then during the day if you avoided the bad patches. David remembers walking to the movie palaces on Broadway by himself at 13 to see a double bill. His sisters accompanied their mother on shopping trips. It was their stomping grounds.
As the neighborhood deteriorated in the 1970s, they remember homeless people begging for tortillas and lots of break-ins. It got so bad that Rene took to leaving the cash register drawer open so burglars could see there was no money inside. The register was expensive to replace, and at least that way, the thieves wouldn’t destroy it. They always found and drank the booze, though.
It’s 2006 now and David and his sisters are all grown up. David hasn’t been back to this building in almost 30 years. We step inside and he looks around, eyes glazed with memories.
“The counter used to be here, along this wall,” he tells me. “And there were tables here.”
We walk some more. “There was another room with tables in the back,” one sister says.
“The ceiling used to be lower,” David says. He points to the brick wall at the rear of the building. “One time, thieves backed a truck into that wall to get inside.”
“Didn’t Tio Artemio live here for awhile?” one sister asks. “I seem to remember he had a cot and some clothes on hangers in a little room
They reminisce about Tio Artemio awhile. He wore a cowboy hat and never married. When we were newlyweds and he came over for holiday dinners, he brought his own bottle of Don Pedro brandy and demanded a bigger glass when I brought him a lowboy.
We walk through the gallery, while David and his sisters travel back in time. They agree the place looks good. They marvel at how it’s changed. There is a sense of dislocation, of something hovering, just out of reach.
“Pop and Tio Artemio used to get drunk and go down into the basement and shoot off guns,” another sister says. “I remember it was always dark and scary down there. It went back forever, under the street, didn’t it?
We cluster around the entrance to the basement. It is guarded by a doorman. He’s from Mexico City and has been here for a year and a half. He speaks great English and is dressed all in black.
I chat with him awhile, tell him about David’s family and their history in this place. The doorman is sympathetic but firm. No one can go in without the password. Someone says the basement has been rented to a film company that’s shooting a scene down there and that accounts for the cloak and dagger secrecy. But no one can confirm or deny that story. One of David’s sisters say she was down there not too long ago and they have a bar and funny lights and it’s done up like a cheesy Mexican bordello. I think about the girls in a real Mexican bordello and get sort of sad.
David and I walk around some more. We end up by the loading dock. We’ve arrived late, most of the drinks and munchies are gone. I think of the food that his parents used to serve up, nothing fancy, just big platters of grilled meats, rice and beans, menudo on weekends. If El Norteño was still here, maybe the hipsters would ‘discover” it and brag to their friends about how cheap and quaint it was.
“The skyline’s changed so much,” David says. “That hi-rise wasn’t there. And that building used to be a really scary hotel. And next door to El Norteño was this bar, and it was really notorious. They had knifings, real shady characters. Prostitutes. We weren’t allowed to go near there.”
We walk back to the main room to say goodbye to David’s sisters. My husband must feel like a drifting ghost here in this place, seeing his childhood self running through the restaurant, chopping lettuce in the kitchen, greeting his Dad’s regular customers, the ones who came every day for the familiar food of home. Mexican actors and musicians would come in too, after playing the Million Dollar Theater. Rene kept the restaurant open late for them. They’d drink and have a good time. Rene knew them all.
Things got worse downtown in the late 1970s, around the time David’s parents got divorced. His Dad opened another Mexican restaurant in MacArthur Park and his mother got El Norteño in the settlement and sold it a few years later after failing to make a go of it. Eventually, like so much of downtown in those grim years, El Norteño may have been shuttered and abandoned. At some point, the pioneering art gallery moved in and played its own role in downtown’s rejuvenation. And now, years later, it may face eviction so the new LAPD center can go up.
We look out the front entrance. A stretch limo has just pulled up, disgorging a group of partygoers. We walk to our car and drive away, leaving downtown and David’s memories. He won’t be going back there again, he says. He was just curious to see the old building once more, especially if it was going to get torn down. We never did make it to the speakeasy. I had kind of wanted to stand for a moment in the basement, close my eyes and see if I could hear the distant echo of a long-ago pistol, some gleeful drunken laughter, Rene in his stained apron, shouting encouragement to Tio Artemio in Spanish. When they were young men, filled with hope and dreams about their adopted homeland.
But David is impatient, ready to go. El Norteño, El Norteño, I whisper to myself in the car, over and over. But those words no longer unlock the door. They are ancient, discarded. They belong to another era, haven’t worked in almost 30 years. And there is no password for the place where David has just been.
My car’s radio buttons are set to talk stations. I can’t find a music station I like, and my CD player won’t work and I’ve been too cheap to fix it. So I subject myself to the only emotions that seem to be permitted on talk radio: anger, hatred, self-righteousness. You know what I do for fun driving around in the afternoon? I click back and forth between conservative Sean Hannity on KABC-790 and liberal Ed Schultz on KTLK-1150 and try to find something they agree on. There is only one: Each thinks the other side is pure evil.
Which is why it’s been such a pleasant experience bumping into Doug McIntyre, a disaffected Republican who is the 6-to-9 a.m. host at KABC, a station that boasts it offers “talk radio with passion,” code for right-wing theocracy. KABC gives you the psychotically populist Bill O’Reilly; Hannity, whose rants against liberalism are as artful as professional wrestling; Al Rantel, who baits and insults any lefty dumb enough to come on the show as a caller or guest, and Larry Elder, who was once a provocative libertarian but now spends most of his time blaming the media for President Bush’s failings. Leftist KTLK gives you the same superficial experience from the other side, with the exception of humorist Stephanie Miller.
Against this backdrop I started listening to McIntyre a couple months ago. McIntyre can play populist-ranter with the best of them; his anger at President Bush’s innaction on immigration is unmistakably real. (McIntyre, who says he voted for Bush twice, issued a profuse apology for his vote in May, suggesting historians will view Bush as one of the worst presidents ever.) He has also been feuding with the concept of ethnic-oriented charter schools, speaking harshly enough to generate charges of being a “hater.”
But McIntyre also has the ability to be civil, humble and amused by life, and to acknowledge its complexity. When he opened his show this morning by talking about doctored news photos from Lebanon transmitted by Reuters, he did it through rap about “the mechanics of how terrorists become heroes.” He recalled a romantic old movie about the founding of Reuters. He talked about the pressure of journalism. (“Almost everything is wrong—and that’s when you’re trying to get it right.”)
He talked about conservatives blame the media for being reflexively liberal, and how liberals blame the media for being chained to a “corporate agenda,” and acknowledged you could make a case either way. But the real lesson, McIntyre said, is that “the burden that you put on editors to run a clean shop is enormous.”
A couple days before that, McIntyre spoke angrily of the waste of American lives in Iraq but confessed the alternative of simply pulling troops out daunted him. “In my personal opinion Iraq is a smoldering mess and the chances of losing it are unthinkable….We don’t have control of the capitol….Iraq is a bubbling mess and I don’t know what we‘re gonna do about that. It’s above my pay grade.”
A couple days before that, he explained his fear of unchecked immigration like this: “You cannot continue to run America by importing enormous numbers of the poorest of the poor while you put more and more pressure on [the] affluent [to pay for government services]. You can’t continue to exponentially increase that number and have anything left over. It’s not sustainable.” He mocked a local politician: “Here I am cutting a [park] ribbon. There we are dealing with all the important issues like Pepsi machines on high school campuses.
"I don’t care about the peripheral stuff," he says. "We gotta put the donkeys and the elephants to the side for a while.”
He admires the Democrats of Connecticut for voting against Joe Lieberman Tuesday because “at least they voted on a principlel…What I like is that this election mattered….I wish that we could do that here. We actually have a Republican Party here in California. We’re hard-pressed to tell…it’s that dead. It’s in a shallow grave somewhere."
But here’s what glues me to McIntire’s side. It is 6:44 a.m. this morning and he comes back from a commercial break with a little-known Ray Charles song about the Cold War from the mid-60s that neither Sean Hannity or Al Fraken would be hip enough or honest enough to ever play: “Sad and lonely all the time/that’s because I got a worried mind/You know the world is in an uproar/The danger zone is everywhere….everywhere.”
Everywhere. Not just on the other guy’s side.
Joan Didion observed in The White Album that "many people I know in Los Angeles believed the '60s ended abruptly on Aug. 9, 1969." That was the morning horrifying details began to leak out of Benedict Canyon about a murder scene on Cielo Drive. Inside a compound protected by high fences and an electric gate, the housekeeper arrived to find the body of pregnant actress Sharon Tate, sliced and stabbed sixteen times in the chest and back, a rope tied around her neck and looped over a rafter. Inside her was the baby she had been about to have with director Roman Polanski, her husband. Scrawled on the front door, in Tate's blood, was the word PIG.
Lying near Tate was the body of her former boyfriend, celebrity hairstylist Jay Sebring. He had been stabbed and shot. Outside on the lawn lay Abigail Folger, heiress to the Folger's Coffee fortune, and her boyfriend, Voytek Frykowski. They had been stabbed dozens of times as they fled from whatever violence visited Cielo Drive that night. In the driveway, 18-year-old Steven Parent was found shot to death behind the wheel of his Rambler. The names became embedded in the DNA of Angelenos who were here then, along with the names of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, found murdered on Waverly Drive in Los Feliz the next night. There, the letters painted in blood read "Healter Skelter."
Social engagements were cancelled across the hills. Doors were locked for the first time, guns acquired. Some in Hollywood speculated that the Cielo Drive killings were the result of a sadomasochistic frenzy, due to rumors about Sebring’s sexual tastes. Wild rumors swept from ridge to ridge in the Hollywood Hills. No one picked up the clue reported unwittingly in the Los Angeles Times the following Sunday. On the same page as stories on the murder scenes and the LaBianca funerals, a brief story reported a Sheriff's raid on a car theft ring at the Spahn Ranch, a decrepit movie location near Chatsworth. Most of the twenty-six heavily armed suspects arrested were young women dressed like hippies.
When Charles Manson was arrested months later out in the desert and blamed for the killings, the city shuddered all over again. Valley stoners, famous musicians in Laurel Canyon, the Beach Boys — all had partied with Manson and the spooky girls that worshipped him and craved to please him sexually. They had crashed at Dennis Wilson's place and visited the Cielo Drive home when it was the home of record producer Terry Melcher and actress Candace Bergen. Manson had launched the killings in the middle of a heat siege, hours after Sandra Good and Mary Brunner, the mother of his son, were arrested trying to use stolen credit cards at the Sears in San Fernando. After dinner at the Spahn Ranch, Manson told family members Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and a newcomer of just a month, Linda Kasabian — the only one with a driver’s license — to grab knives and borrow a ’59 Ford from a ranch hand. Their assignment was to drive to Cielo Drive and do something so unforgivably brutal that race war would erupt. Manson’s last instruction to his barefoot girls was to leave a sign that would implicate blacks and enrage whites: "You girls know what to write. Something witchy."
The killers washed off the blood in a front yard hose in the hills. Driving through Sherman Oaks they tossed a gun into the backyard at 3627 Longview Valley Road. When they got back to the ranch, Manson demanded details. Later that day, they watched TV news in a trailer. Theories were expounded, but no one blamed the black community. That night, Manson himself led the same raiding party — plus Leslie Van Houten — across town to Pasadena, then to Waverly Drive. Manson selected the LaBianca house and tied up the couple, then left Watson, Krenwinkel and Van Houten behind to do the killing. To fuel his race war fantasy, Manson drove to Sylmar and planted Rosemary LaBianca's wallet in the restroom of a Standard gas station just off the Golden State Freeway. He bought milk shakes at the Denny’s next door before returning to the ranch. The murderers hitchhiked back across the Valley.
More than 20,000 murders have occurred in Los Angeles since the slaughter on Cielo Drive, but except for possibly Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman, none have shaken the city more. Manson, now 71, rapped not long ago on one of the websites that stay in touch with him that "I got trapped up in these kids of the sixties. But I'm not a kid of the Sixties; I'm a kid of the Forties. Bing Crosby was my hero, not Elvis Presley."
I am going through what might be the most terrifying phase a parent in Los Angeles must endure. I am the mother of a new driver.
Not since I rode with my grandmother have I been such a nervous passenger. When I was sixteen I was already driving over Laurel Canyon to hang out at the Troubador and patronize Pickwick Books on Hollywood Boulevard. Now, Los Angeles traffic has become frightening to me all over again. My bright, conscientious 16½-year-old daughter is not really to blame for my jitters. If anything, she is probably a little too careful, anxious to do everything by the book. She stops ten feet before every crosswalk. She needs to be coaxed to go more than 20 miles an hour. Still, she drifts a bit in her lane and there have been some scary left turns. Each time we start out, I silently talk myself through it: "She's doing OK, she'll be fine."
I still get a weird chill in the pit of my stomach when I get in and see her behind the wheel. It's bizarre for her to be driving ME, after all these years of taking her to school and shopping and to the beach. My husband and I have her drive us as much as possible, hoping she will encounter every possible surprise situation while she accumulates the hours needed to take the drivers' test. I have seen huge progress in just the last two weeks. We graduated from parking lots at Santa Monica Airport to big congested boulevards: Venice, Lincoln, Wilshire. One day I let her navigate across town to a series of errands, even up into one of those tightly squeezed parking structures at the Third Street Promenade.
The day she drove back to the Westside from the Valley through Sepulveda Pass, surviving the curvy turns and the tunnel under Mulholland, I got it: she can do this. My hands no longer sweat when we are in the car. Good thing, too. There's no turning back. She needs to get her license and become a driver. She's an L.A. girl, and it will all be fine.
August 5 marks the 44th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s death. As always, there is talk of how she died. Did she really commit suicide? Was it accidental? What about the mafia? Who really killed Marilyn Monroe?
It was the East Coast. Nothing so illustrates the clash of Southern California with the other side of America as the meeting of Marilyn Monroe and the Kennedy men of Massachusetts.
Born in 1926, Marilyn Monroe was a classic California girl. Her mother toiled in the studio system until she went crazy and her father was a mirage. She was shaped by the landscape of her birth – open, receptive, without guile, bursting with passion, as hungry as the ocean and as fluid as the desert, with a spirit that could not be contained, desiring only to be of service, any time of the day or night, paper or plastic, may I help you?
“Yes,” replied the Kennedy men. “We’ll take paper and plastic, and whatever else you’re offering.” Complete products of the East Coast, the sons of Joe Kennedy were trained to live, work, marry, and hook up well. This was the European style of doing, achieving, making, having: The New World is your oyster; go pry it open and take the pearl - if you don’t, someone else will.
It was 1960. Jack arrived first. Marilyn was at her most vulnerable, with marriages to Arthur Miller and Joe DiMaggio having recently failed. To the world, she was the beautiful ex-wife of famous men. To herself, she was Norma Jean, the name her mother had given her, a little girl who never knew her father.
What happened at JFK’s first meeting with Marilyn Monroe? Perhaps this: Marilyn reclined at home on a chaise lounge, naked (she was not a fan of clothing) and rereading the Gettysburg Address (she admired Abraham Lincoln). JFK knocked.
“Who is it?” came the breathless call.
“It’s, uh, me…the, uh, President,” replied the President in his distinctive patter.
Southern California took a minute to dress. Fettered and ready to receive the East Coast, she opened the door.
“Hi, there,” Marilyn whispered in a tone that was familiar to JFK, for his wife Jacqueline used it as well.
“Won’t you come in?” she said.
JFK entered and she closed the door.
“I was just rereading Lincoln,” said Southern California. “May I get you a drink?”
“A, uh, martini will, uh, be fine,” said New England.
“I hear you’re going to continue the emancipation of the slaves,” Marilyn said as she poured and served.
“That’s, uh, a good one, I, uh, like that,” JFK said, not realizing that Marilyn was not joking, was eager to share her passion for American history with the commander-in-chief. The light in her eyes went out for a second, but he didn’t notice. She rallied, put Abe aside, and turned on some music. It was Frank Sinatra, singing “Fly Me to the Moon.”
The next day, JFK announced the space program. When things got too hot for JFK, he sent Bobby to deal with the mess, to try to do what the East Coast always does when it’s overwhelmed: control things. But Southern California has never been easy to tame.
“Uh, Marilyn, are you, uh, there?”
She knew right away it was Bobby; he had left several messages. “The only Kennedy I’m talking to is Jack,” Marilyn said.
“You, uh, know that can’t happen again.”
“Marilyn, please, let me in.” Marilyn relented, and got dressed, then opened the door. She was wearing a bathrobe and high heels. Her hair had not been brushed in some time and she looked tired. Bobby, a little taken aback by her appearance, entered.
“I was just rereading Carl Sandburg,” she said.
“I love Carl Sandburg,” Bobby said.
“’The fog comes on little cat feet,’” she began.
He finished the poem. Marilyn fell in love with the Attorney General. She brushed her hair. He visited her often until one day when he stopped. The private phone number Marilyn had for him no longer worked. She called him at the Justice Department. He would not call back.
A few months later, Marilyn was found dead in her bedroom, the victim of a drug overdose. Her crypt is behind a movie theatre, a few blocks from the 405 Freeway, amid a rowhouse of crypts in a pocket cemetery, down the path from her friend Truman Capote, and in time, alas, next to Hugh Hefner (he bought the space for himself). Recently I visited America’s brightest star and thought about how she had come a short distance but a long way from her beginnings as the offspring of studio fieldhands. Or had she? In the endless marketing of Marilyn (MM lingerie, MM perfume), the system that took her mother’s mind had also laid claim to Marilyn’s body. But it was the East Coast that took her spirit. Of course such thefts are only temporary and here’s how I plan to celebrate the ultimate California girl: I’ll kick back naked, have a glass of champagne, and read the Gettysburg Address. If I feel like it, I’ll brush my hair. “It’s me!” Marilyn once said. “Don’t you remember? The tomato from upstairs?”
Deanne Stillman adapted this piece for Native Intelligence from a column she wrote in the late Buzz magazine. Her play, "Inside the White House," imagines JFK and Marilyn in the afterlife and has won theater festival prizes around the country. This is her first contribution to LA Observed.
There's something quintessentially L.A. about going to see live theater at the Music Center. It's a ritual that moves me deeply, that makes me feel part of something bigger, something exalted. And that's important in a big city like ours that has no real central beating heart. The Music Center may be paved in concrete and lack the street life of a real city center, but on a hot summer night, with all the bronzed, dressed up theater-goers sipping cool drinks, the buskers playing their hearts out, the eager anticipatory buzz, it may just be the closest we've got.
I can chart epochs of my life by what I've seen there, starting with "Einstein on the Beach" the Phillip Glass/Robert Wilson extravaganza that reorganized my DNA and left me experiencing the world differently for months after I saw it in the early 1980s.
In June I saw "The Black Rider" at the Ahmanson and felt that same prickling in my spine, the same stirring of my subconscious. I was immediately ensorcelled. I saw it three times, becoming a hopeless fangirl. And despite all the walkouts, there were plenty of us who loved it - I'm thinking of the young girl with the painted face in the front row who told me she'd seen TBR 20 times, or the platinum haired lady next to me who deliriously flung roses onto the stage on closing night, her fifth visit.
(Lest you think I'm some horrible elitist, let me point out that the $20 HotTix are marginally more expensive these days than a movie with popcorn and soda at your local multiplex.)
"I hope you're not going to try to sneak up closer to the stage after intermission," my law-abiding husband said on Tuesday as we walked across the great concrete plaza to the Mark Taper Forum to see Culture Clash's newest play, "Department of Water and Power."
"There is no intermission," I said. "Besides, the theater's so small that every seat's good."
The play's still in previews, so we got great $30 seats that were front and center. David and I have been fans of Culture Clash since we saw them at a theater in Hollywood in 1992, where they put on an amazingly funny, acerbic show that didn't shrink from taking on such loaded themes as the riots that had devastated L.A earlier that year. That's what I love about Ric Salinas, Richard Montoya and Herbert Siguenza -- they're not afraid to tackle sacred cows. They realize that if you can laugh about things, you can begin to move on. They're kind of like the inverse of the movie "Crash," where it was all about race. In a Culture Clash play, the jokes about race and class and culture are kind of an ambient given. They're salty and irreverent, but they're just part of the tapestry, the background noise, while people go about their real business.
Maybe it's telling that the joke on Tuesday night that got the most laughs was a comment that a Mexican-American character tosses of about Armenians. It was just the sort of off-the-cuff idiotic remark that people make when they think no one is listening. It struck me as I sat in the dark that the audience was laughing at the cholo who made the comment, not with him. But it's typical of the theater troupe's bravado that they wrote it at all. And lest Armenians get upset, just about everybody else in the city also came in for a spanking - cops, DAs, gangbangers of all colors, politicians, labor activists, gays, people from Brentwood.
I don't know about y'all, but I love seeing live theater that makes sly jokes about how "Gloria" would never allow a prison to be built in East L.A. and how our Mayor got kicked out of Cathedral High School (even though David, a Cathedral High alumnus, thinks that Villaraigosa wasn't expelled, he dropped out). The boys must have been re-writing the play until a few weeks ago -- one character even warns another about how he'd better watch out or he'll have Darryl Hannah chaining herself to a tree in protest, a reference to the blond actress's recent support of a community garden in South L.A. that got her written up in the press.
In a nutshell, "Department of Water and Power" is about a Mexican-American DWP ditch-digger who names his twin sons Water and Power and instills in them a belief for a better life. One twin grows up to be a cop; the other becomes a state senator. On a dark and stormy night in a seedy motel room on the eastern edge of Sunset Boulevard, the brothers meet to hash out a violent destiny of murder, betrayal, dashed hopes, corruption and ultimately, filial love.
Culture Clash has traveled far from where they started as an activist comedy troupe - although their humor remains intact. In 2003 their brilliant and ambitious "Chavez Ravine" explored the stories of two poor Latino neighborhoods whose residents were uprooted from their homes so that Dodger Stadium could be built. "Chavez Ravine" excavated a shameful chapter in our city's history and was a monumental undertaking.
It struck such a chord that after seeing it on a hot summer night several years ago, I was inspired to write a novel called "Savage Garden." My book is not about Culture Clash, but I drew indirect inspiration from the play, the playwrights and the theatergoing experience. Sitting at a table and sipping a glass of wine as le tout LA milled about, I imagined how dramatic it would be if the lead actress failed to show up on opening night of a play by an acclaimed Latino playwright at the Mark Taper Forum. Foul play, of course, would be immediately suspected, and I had my opening chapter. It's that kind of magic that L.A. and live theater create for me.
“Can you believe this?” I said. “Iran says wiping out Israel will solve the Mideast problem. The Vatican wants to excommunicate Madonna. I hear oil could hit $200 a barrel – wouldn’t that make Exxon happy, those gouging bastards. The US deficit is staggering beyond belief, and no one knows it. If we did we’d make a run on our IRAs!”
“Honey,” my wife said. I ignored her.
“A guy in Ohio says his civil rights include having sex with boys. The heat waves are getting longer and hotter and this morning I found a piece of ice with a funny blue tinge floating in the toilet. It’s been so hot in that even Pat Robertson believes in global warming.
“AOL is about to lay off thousands. Rumsfeld is blaming the rise of Iraqi insurgent violence on the hot weather. (The man is certifiable). Oh, and it looks like the Guantanamo prisoners will be there forever. Castro’s got diverticulosis and is finally shitting the same blood his people have for forty seven years. And some broad on “The View” would rather you have a rapist’s baby than the morning-after pill.
“And what about Mel Gibson? Only two misdemeanor charges? Forget the Jew-bashing. Driving drunk at high speed is very serious business. Why's he getting special treatment? If I'd been pulled over I’d be doing my 60 days in jail right now. You’d think the DA would be more sensitive to the ‘other’ real issue here.
“But why give a damn about Gibson when Hezbollah is firing Iranian and Syrian-made rockets into Israel. What if a full scale war breaks out? Nowhere to run for any of them. Millions of innocent people who would opt for peace will die thanks to leaders who don't really want peace. Oil will go through the roof. We’ll have to arm to protect the house. Did you get those water bottles I asked you to?
“We can’t get a decent immigration bill. Health care is in the dumper. The middle class is disappearing. Our politicians lie to us. Neither party has ....”
My wife looked up. "Honey!"
“What?” I said. “What? Don’t even get me started. Everything’s getting worse. Isn't it? Am I just imagining this? Was it this way ten years ago? When we were kids? Did we just not pay attention?
"I’m starting to believe in the Apocalypse. Maybe the End-Timers are right. Right on schedule. We’re all doomed!”
“Honey,” she said, this time more softly.
“Come on." She shrugged, and her eyes and mouth arranged themselves into that weary but patient look I've grown used to. "Put down the paper. We haven't even finished breakfast."
"Never mind, then," I said. "I suppose there's always tomorrow."
I'm a little late to the party here (a nod to my fellow contributors - great stuff - and thanks to Kevin for the invitation), so let me just jump right in...
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As we come to the mid-week point in the International World-Wide Mel Gibson Anti-Semitism Crisis (“Andersen Cooper, Special Report: Day Four. Mel Repents”), one thing that’s been especially surprising to me – perhaps even more surprising than Gibson’s ability to recite, from memory, the entire Protocols of the Elders of Zion – is how overwrought and naïve some of the response has been.
Particularly from people who should know better.
Ain’t gonna happen.
The simple truth of the matter is that these kinds of scandals follow a completely predictable, and utterly unsurprising story arc. It unfolds faster these days. But the outcome is always the same. And from crucifixion to redemption, it’s the chronicle of a news cycle entirely foretold, after the original sin:
Spin. Rinse. Redeem. Repeat as necessary, until reputation is restored.
Nikki Finke’s latest revelations aside, here are a few of the stopping points on Mel’s road to redemption:
1) Announce you’re going into rehab. Done.
2) Issue the finely crafted, all purpose mea culpa. Done.
3) Start the spin – you’re the victim here of something beyond your control. Done.
4) Sign on for Sensitivity Training. Done. (See #3)
5) Watch as tragedy starts turning into farce:
- Jon Stewart, later this week: “I hear Mel Gibson has found a way to cure his anti-Semitism. He announced this morning that’s he converting to Judaism. It’s going to broadcast live on ABC, with Sarah Silverman performing the circumcision. They’re calling it “Jesus is Magic, Part II: The Uncut edition.”
- The first comment appears on the Huffington Post, blaming the whole thing on Karl Rove. “Once again, this was all orchestrated out of the White House. For almost a whole week, they managed to keep Iran out of the top of the news.”
6) Now, six months pass, and the resurrection tour begins:
- The Larry King confessional. “I had a death wish.”
- The papal audience with Katie Couric: “I was out of my mind.”
- The 8000 word “book of revelation” in Rolling Stone: “I was imprinted by my father.”
- The 60 Minutes moment of atonement, with Ed Bradley at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem: “I had no idea about the suffering these people endured.”
- The leavening interregnum with David Letterman: “So tell me, Mel… Doing anything special for the High Holidays?”
- And finally, redemption, granted by the high priestess of absolution: “Give us a hug,” says Oprah, wiping back a tear. “You’re a good man, Mel Gibson.”
Oh. There is one last thing, three months later:
7) The Vanity Fair benediction. Mel’s on the cover. Annie Leibovitz takes the shot. The headline on the story inside the magazine:
Braveheart: How Mel Gibson confronted his demons, made peace with Jews, and survived his year of living dangerously without turning a lethal weapon on himself.
(Insert long sigh, here.)
Let’s face it: The road to celebrity redemption is so predictable these days that you set it up as a theme park ride at Universal Studios, sell tickets to it, and eventually turn it into a movie.
Who knows. Maybe somebody will.
Two years ago, in the summer of 2004, my friends Kerry and Deana hosted a party centered around a MoveOn.org campaign to elect John Kerry president. In what was something of a technological first – for me, anyway – we hooked up via the Internet to a nationwide phone call from filmmaker Michael Moore, who was headlining this MoveOn “national house party,” not to mention promoting his movie Farenheit 9/11, which was just being released in theaters. President Bush was way ahead at the polls and seemingly unstoppable, but gathered there that night with dozens of like-minded citizens, not to mention tens of thousands of others assembled at similar events around the country, I couldn’t help but feel the political landscape was shifting and the forces of hope, compassion and rationality would prevail.
We all know how that turned out. But it was a damn fine party anyway, which is why last night we tried again.
MoveOn’s focus this time was the 2006 Congressional elections, and the featured speaker via national Internet/phone hookup was Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, more dignified than Moore, perhaps, but equally strong and confident. Most of the four dozen or so guests were on the experienced side of 50, and almost all of them had signed up to attend the most convenient such gathering on the MoveOn master list and had never met their hosts.
The event was successful in that Obama and the MoveOn organizers convinced most of the attendees to volunteer to make hours of nationwide get-out-the-vote phone calls between now and election day. Their call list, compiled by MoveOn, will consist of registered Democrats who are low-propensity voters – people who, records show, tend not to vote but choose Democrats when they do. Many of these people are discouraged by the political climate, the theory goes, and by connecting with them on the phone, volunteers can spark enough hope or anger to get them to the polls.
Afterwards, people stayed to talk for a while about what else they can do to get the country back on track. These folks were bright and passionate and had a lot to offer. One guy, arguing for publicly funded campaigns, said he was in the room when a group of New England real estate barons cooked up Michael Dukakis’ presidential bid, trying to create a Massachusetts Miracle for their own net worth. A woman up on global warming said if we don’t take care of the environment, it won’t matter who gets elected because we’ll all be gone soon anyway. Several others talked about voter fraud and the many ways Republicans supposedly fixed the last two elections.
I suggested that it might help if our party fielded some candidates this time who, you know, actually offered something other than anger and frustration. Obviously, Americans are unhappy with the country’s direction. Polls show that everyone up to Karl Rove would love to vote against the Republicans if he didn’t have to vote for Democrats. People seemed to agree but nobody had an answer.
I was thinking about that this morning when I read Patrick Goldstein’s column in the L.A. Times Calendar section about how the movie business now is all about marketing and not production. The studios don’t seem to care much about the content or quality of what they’re selling, as long as it’s something they know how to promote. Same deal in politics, I guess.
I turned on my computer to find I’d already gotten two emails from MoveOn – one a survey about last night’s event, and the other noting that I didn’t sign up for the volunteer phone tree and urging me to get on board. These guys don’t miss a trick, and maybe that’s what we need. But before I sign up to make those calls, can we maybe find some candidates with personality, good ideas and backbone?
Or is that too much to ask?