By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
THE NONPROFIT, 27-ACRE WRIGHT Way Organic Resource Center in Malibu is located so high above the coast that all sound is sucked into a hypnotic vortex of wind and dust storms. The ranch is accessible only through Los Flores Canyon, one of the most dangerous roads in Southern California. You climb the mountains past 200-foot drops until your ears pop and your cell phone dies. You reach a little dirt road with a single wooden sign saying "Wright" that leads to a culvertlike mountain pass of wrinkled rock faces perfect for an ambush. A lily-padded koi pond feeds into a man-made waterfall that empties into a natural amphitheater. What better place to celebrate the autumnal equinox?
Eric Lloyd Wright, who runs the ranch, is the spitting image of his tempestuous architect grandfather (who would have been 135 this year), his face a sagelike puzzle of ovals that could signal either peace or slight discomfort at so many invading strangers -- at least 150 -- who gathered here last month for what is becoming a fall tradition. As he has done at every equinox and solstice ceremony for the past four years, Wright made an opening speech: "I am proud to share all of this with you: this lovely day, this beautiful land . . . We come here to pay homage to nature and its spirits. I notice that every time so many people come up here we are preserving this place, making it even more sacred."
A procession then began up the hill toward the Medicine Wheel, a meditation circle located on a parcel of naked terrain from which the sea and sky seem to switch places. The sun dropped below the rocks and the Pacific resembled a meadow of cotton slowly starting to smolder and burn, its dying light splashing radioactive pinks, blues and violets over the mountain peaks. "These are extreme times we live in, times of war," the shaman, a tiny brown-haired woman with just a touch of lipstick, announced. "This is also a time of re-balance with the elements. A time to re-synchronize, realign, renew, re-connect." Someone played saxophone runs while people knelt in the dirt.
"Touch the Earth, touch her, run your hands over her body . . ." (I couldn't help gazing down the backsides of hippie ladies and counting their thong straps.) Against the blood-orange air, silhouettes crouched on the rock formations above Medicine Hill, lifting their arms like weathervanes. In response, we raised our arms to the sky, looking like people unable to get off the ground. "Thank the Creator!" (But I don't believe in a Creator . . .) "Eat the crackers we're passing out and give a piece to one of your friends." (Jonestown? Heaven's Gate?) "Spirits of our ancestors have things to say to us." (Someone farts.) "Well, sometimes the spirits have a sense of humor, too."
The ceremonial vibe came apart a bit once the potluck meal was unwrapped on long wooden tables. People stole away from the ceremony, toward the rice dishes, salads, and bowls of hummus and tabbouleh. A sign read, "No eating till the ceremony ends!" But the children were getting irritated ("I don't wanna wait 20 more hours!"). People started oozing their way into line ("I was here before; I just went to turn off my dome light"). A soccer mom picked a little bit of food from each bowl, tasted it, than took more. A landmass in a cowboy hat piled his plate high and then went back for seconds. And thirds.
The shrill, Woodstock-style stage announcements started: "We have many more people in line -- some who actually brought food-- so let's spread it out and save a little for everyone." No one listened. In more desperate frontier circumstances, I could imagine a massacre with meat cleavers -- a mutiny over the bounty.
In the Midwest, the tables would be pregnant with sustenance -- whole roast pigs, mounds of potato salad and beans, a used-car lot's worth of pies -- each person bringing three times their weight in food, as if there were a contest to see who could build the best back fat. Here, there was slight anxiety in the small portions: Angelenos are so particular about what they eat that they feel people either won't understand or won't appreciate their tastes. If they do make something, it will not be in abundance, nor will it be something they necessarily specialize in. Maybe this is why, as I headed back in the dark, the Wright driveway began to resemble a long alimentary canal. I passed back from a world of peaceful spirits to one of nervous, selfish ghosts. I know this because, once off the mountain, my cell phone popped back on and I was inclined to hit a Quizno's.
A Kind Shtick: The Business of Dealing Pot
DUDE, IT'S 4:20. AND JOEY THE PUFF'S two couriers are rallied and armed, each with a misdemeanor's worth of marijuana. Meanwhile, the Puff -- obviously, the ä name has been changed to protect the man who risks freedom to get you stoned -- is fielding one of the approximately 35 calls he receives from the jonesing set, every Monday through Saturday. Typically, 15 of these referred clients are walk-in customers; the rest are deliveries, a value-added service that commands an additional $5 over the base price of $60 for an eighth of stinky buds. Like any savvy businessperson, the Puff excels at multitasking; his shoulder cradles a cordless phone while his hands move deftly from pager to paper. No time for gesticulating. According to a mathematical equation that somehow configures the city's population with the number of Six Degrees of Separation encounters I share with those who use the Puff's service, he is no doubt one of the more popular persons in Los Angeles, if not, dare I say it, this fine country.