Cirque du Malaise
Dawn of the Zombies for Gore
– 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.
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
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,"
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.
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
"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
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.
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.