Cirque du Malaise: Dawn of the Zombies for Gore
Cirque du Malaise
Dawn of the Zombies for Gore
Los Angeles ? Al Gore is going to lose. His campaign is already melting like a pocket watch in a Dali painting. Surrealism comes as naturally to Los Angelenos as nastiness does to New Yorkers. Neil Simon once said something to the effect that when it's 99 degrees in New York, it's 78 in L.A. When it's five degrees in New York, it's 78 in L.A. There are eight million interesting people in New York, and 78 in L.A.
My pinko friends took off for a visit to the local needle exchange while I made my way to Tower Records, across the street from the Viper Room, where River Phoenix took his fatal dose. I picked up a good collection of Japanese kodo drumming and Andrea Bocelli's Sogno to keep me sane in the car. I headed down Santa Monica Blvd. through Beverly Hills, blasting incomprehensible and gorgeous Bocelli all the way. Down at the Santa Monica pier, the lefties were staging their first event of the week, a protest beach party. The sun was down and the Ferris wheel was spinning and flashing weird colors into the night as a fat moon rose over the beach. The last time I'd been here was in '97, setting up Cirque du Soleil's Quidam on the parking lot next to the pier. It was a beautiful, poignant show designed with the apparent intent of causing its audience to commit suicide. It worked for me. I was drying out at the time, and I walked out of the tent through the crowd of celebrities and paparazzi on opening night feeling as if I should fill my pockets with rocks and walk into the sea.
The protesters had a huge inflatable Liberty Bell set up on the beach, where about 400 people were gathered listening to some barely comprehensible harangue being delivered by a young black girl with a bullhorn. It was a weird crowd, ranging from grannies sporting Ralph Nader buttons to Tank Girl clones waiting for a photo op with the LAPD, who stood by nervously and attentively, a posture they were to maintain for much of the week. Up on the pier, a parade of people dressed as frogs was streaming into the little bar where I first saw the Red Elvises perform. Apparently they were part of a $20-a-head fundraiser for the Green Party going on in there. Aron Kay made his way through the crowd, huffing and puffing and generally looking like a beached whale. Libertarians waved signs denouncing everybody and brandished copies of Atlas Shrugged in a distinctly cultlike manner. There was a guy covered in balloons standing just a little too close to the police horses to be popping the things the way he was, but the LAPD never broke down and the horses stayed calm.
I made my way through the crowd to the Boathouse, a bar on the pier with a pleasant veranda where one can smoke behind a good healthy plexiglas shield. There I swilled down Bloody Marys and chainsmoked American Spirits as I watched the parade go by. Gangbangers circled the edges of the crowd, looking for easy pickings. A couple of mohawked retro-punk types went by carrying a large sign that read, Pokemon must die! Evil white-trash meth casualties strode through the throng, sunburnt, strung out and twitching.
Apparently the Democrats were having some sort of fete down at the end of the pier. Having crashed a few Republican parties in Philly, I abandoned my cozy position and set off to check it out. I stood in line for a very long time only to be turned back at the door by some federal stooge under orders to keep the media out at all costs. I was trying to find out who was sponsoring the party when some generic tattooed white girl with a bunch of piercings came up and got in my face, shrieking, "War criminal! War criminal!" at me, saliva flying off her tongue stud. I've been called a lot of things, some of them fairly accurate, but it took me 46 years and a trip to Santa Monica to be labeled a war criminal.
I went back down to the beach to smoke a joint and ran into Tom Hayden, who looks pretty good considering he was once married to Jane Fonda. I said, "Hi, Tom," and he looked at me the way you might look at someone who's been saying that to you off and on for the last 30 years. Say what you want about Tom Hayden, at least the guy is accessible. He's not afraid of people and he's no kind of phony.
Monday morning I woke up and went to the grocery store on the corner to get some cantaloupe and fresh juice. Allen Ginsberg once wrote a magnificent tribute to the California supermarket, and I am always astounded when I walk into one. First thing is the space?there's just so much of it?but what really zonks me out is the freshness of the produce. This stuff looks like it just fell off the tree. What we call "grade-A" produce in New York is the kind of slop the Manson family used to pull out of dumpsters out here by comparison. This is America, this is what real wealth signifies. Out in the parking lot, people are living in broken-down vans and dusty station wagons held together with gaffer tape, but that's their choice, and the food is incomparable.
I went to the Staples Center to check out the action. Rage Against the Machine was scheduled to do a concert in the parking lot at 6, and by 2 about 500 people were already gathered in the blistering heat on the asphalt, enduring endless sermons from a cadre of 12 or so hardcore Christian anti-sin activists waving flags bearing the name of Jesus and ranting into bullhorns about the wages of buttfucking and flushing embryos down toilets. One guy came limping across the tarmac carrying a huge cross, dressed as Jesus. He was sweating like a pig and patiently enduring all manner of verbal abuse from the hipsters, so I bought him a bottle of water from one of the numerous Mexican street vendors hanging around the periphery. Gazing up at his cross, I noticed the array of feds hanging out on the roof of the Holiday Inn across the street, pointing a variety of interesting-looking high-tech gadgets down at the crowd. I stared at them until one of them pointed something at me, at which point I lit out for Pershing Square, where the dissidents were gathering for a march.
I was intending to meet up with my communist buddies there, but there was no way I was going to find them in the crowd of about 5000 gathered in the tiny park. It was a very colorful assemblage, much more interesting than anything I saw in Philadelphia. There were people carrying lifesize inflatable cruise missiles, the frogs were there, a group of Korean drummers and dancers in native dress demanding the withdrawal of American troops from their homeland, lots of interesting variations on gender and a guy with a van pulling a simulated nuclear waste canister who rambled on endlessly through a loudspeaker in some kind of semblance of logorrhea about the hazards of nuclear power and waste. The guy never shut up and rarely made any sense. Best of show were the "Zombies for Gore," a group of maybe eight or 12 people done up as George Romero zombies, Night of the Living Dead stuff, gnawing on various plastic body parts from novelty shops and shambling along the street covered in fake blood and waving placards that said "The Dead Hate the Living." I liked them a lot. They made me a little homesick.
A band of three or four dozen black-clad pseudo-anarchists were dashing around baiting the cops, bandannas pulled up over their faces like dimestore banditos. These little posers were identical to the crowd in Philly that trashed a working guy's Camry on the street while he was busy fixing an air conditioner. Here they were gathered under a banner that read "Association of Northwest Anarchists." I have a whore's nose for money, and these little dredlocked white brats reek of it. I asked one of them why they were there, a kid who called himself "Zero" and claimed to hail from Eugene, OR. "We're here to fuck with The Man and remind him who owns the streets," he exclaimed defiantly. There were workfare protesters and clowns, and the local janitors' strike was represented by a small, dignified group keeping their distance from the various sideshow acts.
The crowd departed for the Staples Center at about 5, making their way through the streets without incident. The cops were remarkably restrained and scrupulously polite. People bitch and moan all the time about schoolteachers and what they get paid. Cops get paid about the same and they don't get the whole summer off. People instructed their own children for millennia before schools came along, but society has always needed enforcers, people to keep the peace and settle domestic disputes. It's a hard and nasty job, and there are a lot of creeps and cretins always ready to act out some parental trauma by way of some twisted transference phenomenon involving the cops. There is an endless supply of half-wits ready to blame the working men and women of any given police force for the corruption and ineptitude of elected officials. The irony is that most of those whiners and crybabies don't bother to vote.
In Philadelphia the protests were kept away from the convention itself, but an L.A. judge ruled that here they were to be held right outside the convention hall, and so it came to pass that the Democrats had to walk a gauntlet of rabid anti-abortion crusaders and the various fringe groups and labor unions that pass for the left these days. Rage Against the Machine took the stage shortly after 6 and performed an utterly forgettable set of generic contemporary easy-listening punctuated by a lot of incoherent fake-revolutionary babbling. I was wondering about the lead singer's drug intake when I spotted John Lydon striding through the crowd, looking plump and remarkably cheerful amid the angst-ridden youth and maddened Christians. I asked him what he thought of the event. "This year's amateurs," he sneered.
The anarchist kiddies began starting little fires and setting off firecrackers around sunset, and I decided that I'd rather watch the predictable melee on television, so I set out for the local bar. I'm an old man, I could break my hip. By the time I got to the Back Door Pub, about two blocks away and hidden in an alley, the LAPD had opened a very small can of whup-ass on the protesters. The kiddies had provoked them by chucking pieces of concrete, bottles, firecrackers and one bottle filled with what appeared to be muriatic acid at them, and the cops retaliated by cutting the power on the concert and giving the assemblage 15 minutes to get the hell out. At 14.5 minutes they charged the crowd, firing rubber bullets, beanbags and pepper spray. It was an extremely restrained attack and no one was seriously injured. There were 10 arrests and a few people got some nasty welts, nothing worse than what the average pro dominatrix would leave on a well-heeled client. An attention junkie by the name of Ted Hayes who calls himself a "homeless advocate" charged the cops and got whomped with a rubber bullet, whereupon he lay down on the ground, apparently faking serious injury for the benefit of the cameras. He claimed to have suffered a cardiac arrest, but he was looking fit as a fiddle when I saw him the next day wandering around at Arianna Huffington's Shadow Convention, waving a sign that said "Justice for Ted Hayes."
A silly little white girl with a bad bleach job and the usual tattoos cried for the tv crews and displayed a swollen eye, not even blackened, which she claimed was bestowed upon her by the LAPD by way of a rubber bullet. "I was just standing there for humanity," she whined. One of my fellow bar patrons said, "Well, try standing somewhere else, you dumb bitch. When the cops say move, you move."
While all this was going on, Clinton was inside delivering a speech that could put a terminal meth-head to sleep. He might as well have been standing there with his stupid trademark grin intoning, "I'm lying my ass off, fuck you," over and over again. His smarmy, rabid chipmunk wife stood in the stands next to his pig-faced daughter, looking on as if she were calculating the terms of the divorce settlement. At the conclusion of his turgid and eminently forgettable speech the convention hall resounded to the sound of "76 Trombones" from Meredith Willson's wonderful The Music Man, a story about a charismatic con artist who roams the countryside swindling small towns by way of "helping the children."
The Republican delegates in Philadelphia instinctively recognized me as some kind of awful mutant, very different from them, most probably with very different values, but they treated me cordially and they were very polite. The Democrats, by contrast, reacted to me as if I had just taken a dump on their carpet. They're nasty and rude and quite unaccustomed to that most fundamental of American values, agreeing to disagree. It is interesting how these creeps who claim to be on or near my side display so much more open contempt for me than the blatantly oppositional so-called conservatives of the GOP. I enjoyed the Republicans, which really surprised me. I had a strong urge to run the Democrats over with the Mitsubishi.
Tuesday I had to drop by Arianna's World to meet up with Sarah Ferguson, who was out here on her own ticket couch-surfing for the Village Voice. She needed a place to stash her stuff, and I figured the trunk of my car would do. These Shadow Convention stiffs are the most self-righteous band of lockstep p.c. jerks I've met since I got kicked off Echo, the tired old BBS where feminazis go to die. I'd like to have the Birkenstock franchise with this bunch.
Nauseated by the stifling atmosphere of academic political correctness and weary hippiedom, I took off for Pershing Square to see what the youngsters were up to. The queers were having their day. I got there at about 6 after taking an accidental detour through L.A.'s Skid Row district, where a horrifying assemblage of beaten-down people of color swarmed around the car and actually tried to get in, another George Romero moment, only considerably less comical than the Zombies for Gore.
I asked one of the cops about the permit for this event and when it might expire, figuring to wander off and get a drink after my harrowing experience with the living dead. A lieutenant told me quite firmly that "They will be leaving this area at 6:30." I decided to forgo the drink and watch the show. The first speaker took the microphone at about 6:20, and the cops were out in full force, lining the square in head-to-toe riot gear. As the gigantic self-described "fat Latino dyke" rambled on past the appointed hour of departure, I asked the cop next to me, a Sgt. Amendola, what they intended to do. Sgt. Amendola replied, "This is not corporate America, we don't live by the clock. These are good people and they're well-behaved. If they need a few extra minutes to express their views, we'll give it to them." At 6:40 the assembled gender-identified group staged a mass "kiss-in" and began their peaceful and well-organized march to the Staples Center.
The bicycle fanatics known as Critical Mass were less disciplined and less lucky. They defied the cops and attempted to disrupt traffic, which is just as big a no-no in L.A. as it is in NYC. They got busted in a very smooth and professional motion involving no violence whatsoever. I drove over to the convention center, stopping at the Back Door for a couple of rounds, figuring to wander in and check out the aftermath of the evening's festivities and examine the departing delegates. Eddie, the bartender, fixed me up a perfect Bloody Mary and put forth his idea for a new political party.
"I think we ought to run John Gotti for president," he said. "He's got proven leadership skills and he'd keep the economy rolling along. The media would love it. Most people trust Gotti a lot more than any of these politicians. We could call it 'The Family Values Party.'"
I had another one while Eddie continued on about the benefits of replacing our current crop of political hacks with a known gangster, then left for the Staples Center. As I wandered in against the flow of scowling delegates, I saw Jesus sitting with His cross, chowing down a pizza. He remembered me from the day before, when I gave Him that bottle of water. A red-faced fanatic was standing next to Him screaming at the delegates about Nader and not really making a good impression. I decided to ask Jesus about Ralph.
"Lord," I said quietly, "will You be voting for Ralph Nader? Does the choice of Bush or Gore make You want to Ralph?"
Jesus paused for a moment, chewing His pizza thoughtfully. He swallowed, cleared His throat and said, "God isn't political."
"Then just what the fuck are You doing here?" I asked, then pushed my way through the crowd and into the press area. NBC had a little cookhouse set up and I had the munchies. I tried to scam my way in, to no avail. I wandered around the media area and the convention hall for a while, marveling at the amount of litter left behind. Democrats are certainly a dirtier bunch than the Republicans, that's for sure.
The next day I woke up vomiting, probably from an overdose of political correctness, or maybe it was Jesus trying to show me something. I horked all day and hung out by the pool. A bunch of vegan anarchists attempted to "liberate" a fur warehouse near the convention, resulting in 42 arrests. I really despise vegans. Of all the self-righteous twits running around on the left, they are the very worst. The idea that one's dietary practices make one somehow superior or elect is the most obnoxious dogma to come down the pike since Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon declared heterosexual sex a hate crime. Vegans make me wish that the Tylenol Killer would come back and go to work on the tofu supply.
Thursday I was ready to go postal. I've had my fill of this bogus convention crap, these coronations. There's nothing happening here, nothing to see; I just want to move on and put this hideous national tragedy behind me. It's all very depressing. I need to go to Vegas. I long for smoke-filled rooms where chance is a factor, where the outcome is not fixed. Call it nostalgia, call it dementia, call it whatever you want, just call me a car so I can get out of this river of shit.
I got stoned and drove downtown, blasting Bocelli out the windows of the car on the freeway as I hurtled full-throttle toward the climax of this ghastly charade. I had to see what the kids were going to do on this, their last chance to provoke a police riot. All week long the LAPD had exhibited the patience of Job, and while most of the protesters were decent people exasperated with a political system based on kleptocracy and outright fraud mingled with random blowjobs and assassinations, these mangled little anarcho-wannabes were out for nothing more than a good clubbing. I knew that Gore's speech would only amount to a massive emetic after I viewed the atrociously cute and saccharine video shot by Spike Jonze, which was getting continuous rotation on the morning news shows. Gore is desperately attempting to look human, and it just doesn't work.
The atmosphere was quite tense outside the convention center as the cops braced for the climax of the week. I sidled up to a fed and asked him if he thought there was much of a chance of trouble. He nodded yes in a sufficiently solemn fashion that I decided to view the festivities from the press balcony up on the fourth floor of the Staples Center, where alcohol was being served. An absurdly sentimental anthem was being played and Al Gore was taking the stage as I made my way through the crowd and up to the balcony. I hung out next to two officers, one from the LAFD and one the LAPD, guzzling gin-and-tonics and lamenting the fact that I hadn't bothered to roll a joint as everything below us and behind just dissipated slowly and with excruciating tension.
In the end, nothing much happened. Gore got crowned, some folks got lumps, the cops did their job and did it well. The left in this country is as dead as Julius Caesar. It is diffuse and undisciplined, lost in the swirl of identity politics, myriad causes contending against a well-oiled and smoothly efficient corporate machine. I know a loser when I see one. The collapse of the left is a very real loss for us all: dialogue and critique are vital components of a growing society. I think we are in trouble. I think we are in rat's alley, where the dead men lost their bones.
The sun is rising over the pool. I'm going to Vegas. I think a few crucifixions may be in order here.
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For Silver, All Politics Is Local