Sunday, September 4, 2011

Living on the beach.

Peter Fonda, Jane's brother, rides out of Venice back when Venice was slummy and the living was easy.

My good friend, Ib, posted something about gentrification and Venice Beach. Ib is in Glasgow and I'm not altogether sure what he makes of Venice. Better to read what he wrote, here.

I'm kind of unmotivated on my own. Somebody has to inspire me but when they do, I don't know when it will stop. I ended up writing this as a comment on Ib's blog post.

"It's necessary that we recognize the realities of the market. In the case of mutts like ourselves the reality is that the market is a bunch of rich hoodlums wrecking our lives just 'cause they can.

I live in terror of real estate developers. I was nearly driven out of my little California hidey hole and forced to live someplace so squalid it failed to attract their attention. California was becoming unlivable as all anyone ever talked about was equity. As in "How much equity you got in that place?".
I'm so fucking glad the real estate market went to shit. I feel sorry for a few friends who bet their lives on the equity fairy dust but the truth is that my life has been vastly improved by the collapse of the real estate market. Bad for my friends who work in the construction industry too, and I know a lot of those guys, but I could tell them stories about industrial collapse that would almost make them grateful for what they've hung on to. 

I spent a winter, drunk on my ass in an apartment on Venice Beach. I had just turned 21 and I stopped off there on my way from the collapse of Detroit to the gentrification of Oakland. Actually, I was wandering back and forth from Echo Park to Venice while I waited a couple of months for a check to arrive in the mail. My Echo Park hosts were cranky old (like 30 years old man) Trotskyists who were content to leave me starving and lonely in abject misery. Periodically I would find a few quarters under a cushion then I would walk down the hill to Burrito King where I would gorge on plain bean burritos. Nothing in them but beans and lard. I longed to be able to afford the bean and cheese burrito. 
That was the longest I have ever gone without eating; about three days as I recall. I was very depressed. Periodically my hosts, senior comrades, would look up from their reading (The philosophic and economic manuscripts of 1905- VI Lenin) and scowl at me. "Stop looking so goddam pathetic would you!". I don't recall them ever offering to feed me. 

This was all part of some Trotskyist factional intrigue. I was supposed to infiltrate this other, equally tiny and irrelevant, group and report back to my scowling hosts in secret. They hatched this plan when I showed up, unannounced to them, from Detroit. I had been told by the senior comrades (also about 30) in Detroit that my coming would be announced in advance and that I would be welcomed in Los Angeles by friends who would be only too happy to help me to anything I needed. Instead I was met with suspicion and indifference that only let up a little when phone inquiries had been made to Detroit and New York. 
The infiltration plot was hatched when the elderly Bolsheviks of Echo Park found out I had high school friends living in Venice. I would be shipped off to Venice where I would intercept the hated enemy faction and become part of their circle, reporting back in secret to the wise elders of Echo Park. 

Does this sound fucked up? Yeah, well it was. 

So off I was sent for a multi hour long ride across Los Angeles on the LARTD. It takes most of a day to get from Downtown to the beach by bus, stopping every block. I'm sure the senior comrades would have given me a ride but they had some important documents to review preparatory to the next faction fight. 
My Venice Beach hosts were two goofy friends from high school. They had moved to Los Angeles with the intention of attending film school. They had gotten as far as renting an apartment when their ambition ran out. One of them was working nights in a donut shop while the other survived off checks from mom and dad in New Jersey. 

They were happy to see me. They fed me donuts and introduced me to avocados. We bought bags of cheap produce that we stir fried in corn oil and washed down with quantities of real cheap beer. Brew 102 and Lucky Lager were our favorites. "It's Lucky When You Live In the West". 

The only furniture in the apartment was a card table, a folding chair and a tiny portable TV. We slept on the floor. The walls were decorated with front page headlines from the LA Herald Tribune. "BANANA KING LEAPS TO DEATH" was a favorite. An executive from United Fruit had committed suicide.
 During the day we tended to stay inside. We were from New Jersey. The Venice Beach scene weirded us out. Sometimes we would walk up and down from Muscle Beach to the Santa Monica pier. It looked just like TV and we had absolutely no ability to relate to the muscle freaks, roller girls and drug creeps we ran into.
 When we were thoroughly drunk, the night belonged to us. The surf was experiencing an episode of bioluminescence. We would stagger into the glowing waves and marvel as our footprints lit up in the wet sand. That was as close as I felt to happy during that dismal time.

I was allowed one friend in Santa Monica but what a friend he was. He was a comrade in our little cult who has gone on to become a public figure in Los Angeles. The names have been changed to protect the guilty. 
Max, as I'll call him, had started the original FM underground rock show in Cleveland. He was a hero of the '60's Cleveland music scene. He had come west to make a name for himself in broadcasting. He ended up as one of Wolfman Jack's writers on The Midnight Special TV show.                                                               

That's right, the Wolfman did not spontaneously quip, "Outta sight baby" between acts on the show. Max and a crack team of LA writers had to confer and come up with that shit. Los Angeles. Show biz. What a pile of crap.

Nonetheless it paid the rent on a pleasant apartment in Santa Monica. At that time Jane Fonda was married to Tom Hayden and they were radically slumming it by living in a huge house in Santa Monica. It so happened that Max's apartment was right next door. I spent hours on the front porch, hoping to catch a glimpse of Ms. Fonda. It turned out she was out of town the whole time I was there. I never saw Tom either but it takes an enormous staff to be famous in LA. People were coming and going from that place all the time.

Max had a great record collection, a fantastic stereo and part time custody of a charming little boy named Martin. I got to babysit Martin a few times. I really enjoyed my time with him. He thought it was incredibly cool that I knew how to drive a city bus and he would ask me about bus driving. He was a great kid.
Max has gone on to become a well loved figure on LA Public radio and Martin has had success as a character actor. He specializes in playing creepy little guys. His most memorable roles were in "Drugstore Cowboy" and "Gummo". 

Finally, the time came for me to begin the planned infiltration of the enemy sect. I was put on yet another bus where I was driven across interminable miles of Los Angeles to some sort of radical event where I wandered up and introduced myself to the enemy youth group. They were, not surprisingly, a geeky, enthusiastic crew almost exactly the same as the young people in my own little cult. I ended up spending a day or two with them. I don't remember. I didn't learn any secrets. I doubt there were any to be learned. I did have one of my many brushes with fame when I was introduced to a cute young comrade, Susan. She was bright, energetic and insanely seductive. For a second there I thought we were going to start taking each other's clothes off, just by way of saying hello. Then she walked away. Man do I wish there was more to tell but there isn't. 

Years later I came across the name Susie Bright. I love that woman, and I love her writing. One day I was reading her account of her time in a tiny Trotskyist youth group in Los Angeles. I realized that she was the Susan I'd met years before. I was impressed. Maybe you aren't.

About that time my overdue check arrived from New Jersey. I treated my friends to drinks in a phony English Pub that sat in a haze of smog between two freeways. I think I did anyhow.

I reported back to Echo Park and the wise elders determined that it was time to send me on to Oakland. For once they were nice to me. They drove me to the airport where I stood in line to board a bizarre California institution, the first come first served Midnight Special flight from LA to San Francisco. You showed up early and stood in line at the gate. When the gates opened you handed over ten or twenty dollars (I can't remember now) cash only to the man at the gate. The line filed on to the plane until all the seats were taken at which time the plane took off. Drinks were served, cash only, from take off to landing and I arrived, somewhat drunk in San Francisco. That's another story."


ib said...


Roz said...

I'm glad you remember this. It's worth retelling,and worth the time to read!

Nazz Nomad said...

that's why you need to keep writing- this kicked ass

Birdsong said...


Helen said...

This really got me there. Kick ass writing ... Oh yeah!

ish said...

That was a wonderful read Jon.

Previously I only know of Venice from Beatnik novels and gay porn.

Your driver said...

Ish, an RCY angle on Venice Beach. Granite Hardness. Oh, wait, that was from the porn.

@eloh said...

Loved this... except for the Jane parts...

Your driver said...

@eloh, you would have hated me back then. I wanted to see Jane Fonda so I could sneer at her. I was more radical than her. She was a simpering liberal sell out. She was married to a state senator for God's sake. I hope we've all smartened up in our old age.

Thomas L. Vaultonburg said...

This was an AI pic, right? With Nicholson directing? I enjoyed this movie.

Your driver said...

I'm pretty sure you're right about AI. I have no idea who directed it.

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