Leave Your Inhibitions at the Door

Poor Elizabeth Berkley. She went from class brain on a Saturday-morning kiddie show to Showgirls’ world-class ho Nomi Malone, a G-stringed Eve Harrington with the lofty goal of going from hooker to stripper to topless showgirl. Now MGM is trying to turn Showgirls into a Rocky Horror Picture Show–style cult classic.

Of course, Nomi Malone is no Dr. Frank- N-Furter, despite looking like a transvestite. And though she didn’t know how to say Versace, boy could she lick her own breast.

At heart, Showgirls is nothing more than a misogynistic porno-without-penetration that director Paul Verhoeven and writer Joe Eszterhas tried to pass off as a commentary on feminism: menstruation jokes. Gratuitous sex. A disturbing rape scene. Good times. After we were duped into seeing the movie when it was first released, and paying $10 to watch it again last week at the Vista — L.A.’s first interactive showing — throwing popcorn at the screen felt like sweet revenge. And when a movie has a fat lady flashing her breasts way, way too many times while spouting jokes like “What do you call that useless piece of skin around a twat? A woman,” you can at least get one good guffaw out of it. Besides, with Berkley’s Brillo-pad hair, overdrawn lip liner and Edward Scissorhands acrylics — not to mention lines like “It must be nice not to have somebody cum on you” — Showgirls was always just a wire hanger away from being a legit camp classic.

Before the screening, we wasted an eternity in front of the Vista’s red carpet, waiting with Versays on the tips of our tongues for some of the actors who had enough humor to show up, including Lin Tucci (Henrietta “Mamma” Bazoom, the aforementioned flasher), Patrick Bristow (the choreographer who never danced) and Rena Riffel (impregnated dancer Penny). Porn star and ex–gubernatorial candidate Mary Carey was also in attendance; this must’ve been like Citizen Kane for her. The evening’s MC and drag queen bee Jackie Beat was much funnier inside, where he randomly picked on a woman for wearing a brown velour jogging suit, a spat that ended in verbal bitchslapping: “At least my hair is real — and I have real breasts and a real vagina . . .” (Ladies, ladies, save it for when Nomi pushes Crystal down the stairs.) The only trivia tidbit came from a moviegoer who revealed that Drew Barrymore was originally thought of for the lead — honey, we all knew that. Of course, there were a few people only too eager to mimic the cheesy choreography, including the famous crisscrossed hands flashed in front of the face (think Fosse meets Solid Gold).

Goody bags were filled with props and instructions on how to play along with the scenes. We threw fake bills during the stripteases, waved a gold-lamé scarf and flashlight for the “Goddess” show numbers, and shouted “Hairpiece” whenever Kyle MacLachlan (looking more like the fifth Beatle than a sleazoid hotel director) appeared onscreen. There were so many noisemakers going off every time Nomi “hits, kicks or maims someone” that the theater sounded like a castanet party. And it got so loud toward the end, during the possessed sex scene — where Berkley writhes in a pool as if Father Karras were exorcising the smutty spirit from her — the floor practically imploded from all the foot stomping. Too bad no one yelled out “Call Nomi 9-1-1” to poor best friend Molly (Gina Ravera) when she unknowingly walked into a gangbang. Yeah, good times.

Just before the screening, Bristow stood up to defend Berkley, who he said worked her, uh, ass off for the movie but got the brunt of the backhandedness. “To Elizabeth Berkley!” he proclaimed, raising his hand. To Elizabeth Berkley.

—Siran Babayan

Lost Boy

It was late afternoon when the first man and woman on horseback showed up. We were eight grown-ups and four children gathered at Gray’s Peak group camp near Fawnskin planning to hike later under the full moon. Mara had been singing “What a Wonderful World” while Michael played guitar; Susan and Mark were playing paddle tennis; I had just opened another beer and was preparing to settle in the shade with Saturday’s Los Angeles Times when the riders turned into our camp.

The woman spoke first. “Have any of you seen a little boy?” We hadn’t. She went on to explain that a 9-year-old had wandered away from his parents that morning at the Hanna Flat Campground, just over the ridge from where we were. They thought he was lost somewhere in the woods. We promised to keep an eye out.

After the riders left, we speculated on where a child could have gone in this wilderness. We looked up into the mountains and suddenly saw them differently: the deep ravines, the slopes thick with pine trees, so many of them rust-colored from bark-beetle infestation. We looked at the kids and tried not to think about it.

Mara went off on her own and called the boy’s name, David, David! Meanwhile, Mark took his and Mara’s children, 5-year-old Zora, a storybook beauty, and Dante, an 8-year-old with deep-blue eyes and long eyelashes, for a hike. Lene and her 6-year-old, Jasper, went with Dan and his 4-year-old, Charlie, in the car to find a place to swim.

Soon after, more horses came, this time with support vehicles, a San Bernardino County pickup truck and a long horse trailer. Our campsite parking lot had just become a staging area for a search-and-rescue mission.

The horses were beautiful. There was a woman with an Appaloosa, and another grooming a bay. One of the women looked to be in her 50s with her hair done up in a topknot of curls and a glamorous coat of eye makeup and lipstick. They were volunteers.

Another rider arrived on a gray-speckled horse with its tongue hanging out. “I know what you’re going to ask me,” he said when we approached the horse. “Why is his tongue hanging out? The answer is, ‘I don’t know.’” I heard him say this two or three times throughout the evening.

Despite the camaraderie, everything felt wrong. Out of nowhere, a dogfight erupted between Franny and Molly, who were rolling and snarling like professionals in the ring, surrounded by humans screaming for them to stop. When we lit one of the Coleman stoves to start dinner, flames spread across the picnic table. We threw dirt on the fire, screamed at the kids to back away and ended up tossing the stove in the fire pit. Then Dean and 16-year-old Skye showed up, saying they’d seen a terrible accident on the 18 — an SUV had collided head-on with a Miata.

By now we were 14 adults, counting Skye. We ate chili and cheese and green beans and seitan; we opened a couple of bottles of wine, broke out the drums and African thumb pianos. We tried to be happy.

Night fell. We learned that a cougar had been spotted on the other side of Big Bear Lake. The sheriff stood by his truck waiting for the riders to return, talking on his radio and talking to us. He told us a pickup truck had been seen at Hanna Flat just before or after the little boy disappeared. “There was a quad in the back,” he said. “An ATV.” His theory was that the boy had been abducted. “He’s only 3 feet tall,” he said. “And he’s got a speech impediment. Maybe he didn’t even have time to scream.” He talked about the hiker Eric Sears, who had been found dead the week before in Joshua Tree National Park. “Drugs,” he said. “The mountains are full of them.” Not long ago, he said, he stumbled across a field of 1,200 marijuana plants up in Holcomb Valley.

The riders returned with no sign of the boy. About 11 p.m., the moon finally rose over the ridge, and 10 of us set out to hike toward the Butler Peak fire lookout, five miles up the road. About three miles in we found a field of rocks and hung out watching the mackerel clouds drift over the moon. Alan turned around first, and later told us that while he tried to fall asleep in his tent back at camp, he heard trucks and ATVs crawling up the road, and men’s voices calling out for David. Dan turned around later, and said that on his walk back alone, he thought of almost nothing but all the bad people hiding out in the mountains.

Michael, Mark and I made it to the Butler Peak Fire Lookout, which was so precipitous my knees buckled climbing the stairs. We got back to camp at 4 a.m., exhausted. I thought I might sleep in a few hours, but awoke at dawn to helicopters. Someone was calling from the helicopters for the searchers on the ground to look up into the trees. I asked one of the rescuers what that meant; she told me that the trees are where mountain lions often take their prey.

After breakfast, we caravanned toward a swimming hole along the Rim of the World, looking down at the worst smog I’ve ever seen, and up at the devastation of last year’s fires. The views, once obscured by forest, were now exposed over bald and blackened cliffs. I started to feel as if the world was ending.

Locals near the swimming hole, who stood among the ruins of lone chimneys where houses used to be, told us the water was still full of ash. So the parents went on to Lake Gregory, where the kids could rent paddle boats. The rest of us headed home.

As of this writing, David Gonzales, the 9-year-old boy from Lake Elsinore who disappeared at his family’s truck where he’d gone to get cookies, has yet to be found.

—Judith Lewis

Red, Brad and Blue

“Bush Is SCARY, Vote for KERRY!”

Not bad for a bumper sticker but extraordinary for a red, white and blue poncho handmade by artist Lisa Anne Auerbach, one of many original pieces for sale during Saturday’s Art for Kerry event at Chinatown’s Sister Gallery, Munky King and Mountain Bar. Gin Ling Way buzzed with buyers, artists, gallerists and, well, Cameron Diaz.

Inside Sister, with red hair swept back over a dramatic black backless top, owner and event organizer Katie Brennan struggled to hang labels on walls cluttered with artwork while answering visitors’ questions, greeting artists and fielding calls from collectors anxious to reserve pieces.

“I’ve never been into politics,” Brennan said between multitasks, then explained that four more years with Bush moved her to action. “I’ve never felt this mobilized before. We’re trying to incite younger people to get active.”

As Brennan began praising the generosity of the Chinatown galleries, shop owners and artists who donated pieces without compensation, she was interrupted first by a collector wanting Ry Rockland’s All American #1 Rastafarian baseball with dreads, a knit hat and googley eyes, and then by a caller wanting three Beat Bush Paddles. Made by two bartenders at Mountain Bar, the paddle features an American flag on one side and on the other an image of Bush with a bull’s-eye on his forehead.

Computing the sale while pressing the phone to her ear, Brennan urged the collector to hurry. “I can’t hold pieces for long,” she pleaded. Hanging up, she said, “I’m not used to saying ‘no’!” This much business is not the norm for Sister or any other neighborhood gallery. “People in New York bought pieces from the Web site before the show even went up. So many artists wanted to be involved that we [had to] put up pieces at Mountain Bar.”

The phone shrilled again, and Brennan disappeared into it. Meanwhile, artist/gallerist Roger Herman sipped a drink and waited patiently for Brennan’s attention. He’d donated several works from his space, Black Dragon Society. Eyeing his own piece, a crackle-glazed ceramic bowl with contour paintings of distorted figures, I asked Herman if he had always been political, since his work is not. “Yes, often a lot more left than this,” he laughed. “I’m German. We realized patriotism wasn’t a good idea for us long ago.”

Grabbing an orange Fanta from the ice-filled bin, I hung out with the priciest (and loneliest) piece in the show, an $8,500 painting on paper by Laura Owens. Disembodied heads clutch American flags in their mouths, and bodies spout blood from limbless joints, while Situation of America & Times spells it out at the bottom.

Nearby, two young women, one wearing a pink “This is what a feminist looks like” T-shirt, peered up with amusement at Jason Meadow’s piece Red, Brad, and Blue, an American flag– colored collage of Brad Pitt’s face. “Now, that I can get behind,” the girl giggled.

Next door, at Munky King, where 10 percent of the day’s sales were going to Kerry, shoppers perused rapper/DJ action figures, Japanimation dolls, and kitschy Doug Murphy portraits of celebrities from Martha Stewart to Paris Hilton.

As day turned to night back at Sister Gallery, Katie Brennan, hair down, makeup smeared, shirt askew, rested behind her desk. Her hard work had paid off, with art sales alone raising around $25,000 for the campaign.

Over at Mountain Bar, its minimalist interior adorned with red, white and blue balloons and streamers, more art, and signs pledging 5 percent of the bar to the Kerry-Edwards campaign, scenesters flooded the place. Some wanted to support the fund-raising effort. Some wanted to party. One young woman wearing a patriotic lei as a belt was feeling it both ways. “We’re getting drunk for a cause!” she cried, and then turned back to the bar.

—Nora Zelevansky

Not Vons

One of my favorite Pioneer Market moments was when I pulled into the parking lot in my beat-up VW with my prissy out-of-town cousin, and she quickly locked her door, hoping I wouldn’t notice. Apparently working-class Latinos are rare in the quiet suburbs of Chicago.

To be sure, Pioneer Market, established in the ’30s, wasn’t your normal Ralphs or Vons. It’s been a family-owned supermarket with old-fashioned values that catered to Echo Park’s Latino community for years. At least it was until last week when it shut its doors for good. I’m a relative newcomer among the many generations that have shopped there, but along with most Eastsiders (meaning east of Hollywood) I know that the folding of Pioneer Market is a tragedy.

In its final days, we were all taken by surprise. The extra-long checkout lines tipped us off. The word was on the street. Stock up. Don’t waste any valuable shopping time! Everyone acted as if we were under a red alert. At least this emergency seemed real.

“Where are you going to shop now?” I asked one shopper.

“Not Vons,” she snapped.

“That Vons sucks,” another Pioneer veteran echoed, referring to the market a few blocks away off Alvarado. They’re overpriced, most people told me, and with their recent involvement in the grocery strike, there’s bad mojo.

As their last days approached, employees who’d been at Pioneer Market for as long as 20 years appeared surprisingly upbeat. Larry Venegas hardly seemed fazed when I asked about his plans. “I’ll be looking for another job — change my apron to another color . . .” He smiled. “People have been here a long time. It’s like family here.” He pointed to Mario, who’d been at Pioneer for 29 years. But Mario couldn’t really talk — he was swamped checking out all his loyal customers saying goodbye for the last time.

I found Robert Dixon in the back, busy at work, as he has been every workday since 1985. In a sense, he’s looking forward to the time off; he’s only taken two weeks’ vacation since he started back in high school. He’s a young 36 years old with a big smile and friendly openness. “It’s an end of an era. They’re gonna miss this market when it’s down. Even the gang members will realize that they lost people who actually did care for them. They’ll miss us. They’ll miss us for sure.”

Why did local Latinos patronize this store for generations? All the clerks were bilingual; products catered to Mexican cuisine, with spicy marinated steak ranchera, the best tortilla chips around and packaged spices to tip you off that you’re not in Kansas anymore; and on the whole, practically everything was cheaper, particularly in the produce section. Also, the shelves were stocked with more unusual items, like Italian plateware made in China and plaster Bart Simpson piggybanks and large cream-rinse bottles for horses.

Now Walgreens will be taking over. One shopper said he’d be going to Costco. I guess it’s a Costco kinda world now.

But longtime shopper Shana Levy, of Angeleno Heights, sheepishly admitted, “It was my secret dream this would become a Whole Foods . . . or at least a Trader Joe’s!” Other patrons shook their heads when they learned that Walgreens would be coming in. But I have my doubts they were fantasizing about Trader Joe’s. The salsa is lousy there.

In the final hours, some customers tore down the ubiquitous, bright colored-marker posters on butcher paper advertising “EVERYTHING 30% OFF” for proprietor Leonardo Leum to autograph. After the owner disappeared, cashiers took over signing fliers for lugubrious shoppers. Santiago Medane of Echo Park, a customer since 1957, had just walked out with his signed poster. When asked what he’s going to do with that, he replied, “I’ll probably hang it beside my Vietnam and JFK posters. This is history, man.”

—Tulsa Kinney


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