Like Goths to the Flame

If you had happened to stumble onto the heat-baked plain of Disneyland as thousands of Iowans and I did Sunday, you would have found yourself smack in the middle of the Sixth Annual Bats Day at the Fun Park — Goth Day! — which is to say a convocation of Ursulas and Evil Queens and Wicked Stepsisters and Cruella De Vils the magnitude of which the Magic Kingdom sees but once a year. Goths overran the Small World ride, Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, and the Haunted Mansion; visited the petting zoo (black goats!); and sneered at the Hot Topic–style punk miniskirts and pseudo bondage tops for sale in the Tower of Terror gift shop. Young teenage goths hung in groups chaperoned by their distinctly ungoth moms and dads. Baby goths lolled in the cradle of their parents’ goth-tattooed arms. Goths lapped up caramel corn and pink cotton candy, faux juleps and bad cappuccinos.

Even in the cornier pastures of California Adventure, out by the Ferris wheel, there were fat goths and thin goths, goths strapped into plaid bondage pants and goths squeezed into grommeted leather, torn fishnets and torn tights, blue hair and green hair, hair lifted from Lost Boys, Derek Jarman’s Jubilee and The Bride of Frankenstein, all tied together by stiflingly hot black clothing, a certain air of summery surliness and colors of lipstick that were almost certainly not manufactured by Maybelline. Lace-encrusted black parasols of every shape and size shielded pale goth skin from the brutal Orange County sun.

I like to think of myself as not unsympathetic to the gothic cause. A band I used to play with opened up for Christian Death a few times, and I stood in line for hours to see the Cure’s first Los Angeles show at the Whisky a million years ago. I have been to more Peter Murphy concerts than I would tell even my best friends about. I practically lived at a Hollywood club called the Scream.

And although I ran across Bats Day quite by accident, I had, of course, heard about the non-Disney-sponsored fiesta, from zines, blogs and Chuck Klosterman’s diary of the event in Spin a couple of years ago. Who could resist the fun — the gloomiest people in the universe in The Happiest Place on Earth?

But as cheerful as Bats Day was, I couldn’t have felt more out of place. The goths were goths and I was just another stroller-pushing suburban dad in a pink button-down shirt. Bela Lugosi wasn’t the only guy who felt dead.

—Jonathan Gold

Signs of the Times

Claremont could easily be the setting for some mythical East Coast college town if it weren’t for the blazing sun and repressive smog hovering over the pillared buildings like some nagging atmospheric reminder of the impending apocalypse. In fact, many residents of the well-maintained, tree-lined neighborhood surrounding Claremont’s Village district are nattily dressed academics who work at the seven private colleges in the heart of the city. And like much of academia, a majority of those who live near the colleges are staunchly liberal. Growing up there in the early ’70s, I remember candlelit peace marches and a massive counterculture presence in the nearby park. Republicans were considered outsiders, who seemed to exist merely as theoretical targets of our scorn and fear. It was they who were waging an unnecessary war in some distant land, had broken into a Washington, D.C., hotel room to rig a presidential election and, it was widely conjectured, had urged the local police to hide listening devices in the park trees in a failed attempt to bust the local hippies (who had quickly caught on and began whispering misinformation into suspicious foliage).

But an enemy sneaked in and shattered this liberal, bourgeois idyll. Several weeks ago, my aged parents were slumbering in bed dreaming of rare French wines and their new grandson when the invader began to wreak havoc on the accepted order. Only when my mother stepped out in her slippers for the morning paper did she realize what had happened.

“Someone stole our John Kerry sign last night,” she told me when she called later that day. Indeed, nearly all the Kerry signs throughout my parents’ neighborhood had been uprooted and stolen from front yards the previous night. While it was surely frustrating, maybe even frightening, it was not all that surprising. I remembered how the last time I drove through San Bernardino, I was passed by a rumbling muscle car driven by some mullet-head displaying a bumper sticker with the heartwarming phrase “Aryan pride.”

My mother still works as a clinical social worker in the city of Loma Linda, where she counsels speed addicts and morose Seventh-day Adventists. A month before the sign incident, she was driving home in her little economy car when a large pickup edged right up to her back bumper. The driver honked his horn and then flipped my 70-something mother the bird, gesturing angrily at her John Kerry bumper sticker.

When I asked my college-professor dad for his theories on the sign thefts, he said, “I think it actually could be organized in some way by the Republicans. Those assholes think they’re on the side of God and that they’re entitled to do anything they want.”

A professor friend of his up the street, who also had his Kerry sign stolen, told me, “After what happened in Florida last time, with that Republican mob pounding on windows as the votes were being counted, I’m just not so trusting anymore. I’m not Mel Gibson in that film Conspiracy Theory, sleeping with tin foil on my head, but I’m not far from it, and it’s really sad. It’s actually starting to feel like prewar Germany.”

Growing up in Claremont, I did actually know a few flesh-and-blood Republicans, and, to be honest, they were never the monsters I expected them to be. The older guy down the street, who would buy my underage friends and me liquor, was a hardcore Republican. He became a lawyer. Then there was the lady down the block who had her Bush sign defaced during the last presidential election. Everyone found out about it when she wrote a letter of protest to the local paper.

A few days after my parents’ Kerry signs were stolen, my mother went down to the local Democratic headquarters to get replacements and was informed that they were all out and she’d have to wait a few weeks. So my brother found some in his area and drove them out to Claremont. My mom then took the signs around to her neighbors and passed the rest out at a local shopping area.

Just a couple of days later, it happened again, this time in broad daylight at around 10 in the morning. At the local Democratic headquarters, a swarm of people complained about the latest raid and asked for new signs. A woman down the street from my parents’ house counted about 15 signs stolen from the neighborhood, though police said only four sign thefts had been reported. “I’ve never seen it this negative,” said the woman. “It wasn’t this bad even during the Vietnam War.”

Someone claimed he had actually seen the perpetrator, and instead of a Tim McVeigh type in a battered pickup truck festooned with Toby Keith stickers, as my mom and I at first assumed, the alleged culprit was reportedly “in his mid-40s, wearing nice clothes and driving an expensive-looking car.” A couple also reported their sign had been set on fire. A man from the local Democratic headquarters told me, “This seems like out-of-control anger. Eventually someone’s going to be home, and there’s going to be a confrontation. And a lot of people in Claremont are senior citizens.”

The day my parents’ second sign was stolen, my mom stapled a note to the telephone pole in front of their house that reads: “This is a democracy where all voices should be heard.” She then stuck an American flag in it to drive home the point. Later that day she marched down and delivered a letter to the local paper that said: “Apparently there are those who think they can steal an election again, sign by sign.”

When she got home, she put up a new sign in the front yard, and this time it was a handmade one featuring a single word, “Stolen.” It’s still there.

—John Albert

Waiting for Jenna

Thursday night on the Sunset Strip a middle-aged man behind the wheel of a beat-up, orange, ’70s-style Volkswagen bus yelled in a distorted baritone, “Who are you guys waiting for?”

He was stopped at a red light on the busy corner of Sunset and Holloway, and was curious about who had attracted the crowd lined up outside Book Soup. A couple of people behind me screamed at the top of their lungs, “Jenna Jameson!” so all of West Hollywood could hear.

Jenna Jameson, the queen of porn, is now an author. We were waiting for her to appear at her book signing.

“She’s so fucking hot!” the driver screamed back.

I would guess that more people know who Jenna Jameson is than they do Colin Powell. So, from the outset I was expecting a long wait. But these weren’t your stereotypical porno fans waiting for Jenna. Far from it — consider all the young, relatively attractive women in line. In fact, we were well over 200 people, gay and straight, extreme and moderate, waiting an average of two hours for a glimpse of one of the most well-known “actresses” and for the chance to purchase her book, How To Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale.

I wasn’t sure if I really needed to spend $30.26 to know how to fuck like a porn star, but I thought, what the hell; along with most everyone else, I purchased the 592-page book. I’m sure many of the people waiting in line for an autograph silently thought, “I’ve never read a book this big before.”

Showing up fashionably late, in fact 30 minutes late, Jenna annoyed many fans. But two teenage girls, who waited for a little more than an hour, gleefully walked out of the bookstore. One, talking to nobody in particular, reassured us, “It’s worth the wait, guys,” while the other one was laughing and screamed, “She kissed me!”

There wasn’t one dull moment. When other drivers slowed to ask who the guest of honor was, some Jenna fans became creative and yelled, “Queen Latifah” or “Barbra Streisand.” A homeless man pushing along a three-piece portable stereo system provided music, albeit God-awful stuff. According to a Book Soup employee, one extreme Jenna fan provided his own entertainment by rushing to the nearest tattoo parlor and having “Jenna Jameson” imprinted on his arm. I could just imagine her response: “Oh, that’s nice,” combined with a fearful, yet comforting, smile.

It felt more like waiting in line to enter a rock show at a small club. Several camera crews appeared, interviewing mostly the attractive women. About 9:30, after waiting two and a half hours, I entered the bookstore. Before I met Jenna, a man asked me a few questions while a woman taped my answers with a hand-held video camera, ostensibly for Jenna’s home video. “How long have you been a fan of Jenna?” “What was the last item you had signed?”

Finally, I met her. What was she like? Can I be more articulate than the savant driving the VW bus? Not only was she incredibly sexy wearing a low-cut pink blouse, but she was also incredibly nice and forthcoming. The one teenage girl was right. Meeting Jenna Jameson and seeing her up close was worth the wait. Of course, she and I probably had different reasons for thinking so.

—Benjamin Silverton-Peel

Garden Report: Summer Sluts, Bastard Zukes and Wannabe Early Girls

While cleaning up my raised garden beds for fall planting, I heard a feline bleating — you couldn’t call it a proper meow. I followed the noise past the row garden into the tall grass beside the garage, where my black cat Khan lazed in a cool low spot. I sat down next to him and looked over the garden with a cat’s-eye view.

The nearby hills of zucchini squash have been especially energetic and sluttish this year, beginning with a volunteer from last year. This volunteer was the love child of the ronde de nice (little round zukes eaten from walnut size to softball size) and a ridged Italian variety (when sliced, they looked like cunning little cogs). Their offspring was a rotund oblong squash with the ridged variety’s rather reptilian skin coloring (indeed, an enormous lizard took up residency under its huge leaves, nibbled on squash and wouldn’t budge even as I removed its dinner). These bastard zukes tasted fine, and tided me over until the new crop was ready. This spring, I’d planted four hills with several yards between them. Two were a tender, organic green variety; one was the ronde de nice; the last was a slim, thin-skinned white zucchini. But even as youthful plants, the moment they began to bloom, they had sex with each other, and I had some white ronde de nice and some very pale green ones. Only the dominant white ones were true to form. Ah well, picked young, they’re all delicious.

In the rows, eggplants, peppers and beans were slowing down, and okra pods, red and green, just starting to proliferate. Detroit, chiogga and yellow beets showed their plump shoulders. There’s a bumper crop of lemons.

My tomatoes were not prolific, but at least I had some. Last year, I spoiled them, planting them in deep, ever-moist compost. I ended up with hallucinogenically lush vines — and a scant late harvest.

This year, I’ve been so stingy with the water I actually starved some vines to death — and still I have more tomatoes than I need. Oxhearts, San Marzanos, Brandywines, green zebra, orange sunbursts, yellow pear. The star producer — a huge vine with at least a dozen fat, flat-bottomed fruits that are about as sweet and juicy as tomatoes get — came labeled as Early Girls, which they positively aren’t. I have another vine of true E.G.s that are small and sweet and slightly heart-shaped. There was clearly a switch at the nursery, and now I’ll never know what these whoppers are.

Presiding over the yard are two enormous eucalyptus trees — one about a hundred feet tall, the other about 85 — planted on the other side of my fence. I call them the King and the Queen, respectively, and feel proprietary about them because I look at them all the time and also paid to have them trimmed, which took five men two full days. My neighbor who uses the alley gave me permission to trim the trees, then sniffed, “If I had that kind of money, I’d cut ’em down.”

The King and Queen’s bark is deciduous, and today it’s coming off. The Queen sheds demurely; a petal of dark bark here and there slips off to reveal a tender, pale-orange skin beneath. The King, however, is a slough fest; his whole surface is breaking up into patches of fawn-brown bark curling at the edges. Big sheets of the stuff have caught in nearby trees and look like animal hides flung on the branches — a caveman’s laundry hung out to dry. As I sit by the cat, a breeze blows through, and there’s a crackling, and a few loose lengths of bark detach and clatter down.

The problem with gardens is that they’re eternally in transition, with some plants on their way up, others on their way out and just a few trembling at their very peak. The scabiosa were really better three weeks ago, and the string beans really delicious in late July. Come back next week, and the catmint will have filled out, and my L.D. Braithwaite roses will be in bloom, floating against the Hollywood cypresslike wads of red tissue paper suspended midair. By then, too, the King and the Queen will be gloriously smooth-limbed again, pink-skinned, naked.

Today, beside Khan, the whole seething garden seems busy and right where it is, at once past, present and poised. Hummingbirds maintain a low buzz in the flowers, like many tiny airborne motors. The cat lashes his tail. All I can see beyond my yard are treetops and sky and fuzzy clouds, and a glimpse of the San Gabriels. High up the King’s branches, squirrels are squabbling — once, I watched a quarreling squirrel fall from a high limb, scolding all the way down. Then silence.

A tiny, precise, mean pinch on my leg, and another, break the mood. Ants. Back to work — I’m going to pull up some of those zucchini. Nobody needs four hills’ worth.


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